The severe weather conditions on the East Coast of NSW have not dampened the spirits of nearly 40 young people on the all-important practice day for one of the premier events for youth in international sailing.
The Harken International Youth Match Racing Championship is being staged at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Despite continual disruptions when the blustery wind conditions reached more than a consistent 25knots and torrential rain, the teams have continued training on Pittwater just north of Sydney.
Now celebrating its tenth year, the Harken International Youth Match Racing Series is one of the top two events in the world for young sailors aged 15-19 years old. It has been sponsored by Harken, manufacturers of yachting equipment, for the past four years.
Twelve teams of three from Australia, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand and the USA are due to begin racing on Pittwater in a series of round-robins on Thursday, November 22 through Sunday November 25, 2001. The series will be umpired by some of the most highly qualified yachting International Umpires from around Australia, the USA and NZ.
Match racing is a fast and highly technical series of races, which sees two identical boats utilise close tactics to race twice around a windward leeward course. The marker buoys at each end of the course are laid to ensure each race is about 20 minutes. Jockeying for the controlling position begins well before the start. Boats are often only centimetres apart, and quick thinking, mature decisions and adept boat handling are vital components in the tactics. The Harken Series will be raced in Elliot 5.9's, small keel boats that are fast and very maneuverable.
RPAYC Yachting Administrator Denis Thompson says. "Youth match racing is an important training ground for young sailors who aspire to the positions on America's Cup or round the world yachts,"
Despite the weather, the three young US team members from Mission Bay Yacht Club (Calif) were looking forward to the competition.
Mainsheet trimmer Piet van Os (17) says "There's not many races where young people can get together and race each other. This sort of event gives you good chance to get match racing experience and make friends from around the world."
"In the States we tend to do more fleet racing when you are young. There's not much match racing for young guys.. so it is difficult to get the experience to go onto sailing in something like the America's Cup", said 18 year old bowman Mike Brown.
Former Australian Olympic coach for the Solings, Rod Hagebol who is coaching the US teams says "A lot of the crews that are now earning up to a million dollars on the big boats have come through series such as youth match racing programs.
"With many of those crews getting older, it is important that we train young people to replace them so we have top representatives for the country."
The Harken International Youth Match Racing Series begins daily at 9.00am in the Towlers Bay area of Pittwater.
In acknowledgement of its international status, the twelve contesting teams will include teams from United States(Mission Bay, Calif.), Great Britain (Royal Yachting Association), Japan (Fukuoka Yacht Club) and New Zealand (Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Waiheke Boating Club).
Australian clubs represented include the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club (red & blue teams), the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, the Wangi Wangi Amateur Sailing Club, the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club and the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.
The talented line-up of young sailors include Nathan Outteridge, NSW Youth Sailor of the Year, defending Champion Michael Dunstan and a former winner (1999) Katie Spithill, who finished 4th in the ISAF 2001 World Women's International Match Racing Championships in Italy. Katie is the sister of James Spithill, a two-time winner of the event and the youngest America's Cup skipper ever selected.
Great Britain is represented by Paul Campbell-James, current National Youth Match Racing Champion in Great Britain.