What a week of racing competitors had at the Sail Melbourne International Regatta at Sandringham Yacht Club, host for the Yachting Victoria organised ISAF Grade 1 Olympic & Invited Classes Regatta.
Both on and off the water, the regatta, sailed on Port Phillip Bay, was an exceptionally professional event, Sandringham Y.C. having excellent facilities to run an event of this magnitude.
Dedicated volunteers (85), from clubs all over Victoria support Sail Melbourne to ensure a well-run regatta.
Competitors, both national and international, praised officials for a job well done, promising to come back next year, commenting they would encourage others to do the same.
From the top, Sail Melbourne Chairman, and immediate Past Commodore of Sandringham Yacht Club, Kevin Wood, Regatta Manager David Staley, Regatta Administrator Anna Ryan, and Principal Race Officer Kevin Wilson, to the on and off water volunteer assistants, all giving freely of their time to make the regatta the success it was.
Once again, there were few protests, surprising considering the level of competition in an event boasting 14 classes; 49er, 470, Finn, Tornado, Star, Yngling, Europe, Mistral, Laser, 2.4M, Laser Radial, 29er, 420 and Optimist.
Racing started on Saturday, January 11, finishing up on January 16. Weather conditions were mixed, giving competitors the opportunity to show their skills and vie for the prize money on offer.
As the Australian Yachting Federation utilised this regatta as an Australian selection event for the 2004 Olympics, with the exception of the Laser, and as the only Grade 1 ISAF ranking event in Australia, a number of the world's top ranking competitors came to try their luck on Port Phillip Bay, arguably the toughest sailing ground in the world.
The 49ers sailed 15 races with two drops, the Star, Finn, Yngling, Tornado, Europe, 470, had 12 races, dropping two, the Womens and Mens Mistral, Laser, Laser Radial had 10 races for two drops, the 420, 29er, and 2.4mR contested eight races for one drop and the junior Optimist Dinghy had 5 races with one drop.
Prior to this regatta, the 49er skiffs had their Australian Championship at Royal Geelong YC, giving some insight into the various competitors' performances, the same happening with a Warm-Up for Finn, Europe and Ynglings at Royal Brighton YC.
Chris Nicholson/Gary Boyd arrived as new 49er Australian champions, only looking threatened at that event by brothers, Pietro and Gianfranco Sibello. Leading the series with only a few races to go, Gianfranco fractured his arm, leaving the brothers unable to complete the series.
At Royal Brighton, Nicky Bethwaite/Kate McHugh/Kristin Kosmala won from Melanie Dennison/Fiona Herbert/Caroline Aders in the Yngling, Carolijn Brouwer won the Europe class from Sarah Blank, Anthony Nossiter winning the Finn class from Pascal Rambeau.
There were really no surprise winners at this event, after all, there were a number of Olympians, including medallists, world champions and world ranked competitors, but in some classes, the final result came down to nail-biting finishes on the final day, making for exciting racing.
Some great sailing came from young Australian competitors, some finishing with their best results ever, including brothers Ben and Marcus Tardrew in the 49er, Jo Dikkenberg sailing a Europe, Josh Beaver in the Finn, Mathew and Daniel Belcher in the 470, Robbie Lovig/Josh Fugill on the Tornado, Allison Shreeve in the Mistral Womens and Michael Lancey in the Mistral Mens.
In the Yngling class, the Warn sisters, 72 years old, with 18 year-old Tneal Kawalla crewing, gave the Olympic hopefuls a dose of how to do it in light airs, winning one race, finishing 2nd in another to be 2nd place overall after four races. Many asked if they were contemplating Olympic selection.
"Names" were aplenty at Sail Melbourne, Tornado World-ranked 1 and current world champions, Darren Bundock and John Forbes, 49er former three-time world champion, and Sydney Olympian, Chris Nicholson with his new sailing partner Gary Boyd, Michael Blackburn, winner of Bronze in the Laser class at the Sydney Games, sailing his first major regatta back in the class.
