Sail Melbourne will kick start 2008 with a number of World Championship titles, including those in the colourful and quick 49er and 29er skiffs.
The ISAF Grade WC 49er Worlds and the 29er Worlds will be hosted by Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club from 2-9 January.
With 13 nations qualified for the Beijing Olympic Games, including Australia, and a place automatically going to host nation China, the five remaining places will be decided at this Worlds, putting the pressure on a number of international competitors. Some countries will select their Olympic representatives in Melbourne too; the game is on!
Australia's Chris NICHOLSON
, sailing with various crews, recorded a hat-trick of World Championship 49er wins, from 1997 through to 1999, but since then Great Britain has had a stranglehold in this high-performance class, winning the 2003, 2006 and 2007 World titles.
Britain's top pair, Stevie MORRISON
and Ben RHODES
scored victories in the 2006 European Championship and in 2007, the Qingdao Olympic Test Event, ISAF Sailing World Championships
and Princess Sofia Trophy, along with lots of top three places at other ISAF Grade 1 events.
The pair arrived in Melbourne last Thursday to prepare for their defence of the Worlds. In a warning to other competitors, the super two, who are undoubtedly the benchmarks in the class, have also been undergoing a strict training regime at home, both on and off the water, including attending a cycling camp and doing some climbing.
"It seems to have paid off,"
says RHODES. "At a recent fitness test, our results were pretty good. We're now looking forward to getting sailing fitness back, but that comes with long hours of intensive on-water training. We're both really excited, especially after the long break that we've had, and can't wait to get back into training in Melbourne."
Before them, fellow countrymen Chris DRAPER
and Simon HISCOCKS
(GBR), won the Worlds in 2003 and 2006, were runners-up in 2004 and 2005, with a bronze medal from the 2004 Athens Games and HISCOCKS' silver medal at Sydney 2000.
Talented Nathan OUTTERIDGE
(21) and Ben AUSTIN
(25) will lead the Aussies into battle. Bronze medallists at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships, they were poised to take gold at the 2007 Qingdao Test Event, but leading the final race, gear breakage meant a fifth place. OUTTERIDGE and AUSTIN, both former ISAF Youth World Champions
, are improving all the time. The goal is an Olympic medal as they look to their first Games in 2008.
Other top chances are Athens Olympian brothers Pietro SIBELLO
and Gianfranco SIBELLO
(ITA), 2007 Worlds runners-up Nico DELLE - KARTH
and Nikolaus RESCH
(AUT), respective Test Event silver and bronze medallists Iker MARTINEZ
and Xabier FERNANDEZ
(ESP), Athens silver medallists Rodion LUKA
and George LEONCHUK
(UKR) and two-time Olympian in the class, Marcus BAUR
, crewed by Max Baumann (GER).
Host venue, Sorrento, will proudly field its own entry with William PHILLIPS
and Jon NEWMAN
(AUS) who are coming up through the ranks. New to the class, former 29er champion brothers Clint MARSHALL (20) and Ty MARSHALL
(22) from Lake Macquarie on the NSW Central Coast will be there too, fresh from their first major competition at the Australian 49 Championship and SIRs regatta.
"We hope to have a bit of experience by the time we get to the Worlds. We're hoping there'll be some boats behind us when we cross the finish line,"
laughs Ty. "We're looking at doing an Olympic campaign later and Sail Melbourne will be a good gauge for us,"
So far 68 entries have been received in this youth class skiff from Argentina, Australia, Croatia, Denmark, Great Britain, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore and the USA. In these entries will no doubt be some future Olympians.
The 29er Australian Championship is being held close to Sorrento and just prior to the Worlds at Safety Beach Sailing Club. A number of internationals are expected to compete, so it will give a good indication as to how the Worlds might pan out.
Matias EURNEKIAN GAINZA and Frederico VILLAMBROSA (ARG), 2007 World Champions, are expected to defend their title, but are yet to enter. Henrik SOGAARD and Soren KRISTENSEN (DEN), 2007 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship gold medallists, are keen early entries.
Taking the girls' bronze medal at the ISAF Youth Worlds, culminating in Australia winning the Volvo Trophy, Hannah NATTRASS
and Michelle MULLER
will be sailing for gold this time. It is expected rivals and Youth Worlds gold medallists Emily DELLENBAUGH
and Briana PROVANCHA
(USA) will also compete. Eighteen year old DELLENBAUGH is the daughter of America's Cup sailor and tactical guru Dave DELLENBAUGH (USA).
Among the entries are other competitors from famous sailing backgrounds. Late ocean racing legend Peter KURTS' grandson Phil KURTS (AUS) has moved up from a Sabot into a 29er under the watchful eyes of his father Simon KURTS, a noted sailor himself.
Freya VICKERY (AUS) from Victoria gets her sailing genes from father Stewart VICKERY, a champion 14ft skiff sailor, whilst Haylee OUTTERIDGE (AUS) is the sister of newly nominated Olympian, Nathan, who is sailing in the 49er class.
Some Aussie skippers have upped the ante enlisting the help of medal winning Youth Champions. Sean O'ROURKE has co-opted Evan WALKER
, and Rayshele MARTIN
will crew for Shane SMITH.
WALKER has won Youth Sailor of the Year awards for his numerous match racing triumphs, and with Kyle LANGFORD
, was the first Australian to ever win gold at the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championships in the Hobie 16 multihull in 2005. Like WALKER, West Australia's MARTIN too has match racing trophies and has won Youth awards for her efforts across a variety of classes including 29er and 420.
Nine pairs from Britain are already entered, amongst them two sisters, Becky DIAMOND and Hannah DIAMOND. The two skippers will compete against each other and join several other female skippers whose number increase in the class each year.
Both skiffs were designed by Australian Julian Bethwaite, the double trapeze 49er debuting as an Olympic class at the Sydney 2000 Games. The single trapeze 29er is an international youth class, giving young sailors with Olympic ambitions the opportunity to rise up to the ranks to the 49er.
The two-crew skiffs feature colourful spinnakers and are exciting to sail and to watch, particularly in big breezes where the 'thrills and spills' nature of both make great viewing.
Following a welcome and practice races, the format is qualifying races followed by a final series in both events. The qualifying rounds will be conducted from 4-6 January, then the fleet will be split into gold, silver and possibly bronze fleets (based on the number of entries) for the finals, to be sailed from the 7-9 January.
All courses will be windward and leeward with a gate at the leeward end of the course. Situated on the Mornington Peninsula, a picturesque holiday destination, Sorrento offers challenging conditions for skiffs, with currents up to 1 knot, sandbars, deep water channels to negotiate and stable winds.
The 49er and 29er Worlds will be sailed under the Sail Melbourne banner and Yachting Victoria is the organizing authority in co-operation with the International 49er Class Association and the Australian 49er Class Association
Special thanks go to sponsors: State Government of Victoria; Parks Victoria; Mercedes Benz; Helly Hansen; Bayside City Council; Mornington Peninsula Shire Council; City of Kingston; Schenker Australia; Yachting Australia; Ronstan International; Ribsport; Silver Marine
For all information on the 49er and 29er worlds, including current entry lists, go to: www.sailmelbourne.com.au