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Visitor takes NSW State title

8 December 2011 Tracey Johnstone

Magpie leads the fleet in race five of the series

"Magpie leads the fleet in race five of the series"

Photo by:
Damian Devine

Mornington Fleet's Magpie team were deserved winners of the Zhik Etchells NSW Championship held from 17 to 20 November at Pittwater.

Challenged by the offshore weather and the high-quality fleet, Graeme Taylor with his crew of Steve Jarvin and Ben Morison-Jack, cleanly won the prize ahead of their NSW mates. They sailed a consistent regatta, finishing with three second places, a sixth and then in the final race of the regatta, just to ensure everyone knew they were on fire, the team delivered a first place.

The Magpie team were racing against five Etchells world champions, three Olympians including Sydney 2000 gold medallist, Tom King, and Atlanta 1996 bronze medallist, Colin Beashel, within the 55-boat international fleet.

In second place overall was USA skipper and 2006 class world champion, Jud Smith, sailing for the Sydney Fleet with Mark Johnson and Nik Burfoot. Smith also won the Masters trophy.

Into third came another Etchells World Champion, John Bertrand, with his crew of Will McCarthy and dual Moth and 49er class World Champion, Nathan Outteridge.

The Grand Masters trophy winners were Lake Macquarie's Iris III team of Peter McNeill, Simon Reffold and David Gleadhill, whilst the Pacesetter Etchells Fleet prize went to the Sydney Fleet.

Day one started with flat seas and soft breezes; perfect for the three scheduled races on the Palm Beach Circle course. The first race saw three general recalls before the PRO, Stephen Merrington, could get the fleet cleanly away. While Colin Beashel seemed to lead the fleet out of the start, it was Jud Smith who took control of the race by the top mark. He continued that lead, playing the wind shifts well, to finish first, strongly in front of Graeme Taylor.

The second race saw the breeze go more to the East and build to about 10 knots. It was a clean start first off, with Smith taking the pin end looking for the left hand advantage. However, it was Hong Kong's Ante Razmilovic that powered around the bottom mark in the lead, alongside Melbourne's Mark Bulka and Lake Macquarie's Peter McNeill. Taylor was just behind that group. John Bertrand was around in 10th place and Smith way back in 25th.

For Beashel this race was over back at the start line, after he missed an OCS call. Apparently the North Star's team had earlier lost their VHF radio overboard.

Razmilovic held the lead at the top mark for the second time, while Taylor successfully took distance out of McNeill and Bulka, to just lead these two teams down the track and across the finish line into second.

As the afternoon light started to fade, the breeze softened. There was one general recall before the black flag went up. At the top mark it was finally David Rose's chance to shine, as he drove his boat around the mark with another Brisbane skipper, 28-year-old Matthew Chew hot on his stern. Cronulla's Stephen O'Rourke was third, followed by Taylor and then Mark Richards and Peter Merrington from Pittwater.

Bertrand touched the mark and took a 720 penalty. He seemed to pick the worst possible place to do it and then looked very unhappy about this very costly penalty.

The breeze softened and the top mark saw a change of leader, with Chew taking control of the race from Rose, to round in first place and then lead the fleet down to the finish line. Taylor also moved up the queue to push Rose out and take his third second place.

At the end of day, Taylor led overall with six points from Chew on 23 and Razmilovic on 26 points.

It was drama all round on day two, with sea mist, race delay, black flags, crew overboard, and damage to boats and sails.

The fleet headed out mid-morning, looking forward to fresher breezes and three races. Unfortunately, a weather phenomenon decided to settle over Pittwater and all the way down to Sydney Harbour. A sea mist came in early in the day and threatened to stay for the duration. The fleet went out to look, sailed around in the dense mist and then made their way back behind Barrenjoey Head, to wait out the strange weather.

For the sailors the Nor'east breeze was building, making for perfect sailing conditions, except that they couldn't see more than about 200 metres around them.

Several hours later, the mist cleared and the first race start was called, which not unsurprisingly, was a general recall. On the second start, they headed off in an East Nor'east breeze of about 12 knots, gusting to 15. A port and starboard at the bottom mark the second time around resulted in Phil Coombs' J for Jig holing Gary Smith's Tusk in the lower port stern.

It was Cameron Miles' race from the start. After a poor showing on day one, it was about time he pulled out his old magic. The 1999 Etchells World Champion led the fleet comfortably around the course. Jud Smith was hot on his tail, but could not shake Miles' determination to win a race on his home waters, in his return to the Etchells class.

Mark Bulka was happy with his third in this race. Racing with a new crew and new sails, Bulka said at the start of the day that he was unsure how his team would go in the heavier breeze.

In race two, Taylor returned to form and was the firm leader from start to finish, playing the left hand side of the course. While Doug McGain and his Ciao team tried their hardest to shake Taylor, the Magpie team just kept increasing their lead in the fresh 16 knot breeze.

On the work, the left hand still looked good, but interestingly there were still a few optimists determinedly heading out right looking for a miracle.

At the top mark for the first time, with the tight group behind Taylor pushing to get an inside advantage, Racer X was around the mark and without a skipper. Mark Thornburrow went over the side, but quickly grabbed the mark. His crew were fast in retrieving Thornburrow, rounding the offset mark and then continuing racing.

Even with these distractions, Taylor and his Magpie team of Steve Jarvin and Ben Morrison-Jack remained focused, as they delivered a sixth place in race five and a resounding first in race six, which gave them seven points after a drop.

On the final race day, the boats were off the dock by 0900 hours and there was an air of anticipation that at least another two races would get completed today. Shortly after the lines were dropped, the Race Committee called all tow boats to stop inside Barrenjoey Heads, as the sea mist was again hanging around offshore with visibility down to about 200 metres.

It took until just after mid-day for the mist to disappear, which it did rapidly. It was then a mad scramble to get outside of Barrenjoey Heads and onto the Southern course of the Palm Beach Circle.

The sea looked good; low swell and a pleasant eight to nine knot Nor'easter. But not long after the fleet hit the racetrack, the breeze softened, swung and slipped into the Sou'soueast. There were various wind calls from around the course, from Barrenjoey Head and from North and South of there. The sick Southerly continued to soften.

Just as everyone was starting to wonder what would happen, next a warm Westerly gust blew past the fleet. By 1345 hours the Westerly was settled in and freshening.

Many of the fleet spoke to the race committee by picking up their bat and ball and heading back towards Barrenjoey.

PRO Stephen Merrington in the meantime made the prudent decision to abandon racing.

The boats headed home and the results from the first two days stood.


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