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Where to from here with your Etchells?

by John Curnow 18 Jul 04:25 BST
Havoc out on the water ensuring they were on pace for the last race of the series on day 4 of the Etchells Australian Championship © John Curnow

First and foremost, the Etchells is a strict One Design Class. Now it may not be spoken about anywhere near as much, yet the way the Class conducts itself, and then also shares information within, is nearly done as passionately as the sailing itself.

On the back of the incredible success in Texas of the new AM Etchells from the Australian mould, it is important to note that all is not lost. You do not need to turn your existing Etchells into a bar in your backyard. All the elements contained in the thinking that delivered the result for Havoc and Magpie are in existence already, from mast and sails, to deck hardware and layout. So if you want to have the latest, you can.

Right now it is important to stop and take notice for one moment of the Corinthian, and Youth crews from Australia, the UK and USA who are all standing up to be counted. In the same breath, you need to look at Matt Chew, Ben Vercoe, Brian Donovan and Mitch Kennedy in hull #864. Indeed, Matt was part of the Magpie experience at Mooloolaba, and went along to Texas as shore crew, as well.

Chew commented, “I can still win in my boat, and plan to have a crack at 2020 in Perth.” Always one to be able to see the whole picture, Chew now smiles about just how close they were being the reigning Australian Champions, if it were not for the trip on the crack in footpath at the last race.

“It is important to note that they have picked the level up, and the attention to detail in all areas. No one thing makes the boats exceptional, just the whole package. There were six sailors on the two boats who are all individually world class”, said Chew.

This is a point also reiterated by former World Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist, Tom King. “Apart from Jeanne-Claude Strong and her crew on 1435, no one else has put in the time on the water like Havoc and Magpie, and they appear at all the regattas, as well.” In the same breath, a lot of other crews need to be mentioned for the amount of sailing they do in addition to their normal lives. Certainly Kirwan Robb, Hugo Allison, Sam Tiedermann, Rod Miller/Brett Taylor on Triad, and then Billy Merrington, Geoff Bonouvrie, and Ian McKillop on Top 40 jump straight into mind.

So as Richie Allanson himself says, they “…looked at everything from the tip of the mast to the bottom of the keel, and made sure it was all the best that was achievable inside the Class Rules.” This meant utilising all their own experience and ideas, as well as going to experts in sails and masts.

On the former, trainspotters will note that David Turton, Josh Torpy and Julian Plante won Mooloolaba on Our Thing, and they were utilising North Sails radial aero package. Josh is part of North Sail’s Brisbane loft, and involved in the OD team that Noel Drennan is so critical a component of.

Then if you look to Texas, you’ll note that Havoc won with North Sails’ cross cut panel sails, including a variant of the venerable GM jib, the GT and MAL. Drennan said, “North Sails have an extensive catalogue of sail inventory to match your complete aero package, including mast section. There is our existing tuning guide, and Richie and Iain have their material that co-exists and harnesses all the developments they have created. We have a sale on right now until August 16th, so if you want to make sure you can hunt with the best, then get the best sails with a significant saving as a bonus.”

One of the key people involved in a lot of the testing of sails has been Tom King. King commented, “We started working with North Sails on mainsail development in 2012, and since then we have been slowly but steadily developing the radial sails, on and off over the last six years. We have actually bought six or seven mains over this time to be able to do this. The aim is to achieve a sail that is a good as cross cut, but takes advantage of the radial construction to be more durable, and potentially improve performance in some specific conditions.”

“This is no easy task. North Sails’ standard Etchells sails have a long history of development by some of the best sailors in the world and are a very refined product. We started out testing some ideas about how we could improve on these sails, but the longer we worked on it the closer we have come back to the shapes of the standard sails. I expect the next iteration will be a production ready version. More recently we have been working on radial jibs with the objective to replicate the flying shapes of the successful cross cut sails, and the latest versions are close to the mark.”

“It has been a very interesting project, but the most interesting part has been what we've learnt about Etchells rigs and how to tune and trim to get consistent performance across the wind range - this is far more important than the specific sails or boat you are using. There have been some interesting developments recently with inboard sheeting of jibs, and related to that using very tight mainsheet tension. We haven't explored that mode of tuning yet - we've typically focused on a slightly deeper, more twisted, more forgiving setup.”

“However, at the end of the day by far the biggest factor is how much time you put in on the water and how accurate you are in your basic steering and trimming. The guys who have been winning regattas recently - Iain, GT, and David Turton - have all put a lot of time and effort on the water, and it shows in how consistently fast they are across the wind range”

Overall, the design of an Etchells rig is very old, and very much forms part of the ‘tin sticks and symmetrical bags’ mantra that is so adored the world over. Now just like the whole craft, Whale Spars have been looking and thinking about it all since they built their first mast for Jeanne-Claude Strong back in 2009. Interestingly, Tony Pearce engineers all their spars, and was part of Iain Murray’s Kookaburra campaign way back yonder.

