The 2020 Australian J/24 Championship was sailed over four days of racing in a variety of conditions. Race Officer Steve Tucker and the Middle Harbor Yacht Club Race Management Team completed the full schedule of 12 races with two days of Northeasterly winds and two days of cooler Southerly breezes on Sydney Harbour. It was a closely fought battle for the top of the leaderboard, but in the end, it was the 2019 J/24 Australian Champion who managed to defend their title in 2020: Brendan Lee’s team on CHECKMATE from Sandringham, Victoria. Here is how it all went down for the 16 teams in the four-day, twelve-race, two-discards regatta.
Day 1: The first day saw racing on The Sound of Sydney Harbour in a light Southeasterly that became moderate in the afternoon. It was a gentle start to four days of racing, with wind strength and temperature forecast to rise as the event progressed. In the first race of the day, Lee’s CHECKMATE was third behind Steve Wright’s TINTO (Cronulla SC), the runner-up for last year’s Championship, but 30 seconds ahead was Middle Harbour sailor John Crawford and the crew of INNAMINCKA. In race two, CHECKMATE took a narrow win from David West’s Ace (MHYC), and TINTO was third. For the final race, Race Officer Steve Tucker signaled for three laps of the windward-leeward course running from south of Cannae Point out through the Sydney Heads, where the breeze held steady around 130 degrees throughout the afternoon and kept the fleet clear of the ferry lanes. David McKay’s STAMPED URGENT, the Cronulla team who placed third at the 2019 Nationals, were first home ahead of Simon Grain’s JET (Sandringham YC) and CHECKMATE. At the end of day one, CHECKMATE led the series score by 3 points, with TINTO (Steve Wright) second, and INNAMINCKA (John Crawford) tied for third with STAMPED URGENT (David McKay).
Day 2: As the morning Southerly slowly turned East, and then Northeast and freshened, the smoke haze cleared over Sydney Harbour to provide some good racing conditions. The MHYC race management team set a course between Middle Head and North Head for another three races. Race 4 was completed in an unsettled breeze with TINTO the winner by 11 seconds from CHECKMATE and VORTEX. The breeze had increased slightly for Race 5, but it was still fluky close to the top mark. STAMPED URGENT made the best of the conditions to finish ahead of Middle Harbour’s David West on ACE and TINTO in third. Race Officer Steve Tucker tweaked the course for Race 6, but there was some excitement on the start line with a number of boats making contact. CALYPSO (Paul Donnelly / RMYC) and PHOENIX (Joanna Lecka / CYCA) both suffered damage; with PHOENIX later sinking on Clontarf Beach within sight of the Middle Harbour Yacht Club marina. The boat was eventually re-floated and hoped to be back for the following day. Back on The Sound this afternoon, TINTO claimed another win, this time ahead of Warren Slater’s JAB and CHECKMATE. Two wins for the TINTO crew moved them to the top of the series table, one point ahead of CHECKMATE and eight points clear of the top local boat ACE.
Day 3: With the mercury rising to the mid-thirties C, humidity around 40% and the breeze topping 20 knots, it was an exhausting third day for the sailors. Three windward-leeward races were completed on a course set between the Sow & Pigs Reef and North Head with an axis of 025 degrees for the first two. INNAMINCKA was fast out of the blocks, claiming their second win of the series in Race 7 ahead of STAMPED URGENT and CHECKMATE. The breeze freshened to 18 knots in Race 8, and TINTO was back at the front, leading STAMPED URGENT and CHECKMATE to the line. For the final race of the day, the breeze had backed to 015 degrees and was 20-plus knots. Grain’S JET crew loved the conditions and scored their first win, with TINTO in second and INNAMINCKA third. After nine races, TINTO had a four-point lead over CHECKMATE in the Championship series score; meanwhile STAMPED URGENT was another seven points adrift in third.
Day 4: The final trio of races on the fourth day started in a moderate to fresh Southerly with the course moved out of The Sound and set between Obelisk Bay and Neilson Park in search of flatter water. Shockingly, regatta leader TINTO posted their two worst results in races 10 and 11 (an eighth & seventh), handing the series lead on a silver platter to the CHECKMATE crew who had posted another steady 2-1 tally. In short, with just one race left, the CHECKMATE could have DNF’d the race and went home delirious with their good fortune and celebrating with a few dozen “tinnies”; however, that was not the case. The story gets better, or worse, depending on which boat you were on. With the wind building to 20-25 knots, things got very interesting for the final Race 12. It took two General Recalls before the last race got underway. After getting completely flumoxed and frazzled in the first two races to give away the Championship, the TINTO team managed to collide with the Committee Boat in the final pre-start…adding insult to injury, as one might say. As a result, they were slow off the line and 11th at the first leeward rounding, half-way through the W2 course. Meanwhile, CHECKMATE was having issues of their own. At the same half-race leeward gate, they managed to put their spinnaker in the water, and the resulting tangle caused them to retire and take a DNF. Meanwhile, STAMPED URGENT, the boat placed third in the series, was following INNAMINCKA in the lead at the first leeward rounding, and held on to post a handy second. At the conclusion of four day’s racing, Brendan Lee and the CHECKMATE crew of Daniel Abbas, Daniel Cave, Will Shears, Keren Reynolds and Belinda Christie were declared the Australian J/24 Champions for 2020. While CHECKMATE was able to drop their DNF score and finish on 25 points, Steve Wright’s TINTO had a disappointing day posting 8-8-7 to slide back from series leader into third place, behind McKay’s STAMPED URGENT. MHYC’s Vice Commodore of Racing, Geoff Charters, presented the J/24 National Championship awards, and J/24 Australia Class President Ron Thomson presented the Handicap Prizes. First on handicap was PHOENIX (Joanna Lecka), second BAILE DE LUNA (Adam Keyes-Tilley) and third KAOTIC (Geoff Pearson). A special award was made to David McKay for an incredible effort getting the sunken PHOENIX back on the race track the following day. Many thanks to the Middle Harbour Yacht Club race management volunteers, the protest panel and NSW J/24 Association volunteers for enabling the Championship to run so smoothly, and to Marg Fraser-Martin for the great photography. For more J/24 Australian National Championship information, visit https://www.mhyc.com.au/sailing/regattas-championships/australian-j24-championships-2020.