St George boat Noakes has launched one of the great back-from-the dead revivals in recent history to snatch the lead and set-up a thrilling finish to the 2022/23 Australian 16ft Championships at Manly.
The Dave O’Connor-skippered Noakes was outside the top three heading into the penultimate day of racing on Friday, but peeled off consecutive wins in one afternoon to end the day on top of the overall pointscore. It will now come down to a winner-takes-all shoot-out between Manly’s Typhoon (Nathan Wilmot) – three points behind in second – and the in-form Noakes in Saturday’s final heat. After O’Connor and crew Pete Mackie and Ricky Bridge were afforded a hero’s reception back to the beach from their supporters on the spectator craft, the skipper explained how they’d turned it all around.
“We were worried it wasn’t going to get windy enough for us but the breeze picked up and we just knew that we had to go out and get two good results,” O’Connor said. “We knew if we sailed two smart races we’d be fine and give ourselves every chance.
“We just wanted to make sure we were alive going into the last race and we were able to pull it off. “Whoever wins tomorrow wins the whole thing and that’s great. That’s what you want going into the final day of a big regatta.
Noakes has won four races at this regatta but an 18th and a 32nd threatened to cast a dark cloud over their campaign.
Asked how they’ve been able to put potentially damaging results behind them and get back in the hunt, O’Connor said with a laugh: “Firstly, thanks for reminding me of my inconsistency. “It’s a bit like cricket. When you get a duck you have to forget about next time you go out to bat and that’s the way we approached it.
“Having legends like these blokes (Bridge and Mackie) in your boat certainly helps. There was no panic at any stage. “I’ve been blessed to sail with some amazing sailors and these two are right up there with the best.”
Typhoon started the day in pole position but now finds itself on the outside looking in and needing to win Saturday’s final race while hoping Noakes fails to break into the top four. Wilmot managed a second in Friday’s first race but a fifth in the next heat – coupled with O’Connor’s faultless display – has seen him go from the pursued to the pursuer.
While the race among the top two will be captivating, there will a fierce battle for places third to sixth. Only five points separates third-placed Sail Racing (Felix Grech) from sixth-placed SKE Electrical (Scott Babbage).
In the 13ft division, EBIX (Jemma Hopkins) will be officially crowned national champion on Saturday after taking an impregnable lead on the back of another impressive day’s sailing.
The Manly entrant won heat eight and placed second in heat nine, continuing an amazingly consistent regatta.
EBIX’s worst result all week has been a third and its closest rival – Bartley Construction (Taylor Springett) – is a distance eight points adrift.