Gold medallists in the 470 class at the same Games, Mark Turnbull, Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell. Lars Kleppich and Jessica Crisp, Australian Olympians from Sydney 2000, came back to contest the Mistrals. In the Yngling, Melbourne's Melanie Dennison, now world- ranked 2, was Australian Olympian for the Europe class at the Sydney Games, and Nicky Bethwaite, the first Australian woman to represent at an Olympic Games - 1988 in Seoul in the 470 class.
World champion in the 29er, Euan McNicol raced a 49er, with John Harris, an 18ft skiff champion as his skipper. Making a return to the Star class after a break, five-time Olympic representative, Colin Beashel and three time representative, David Giles, were in good form and Sarah Blanck, current World champion in the Europe class
Internationally, the line-up was impressive. In the Finn class, Sebastien Godefroid (BEL), ranked 5 in the world, Europe ranked 2, Carolijn Brouwer (NED), and 5 ranked, Lenka Smidova, Pietro and Gianfranco Sibello (ITA), ranked 6 in the 49er class.
In the Mens Mistral, Jon Paul Tobin and Tom Ashley (NZL), Dom Tidey (GBR), top 20 rankers, Natasha Sturges (GBR), currently ranked 1 in the world, Barbara Kendall (NZL) current World champion, Wai Kei Chan (HK) ranked 7, contested the Mistral Mens and Womens.
Weather-wise, on opening day, racing started at 12.00pm and 3.00pm, with light breezes in the 7-10 knot range shifting at 205-235 degrees, the same again in the afternoon, but at 150 degrees on flat seas, with beautiful sunny skies.
Day 2, Sunday, racing got underway in near-perfect conditions with10 knots of breeze at 160 degrees, nice flat seas and a blue sunny sky, the afternoon was sailed in 8 knots at 165 degrees.
Monday came and officials canned racing for 49er, 29er, 420, Tornado and 2.4M classes, with winds in the solid 23-25 knots with regular gusts up to 30 knots.
With racing delayed, those that went out later got 18 knots at 340 degrees, with waves at one metre; later on it was a shifty 15-18 knots.
Tuesday's racing got underway in 15-20 knots of breeze at 185 degrees, shifting slightly. In the afternoon racing, 18-20 knot winds at 180 degrees greeted competitors.
On Wednesday, winds were gusty varying from 15-18 knots with quite a bit of chop on the water, moderating slightly in the afternoon, but shifty.
By the final day of racing, breezes had lightened once more to 5-6 knots, shifting from 140 to 180 degrees and back again.
Chris Nicholson/Gary Boyd (NSW) dominated the 49er class throughout the series with seven 1st places in 15 races. They were impressive to watch, their only real competition coming from Pietro and Gianfranco Sibello (ITA) who finished 13.5 places behind.
Nicholson is an incredible sailor, recently winning the 505 World Championship with his brother Darren. He also competed in the Volvo Ocean Race, was 2nd on line aboard Grundig in the recent Rolex Sydney-Hobart race, and is a former three-time World champion in the 49er skiff.
Other standouts in the class were 22 and 24 year old Ben and Marcus Tardrew, brothers who have sailed in the class for one year, finishing 3rd at this regatta against some champion skiff sailors. The pair made the step up from the 29er, and even Nicholson admits they have a future.
Mark Turnbull/Nick Partridge, looking at an Olympic campaign, finished 4th, but 49 points behind the winners.
Final results in the Combined and Mens 470 did not surprise, Nathan Wilmot/Malcolm Page, world-ranked No. 1,exerting themselves for five wins, their worst result a 4th place - true class.
The real fight was for the minor places, with two French teams and an Aussie pairing constantly warring for 2nd and 3rd. Gildas Philippe/Nicholas Leberre (FRA) claimed 2nd place, sailing a more consistent series. Mathew and Daniel Belcher (Qld) eventually won 3rd place from Nicolas Charbonnier/Tanguy Cariou (FRA).
It was a fabulous result for the Belchers at this level of competition, they would have to be happy with their result, outsailing 20 competitors to a top three place.
