Friday, July 30, 2021
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How to win a National Championship

Sean2020I watched the results of the 2020 Australian Marblehead Championships appear on the ARYA Live Results page just after they happened. I saw how Sean Wallis won it. Then I started to hear bits and pieces of the background to it and thought it a great story.  So I contacted Sean and spoke to some people who were there and put this story together. I know that there are other sailors out there interested. This is about Sean’s win yes, but it’s also a great story about Radio Sailing.

At the start of this new year Sean Wallis had no plans of participating in the Marblehead National Championships 2020. After focusing on the IOM class for the 2019 IOM worlds his annual leave was in negative balance so he offered his Indie to Denton Roberts for the February Yarrawonga event.

That plan started to change around 12th January when from across the Tasman Sean heard a rumour that a hard to come-by Grunge could be coming on the market in the near future. He contacted the owner and the sale was through by 23rd January. Being only a month before the Nationals and the work annual leave balance had not magically

Lincoln McDowall (2nd), Sean Wallis (1st), Scott Fleming (3rd)

changed; competing at Yarrawonga was still out of the question. Plans were made to get the boat shipped to Perth.

A rough agreement was struck with fellow west-coaster Glenn Dawson, that if the boat arrived in time that he could cart it to the big lake on the Murray. Second thoughts appeared when a quote on the wrong side of $1000 arrived, to transport the boat over both the ditch and the Nullarbor. Alternative calculations were hurriedly made on the cost of him flying from Perth to Auckland, picking up the boat and both returning to Yarrawonga via Melbourne in time to compete.   After dusting off his negotiating skills and committing to higher annual targets with the powers-that-be at work, he booked travel and entered the National Championships.

The approach to Yarrawonga went something like this. Perth to Auckland six and a half hours, ten hours on the ground in NZ and then a four and a half hour flight to Melbourne followed by a just under three hours drive to Yarrawonga.

Nigel Clements was the owner of the Grunge that was about to head to Australia. He had a 2-hour each way trip to join Sean with the Grunge at the Auckland airport. Nigel had done a superb packing job and it was all ready for an immediate check-in and flight to Melbourne. So far so good, easy, but on arrival in Melbourne, the boat was missing!

Yes, the sailbox was there and intact but no one knew where the boat was. It took forty angsty minutes of searching and waiting for the Grunge to finally materialise. I’m guessing that the thought of a casual cruise across the Nullarbor with plenty of time to kill was looking pretty attractive by the time he drove into Yarrawonga with a few days to spare.

The 10 Raters were still competing and there was a Lay Day before the M's started, to get to know his new equipment. He had not sailed a Marblehead since the last Nationals at the Gold Coast. When the Lay Day arrived though, the wind was separating the local dogs from their chains so he decided to not risk damaging the new weapon.

Because the decision to compete had been made so late, he had no ‘regatta budget’. That and how expensive it is to compete at a IOM World Championship in Brazil. It’s also not cheap to go to a Nationals on the other side of the country via New Zealand after buying a new boat so cost had to be minimized. Queenslanders Greg Torpy and Trevor Fisher had a rental with a ‘free’ spare room, that was the good news. The bad news was that it was the ‘shed’!  It was stinking hot, then shortly after freezing cold, with midges, mosquitoes and worse, he had to become an honorary Queenslander. But he was allowed inside occasionally, the most appreciated times were the cooked breakfast that Trevor provided each day.

Day One arrived and the new boat was finally launched. The challenges just kept on coming in the form of another competitor smashing into the unsuspecting Grunge, cracking the back-end even before the warning signal. Tape can fix anything and it stayed on for the entire regatta.m fleet 1

Straight out of the box the boat loved the B-rig conditions that started the regatta and Sean quickly found himself the excited winner of the first two races. Expectations understandably lifted. It went so well that he thought the troubles were over and he had a great chance to place in the pointy-end of the event. Maybe an overall win was a bit much to ask but somewhere in the top five seemed very do-able with two bullets already tucked into the belt.

Then came Race 3. In the top five at the top mark the first time, second the next time around but while bearing away, the nose of the boat went down a bit and did not come back up. It was taking water so Sean pointed it at the bank as it continued to sink lower. Fellow competitor Steve Sedgemen was watching and didn’t think the boat was going to make it back so he jumped in and grabbed it as the winch was about to submerge. A quick inspection showed that the forward deck patch had lifted, so the fix required a new one of those, a new receiver and it was ready to go again.

The boat was fast but he still had to nail the starts, stay out of trouble and learn how to manage the swing rig. Weed was also a factor and it affected competitors throughout the event. On the second to last race of day two Sean had his share of weed for the first leg and a half before he could remove it. He managed to salvage second place anyway and then a win for the last race of the day.

So with one day to go the calculation went like this. Ten points from the lead, good boat speed and an unfamiliar swing rig to master, B-rig was sorted and quick though. He reasoned six races had to be sailed and he had to win four of them, just a bit of a challenge. And all that still depended on how his nearest competitiors went.  The sinking now looked very costly and he might have to settle for a top five after all.Mclass2020 1

Only four races were sailed on the last day, Sean’s scores were 1.0, 1.0, 4.0, 1.0, enough to win the Championship. An amazing feat all things considered.

Sean credits his win the to support of those around him. His Western Australian team mates for bringing the rest of his gear across the county and back, including the bed he slept on in the 'shed', the Queenslanders who hosted him and the general support and comradeship he received from the rest of the fleet.

I asked him what were the most memorable parts of his experiences, besides winning that is. He said he was particularly impressed with the Grunge design and how it performed for him ‘out-of-the-box’ with the preparation of Nigel Clements. But the main memory sticking in his mind was that of Steve Sedgemen jumping in the lake to save his boat. Sean said he was unable to thank Steve enough.

So the next time you feel hard done by at a regatta, wondering what albatross you must have mistakenly killed, whose dog you must have accidently kicked to deserve the bad luck and challenges placed in your way, remember this one. Sean definitely earned and deserves the Marblehead Australian Championship for 2020.

Article by: Ron Fawcett

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