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Jason Muir and crew win Audi Etchells Worlds

14 March 2009 Di Pearson

Jason Muir and crew, number one in the Audi Etchells World Championship 2009

"Jason Muir and crew, number one in the Audi Etchells World Championship 2009"

Photo by:
Andrea Francolini, afrancolini.com

A Queensland crew skippered by Jason Muir out-sailed their 84 opponents to claim their first world title, winning the 2009 Audi Etchells World Championship one day before the series finished on Port Phillip in Melbourne, Australia - and did so without winning a single race.

Organised by the Melbourne Etchells Fleet, in conjunction with the Royal Brighton Yacht Club, the nine-race series held on Port Phillip was shortened by one day when thunderstorms and a mixture of high winds and no wind at all forced the race management team to abandon racing at 2pm on the final day. It did not matter to Muir, he had already won.

Competing against some of the megastars of our sport, including America's Cup and Olympic sailors, Muir, who was crewed by long-time sailing partner Paul Wyatt, along with Matthew Chew and Bucky Smith (AUS), finished the Championship with a (10)-5-5-7-5-4-9-8, 43 score card.

They beat the pre-event favourites, referred to as "the Olympic crew" of John Bertrand, British Olympic great Ben Ainslie and Andrew Palfrey, an Australian Olympian who has coached three Australian crews to world title wins in three classes.

Bertrand's crew won the Nationals, held in Adelaide shortly before the Audi Etchells Worlds and attended by many of those at the Worlds. As local competitor Mark Bulka said before the Worlds, "John's ticked all the boxes. He has the gun crew. They had Victor Kovalenko coaching them, a new boat from Ontario, new sails, they won the Nationals and being a local, he knows Port Phillip."

The Victorian born and bred America's Cup legend held the series lead for the first two days. Muir took over on Day 3,Bertrand regained control on Day 4, but Muir came back to claim the Founders Cup, donated by Mary Etchells, wife of designer Skip, on Day 5, when Bertrand had a disastrous day with 12th and 32nd placings in Races 7 and 8, dropping down to third place overall.

""It was very different in terms of unstable winds. Local knowledge became irrelevant. If you weren't on the right side of the shift, you were gone - the shifts were long. We got good starts and went left, but the breeze freshened from the right and we were stuck in the boondocks. Once you get buried, that's it, and with one drop, there's no way back."

Ainslie said "the changes in wind happened at different times of the day. It has been extraordinary conditions over the last week, but I've enjoyed having the opportunity to sail an Etchells and sailing with John and Dog."

When Race 9 was abandoned, Bertrand's chances to move up one place to second were over. Instead, it went to Damien King/Simon Cunnington/James Ware/Andrew Butler, also from Melbourne, whose seventh and fourth places in Races 7 and 8 moved them up the board.

Two other crews, Chris Busch/Chad Hough/Chuck Sinks/David Hughes (USA) and former worlds winner, American Jud Smith, who qualified for Australia this time with his crew Mark Johnson and Nik Burfoot, were waiting in the wings in fourth and fifth places, but were dependent on Race 9 to redeem themselves.

And while Bertrand had the benefit of Victor Kovalenko's coaching services, Smith and crew were coached by one of Kovalenko's Beijing gold medallists, Malcolm Page, who said he enjoyed his first adult coaching experience at this level.

That Muir and crew stayed rock solid and stuck to 'Plan A' was a credit to them. The 36 year-old's crew opened racing with a tenth place, their worst series result. After that, their worst result was a ninth, their best, a fourth.
"Consistency," said Muir "was the plan from day one. That and to sail cleanly and conservatively until the last couple of races. We knew we'd have to be aggressive on the last day if we were in a good position."
Going into Race 7 Muir said: "We'll run our own race and look at the top five overall after that, if we are in still in the mix.
"In Races 8 and 9, we'll sail more aggressively and keep an eye on John Bertrand, Jud Smith (AUS), Stuart Childerley (GBR) and a couple of others." At that stage, Damien King had had a mid-series crisis with 23rd and 38th places and so was not looking a major threat.
"If it comes down to the last race between Bertrand and us, then yes, we will hunt them aggressively, because that's the only way we'll win."
Muir, whose entire crew comes from Queensland, paid credit to fourth crew member Bucky Smith, brought on board three weeks before the series, after Muir suffered two bulging discs in his back and could not put in the required training for 12 weeks.
"We were a crew of three, then we brought Bucky onboard. He's sensational. Apart from being a good sailor, he's great with weather. He'll have that side of things covered for the rest of the Championship."
In the past, Muir and two of his crew have been coached by Adrian Finglas who also sailed on the Etchells with Muir for a while.
Not quite believing they had won, the Queensland skipper said "we came here thinking a top ten finish would be awesome. We thought that would be realistic - we didn't want to put pressure on ourselves. Some of our starts weren't that good, but we were able to find a gap and get into a clear lane each time."
On the two races that won them the Championship, Muir said "we didn't have it easy, it was a difficult day. We made a mistake in Race 7. We were in fourth place at the top mark the first time and should have followed the guys in front, but we broke away. Our race plan went out of whack a bit there - we thought the breeze would flick back to the right - but it didn't, so we had to take our medicine.

"After that race we looked at whether we should attack John, but we looked at their record, and Ben, and thought we would probably lose if we match raced them, or we'd end up in the protest room so we decided to sail our own race."

Simon Cunnington spoke for King's crew on their second place. "We fell out of contention when we scored a 38th in Race 4. We learnt a lot from that and we changed our strategy a bit.

"We were lucky to have Adrian Finglas (Australian Olympic coach) coaching us the last six weeks. Roughly we thought we would be in the mix, but Adrian made all the difference in every way you can imagine: nutrition, preparation, course management, crew optimisation - everything. We can't say enough."

Both he and King are talented dinghy and match racing sailors. Cunnington also competed in the America's Cup, Whitbread Race and contested many Sydney-Hobart races.

The Triad Team of John Bertrand, Ben Ainslie and Andrew Palfrey

"The Triad Team of John Bertrand, Ben Ainslie and Andrew Palfrey"

Photo by:
www.afrancolini.com









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