Jenny Armstrong/Belinda Stowell (NSW), world-ranked 2, took the Womens prize without any trouble, although finishing the Combined regatta in 7th place. Ingrid Petitjean/Nadege Douroux (FRA) ranked 10, their nearest rivals, finished 13 points behind. New Zealand girls, Shelley Hesson/Linda Dickson, finished 3rd.
While ranked 5 sailor, Lenka Smidova (CZE), might have won the Europe class, she did not have things all her own way, however, she sailed her way quietly to the top, beating the ranked 2 Carolijn Brouwer (NED), and current World champion, Sarah Blanck (Vic) in 3rd.
Any of the three could have won, but Smidova was the more consistent, her worst result two 4th places, which she used as drops.
A girl to watch in the Europe is the 5th placed Jo Dikkenberg (NSW), sailing her way to a best result in international competition, scoring two wins and other top places. She beat ranked competitors, and has only been in the class for just over one year.
Sebastien Godefroid (BEL), once again outclassed his competitors in the Finn class. Previously ranked 2 in the world, he is working his way up again from the 5 spot, after taking time out to sail big boats.
However, Anthony Nossiter (NSW) gave the Belgian a run for his money, finishing 2nd and only seven points behind. Some time spent on the Volvo Ocean Race seems to have given Nossiter a new lease on life.
Pascal Rambeau (FRA) finished ten points behind Nossiter, and is keen to come back next year to improve his skills. Josh Beaver (WA), finished 5th, after only one year in the class. He is determined to represent Australia at Olympic level, setting himself a number of goals for the coming year.
Of the Star keelboat competitors, three Australian teams stood out - Colin Beahsel/David Giles (NSW), former Olympians, five and three times respectively, winning Bronze together in 1996.
Ian 'Barney' Walker/Nick Williams (Vic). Walker is an Etchells champion, competed in the Volvo Ocean Race, recently won line honours in the Sydney-Hobart race, and won at Sail Melbourne last year. The pair is extremely keen to represent at the Athens Olympics.
Iain Murray/Andrew Palfrey (NSW), have not spent a lot of time together in the class of late. Murray busy with numerous commitments has the magic touch in any class he chooses to sail.
Beashel/Giles were the clear winners at this regatta, six wins and experience counting for a lot. Walker/Williams gave it all they had, but continued to finish the bridesmaid to the winners.
Murray/Palfrey came away with one win from Beashel/Giles, but were not consistent enough to capitalise, finishing 3rd, four points behind Walker/Williams.
On the Tornado course, there was no beating Darren Bundock/John Forbes, current World champions, ranked 1 in the world, Silver medallists at Sydney 2000 - unbeatable at the best of times, and certainly here. They won every race.
Iordanis Paschalides/Christos Garefis (GRE), training partners to Bundy and Forbes, finished in 2nd place, commenting on how much better they are getting just training with the pair. 'We call it the True Olympic Spirit, when they are in Greece we look after them, when we are in Australia, they look after us, and they share all their knowledge with us,' Garefis said.
Coming in 3rd, Nigel Williams/Jeremy Stephenson (NZL) said they had come to Sail Melbourne 'for the experience' and to sail against the World no.1 pair, looking to advance.
A Battle Royale took place on the Yngling keelboat course - in one corner the locals, Melanie Dennison/Fiona Herbert/Caroline Aders (Vic), in the other, Nicky Bethwaite/Kate McHugh/Kristin Kosmala (NSW).
They fought it out tooth and nail, it was like watching America's Cup match racing, the onlookers enthralled. At times, they forgot about the other competitors on the course, and early in the series, exponents of the class, 72 year old fraternal twins, Pat and Joyce Warn, with young crew member Tneal Kawalla, walked away with a win in light airs, and came between the pair on a couple of occasions, sitting 2nd overall momentarily, endearing themselves to competitors, onlookers and media alike.
The final result came down to the last race on the final day, and in a tied situation, Dennison won on count back. With both teams looking for Olympic selection, some tough bouts are bound to come.
On the Mistral courses, things were as tough, with a number of major players in both Mens and Womens, the top three places changing regularly in both, the New Zealanders outstanding.
