|MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA-(16-1-2005) Conditions were so variable at the Olympic & Invited Classes of Sail Melbourne International Regatta 2005 it tested all sailors, but particularly those not used to light airs and it reflected in the overall results, including those of the Australians.
Those who come to Sail Melbourne each year are much more used to the winder conditions normally prevalent on Port Phillip Bay, however the weather challenged all competitors, such was its variance.
An influx of new Olympic hopefuls with an eye on Beijing 2008 were indoctrinated into the art of light and shifty airs that will most likely greet them at Quing Dao in China – believed to be downwards of10 knots.
On reflection, this, the only Australian Grade 1 event, the first for the new Olympiad, was a great start to one’s Olympic career.
A number of those upgrading from Youth ranks into adult open competition, made comments along the lines of ‘frustrating, too difficult, way too light, hard to concentrate,’ etc. Those same competitors have left Sail Melbourne with food for thought as they prepare themselves for the next four years.
The numbers were not as large as they normally might be for an Olympic class event, but being the first major post Athens regatta, it was expected. It also lacked the depth of talent, with many saying goodbye after 4-12 year campaigns, with an influx of new talent.
For the more experienced Australians, like Nicky Bethwaite and Karen Gojnich in the Yngling Womens three-person keelboat, and Darren Bundock in the Tornado class it was a different matter. The three are looking down the barrel of each one’s third Olympic campaign, this their first major regatta since the Athens Games.
The Australian team failed to medal in Athens, most say because of our failure to sail well in light airs. Old and new competitors are well aware of the fact now and most have responded accordingly – taking advantage of any opportunity to practice in the ‘light stuff’.
At this event, Bethwaite and Gojnich, with new crew Helen Impey (all are from Sydney) and Darren Bundock, with his new crew Aaron Worrall, won every race in their respective classes. The Bethwaite crew did not sail the final day. Both crews’ wins were fairly straight forward. In the case of Bundock, from NSW and Worrall, from Victoria, such was their speed; they finished well ahead in each race.
In a fleet of mixed men and women crews, Bethwaite also won the Australian Yngling championship in conjunction with her Sail Melbourne win and commented afterwards, ‘when you win 10 out of 10, how can you not enjoy yourself? The weather was uncharacteristically Sydney-like, but we were particularly pleased with our result of Thursday (it was up in the 20-24 knot range), because we are lighter than the blokes, but still won and we don’t mind the lighter days either.’
Queenslander, Matt Belcher and his Tasmanian crew, Nick Behrens also dominated in the Combined 470 double handed dinghy class, winning every race. This pair are keen to go the next Games and waiting for a showdown with Athens rep. Nathan Wilmot, who is expected to return to the class. The pair are hungry, determined and ready for the Olympic challenge.
West Australian 420 world champions, Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson sailing their first major 470 ranking event, also coped exceptionally well with the conditions and will be the yardstick for Australian women in future events. They show a lot of promise and seem to have the goods. Both pairs are yet to face serious overseas competition though.
Belcher said he and Behrens had been practicing their light weather performance in Behrens’ hometown, Tasmania, well aware of what happened in Athens and knowing the likelihood of similar conditions in Beijing.
‘Matt and Nick are sailing very well by anyone’s standards. We had our moments of catching them, but they sailed an outstanding series,’ said Parkinson of the winners.
Rechichi, who is coached by Sydney 2000 Gold medallist Belinda Stowell, commented on their own performance, ‘we have been practicing a bit in light air and we plan on doing much more.’
However, in both the Laser and Laser Radial classes, the Australians have a fair bit of work to do. Radial world champion and winner of that event here at Sail Melbourne, Krystal Weir, admitted she struggles in the light air. She is surprised at just how tough it was against some of the New Zealand girls, particularly Jo Aleh and Jane Macky – both of whom kept her honest and challenged each other too.
‘I’m much better in the stronger winds, that’s what I am more used to – that’s what I thought we’d be getting. Jo and Jane kept me working very hard for the whole regatta and I realise I have quite a lot of work to do,’ surmised Weir, a local who sails out of Sandringham and Brighton. She took the Radial trophy home on her 20th birthday.
In the Laser class, the Australian results indicated more work was necessary. Again, none of the major players were here, but Australian results were a little disappointing. Mixed results from a number showed moments of brilliance and moments of grief. None were able to beat Finish Athens Olympian Roope Suomalainen, the 31 year old who led from early on.
