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Worlds. Worlds. Worlds!

26 April 2016 John Curnow

Racing on the Solent

"Racing on the Solent"

Photo by:
Cowes Fleet

A bit like our own Brisbane Fleet, the Cowes Fleet not only turned it all around, they blitzed. From 5-10 September this year they will hold the Etchells Worlds and as we know, Brisbane gets their shot in 2018. Doggy Palfrey, Jud Smith and JB are all on record with their love for the place and soon a lot of Australian crews will join the pilgrimage to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Over 60 boats are expected, including past Etchells World Champions John Bertrand, Andy Beadsworth, Jud Smith, Dirk Kneulman, Andrew Palfrey, Bill Hardesty Paul Blowers and Marvin Bechmann, along with current champions Skip Dieball and Jon McClean. British and Round the World sailing legend, Lawrie Smith, and his nemesis, Steve Benjamin, will also be in attendance.

Despite the fire at a boatyard in West Cowes that destroyed 17 Etchells, they have not fallen over, but rallied, and how. “We’ve lost more than half the Cowes fleet in the fire. However, there is a lot of very good news coming out of it”, commented David Franks. “David Heritage’s new build factory is fine and he is currently building eight new boats, which he is now stepped up to 12, which is fantastic.”

“The second piece of good news is that there’s been a real pulling together throughout the world, and I have now got equivalent replacements, for each of the active sailors in the fleet, who have lost their boats. So we have a strong plan for each and every owner, to the point that I don’t expect anybody to lose a race, let alone a regatta. It’s become a bump in the road, and not a big dip.”

Steve Benjamin, a former Olympic medallist, current US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, current Etchells North American Champion and second in the 2015 Etchells Worlds, said, “In America, we felt the shock to the Class that fire caused but it’s incredibly positive that the boats are being replaced so quickly and the fleet will probably be stronger than ever with all the new builds coming. I know of four American teams coming for certain and we are expecting about ten or more, any of which are certainly capable of winning the Worlds.”

Once more highlighting the width and depth of this great Class, our own Jeanne-Claude Strong, current Etchells Australasian Champion and Shannon Bush, America’s top female helm will be there.

The Cowes fleet is also very much bringing young sailors through, with over 160 having sailed in the Cowes Etchells Fleet. Some have gone on to win Youth Match Racing Championships at National, European and World level. Recently, Bleddyn Mon, joined the Ben Ainsley America Cup’s team. A significant number of youth sailors have also experienced top-level Etchells racing in Cowes, as well as travelling to Newport, USA, Hong Kong, Miami, Italy and here in dear old Oz.

After some fierce competition, three Etchells Youth Teams have won a fully funded Etchells for a magnificent season of Etchells racing in the Solent. The Cowes Etchells Class, the Royal London Yacht Club, Doyle Sails, RYA British Keel Boat Academy, North Sails, Red Funnel, David Heritage Racing Yachts, Spinlock and Cowes Yacht Haven sponsor the Royal London Etchells Youth Academy. The Admiral of the local Fleet, Ted Ford, also provided wonderful support for many years. Of the 12 chosen sailors, five are women underlining the fact that women can compete effectively on an Etchells. Indeed, two of the three crews have female Skippers.

Anna Watkins’, whose crew is Rory Davis, Ali Hinds and Ed Hampton-Mathews, said of it all, “With such an abundance of world class sailors to compete against, you are kept constantly on your toes, and yet it is one of the most friendly classes to experience - people are always willing to help you out and share advice.”

The fleet has a lot of racing coming up, with the Etchells South Coast Championship kicking things off on April 30 and it all finishes with the Worlds from August 31, 2016. You never know, some of these young teams may just qualify…

Recently, the Cowes Fleet also held a Training Regatta out of the Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club. Doyle Sails One Design guru, Jud Smith, provided high-level, on-water coaching. Smith, an America’s Cup winner, USA Rolex Sailor of the Year and multiple World Champion, put the fleet through their paces, first with multiple practise starts working on lane discipline and close quarter boat handling, before coaching the fleet on the art of sail trimming during racing.

