Australia's Jason MUIR and his crew of Paul WYATT, Matthew CHEW and Bucky SMITH have outclassed the rest of the 85-strong field at the 2009 Audi Etchells World Championship to win the title a day before the Championship finishes.
Heading into today's two races, the Queensland friends were five points behind America's Cup hero John BERTRAND
(AUS) and his Olympic crew of British four-time medallist Ben AINSLIE
(GBR) and and Australian Olympian and coach Andrew PALFREY
With no disrespect to this crew, Jason MUIR
, Matthew CHEW
, Paul WYATT
and Bucky SMITH
were not named among the Championship favourites pre-event. However, Fellow Queenslander, Mark BRADFORD
(AUS), did say the four "were more than capable of winning a couple of races."
Ironically, MUIR did not win a single race, but what his crew did do, was to sail consistently at the top of the fleet throughout, their worst result a 10th place in race one. From there, the four did not finish outside ninth place. Their best result was a trio of fifth places.
In race seven and eight, MUIR scored ninth and eighth places, while Victorian BERTRAND and his crew had their worst day on the course with 12th and 32nd places, dropping them down the board to third overall with only one race remaining.
"I don't think our win has quite sunk in yet; it's unbelievable,"
said MUIR whose crew will not sail tomorrow's final race, choosing instead to watch the race.
On beating BERTRAND and his crew, MUIR said: "These are the three guys you really look up to. I've always looked up to John BERTRAND since I was a kid and he won the America's Cup - and we're all big Ben AINSLIE fans. Bucky used to sail a Finn and he's always been a big fan. They were such a great crew - three Olympians on one boat."
On their two races: "We didn't have good starts today. We had to duck 30 odd bows each time to find a lane and get into clear air.
"We didn't have it easy, believe me, it was a difficult day. We made a mistake in race seven. We were in fourth place at the top mark the first time and should have followed the guys in front, but we broke away. Our race plan went out of whack a bit there - we thought the breeze would flick back to the right - but it didn't, so we had to take our medicine.
"After that race, we discussed that tomorrow was supposed to be a big breeze and we looked at whether we should attack John, but we looked at their record and thought we would probably lose if we match raced them or we'd end up in the protest room so we decided to sail our own race."
On when they realised they had won: "Once we crossed the finish line, we counted back to where John finished [he was 32nd] and realised we'd won,"
said the 36 year-old Brisbane sailor.
Twenty-five year old Matthew CHEW from Wellington Point joked: "I'm giving up sailing."
The reality is, CHEW is also a gun triathlete and is aiming at that World Championship. "I'm stoked with our win - I still can't quite believe it."
Paul WYATT, a 39 year-old from Grange said: "This is the top level; there are multiple Olympic champions, America's Cup sailors, you name it, they're here. To beat them is massive. We were pretty low profile here. We won the Nationals in 2008, but we haven't been to many of the other regattas."
For Maroochydore's 32 year-old Bucky SMITH, whom MUIR has the hugest amount of respect and praise for, it was a dream come true. "It hasn't sunk in for any of us really, but to go out and race against and beat someone the standard of Ben AINSLIE is a big deal."
A second Melbourne crew is now in second place. Damien KING
, Simon CUNNINGTON
, James WARE and Andrew BUTLER have moved up the board into second place following their seventh and fourth places in races seven and eight.
Said CUNNINGTON this afternoon: "We fell out of contention when we scored a 38th place in race four. We learnt a lot from that 38th! We changed our strategy a bit after that.
"We have been lucky to have Adrian FINGLAS [Australian Olympic coach] coaching us the last six weeks. Roughly we thought we would be in the mix, but Adrian has made all the difference in every way you can imagine: nutrition, preparation, course management, crew optimisation - everything. We can't say enough."
Both he and KING are talented sailors though. KING was one of Australia's top 470 sailors during the 1990's and prior to that, a 420 champion, while CUNNINGTON has represented at the America's Cup, Whitbread Race and contested many Sydney-Hobart races.
The Melbourne crew is just two points ahead of BERTRAND, so will have to remember all that FINGLAS' has taught them tomorrow.
Not only do they face BERTRAND, but there are two other crews within reach of KING's crew; Chris BUSCH
, Chad HOUGH
, Chuck SINKS
and David HUGHES
(USA) are 10 points behind them and Jud SMITH
, Mark JOHNSON
and Nik BURFOOT
(AUS) are16 points behind. And as we saw today, anything could happen.
Only two crews here have won two races, both of them clocking up their second wins today. Rob GODDARD
(GBR) won race four and then race seven today. Due to an inconsistent series, they are 42nd overall. The British skipper went from a rooster to a feather duster when he broke the start in race eight, having to fight his way back to the line and re-start to finish 80.
, Grant WHARINGTON
and Ben MORRISON JACK won race six and today won race eight, but are 13th overall and like GODDARD, cannot finish on the podium. TAYLOR's crew struggled early in the series, but found their form yesterday.
"Shame we left it this late to come good,"
said TAYLOR's crew WHARINGTON tonight. "We did much better in the heavier breeze yesterday and I think the flat water helped us today. We haven't been sailing well in the chop on Port Phillip."
WHARINGTON also admitted: "We got a couple of lucky breaks today. We went right at once stage and the breeze went right with us and we lifted right up. Starting mid-line, we were in a good position, but then a couple of boats spat us out, but then a couple of other boats let us through and we were able to sail in clear air."
Race officials had another tough day. Winds arrived late again, as they can do in March. Eventually the wind filled in to around 8-10 knots and shifted between 160-175 degrees throughout the day, so moving marks became part and parcel of the game and racing got away late shortly after 13:30.
As Principal Race Officer Ross WILSON has said every day at the Audi Etchells Worlds, "we have to give them good and fair racing. All of us have to have our heads out of the boat at all times and be vigilant."
And they were.
The final race, to decide second and third places overall, will be sailed tomorrow on Port Phillip starting from 12:00, weather permitting.
The 2009 Audi Etchells World Championship is organized by the Melbourne Etchells Fleet in conjunction with the Royal Brighton Yacht Club.
To follow the Audi Etchells Worlds news, images and full results go to www.audietchellsworlds2009.com.au
Results - click here