Smeg wins first heat of 18 Footers Australian Championship

Lee Knapton, Ricky Bridge and Mike McKensey, Smeg, won a close battle for the first race of the Australian Championship in a 10 knot easterly. The fleet got off to a slow start after two general recalls with the outgoing tide pushing them over the line.

It was third time lucky as the U flag enticed the 18 boat fleet to stay behind the line. Smeg won the pin end and tacked over to cross the fleet.

Not too long after the start, Asko, Marcus Ashley-Jones, took the lead and held on to it for the first two laps. With Phil Harmer replacing regular sheet hand Seve Jarvin, the red boat had plenty of knowledge on board.

“It was an amazing race, very close,” commented Ashley-Jones. “We learnt a lot from the maestro on the sheet, he showed us how they used to do it in the 2000s.”

At the top mark the first time Asko and Smeg rounded simultaneously followed by Thurlow Fisher Lawyers (Michael Coxon), The Kitchen Maker (Steve Quigley) and Triple M (James Ward). While Asko extended their lead it was a battle for the minor places.

It was a similar sight at the top mark the second time but The Kitchen Maker stole the lead on the run down to the bottom mark. On the final work to windward, Smeg and Asko battled it up the left hand side of the course into Rose Bay. Smeg sailed a textbook leg, staying between Asko and the top mark and extended the lead to over a minute at the top mark. The race was theirs to lose on the way to the finish line at Clark Island.

Asko rounded the top mark second with Thurlow Fisher Lawyers third. After a quick run to the finish line, Smeg took the first heat of the Championship from Asko and Thurlow Fisher Lawyers. 

After the race, Smeg sheet hand Ricky Bridge commented: “We just got lucky and hit our stride at the right time, it was good. I want to dedicate this race to our wives and my three-week-old baby Sophie Bridge who came to watch today.”

After leading for most of the race, Marcus Ashley-Jones was happy with how the boat was performing ahead of the JJ Giltinan at the end of February.

“We will have our full squad on for the JJs and that is the target,” he said. “Iain Murray and Michael Coxon made some changes to the number 1 rig and it showed its true colours today. We are very happy.“

Next Sunday, January 22, is race two of the Australian Championship. The regular spectator ferry will follow the action. The ferry leaves Double Bay Wharf at 2:15pm, tickets can be bought from reception.

– Kimberley Wilmot

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