Sailing for the Commonwealth

Di Pearson looks back at the inaugural Commonwealth Sailing Games

Friday January 24th 2003, Author: Di Pearson, Location: Australasia
The Inaugural Commonwealth Sailing Championships, sailed out of Sandringham Yacht Club on Port Phillip Bay were a success, officials and competitors pleased with this event’s launch and for Sail Melbourne’s endeavours to have our sport included in the Commonwealth Games.

Top-ranked sailors from Commonwealth nations competed in the Commonwealth Games Federation and the International Sailing Federation approved event, and while numbers may have been small for the first event, the calibre of talent certainly was not. The high standard of Race Management was due to Black Rock YC Race Officer John Graham and its Race Management Team, augmented by Sandringham Yacht Club and volunteers.

Nominated classes for the six-day regatta included Laser Men, Laser Radial Women, 470 Men, 470 Women and Hobie 16 Catamaran - Open, and the Mistral Mens and Womens, its series not completed, due to competitors having to contest other regattas. Entries came from Australia, Great Britain, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, Cyprus, Fiji, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Malaysia and India, which put in a great effort to field two teams.

Competitors of note included winners at Sail Melbourne Olympic & Invited Classes Regatta; Michael Blackburn (NSW) Laser, Jenny Armstrong/Belinda Stowell (NSW) 470, Nathan Wilmot/Malcolm Page (NSW) 470, Melanie Dennison (Vic) won Yngling, but sailed a Laser Radial.

Internationally, Russell McGovern and Debbie Hanna (Northern Ireland) sailed the Laser and Laser Radial respectively. Former 420 Youth World champions, Farokh Tarapore/Amit Arvid (India) sailed a 470, as did Petros Dracos/Christos Karakoulakis (Cyprus) and the top two New Zealand teams of Andrew Brown/Jamie Hunt and brothers, Stephen and Philip Keen.

An Opening Ceremony for the Championships was held at Sandringham Yacht Club on January 18, a brass band entertaining guests, followed by a welcome by Chairman of Sail Melbourne International Regatta, Kevin Wood.

Commonwealth Country flags were raised, Soloist, Hayley White, sang the Australian National Anthem. Peter Bartels, Chairman of the Australian Sports Commission, declared the Championships open.

Unusually, the weather was a mix of extremely light breezes, tending to strengthen in the afternoon, competitors sailing in anything from 5 to 27 knots, with swell and chop increasing as the wind did.

For those sailors new to Port Phillip, it was an eye opener, many commenting it was the most gruelling sailing they had undertaken, and that is what will bring them, and others here in 2006, not to mention the stiff competition they received against some of Australia’s finest sailors, at what the athletes dubbed ‘The Friendly Championships’.

With support from Commonwealth Nations, and competitors keen to participate, Sail Melbourne has already confirmed that a sailing event, expected to triple in numbers, will be held in conjunction with the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

As the World No. 1 pair, Nathan Wilmot/Malcolm Page (NSW) continued the brilliance they showed in winning the Olympic & Invited Classes Regatta, taking 1st place again for the Combined and Mens 470 class, by a margin of two points, not needing to sail the final race.

This left the coast open for the next best three placings to vie for 2nd place the points close, in an exciting last race, the three converging together on the final run home, brothers Mathew and Daniel Belcher (Qld) gaining an inside overlap just before the finish to claim the race and 2nd place overall. The brothers are former 420 World champions, hoping to gain Olympic selection, their performances showing marked improvement over the past six months.

Andrew Brown/Jamie Hunt (NZL) finished that race 2nd to give them 3rd overall for the series, their fellow Kiwis, brothers Stephen and Phillip Keen, having to settle for 3rd in the last race for a 5th overall. All three pairs said it was the most challenging race they had sailed for some time.

The New Zealander pairs are competing against each other for Olympic selection, and with little difference in their abilities, the appointment will most likely come down to the final selection regatta.

India put in a good showing in the 470 class, four pairs, Farokh Tarapore/Amit Arvind; the former 420 World champions the best placed, finishing 8th Combined, and 5th Mens. They are looking forward to a re-appearance in Melbourne.

Gold medal winners from Sydney 2000, Jenny Armstrong/Belinda Stowell (NSW) were outstanding, finishing 4th in the Combined event and winning the Womens by 22 points Lisa Charlson/Rike Ziegelmayer (NSW), finished 2nd in Womens. Having sailed together for only a short time, their result was exceptional.

Shelley Hesson/Linda Dickson (NZL) stayed on after competing at the Olympic & Invited Classes, gaining knowledge and experience, to finish 3rd.

In the Laser class, Michael Blackburn (NSW), put the Laser world on notice, winning both the Olympic & Invited Classes (defeating a number of world-ranked sailors), and Commonwealth Sailing Championships. Having only recently made a return to the Laser since winning Bronze at Sydney 2000, his results were extraordinary, as is the man, a wonderful role model for sailors’ looing to compete at elite level.

He defeated Ed Wright (GBR), the World No. 5, by eight points, and 3rd placed Alastair Gair (NZL), auguring well for his Olympic aspirations. Brendan Casey (Qld), world-ranked 6, not finishing the series, placed 14th. He is determined to represent Australia at the Olympics and will compete with Blackburn for the coveted spot in 2004.

Five boats contested the Laser Radial class, Krystal Weir (Vic), with some great results on the board over the past 18 months, was expected to be the benchmark, but unable to compete due to injury problems. Debbie Hanna, from Northern Ireland, showed her prowess, winning the regatta with five wins in 10 races. She looked confident on the course at all times and it is hoped she will return in 2006.

Melanie Dennison (Vic), winner of the Yngling class at Olympic & Invited Classes, in which she is world-ranked 2, came in 2nd, after missing the first three races. Dennison also represented at Sydney 2000 in the Europe single-handed dinghy, and in her youth was a nimble Laser Radial sailor, which showed at the Commonwealth Sailing Championships.

Megan De Lange (Vic) came 3rd sailing consistent top three throughout, no matter what the conditions on offer. She will be worth watching in the future.

Former World Youth champion in the Hobie 16, Robbie Lovig (Vic) came out to contest the Hobie 16 Open class with Glen Douglas. They were too good for the others at the end of the day, with a number of 1st and 2nd places, but in this closely contested series, only won by two points to international competitors, Shayne Brodie/Loren Gough from Fiji.

They also sailed consistently top-three, just missing out on the podium place, with Steve Fields/Kieran Browne (NSW) coming home 3rd, just one point behind the Fijians, their last race just as exciting to watch as the 470’s, the top three finishing inside one minute.

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