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Deliberate plan has delivered Strong significant win

25 June 2015 Tracey Johnstone

The 2015 Australasian’s winning Yandoo XX team on the dock at Mooloolaba – Marcus Burke, Jeanne-Claude Strong, Tiana Wittey and Neville Wittey

"The 2015 Australasian’s winning Yandoo XX team on the dock at Mooloolaba – Marcus Burke, Jeanne-Claude Strong, Tiana Wittey and Neville Wittey"

Photo by:
Tracey Johnstone

It's little wonder that Sydney Fleet's Jeanne-Claude Strong is the first woman to win a major Australian Etchells class trophy when she won the Marinepool 19th Etchells Australasian Championship conducted by Mooloolaba Yacht Cub.

The 64-year-old skipper is accomplished academic, pilot, medical practitioner, a holder of several diverse university degrees and an ascribed adventurer. She is also a passionate participant in sailing who is obsessive about achieving at whatever she takes on.

Strong and her team of tactician and 2000 Olympic Games competitor Neville Wittey, his 16-year-old daughter Tiana and bowman Marcus Burke, have been a tight-knit team that for the last five years. They have followed a performance program that has seen Strong gradually grow her helming skills through time in the Yngling class and then into the Etchells.

Strong's first Australasian Championship was in 2010 where her team placed 13th. In 2012 they placed 10th. At the class nationals in 2013/14, they placed 15th and in 2014/15 they placed 10th.

It's been a deliberate pathway to success. Wittey has worked closely with Strong since they raced together and won the Yngling World Championship in 2004.

"She started steering Yandoo for the Tuesday twilights and then Wednesday afternoon races. We then came up with the concept of doing some regattas. It all came about because she really wasn't strong enough to crew it," Wittey said.

"Our campaign has been no different to anyone else. The thing that has been interesting has been we have someone who doesn't have the strength. Where you might have a man banging the boat around the course, JC has to do it differently.

"The program has been a very, very deliberate team development exercise at every level," Wittey added.

The Australasians win by Strong is an excellent result for the class which has in recent years been pro-active in encouraging women to join the class in helming or crewing positions. "I still find it hard to believe," a humble Strong said at the end of the regatta after hearing the news of the overall results.

"I made the decision last year when we started to improve our results that we would make the most of it. How many years have I got left in good quality racing? We have done more physical, gym training and a lot of on-water training with everyone else. We have put a lot of hours in on the water," Strong added.

From the first day of the three-day regatta Strong was showing signs of heading to the top of the podium. She won Race 1 and 2, placed seventh in Race 3, fifth in Race 4 and a disappointing 14th in Race 5.

She then finished the second-last-regatta race in a confident second place after working their way through the big ocean swell and gusty wind, at times up to 26 knots. But in the last race things seemed to not go their way as they finished in a nail-biting 19th place.

"We just didn't pick the shifts. Our start wasn't too bad and we had clear air. We went right and had a good lift towards the flatter water, which we did on race one and it seemed to work. But it didn't work the second time," Strong added. At the start of the last day Cameron Miles and his crew, James Mayo and Grant Crowle, were in first place with a two-point lead on Strong.

But by the end of the day, the reverse had happened. While Miles went into the day confident the stronger conditions were where he raced best, a handful of poor tactical decisions bought him down just when it counted the most. "We got a bad start in the first race and that let us down. We couldn't tack so we got buried and had to fight back," Miles said. They finished 15th in that race.

"In the second race we sailed quite well until the last run really. We were in third spot and we hoped we could hold that spot and get Clarkey (David Clarke), but dropped a couple right down the bottom. We let Land Rat and Chewy through. It was just bad sailing."

"All credit to Nev (Wittey) and Jeanne-Claude. They sailed very, very well. I was surprised to see them up there when it got windy, but certainly wasn't surprised to see them up there in general. "I think we could have done better in that breeze. I expected us to do better, but it didn't work out that way," a bitterly disappointed Miles added after finishing the second race in fifth place.

Hong Kong's Mark Thornburrow must have been saying at the end of Race 7, 'if only'. Thornburrow and his team of tactician and gold medallist Olympian Malcolm Page, Simon Cooke and Michael Huang, delivered their second day of perfect racing with a sixth and then a first. They went the right way and they went fast.

"It was really picking the shifts and good boat speed. Malcolm was fantastic on the tactics and boat handling," Thornburrow said. But, they had to count their poor first day results after breaking their jib halyard.

He was very, very surprised to have moved into third overall, just one point ahead of Brisbane Fleet's John Warlow. "Bloody hell," was his candid reply on being told the result. He assumed that since they were so far back on the results there was no chance they could make it up onto the podium. Cooke had the last word on the team's results since he was the one to climb the mast to repair the halyard. "To get to third, I think that was a good effort from us."

The 2015 overall trophy winners were –

  • North Sails Mid-Fleet Prize - Just 2 Funny, Trevor Martin
  • Best Performing Fleet - Sydney
  • Classic Boat - Yandoo XX
  • Masters Skipper - Jeanne-Claude Strong, Yandoo XX
  • Peter 'Spike' Dorian Most Outstanding Crew - Land Rat; John Warlow, Mick Patrick, Will Thomson
  • Corinthian Trophy - The Hole Way; Cameron Miles, Grant Crowle, James Mayo
  • Third Overall - Racer X; Mark Thornburrow, Malcolm Page, Simon Cooke, Michael Huang
  • Second Overall - The Hole Way; Cameron Miles, Grant Crowle, James Mayo
  • First Overall - Jeanne-Claude Strong, Neville Wittey, Marcus Burke and Tiana Wittey

The full results.

Mooloolaba Yacht Club will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Etchells Australasian Championship in 2016. The dates of the regatta are June 9th to 12th.

Fleet action off Moololaba

"Fleet action off Moololaba"

Photo by:
Teri Dodds









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