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7 January 2006, 10:34 am
All buoyed up for Sail Melbourne
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J24 Australian Championship 2006
Melbourne, Australia

Sandringham Yacht Club is a hive of activity today, as hundreds of competitors arrive ready to register for Sail Melbourne's Olympic & Invited Classes, J24 Australian Championship and J24 Worlds, all to be sailed on Port Phillip Bay from Monday through to January 20.
Measurers will be kept busy today and tomorrow, as crews continue to arrive and train prior to each events start.

Sean KIRKJIAN from NSW has to start as odds-on favourite for the J24 Australian title. The 36 year old holds the 2004 and 2005 National title and recently won the NSW Championship. His crew is very experienced and includes sailmaker Ian MCDIARMID and former three time 12ft skiff Interdominion champion, Duncan RUTHERFORD, who remembers winning a 14ft skiff Australian title out of Sandringham 20 years ago.

As the best placed Australian at the 2005 Worlds, finishing fourth, KIRKJIAN says the Nationals are preparation for their Worlds. 'It doesn't matter whether we win the Nationals or not, our goal is the Worlds.'

He and his crew were looking good for the podium, but an on-water incident put paid to their chances. Having a charter boat made it that touch more difficult. 'At least we have our own boat here this time,' said KIRKJIAN, who has twice won J24 titles in Victoria, so knows the waters.

However, the Sydneysider will have strong competition and he knows it. 'The top one third of the fleet is a threat if we don't sail well.' Some of those include fellow Sydneysider Doug MCGAIN and Victorians David SUDA, Phil COOMBS and Hugh OTTOWAY.

MCGAIN finished fourth at the recent NSW titles and also has a sailmaker in the crew; Matt PEDLOW from Lee Sails. He says KIRKJIAN is the benchmark, but: 'We'll have to watch out for some of those Victorians too; Hugo OTTOWAY is always good. SUDA was best placed Victorian in NSW, finishing in fifth, so has to be considered too.'

COOMBS, who like OTTOWAY, only recently returned to the class, is waving the local flag as Commodore of the host club, Sandringham. 'I think being a local definitely gives the Victorian entries a bit of an edge, but Sean (KIRKJIAN) has the miles and yards - he will be hard to beat and so will Sean WALLIS (current West Australian champion), too.'

Having just returned from racing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart aboard his DK 46 Dekadence, COOMBS knows he has the added bonus of taking crew from his yacht and transferring them to the J24. 'It helps a lot, it enables us to shorten the learning curve,' he said.

He cites other Victorians, OTTOWAY and SUDA as threats. 'We have been beating each other up on and off for years and David sailed with us at the Worlds in Argentina some years ago, so we will be out there to give each other a hard time.'

Onboard COOMBS' entry is sailmaker Brad ANSON, talented South Australian all-rounder Brett YOUNG and 22 year-old Erin FOSTER. 'She is the daughter of a mate I sailed skiffs with - so we all go back a long way.'

Other entries include former three-time Laser Olympian and Bronze medal winner, Michael BLACKBURN, Stephen GIRDIS and Andrew MCCRORY with Neil BEGLEY on the helm - all NSW based, along with Kayne BINKS (WA) and Alyn STEVENSON (SA).

The 10-race Championship will be sailed on windward/leeward courses and starts on Monday. Race officials plan to hold two races per day. For those who are land-based, Green Point would be the ideal viewing position - and a pair of binoculars would not go astray.

Di Pearson (As Amended by ISAF), Image: Anthony Kotoun On His Way To Victory at the 2005 Worlds in Weymouth © fluidfotos.com
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