The Australian Youth Championship opened today at McCrae Yacht Club (VIC), giving competitors the first glimpse of the field of top sailors in which they will be competing.
Registration and a practise race were in store for the sailors, with an opening ceremony welcoming all entries.
Registration took up the morning, with sailors travelling from as far as Singapore, Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland arriving to unpack boats and prepare for the regatta. A record number of entries (over 150 sailors) bombarded the clubhouse, unpacking more boats than this regatta has seen before.
New divisions have been added to this year's event, broadening the racing to include Laser Full Rigs (boys), Laser Radials (boys & girls), 420's (boys, girls & mixed), 29ers (boys, girls & mixed) and Hobie 16's (open). Most sailors were coming from major regattas, with the 29ers, 420's and Lasers all having their nationals in Victoria, and the Hobies in Queensland, in the weeks preceeding.
Following Registration, an Opening Ceremony took place, welcoming the sailors, parents, coaches and supporters to the regatta. Speakers included Yachting Australia president Graeme AINLEY, Yachting Victoria President and regatta PRO Peter MERRITT, and McCrae Yacht Club Commodore Guy BANCROFT.
Guy BANCROFT opened the proceedings and talked about the high achievements of his club and many of the sailors within it; as well as expressing his thanks to the many volunteers who are involved. Graeme AINLEY talked about the Youth Championship being the most significant Yachting Australia event, describing how the event was fundamental to the development of the sport of sailing. Peter MERRITT finished off by thanking the regatta and Sail Melbourne supporters, P&O Nedlloyd, Schenker, Collex, Ronstan, Yanmar, Australian Sports Commission and others.
Following the opening ceremony was a media conference, with guests including Phil JONES (CEO Yachting Australia), Peter MERRITT (PRO), Guy BANCROFT (Commodore, McCrae YC), Rob TRANENT (Chairman, Jury), and a skipper from each division present. The skippers included world 420 youth champion Nathan OUTTERIDGE, Hobie Tiger world champion Taylor BOOTH, radial sailors Samantha boyd and James Chapman, Seve JARVIN representing full rig Lasers and two 29er sailors, Mitchell HEATH and Lachlan PRYOR.
After a barbeque lunch, the sailors headed out for the practice race. This was held in sunny conditions, with moderate south to south-westerly winds of 5-8 knots. The wind was shifting up to 50 degrees, and made the sailing very challenging. Many sailors found themselves upside down after unexpected shifts. With many lead changes, Mathieu HIGGINS finished first in the boys 420's, while Stephanie FLUKES won the girls division. Laser Radial boys went to Mathew STONE, with Stephanie STYRING taking out the girls. Local sailor Rhys BANCROFT and Scott CUNNINGHAM finished 1-2 in the Laser full rigs, while many of their rivals failed to complete the course correctly. The 29er open fleet being led by Evan WALKER. In a good Hobie fleet the racing was tight, with Michael PFEFFER ending up first at the finish.
The first race of the series kicks off at 0900hrs tomorrow morning (Tuesday), with a total of 9 races scheduled to be raced by Friday. Everyone is looking forward to a great event and some good tight racing.
The Australian Youth Championship is being conducted in conjunction with the 2004 Sail Melbourne International Regatta.