B14s at Sail Melbourne

Di Pearson looks at the form for the Aussie v Pom showdown

Thursday December 12th 2002, Author: Di Pearson, Location: Australasia
Approximately 35 boats are expected to contest the fourth B14 World championship, as part of the Sail Melbourne International Regatta 2003, in January.

Hosted by McCrae YC, and to be sailed on Port Phillip Bay, the championship will take place from 5-11 January, following the B14 Australian championship in late December and early January.

Six boats from the UK are on their way, with the remainder coming from NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. If numbers are a factor, then the Aussies are looking good, but past experience suggests that what the English contingent lack in numbers is made up for in quality.

Hot favourites for the title come from across the sea, and are remnants of the past two World title holding crew combinations. Notably, the current World title holding crew, Shaun Barber has teamed up with Jono Pank, who steered his way to a creditable 6th place at the last World Titles on Lake Garda, Italy in 2002.

Tim Fells, arguably the most consistent B14 sailor and class proponent, with a 2-1-2 record at the last three World championships, has teamed with Dave Cunningham in an effort to regain the title he won in Sydney three years ago. Representing Grafham Waters SC in the UK, their boat, AT&T is due to arrive in Melbourne shortly.

This Championship promises to be an Aussie versus the Poms affair; with the Australian contingent keen to redeem themselves from the floggings they received at the last two Worlds.

Richie Reynolds and Lissa McMillan from Woollahra SC, NSW and sailing The Nude, were the best of the Australians in Italy, finishing 15th, with the previous best by an Australian crew being a 5th on Sydney Harbour by Sydneysiders, Murray Walters and Rob Brewer, three years ago.

Australia’s competitors are hoping that Melbourne will provide an opportunity for a fresh battleground that should, by rights, favour them. Current National and NSW State champions, Paul Hansen and James Ellis, (Gosford SC), sailing Priority Powder Coating, are hoping for a windy series, having won their titles in those conditions.

Recent form, however, also suggests good performances from the Reynolds/McMillan combination who sail well in all conditions, and newcomers, McCrae YC Commodore and ex International 14 sailor, Guy ‘Bangers’ Bancroft and his son Rhys. The pair recently made a trip to Sydney, their first foray away from home waters, and won a race in 15-20 knots from a quality fleet. They are pioneering some Lindsay Irwin (International 14 sailor) sails made a surprise impact on the NSW crews.

Other Aussies with proven ability include Abby Parkes/Sophie Hunt from Sydney, who placed 26th at Lake Garda, and Peter Ray/Gareth Wells from Gosford, always showing good speed but lack consistency due to gear failure.

With a lot of water having passed under the B14s since the last Worlds in Italy, and a committed training program both north and south of the NSW border over the winter and into this summer, it is difficult to gauge how the UK and Aussie battle will stack up.

If history can be used as a guide, the smart money will be on an exciting, fun and exhausting social program. McCrae YC have a proven track-record in running well organised regattas, and their preliminary efforts to-date have provided ample evidence of their commitment.

The B14 was designed by Julian Bethwaite, and first went on display at the Earls Court Boat Show in England, in January 1989. Bethwaite anticipated that the huge budgets associated with the 18 footers unlimited design would result in a crash in their popularity, and so set about designing a two handed, body swung skiff. Originally christened the Exocet, the name was changed as a result of the Falklands War to ‘B14’.

An exciting racing skiff, the B14 features asymmetrical spinnakers, requiring energetic and enthusiastic crew to keep it on the plane, both up and downwind. Optimal racing weight is the subject of conjecture, with conventional wisdom suggesting a combined weight of between 135 – 160kg.

Windward-leeward courses allow the lighter crews to catch up downwind what they may have lost upwind, allowing for a wide range of crew weights to be competitive. Father-son, husband-wife and all girl crews are the norm, with one third of the fleet at the recent NSW State Titles being female.

There are two B14 fleets racing in NSW - Woollahra SC on Sydney Harbour, and Gosford SC on the Central Coast. Victoria and Tasmania also boast fleets, as a direct result of interest in the upcoming Australian and World Titles.

Australia has some work to do, with the last three World champions hailing from the UK. The Poms should arrive in Australia in good form too, having just completed their summer season.

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