North Sails success in Australian Sharpie Nationals : Q&A with the champs
L to R: Sean Keen, Alex Blacker and Harry Fisher (2022-2023 Australian Sharpie Champions)
Q&A with newly crowned Australian Sharpie class national champion skipper Alex Blacker, who successfully took out the title sporting North Sails.
How does it feel to win your first Sharpie Nationals?
Honestly it really is the most amazing feeling, there’s people out there that try their whole lives to win one of these and for us to be able to achieve it so early in our senior sailing careers is just amazing. But also to be able to do it with two of your best mates makes it that much sweeter.
What was your secret to success in this regatta?
I feel like our boat set up, speed and high/low modes played a huge part in our success in Hobart. Having such a well-tuned platform allowed us to keep our heads out of the boat as much as possible and just watch what was going on all the time. As well as having such a close bond amongst the three of us, we were able to be prepared for all the tricks the River Derwent throws at you and give ourselves more options right across the race course. The crew work was key, to be able to sail with a couple of your best mates who are all on the same page when it comes to what you want to achieve was critical.
It was a very competitive fleet with a few past champions, were you doing anything different to them?
I wouldn’t say we have done anything drastically different to the other guys, but we’ve really focused on our weaknesses and ironed them out this past year. We also worked really hard on our consistency as we knew coming into this regatta everyone was going to have their fair share of bad races, even the good guys. But we knew if we could keep our heads up and keep pushing through the fleet to a salvageable result in every race, then it would pay off massively by the end of the event.
I assume your crew played a big part in it, tell us about them?
Absolutely, I’ve got Harry Fisher up front who I’ve been lucky enough to sail in Sharpies with for about four seasons, and for those who haven’t had the pleasure to meet him, he is a legend of the class, having competed in 14 Sharpie nationals over 17 years, starting when he was 14 years old. The knowledge of the class that Harry has brought to the campaign has been unreal. Then on sheets I’ve got Sean Keen who has done a bit of sailing with us over the years but we finally convinced him to jump on with us full time just more than a year ago. Since coming on board, Sean has brought a lot of energy to the boat as well as a really strategic way of thinking, which has helped us improve our regatta management. He is also a very driven bloke with a wealth of knowledge and is an absolute powerhouse in the middle.
What’s racing on the Derwent like?
I had never sailed on the Derwent before this nationals but now I can happily tick that box. I really enjoyed it, there’s some big shifts and big bends in the wind so there’s always opportunities and passing lanes. There’s also a lot of water movement from the tide and the river so it definitely throws up a lot of challenges, but once you somewhat get your head around it, it can be very rewarding if you sail well.
The top four were very close going into the last race, what was your strategy (for that race) and how did that play out?
Going into the last day we were just behind the lead, but the second drop was going to kick in after the first race that day, so we had to crunch the numbers on the water. After the second drop kicked in and our result in Race 9, we ended up taking the regatta lead ahead of Noah Taylor from Canberra heading into the last race. We’d done the math, but we pretty much knew as long as we kept sailing the way we had been all week and we stayed close to the three other boats behind us we would be fine. We also knew that we couldn’t finish worse than eighth, or else the drops would be recalculated and Noah would overtake us regardless. The Derwent certainly through some tricks our way and we got absolutely demolished up the first work of the last race, rounding the top mark about 20th with Mark Soulsby (third overall) in the leading pack and Noah Taylor (second overall) behind us. We thought to ourselves, the only thing we could control was to try and sail into eighth, keep Noah behind us and hope Soz (Soulsby) didn’t win the race. It was a short race with only two upwind legs and a downwind finish, so on the next (and last) upwind leg we managed to get into a real nice breeze pattern up the guts while everyone else was playing the left. We sailed the race of our lives after that first work and pulled through enough boats to round the top can in eighth. Then from there we just consolidated our position on the last downwind leg and went through the finish in the same spot.
You are using the North main and jib, what do you like about them?
I’m a huge fan of the North working gear, I find the main very responsive to controls and sheet tension, which has been huge for when we were changing gears. It knuckles up really nicely for when you’re chasing power and it flattens off and opens up nicely for the real light stuff and the windy conditions. The jib is fairly deep but is super responsive to sheet tension and opens up nicely when the breeze picks up. It’s a really nice sail to drive to and has some wicked grooves as well. It’s also been a real pleasure working closely with Sandy Higgins at Binks Marine who is our local North Sails agent in South Australia. The work he has done, as well as Andrew Harry in Western Australia, to get North Sails on the pace in the Sharpie class has been really pleasing to be a part of. By jumping on the North Sails program we have had full confidence in the manufacturing quality that comes with such a reputable brand, combined with the local experience to really ensure we gave ourselves every chance to be as quick as possible this season.
Where to from here? What goals do you have for the future?
All going well, we are keen to lock in to defend our title next year at the Mordialloc Sailing Club in Melbourne. From a Sharpie point of view it would also be nice to try and snag a State Title, as they are incredibly hard to win against a strong local fleet. There’s also some 505 sailing in the pipeline for me with the Worlds coming up in Adelaide in two years so I’m sure it’ll be a big couple of years on the water.
Great to catch up with you Alex and congratulations once again to you and your crew on a great victory, very well deservered.....