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Leslie Green crowned MC38 Australian Champion

MC38 Australian Champions: Leslie Green (centre) and the Ginger Crew.

28 August 2014

After playing bridesmaid at both Audi Hamilton Island Race Week and the Australian Championship last year, Sydney yachtsman Leslie Green and his Ginger crew were crowned the MC38 Australian champions for 2014, last weekend.

In this highly competitive one-design owner driver class, Cruising Yacht Club of Australia member Green, and his boat Ginger, crewed by regulars Peter Bourke, David Chapman, Henry Kernot, Richie Allanson, John Flannery and Matthew Stenta, won five of the 10 windward/leeward races and had the series stitched up before final race.

John Bacon's Dark Star, representing Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, was second overall. Bacon bookended the event, triumphing in the opening and final races, the only two round the island races of the series. He also won Race 7, sailed on a windward/leeward course, but finished six points behind Ginger's 27 point tally for the 12-race series.

One of three new owners in the class and enjoying his first competition, Marcus Blackmore (RPAYC) moved to third overall on the penultimate day, and secured third place in the final race to keep third overall. It was no beginner's luck; Blackmore is a one-design maestro, eclipsing his rivals in the TP52 class and attaining his share of victories in the Farr 40.

Ginger had enough of a buffer on the rest of the fleet to claim the Championship on the penultimate day. Fair sportsman and passionate yachtsman that he is though, the semi-retired sub-regional shopping centre owner from Sydney's Eastern Suburbs elected to compete in the final race.

He said dockside while packing up to return home, "I am absolutely thrilled - the whole crew is. Winning the Australian Championship is magnificent, what more could you want? It was a wonderful event."

On how they won, Green commented: "If you make mistakes in one-design fleets you pay; so we obviously made fewer mistakes.

"Except for today," he added of the race that took the fleet on an islands course in which Ginger, named for Green's wife Ginny, finished sixth out of seven boats, but it did not dampen his enthusiasm.

Green thanked his crew for their performance throughout. "They did a good job; they always do," he said.

Winning that final race cemented second overall for Bacon's Dark Star, which led on the opening day and was always in the top three.

The Northern Beaches businessman said of that last race, "It's fantastic to finish the Championship on a high note. We decided to throw everything we had at the fleet and we came out on top. There were changes through the race; Ginger led, the Puerto Ricans (Lazy Dog) and Vino (Chris Hancock) were in front of us at one stage.

"It was shifty and there was a lot of current. It was a beautiful day, but it was hard race, very tactical. There were three ways to come home, it was a ‘navigator's choice', and we got it right," Bacon said of the unusual finish.

Magnanimous in defeat, Link Healthcare's founder said, "I have high respect for Leslie - what a magnificent effort in this grand prix driver class - Ginger deserved victory."

Of their own efforts, Bacon praised Dark Star's crew, including his tactician. "Cameron's done a great job. He's so patient and I've learnt so much from him," he said of Cameron Miles, a leading tactician and world champion helmsman. "All my crew have sailed at the top level somewhere along the line and they work together well as a team."

Although he has owned racing yachts before, Bacon said, "This is my entry into a grand prix yacht and competition at this level. I'm just chuffed to be competitive, let alone finish second. This regatta took eight months of preparation, and again, Cameron was a great help.

In driving Hooligan to third place in that final race, Marcus Blackmore pipped the hapless Vino, which had held the top position on Day 2 and was subsequently plagued by protests and tactical errors, by two points.

Things clicked into place for the Blackmores vitamin head on the last day. After third place in Race 10, he decisively won Race 11 from Ginger, with Ross Hennessy's Ghost Rider (RPAYC) third.

Back ashore, Blackmore said: "We should have won both races, but we hit the top mark in Race 10 and the penalty turn cost us time."

He said a couple of things had made the difference to their performance. "Victor (friend Victor Kovalenko, who has coached Australian crews to multiple Olympic gold medals) said we should sail the boat like a skiff and to concentrate on our VMG.

"Richie (Allanson, from North Sails who sails on Ginger) told me our sails needed more twist, so we tried a bit of that and the advice from Victor."

Blackmore conceded they still had a way to go. "The day was quite windy; up to 20 knots and 10-12 knots, it varied a bit. I've always sailed well in heavier winds. I'm still not happy with our light air sailing, but my crew told me to be patient."

The rest of the week was plagued by light, shifty airs and strong currents, causing John Bacon to say: "A few days for the tacticians," before adding: "You couldn't complain though; the days are beautiful, the sun's out and the sea life too."

Others who scored victory during the six days of racing were the aptly named Vino, owned by winemaker Chris Hancock (Race 3) and Ross Hennessy's Ghost Rider.

After being pipped to the post by four seconds, courtesy of Ginger in Race 5 on Day 3, Hennessy' collected his win in Race 8, exacting revenge on Ginger, which pulled up second by 54 seconds.

Hennessy was second in Race 9. "We should have won it, but I stuffed the finish," he admitted.

The semi-retired property developer believed until that day, they had failed to get the boat going properly. "We've put new sails on and we've just got the settings right and really got the headsail working properly; it's finally all come together," he said.

Robin Crawford's Assassin (CYCA) finished sixth overall out of seven. Remembered best for winning the Sydney Hobart overall under IMS in 1992, the Macquarie Bank co-founder disappeared from the grand prix racing scene for some 15 years and returned recently with his MC38 Assassin.

Getting back in the saddle has not been easy, although Crawford has shown moments of brilliance, including finishing second in Race 4 of this Championship. Losing two crew members overboard and retrieving them in Race 10 on a lumpy sea cost him. It won't be much longer before a regatta win is on the cards though.

The solitary international entry in this burgeoning class still in its infancy, Sergio Sagramoso and his Lazy Dog team from Puerto Rico scored their best result of the regatta on the last day with second place. It was the crew's debut event in the MC38 and their introduction to racing in Australian waters.

Sagramoso was happy to be competing at Hamilton Island and to meet fellow MC38 owners. He commented after the first race of the Championship: "We are having a good time. It's beautiful here and we enjoyed the racing. It was frustrating with the light wind and the current though, but we go out and keep trying."

Seven MC38s took part in the Championship, but with Neville Crichton and Lang Walker the next to take delivery of new boats, and Howard Spencer's highly competitive Menace due to return to Australia from New Zealand next year, expect to see larger numbers at regattas in the future.