Australian MUSTO Skiff Championships
Report by Tim Hill.
The inaugural MUSTO Skiff
Australian Championships was held at Black Rock Yacht
Club on Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay from the 6th to
11th of January. The event was an opportunity to test
the race management, scheduling and weather conditions
for the MUSTO Skiff World Championships,
to be held at the same venue in exactly 12 months time.
The event was supported by the International MUSTO Skiff Association’s training fund.
Scotland’s John Reekie interrupted his honeymoon world
tour to join the regatta, adding an international flavor
to the enthusiastic fledgling fleet of 13 boats.
The first day was spent training, checking boat set
ups, practicing tacks, gybes, hoists and drops with
the newcomers on dry land. This was followed by an on-the-water
session in a perfect sea breeze.
The next morning John Reekie conducted a series of drills
from the rib, covered on video, to improve race techniques
and skills. After lunch the racing part of the regatta
got underway in warm, sunny weather and a building sea
The first race started in a 10-12 knots southerly breeze,
the fleet were a little over enthusiastic to use their
new starting skills from the mornings training, with
3 boats over the line early and only Richard Ekberg
coming back. Tim Hill led the fleet to the top mark
from John Reekie and Marcus Hamilton by a slender margin,
picking shifts along the left hand side, or land side
of the course. On the first run Hill struggled for pressure
in the centre of the course, while Reekie headed towards
the land and Hamilton split chasing pressure out to
sea. Hill held a narrow lead into the leeward gate picking
up the building sea breeze on the right and led comfortably
to the top mark for the last time. Hill extended his
lead to record a comfortable win from Hamilton and Ekberg
who sailed fast through the rest of the fleet after
the false start.
With the breeze building to a perfect 15 knots, Hamilton
bolted from the start of Race 2, crossing the fleet
on port and led comfortably to the top mark from Richie
Robertson and Richard Ekberg. Hamilton extended his
lead on each leg of the course to record a comfortable
win, while Hill recovered from a capsize on the first
work to finish second, Ekberg was third, after Matt
Hosie dropped it in on the last gybe to the finish.
Tony Nash finished well in the mid fleet in only his
second day of MUSTO racing, while John Reekie spent
quite a long time on his side with spinnaker issues
with his borrowed boat (kindly lent by Jason Beebe).
By the last race of the day the sea breeze continued
to build to a solid 20 knots and the famous Port Phillip
waves were beginning to develop for some fantastic white
knuckle rides. Hamilton out-muscling a number of his
heavier competitors off the line to lead narrowly at
the top mark from the big guys Richie Roberston and
Tim Moorhouse. Hill chose the right hand corner of the
course on the next beat and closed to third at the top
mark. Hamilton uncharacteristically mucked up the last
gybe, leaving the door open for Roberston, but Hill
had soaked down below him on the run and held him out
from the necessary gybe onto port, and so went on to
take another win. Hamilton recovered his poise to take
second, Roberston who had been pushed past the layline
flogged his kite for the last couple of hundred metres
and finally dropping it in just before the pin end crossing
the line on his side while standing on the centreboard
for third, just in front of Ekberg.
The second day began in very warm and sunny conditions
(34 degrees) with a forecast of a light north wind in
the morning, and a moderate sea breeze in the afternoon.
The race committee was anxious to get at started before
the land breeze faded and had the fleet on the course
for an 11am start, but in a light sea breeze that seemed
to have set in much earlier than forecast. John Reekie
led towards the left hand side of the course; and although
the breeze shifted to the right, managed to find the
best of the pressure to lead narrowly from Hamilton
and Hill at the top mark. At the leeward gate, Reekie
and Hamilton chased each other off to the left side
of the course and head inshore to a great big patch
of no wind. Hill followed but tacked out to sea almost
immediately, while Ekberg, Roberston, and Mark Elsworth
chose the right hand side of the course and towards
darker coloured water out to sea. Ekberg, furthest out
to sea, was first into the new pressure a won easily
when the race was shortened at the second windward mark.
Hill followed in next from a tight group with Elsworth
As the fleet drifted back to the club for lunch, the
sea breeze continued to swing right, eventually surprising
everybody and confounding the forecast by settling into
a hot, dry land breeze of 10-15 knots, which brings
flat water and short, sharp windshifts.
The afternoon session started about 1pm, Roberston started
on port and went hard right into the cliffs, picked
a good lane of pressure to comfortably crossed the fleet.
From a good start, Hill followed Hamilton and Matt Hosie
to the left hand side of the course; before ducking
back to the shore to follow Roberston into the top mark.
Hamilton, Hosie and Ekberg followed in close company.
Hill and Hamilton headed into the cliffs, while Roberston
chose to gybe early back to the sea. Hamilton and Hill
both passed Roberston down the run, and the whole fleet
tried to be first back towards the cliffs up the next
work. Hill was just in front on the run to the finish
when Hamilton gybed back to the middle of the course
and oblivion with no wind, while Hill rode his private
supply of wind down the cliffs to a comfortable win.
Roberston pushed hard into the left corner for second,
Richard Ekberg third.
