REPORT BY LINCOLN FRASER
Ben, Sam and I headed off to Brisbane on a cool June Thursday morning for the Mooloolaba Etchells Australasian champs. Meeting Geoff in Brisbane, we hired our twin cab hilux “Bazza” for the easy 90 minute drive to Mooloolaba. Bazza came with a tow bar for bringing our boat back to the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron after the regatta concluded. Bazza also came with a flashing light, roo bars, roll bars, VHF radio, etc – we felt very masculine as we pulled out of the Budget carpark, alongside a despondent looking business man in his little Hyundai i30!
Phil Smidmore had delivered our Etchell “Newby” up to Mooloolaba the preceding weekend. In a beautiful, cloudless 20+ degree afternoon, rigging took longer than expected as we had a first go at rigging a boat from scratch, but with some useful help from our boat park neighbours, including Australian yachting personality, Neville Wittey. Nev ran us through the benefits of using brasso on the hull and so Ben was dispatched to pick up bits and pieces from the marine and local stores, but, needless to say, by the time the race organisers came over and told us that the mobile crane crew were finishing up and we needed to get launched, we were a long way away from even giving the hull a good wash let, alone thinking about a fine polish!
A quick launching and then Ben and Sam paddled the boat down to the regatta marina where they moored up next to one of the pre-regatta favourites, Matt Chew’s Gen XY as the sun set. Matt is the only person to win the Mooloolaba regatta more than once.
The regatta was run by the world-class twin-brother PRO team of Ross and Kevin Wilson, with their wives, supporting local race organisers it is a very slick operation. The racing was on the beautiful sailing water well out off Mooloolaba beach. We were fortunate that the seas were kind – there were bar stories of days where the race committee would hold boats at the breakwater between surf sets, calling boats through with a “go, go, go, go” yell to get the boats out before the next big waves come through!
It was very good to catch up with old 470 friends including Tom King, who has gone on to much bigger and brighter things with an Olympic gold medal and Etchells World Championship under his belt and Mark Bradford who is now a top pro-sailor and who runs North Sails in Brisbane. Tom generously came on board Newby each day with his young son Lachie and would share tuning tips and thoughts on our setup, which was hugely valuable. The Australian fleet was very welcoming and generous and it was great to catch up with some of the friends we made at Lake Macquarie.
Day 1’s racing started with a gentle Southerly in a second clear blue sky day. Warming up against Dirk van der Struyf and his Perth-based team, we were a bit off the pace leading us to change jibs and soften the rig. The conditions were truly ‘champagne sailing’, I found that I had to loosen my buoyancy vest as racing in a T shirts was almost too hot on the runs! We had a great first race with a strong right shift that Geoff picked really well and, despite feeling a little slow, we had a great result finishing 7th out of 39.
Race 2 was a good consistent result with a 14th, this time Geoff had us work away from the locals and do an un-favoured right turn at the bottom gate heading out to sea on the left of the beat – we picked up a great 10 degree shift and made considerable gains and held out position on the run. The breeze was lightening and was now down to about 6 – 7 knots with a chop which was punched into on starboard – we were struggling to find height and speed in the lumpier conditions. The final race of the day was a really tough one for us after I shanked the start. Our lack of pace leaving us unable to hold lanes made for a lot of tacks and left us in 24th and thinking hard on the (really beautiful) sail back to the harbour. Gen XY held an overnight lead and had the honours of wearing the gold jersey for Day 2, although there was some caution around this as the Day 1 gold jersey was worn by last year’s winner Jean-Claude Strong and her team on Yandoo XX, unfortunately for them they were involved in a bad incident where, to quote them: “another boat became intimate with their boat” (or language to that effect) leaving them with a suitcase size hole in the hull.
Day 2 was again a light weather affair which saw us onto the VMG kite, but retaining the LMH jib as the forecast for day 3 was for up to 30 knots – we measured in the LMH and GM with a PCF main. Again, we tuned up with Dirk and his team ahead of racing but, again, we were off the pace despite a re-tune incorporating tips from Tom and his regatta fill-in crew, North Sail’s Michael Coxon.
Race 4 yielded up a handy 16th place after some great progress on the runs in the close racing. Race 5 was starting to get very light with crew down as we struggled to get the boat moving in the residual chop. Again after a poor start (I felt well out of practice) we made a strong recovery down the mine-field of a first run, only to be shut out at the bottom mark, having to decide between hitting a boat that infringed us hard, or an innocent boat softly I chose the latter which when combined with a stupid decision to try and do a 720 too close to the mark left us with a shocking 33rd on the score sheet – tough day at the office as the wind crumpled and we were towed back to the club.
Day 3 brought a change from the typical warm blue Queensland sky and dark clouds and wind made us feel more like home! Racing started in a good 16 – 20 knots with 25 knot gusts and sizeable seas.
Our Race 5 start was better but could at best be described as ordinary. Our speed was ordinary and I even managed a good Chinese gybe on the first run in a good 25 knot gust. Despite feeling good about the race we were disappointed to count off a 20th at the finish. It was at this point we tried to look beyond the rig settings and focused on the jib blocks which we changed for larger ones to suit our new jib sheets (as the jib sheets would not run through the smaller ones). I still had the small ones on board and we changed these between races. The breeze continue to build and the final race was going to be a good one! We pushed it at the start and came away on the front row, working the left with RQ’s Land Rat we rounded the top mark just inside the top 10. While a number of boats gybed off early on the first run, we held on and were rewarded with a sustained 20-25 knots and a good set of waves which saw us surf through to 3rd at the bottom mark with some world class boats right on our tail.
We worked low under Land Rat and Dirk’s Animal House and punched out to the right for flatter seas and a right shift off the beach. Nearing the top mark, we had found our boat speed and had closed right in on Land Rat and Animal House and had pulled away from the chasing pack. The Race Committee were recording 30 knots on the final run, which was a hold-on-tight affair – we managed to get past Dirk and were closing in on Land Rat, but then got out of phase with the waves as we started to think about simply finishing, not just finishing first. With the boats surfing such that the bow waves were landing behind the stern, it was a wild ride, which included a couple of broken masts and gear failure. We finished 3rd in the race and 15th for the regatta and were thrilled to have at last found some speed and to be able to control the boat (most of the time) in that breeze and sea state.
At the head of the fleet it was a remarkably close affair with Doug McGain winning the regatta by 1 point from Grant Hudson and his young team of relative newcomers.
The Australasian Champs is a fantastic regatta and we are all really keen to do this again next year. I highly recommend it and I am sure we can find good charter boats from the RQ fleet if others are interested in doing this also.
Alex Webster is Auckland Fleet Captain and runs this website, so blame him.