16 April 2012
by David Edwards
David Edwards provides an entertaining and insightful report on his and the crew of Iron Lotus' Etchells World Championship campaign. David has now won the worlds in the Etchells, Ynglings and Solings - quite a remarkable achievement.
Our Etchells campaign came together from the bones of Ivan Wheen's Sputnik Farr 40 team, which was a team that had a great deal of fun sailing together. We figured most of us on Sputnik had sailed Etchells at some point, the Worlds were going to be in Sydney in 2012, it should be fun and we should give it a go. Right? Getting started wasn't really any more complicated than that...
Well, at least it sounded easy. The first eighteen months hovered somewhere between first and second gear, occasionally hitting third: we bought a boat, sailed a few races and enjoyed racing in the Sydney Harbour Fleet.
However, we had trouble finding a hardstand space between the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, so ended up as an Etchells with no fixed address, living mostly on a trailer that ended up more often than not being parked in the street.
We were sailing four-up and unfortunately our tough as nails bowwoman, Abby Ehler, got a great job offer overseas and also fell pregnant, so we needed to find a new crew member.
Tom King's little black book of sailing contacts offered up a long list of potentials, but there was one obivious standout candidate, Owen McMahon. Owen joined our team last year for the Mid-Winters, in what would be our first real regatta leading up to the Worlds, but this presented a further problem.
Who would sail in what position on the boat? I grabbed the mainsheet, because I'm hopeless elsewhere and you can get away with less hiking. Ivan choose the bow, because are there any better photo opportunities than up the front?
Tom still has the weight and strength of a small child, so he got the tiller. This left the fourth spot for Owen, who, because he still lives in Melbourne, was never really going to get a choice. With the team together, the mojo was solid and half the battle was won.
Looking back at our campaign, victory at Moolooaba, the 2011 Etchells Australasian Mid-Winter Championship, came too easily. We never thought that we had speed and rather than sailing extremely well, we got lucky with the wheels coming off some of the favoured teams.
Our big wake up call came a little later in 2011, at the NSW State Chamionship, where it was Murphy's Law of the Oceans. Cars were crashed, houses wrecked, mobile phones destroyed and we sailed like clowns. After the States, we really needed to turn up the heat a few notches, and that's exactly what we did!
By the time the Australian titles came around, we felt much more comfortable with our speed, our boat handling, our communication and our ability to get out of trouble. We still had the ability to get into trouble, which is a quality we may never lose, but when we lined up for the Worlds, we knew we had a reasonable chance at the podium.
So, how did we do it? Did we practice endlessly on the water? Did we have any cunning tuning secrets? Did we read Jonathon Livingstone Seagull? The answer to all of these is a clear and resounding, No. Our success in the Worlds had more to do with some really simple things:
- Thorough boat preparation
- Productive time on the water
- Establishing and following routines
- Enjoying our sailing, and
- A bit of luck.
Let me elaborate:-
Never tell anyone that you are thinking of buying an Etchells. Do it by stealth or better still use a 'nom de plume'. It's amazing how many experts come out of the woodwork with firm opinions on what consitutes a fast boat.
Etchells are a one design class and the great news is that the older, cheaper boats seem to be holding up well. All we wanted was a boat that was reliable and one that we could tinker with over time. What we bought was the equivalent of a used car with four flat tyres.
Our new baby, 925, was essentially a sound hull that hadn't been looked after, with a bent mast and topsides that looked like they had been painted with a brush.
This meant that we had our work cut out for us. The mast was straightened, but still to this day it has tyre marks from when it was run over by a truck. Far too many hours and too much sweat went into this Etchells, but the end result is a very simply laid out, clutter-free boat, which we think is better than new. Well, at least in our eyes.
The Iron Lotus is a very special boat. The guiding principle we employed with the setup of the systems, was that if it can't be done straight away, with minimium effort, then the setup is wrong.
Etchells have too many moving parts which can easily fail and to keep on top of the maintenance requires a tinkering ratio of approximately one hour racing to one hour of boat work. Not as bad as the old F111, but still, more than we needed.
- Simply going for a sail does not benefit anyone; we had an objective for every session. The four of us have all done enough sailing to know what we needed to work on. With Owen living in Melbourne, crew work and communications were a priority when he was on the boat and when he wasn't, we worked on the rig, sails, marking, measuring and recording various settings. The guys at Norths really helped us with feedback and the wonderful open-book policy from Michael 'Cocko' Coxon and his team was great.
Establishing a routine and sticking to it was critical to making this regatta a success for us. Routine gives comfort, comfort gives confidence and confidence allows us to be calm and keep our heads out of the boat.
Everything that needs to happen followed a process from filling the water bottles to diving the boat, organising the duck pancakes for the tow and having the correct clothing on board. It's often the simplest things that can have the biggest impact on racing. Get these details wrong and before you know it you arrive at the start late, you don't have a transit and suddenly you are in the second row!
- Top quality gear was crucial. No short cuts here, everything is checked and rechecked, especially deck hardware and running rigging. The North sails were excellent and we used all Gill clothing, which was well designed and perfect for the job.
- If you want evidence of luck, then checkout the replay of Race Six on the tracker and watch the Iron Lotus on the first leg (at about minute two, it becomes comical). We nearly had a mutiny when, after punching a hole in Ante's transom, half the boat wanted to do a 360 and the other half wanted to be a bit more retro and do a 720.
Consensus usually never wins, but in this case a 360 plus a tack paid big dividends!
Winning the Worlds at our home club is a spectacular result for us. The congratulatory greetings, emails and phone calls from all our sailing friends is very much appreciated. We paticularly want to thank all the competitors who came from interstate and overseas. It was wonderful to sail in such a high class fleet. The race management, the starts and course allowed for very fair racing. Lastly, the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron was a fantastic host and in no small part, this was because of the army of red shirted volunteers, who seemed to be everywhere, just when we needed help. These elements and the support of all the on-water spectators, made the 2012 Worlds a first class event.
So what's next? Back to work for us and hopefully, we will once again pull the Iron Lotus off her trolley and see you at the 2012 Mooloolaba Mid-Winter Regatta in Queensland.