Dan FITZGIBBON, a 27 year old quadriplegic from Queensland, has won the Inaugural IFDS Worlds sailed at Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron over the past week as part of the Sail Melbourne International Regatta.
Sailing in Fleet A, consisting mainly of quadriplegics, including Andrew Hartley, a ventilated quadriplegic, and many suffers of Cerebal Palsey, Fitzgibbon won all but one race in which he finished fifth to take home the Championship and a brand new Chris Mitchell designed Access Liberty.
The Championship was conducted in two Fleets, A, with the most disabled sailors, and B with lesser disabilities such as paraplegia. In Fleet B, Zoltan PEGAN, a paraplegic from NSW cleaned up, not losing a single race and only looking threatened in one - the last race in which he beat the man who will represent Australia at the Paralympics, Peter THOMPSON from the ACT, by 'just a wave,' as Pegan put it.
"That was the most exciting race of the series, he kept on my tail for the entire race, it was a really good race. The starts were exciting for the whole series. Everyone was so good on starts, you had to be quick to get away from them,"
22 competitors contested the series, many coming from overseas; Portugal, Japan and Great Britain. Many improved on their personal best performances and all enjoyed the tight racing that included on-water judges, an international jury, and classifiers, making sure everyone sailed in their correct fleet.
Although Pegan won every race in his Fleet, the prize was awarded to Fitzgibbon, the Sailing Instructions stating the Championship be awarded to the lowest point scorer from the two fleets after a race drop. If it came to a tied situation, which it did, the trophy was then awarded to the most disabled of the tie, which was Fitzgibbon.
Second place in Fleet A went to Bento AMARAL, a quadriplegic from Portugal and the only non-Australian to feature in the major placings. Amaral sailed a very consistent series for 21 points from NSW's Craig SCANLAN, also a quadriplegic, who finished his regatta on 25 points. Scanlan got better as the regatta went on and is worth watching in the future.
In Fleet B, it was paraplegic, Peter THOMPSON, in second with 15 points from South Australia's Craig CLARKE on 24 points. Clarke is a C5/6 quadriplegic who chose to sail in the B Fleet, although he could have elected to sail in A.
The prize giving for event was emotion charged, everyone in the room realizing something very special had taken place. All participants are looking forward to contesting the Australian championships in October at Belmont in NSW this year.
So many people were involved in the success of this event, it is impossible to name all - but to all at Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron, from Commodore Ian Warner down, huge thanks. These people ran the event like clockwork, making sure every single need of the competitors was met in a very professional way.
Without people such as Chris MITCHELL, the Access Liberty designer who was on site throughout the event making sure competitors were comfortably set up in their boats and Jackie Kay from Sailability, a lot of these events would never take place. The pair are traveling the world to spread the Sailability word.
Phil VARDY, the IFDS Technical Delegate (and IFDS Executive Member) spoke at the Opening Ceremony for this event, his words summing up a lot of what took place:
Never have so many severely disabled people assembled to contest a regatta. This is a world first. This is history.'"
Full results are available on the event website at the address below.