Epic racing at the Int.5.5 Metre Australian Championship at Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club
February 27, 2019
With the impeding 5.5m World Championships to be held in the Palm Beach Circle in January 2020 hosted by the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, Newport, more and more Fives are being bought and renovated and joining the Australian fleet. This year's 5.5m Championship therefore saw 8 local competitors with one brave visitor; Haydn Skelton in his 1967 Classic Crest racing with his Dad and singlehandedly braving the inclement weather to sail for 9 hours in 3m seas from Cronulla to join the event.
The ‘Fives’ are a seventy year old, ex Olympic class where Bill Northam won the first Australian Olympic Gold in 1964. All the fleet rate the same under the 5.5m formula and race together. 'Fives' are a development class, each boat is unique and the newer boats tend to be faster than the older boats. Accordingly the class has 3 sub divisions to recognise age and give encouragement to the older boats; Classics (1949-1969), Evolutions (1970-1993) and Moderns (1994 to Present).
Nine races were scheduled over the 3 days. Sunday dawned with a SE forecast 18-20kts. This made for exciting sailing with a challenging, gusty, inconsistently, oscillating wind where getting the shifts right paid dividends. One of the newest members of the fleet, the experienced M38, Melges 24 and 20 sailor John Bacon showed the old hands how to do it. John's recently renovated 2000 Modern Wilke boat Ku-Ring-Gai dominated the day with 3 wins. Really indicating changing of the guard was starting, with this renovated Modern showing the older boats the capability of a well sailed Modern 5.5m. Martin Cross's 1973 Evolution Antares revelled in the windy conditions and ended the day on 8 points with close behind another new member of the class Chris Hancock, with his beautifully recently restored 1978 Evolution Rhapsody which was the 1981 World Championship Winner, on 9 points.
Monday dawned with a light easterly wind forecast. Which is usually a very challenging direction on Pittwater especially when the windward mark is under the eastern shore. And so it proved with inconsistent major shifts of up to 90 degrees and the fickle breeze liable to die out at anytime. It was critical to have eyes out of the boat and a bit of luck as there was no pattern. It was Antares that was the boat of the day in the challenging conditions with a first, second and forth. Another new class member Scotty O'Conner, with his Classic 1968 Kings Cross, which was designed for the light airs in Acapulco, really did shine in the difficult conditions and would have been boat of the day with a win, a second and a fifth if they had not had to retire from a potential first and actual second place for going past the wrong side of a repositioned windward mark by 50m. The consistent Rhapsody also had a good day with two thirds and a second. Ku-Ring-Gai was unfortunately a victim of the fickle wind, becoming becalmed in race 5 scoring an 8th. However, with the one discard kicking in after 5 races they took a comfortable lead of 5 points over Antares into the final day with Rhapsody one point behind.
Tuesday was a classic sunny Pittwater day with a light 6kt North Easterly seabreeze that gradually built in the afternoon to 14kts. Race 7 was a chance for Damian Macey's and Jason Antill's 1968 radical, Classic Baragoola to shine taking out the first race over Ka-Ring-Gai, Rhapsody and then Antares. Rhapsody and Antares were now on equal points with all to play for the final races. It was again Ku-Ring-Gai that showed her superior speed taking out the last two races to comfortably take the overall win to become the 2019 International 5.5m Australian Champion. Antares was fast down the runs in both races, consistently gybing early to the left hand side of the run which paid off and this gave them two comfortable seconds to become the 2019 Evolution Champion over Rhapsody. Baragoola again became the 2019 Classic Champion. The changing of the guard was now complete with Bob Stoddard's stunning 1973 Evolution Skagerak, which has been at the top the Australian Championships for the last 10 years, uncharacteristically 6th overall.
Given the different designs and ages of the boats there was also a performance handicap system prize to compete for which any of the divisional winners were not eligible. Rob Hart's beautifully varnished 1980 Evolution Marotte took out this prize much to the delight of Rob and the competitors.
Steve Merrington and his well oiled race team were thanked for smoothly running an excellent regatta despite the at times challenging conditions.
* Australian Champion AUS60 Kuringgai John Bacon & Team (Modern post 1994)
* First Evolution (1970 to 1994) AUS29 Antares Martin Cross & Team
* First Classic (1949 to 1969) AUS26 Baragoola Damian Macey/ Jason Antill & Team
* First on Performance Handicap AUS59 Marotte Rob Hart & Team
The Aussie 5.5m class are excitingly looking forward to the forthcoming Gold Cup and Worlds, January 3rd to 13th 2020. These look like they will attract at least 25 boats with 15 Moderns from Australia and overseas. More information here.