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Rex Gorell Prestige 2011 Australian Etchells Championship

5 April 2011 Rob Kothe

Winner, John Bertrand

"Winner, John Bertrand"

Photo by:
Kylie Wilson,

It was a busy time on Melbourne's Port Phillip at the beginning of January, 2011. At Royal Brighton, the International Dragons were having their World Championships and a little further down the road at Blackrock, the Musto Skiffs were doing the same.

Over in the Western extremities of that massive expanse of water, tucked up in Corio Bay, the Royal Geelong Yacht Club was running the Etchells National titles from January 8 to 15. A little further afield again, a few hours in the plane, in fact, there was something even bigger and busier going on and it would have massive ramifications for racing down South.

Cyclones were building in the Coral Sea and tropical storms were lashing Queensland. Their power was immense and it had created an unbelievable mass of airborne moisture that a lack of jet stream and a huge high out near New Zealand conspired together to bring to Melbourne.

This was the overall situation that greeted the week of the Nationals. It produced the uber-balmy weather, which had everyone talking and oh-so-fickle winds, combined with severe storm cells.

John 'Aero' Bertrand, the reigning World and Australian Etchells skipper, teamed up with Andrew Palfrey who was part of the crew that won Ireland and Grant Simmer, who is so famously sailed with in 1983. Yes. That wonderful year. It seemed terribly fitting then, that they ended up winning the regatta.

John got into Etchells in 1990, which was his first return to sailing after that record-breaking win. Two friends, Ernie Lawrence and Bill Browne were responsible for that. The 1993 Worlds in Perth followed and then a string of wins or podium spots have ensued thereafter.

"Although this is my fifth Australian Championship win, it's only in the last three years that I've gotten serious about getting organised. I'm in the fortunate position of being able to ask some pretty good sailors if they'd like to sail with me. Andrew Palfrey has joined me and we've had Ben Ainslie, (Triple Olympic Gold Medallist) and then for the last year Tom Slingsby (2010 ISAF Sailor of the Year and triple Laser World Champion) sailing with us. We won the last Australian Championships, then the World titles in Ireland", said John.

"To sail again with Grant Simmer (Navigator aboard Australia II in 1983) was terrific, because he's been in sailing management roles for quite a while. Last time we sailed together after 1983 was in the America's Cup Jubilee in Cowes, England, in 2001 and to catch up with him was quite a blast. In between racing we talked a lot about the America's Cup. He's done nine America's Cups, I think", Bertrand finished with.

For the final day, brilliant sunshine and light breezes greeted competitors in the Rex Gorell Prestige Etchells Australian Championship. This made for more than a pleasant change, after the seemingly countless and Groundhog Day like stretch of rain that had been occurring.

Bertrand and the crew aboard Triad of Andrew Palfrey and Grant Simmer had led into the final day, but with the big one design fleet set to sail at least one further race, the Championship was still in play.

Principal Race Officer, Greg Sinclair, set the course at 250 degrees, in middle of the Bay, back in towards Corio Quay. Race Seven started at 11.00am, but the start resulted in a general recall. The Race Committee then gunned the fleet away at 11:15 on a two lap course, with a 1.6 miles first leg length followed by one mile thereafter, out to the West Sou'west on Corio Bay.

Cameron Miles on Are We There Yet? chose the Committee Boat end of the line and headed right. Championship leader John Bertrand on Triad started mid-line and was soon the most left of the right hand boats. Damien King, driving Barry, started close to the pin and came across to then join Bertrand. The boats on the far right at the start looked to be in trouble, as the fleet headed up the course to the first mark, in quite shifty conditions.

At the top mark, the Committee Boat signalled a new heading of 290. The boats that sailed along the refinery shore from the mid-right were doing well and Hong Kong sailor, Mark Thornburrow on Racer X 923, led the fleet round. Graeme Taylor's Magpie and Cameron Miles' Are We There Yet?, closely followed them. Next came Jervis Tilly's Bushfire, Graeme Alexander's Smile and Wave and then Doug Williams' Vertigo. Sixth was Gary Boyd with B Squared, then Ian Johnson's Bananas in Pyjamas, Tom Braidwood's Bad Doll and Ian Crisp's That's Life.

John Bertrand on Triad was 14th, with Mark Bulka on Perfect Balance and Bertrand's nearest rival for the championship title, further back in the pack. Damien King's, Barry, was also well back.

The breeze was at eight knots and lifting as the fleet started their run to bottom mark. Towards the bottom mark, Bertrand looked to have lost considerable ground against title rival Bulka, who was at least six to eight places ahead of him and as such, the championship appeared wide open.

With the breeze oscillating up and down, the flukey conditions were testing the skills of the Etchells fleet. At the top mark, which was set close in towards the shore, Magpie was leading until they de-powered when their headsail came down about one metre. Before the crew could recover, Bushfire sailed through them. Magpie rounded in second, followed by Gordon Hinds' Grand V, Doug Williams' Vertigo, Cameron Miles' Are We There Yet?, John Savage's Black Knight and Graeme Alexander's Smile and Wave.

