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2011 Victorian Etchells Championship

5 April 2011 John Curnow

Jack's Hut at the finish

"Jack's Hut at the finish"

Photo by:
Alex McKinnon

Just as at the 2011 Rex Gorell Prestige Etchells Australian Championship, the very un-Victorian weather played a significant role for both crews and Race Management at the Victorian titles on March 12 to 14, inclusive. So despite being two months later than the preceding championship, Melbourne's Port Phillip once again served up light and variable breezes for the whole Labour Day long weekend.

Repaying the favour displayed by three Victorian crews who made the journey to Newcastle in February for the Thrifty NSW Etchells State Championships, four NSW crews ventured South to the Royal Brighton Yacht Club. This armada included newly crowned NSW State Champions, from the delightful Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron at Kirribilli, of Mark Johnson, Nik Burfoot and Peter Conde. Joining them were Lake Macquarie's Critical Balance, La Vie Dasante, also from RSYS and third place holder from the recent NSW titles, David Clark's Fifteen out of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

Awaiting them were Australian yachting legend, John Bertrand, some of the regular Etchellians and some newish-to-Etchells large keelboat Skippers like Michael Hiatt, Peter Coleman and Chris Dare. Together, the fleet comprised some 26 vessels and crews.

Race One on the Saturday was delayed under Answering Pennant for about 35 minutes. In the end, 9 to 13 knots from 340 degrees allowed for a result, which went to Ian Johnson's Bananas in Pyjamas (BiP) with a certain Phil Smidmore crewing along with Tim Ede. Jake Gunther's, The Boat, was second and third place was Mark Bulka's Perfect Balance. Principal Race Officer at the host club, Royal Brighton, is Simon Dryden and he was, "Delighted to see that breeze hold in for the second race so we could complete the day's schedule."

Race Two got away cleanly after the Black Flag ensured all played fairly. Chris Hampton's Tango got the honours over Jack's Hut, skippered by eventual title winner, Noel 'Nitro' Drennan and in third was BiP.

After all that, it was a comfortable lead to BiP at the end of the first day. Jack's Hut was in second with Peter Merrington and Ben Morrison-Jack also onboard with Nitro. In third place is the newly crowned NSW Champions aboard Roulette. Mark Johnson, Nik Burfoot and Peter Conde had two sixth places for the day to show that consistency really is a significant part of the game in Etchells racing.

Now Ian Johnson was also in the lead of the Grand Masters, with Peter Coleman, Iain Gartley and Wayne Dixon on Mid Gybe Crisis in second place. They had a great time in Race Two, which showed in their results. Peter has been delighted with the climb up the board in recent times. Third position belongs to Dawn Raid, which comprises of Steve Gunther, John Collingwood and Glen Gibson.

In the Masters category, which is the closest of the lot, so far, Jack's Hut lead from The Boat (Jake Gunther, Stuart Skeggs and Tony McPhail) and then Chris Hampton's Tango, which is crewed by Ben Durham and Bucky Smith.

Challenging conditions for race management seem set to prevail for the entire championship and close racing from the competitors is also a shoe-in for the remaining time on Melbourne's Port Phillip.

Port Phillip provided the usual excitement for Day Two of the titles certainly started in interesting conditions, but they were nothing like the ones that finished the day.

Just the one race was completed on the Sunday and even that took three goes to get underway. It started at 340degrees in breezes of 6 to 13 knots and those pressure variations were the telling feature of the race. 'After the first work, we moved the bottom gate to account for the change to 320 degrees and then re-adjusted the top mark to get it back out to 1.7nm', said Simon Dryden, the Principal Race Officer for the regatta.

'Whilst the direction remained pretty true for the remainder of the race, the pressure variations allowed for significant losses and gains, with vigilant crews certainly making the most of it', Dryden went on to add.

Honours ultimately went to Michael Hiatt, Matthew Johns and Ben Lamb in Extra Bad Doll. Jack's Hut (Noel Drennan) got second place over Graeme Taylor's Magpie in third. John Bertrand, Will McCarthy and Jake Newman posted a fourth, which was a sign of things to come and David Clark's, Fifteen, from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, took fifth on the day.

Mal Blom's, On A Mission, were twelfth overall, but it was enough to give them the Grand Master's win for the day. In second and third places respectively, were That's Life and yesterday's star boat, Bananas In Pyjamas.

Extra Bad Doll's win on the day gave Michael Hiatt first place for the Masters, with second going to Noel Drennan, Peter Merrington and Ben Morrison-Jack on Jack's Hut. John Bertrand's Triad took third.

Whilst trying to set a course for the second race of the day, Dryden commented that 'There was a nasty cell approaching that looked like it had a fierce initial bite, so we moved the fleet in behind the breakwater. 30knots arrived from the Sou'souwest thereafter, with spikes to 35knots and further study of the information showed that a large volume of water was also going to be part of the equation. We chose to put the crews ashore before it arrived, which definitely proved to be not only prudent, but popular.'

