Forty OK Dinghies are all set to go at the 2019 Australian National Championship, at Black Rock Yacht Club, in what is looking like the most competitive fleet to contest the event for many years. After the Invitation Race and Welcoming Ceremony on Friday, racing for the national title begins Saturday, with an early forecast of high temperatures and light to moderate winds.
All but two of the previous champions dating as far back as 1996 will be taking part. If the recent Sail Melbourne is any indication, the top three favourites will be ten time champion Roger Blasse, six time champion Mark Jackson, both from the home club, and Tim Davies, from Wangi Amateur Sailing Club, who was second at Sail Melbourne and has missed victory on a number of occasions. Last year’s champion Rob McMillan is unable to defend his title. Other favourites include two times winner, Mike Williams, four times winner, Andre Blasse, both also from Black Rock
Black Rock YC is located on Port Phillip, just south of Melbourne, one of the main centres of OK Dinghy sailing in Australia. While visitors have come from Sydney, Adelaide, and Gold Coast to take part, Blasse and Jackson will have the home advantage; in fact sailors from Black Rock make up half the entire fleet. It is a particularly important event for many of the competitors, as it is the final event before the boats are packed to go to New Zealand for the 2019 World Championship at Wakatere Boating Club in Auckland, in early February. The boats are being packed into containers straight after the final race next Thursday.
The Invitation Race was sailed on Friday afternoon with most of the fleet taking part. While the weather continues to be hot and sweltering, at 12.00, a 20 knot cold front crossed Port Phillip, though by the time the fleet started to launch at 13.00 the wind was under 10 knots and dying.
At the scheduled start time of 14.00 the breeze was 10 knots from the south-east with a nasty south-westerly cross chop caused by the cold front. The first start was under ‘P’ flag and a heavily biased starboard line, which caused the first general recall. The breeze went further left and after a short postponement the Race Officer, Phill Collyer, tried again, this time with a strong port bias on the line. After another general recall, he then pulled out the ‘U’ flag and with another port biased line the fleet got away with only one boat, Steve Wilson, AUS 741, UFD.
The left side of the first beat was heavily favoured and those at the pin lifted inside the rest of the fleet. Shane Smith, AUS 77, was the left most boat and led all the way to the first mark in a breeze that continued to die to around 5 knots at the first top mark. In close second was Roger Blasse, AUS 749, with Tim Davies, AUS 779 in third and Elizabeth Williams, AUS 759, in fourth. Blasse had passed Smith by the gybe mark.
The second upwind leg was reset to port, with a long starboard tack as the breeze shifted 30 degrees right again. Blasse rounded the second windward mark in the lead from Davies and Smith. Behind them, Grant Wakefield, AUS 776, had passed a lot of boats down the run.
At the finish, Blasse, just held out Davies on the final beat to win by just eight seconds. Wakefield crossed third with Smith holding on for fourth.
Blasse said, “I was using the practice race to try out a new North sail and a new luff curve from a few days ago. I wanted to see what my boat speed was like early on in the regatta. The plan for the race was to sail clear of other boats. I started near the pin and rounded the first mark second behind Shane. I passed Shane down the first reach and then spent the rest of the race defending to Tim. Tim pushed right a couple of times and I took his transom, but managed to get back in front. I'm happy with my speed, I had good height but Tim was always pressing.”
Smith added, “It was a tricky day, but my plan was just to have fun. I had no expectations having only sailed twice since the Worlds in Warnemünde [Germany]. I am also in a different boat with a different sail. I appreciated the light conditions and look forward to them lasting as long a possible.”
In the evening an informal opening ceremony was held at Black Rock YC, with about 80 sailors, family and volunteers present. Commodore, Gary Lokum, thanked all sponsors: Rooster, Blue Peter and the Victorian Government.
He then led into a light hearted question and answer with the sailors, families and supporters before a gourmet barbeque was enjoyed by everyone before the regatta starts properly on Saturday.
Some of the Q&A:
• Who can name all Williams OK sailors in the regatta? There were five and one not sailing. Michael, Elizabeth, Glenn, Brent and Don.
• How many world champions were in the room? Only 2 – Peter Milne and Roger Blasse
• Who is the oldest and youngest competitor? Oldest: Bruce Ashton (77) – twice Australian Champion; youngest: Emma Hutcheson (25), also gunning for the women’s trophy
• How many Australian championships have been held at Black Rock? 7 or 9. No one really could remember
• How many national champions were in the room? Five. Bruce Ashton, Andre Blasse, Roger Blasse, Michael Williams, Mark Jackson.
• Who has won the most Australian Championships? Roger Blasse – 10
Melbourne has experienced some unusual unsettled weather in recent weeks and this looks set to continue for first half of the national championship with a lot of cloud and changeable winds forecast. Two races are scheduled for Saturday starting at 13.00 with another difficult forecast. A 10 to 15 knot northerly is expected in the morning turning to 15 knots south to south-easterly around by midday.
Competitors may have to wait for the second half of the regatta to experience the traditional sea breeze, big wind and big wave conditions that has made Port Phillip famous around the world for its superb sailing.
The championship is separated by the New Year celebrations. Three days of racing are scheduled before a lay day on New Year’s Day. Then the final two days of racing will be held on 2 and 3 January. Ten races are scheduled, of which five are needed to complete a series.
– Robert Deaves