10 knots from the Sou’east provided perfect conditions for seven races over two days. Andrew Cooper’s ICE won the first race. Etchells Class Captain, David Franks, sailing his new boat names, Strait Dealer, took the second. World-class sailors, but newcomers to the Etchells fleet, Eddie Warden Owen and Ossie Stewart showed their pedigree by winning the Races three and four.

Lawrie Smith came back on the second day having suffered from mainsail issues, to score two firsts and a second with his new boat straight out of David Heritage’s workshop. Andrew Cooper won the last race to tie on points at the top of the leader board. However, it was Eddie Warden Owen’s consistency for the weekend that paid off, winning the regatta on count back from Andrew Cooper in second and Lawrie Smith in third.

At the prize giving Eddie Warden Owen commented. “Many thanks to the race committee and Jud Smith for the advice he gave to the whole fleet, and importantly to David Franks, without whom 19 boats would have never made it to the start line due to the terrible January fire that nearly decimated the local fleet.”

Graham Sunderland, whose brainchild was this coaching event commented, “We all want to be better sailors, and part of that is to find out how to make our sails work really efficiently. Jud’s coaching did just that. This great experience has cemented a decision to make this a yearly event in the Etchells program.”

Jud Smith said of his time there, “I enjoyed the coaching very much and can’t think of a place I would have rather been that weekend. I haven’t seen that level of enthusiasm in Cowes since the Etchells class took off in 1993. I recall doing a similar clinic back then, but this was much better organised with a proper race committee and regatta format.”

“Clearly this was the place to be and a fitting kick off for a talented group of sailors. The standard of race management and the quality of racing will be outstanding at the World Championship this summer, every fleet in the world should be sending a full allotment.”

Got you all inspired? Well here are the dates you’ll need to know, for it is not too late to join in.

  • 28 Aug Pre-Worlds Coaching Regatta
  • 29-30 Aug Pre-Worlds European Championship
  • 31 Aug to 3 Sept Sail Measurement and Registration
  • 4 Sept Invitational Race and Opening
  • 5-12 Sept World Championship

Don Smith at United Container Line can ship your boat there ( and they note that it is important for your boat to be removed from the container and clear Customs within five days of arrival and taken to Cowes, otherwise you may find you are liable to storage costs of up to 1,000 per week. Your boat and trailer can come from Southampton to Cowes via ferry and road. The Fleet can organise this if you wish at 200 per trip including storage.

There are Charter Boats available if you need, please contact David Franks via or phone +44 (0)7768063868. There is also a turn up and sail option. Contact with your complete contact details if you need this service.

As mentioned, the boat builder in Cowes is Heritage, please email and for sails, you have, and

In terms of rack time, Cowes has bed and breakfast, self-catering houses and flats, plus hotel accommodation, all within walking distance of the marina and restaurants. Check out,,,,,, and most Cowes based yacht Clubs have rooms, but book early. There is also the Gurnard Pines, Rawlings Hotel (currently under refurbishment but search web), Fountain Inn Hotel Cowes (in the centre of Cowes alongside the busiest bars), Best Western New Holmwood Hotel, Villa Rothsay Hotel, plus many Cowes pubs offer B&B.

Non-sailors are offered an optional social programme in Cowes, as well as three days in London, staying at the Royal Thames Yacht Club overlooking Hyde Park with guided sightseeing tours.

So pretty much that’s it. Sorted, as the Poms say… Get onto it, for it should be a great time.

The 2016 Etchells World Championship and preceding regattas are hosted by the Royal London Yacht Club. For more information visit:

Complied by John Curnow from material by Rob Goddard and Louay Habib

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Steve Benjamin

"Steve Benjamin"

Photo by:
Cowes Fleet


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