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There is always a sizable fleet with the Etchells…

by John Curnow 24 Oct 06:36 BST From 7 January 2020
Racing on Port Phillip as the Sou'Wester builds - Etchells Victorian State Championships © ajmckinnonphotography.com

And this is because since their inception just over 50 years ago there has been a strong conviction by the Corinthians to be a part of the best One Design sailing going around. It is as true today as ever, for there are boat numbers from the 8 and 900s still being campaigned hard, whether as part of their local fleet, or trailered across the land to compete in different waters.

The 2020 Etchells Australian Championship is to be held from January 7 out of the home base for the Melbourne Fleet, the Royal Brighton Yacht Club. As usual, the fleet will showcase some of this country's sailing greats, including current Etchells Australian and World Champions, Iain Murray, Colin Beashel and Richie Allanson. Olympic Gold Medallist, America's Cup sailor, and recently crowned SailGP winner, Tom Slingsby will also be there, as too the ever youthful, multiple Australian and World Champion, John Bertrand AO.

"However, while the best of the best continue to return to the Etchells for what is so highly regarded as being the best fleet racing in Australia, at the heart of this truly one design class is the Corinthian. For it is in this one simple word that the spirit of the Etchells Class is perhaps best represented, encapsulating notions of camaraderie and mateship in pursuance of the highest standards of amateur sportsmanship", said International Etchells Class of Australia President, Mark Roberts.

"And I will tell you what, there are not too many classes where you are able to enjoy the benefits of being truly Corinthian while at the same time mixing it up against the professionals in the same patch of water. And there is nothing better than beating them!"

"In recognition of the importance of the Corinthian division, and growing their presence within the Etchells class, the Australian Association has determined to implement a few changes. Notably and importantly, the Corinthian fleet is going to be offered to join in with additional coaching, and the trophy itself will be given even more importance as part of the whole equation, before, during, and especially after the racing is done."

"Maintaining the focus on the Corinthian element is of critical importance in our current and future plans for the Etchells class. This echoes the attitude not only here in Australia, but also internationally. We are currently enjoying tremendous growth on the back of the Brisbane World Championship. With the Perth Worlds in November 2020, and the Worlds also returning to Melbourne in 2023, the growth of the class is only expected to increase significantly. At a grass roots level this by virtue of the interest and drive of the amateurs within our fleets."

So what is about being a Corinthian?

Arguably the best place to start is with the new Melbourne Fleet Captain, James Bacon, who in a lot ways epitomises the newer type of Etchells sailor - in love with it, competing hard and as often as they can, and also rising up to the challenge of taking on an office inside the Fleets and Executive.

Bacon commented, "We're definitely pretty excited about it. There is a good energy around the place, especially now that we have secured the 2023 World Championship. We are aiming for 40 boats at the Australian Championship next January, and it would be great to crack 50 boats. We are really wanting to see some of the fleets closer to Melbourne, like Geelong and Metung, get totally behind this title, and we could well do 50 boats if that occurs."

"We know there are boats form Adelaide, Sydney, and Brisbane too that are keen, and we will make anyone from Perth very welcome. Just make contact with us", added Bacon.

Buying into the fleet in 2011, Bacon upgraded to his newer boat, Vendetta, in 2016, and with a young family, including children aged three and five, he juggles all of that and a new company he started. He's also quick to point out that his wife makes it all possible. "We'll be sailing each week from now on."

Having also taken on the role of Fleet Captain, he is keen to see participation continue to rise. Looking to his own pathway, Bacon commented, "There is a large proportion of Etchells that are affordable. You can find a competitive vessel for $20k-30, and be in the mix when you attend regattas. It is a great point from which to build a team. You do have to be in it for a few years to get the rewards, but they are significant and well worth the effort. This is exactly why I have stuck with it myself, for there are always new goals on offer."

"You know where you are straight away in Etchells, and get your rewards on the track virtually instantaneously. You can get started with an older boat, sail more often as you require lower crew numbers, and then when you have more time and budget, you can opt for new sails and so forth and get even more competitive. I love the class because you are switched on the whole time, which is different to sitting on the rail as part of a large crew on a big boat."

"I was 30 years of age when I first bought in, so it is possible, and mates can always chip in together to get racing sooner. Owning is a pleasure, you do make your own decisions, which is really a big thing in the scheme of it, and this is genuinely something attainable in your 30s and 40s."

"It really is all about the close racing and good friendships. We have approachable people inside the fleet and we have crews like Damien King's, Barry, Kirwan Robb's, Triad, and Ian 'Biggles' Johnson driving John Collingwood's, Dawn Raid. There is plenty of quality sailing to be had...", said Bacon in closing.

