On Saturday 24 April, veteran master yachtsman, Gordon IINGATE and his crew of Nev WITTEY and Tony HEARDER on Skagerak, won two out of the three races sailed on Sydney Harbour for the 5.5 Metre Gold Cup.
Hosted by Vaucluse Yacht Club, and sailed in gusty and shifting 5-15 knot westerlies that flicked west-nor-west later in the day, the ten-boat fleet from NSW had a hard time of it, places changing constantly throughout the races with the wind up and down and shifting from leg to leg.
Vaucluse sailor, Michael POLKINGHORNE sailing Antares, threw down the gauntlet in Race 1, clearing away nicely at the start, Ingate responding, but not quickly enough for the former 16 foot skiff champion, who managed to keep a 40 second buffer between himself and Ingate to hold the lead and take the first race comfortably.
The pair match-raced up the two windward/leeward course, but Polkinghorne sailed a flawless race to lead from start to finish. Colin RYAN'S Rhapsody held off Rob BISHOP'S Patricia to finish in third place, some distance from the leaders.
Race 2 was pretty much a replica of Race 1, except the positions were reversed, Polkinghorne coming off second best as the westerly increased and the seas became choppy. Once again, it was Rhapsody home third, the rest of the spread fleet coming home in their wake.
By Race 3, the series, which competitors had said 'would not be too serious', became deadly serious. It was on. Again, Ingate and Polkinghorne got away well at the start, but then Polkinghorne made the fatal mistake and did not cover his opponent, as Ingate threw tack upon tack up the final windward leg, making use of any bit of fresh breeze Wittey could find for him.
Polkinghorne went off on his own, but despite doing so, it was only as the pair converged near the finish that Ingate pipped his rival to the post - a remarkably close finish. Peter MCDONALD'S Pam came home third, but some distance behind first and second places.
The series will conclude with three further races to be sailed on Saturday May 1. The winner will have the privilege of representing Australia at the 2004 Scandinavian Gold Cup. Ingate, who now leads the series 2-1, will be difficult to beat. Sailing his 5.5 Metre Pam, he won the Cup in 1969 and is keen to have another go.
Commodore of VYC, Bob HEARN, said it was pleasing to see ten boats on the start line, as it had been some years since so many 5.5's were seen on the Harbour together.
"It bodes well for the Worlds in Sydney in January too,"
he said, "I would think all of our member 5.5 sailors (there are five) will take part. The racing today was exciting to watch - especially the top two, but there were some close scuffles going on with the rest of the fleet too, and there are some new owners in the class that were out there today, which is great.
It was also good to see Mike POLKINGHORNE keep Gordon INGATE and his crew honest - Nev WITTEY and Tony HEARDER are two of the best Australian keelboat sailors around, but Mike should not be taken lightly, he is a consummate sailor,"
Already a number of 5.5 Metre owners from Finland and Sweden, who are keenly keeping an eye on the Gold Cup, have indicated they will make the trip to Australia for the Worlds in January and entries are also expected from other European countries and the USA.