Former World Champions, Olympic and America's Cup sailors are among the 170 outstanding Australians and New Zealanders who will contest the Etchells Australian Winter Championship off Mooloolaba on Queensland's Sunshine Coast this weekend.
Helmsmen of the 57 boats entered include former Etchells World champions Cameron MILES and John SAVAGE, America's Cup winning helmsman and current New Zealand and NSW Etchells champion John BERTRAND, America's Cup crew member Rob BROWN, Australian Etchells champion Mark BULKA and top New Zealand Etchells sailor Cameron APPLETON.
The 2004 Winter Championship has added significance, as it is the major lead-up regatta to the World Championship for the Etchells one-design keelboat class, also to be sailed off Mooloolaba, at the end of July through to early August.
While a number of leading entrants for the World Championship have elected to miss the Australian Winter Championship because of other commitments, the fleet is a classy one that promises intense competition over the eight races scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Entries represent all Australian Etchells fleets in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, along with one boat from Hong Kong and five boats from New Zealand.
Male sailors dominate the entry list but two women will be at the helm of their own boats, Mooloolaba fleet's Karen DEWS in Butterfly Effect and Louise GEDDES steering AUS 1128.
Racing is due to start at 11am tomorrow, with Australian John BERTRAND, steering Two Saints and a Magpie, and New Zealand Cameron Appleton, helming Embers, the favourites in what is certain to be a close fought series.
Appleton, representing New Zealand's Gulf Harbour fleet, won the Australian Winter Championship last year beating Port Phillip fleet members Noel DRENNAN and John BERTRAND, but in Auckland earlier this year Bertrand turned the tables over Appleton with a close win in the New Zealand Championship.
Earlier, Bertrand had won the NSW Championship from Sydney sailors Michael Coxon and Neville WITTEY, but neither is contesting this weekend's Championship on the Sunshine Coast because of other sailing commitments.
Bertrand has yet to win an Etchells Australian Winter Championship but he won the Australian National Championship off Mooloolaba last year.
Former World Champions Cameron, steering Pacesetter, and John SAVAGE at the helm of Cobra IV, along with Australian champion Mark BULKA, representing the Mornington (Vic) fleet in Balanced A-Tac, Mark Bradford from the Brisbane fleet in Racer X, and Peter McNeill, sailing Tom Pepper XVIII from the Lake Macquarie fleet, also must all be considered strong prospects in the big fleet.
Bradford is a two-times Etchells Australian Winter Champion in 2001 and 2002 while also competing again this year is 1999 winner Ian JOHNSON, helming Bananas in Pyjamas from the Mornington fleet, and 2000 winner Julian Plante from the Pittwater fleet, sailing Odyssey.
The three Queensland fleets, Mooloolaba, Brisbane and the Gold Coast will be represented in total by 16 boats, with David TURTON in 1219 the number one prospect from the local fleet.
Excellent sailing conditions have been forecast for tomorrow with winds of 15-20 knots during the afternoon.