Victory for Mead after lengthy protest hearing

The second weekend of the Etchells Nationals concludes

Tuesday October 20th 2009, Author: Laurence Mead, Location: United Kingdom
Tension filled the air even before the crews gathering for the second weekend of the Etchells British National Championships had come together on the dock on Saturday. National Championships rightly raise the pressure bar a notch and this one was raised!

After four races on the first weekend Ante Razmilovic, Brian Hammersley and Stuart Flynn already had their eyes on the title, having scored three bullets and a third. Assuming a discard then the team on Swedish Blue were in total control. However, the third place result was part of a 'yacht materially prejudiced' claim from Razmilovic after a protest that he had been impeded by the race committee boat during race 2. That had been a fifth on the water before he was granted re-dress. The pressure started to rise when, on Friday night before the second weekend Razmilovics' nearest challenger, Laurence Mead, had managed to counter protest and had the case re-opened. Were Razmilovic to be put back to fifth, and if he were to score a result outside of the top ten in any of the last four races, then anything was possible. Lots of “if’s”, but the forecast for the second weekend suggested light and shifty breezes on the Saturday, and perhaps a drift off on the Sunday in beautiful English Autumn sunshine. All to play for perhaps?

Race 1 of the weekend (race 5 of the 8 race series) saw both Razmilovic and Mead start cleanly but by half way up the first beat in a 7 to 12 knot northerly, Richard and David Burrows from Dublin, sailing with Bonny Moody on the bow had moved into the lead from the middle right of the course, while Graham Sunderland (standing in for David Franks on Elvis) was coming across the starboard tackers bows from the left corner. The breeze was puffy and shifty, hard to read and seemingly impossible to predict. Andrew Cooper, Mark Powell and Freddie Hall came out of the middle left to be third with Robert Elliot, Mark Cartwright and Sam Richmond on Bedrock also playing the shifts nicely on the left to be fourth. There wasn't a favoured side, more a need to be on the correct shift at the right time. The top two overall were well back, Mead in late single figures, Razmilovic in the tens. Sunderland and Burrows battled round the course with Elvis always just ahead and playing a nice tidal game on the first run to win.

The balance of the top four was unchanged, Andrew Cooper in third with Elliot in fourth. Mead got back to the top 5 at the last top mark but got the last run wrong to finish seventh while Julia Bailey got it all right to scoot up to fifth. Razmilovic was tenth at the finish. The leader scored his worst result but Mead wasn’t able to capitalise significantly.

Race 6 got away with the majority of the fleet wanting the right where there was possibly a little more advantageous tide at the bottom of the beat, but it was still primarily a 'sail the shifts' race. With 40 seconds to go the fleet were bunched towards the windward end of the line but Razmilovic was a little out of position and found himself to windward of the starboard tack layline and trying to squeeze in between the bunch and the committee boat. Under him was Andrew Cooper fighting for a top 3 overall position to qualify for the 2100 worlds in Dublin, and, with nowhere to go Razmilovic ended up forcing Cooper to let him at the boat with much shouting and hollering from the team on China White.

Further down the line Laurence Mead, Phil Lawrence and Oscar Mead on Freelance were away cleanly, as were Graham Sunderland, Robert Elliot and Julia Bailey. Towards the leeward end John Gimson was away at good speed (and not going right this time!!). Up the beat, this group were well clear, and it was yet another Etchells master class of trying to find a lane with clear air which left the freedom to tack when the next shift came in. As the lanes got tighter people got popped out the back but at the top mark they were all still in contention and were joined by Chris Torrens, Ron Thompson and Peter Williams sailing Best Mate who came in from the right. Razmilovic was in the early teens again after a difficult first beat.

