Etchells Australasian Championship: new talent on start line

The Marinepool Etchells Australasian Championship will welcome 10 new skippers to the start line of the three-day regatta being conducted by Mooloolaba Yacht Club and which starts on Friday.
Some of the new skippers have made the progression from Etchells crew to skipper while others are new to the class. Those skippers are – Greg Humphries (Velsheda), Michael Nash (La Vie Dansante), Paul Barnes (Mojo), Rod Caldwell (Rolls Rocks), Josh Willis (Joe), John Abikhair (Jazasa), Greg Farrell (Dream On), Matthew Ramaley (AUS1292), Mark Roberts (Athena) and Barry Cuneo (Bait & Switch).
Apart from the odd guest appearance as an Etchells crew including a national championship in Mooloolaba “about 150 years ago”, Cuneo is only four-months into what he plans to be a long stint in Etchells sailing. The 53-year-old’s target is the Brisbane Etchells World Championship in 2018 at which time the soon-to-be-appointed Rear Commodore of Sailing at Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron expects to be the club’s Commodore. But first he needs to work out how to race an Etchells.
Cuneo has most recently been dominant in the Melges 32 class competing in the class 2014 World Championship in Miami and then going on to win the 2015 National Championship in March.  His move into the Etchells will he admits be a less costly program and “all my friends are sailing them,” Cuneo said.
“Most of the top Etchells guys were at the Melges, like Bill Hardesty, and people like that.  That sailing is at a very high level, but it completely different to the Etchells where we really have to get used to the large fleet and the idiosyncrasies of the Etchells. I know it will take a long time to get competitive. It will be an enormous challenge, but the best thing about it is it’s a sociable class with a high-level of sailing with best sailors in the world,” Cuneo said.
Travelling all the way from down south in Geelong, another new class entrant, Abikhair, talked about him and his crew looking forward to some sunshine, good wind and good racing. They have been in the class for three years.
“I don’t mind racing yachts now. I have been sailing since I was 10 and have sailed on sports boats and before that Fireballs and International Cadets.”
Abikhair has looked over the entry list, but doesn’t seemed to be fazed by the fleet size or quality. He will be happy if his Jazasa team finishes better than at the back end of the fleet. “We recently finished seventh in the Victorian Championship which was pretty good. We are going to have a good time doing it anyway,” Abikhair added.
Sydney fleet member Nash has spent his keelboat years in Ynglings only moving into the Etchells class about two months ago.  The decision to take on the Etchells class was fairly simple for the 62-year-old and his two brothers. “I’m getting old and I have never raced one.
“I sailed Ynglings because they were very cheap. But the premier class is Etchells.
“I thought one day it would be nice to sail an Etchells. Then Karyn Gojnich, who I sailed Ynglings with, was loaned a boat and we raced the Goblets. We got our butts kicked as you would expect, but we also got bitten by the bug I suppose so Adrian, my brother, and I decided we better get one before we die,” Nash said.
The Australasians is Nash’s first opportunity to enter a travelling regatta since he joined the class. He will be racing with his two brothers, Adrian and Peter, plus his long-time crewman Greg Hartnett.  Adrian will be steering for this event while Michael has firm plans to take the helm for at least fifty percent of the time when the boat is back racing in Sydney.
The three brothers will be side-by-side down the back “yelling at each other” while Hartnett will be on the bow. “Peter is very calm. I think I am skipper so it’s very hard for me to be crew. If Adrian does something I don’t agree with, as we sail differently, I get pretty agitated. We are working through that. It hasn’t been easy for us to start with because if I get agitated, he gets agitated. Then by the end of the day you are pretty tired.
“This regatta, well we could be divorced by the end of it. You race at a high level in the Etchells.
“This is also a good exercise for us as if we are going to go to the nationals towards the end of this year, it’s a good thing to go up to Mooloolaba and see what you have to do. It’s also going to be an eye-opener for us to see how we go out in the ocean,” Michael Nash said.
While most of the first time skippers, or Firsties, haven’t set themselves particularly high performance targets for this year’s Australasians, all of them will be get the chance to win a prize. Each day the best placed Firstie in each race of the day will win a jug of beer, for their crew, courtesy of the event supporter The Wharf Tavern. They will only get to win the prize once. However, on the final day, the best performing Firstie skipper will win the overall Firstie trophy.
Racing starts on Friday, June 5th.

– Tracey Johnstone

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