There is always a lot of great boat racing going on around the Solent, with battles taking place in a wide variety of classes, from big boats to small boats, and club racers to world champions. This coming May Bank Holiday will be no exception with 60 J-Boats battling it out in the J Cup from the Island Sailing Club, as well as the RORC fleet heading offshore to Plymouth and back.
Possibly the most competitive racing however will be in the Etchells class who will be competing for their British Open & National Championship, hosted by the Royal London YC. The entry list is stacked with awesome CVs and whoever wins will have to beat the very best. It’s also a very international regatta with competitors from Australia, Hong Kong and the USA flying in, with one crew coming down from Scotland as well.
On the basis of local knowledge and the form book a possible favourite is Lawrie Smith. Smith has been winning World Championships for 35 years, in his early days in the 505 and Fireball class where he regularly locked horns with current Etchells world champion Steve Benjamin. Smith was 2nd in the Miami Etchells series over the winter (Benjamin won!) has an excellent crew and is one of the finest helmsman in the world. Sailing an Etchells fast upwind is never easy but Smith squeezes out those last 2° of height all the time and is incredibly consistent. Smith has also previously won the Dragon World Championship and in a nice piece of symmetry current Dragon World Champion (and 2007 Etchells World Champion). Andy Beadsworth will be making his second appearance in the class this year as well.
There are a number of local boats who on their day also have the capability to win the championship, not least of which is David Franks the current British National Champion with local guru Graham Sunderland. David has been an avid Etchells sailor for the past 10 years and has honed his campaign to the point where he is always a genuine contender. Last year Franks won the British Nationals while Marco Pocci and Marty Kaye from Hong Kong won the Open title and they are back to shoot for the title this year and returning again in August for the Etchells European Championship.
When it comes to big names in international sailing however none gets much bigger than Grant Simmer. When your CV goes back to being navigator on Australia 2 in the winning 1983 Americas Cup campaign it may be hard to reach higher but Simmer went on to a senior leadership role with Alinghi - winning two America’s cups and then to being General Manager when Oracle pulled off their unbelievable 9-8 comeback to beat New Zealand in the 2013 Cup in San Francisco. On the water he has fitted in multiple top 10 results at the Etchells Worlds including 8th in the 2017 championship. Simmer is now CEO of Ineos Team UK for the next America’s Cup.
In terms of current form Peter Duncan from the USA is the reining J70 World Champion, current Rolex USA Yachtsman of the Year, current USA midwinter Etchells Champion and knows the Solent well having raced here in the world Championships, as well as winning the Royal Yacht Squadron's prestigious Sir Kenneth Preston Trophy in 2017. He has Cowes resident and twice Etchells World Champion Andrew Palfrey on bow as they train up towards the 2018 Worlds to be held in Australia in October.
It’s almost impossible to list everybody racing who has a CV that impresses but if it’s windy Ante Razmilovic from the local fleet will be hard to beat, having placed second in the Etchells World's three times and always being a contender while rounding out the legends is Ian Murray from Australia who has been an America’s Cup skipper three times, raced Stars at the Olympics, was Regatta Director for the Americas Cup twice and, oh, is also a previous Etchells world champion!!! Should be one tough weekend of boat racing.
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