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8 January 2003, 03:40 pm
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The Etchells Fleet

Australian Etchells National Championship
Mooloolaba YC, Queensland

A number of the Worlds most high profile yacht racing tacticians including Olympic Medallists, Americas Cup, Volvo Globe Race and World champion sailors have arrived on the Sunshine Coast to contest the 2003 Etchells Event.
No other class of strict one-design racing outside the Olympic regattas can boast an equal collection of supreme sailing talent who have the individual skill and reputation to become the master sailing crew on the testing Mooloolaba Yacht Club course to claim this prestigious title in the final on Sunday.

Dennis Conner, Mr Americas Cup and unfairly tabbed as 'Big Bad Dennis' by the Australian media during and after John Bertrand helmed Australia 11 to victory in the match race of the century in 1983 heads a star cast that includes John Bertrand, 2000 Olympic 470 Gold Medallist Tom King and World Etchells title winner Cameron Miles.

Conner has won at Mooloolaba before when he steered Menace to victory in 1992 and he will command respect again following his wins in the American and New Zealand titles during the past season.

However while reputations deserve to be respected there is no guarantee for success in this championship where the strict class rules provide all of the nominated 47 crews with an equal chance before the title racing begins
Sails, hulls, keels, rudders and fittings are seriously scrutinised to ensure the key element to success comes down to the pure science of mistake free tactical sailing contributed by the three persons in the cockpit of the individual high performance Etchells sloop.

The class is noted for the quality of electrifying tactical dog fights from the front to the back of the fleet with correct spilt second decisions meaning the difference between success and failure.

All of these highly ranked International sailors including the defending champion Noel Drennan who has had a busy programme of sailing in the Volvo Globe race crewing with Dennis Conner in the Americas Cup besides being in the helming team on Rolex Sydney-Hobart line honours winner Alfa Romeo have tremendous respect for each other.

Local champion Mark Bradford, winner of the World championship Silver Medal in New Zealand last November and the Gold Medallist in the Sun City Homes mid-winter Australian championship at Mooloolaba has respectfully labelled the series 'as a class act'. "It's a personal honour to be known as an Etchells sailor." Said Bradford.

When asked to tip a series favourite. He remarked "Speak to me on Sunday then we will both know". Bradford, like Dennis Conner, John Bertrand, Noel Drennan, Cameron Miles, and Olympic champion Tom King have that individual burning desire to win but it is going to mean they will have to produce a super performance over nine races before they can have any chance of claiming the 2002-3 Australian title trophy.

Career results speak for themselves and the pressure racing in Etchells only separates the best from the rest by the collective skill contributed from all three crewmembers that understand and value what centimetres of free wind time means in a six to nine nautical mile boat race.

Based on class experience and recent results the top five chances are embraced by defending champion Noel Drennan, Dennis Conner, John Bertrand, Mark Bradford and Cameron Miles but don't rush off to place a bet because there are a number of other top skippers including Peter McNeil and Julian Plante who have done the 'hard yards' to possess a chance.

Ian Grant/ISAF News Editor
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