by Rob Kothe
Friday 4th June, a 55 boat fleet will start the six race Musto Etchells Winter Championship off Mooloolaba on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
The Australian Etchells racing circuit is strong. Already this year the Commonwealth Bank Australian titles were sailed in Adelaide, followed by the Audi Etchells World Championship in Melbourne.
While there are lots of high profile sailors on the circuit and a dozen names come tumbling off the tongue as potential regatta winners, there are some sailors whose exploits are less well known by many from both inside and outside the Etchells racing scene, because much of their sailing has been 'out of town'.
A good example is the three man crew aboard the Sydney based Roulette, who will be on the start line on Friday morning, Mark Johnson, Nik Burfoot and Christian Allen
The two Sydney Etchells sailors Johnson and Burfoot, along with multiple US champion helmsman Jud Smith, last year won the 2008 Etchells North American Championship. Johnson and Burfoot represented the Sydney Fleet and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.
'When you look at some of the past Etchells North American champions, Dennis Conner, Jud Smith, Russell Coutts, John Kostecki just to name a few, this is a most prestigious event' Johnson says.
'For Jud it was his fifth North American title in a row, but for Nik and I it was our greatest international result in Etchells, although we did finish eighth in a borrowed boat at the North Americans in Chicago the previous year. We hope to be defending our North American title in Toronto, Canada in September.'
Johnson has been sailing in Etchells for about ten years, originally with David Sturrock and then, over the past couple of seasons, skippering his own boat Roulette which he bought from the late Jim Annand, one of the founders of the Etchells in Sydney.
The Roulette mid-boat crew New Zealander Nik Burfoot, is a former World Laser Champion. He won the Laser Worlds in 1994 and came second in 1995 and 1997 to the legendary Robert Scheidt. Burfoot, who now lives in Sydney, also sailed with Sturrock before going on to join Johnson in Roulette.
Johnson said that crewing with Jud Smith means 'they have been flying under the radar' whilst learning the finer details.
'I think the main thing with Jud is he sails at a level of intensity that is hard to describe. From the second he gets on the boat he is working remorselessly, and I mean the whole time. He's a 'one off' there's no question. But spending race time with Jud, as we did again when we came fifth in the 2009 Etchells Worlds in Melbourne, doesn't hurt the way you trim and the way you look at trim.
'I have done a few Mooloolaba Mid-winters in the old Roulette with Nik. We did the last one in the old boat and I did not drive, but we were in training format for Jud. Normally I drive my own boat but when Jud's aboard why would you? Nik and I just move forward a spot.
'For this event, we have both moved back. I'm going to drive and Nik will do the middle. Our bow Chris Allen was originally a Perth sailor, he sailed the America's Cup in 1987. Chris has been in the Etchells class for 22 years, he sailed Etchells a lot in Detroit and around, so he knows the pointy end pretty well.
'There is another difference for us from last time in Mooloolaba, it is our new Roulette. The first Roulette was a five year old boat when I bought it and I put plenty of miles on it.
'This new Roulette is almost a baby by comparison. The highly respected Canadian Dirk Kneulman built it for Jud for the Chicago Worlds, we sailed it to win the North Americans, then again with Jud in Melbourne, so we know it is a fast boat.
'So now we are here in Mooloolaba. The Mid-Winters is a great regatta, in a great spot to sail and Mooloolaba offers good accommodation. It's a good place to be for some high intensity offshore racing.
'We are very relaxed and ready to have some fun. This will be the first time we have raced the new Roulette ourselves. We haven't sailed in this formation for the best part of a year so we are not expecting great things. We're just going to go and enjoy it.'
Musto Etchells Winter Championships