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Taking on the world - with intent

14 September 2010 Andrew Palfrey

Congratulations. World Champs.

"Congratulations. World Champs."

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The planning behind John, Tom and myself winning the 2010 Etchells Worlds in Howth, Ireland had its beginnings during the campaign for the previous year's Worlds in Melbourne. Ben Ainslie joined John and me for that campaign. Ben's sailing pedigree is unmatched worldwide and to sail next to him in the Etchells and hang out with him ashore was a very positive and memorable experience.

Part of that campaign took in the Victorian State titles, which were held in Metung on the Gippsland Lakes and for which Ben could not join us. We asked Tom Slingsby, the two-time Laser World Champion if he might be able to attend. I had been teammates with Tom in the 2008 Olympic team and really liked what I saw, in terms of the way he operated. We won that event, in a tight contest with Rob Brown's team. Both John and I were taken by how similar Tom and Ben were to sail with and this is a huge compliment to Tom. We figured we covered three generations of Australian sailing, with JB at 63, me at 43 and then Tom at 23 years of age. Something that sticks in my mind about that regatta was Tom mentioning to me quietly that John was over-steering the boat out of the starts and out of tacks in the flat water (when if he held the tiller straighter, we would accelerate faster). He was a little too shy to give John Bertrand some steering tips!

We finished third in those worlds, which without wanting to take anything away from our competitors, was a disappointment for us. It was tight regatta, sailed in light winds for the most part. We had a black-flag DSQ early in the series, which ultimately cost us. However, two things came out of that result, which I recall clearly. Firstly, to see how gracious and sporting JB was in 'defeat' was an inspiration. I have sailed with, competed against and coached many of the world's best sailors. They generally get pretty narky when they perform below expectation. The way JB held himself that evening in Melbourne taught me a lot. Secondly, over a few cold ones at the presentation, we agreed to work towards the next Worlds in Ireland.
It quickly became apparent that as the skipper of Team Origin, the British challenge for the America's Cup, Ben's commitments would not allow him to compete at the 2010 Worlds. Tom was keen to get involved with us again, so we planned to do some sailing in Lake Macquarie late in 2009, as a lead-in to the Aussie Nationals there in Jan 2010.

We won the Nationals with a race to spare, in what was a great week of sailing for us. By far our biggest strength was our ability to divide up the on-board tasks and stick with those roles. John steered, Tom did tactics and trimmed the main and I trimmed the front sails and set-up the rig. It was very quiet and calm on-board, with concise observations and very clear strategy from Tom and close tactics from John. Midway through the event, Adam Beashel's team got a roll on, winning three races and threatening our lead. The following day was light and fickle. Tom did an incredible job of seeing the wind that day and placing the boat to perfection. We won both races by big margins. It was amazing to be a part of Tom sailing at the top of his game.

When looking forward to the Worlds, it was obvious that our biggest challenge was going to be overcoming the lack of time sailing and racing together as a team. There would be no racing for us between the Aussie Nationals and the Worlds, which were more than seven months apart. With that in mind, we all made an effort to analyse the performance at the Nationals by emailing notes to each other and using those thoughts as a foundation for the way we would approach the Worlds. The big thing to come out of the Nationals was our lack of speed in the heavier airs. We looked to address this in two ways. One was to put on weight (we were 12kgs under the weight limit at Lake Macquarie) and for JB to look at some development of the jibs for the heavy airs and chop we expected to encounter at Howth, Ireland.

In May, all three of us were in the northern hemisphere with a weekend off, so we travelled to Howth for a 'reccie'. Dan and Emer O'Grady kindly loaned us their house and their Etchells for the weekend, which was an indicator of the fine Irish hospitality that we would enjoy so much at the Worlds. We got a lot out of that weekend. We had a small squad of boats and generally tuned and did some short course races. It was low-key stuff, but it was invaluable to experience the conditions and the town, first-hand.

Between May and August, Tom was winning Laser events all over Europe. I was busily coaching Artemis in the TP52's, RC44's and the Louis Vuitton events. John was either in London or Melbourne and working away on the refinement of our sails for the Worlds, in collaboration with Andrew Lechte, Ched Proctor and Vince Brun of North Sails. He was also dealing with the logistics of shipping Triad from Melbourne to Dublin. Weight-wise, I was rapidly gaining the kilos. I would like to say that it was due to the gym-work, but the reality of too much travel and many long days in a coaches boat, saw to it that the weight was mainly fat around the lower torso. JB was regularly getting into the Collingwood Football Club gym.

A week prior to the Worlds, John competed in the Irish Nationals with a fill-in crew of Wade Morgan and Kelvin Harrap. Tom and I were both finishing the Sail for Gold event in Weymouth, which Tom won in fine style in his Laser. I was there coaching the Kiwi boys, Hamish Pepper and Craig Monk in the Star class. Wade and Kelvin contributed to our Worlds effort in a huge way. Not only did they sail with John, but also both of them made comprehensive notes. These notes formed the basis of where we would concentrate our efforts in the limited time we had before the Worlds.

