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11 March 2009, 12:26 pm
MUIR New Leader At Audi Etchells Worlds
The Etchells fleet in action on Port Phillip Bay
The Etchells fleet in action on Port Phillip Bay

Audi Etchells World Championship 2009
Melbourne, Australia

The Australian crew of Jason MUIR has jumped into the overall lead at the Audi Etchells World Championship after overnight leader John BERTRAND suffered from a black flag penalty in Wednesday's racing.
Going into race four at the 2009 Audi Etchells World Championship today, John BERTRAND (AUS) and his Olympic crew had a handy five point lead - then came the oops. After a general recall, the race committee brought the dreaded Black Flag into play, meaning any boats that broke the start were immediately disqualified from the race - and that is what happened to BERTRAND, leaving the field wide-open for the other 84 entrants.

A new series leader emerged, as Jason MUIR, Matthew CHEW, Paul WYATT and Bucky SMITH (AUS) scored seventh and fifth places in races four and five today. That was enough for MUIR and co to leap-frog over BERTRAND and crew who, despite their fourth place in race five, have dropped down to 14th place overall, scoring 86 points for their Black Flag.

However, crews are able to drop their worst race score once six races have been put to bed, so BERTRAND and crew of Ben AINSLIE (GBR) and Andrew PALFREY (AUS) are still the ones to watch. Were the drop used today, he would be back in first place by three points. Having said that, crew MUIR has quietly sailed the most consistent series of any team, their worst score so far a 10th place. Consistency counts for plenty at a world-class event such as the Audi Etchells Worlds.

MUIR, whose entire crew comes from Queensland, commented today: "We came here wanting to finish in the top 10, we thought that would be realistic and we didn't want to put pressure on ourselves."

The 36 year-old Brisbane skipper suffered two bulging discs in his back in 12 weeks ago, so has been unable to put in the practice he would have liked to prior to these Worlds.

"We were a crew of three until that happened, and then we brought in Bucky SMITH three weeks ago - he's been sensational. Now we are making sure to sail consistently. We play the numbers a lot. Our starts haven't been that good, but we've been able to find a gap and get into a clear lane each time," MUIR said after scoring seventh and fifth places this afternoon.

In good, steady 9-10 knot south-easterly breeze, it was a free-for-all with BERTRAND out of the way, and the lead kept changing up the first beat of the two-lap windward leeward course two of the Royal Brighton Yacht Club hosted series.

Two new players emerged at the first windward mark - both of them from Cowes in Britain - Rob GODDARD, Anthony THACKRAY and Guy MCGREGOR were first around, followed by Laurence MEAD, Phil LAWRENCE and Andrew YATES - and that is how it panned out for the rest of the race, despite the close racing that had spectators holding their collective breaths.

GODDARD commented after racing: "The wind was pretty stable and we went hard left, then we tacked to the right and the wind shifted three to four degrees and lifted us up over Laurence [MEAD]. Once we took the lead, we pretended it was just the two boats in the race and forgot about everyone else, so as not to get psyched.

"We hiked liked we'd never hiked before after that - I have very sore muscles to prove it," said GODDARD who confessed this was his first Worlds race win after contesting two previous Championships.

MEAD's crew, Phil LAWRENCE, responded tongue in cheek: "They were lucky lefties today!" In fact his crew are the lucky ones, their second place shifting them up to seventh overall. The next best placed British boat is that of 2001 and 2002 Etchells World title winner, Stuart CHILDERLEY, in ninth place overall.

"On the second beat we went to the port side mark, got a little shift and thought we'd beaten Rob [GODDARD], but they got us by around five metres," LAWRENCE, from Lymington said.

Kirwan ROBB, Breehn MCCRAKEN, Rodney MULLER and James THOMPSON (AUS) rounded the first mark in fourth place, but moved into third place down the run and was never headed. Meanwhile, BERTRAND sailed up the left side of the course behind the fleet, checking wind and angles in preparation for Race five and stayed well clear of the fleet.

While the top three dominated the race, there was a fair bit of movement and change throughout the rest of the fleet, but it was in this race that Geelong sailor Brendan GARNER (AUS), ninth overall coming into today's racing, repeated his 10th place finish of yesterday to become a serious contender for the title.

GARNER and his crew of Michael SCHILT and Tim CLARK got their confidence into gear and came out with good pace in race five. To begin with, the 9-10 knot breeze was at 170 degrees, but just over halfway up the first beat, there was a 10 degree shift to the south, catching many boats on the wrong side of the course and forcing officials to move the windward mark to make for fair and clean racing.

The Geelong crew held together to round the first windward and leeward marks in first place, but Jud SMITH, Mark JOHNSON and Nik BURFOOT (AUS) mowed them down by the time they got to the windward mark for the second time.

From there, SMITH put his foot to the pedal to lead around the rest of the course, GARNER hung on to finish second on the 2.1 nautical mile leg course, which was shortened to 1.7nm for the run to the finish.

On coming ashore, American Jud SMITH, who qualified in Sydney to sail for Australia, commented: "We had no massive plan. We went to the port gate the second time and led from there. We weren't trying to do anything fancy, we were just trying to sail cleanly.

"We're happy we haven't blown ourselves up yet,"
said SMITH. His crew, JOHNSON (from Sydney) and BURFOOT (a New Zealander living in Sydney) agreed and are happy to be sitting in second place overall, 17 points behind series leader MUIR. GARNER has moved up to third place.

More movement on the board as Noel DRENNAN, Steve JARVIN and Will MCCARTHY (AUS) move up one place into fourth overall, despite a 24th in race five.

The nine race series continues tomorrow with race six to be sailed starting from 14:00, weather permitting. Once crews have put six races away, they are able to drop their worst score.

As expected, there have been many protests keeping the jury busy. The details can be found on the official Championship website

Results - click here
Di Pearson
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