Saturday, 6 June 2009

Mooloolaba's Musto Etchells Winter Championships - Day One Report

A bit of swell on the first day of the Musto Etchells Winter Championships. Image copyright Peter Duncan.

by Rob Kothe

The 13th annual Musto Etchells Australian Winter Championship started this morning when the 54 boat fleet was gunned away in glorious winter sunshine and six knots of breeze.

Race 1, sponsored by the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, had a clean start and the fleet set out on the 1.8 nautical mile first leg.

The wind was building up the first leg, reaching 7.5 knots as the fleet headed to the first mark. It soon became apparent that the boats that had been hardest left had done best.

At the top mark, Una Mas (Mark Dagge, Matthew Hansen and Joshua Willis) was first around, followed by Fifteen (David Clark), Tango (Christopher Hampton), and Temptress (David Lawrence).

Hot on the leaders tails were Critical Balance (Mark Bulka), Funky Cold Medina (Vaughan Prentice), last year’s winner Magpie (Graeme Taylor), Velsheda (skippered by New Zealand’s Alastair Gair) and Trekka (Chris Williams).

The wind shifted left 20 degrees and the course was changed. Mid race the swell had built to one metre but conditions had softened and the breeze has dropped to five knots.

Una Mas continued to hold form and was first across the finish line, followed by Velsheda and Fifteen. Tango was fourth, with Roulette fifth. Magpie, Barry, Heaven Can Wait, Critical Balance and Two Speed completed the top ten.

Roulette (Mark Johnson). Image copyright Peter Duncan.

After Race 1 skipper Alastair Gair was happy with his second place result. ‘We had a reasonable start. We went only a little left, and then consolidated, but we realised that the boats that went harder left were advantaged. On the second beat we hit the corner hard and that took us up into second place.’

In Race 2, sponsored by Queensland Events, David Clark’s Fifteen was fast away at the pin end followed closely midline by the Mark Bradford skippered Roni and Damien King’s Barry.

At the top mark Alastair Gair was leading by three lengths from Damien King, who had to dance through a 360 after touching the top mark. However, their gap on the next boat Roulette (Mark Johnson) was such that they did not lose a placing. Roni was fourth with early leader Fifteen next.

But it was not so easy further back in the fleet. Having been quick to a good shift, 1997 Mooloolaba Winter series winner David Rose (Fair Bump Play On) approached the top mark around tenth in the pack. But Rose was caught out by the tidal rip and in the light conditions was pushed onto the mark. A good placing quickly turned to custard as the boat sat stalled against the yellow buoy. They finally managed to escape, do their penalty turn and reinsert themselves into the fleet at a cost of 30 places. They sailed out of their skins on the next three legs and managed to cross in 11th place.

Up front Gair and his Velsheda crew held the lead as the fleet headed to the bottom mark and tacked right to clear away from the 'gas' of the fleet approaching the mark. Behind them came Bradford, Clarke, King and Johnson.

Conditions lightened as they worked their way to the top mark and Gair extended his lead over the fleet. Sydney sailor Mark Johnson (Roulette) was second, with Damien King (Barry) third. Vaughan Prentice on Funky Cold Medina was fourth.

With tidal set and the jury boat camped beside the buoy, on this rounding competitors were careful to go wide around the mark.

The wind had dropped to six knots as Gair gapped the fleet down the last run to receive the winner’s gun.

Damien King's Barry edged ahead of Roulette and Funky Cold Medina. Tian Hua (skippered by Hong Kong sailor Simon Ellis), Fifteen, Resurgent (John Sheehan), Humpback (Peter Gardner), Bushfire (Jervis Tilly) and Waterloo Bay (Noel Paterson) completed the top ten.

Overall, after the first two races in the 2009 series New Zealand's Alastair Gair, Velsheda, with crew Anna De Fluiter, Dave Ridley and Derek Scott, leads after today's 2,1 placings from Mark Johnson's Roulette on 5,2. Damien King is third with finishes of 7,2, ahead of David Clarke and Vaughan Prentice.

Dockside winners were grinners. Alastair Gair, who has been on the Etchells circuit for almost five years, surprised in 2006 with a second in the Fremantle Etchells Worlds. Today he commented ‘We are used to sailing in heavier conditions at home in New Zealand and that has been our strength up to now. But we have been working hard in training to improve our light wind speed and if today is a guide, we are on the right track.’

Damien King and crew on Barry. Image copyright Peter Duncan.

Second overall after two races, Mark Johnson was both frustrated and pleased with his day at the office.

'Nik Burfoot and I sailed the last year with Jud Smith at the North Americans and Worlds, and now we all moved back a slot. This was my first race on the helm for the last 15 months. We went around the bottom marks like novices; we were just lucky that two good starts and good speed overcame that.

'This boat is beautifully set up and is certainly fast. The leverage of speed makes such a difference for tactics, being able to hold a lane. We are happy to be in the middle of the course. The way we got around the course today, if we have more breeze, we might have killed someone, so we will be happy to see light conditions again tomorrow.'

Damien King, fresh from his second placing at the 2009 Worlds in Melbourne, showed that for them speed was not an issue, but that the tide was.

He commented, ‘The tide surprised us more than anything today... must have been up to two knots at the top mark. We hit the top mark on the first leg of the second race and luckily were able to do a 360 without losing a place. It could have been worse.

‘We came into this regatta looking for top ten results in every race and today’s 7 and 2 means with two keepers we are on track.'

Racing starts at 10am Saturday, and if there is enough breeze three races will be sailed.

Musto Etchells Winter Championships

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