Southerly leant heavily on its local knowledge to become the first St George boat in 27 years to win an Australian 16ft Championship heat on home water as the 2024 nationals roared into action on Sunday. The Sarah Lee-skippered Southerly avoided the carnage that hit many in the fleet as a fresh nor’easter, lumpy swell, a rising tide and myriad jellyfish made for a tricky journey on Botany Bay.
Several boats at the front of the fleet came a cropper, nosediving their way out of contention as SKE Electrical (Banjo Nicholson), Southerly and Moonen Yachts (Daniel Turner) enjoyed the early advantage. Southerly led for most of the race, crossing the line more than a minute ahead of Moonen, with SKE third and Sail Racing fourth. Incredibly, it was only the second time Lee had sailed with Keagan York and Kurt Warner but the boys’ knowledge of the course proved decisive.
“They’ve both grown up sailing at St George so they know the waterway very well,” Lee said. “They know how it works with the tides and all the flat spots and knowing when to gybe. “They tell me where to go and I just made the boat go fast.” Manly-based Lee didn’t actually have a ride for the nationals at the start of the season but did an apprenticeship of sorts at St George as a fill-in skipper on Noakes. She said: “We only got the boat (Southerly) in November so we’re a pretty new crew, but we all work well together. “The boys are pretty big and I’m quite light, so it was nice to be able to win in those conditions.”
Three-time national champion Clint Bowen, in commentary for Sail Media’s livestream coverage, said: “Southerly looked super comfortable and worked in unison so well. It was excellent sailing. “It’s always nice to get a win up early in a nationals. They will get a lot of confidence from that.”
Moonen didn’t enjoy the best of starts and was 12th at one stage before Turner and his crew regained composure to work their way through the fleet and pull clear of SKE on the final run. Belmont’s Nicholson joined them on the podium with Manly’s Sail Racing (Felix Grech) fourth.
The top 10 featured boats from three clubs – St George, Manly and Belmont – to again underline the strength and quality throughout the fleet. Defending champion Nathan Wilmot overcame several challenges to guide Imagine Signage into sixth, while pre-regatta favourite Noakes (Lee Knapton) capsized late to surrender third spot before recovering to finish eighth. Belmont’s CJK Design Management (Darby Jones) took handicaps honours from Red Pumps (Tyler Dransfield) and Southerly.
In the 13s, CyberTechGroup.org (Theo Franklin) beat defending national champion and Manly stablemate Ebix-Sail Racing (Jemma Hopkins) by almost four minutes to make a major statement.
Words Adam Lucius