2011/12 ISAF World Cup gets underway
Perfect conditions for the race committee translated into a battle on the starting line for competitors throughout the opening day of Sail Melbourne, the first round of the ISAF World Cup for 2011/12.
With the wind blowing a steady 10 -12 knots from the southwest, generally the boat that crossed in the dominant position held on to win the heat.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the 49er class, where each of the leading three crews had a poor start in one of the three races. At the end of the day, the defending champions, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand held a one point lead over two Australian crews, Sam and Will Phillips and the 2009 world champions, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen.
In the first race, the Kiwis nailed the start, while Outteridge and Jensen thought they were over the start line early and re-crossed in sixth position. The Kiwis extended their lead at every mark and finished more than 200m in front of the Australians, who used clear air in the middle of the course to fight their way back.
In the second race it was the Phillips brothers who hit the start line perfectly, pinning Outteridge and Jensen below them for most of the first beat. Meanwhile the Kiwis had been trapped by another Australian crew to cross last, and could manage only a fourth, their worst position of the day.
In the third heat, Outteridge and Jensen had a poor start and played catch-up all race. When asked why he had gone to the right of the course when the inshore left-hand side looked favoured, Outteridge said, "Everyone else had gone left, so we had to go right. You can't pass them by following them."
This attitude was confirmed by Blair Tuke, who said, "The start was really important. The two times we got off the start line first we did well."
The "win the start" theory was also in play in the 470 class, where world champions Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page sit in third position after a sixth in the first race and a win in the second. "We got caught up at the start in the first race and there was no way back, " said Mat Belcher. "In the second race we got a nice start and then sailed a bit conservative (to hold the lead)."
The class is being led by the American team of Stuart McNay and Graham Biehl who began the regatta with a first and second place. Another Australian crew, Sam Kivell and Will Ryan is in second place on five points.
The 470 is one of the more competitive events at this regatta, where the numbers are generally down owing to the Olympic selection trials being held in Perth, Western Australia, in early December. The 470 sees four countries in the top five positions, with Kiwi brothers Paul and Jason Snow-Hansen one point behind Belcher and Page, with Canadians Luke Ramsay and Mike Leigh a further point back.
At this regatta, the men and women start together and there were bragging rights for the "new" Australian crew of Elise Rechichi and Belinda Stowell, who won both women's races and beat Belcher and Page in the first race as well, finishing third across the line.
Both Rechichi and Stowell are Olympic gold medallists, but not together. Stowell won at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, while Rechichi helmed the winning boat at Beijing in 2008. This is their first regatta together since Rechichi took over the helm from her Beijing crew, Tessa Parkinson, just four weeks ago, and her first race since Sail for Gold in Weymouth (GBR) in 2009. The Japanese pair of Ai Kondo and Wakoko Tabata are in second place on six points, one point ahead of two American crews, Amanda Clark/Sarah Lihan and Erin Maxwell/Isabelle Farrar.
The Finn class is another that has been affected by overseas sailors electing to go only to Perth 2011. There are just four internationals in the fleet of 11 and one of them, Oleksiy Borysov of Ukraine, leads on three points. Australians Oliver Tweddle (4) and Rob McMillan (5) hold the minor places.
Unlike the Finn, the other single-handed dinghy, the Laser, has attracted a large and very strong field. There are more than 60 entries in the men's event and 26 in the women's Laser Radial.
The Standard fleet was split into two groups, with triple world champion Tom Slingsby of Australia leading the yellow fleet, and overall, after a first and second placing. In the second race, he was involved in a dogfight with Canadian Lee Parkhill on the last run.
"I'd surge then he'd surge but when I needed a wave at the end it didn't come," Slingsby said philosophically.
British sailor, Nick Thompson was the leader of the blue fleet and sits just one point behind Slingsby, after a first and a third place. "I didn't feel particularly fired up when I went out there, but I'm happy," said Thompson, for whom these were his first races since the European championships.
In the women's Laser Radial, Lijia Xu of China finished with a win and a second placing, to lead Tuula Tenkanen of Finland by two points. Former world number one Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands is four points further back.
Starting two hours after the Finn, 470 and 49er fleets, the Laser and RS:X classes enjoyed similar conditions for Race 1, but the wind went softer for the second race of the day.
This particularly affected the RS:X windsurfers, who managed to plane upwind in the first race but were pumping hard downwind and throughout the second race.
The men's event saw all internationals holding the first three placings, in a very tight battle. Dutchman Dorien van Rijsselberg is tied with Kiwi JP Tobin on four points, with Zach Plavsic of Canada a point further back. Tobin scored two second placings, while van Rijsselberg and Plavsic won one race each.
In the women's event, Flavia Tartaglini of Italy won the first race but she was OCS in the second, handing the overall lead to Jessica Crisp of Australia, who leads by four points from Bryony Shaw of Great Britain and Justina Sellers of New Zealand.
The experienced Jessica Crisp, who attended her first Olympics in the demonstration event at Los Angeles in 1984, said that the conditions were "typical Melbourne" in that the person who went closest into the shore generally did the best.
Crisp echoed the sentiments of most of the windsurfers when she said that she hoped there will be a little bit more wind for the following days.
Today's winds were more than five knots stronger than forecast, and it is to be hoped that the same prevails tomorrow, when another light day is currently predicted.