Mojo Wines wins as 18s are hit by Sydney storms

Australian 16 Footer champion Lee Knapton won his first 18ft Skiff race when he teamed with Ricky Bridge and Mike McKensey in Mojo Wine to win a remarkable Race 4 of the Australian 18 Footers Club Championship on Sydney Harbour today.

Records will show that Mojo Wine defeated Coopers 62-Rag & Famish (Hugh Stodart, Peter Harris, Mark Kennedy) by 19s with Smeg (David Witt, Tom Clout, Matt Wark) a further 1m6s back in third place. What the official result and margins won’t show is that it was one of the most bizarre races for many years.

Following a full week of afternoon storms in Sydney, another set of storms was predicted for this afternoon and the start was delayed about half an hour when the first storm hit just before the fleet left the rigging area. The wind direction was uncertain before the starter elected to send the fleet over four laps of the windward-return course.

Thurlow Fisher Lawyers (Michael Coxon) won the start, with Coopers 62-Rag & Famish Hotel, Mojo Wine, The Kitchen Maker (John Sweeny) and Asko Appliances (Marcus Ashley-Jones) close behind. The breeze soon dropped and the journey to the first windward mark took nearly 30 mins to complete.

Thurlow Fisher Lawyers was first to set her spinnaker for the run back to the bottom mark. Asko Appliances, Smeg, Lumix (Jonathan Whitty), Mojo Wine and Gotta Love It 7 (Seve Jarvin) were in the group following the leader.

Conditions deteriorated as the fleet approached the bottom mark in heavy rain with Thurlow Fisher Lawyers holding a clear lead. The Thurlow team continued to lead over the next lap of the course despite gear problems which the crew battled to remedy.

Strong winds finally proved too much for the Thurlow boys as they approached the bottom mark on lap two and they executed a spectacular capsize trying to fix the problem.

Now Coopers 62-Rag & Famish Hotel looked a likely winner as she opened up a lead on the third windward leg, but in wild winds nothing was certain as skiffs capsized all over the harbour. For a time after Coopers-Rag capsized under spinnaker on the third run, there was not one competitor afloat.

By the end of that lap there was a new leader, the heavy wind specialist Smeg crew held a narrow lead over Mojo Wine, Coopers 62-Rag & Famish Hotel and (Micah Lane).

Some excellent work by the Mojo crew after a near capsize at the mark saw Mojo stay within striking distance of Smeg and the two teams produced a great match race back to the final windward mark.

Knapton and his team were able to get the upper hand as the two skiffs approached the mark then sailed a perfect course back to the finish. Coopers 62-Rag & Famish Hotel came back strongly after their earlier misfortune to grab second place ahead of Smeg. Appliancesonline came home a very good fourth, followed by The Kitchen Maker (also won the handicap) and series leader Gotta Love It 7.

T eam Seven lead the championship with a total of nine points, ahead (on countback) of Coopers 62-Rag & Famish Hotel also on nine points.  Thurlow Fisher Lawyers is on 24, Smeg 27, with (Keagan York) and Mojo Wine equal on 29 points

Next Sunday is a 3-Buoys race for the Syd. Barnett Jr. Memorial Trophy.  The club’s usual spectator ferry will follow the race, leaving Double Bay Wharf at 2.15pm. The race is the final event before the Christmas-New Break.  18ft Skiff Racing will re-commence on Sunday 11 January 2015 with Race 1 of the NSW Championship.

– Frank Quealey, Australian 18 Footers League

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