John BERTRAND and his crew of Ben AINSLIE and Andrew PALFREY have lived up to their 'race favourites' tag, taking the lead on day one of the Audi Etchells World Championship following two light and shifty races being sailed on Port Phillip today.
Hosted by Royal Brighton Yacht Club in Victoria, racing on the two lap windward/leeward course was delayed until winds finally filled in, finally getting underway shortly before 15:30 after a general recall, which was repeated in race two.
Sailing on his home turf, John BERTRAND
(AUS), and his crew placed third in race one and 11th in race two, enough to give them a one point lead over Brisbane's Jason MUIR
, Matthew CHEW
and Paul WYATT
(AUS) with a further four points to a second Melbourne crew, Damien KING
, Simon CUNNINGTON
, James WARE and Andrew BUTLER (AUS).
Describing their day, four-time British Olympic medallist Ben AINSLIE
said: "We got off the line well in Race two, but got stuck on the wrong side of the course and couldn't tack. We made gains coming on port at the top mark for the first time and we went right after that, which brought us back up the fleet.
"John and Andrew did a great job of keeping the boat going quickly. We had to really concentrate and once you made a mistake, you just had to stay calm and turn it around."
Following his third gold medal win in Beijing, AINSLIE has been racing America's Cup style at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in New Zealand and is now undergoing his first competition in the Etchells. "It's classic big fleet racing and to get good results is so important. This is a bit of break from Olympic sailing for me and it's good tactical racing."
Sydney skipper David CLARK, crewed by Andrew SMITH
and Sean LEONARD (AUS) cleanly won race one from Chris BUSCH, Chad HOUGH and David HUGHES (USA), series favourites BERTRAND, AINSLIE and Andrew PALFREY
(AUS) after a four-way match race that also involved gun sports boat sailor Chris WILLIAMS, Daniel EDDY and Shaun MORAN (AUS), who eventually finished fifth after being overrun by 2001 and 2002 Worlds winner, Stuart CHILDERLEY
and crew from Great Britain.
Race two was more testing with winds moving around the dial from 190-210 degrees, forcing race officials to move the windward mark twice. The pressure was up and down, competitors experiencing anything from 5 to 10 knots with gusts up to 12 at times on a relatively flat sea.
Those who did well in race one found themselves in all sorts of trouble in race two, including CLARK who dropped right out of the top 10. It was particularly difficult at the leeward mark the first time when the breeze died out momentarily as the bulk of the fleet came to round.
Chaos and cursing ensued, the testosterone flowed freely. The 2004 world champion, Peter MCNEILL and his crew (AUS) got caught in the melee as they rounded and could not get clear air or boat space to escape. Many others suffered the same fate.
Those who benefitted included the top three placegetters, Noel 'Nitro' DRENNAN, an Australian representing the USA after qualifying there, a Queensland crew skippered by David ROSE (AUS) and a local crew skippered by Damien KING (AUS).
Race Officials set a two lap windward/leeward course for both races, the windward mark in the vicinity of Sandringham, the boats returning under spinnaker with the city as a back-drop - magic.
Principal Race Officer Ross WILSON agreed it was hard day's racing. "The crew that doesn't break, who controls their emotions, will be the ones to win."
WILSON said the on-water race management team had set a goal of 90 minutes for race two and the bulk of the fleet finished just seconds outside that time.
A fleet of 85 Etchells One-Designs lined up on Port Phillip off the host venue, Royal Brighton Yacht Club. It was a spectacular sight on a beautiful sunny autumn day and was enjoyed by those ashore and the large spectator fleet courtesy of a public holiday.
Race three is set to be sailed tomorrow starting from 14:00, weather permitting. Light winds are expected once again.
Results - click here