2006 Etchells Worlds Preview: Tough Fleet, Tough Venue

On-site reporting from Fremantle, Australia

The last time Dennis Conner sailed in Fremantle, Australia, he commented, "These would have to be the best sailing conditions in the world!" That was at the Etchells World Championships in 1990, when he finished second to England's Chris Law.Health issues have caused Connor to cancel his trip to the 2006 Etchells Worlds, starting here on Saturday, but the absence of the former America's Cup champion will not spoil the competition. The depth of talent competing in the regatta extends not only to the line up of world class skippers, but also to the supporting casts on each boat. The fleet includes America's Cup sailors past and present, Volvo race sailors, and past Etchells world and national champions.In the absence of the "big man," Marblehead, Mass.'s Jud Smith leads a strong American assault on the title, and I am sure that, in his mind, he believes it is his turn to hold the trophy aloft. Smith is the current U.S. champion and has finished second in the Worlds more often than any other skipper who hasn't also won the event. (Dave Curtis has finished second more times than Smith, but has also won the title more times than anyone else.) Smith's crew includes 1998 world champion Dirk Kneulman (mainsheet) and Andrew Wills (bow).The only other top ten finisher from the U.S. nationals skippering a boat in Fremantle is Joseph Bainton from Stamford, Conn., who finished ninth in the New Bedford series.The Australian contingent is looking very strong, and their record in home waters is impressive too. In the nine times the Worlds have been sailed in Australia, foreigners have only won twice.The British may be one foreign force to challenge that statistic. Stuart Childerley, the only Brit to win the Worlds twice, returns for what he claims will be his final crack at the trophy. Childerly, who currently holds both the U.K. national and the European championship titles, looks forward to the challenge. "It's going to be a tremendously competitive fleet in a great venue," he commented before leaving for Australia.Competitors who sailed in the Australian Nationals this past weekend found that the legendary Fremantle "Doctor Seabreeze" is in robust health. The thermal winds should remain throughout the Worlds.Former Australia II trimmer Skip Lissiman, with current Luna Rossa crewmember Ben Durham doing mainsheet and Kane Williamson on the bow, won the Nationals. Lissiman battled all the way, with fellow Australian Mark Bulka finishing one point back in second and British Olympian Andy Beadsworth finishing third.Lissiman's former Australia II skipper, John Bertrand, finished sixth, and, in assessing the upcoming worlds, placed his bets on Jud Smith. "Jud Smith is hot," said Bertrand, "Clearly he has the technical skills for heavy conditions."