“Originally, we did the mean position for all the locations of gear. Over years you appreciate whether something is big or small, and up or down. As our gear is engineered, it tends to be conservative in terms of sleeves and fittings. For instance, the sleeves at the hounds are not the smallest at 400mm, but not the longest allowed (650), either”, said John Denton.

“After working on Etchells five or six years of age, we found that there needed to be a lot of repairs on spreaders. This is could have been due to poor treatment during transport, as well as corrosion issues. The sleeving through the deck has become more important with introduction of the mast lever, as it is securely, mechanically fitted to the section, as all of this helps to stop compression at the partners, and cracking at the upper halyard exit box.”

“Historically, masts have not been made by spar makers, so we have gone in and improved the basics, like sleeving and mounting, along with removing welds like the forestay, which became mechanical instead. As a result, the hole was then half the size of what it used to be, and then backstay load in area was reduced.”

“By putting attention to detail first, we have ensured that nothing is done that is not required, and therefore minimise the consequent loss of strength in overall structure. The key items would be retention of integrity of the original spar from the masthead through the hounds, and spreaders, down to the deck, and the heel of the mast. In this way the whole section can move as required, without putting additional undue stress on specific areas.”

“It is the same at the hounds, and indeed the same thinking has been applied across the board. We are not directly hunting speed for the boat, other than removing weight aloft, by removing the sleeving at the hounds. Actually, it is about providing the best and most uniform bend throughout the entire section that can be achieved inside the rules.”

“We have been fortunate that Andrew Palfrey has been selling our gear overseas, and three boxes of six masts each have just gone to him. They don’t really sit on the shelf, and we have another 20 being made right now. They should take something like six to eight weeks.” Note that at this stage just four of them are spoken for, so get in quick, as this is an artisan business, and things can take time to be made correctly and properly.

Proudly Australian, Iain Murray himself reflected on it all by saying, “This is the sum of many little parts delivering small gains that amounted to a bit in totality. It is the result of a few years of thinking. We could have sailed a Heritage boat, and done the same thing. It is not just the boat, it’s the whole package, and the sailing of it too. You need every bit of it to make it so.”

In a clear reference to just how closely Havoc and Magpie work together, and that it is about all the little things adding up together, Murray added, “If you take Corpus Christi, Magpie had a mixed bag of results after four races. We made the forestay 15mm longer, wound the mast adjuster up 5mm, then they sheeted the jib on and in a little more, and they won the next five races in a row!”

“Richie is helping everyone, and is totally transparent. There will be a new tuning guide available soon, but remember, it is a narrow groove when you go down this path, and that means you and your crew need to be right on, all of the time. Mainsail is sheeted on really hard to act as runners in a way. This in turn increases forestay tension, which straightens the jib up, you can point higher, and sheet it on even tighter, as well.”

“Having less weight aloft is always a good thing, and we use good old 1x19 standing rigging. This all helps in the light stuff. What we have been able to do is also be able to take it up range too.”

So the Class has been around for ages and looks set continue its brilliance and Class President, David Ritchard said, “Whilst the shape and fundamentals of the Etchells are 50 years old, Skip Etchells and our forefathers had the foresight, drive and vision to allow development. Unlike metre classes, where development has led to a very different boat, the Etchells remains very much the same whilst tweaking and advancing equipment that make the boat go faster better higher and make it a better boat.”

“Evidenced by the masters who continue to sail in our class exampled by John Bertrand, Jud Smith, Peter Conde, Iain Murray, and past masters such as David Curtis, Dennis Connor, and Pod O’Donnell we have been enriched by their creativity, skill and in all cases a willingness to share in development so that the class expands and remains vital alive and relevant. Lately we are experiencing an emergence of youth teams who, if nurtured will be our future.”

“The input of sail makers, spar makers, fitting suppliers has resulted in quantum development that hopefully will not cease. We must also be thankful of the toilers of the class who continue through ups and downs in fashions and thoughts to turn out boats that are consistent, top quality, last a long time, can take a beating and stay competitive. Raise a glass to our boat builders over the years – Savage Boats, Phil Maloney - Pam Craft, Ian Bashford – Bashford Boats, Tony Doyle and Phil Smidmore - Pacesetter, with production at Innovation Composites, under the control of Mark Rowed.”

“They generate the magnificent and consistent framework for our Class. This forms the basis for excellence in development that we are seeing with the efforts and imagination of Iain Murray and Richie Allanson. The boats now available are a result of tortuous application to excellence and completed with imaginative and super functional rigging to be the best we have ever seen.”

“The class will move forward as a result of all these consistent efforts and applications. Thanks to all.”

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