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Brisbane: Renaissance is not just for art galleries

14 April 2014 John Curnow

Post-race debrief

"Post-race debrief"

The Brisbane Fleet is case worth more than considering. It is somewhat of a beacon in these days when sailing, like all sports, is under pressure from an ever-expanding set of threats. Today, they're back, maybe not from total obscurity, but certainly the wilderness. Actually, the Brisbane Fleet is the first to talk about it, as they fess up in a way and clear the table generally, which says a lot about who they are as people and also as sailors.

They are more than happy to share the secrets of their renaissance with other Etchells fleets, too. So let's try and distil exactly what are the salient points of this rejuvenation and see how other fleets could begin the process for themselves in this, the 41st year of Etchells in Australia. One of the first things you notice is that there are lots of 'new-to-the-class' souls as part of the fleet now and that they're competitive, in every sense of the word. With that has come a great degree of camaraderie immediately after racing and straight off the back of the boats at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron in Manly, just South of Brisbane.

In times gone by, this was actually a holiday home kind of area for Brisbanites, much as say Palm Beach and Sorrento were for Sydney and Melbourne, respectively. Times change and none of these areas rely on 'tourists' anymore. They are fully-fledged locales all of their own and with charms unique to their identities. Perhaps this is why the post-race debriefing commences immediately after the Etchells are secured once more on their dollies. A few beers get opened, some conversation begins and then things get really serious when the fleet moves over to the bar and thence on to the new BBQ area for one of the 'famous-all-over-the-country' Healey meat fests. If you have never been to RQ then perhaps it is pertinent to let you know that this is an expansive, 12.4 acre facility that is more like a resort than a club, is green, lush and humid, sitting mostly under blue skies, which further inspires one to be in holiday mode, very quickly.

Brisbane's Fleet Captain could well personify this spirit. John Warlow has just come to the end of his second season at the helm of this burgeoning armada. Club races now see up to 16 Etchells being launched, with a dozen being the most common number. When you consider that it used to be three or four stalwarts, which includes immediate past Australian Association President, Noel Paterson, this sort of 400% turn around is definitely spectacular.

Warlow sums it up by saying, "I think it has been a combination of factors, including a very supportive club with plenty of Etchells sailors in Committee positions. Our fleet has never been lacking for boats, with up to 20 on the hardstand. Rather, our challenge has been to get them all wet on a regular basis. We have also been blessed with great facilities off the water and a challenging sailing track that is not crowded with ships, ferries, trains, planes or automobiles scattered all over the water."

So whilst everyone has been delighted to see old Etchellians come back to the fray once more, they are even more pleased by seeing a whole new group of sailors sailing Etchells for the first time. Over the last two seasons the Brisbane Fleet has had over five new boats and crews join in and none of these had sailed Etchells previously. Warlow comments, "Whilst we race hard, we also have fun, which I think that is the key to getting boats on the water. A good fleet of Etchells racing together is really hard not to notice. Nothing brings success quite like success, after all."

To help foster this, the Brisbane Fleet works hard on establishing an esprit de corps, which then permeates both on and off water activities. This includes the faster crews mentoring those not quite as quick yet with tuning reviews and trimming advice, both at the hardstand and out on the track past Green Island.

By way of example, prior to last year's Australian title, the fleet arranged for past Olympic Coach, Mike Fletcher, to come in over two weekends and educate the sailors both in the classroom and on-water, with things like short course racing and straight line tuning. The measure of any success is in the results and now the fleet is bunched up to around a one and half minute spread, whereas it used to be more like 12 whole minutes. Warlow added, "This produces some very crowded top mark roundings, which in turn make the end of race debriefing fairly lively!"

Additionally, over the years fleet members have held numerous volunteer working bees to improve both the fleet's facilities within the club, and also club amenities for all club members to then enjoy. The examples range from a long time ago when the fleet's existing Etchells hardstand area, mast crane, picnic tables and umbrellas, where those vigorous race debriefings are held to more recent forays, such as the relocation and reinstatement of the club BBQ facilities.

As previously highlighted, the latter is where the ubiquitous David and Sue Healey super steak BBQs are held after each club championship race. These are actually signalled by the pre-race raising of the Etchells BBQ flag. This particular item has really helped to raise the fleet's profile within the club and has also attracted a dedicated band of volunteers and helpers. Indeed the starting crews and race officers happily class themselves as the Etchells Race Team and go out of their way to ensure that great courses and good racing is assured on a weekly basis. Now as we all know, a little thanks goes a long, long way and the steaks go even further!

