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Olympic power combined to win national Etchells title

11 February 2009 Steve Hall

The winning Triad team of John Bertrand, Ben Ainslie and Andrew Palfrey

"The winning Triad team of John Bertrand, Ben Ainslie and Andrew Palfrey"

Photo by:
Steve Hall

The talented team of Olympic sailors John Bertrand, Ben Ainslie and Andrew Palfrey have raced to a podium finish in the Commonwealth Bank 2009 Australian Etchells Championship.

Conducted by the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron from the 9 to 16 January, Bertrand's Triad team were firmly in first place in the eight-race series with one day to spare.

With only a month to the World Championship in Melbourne the national championship was always going to be a considered a 'curtain raiser'. When Ben Ainslie, 2008 ISAF yachtsman of the year and triple Olympic gold medallist confirmed his participation with Australian sailing icon John Bertrand (1976 Olympic bronze medallist and 1983 America's Cup winning skipper) and Andrew Palfrey (2008 Olympian), the championship took on much greater profile.

"It was just going to be bit of a jolly really for the World's. But then things changed for Ben and he found he was going to be in this part of the world for the America's Cup event in Auckland. This put a whole new slant on the event. All of a sudden it turned into a campaign," Palfrey said.

This was Ainslie's first experience racing an Etchells.

Other sailors who lined up to take the title included such talents as Rob Brown of 18ft skiff fame on Steampacket 7, the impeccable Kiwi entry of Alistair Gair on Velsheda and 2007 national champion Skip Lissiman on Bandwagon.

"We enjoyed racing against Rob (Brown) and John (Bertrand). While there is heaps of rivalry, we
are all mates," Lissiman said.

A number of other outstanding contenders added to the anticipation with a total of 44 entries competing. These included local Chris Pratt (La Vie Dansante), Mark Bulka (Critical Balance), Mark Bradford (Roni), Ian Johnson (Bananas in Pyjamas), and local Sydney-Hobart skipper Geoff Boettcher (Murphys Law).

The race committee comprised of Adelaide fleet captain Wayne Knill, Principal Race Officer Mark Hughes and the National Jury of Bill Bell, David Tillet and Lisa Bettcher.

The die was cast for an enthralling and engaging championship when unexpectedly Triad suffered damaged chainplates and bulkheads after the practice race.

On the first race day the sea breeze pumped to 22 knots and after one general recall the fleet got away. The three boats that started at the pin, Bertrand, Lissiman and Brown, led throughout the day. However Bertrand and Brown were OCS. Only 34 boats finished with the top places going to Lissiman, Gair and Brendan Garner (The Moe Szyslak Experience).

Ben Ainslie looked very relaxed at the end of day one, clearly enjoying himself. "What great waters to sail in. Today we fell off the pressure a bit with Lissiman sailing a bit higher. He took off in plenty of breeze. John (Bertrand) is just fantastic, and Doggy (Palfrey) is super. I'm the weakest link. They carried me around the course."
It was not such a good day for Wayne Knill's Medium-Rare, with Etchells national president Noel Paterson on board. They were forced to retire after being holed. Chris Hampton's Tango also retired with bow damage.

Day two started in a hot north-west wind of 6 knots. The fleet had a clean start at the first attempt. After the top mark Bertrand retained a loose cover on Bulka with Ian Johnson (Bananas in Pyjamas) in third. There was no change in the fleet at the finish with Bertrand taking the gun followed by Bulka and then Johnson.

Bulka who often trains with Bertrand said "I would take that sailing every day. We sailed a really good first beat and were a boat length behind Bertrand at the top mark. He had just a little more boat speed than us and he wasn't going to give us much. He kept a loose cover on us".

A black flag and two general recalls in race four delayed the fleets start as they faced a 1.9 nautical mile beat to the windward mark in a stinking hot north-west breeze. At the gun Bulka was first with Brown in second then Pratt third. Bertrand's Triad finished in fourth.

"We had a feeling that the left was starting to look bad so we went right to the shore in the dying breeze. We were one boat length behind Pratt and second at the top mark. Then we passed him on the run by breaking an overlap and again hit the right hand. I reckon it was a race of sheet hands; James Ryssenback vs Ben Ainslie," race-winner Bulka said.

In race five New Zealand skipper Gair demonstrated superb surfing technique pulling out a lead of 1 minute 37 seconds at the second spinnaker drop with Johnson in second and Bertrand in third. At the gun Gair led the fleet by over 90 seconds followed by Johnson with Bertrand a close third to Mark Bradford (Roni) and Pratt.

At the end the race day Gair said "we had a solid start and followed Lissiman. Then we got a nice shift so we came around the top mark in third. Then, we were surfing and really enjoying the conditions".

Bertrand found day three pretty tough racing in the strong winds. "We were happy to get third. It is super to have Ben here. This event dovetails nicely with him going to Louis Vuitton Pacific Cup".
When asked if the Triad team discussed the America's cup while racing, Bertrand said "at night we talk about the America's Cup. We have reinvented it several times".

Sydney female skipper Jeanne-Claude Strong helming Yandoo XX said of the day's racing "it is exciting, so fast. It's always great to be so close to such good sailors."

The final race of the day was started in confused seas with the tide ebbing. The weather bureau had issued a strong wind warning with a sea breeze building to 28 knots.

The race six start was hard on the fleet as they experienced two general recalls in the 20 knots south-wester with a ferocious tide dragging them over the line. At the top mark, in a repeat of race five, Gair emerged from the long lay-line on starboard relishing the conditions with a minute lead over Brown followed by Bertrand in third. The fleet then set off on another surfing competition. At the gun in race six it was another polished win for Gair with Bradford just in front of Bertrand third.

The final day of racing saw almost a re-run of day six with winds to up 22 knots. Bertrand changed gear to emerge on port with a 35-second lead over Johnson with Brown in third and Gair buried in seventh place. Bertrand cruised home to win the race and championship, with Johnson second and Gair in third place.

Sir James Hardy said of the day the conditions were "a bit too fresh although I did enjoy it. You know I am the same age as the Sydney Harbor Bridge, though I think it will see me out.

"Etchells are clearly the most competitive senior class. Bertrand and Gair are both class acts with Ainslie unquestionably the best small boat sailor in the world."

The final race of the series and the fleet again had a general recall. At the top mark Bertrand, Bulka, Rob Brown and then the New Zealander Gair rounded with very little between them. Then Bertrand pulled out at the bottom mark, having already won the championship, and aimed to win the race for the dockside crane as they headed back to shore.

At the top mark approaching on port tack Brown, Bulka, Gair and Lissiman all turned with very little separating them. Another furious surfing session ensued to the bottom mark with only 34 boats remaining in the final race. At the gun it was Bulka with over six boat lengths ahead of Gair and Brown.

The crews and organising committee were clearly delighted with the championships. Adelaide fleet secretary Bruce Henshall said "I can't give enough praise to Race Officer Malcolm Hughes. His race management on the water was faultless. He pulled together a volunteer team from RSAYS and Adelaide Sailing Club and they performed the complex job of conducting races in some very trying conditions.

"Congratulations to Triad. John, Ben and Andrew were poetry in motion. The competitor skill level I saw out on the water was awesome. Truly one of the sharpest fleets I have ever sailed in. The sailing was tough and uncompromising but off the water it had a relaxed feel, with excellent camaraderie over a beer".

Full results available here

New Zealand's Velsheda team skippered by Alastair Gair finished second

"New Zealand's Velsheda team skippered by Alastair Gair finished second"

Photo by:
Steve Hall


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