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Thrifty 2011 NSW Etchells Championship

5 April 2011 John Curnow

Winner, Mark Johnson on Roulette

"Winner, Mark Johnson on Roulette"

Photo by:
Kylie Wilson,

Sunshine, strong, predominantly Nor'easterly breezes and a good swell greeted the 35-boat fleet in the Thrifty 2011 Etchells NSW State Championships on Friday, February 11. Little wonder then that, Paul Gleeson, Rear Commodore of the host venue, Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club, commented that it was, 'A big day at the office!'

Indeed, the Race Committee also had a lot on as they got the first three races of the series packed in to the afternoon's on-water affairs. 'Today was a tough day and that breeze certainly came in. A vessel was despatched ashore to get a larger anchor and more chain to stop our boat from sliding across the bottom of the course', said Kevin Wilson, who is part of the official team running the event.

The 1.2nm course stretched from just offshore of Merewether to adjacent to Nobbys Beach and had a lot of sailors really working hard in the up to 2m swell lines that ran through. Afterwards, many commented on how exhausted they were, which is completely understandable, really. Making the journey up from Melbourne for the event, Fleet Captain Jake Gunther said, 'Typical seabreeze stuff and a great warm-up for Sydney (Worlds), next year. We blew our boom up on the first work of the first race, which thankfully did not affect our speed.' Jake, along with crew Stuart Skeggs and Tony McPhail aboard, The Boat, went on to win that race. After the first day, they sit in fifth place.

Two other Victorian crews have also come up to join, The Boat. Also from Brighton there is Jake's brother, Steve with Dawn Raid, currently in third and Noel 'Nitro' Drennan from Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron on the Mornington Peninsula. They are in eighth place. Also making the journey to the titles from further afield are Concubine from Adelaide, This Will Make Her Scream from Brisbane and Addiction from New Zealand.

Leading after Day One was local Lake Macquarie sailor, Kane Sinclair and crew of Todd Wyborn and Grahame Prosser aboard, Why Be Flat. They were very consistent with a third, fourth and second places. Sydney's David Clark, with crew of Andrew Smith and Alan Smith on Fifteen were in second place, just one point astern of Sinclair. Third to sixth and seventh to twelfth are also very tightly placed.

Interesting weather patterns, so much a feature of the country over recent times, were set to play a role as well, with a mild Southerly expected on the Friday and a stronger cousin due on the final day, Sunday. In the end, the two sort of combined and Saturday's racing was ultimately abandoned, thankfully whilst the fleet was still tied to the quay.

On the Saturday, there was 20 knots from the Sou'souwest blowing through, with more than the occasional gust to 25. In itself, this was not the cause for the abandonment, as Race Management stayed out there for around five hours trying to find a suitable race area. Alas, it was the sea state that put a halt to activity. The waves were over 2m, with very steep backs and closely stacked together, as well. At one point, the Committee Boat took a metre clean over the whole vessel, as they pitched through the short cycles.

Accordingly, crews were very keen to get out there again and get a title sorted. Perhaps this is why all three starts were clean. Having said that, one vessel did get to within less than a metre of the line before the gun, however.

On the Sunday, the current seemed to run in a Northerly eddy in front of Newcastle, which meant the Southerly swell went back to being gentle, if sometimes tall, rollers. The best part of 1.5nm course heading South in to the beach at Merewether provided great viewing and conditions for all, especially in the first two of the three races, when the sun did its best to light up the fleet, with a great contrast over the surrounding grey background. Unfortunately, by the final race, number six for the championship, it was a little more like a snow-in for the first couple of legs, as the rain finally won over.

In the first race of the day, the wind started at around 8knots from about 190 degrees and with the gentle 1.5m sea, it provided for 'excellent sailing', as one competitor put it. For spectators, the race was most memorable for becoming the land of the penalty turn at the top mark. This was due to both the crews misjudging the current pushing them into the top mark and the inevitable highly charged, competitive atmosphere. The very same current was of course keeping the pin end boats back from the start line and why in the last race, Matt Whitnall on Umami was less than a metre from the Committee Boat end, whilst those at the pin end were a whole 15 seconds behind the line. By this stage, the breeze was a genuine and consistent 15 knots, as well.

Overall, the right side seemed to be favoured, no doubt due to the kinder sea state there, closer in to the city. The Race Committee did note that the odd driver who spends a lot of time in larger boats did seem to have some difficulty adjusting to the lack of acceleration of their Etchells. As usual, there was a lot of close proximity work near the marks and in the first race of the day, the top mark was dragged 30 feet from where it was dropped. In the last it got carried a little further afield - 30 metres, actually and was hastily reset for the next rounding. Phil Collyer, the Principal Race Officer for the 2011 Thrifty Etchells NSW State Championships was happy to get it all done. 'Great to get three races in today to provide six overall and show them what the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club can do. Wonderful close racing with some bumping around the marks as a feature - the 360 and 720 reign! Good sailing in nice seas today and a bit of surging on the waves at the end there', said Phil.

Most of the regatta had been very close racing indeed and after Race Five, just seven points separated first from second. You would not have been alone in thinking that this would have been a winning position, but a very consistent day from Sydney's Mark Johnson with second, sixth and first places on the day, saw he and crew of Nick Burfoot and Peter Conde take the championship by one point. In second place was Melbourne Fleet member, Steve Gunther and crew of Gin Gibson and John Collingwood. Five points astern of them was Sydney Fleet member David Clark with Andrew Smith and Alan Smith, themselves just point clear of Melbourne Fleet Captain, Jake Gunther, with Stuart Skeggs and Tony McPhail on, The Boat. Local Lake Macquarie skippers, Gary Boyd and Kane Sinclair, took the other positions in the top six.

Mark Johnson said of it all, 'Great regatta, great racing, great venue and obviously a great result for us!' Steve Gunther who just got pipped at the post, said 'It's good to relegate my brother (Jake) to fourth place.' So clearly there's some fantastic sibling rivalry alive and kicking there.

Crews, officials and volunteers all enjoyed some hospitality in the afternoon before presentations and then a lot began their journey home.

NSW States Results

The fleet coming home into the harbour

"The fleet coming home into the harbour"

Photo by:
Kylie Wilson,


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