You know a class is doing well when it's difficult to get your hands on a boat. Melbourne Fleet Captain of the Etchells Class Jake GUNTHER explains, "If you want to buy a new boat you have to wait till March next year; if you want a 2nd hand boat you've got to cross your fingers and look in every nook and cranny to find one."
The popularity of the Etchells class is again evident in the consistent size of it's racing fleet, with 50-60 boats regularly attending Etchells Australian championships and up to 80 boats attending World Championships. Royal Brighton Yacht Club's fleet in Victoria boasts regular fleets of 25 for its weekend races.
Why is the class so strong? It seems that the Etchells one design integrity goes a long way to explaining its appeal. Anyone can step onto an Etchells and take full responsibility for their performance rather than any credit being attributed to the boat. As Australian Yachting President Andrew PLYMPTON points out "After a days sailing you can look in the mirror and know that it wasn't about the equipment it was all about me."
This opportunity for isn't readily available in the world of keel boat sailing, where despite handicapping systems it's difficult to take full credit for one's success, or responsibility for one's failure.
This level playing field is what appeals to the super stars of yachting such as Dennis CONNER, Iain MURRAY and John BERTRAND. It also gives your average club sailor the opportunity to not only meet, but race against (and potentially beat) some of these big names.
The first Etchells was designed and built in 1965 by American Skip ETCHELLS. After Etchells' success in building competitive Star boats he began working on his own unique design, in part inspired by the International Yacht Racing Unions (IYRU) search for a new three man keelboat
ETCHELLS shipped his first Etchells yacht from the US to Germany in 1966 for a number of IYRU (International Yacht Racing Union - now ISAF) trials against other established designs and classes. Despite the boat consistently out performing it's competition, the recommendation was made for the Soling class to be the new three man Olympic keelboat.
This decision at the time had the potential to stifle the class before it had begun; however the Etchells' attractive on water performance helped establish the class in the US from which it began growing internationally. Now with strong established fleets in the US, Australia, New Zealand and UK, rapid growth of the class is occurring in countries such as Italy, France, Ireland, Bermuda and Hong Kong.
Sailors are attracted to the Etchells' sea worthiness, as well as it's responsiveness with the boat becoming fully powered in only 8 knots of wind and planning in 15 to 18. In addition the boat is trailerable, requires low maintenance and it's tightly governed one design principle and popularity ensures little loss on resale.
After 20 years of Etchells sailing PLYMPTON continues to be passionate about the class and it's broad appeal "It's a class that can bring everyone together, whether you're an America's Cup sailor, Olympic aspirant or dinghy sailor, it's just got the capability of bringing the best sailors together."
Some of Australia's and the world's best sailors will be competing in the upcoming 2006 Audi Etchells Australian Championships. As part of the Sail Melbourne calendar, the event is set to attract a large field of competitors to Royal Brighton Yacht Club during January 2006. The venue at Brighton offers world-class hard stand facilities and exciting sailing conditions on Port Phillip Bay.
When discussing the suitable of the Bay for Etchells racing GUNTHER says "There's not many places where you can pick how far you want to sail away from land, plonk a course down and have an uninterrupted course for as far as you want to go".
Throughout January. Port Phillip Bay dishes up a variety of conditions including regular sea breezes well suited to a planning keel boat such as the Etchells.