As a result of this, racing was moved forward on the Monday, the final day, to allow for three races to be run. After the three races so far, Jack's Hut have been the most consistent and they had the lead. In second place overall is Magpie from the Mornington Yacht Club and yesterday's leader, Bananas In Pyjamas is in third. Given all of that, it remains tight in the top ten and certainly in the top five, however, with just 11 points separating them. They need to get all six in before there can be a drop, as well.

Of the final day's racing, Principal Race Officer, Simon Dryden said, 'What a perfect day's sailing we enjoyed on Port Phillip. After getting rid of that Sydney weather that came through yesterday and retuning it to its owners in NSW, the thunderstorms were no more and its was back to the cool, dry Southerly wind.'

'On leaving my house this morning, I was not fully confident that we would indeed get all three races in, as the hot air balloons were wafting over my roof. Out on the racecourse, this meant we had to move both the top and bottom marks numerous times during Races Four and Five. Ultimately, it was really great to run all the races, which provided for a complete series, allowed the competitors to drop their worst result and definitely showed just who mastered the array the conditions we had over the long weekend', Dryden finished with.

Competitors had been asked to be ready to respond to flags at 9.55am and it was a fired up fleet that went out to race in the gentle breeze 8-10 knot Sou'soueast breezes with under half a metre of wave action. The very long line was set straight off Brighton and headed directly in towards Sandringham, which meant a distance of two nautical miles.

The separation of the fleet to the left and right sides of the course was evident almost immediately. There were those that were virtually on the bricks that line parts of the shore, where as most of the big hitters stayed to sea. At the top, it was evident that those who had gone in to the shore had been severely punished and the soul pioneer who went way too far right, ended up on virtually a beam reach in to the mark.

Upon rounding, most chose to go in towards the centre of the Bay for the run down. The huge separation of at least four to five minutes became very evident as they all went through. John Bertrand was a clear first and stayed there for the whole race. Graeme Taylor had Magpie in second and Noel Drennan was in third place. At the bottom, the course was changed to 150 degrees at 1nm.

At the revised top mark, with separation now of 10 minutes, the distances were very significant. Indeed the boats that I initially thought were the back markers, in fact ended up two minutes in front of the vessels that really were.

350 degrees was set as the course to the finish. 'Tricky morning', was John Bertrand's comment after the win, with almost a whole leg to the backmarkers and probably a minute to Magpie and then Jack's Hut just a short while behind.

Race Five, the second of the day, got away fairly quickly after the last finisher had crossed over the line from the preceding event. It was set to course 165 degrees and 1.4nm. The appearance of white caps gave us an indication of the 12 knots of breeze and there certainly was also the odd puff at 15 knots. Unfortunately, there was a General Recall on this race and the loss of time was more than enough to get the Race Committee to very quickly hoist the Black Flag. Once away cleanly after the next start, the course did not need to be moved again. John Bertrand won this race, as well.

For the final race of the day and championship, Race Management moved everyone over, closer to the main Shipping Channel and stationed themselves just South of R2 in the centre of the top of the Bay. A long start line was again offered for the fleet to get away to the bearing of 160 degrees and the marks that were 2nm away. There was a solid 12 knots that quickly got in to the mid-teens as the race developed. Unfortunately, there was another General Recall and the Black Flag, which had been found for the preceding event, was out again very hastily.

At this point it was definitely game on for those in the hunt for the trophy. Very quickly into the race there were big gaps that were quite evident. Even the competitors were commenting to me on the size of the spaces and holes in the fleet. Sometimes it was who you think should be where they were and at other times it well and truly not so, at all. We were seeing a half to two thirds of leg gap, which was very interesting in a class where it is so close most of the time.

Course One had been selected for the final race, which meant two whole laps and a beat to the finish. At the bottom mark for the first time, it was Jack's Hut over Triad and then Magpie in third and it is all very close. One position could mean a lot and boy did it - in the end it's what Noel Drennan won by.

Congratulating Noel 'Nitro' Drennan after the 2011 Etchells Victorian Championship win, he said, 'Thank you for that. It was a pretty difficult regatta; the whole weekend has had lots of shifts and velocity changes. It definitely kept us on our toes and the places were changing quite rapidly and with some big margins, even earlier on today it was certainly not all cemented in.'

Of the two wins on the final day by John Bertrand, Noel said, 'It's no surprise for him to come good in a hurry and to really show us all just how good he is.' The two nautical mile works were a feature of the day, 'It's more like what we're used to years ago and I still like the longer courses and the racing it provides. Absolutely a great leveller for any discrepancies at the other end', he finished with.

In the Grand Masters, BiP sailed by Ian Johnson, Tim Ede and Phil Smidmore got it from Peter Coleman, Ian Gartley and Wayne Dixon on Mid Gybe Crisis. In third was That's Life, which is Ian Crisp, John Alexander and Dick Stephens.

In the Masters, which like the Grand Masters was calculated from their scores only amongst themselves, it was Triad (John Bertrand and co.) over Jack's Hut, which was Nitro and crew, with Extra Bad Doll in third. The latter is Michael 'Living Doll' Hiatt and crew of Matthew Johns and Ben Lamb.

VIC States Results

All kites

"All kites"

Photo by:
Alex McKinnon


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