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Flat Water and Nor’easters – YeeHaa!

9 February 2016 Greg Payne

Lined up on the Lake at the 2009 Nationals

"Lined up on the Lake at the 2009 Nationals"

Photo by:
Kylie Wilson,

Entries close on February 19 for the 2015-2016 Etchells NSW State Championship. The Lake Macquarie Etchells Fleet is looking forward to having a successful, fun regatta, and as such, have put in train a series of races that should excite any interested competitor.

From February 26 to 28, Lake Macquarie will host the magnificent Etchells for the NSW State Championship. It is a magic place, with a killer sunset view and delightful track, just out front. It is but a couple of hours North of Sydney and it should be awesome! Greg Payne gives us an idea of the way the fleet came to be…

The Lake Macquarie Fleet was constituted, if that is the correct word, in 1983 by a bunch of guys out of Royal Motor Yacht Club, Toronto. They used a nearby slipway and crane/winch equipment owned by Howard Wrightson (Inca) and brother Stewart (Hobo), who were the first to have Etchells on the lake.

Others, realising the Etchells’ ability just had to get their hands on one. People such as Phil Gracie (Hobo), Malcolm Newbiggin (KA17, Penelope), Ben Dury (Shadowfax, KA90), Bob Schroder (Rapacious KA32), Jim Eckford, Chris Cole, a local dentist (Floss), Ken Short, Roy Baker, and Dennis Trigg (Lada), all followed on.

Ivan Balks (Sonny) bought an Etchells after sinking a Soling. He thought a safer, ‘unsinkable’ Etchells wouldn’t be so dangerous. By the way, that boat is still in the same hands, on the hard, where it has sat for 20 years, and unfortunately not for sale.

Thus a fleet of eight or nine boats were racing regularly at RMYC. So much so that a number of fellows from LMYC (over the way) joined the Lake Macquarie Etchells Association with racing held in the ‘middle’, much to the chagrin of Point Score sailors from LMYC. Indeed LMYC refused to ratify the arrangement and worked against it. Crews returning to LMYC were often called traitors for consorting with those on the other side of the lake (RMYC.) Interestingly, I am told Bob Foggo named his boat (KA53) ‘Exile of Belmont’ as a direct result of this!

Moves were afoot to start a fleet at LMYC in its own right, and in about 1987 a crane was built along with suitable facilities. It is alleged that Albert Mitchell (KA167 Danbuoy and KA37 Aeolus) organised the crane as a ‘Foreigner’ at the pit (coal mine) and that it was the largest foreign order in BHP history. I think Tom Michilis (Three Amigos AUS 750) might have had something to do with the arrangements, as well.

As it happened, in 1988, Lake Macquarie Shire Council put a resumption notice on the RMYC/Wrightson hardstand, which led to the collapse of the RMYC fleet. All this caused a fire sale situation and it was all over in a month. Albert must have known something…

LMYC has since then had an average fleet of 12-14 boats with a maximum of 22, prior to the 2010 World Championship.

We are currently at about 10 boats, with five or six sailing each Saturday. Points of interest:

  • Peter ‘Polly’ McNeil (Any Boat) recalls doing it hard, having to sleep on the floor at RMYC during various State and Easter regattas. He won one of those, and of course went on to win many regattas, as well as a Worlds a few years back.
  • Greg Torpy (Bowser) wasn’t beaten on scratch for a whole season.
  • Some big fleets were attracted to the Lake. Such as for the 1987 Nationals and then again in 2010 when fleets numbered 65 boats. The reason for such an interest was that the worlds were to run in 1988 and again in 2011 on the East Coast. (We have the best flat water sailing available on the East Coast).
  • Now I don’t know much about this story, other than an ‘unsinkable’ Etchells actually went down off Barrenjoey Head. As it was going down, after taking a big wave, Bruce McGrath (Tom Pepper V111) was heard yelling to his sheet hand, “Let go the main!” The sheet hand was not going to let the boat sink now, was he?
  • David Hankin (KA223 For Amusement Only) with crew Roy Baker and Rick Schroder won a heat in the NSW State Titles
  • Mike Hamenet steered Joe Abraham’s KA351 along with Noel Davies. (What was Mike Hamenet’s claim to fame?)
  • Bob Griffiths, past Secretary LMEA has had three boats with no major wins, Absolutely Fabulous, New Wave and Go With The Flow. Loves sailing Etchells!
  • Generally the people involved were in it for the fun, camaraderie and the enjoyment of a ‘bloody good boat’. I’ve had 46 straight lasts! You just have to stick with it!

In investigating this history, I found that memories change and all that is stated is not necessarily correct, so forgive me if I have got it wrong…

Greg Payne,

Fleet Captain.

Lake Macquarie Etchells Fleet Inc

Regatta Website

Talking of history, some classic gear here, and is that Polly?

"Talking of history, some classic gear here, and is that Polly?"

Photo by:
Kylie Wilson,


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