Photo Credits: Kylie Wilson - positiveimage.com.au
Lincoln Fraser (Alliance 1295) recently attended the NSW State Champs on Lake Macquarie and sends this report:
Ben, Sam, Geoff and I departed Auckland early on a Thursday taking a full set of sails plus tools, and sailing gear to attend the NSW State Champs at Lake Macquarie. Geoff Woolley was filling in for our regular main trimmer, Craig Campbell, and only started main trim in an Etchell earlier in the week at the Auckland Champs. We had chartered Etchell 1213 which was located at Lake Macquarie Yacht Club and was sitting in the water awaiting our arrival.
After a two and a half hour drive North of Sydney in our Hyundai Imax van (which fortunately had space to accommodate the mainsail) we arrived at the ‘lake’ which is actually a 40km long - but quite narrow - lagoon (complete with great white and bull sharks!). We easily found the boat and set about tuning and modifying a few systems. The work was challenging, given the 39 degree heat and very light wind, but as the sea breeze kicked in, we took the opportunity to get out on the course for some boat handling and system familiarisation work. The balance of the 40 boat fleet continued to arrive throughout the afternoon and next morning.
We ventured out that night for dinner at a restaurant at the Belmont 16’ Club which was quite extraordinary. This was far and away the biggest ‘yacht club’ I have been to – showing off the power of pokie revenue, the club closer resembled sky city casino than a typical yacht club, all the more extraordinary given its focus on one type of skiff sailing!!
Race 1 got away in a 15 – 20 knot SSE breeze and sharp chop for a circa 1.5 mile twice around windward leeward course. We felt good about the right, with a beneficial wind bend off the shoreline and started towards the boat end. However, a 20 degree shift to the left provided a tough welcome to the fleet as we rounded the top mark, deep in the late 20’s or early 30’s. An early gybe at the top allowed us to get around a group of about 10 boats on the first run, many of these gained at the bottom gate as we had a clear left turn. Despite carrying more than 50kg of water in the bilge (unfortunately the charter boat’s pump stopped working before the start) and losing a couple of boats on the last run, we managed to hold 16th, with which we were very pleased as a first race result.
LESSON 1: Check everything on a charter boat – our charterer, Richard, had worked on the boat and all the line systems were in great shape, however we did not test the pump until we were out on the course – the split pipes were repaired with tape, but after a few successful pumps the internal pump chamber fell apart.
Race 2 got away in similar conditions, we enjoyed a front row start right to leeward to Peter McNeil (former Etchells World Champion and Lake Macquarie local). We were very pleased to be able to hold pace with McNeil up the first ¾ of the beat and we were strongly in the top 5 as we chose to dip his stern and continue to the right of the course near the top end of the beat. In hindsight it should have been obvious to stick with the local champion. The course became very shifty at the top of the beat and we lost out to a large group from the left with another 20 degree shift from what otherwise had been a fairly stable beat.
McNeil went on to take his second 2nd place for the day, this time behind John Warlow on 1422 Land Rat (a new generation Smidmore Etchell) from Queensland. Ben missed much of the action on runs in this race as he was stationed in the bilge with a water bottle bailer and a bucket! We manged to pull back a few places through the balance of the race and finished 10th, which, again, we were very pleased with.
LESSON 2: Take great care splitting away from the top locals – lake sailing at its best
Arriving back at the club we certainly felt the difference of the long courses. Plenty to talk about over a few Aussie brews. As expected, the fleet was very welcoming and supportive and we were thanked for making the effort, which was appreciated.
With an earlier start time of 11:00am, Race 3 was started in about 12 – 16 knots with an ESE direction, the breeze coming more offshore (albeit, a very narrow shore that separates the ‘lake’ from the sea). We deduced that the left was again favoured for a material wind bend off the shoreline on this side of the course, an observation that was also shared by the locals. Unfortunately, this time we were not able to maintain a front row position and slowly stated having more and more pain inflicted on us as we managed to combine a consistent routine of dipping sterns and being squeezed off and spat out the back. Our battle for clear air continued onto the second beat where we were not at any stage able to sail the lanes that we wanted. In the end, it was a race to forget and certainly one to discard as we came across the line in 32nd!
Battling it out with the back ¼ of the fleet was as tough as the top ¼ infact it did seem tougher as within top 10 boats, a starboard taker on a close cross would almost always call a port tacker through, whereas down the fleet, it was consistently the opposite, even when the starboard tacker would always be forced to tack away! McNeil racked up a race win and looked to have an iron grip on the regatta. Warlow, who looked so strong on day 1 with a 3-1 in the first two races, came slightly unstuck with a 25th.
