Protest chaos at Etchells World Qualifier

Matt Whitnall’s dot (AUS1134)and Ed McCarthy & Michael Coxon’s North Sydney Station (AUS1273) racing in the Etchells Mini Regatta last Saturday. Photo: Kylie Wilson
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The Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club protest committee abandoned the second race of last Saturday’s International Etchells Mini Regatta on Sydney Harbour, which was also heat five of the World Qualifying Series - 10 boats had been disqualified after being listed as breaching the Black Flag rule.

In a decision that changed the overall leadership of the Etchells Mini Regatta and also the progressive points for the Worlds Qualifying Series, the protest committee found that the Race Committee could not apply rule 30 after the movement of the starting boat by propulsion, and therefore the start should have been postponed.

The abandonment of heat two brought Fathom (Rupert Henry) and Fifteen (David Clark and Andrew Smith) back to the top of the leaderboard in the Mini Regatta and in progressive points for the Worlds Qualifying Series.

After five of the now scheduled 11 World Qualifying Series heats, an unofficial points score sees Fifteen leading on 13 points, with a gap to Bushfire (Jervis Tilly) on 21 points, followed by Dot (Matt Whitnall) on 27 points, North Sydney Station 29 (Ed McCarthy & Michael Coxon) on 31 points and Fathom on 35 points.

The Protest

The protest committee reached this decision after hearing requests for redress from the skippers of two boats, Bushfire and Fathom, which were among ten boats disqualified after being listed as breaching the BFD (Black Flag) rule.

Facts found included that the Race Officer, for the second starting procedure for the second race of the day, had displayed a black flag for the preparatory signal. Following the display of the preparatory signal for the recalled start, the Race Committee had used propulsion to reposition the starting boat for up to a minute and a half after the preparatory signal was displayed.

There was a second general recall in which 10 boats were identified as being on the course side of the starting line, including Bushfire and Fathom. The Race Officer told the hearing that there were other un-identified boats that were not disqualified under rule 30.3.

In its conclusions, the protest committee found that the Race Committee could not apply rule 30 after the movement of the starting boat by propulsion, and therefore the start should have been postponed.

‘The race could not be considered a fair race with almost half the fleet (of 27) disqualified and now entitled to redress and other boats not being identified as being on the course side of the starting line,’ the protest committee concluded in its report, citing the rules applicable as 27.2, 61.1(a).

The protest committee’s decision was that ‘Race two of the RPEYC Mini Scratch Series, heat 5 of the RSYS Mini Series and Heat 5 of the International Etchells World Qualifying Series be abandoned.’

The Racing

With 27 boats on the line in the freshening 10-15 knot easterly to north-easterly breeze and a fast ebbing tide, the starts were aggressive, to say the least. Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club’s race officer Tony Denham responded with the harshest of start line penalties - the black-flagging three boats in heat one and ten in heat two.

Competition was intense in all three heats as the Etchells battled with the big ebb tide coming out of Rose Bay, a breeze that backed from east to nor’east and freshened during the afternoon, and a huge number of other yachts racing on the Harbour. 'One bad gybe downwind and you could give away vital boat lengths – and a place or two,' commented one Etchells skipper.

Humpback (Stephen Barlow & Peter Gardner) took out the first heat while Fifteen (David Clark & Andrew Smith) won the next two, although the second heat has now been abandoned.

The abandonment of heat two brought Fathom and Fifteen back to the top of the leaderboard in the Mini Regatta and in progressive points for the Worlds Qualifying Series.

Charge of the Etchells fleet in the Mini Regatta last Sarurday. Photo: Kylie Wilson
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