Jon Paul Tobin (NZL), ranked 14, eventually got the better of his countryman, Tom Ashley, ranked 15, and Australia's Lars Kleppich in 3rd, making a come back after the Sydney 2000 Games. Michael Lancey (NSW), at 21 years of age, put in a command performance to finish 4th - his best result in international competition, with three wins in his end result. This could turn the tide for him.
In the Womens, Barbara Kendall (NZL), is current World champion, oldest woman in the fleet at 35, and on the come back trail after giving birth to a daughter in 2001.
This is the third World Championship Regatta that Kendall has won - securing the title of Women's Mistral World Champion in 1998 and 1999, she is also a three time Olympic medallist, winning Gold in Barcelona 1992, Silver in Atlanta 1996, and Bronze in Sydney 2000.
On the final day of racing, she overcame Natasha Sturges (GBR), ranked 1 in the World, and leading going into the final day. Sturges has also represented at Olympics for Australia, and is a former three-time Youth World champion.
Jessica Crisp (NSW), Olympic representative in 2000, made a flying trip from the USA to compete, her first major regatta for some time, and finished a close 3rd overall. It could have gone to any of the three.
Like Lancey, Allison Shreeve (NSW) also made her biggest impact, finishing 4th and winning two races, this may also be her turn around.
Michael Blackburn (NSW) making a return to the Laser in December, after a period sailing a 49er with Chris Nicholson, took control from Race 5, with four straight wins. He did not look back, showing the form that won him the Bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games.
Others had their opportunities; Diego Negri (ITA) ranked 7, had a go, as did Andrew Murdoch (NZL) early in the series, but eventually dropped back. Ed Wright (GBR) ranked 5, gave it a shot, but finished 2nd, as did Roope Suomalainen (FIN) ranked 9, eventually finishing 3rd.
This was perhaps the toughest class, with 47 entries, six of them ranked top 20 in the world, including Brendan Casey (Qld), ranked 6, finishing 8th, a disqualification in Race 6 not helping.
The Laser Radial series belonged to Jake Bartrom (NZL), from the first day, scoring four wins and three 2nd places, an OCS not stopping him take the prize by eight points from Richard Howard (AUS). Bartrom, a boy to watch, won the class in last year's event, with Howard 3rd.
Adam Beattie (AUS) finished a close 3rd. The first female home was Debbie Hanna (NTH IRE), in 12th spot from Megan De Lange (AUS) in 13th.
Stuart Shimeld (ACT) was never threatened in the 2.4mR boat, his winning margin 13 points clear of James Thompson (Vic), and a further two points to 3rd placegetter, Andrew May (NZL). Shimeld builds the 2.4M, so knows a thing or two about how it works.
Former two-time National champion, Michael Leydon finished back in 5th place, the field of eight comprising champions of some sort or another, with only one woman contesting the event, Pamela Murray trying her luck, finishing 8th, but gaining experience.
Due to conflicting National championships, a lone four entries contested the 420, the Indian pairing of Mithu Nahak/Thimiti Srikanth Chatu victorious over Kale Woolley/Daniel Farthing (AUS), with James Dyer/Danielle Pascoe 3rd. Pascoe is currently sailing a Hobie 16 in the Commonwealth Sailing Championships with her father Paul.
James Tudball/Matt Williams totally dominated the small Australian contingent in the 29er competition, finishing eight races with seven 1st placings, with Lucian Francis/Wulf Wilkens in 2nd, 11 points behind the winners. Andrew Churcher/Rhys Bancroft placed 3rd, Bancroft straight from his National title win in the B14 class, and 3rd in the World title.
Leon Poutsma and Ben Gunther battled it out for 1st place in the junior Optimist Dinghy, the former taking the win on the last day of racing, one point in front of Gunther. In the all-Aussie field, Melody Kelly (WA) showed the girls how it was done, coming home 3rd overall.
The Sail Melbourne Regatta incorporated 25 regattas at 13 yacht clubs, and included nine National championships and four State titles with competitors from 31 countries. Highlights were the International B14 World Championships held at McCrae Yacht Club, and the Annual ISAF Grade 1 Olympic & Invited Classes Regatta.
In all, there were 1,919 competitors, of which 308 competed in the Olympic & Invited Classes.