LESSON 3: Do not fall off the front row of the left side of the course – it is a very long way to clear air
Race 4 was slightly lighter and we again managed to start right next to McNeil – maybe we were the bunny he had picked out to start next to? After a good start, we were again able to almost stick with McNeil as the other boats started falling away. In five minutes sailing on one board we only lost about one length on him, but when we started coming back from the left, that one length soon turned into many more as we were dipping and he was crossing. Geoff made an interesting observation, in the 12 – 15 knots, apart from a small amount of traveller down in the gusts, McNeil’s trimmer did not seem to be playing backstay or main sheet tension – they were just hiking and driving. The guys sailed very well and, after some very intense sailing, we came across the line in 8th. McNeil managed a 2nd place once again and looked untouchable. Speed did not seem to be the difference – just good smart sailing with local knowledge in what was becoming a patchy and shifty afternoon.
As the breeze lightened, odd lanes started occurring where you could be loosely sandwiched between two boats and get pressure and a lift that neither the boat above nor the boat below get – similarly, you could have boats lift out from under you – tough conditions!
LESSON 4: Small gains compound
After two long races already, there was no celebration on our boat as the Wilson brothers hoisted the course 2 pennant for the third and final race of the day – adding a windward beat to the end of Course 1. We managed another good start and were leading the fleet back from the left and looking very strong until a group of about eight boats came back from the hard right well in control. The odd thing was that, after the eight boats, there was a very large gap back to the rest of the fleet from the right – highlighting the patchy and shifty conditions. After losing a few boats on the first run, but then recovering more than we lost on the next beat and run, we did a left turn rounded the bottom mark just behind Michael Coxon and about the same time (but opposite gates) with Jeanne-Claude Strong (Neville Wittey as tactician) in about 11th place, with only a beat to go. Geoff liked the look of dark clouds that were forming on the right and together with Coxon we went hard right. We were rewarded with a 15 degree right shift and considerably more pressure which brought us close to the layline. Things were going well as the shift held in for the majority of the beat and we were eagerly awaiting the sail numbers of the boats coming back from the left to see how much we had gained. Not surprising I guess, given the day, we had actually lost ground on the boats to leeward, Strong/Wittey who had been working the left came out comfortably ahead and then in the final 100m to the finish we were caught slightly out of phase to finish in 15th.
Even the traveller bolt shearing could not be blamed for what was just excellent close racing in tough lake conditions. It was good to be finished for the day and the Aussie beer tasted even better than the night before!
Being caught out by the shifty conditions, McNeil finished 20th, which could immediately be discarded to leave him strongly in first place at days end ahead of Peter Merrington’s Top 40. Merrington finished the Australian Nationals in 4th, ahead of McNeil and so was certainly on our ‘watch-list” and after a slow start with a 14th and 13th in the first two races was now hitting his straps with a 5-3-1 on day 2.
Diving the boat on the morning of Day 3 (Sunday) I found that there were quite a lot of little barnacles, possibly due to the boat having been in the water since Wednesday morning. Oops – probably should have done that sooner!
Race 4 on day 3 was postponed as a light SE breeze kept boats ashore. When racing finally started the breeze had built to around 5 – 7 knots but quite patchy. We decided to go with our runner, which, in hindsight, was a mistake as the breeze dropped away during the afternoon, however we benefited from a strong start and managed to squeeze off the boats above us (including Velsheda 950) and again be in the top bunch coming back from the left. Strong led back from the right and rounded the top mark in the lead that they would not relinquish.
The race became a tactical minefield, with pressure line, large shifts and nasty holes. Our team sailed our best race finishing in 6th. McNeil struggled again finishing in 21st - potentially losing him the regatta. However, Merrington’s Top 40 finished one place ahead of us in 5th, to finish on equal points with McNeil, McNeil winning on count back. After comfortably winning the last race, Strong finished one point behind on 28 points just ahead of Chris Hampton and Warlow. Typically close Etchells racing!
We finished in 10th, with which we were very pleased, but, importantly for us, we felt we were improving as the regatta went on.
The regatta was a great experience and we are really keen to get back over for some more, potentially the Australasian Champs in Mooloolaba in June.
Logistically, it was very straightforward and did not take that much to organise – I highly recommend anyone who is keen to give it a go! We had to take 3 days off work/school as given the regatta 2 hours plus from Sydney, we were not able to make the last flight out on Sunday night. A regatta near to an airport would make this easier.
Editor's Note: Many congratulations to Lincoln Fraser, Ben Fraser, Geoff Woolley and Sam Melville on an outstanding regatta.
Results of the NSW State Champs are here.
Alex Webster is Auckland Fleet Captain and runs this website, so blame him.