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Etchells Bill Steele Cup at Geographe Bay Race Week 2022

by Chris Pratt 15 Feb 21:48 GMT 5-8 February 2022

Geographe Bay Race Week is one of Western Australia's premier yachting regattas and this year featured the racing of the inaugural Etchells Bill Steele Cup.

Once called the Opium Pipe Ashes Trophy, the Cup was originally raced for in teams racing in Etchells with representatives from the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, Royal Perth Yacht Club and Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club. After the death of Etchells Class legend Bill Steele the trophy was renamed the 'Bill Steele Cup' and the new event established to be held outside Perth. Hence Geographe Bay and joining Geographe Bay Race Week.

For the intrepid Etchells travellers from Perth, Geographe Bay and the venue turned out to be all that was promised, and more. Not only were the waters pristine and conditions varied, but the marina was first class and the restaurants and Club hospitality were great.

At the final presentation the fleet voted, and we're coming back next summer. There were still a number of crews back in Perth and they'll grow the fleet next year.

With a very steady performance in all conditions, Martin Webster and his crew Grant Alderson (Flying 15 World Champ), Chris Smith (match racing tactician) and Ella Clarke (420 World Champ) representing Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club won the Etchells Bill Steele Cup, and OMG they came out with all guns!

It wasn't long after arrival that we all realised that teams had brought their A-game of crews and equipment.

A feature of the racing was our course robots. The "MarkSetBots" are GPS guided self-propelled autonomous marks which are remotely controlled from an Ipad or Iphone. Many thanks to Mark Crier and Andy Feathers for making these available and a success. They enabled the event with minimal infrastructure and volunteers and without being a burden on the Club. Mark Crier did a great job organising the marina services too.

Kim Laurence (RO), Rob Rooke and Andy Feathers ran the races and we are very fortunate to have such great professionals who focus on making regattas about competitors and the competition. They were really challenged on day two when winds peaked out at 28kts but they picked a break in the weather and we got a race in. It was epic! Big gusts and we could have been foiling downwind!

The upcoming Warren Jones 2022 Perth Youth Match Racing Cup regatta attracted a number of youth entrants too. Ethan Prieto-Low (Swan River Sailing Team) teamed with past WA Etchells State Champions Grantham Kitto and Brad Moore, Chris Smith with Martin Webster and then Marcello Torre, Kai Colman and Richard Maher (all from Columbus Match Racing Team) became the honorary Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club representative sailing Bill Steele's old Chelsea Lady thanks to its current owner, James Arnold in Hong Kong.

Organisers clearly had objectives around inclusiveness, achieving best racing conditions, youth development and having a great time in the process - all in International Etchells - and that's what we had.

Day 1 practice races in very light conditions had Azure winning both races and the jinx that comes with winning practice races!
Day 2 was in perfect Etchells conditions and a left bias course forebode the final podium places with Highlander, YO! and The Rat dominating.
Day 3 and the breeze was really in. Session 1 was abandoned and session 2 took us to the edge of our limits. Downwind with great waves and flying gybes were big highlights. By finish we had gusts of 28 to 30 knots, but all boats except Chilly Bin (who broke their boom) finished without damage.

Since we only had one race, the tough then took to touring!

Day 4 and the points on the leader board were close. The weather changed completely to a light 5 to 8 knots. Three races only and the first four boats found their drop races. Forte had their best scores. Azure won the day but not by enough, and the standings remained the same with the drop races determining the outcome. The spoils and the glory went to the Highlander team, and well deserved.

Day 1 was also the opening at the Geographe Bay Yacht Club, then off to the 'Great Wall Chinese Restaurant' to honour Bill Steele and to tell the story to competitors and supporters.

After day 2's championship races we were off to sponsors 'Shelter Brewing Company' at the foot of Busselton Jetty. The chilly mussels were outstanding and so were all their beers.

Day 3, with the racing blown out, we were off touring - Cape Leewin Lighthouse, Windmills, Castle Rock and ending up at Eagle Bay Brewing Co down near Dunsborough for more excellent food and beer. Things happen when sailors go travelling!

Day 4 racing, presentation then the road trip - a chance for that junk food you don't get at home.

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