The Brisbane Fleet is also a great communicator amongst itself. Naturally, this takes someone's time and no doubt plenty of it, but the ability to build cohesion cannot be overlooked. By way of example, the Fleet's championships are to be run on 4 and 5 May, with entry all just a click away. Rather than just send a note out imploring people to enter, personal touches are added which adds not only excitement, but undoubtedly gets the competitive juices flowing as well.

So here then are two tongue in cheek musings that are bound to get people thinking. Firstly, "Last weekend saw at least six crews on the hardstand fixing, polishing tweaking and training. Should we have been out racing, for the weather was perfect?" Then also, "Three more new owners. Al Cowen and David Bull have been seen dreaming the dream on their new boats and Nev Willis is making serious enquiries. He's intending to sail this year with Josh (Josh it will be your boat no matter what he says. We expect to see it out at every opportunity BTW)."

It also extends to detailed reminders about important calendar items coming up, such as:

  • "Adrian Finglas fleet training: Peter Stewart has shown some great initiative (wish I had thought of it) to ask our club coach to come out and give us some pointers. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Adrian is a world class and Olympic coach. He has a special interest in the Etchells class, having trained with Team Pegasus in the US and coming second in the 2005 World Championships whilst sailing with that team. The on-water training is locked in for Sunday 18 May commencing 1pm. A more detailed program will be issued closer to the date."
  • "Senior Presentation RQYS Friday 14th June - Not to be missed as it is always great night out for the greater Etchells clan."
  • "Winter Nationals Mooloolaba 24th to 26th June - Book that accommodation and get the entry in as it is on again!!!! Start planning the trailer swaps now - if in doubt ask someone and let's see if we can help out."

It is not to say that other fleets don't do part or all of these things, but rather that it is part of an engaging package that leads to buy-in, which in turn brings participation.

Overall, the Brisbane Fleet is gunning along beautifully, but they are not stopping here. No. No. A bid for the 2018 Etchells World Championship is underway and they have many benefits to offer local and international visitors. Now they have actually staged it previously. In 1993 to be precise, so 2018 offers a lovely opportunity to have a 25-year anniversary. Warlow says, "With the support of the Class Governors and long-term fleet members such as David Healey and Noel Paterson, the Brisbane Fleet is in good hands and is ready for another growth spurt. We are very keen to hold the 2018 Worlds, as 25 years is a long time between drinks!!"

If Brisbane is successful it will be six years since Australia has hosted the Etchells World Championship. Apart from being capable of running the regatta itself and to coincide with the 25th anniversary they plan to run a Festival by the Sea event that will encompass the whole community. The 2009 World Champions, Jason Muir, Matt Chew, Paul Wyatt and Bucky Smith call Brisbane home and as we have already seen, fleet numbers have grown significantly over the last few years, which is no doubt due to that and all the promotion the current administration has been undertaking.

RQ is known as Queensland's preeminent yacht club, with the moniker of 'regatta city' applied to account for both the amount and also high standard of regattas it holds. This gigantic facility already incorporates World Class facilities for handling measurement, launch/retrieval and storage of up to 110 boats.

Naturally, they can easily draw on a large pool of talented and accredited officials to run the regatta. Combine this with the traditionally consistent breezes and warm, sunny weather of October and the Moreton Bay racecourse that is not affected by land and can be run in any axis to suit conditions at the time.

Previous success with sponsorship and commercial arrangements have already been established as part of earlier national regattas and there is no doubt that these and new ones will be formed in the lead up to a successful Worlds bid.

The Port of Brisbane is just 13km away and the club's secure hardstand and staging area can easily account for multiple 40' containers at any one time, so delivery of vessels will be seamless and is completed in around three hours from Port to return to Port.

Having established safe passage for the boats, let's talk about the competitors themselves. There is a 4-star hotel on site and countless choices for serviced accommodation and holiday rentals within 20 minutes by car. Closer to Brisbane there are 5-star and international hotels for consideration, as well. As we have already seen, the Brisbane Fleet has hospitality as part of its DNA, so post-racing drinks, canapés and entertainment are well and truly catered for. As the Gold and Sunshine Coasts are near neighbours, anyone wanting even more will be spoiled for choice.

So this renaissance has well and truly taken hold, which is just terrific and it provides for guides as to how to achieve your own fleet goals. Ultimately, let's hope that Brisbane is successful in its bid to run the 2018 Worlds, for it will not only be a just reward, but all the competitors will get to receive the fruits of the fleet's labours.

Mitchell Miller, the youngest member of the Brisbane Fleet, tries his hand on the spinnaker

"Mitchell Miller, the youngest member of the Brisbane Fleet, tries his hand on the spinnaker"


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