I arrived five days before the first race. Tommy would arrive two days later. He was preparing for the Laser Worlds, which would start at Hayling Island in the UK, the day after the Etchells finished! On my first day present, John and I were lucky enough to have Noel Drennan sail with us. Noel is an America's Cup winner with BMW Oracle and a teammate of mine in the Artemis program. He is also a long-time Etchells sailor from Melbourne. Having him sail with us on my first day back in an Etchells was invaluable. For the following day, David Cagney, a local Etchells sailor, joined us. He was a great help in explaining the currents and the local 'rules'. On these two days we tuned extensively with Jake Gunther of the Melbourne fleet and his crew of John Collingwood and Ben Morrison-Jack. We got comfortable with our choice of sails, even though Jake was consistently faster in our testing when there was less wind. That was fine. We knew that if we could match Jake for speed, then we must be close to where we needed to be.

When Tom arrived, we concentrated more on our boat handling, with a long day on the water. We were very keen to do some practice starting and racing, but we were unable to get this properly organised. Our 'standard' regatta prep is to take the day before the first race off, which is generally the practice race, but on this occasion, we opted to sail the practice race to get some race training in. So we took the day before the practice race off, instead. Etchells Worlds are long events, so it pays to re-charge the batteries for what lies ahead. The fact is, that if you feel the need to cram in the training close to the event, then you are simply under-prepared and the extra day probably won't help.

So. We felt we were ready. We weighed in only a couple of kilos under weight, but that was after breakfast. We were still giving valuable kilos away to the guys that had to 'dip' to make weight and the four-up crews with their extra 10kg of sailing gear allowance. All of that said, we were at a weight where we did not have to watch what we ate, which is really important at a regatta. The more food, the better off you are for a long week of hiking on an Etchells.

A highlight of these early days in Howth was getting to know our hosts, the Burrows family. Richard and Sherill opened their home and their hearts to us. Richard was sailing in the event with his son David and daughter Samantha as crew. We had many a wonderful dinner around the Burrows' table. The positive environment at our 'home', contributed in a huge way to our ultimate success in the event.

On day one of the regatta, we had a fifth and a first, which was a reasonable start. Ante Razmilovic's team won the first race by a mile and placed fourth in the second race, where the wind was recorded at 42 knots! Not sure about that, but we were getting blown over upwind, with both sails flagging. Later that evening, I asked Samantha Burrows how she went in the big breeze, to which she commented that she was "...just happy to be alive!!"

The following three days saw us stay fairly consistent. Our approach was very conservative. We knew our all-round speed was strong and that we could beat anyone in close boat-on-boat tactics, so we did not feel the need to push the starts too hard. We were generally in good shape at the first windward mark in each race and built on that foundation. We were leading with a couple of days to go, but had Ante and Nils Razmilovic nipping at our heels. Also in strong contention was our training partner, Jake, as well as Team Barry, also from Melbourne and who had placed 2nd in the 2009 Worlds.

Day five saw very light winds. In the first race we were fourth, but Ante was second. In the second race we were in a spot of bother, when Ante and his team of Chris Larson and Mikey Wolfs did a number on us in the start and we were forced to tack away into a big wind hole. Ante was first to the mark and we were thirtieth. As the wind died down the run, we moved up to sixth, but Ante was leading by a long way. Ultimately, the race committee abandoned the race, as it had turned into a drift-off, with most of the fleet being taken off the course in the 1.5-knot current.

On day six we were back to 18-knot westerly winds. In the first race of that day, we stuck to our conservative playbook. We had the best speed of the event in this race, which was testament to JB's work on the heavy-air jib shapes. We rounded the first mark in second place behind Julia Bailey (who was having a great series). We moved to first at the gate and then sailed away from the fleet up the final beat. By winning this race, which was our fifth win in eight races, we had won the event with a race to spare. Happy? You bet!

In some interviews following the racing, a lot was made about the fact that it had taken John 18 years to win an Etchells Worlds and whether he was relieved to have finally broken through. His answers were along the lines that the results don't worry him. It is all about sailing with good people and enjoying the process. I think this sums up our entire campaign. There were no nerves on the first or the final morning. There was simply a confidence in each other that everything would be done well and that we would control everything that we had the power to. The rest was up to our competitors and Mother Nature.
Whilst we were never blindingly fast, we were never slow with boats around us. Etchells at this level of racing are now very much a one-design class. Our key strength, however, was our ability to change gears quickly and seek out tactical opportunities when they arose.

John has sailed with many great sailors and good people in his 18 years in the Etchells class. To be the first crew to win the Etchells Worlds with him is special for both Tom and I. Whilst we both sail boats for a living, neither of us are paid by John. We are onboard Triad for the love of the sport and for opportunity to sail with JB. One moment that remains strong in the memory for me (and John loves telling this story), was early in the series when we rounded the gate marker in some traffic and John had not done the perfect turn around the mark. Tom remarked, "You need to do better than that John!" The shy young fella has come quite a way, since that day 18 months earlier at Metung!

Editor's Note: Tom did go on to the UK and a win in Laser Worlds and a little while later, in Italy, Andrew got the same result in the 5.5's. Love your work, lads.

Andrew Palfrey,
from Italy.

The master class in action downhill at Howth

"The master class in action downhill at Howth"

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