Of the Aussies, Brendan Casey, Tom Slingsby and local sailor Ricky Ironmonger are the ones to watch, Casey the most experienced of the three having had a couple of shots at an Olympic career. The latter two need to put their heads down and work hard for the next four years – each shows talent.
Noticeably at home in the light airs is the Singapore team, particularly in the 470 class; both Mens and Womens. The Hong Kong Mistral sailors are also outstanding in light airs, totally dominating both the Mens and Womens.
Not only did Hong Kong dominate, the competition between each other was so strong, that on most days, a number were tied on points and series finishing places were with in a point of each other in some cases.
A small and fairly novice 49er skiff fleet contested the event so it was difficult to gauge just how good they were, with a lack of international competition and lack of Chris Nicholson/Gary Boyd at the event. However, the New Zealanders were the outstanding crews finishing a close first and second.
Brothers Mark and Scott Kennedy won the battle, Jake Bartrom (a former solid Laser Radial sailor) and his crew Craig Prentice were unlucky, damaged gear costing them two races and perhaps the championship.
Australians Joseph Turner/Charles Dorron finished third. They are young yet, but keen, and showed a good aptitude to the 49er. Turner has sailing in the blood, his father Paul part of Peter McNeill’s 2004 Etchells Worlds winning crew.
Although competition and numbers were missing in the Mens and Womens Mistral classes, Hong Kong has certainly put the sailboarding world on notice with their dominating performance at Sail Melbourne. The five males and two females in their respective fleets outsailed and outclassed the rest to finish top five and top two.
In the all-Australian field in the 2.4mR dinghy, both able-bodied and disabled sailors raced. While able-bodied sailors, Michael Leydon and Peter Russell took the top two places (Leydon won by 10 points), disabled sailor Michael McLean, a Paralympian was at his best and took third place, just two points behind Russell.
With the Australian Youth Championships at Belmont in full swing, a number of upcoming stars were missing and only three competed in the 4.7 Laser, but had great competition on the start line with the Laser Full Rig and Laser Radial.
Of the three Australian competitors, Mark Lincoln won all but one race to win from Mark Edmonds and Matthew Brown. Brown, who recently won a Sabot title, is the son of former Olympic coach and sailor Ian Brown. He sailed well in his early foray into the class.
A new presence at Sail Melbourne, five Chinese officials who will be involved in the running of the Sailing event at the Beijing Olympics. They went home, having learned a lot about running an Olympic class event, hosted by Kevin Wood and Kevin Wilson.
Kevin Wood, the active hands-on Chairman of Sail Melbourne, said he was pleased the event was so successful, particularly post Athens, when it was obvious the numbers would be down.
‘We saw the best of what’s to come. It was great to see some of our Athens Olympians back and a number of sailors who are champion Youth sailors here having their first go at the big time.
‘I think we are all a little surprised at just how well they sailed in their first senior competition. You just have to look at the results of say Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson, Krystal Weir, Tom Slingsby, Ricky Ironmonger and Josh Beaver, to know Australian sailing is in safe hands.
‘We look forward to seeing a larger contingent here at Sandringham next year, and are hopeful that the team from China, the host country for the 2008 Olympics, will come, along with a number of other internationals.’
Wood also commented there were some exciting plans in the pipeline for next year’s annual event, but said an announcement would be made later in the year – giving nothing away.
Sandringham Yacht Club put on yet another Olympic class regatta that was second to none, Kevin Wilson as Principal Race Officer had everything running like clockwork, with Sam Maffett managing the onshore side of things.
Apart from the Olympic & Invited Classes, Sail Melbourne included a host of events, starting December 27 and going right through to January 25, including the Hobie 17 and 18 Worlds, the Moth Worlds and many other events up and down Port Phillip Bay at which 1847 sailors from 18 countries competed.
Sail Melbourne management thanks all the clubs, officials and volunteers that make this event the huge success it is.
Special thanks have to go to Ian Wall, our press boat driver and jack of all trades, who does more that just drive the boat every year – he is one in a million. To Marlie Snow, who looks after our food supply, medical needs, and any other need we have – also one in a million and to all those volunteers who make this event held at Sandringham Yacht Club each year the great event it is.
Finally to the sponsors and supporters of Sail Melbourne, for whom without this event would not be the resounding success it is each year: Sport & Recreation Victoria, Parks Victoria, Collex, Schenker Australia, Ronstan International, The Holiday Inn, Local Government support, Hobie Cat Australia, P&O Nedlloyd, Yachting Australia, Yachting Victoria and last, but certainly not least, Menere’s BMW Brighton – mine was heaven to drive.