The wind shifted left during the first half of the second run, then went back right, then came back in hard, from the left. Bushfire drifted across the finish line in the old breeze, while Mark Thornburrow's Racer X 923, brought up the new pressure.

Third across was Magpie, then Are We There Yet?, Perfect Balance was fifth, with Gary Boyd's B Squared and Vertigo, next. Tom Braidwood in Bad Doll was eighth, Geelong sailor Brendan Garner with The Moe Szyslak Experience was ninth and Grand V was tenth. The series leader, John Bertrand's Triad, finished in 12th place.

After Race Seven, the Overall Progressive Score was John Bertrand on 34 points, leading Mark Bulka on 36 and then Mark Thornburrow with 37, Graeme Taylor on 44, Noel Drennan and Gary Boyd with 51 each and Damien King (Barry) at 54. Bertrand also led the Masters and the Grand Masters Divisions of the Australian Championship.

The final race had to be underway by 1400hrs and the Race Committee had indeed set a course for Race 8 in the hope that the breeze would build. It didn't. Instead it dropped, as the fleet waited patiently in the brilliant sunshine out on Corio Bay. In the end, the incredible weather won out, yet again and at 1355hrs, with no breeze and the deadline fast approaching, the Committee had no option but to raise the N over A, sound three toots and abandon racing.

Back at the quay, it was good to see that there were no dampened souls, like the week's rain and the humour had time to shine out, just like the sun. John Bertrand commented, "We went into today's racing well placed. The race was difficult; we rounded in the top ten and then lost about ten places, as boats came in from the other side of the course. We got back, we passed a lot of boats on the final run and that delivered us the regatta."

Grant Simmer was happy and just a little relieved, as well, saying, "The breeze was very shifty and up and down for the last four races, especially. As it was my job to call the breeze and make the tactical decisions, it was quite stressful at times. We were not so good after the start a few times and we managed to get back into the races."

"John and Dog (Andrew Palfrey) were very patient with me, but they were definitely sending me a message when one day during the week they left to come to Royal Geelong Yacht Club, shut up the house, put the alarm on and left me inside!!! I had to phone them, get them to come back and get me, so that is how important I was", Simmer added with a laugh. "Luckily when you sail with the Dog you don't have to think much, he tells you what to do all the time, which is good. Overall it was a great experience and lots of fun."

Andrew Palfrey had a huge grin, saying, "A busy week. I had to look after a couple of old age pensioners, doing my bit for society - you know giving a bit back. Seriously though, it was a really rewarding experience sailing with John and Grant, we just got better all the time."

Mark Bulka and his Perfect Balance crew of Glenn Ashby and Stewart Nichols, sailed a good series to finish second behind Bertrand. Bulka said, "We were nine points behind John Bertrand and his Triad team at the start of the day, and we clawed back seven points and came in second overall. In today's race we went up the middle for a while on the first beat, then I made a call for the left and then that went pear shaped. We went around the mark somewhere in 30 to 40 and John was well ahead of us, so we figured game over, but he gybed on the inside, we kept going and got a really nice breeze down the right and we got back into 15th, chipped away on the next beat and got into the top ten, then had another good run to finish in fifth place."

"We were starting to have a good time; when you are 40th you think this is no fun, but when you are in the top ten that is pretty good fun. We were disappointed the PRO was not able to get that last race in. It really would have been an all out war. However, it was obvious the Race Committee was trying hard, but it was very shifty and they just ran out of time", he went on to add.

Mark then finished with, "Not a bad hit out for the 2004 Australian Champions, with this light arse (Glenn Ashby) on the bow once more. We will do it again."

Glenn Ashby, one of the leading multihull sailors in the world, was part of Mark's Australian Champion 2004 Etchells crew and was onboard with Bulka again this week.

Waiting for the haul out crane Glenn commented, "Really enjoyed the change of pace this week." For Glenn, he'd just come from the A Class Cat Nationals, which he'd won and then after the Etchells, he was off to Gosford for the F18 National titles, which he was doing with Dean Barker, the Team New Zealand America's Cup skipper.

"The interesting thing is that Etchells, with such a high quality fleet and with such close boat on boat racing, is that it gives you time to really think about what you are doing, look at what works and what does not, in terms of making course decisions and this really refreshes the multihull decision making processes", Ashby explained.

"Because you are travelling very fast through the pressure and the shifts, its all split second on multihulls. Cross training really works - a week on the Etchells and I am really refreshed", he finished with.

Congratulations to all the competitors, the Geelong Etchells Championship Organising Committee and to the Royal Geelong Yacht Club for an excellent 2011 Australian Etchells Championship.

Nationals Results

Royal Geelong Yacht Club, Presentation

"Royal Geelong Yacht Club, Presentation"

Photo by:
Kylie Wilson,


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