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Gladwell's Line: Tight fleet makes great racing in the JJ's

by Richard Gladwell/ 8 Mar 10:04 GMT 8 March 2019
Winning Group on Sydney Harbour - where else? JJ Giltinan Trophy - March 2019 © Michael Chittenden

In Sydney, New Zealand's defence of the JJ Giltinan Championship is progressing well with two races left in the regatta.

There are four New Zealand teams competing - the defending champion Honda Marine, ASCC - runner up in the 2018 event and an outstanding performance from her rookie crew led by Josh Porebski, C-Tech skippered by Alex (Ginge) Vallings who is synonymous with the 12ft skiff and 18ft skiff scene, and Maersk Line sailed by a rookie crew led by Peron Pease.

After finishing second in controversial circumstances in the 2017 JJ's, Honda Marine dominated the regatta in 2018, and is doing the same again. What the Kiwis didn't know before leaving Auckland was if they were sailing faster than the Australians, and the results would tend to indicate that was indeed the case.

One simple statistic underlines the Kiwi dominance - the Australian crews, sailing in their home waters - have only won a single race of the seven sailed to date. However at least ten boats in the fleet from five nations are capable of winning a race. A German crew led for most of Race 7. Honda Marine has won four races, C-Tech and ASCC have won a race apiece.

This is in the regatta that prior to last year had not been won by a New Zealand boat for 40 years, and given that the Australians enjoyed a substantial home town advantage - the JJ Giltinan Trophy had been considered to be almost unwinnable.

What is impressive about Honda Marine's performance is their ability to sail themselves out of trouble - none more so than in today's second race. They were back in eighth place going into the second and final beat and came through to be first and enjoying a reasonably safe lead going into the final run to the finish.

Same for ASCC helmed by 49er sailor Josh Porebski, who scored a first and second in the races sailed today - and came within a few metres of coming away with two wins from two races. ASCC has been a little up and down this regatta, but like Honda Marine, they can make bold moves and reap the rewards. It is quite remarkable to watch - given that it is Sydney Harbour - and the Kiwis are sailing against generations of local knowledge.

All the Kiwi boats have had their moments in the regatta - with C-Tech winning the third race - sailed in the most extreme conditions to date with the seabreeze gusting to 25kts. Maersk Line got into the lead bunch today - her second foray into the top ten.

Coverage of the regatta has gone up several notches this year, with up to ten cameras being deployed, including extensive use of drone-borne cameras which replace helicopters - in fact, there are no choppers used for the coverage.

That means greatly reduced costs, and no downdraft to interfere with the race-boats.

Aeromedia, owned by one of the 18ft skippers in the regatta, Jono Whitty, is providing many of the facilities and production for the event.

Another key part of the production team is the camera cat - an aluminium rocketship which started life carrying commentators and has been modified to take a small camera and video production team.

The point that sets this event apart from the others is that the commentary team is on the water, and can see the video that is being transmitted.

In this event there is none of the oft-criticised studio based commentary team who are disconnected from the events on the water. It is a commentator led production, and works very well indeed.

The lead, or continuity commentator, Mark Heeley has a very good understanding of the event, and the 18fters generally. English born and with minimal accent, he speaks clearly and is easy to understand. Mark has been associated with the event for many years. He is on the camera cat along with two other commentators - one of whom is usually a guest commentator of the likes of Andrew Buckland, Peter Shipway and Iain Murray - who are able to bring a fresh perspective to the racing and provide some interesting comment on other matters sailing in between. The camera cat driver this year Jimmy Bury, an ex-18 and 16ft skiff sailor who is making a huge difference with his knowledge of not only driving in amongst the fleet but also his commentary.

The camera work is very good - given the very raw circumstances. This regatta we have been treated to some outstanding sequences of 18ft skiffs at full flight, sailing with big rigs downwind in a big seabreeze.

Is the JJ's the best sailing TV in the world? It's hard to think of one that's better.

This regatta is a must see - it is broadcast live on Youtube - and embedded on the home page of Sail-World. Other broadcasters of sailing events should be taking very careful notes of this unique, raw and very high-quality live production.

For sure the now largely one-design 18ft skiffs would have made a much better Olympic Event sailing a nine or 12 race series than watching a two-night two-handed Offshore Race.

Mixed skiff, anyone?

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