Down the first run it was all about sailing the angles and watching behind for the next puff. Mead got half way down and threw in two quick gybes to keep in pressure and he led at the bottom. Gimson was second and went left at the bottom mark, Elliot third and he went right. Mead tried to cover up the middle by sailing the lifted tack….it was a plan at least! Rounding well back Razmilovic went hard right and was a speck on the horizon so far to the right hand shore was he. However, this is the where the championship really got tense as a 20deg right shift bought him back to the leaders in a big way. He was almost crossing the leader at one stage and that surely would have locked up the regatta for him. For about 90 seconds the race leader was in real trouble and Razmilovic looked to be wrapping a tighter hand around the title, but for two things….. First the right hand shift died back and Razmilovic got back to sixth but not higher. Second, Cooper had flown a red flag for the start line incident and, were he to lose that protest, the championship leader would have to count a 10th which would hurt significantly. Tensions were raised again. Mead closed out his covering plan successfully to win from Team Gimson / Eamon O’Nolan on Take 2 with Elliot adding a third onto his scorecard to move up the leader board in the battle for Worlds 2010 qualification places.

Race 7 was added to Saturday’s program by PRO Bob Milner on the basis that Sunday night not be race able and the fleet got away in a still very shifty 8 knot northerly. This time Razmilovic aced it from the pin starting nicely at speed. Mead was middle of the line in a lot of space and David Bedford (standing in for Stefano Sabatini) was middle right, also in clear air. Once the fleet was all on port, Bedford had good height on Mead and sailed up to his line despite the breeze clocking left 20 degrees. Razmilovic looked great inside the lift but was always in less pressure and the right hand boats started to extend forward on him.

It was one of those days when the boats to leeward and ahead had better pressure and the puffs rolled round the headstays of the boats to windward so that the leeward boats were also sailing higher. With all sailors dream combination of 'higher and faster' fully locked in, Bedford led. Mead had no choice but to sail in a high and slow mode to avoid being forced to tack off a 20 degree lift which let Gimson and Burrows roll up to him from the left. This pack were clear of Razmilovic who circulated in 5th but never looked like he was going to get any higher and Julia Bailey who was nicely on the pace again.

Once they rounded the leeward mark Mead tacked quickly onto starboard and proceeded to give Bedford a dose of higher and faster of his own and sailed up to his line and ahead. Gimson had also lost out at the bottom of the beat and Mead was now ahead in the battle for first. Burrows eventually took a slender lead from the right but it was very tense with big holes in the breeze, one of which at the last top mark allowed Mead to round second only a few feet behind Burrows with Gimson just a boat length behind. Mead went for the win, gybing as soon as he had set his spinnaker while Burrows and Gimson stood on a bit before gybing and it was the latter strategy that was correct, as at the end of the run, with the finish line approaching, Mead had fallen back to third. Bedford finished fourth with overall leader Razmilovic in fifth.

Quick maths on the sail back to the dock suggested it was very close at the top. Razmilovic would be leading by one point were he to win the YMP rehearing, Mead would be one point ahead were he to lose and the fly in the ointment was the start line incident which had the potential to give Mead a three point advantage were the team on Swedish Blue to lose that protest.

The class annual dinner and prize giving followed that night and needless to say was delayed while the protests went on, and on and on…..and on. After nearly two hours the first ruling came back. Razmilovic would keep his third in race two. He held his one point overall advantage with 1 race to go. However, after another long hearing Swedish Blue was disqualified from race 6 for barging at the windward end of the start line and Mead would lead by three points going into the last race on Sunday morning.

October in England can often be nice and sunny; it can often be wet and windy. This year Sunday 18 October was a glorious sunny day, with a light, and dropping, 6 knot northerly over the course in the morning, so the fleet headed off for an on time start but it was not to be. The breeze died away before a start could be held and the fleet returned ashore to wait a possible light and late sea breeze. It never came and at 1330 hours the fleet was stood down with Laurence Mead, Phil Lawrence and Oscar Mead being crowned National Champions for 2009. Razmilovic finished second with Richard Burrows in third. 4th and filling the final slot on offer for the 2010 Worlds in Dublin was the new Etchells team of John Gimson / Eamon O Nolan / Ed Greig / Olie Dickens. The balance of the Cowes fleet places for the 2010 worlds will be contested in May next year and the fleet will be back on the water for the spring series on 10-11 April.

Full results here: Etchells Nationals 2009.pdf

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