Two bullets for Rickham and Birrell
Consistency was the name of the game on day one of the IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 as the sailors who mastered the tricky light airs topped the leaderboard at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy today. A three-hour postponement and very lights breezes did nothing to dampen the level of performances displayed with Britain, the Netherlands, USA, Singapore, France and Canada enjoying fruitful returns from the first two races.
Skandia Team GBR’s two-time World champion SKUD team of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell seemed completely unfazed by the testing conditions, picking up two wins out of two to begin their title defence in style, while the reigning Sonar World champion crew of Udo Hessels, Marcel Van De Veen and Mischa Rossen (NED) also lead their class, having finished fifth in race one and second in race two. Britain’s Helena Lucas is the early leader in 2.4mR, her third and fourth the most consistent performance of the day in the one-person class.
After a three-hour postponement, racing finally got underway at 14.00 in a steady five to seven knots. But with the breeze in Portland Harbour fading throughout the afternoon, all the sailors’ skills were drawn on as they bid to get the most out of their boats.
Defending champions Rickham and Birrell produced the standout performance of the day, winning by a significant margin in both the SKUD races, despite finishing the second race in around a knot of breeze.
Rickham admitted after finishing second behind Australian duo Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch at Skandia Sail for Gold at Weymouth and Portland last month, they wanted to make a big early impression.
Rickham said: “We’re pretty happy with that! We had a bit of trouble getting off the start line at Sail for Gold, which put us on the back foot so we had a lot of ground to make up whereas today we managed to get off the start line well. We decided for this regatta we were going to keep everything as simple as possible, and just go back to basics , which seems to have paid off today. We’ve been feeling really, really comfortable and relaxed in the past few days and both of us were truly positive going into today.”
A sixth and second for Wei Qiang Tan Jovin and Kok Liang Lim Desiree (SIN) sees them laying in second with Beijing 2008 bronze medallists John McRoberts and Stacie Louttit (CAN) in third.
Hessels and crew came into this week’s Worlds in good form with a Skandia Sail for Gold silver medal under their belts, and in a fleet where each of the top crews seemed to pick up a good then an average result from their two races, the Dutchmen’s fifth and second was enough to put them at the top of the pile ahead of Bruno Jourdren, Eric Flageul and Nicolas Vimont-Vicary (FRA) and Britain’s John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas.
Hessels said: “Our aim is to at least get a medal here because we won last year. It was a really difficult day; it was really shifty weather and because of that the whole fleet was upside down, and it was very interesting. We do pretty well in these conditions but we would like a little bit more wind. We had lots of wind at Sail for Gold so we are used to that now and it was hard to get back into light weather mode. We were pretty consistent in the standings and we came out on top so we can’t be disappointed.”
British sailors occupy two of the top three places in the 2.4mR, with 2009 Worlds bronze medallist Lucas in first, thanks to her third and fourth today, the USA’s Mark LeBlanc in second and Megan Pascoe third.
Lucas was delighted with her decision-making. She said: “The first beats didn’t go quite as well as I’d have liked them to have gone and left me playing a little bit of catch up. But some really good decisions on both runs of both races got me back in the hunt and two good results so I’m really pleased with that. My coach Ian ‘Billy’ Barker said to me on the way out to the start ‘You can’t win it (today), but you can definitely lose it!’ I’m in a good position after the first day so I’m definitely pleased.”
With this event also the final chance for countries to qualify a boat for London 2012, LeBlanc meanwhile is on course to achieve his pre-regatta objective of sealing the USA’s spot at in the single-handed dinghy class at next year’s Paralympics, having narrowly missed out on achieving the feat at last year’s Worlds in the Netherlands.
He said: “I stayed over here after Sail for Gold and have had quite a few good days’ training here but most of them have been pretty breezy compared to today. It’s a great start to a long regatta; I’m looking for a strong performance here and to qualify the US. I’m very pleased with today, the 2.4mR is a very deep and strong fleet with lots of Paralympic medallists and World champions so I think if you’re top 10 overall it’s a good day.”
The IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 are being organised, and run, by the RYA, supported by UK Sport.
Eleven races are scheduled in total for each class (two races per day Sunday-Thursday and one race on Friday 8 July). Racing is set to resume at 10.55am tomorrow.