At the next start Roberston immediately tacked inshore
again, followed by Hill, then Hosie and Hamilton. Roberston
tacked out early, while Hill continued inshore and tacked
to cross the fleet. Hosie and Hamilton tacked on Hill’s
hip, on the right hand layline. The breeze shifted hard
right; lifting Hill out from underneath Hamilton and
Hosie to fetch the top mark and slender lead. While
everyone else followed conventional wisdom and gybed
back to the cliffs Robertson to a flyer out to sea and
came back to second at the gate. On the second work,
the fleet split evenly. Hill followed Hamilton in a
loose cover to the cliffs, while Roberston and Moorhouse
gambled out to sea again. The breeze swung steadily
back to the left; leaving Hamilton, Hosie and Ekberg
stranded on the right hand side of the course while
Hill scrambled to cover Roberston on the left. Hill
led into the top mark for the last time from Robertson;
choosing the headed gybe out to sea, while Hosie looked
for pressure from the cliffs inshore. Hill went on to
take another comfortable win from Robertson and Hosie
and Reekie in fourth.
The Race Committee was presented with a range of uncomfortable
choices as a strong northerly was forecast, then a dry
front – followed at some stage by a moderate sea breeze.
All this was supposed to happen sometime during the
middle of the day. With this uncertainty, they again
tried to get racing underway at 11am, attempting to
get a race in before the front. The fleet got away in
a 10-12 knot land breeze, Reekie and Hamilton led to
the top mark, followed by Hill and Tim Moorhouse. Hamilton
and Reekie elected to gybe back to the cliffs, while
Hill and Moorhouse gybed out to sea. The breeze began
to persistently shift left knocking Hill and Moorhouse
in building pressure, and they overtook the early leaders
at the gate. Halfway up the next work the breeze shifted
through about 140° and blew in at about 25knots,
so the race committee abandoned the race.
The front appeared to blow through during lunch leaving
the race committee keen to complete two more races in
the afternoon. Following lunch; the start boat led the
fleet into a moderate southerly but large waves and
a patchy easterly breeze that refused to settle down.
Just after the race finally got underway the breeze
swung to the right and rapidly strengthened to 25-30
knots as the front finally arrived. Reekie and Ekberg
went right, Hill, Hamilton and Moorhouse joined them
from the centre of the course. Reekie led to the top
mark, followed by Ekberg, Hamilton and Hill. For some
reason Reekie believed it would be better to power up
his main and set his kite for the run.
“I think it (the kite) flapped once before I lost control
and the mainsail drove the boat down to windward; actually
– I think it was a micro flap…”
was probably goaded by Hamilton, who – in an outrageous
piece of boat handling managed to sneak to the inside
position at the hitch mark, pick a big rolling wave,
complete a gybe and set his kite and then assumed the
safety position (back foot behind the back rack and
next to the rudder gantry, front foot on the windward
gunwhale just behind the back rack; hands held in prayer).
He capsized shortly thereafter.
Hill followed Ekberg onto the run; both keeping their
kites firmly inside their chutes. Ekberg commented “I
had absolutely no intention of taking my hand off the
tiller or moving my bum forward; especially after watching
the young blokes go down the mine…”. Ekberg grannied.
Hill found a long, rolling wave and got away with an
all or nothing gybe got back into the safety position
and headed for the gate. The race committee noted the
carnage and shortened the race to finish at the gate.
Hill crossed first, Ekberg second, Hamilton third and
Hamilton’s finish drew a standing ovation from the committee
boat as he crossed the line. Hamilton described the
“I decided not to try and set the kite again – because
I couldn’t – the halyard was wrapped around the forestay
and wouldn’t move. I had just got through the gate when
this big hole opened up in wave in front of me. I was
at the back of the boat and I knew it was going under
so I bailed out early rather than get launched. When
I was in the water, I looked up to see the boat around
3 boat lengths to leeward standing perfectly balanced
on it’s nose – I think only the front foot was still
in the water…”
A light sea breeze and sunny weather (again) and temperatures
in the mid 30s. With 3 races scheduled, Hill had to
just about turn up in Race 9 before the championship
Race 9 began in a 5-8 knot southerly that saw John Reekie
lead the fleet to the top mark from the left hand side
of the course, followed by Hamilton and Hill. Reekie
held held on for the rest of the course to record a
narrow win from Hill.
Race 10 followed immediately after with the sea breeze
refusing to build. Reekie once again led to the top
mark, followed by Elsworth and Hill. Hamilton worked
the pressure lanes down the runs, trapezing off the
gunwhale while others chose to soak. Elsworth, still
in second, gybed too late for the finish and had to
drop early to lay the line, to drop back to fourth.
Conditions remained light for the last race, Richard
Ekberg tacked straight onto port from the start to find
a lane of pressure to cross the fleet when he rolled
back onto starboard. He continued o the left hand layline,
found a knock and tacked to lead by a comfortable margin
at the top mark. He was followed by Reekie, Moorhouse,
Elsworth and Hosie. Reekie closed the gap down the run
and then sailed through Ekberg’s lee with lighter body
weight up the next beat, skipped away to a comfortable
win to record a perfect score for the day - showing
the Australians just how much improving they need to
do in light conditions. Ekberg held on for second in
a photo-finish to Hill.
“I was lucky on a number of occasions with the breeze,
especially on the second day. I was also fortunate to
be in the right place at the right time to benefit from
boat handling mistakes from others - this also helped
– but I am thrilled with the result am looking forward
to the Worlds next year.”
Special thanks Mark Taylor and Bob Graham on the start
team, and all the race committee and volunteers from
Black Rock who produced excellent courses for the regatta,
resetting the windward mark for almost every lap.
The next event on the MUSTO calendar in Melbourne is
the Blairgowrie weekend on the 20-21 February.
||Whale Oil Beef Hooked
Below: Richard Ekburg with Champion Tim