Jason Hawkins from the Brisbane Fleet is a bit like James Bacon. Younger than some, and also recently elevated to Fleet Captain, Hawkins said, "I am intending on attending. We'll take our boat, Knot Easy (AUS876) down to Melbourne. It is David Clark's old boat (current Vice President IECCA). Sailing Etchells is a bit like golf. You have one or two shots in a round that are just glorious, and it is enough to keep you coming back! It is a brutal game, but when it all works there is nothing better."

"At the 2018 World Championship we were right in there at a mark rounding, and had to gybe back to find a hole, and went from 15th to 70th - that's Etchells."

"I was crewing on bigger boats for five or six years, doing offshore race including a Hobart, as well as club racing on a Sydney 38. I just did not like not really knowing how good you were as a yachtsman. On my way to sailing I would drive past the Etchells and I always wanted to do it. The opportunity came to buy, so we went in boots and all..."

"Looking for the brutal honest truth was tough, and the learning curve was steep - two to three seasons, as the competition is strong all the way through the fleet. Equally, the camaraderie of the fleet is really strong, with loads of encouragement always on offer. It is brilliant to race against the likes of Matt Chew, and we crossed in front of them once, to which they said over the water, 'That'll never happen again'. The competitiveness and humour go hand in hand."

"It is our sixth season coming up now. Jim Snow was the other purchaser and we have Chris Nezmah on board too. He had never sailed before Etchelling, and we gave him the pointy end. He's now Treasurer of the fleet."

"I was heavily involved in the Worlds, saw how it was run, and saw the input of Noel Paterson and David Healey amongst others. Now was a good time to inject new life and eyes, as well as a fresh approach too, so I put the hand up, and walked into the challenge."

Hawkins concluded by saying, "Etchells is always seen as the competitors class, and this too is what brings the pros along, as it is the benchmark class that others would like to get to. However, for me it is about grass roots, and this is why we encourage it and look to the community aspects, just has much as the competition. My M.O is to get people turning up regularly, especially from our female and youth sector."

Peter Stubbings from, Men's Shirts (AUS1141) has been around a little longer (some 20 years now), and simply says, "They are great boat, look fabulous, and in the right wind, right waves, with the right trim, they are spectacular."

Quite jovial, Stubbings added almost immediately, "I'm glad we don't do Olympic courses anymore. I started in the mid-90s with a second-hand boat some mates and I bought. In 1999 we updated to a new Pacesetter, which has been great. She's lovingly cared for, and pretty competitive. We have been fortunate to have a permanent roster of crew to sail three-up, consisting of my sister Ann, Ross Melville, and Dick Stephens. We are all good friends, and I think we sail her well, with as few dramas as we can hope for, and are harmonious and quiet."

As for the racing, Stubbings says, "There is an amazing depth of talent and skill in the fleet. Mugs like me can mix it up, and still be competitive with the superstars. At the big regattas the best of the best may be in front, but not necessarily all the time, and it could well be just a few metres in it. Being in amongst the best in the world is definitely part of the attraction."

"It is emotional, and then there is the physical art of sailing the boat, so it is a good workout for both the left and right side of the brain. Most of the really good crews share their knowledge, so that the bar rises for everyone, and they are keen to see everyone go faster. You might have to ask, but they will tell."

"We do like to travel, but Perth has been a bit challenging due to our jobs. A good road trailer, and all the lifting gear have made it so much easier than borrowing or hiring. As a result, a lot of the Eastern seaboard regattas become pretty easy, and can be done inside 24 hours notice", said Stubbings in closing.

Kirwan Robb commented, "We're excited about getting back into the Etchells. We're older and wiser, but still one of the young ones in this fleet. We all have young families now, so it's always fun trying to juggle that with sailing. We're still campaigning Ikon, the family Beneteau 45, as well, and recently returned from Hamilton Island where we won our IRC division."

"We bought Triad in January a week before the Nationals, and surprised ourselves with how well we went, placing a very credible fourth. It's very nice to know that you have a boat that is fast. As long as we get the tactics right, we can do well. We love the challenge of this class. Etchells is the best one-design class in Australia and the calibre of sailor it attracts is incomparable, with competitors including Glenn Ashby, Tom Slingsby and John Bertrand."

"Although we had Darren 'Twirler' Jones for the last Nationals, we're planning to go back to our Corinthian ways and compete with our mates, Rodney Muller and Brett Taylor, and possibly also persuade Hugo Allison, recent Australian Champion in the Cadet, to sail with us again. First up is the Nationals at Brighton, then next year the Worlds in Fremantle. We can't wait to get out there."

Of course the competition will be hot as always, whether you're talking between first and second, or 31st and 32nd. Alas, to make all of that happen you have to book in, and the NOR as well as entry can be found here - so that means you need to start clicking away now, charter a boat if necessary, or ensure the brakes have been inspected on the road trailer, and get set to play in the clam and flat, or tempestuous and mogul laden waters of Port Phillip. If you're lucky, you may even get to have it all in just the one day. WooHooooo!

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