Currently in the process of completing renovations, the Sandringham Yacht Club is ready to receive the huge influx of sailors expected for the only International Sailing Federation (ISAF) grade one event in Australia.
Classes for the event include: 49er, 29er, 470 Men and Women, 420, Europe Women, Finn, Laser, Laser Radial, Mistral Men and Women, Tornado, Star and Yngling.
In 2003 and 2004, Sail Melbourne has been nominated by the Australian Yachting Federation as a Selection Event for the Australian Olympic Sailing Team for Athens. Therefore, all sailors aiming for Olympic glory will feature on the waters of Port Phillip Bay, one of the toughest sailing grounds in the World.
An additional class has been added to this regatta - the junior Optimist class, which will also be the nominated Sail Melbourne Youth Class for 2003.
Leading the Australian Mens contingent in the 470 double handed dinghy class are Nathan Wilmot/ Malcolm Page, currently world ranked (wr)1, and brothers, Matthew and Daniel Belcher. They will come up against the likes of Philippe Gildas/Nicholas Laberre (FRA) and Derek Scott/David Healy (NZL).
In the Womens, Jenny Armstrong/Belinda Stowell (wr2), will take on Marta Weores/Anna Pay'r (HUN) and others.
Australia's Chris Nicholson, with new crew, Gary Boyd, are on the comeback trail and will clash with Mark Turnbull/Nick Partridge, champion lethal 18ft skiff sailors, John Harris/Euan McNicol and up-and-coming talent, brothers Ben and Marcus Tardrew, looking for the Olympic spot.
Nicholson, fresh from his 505 World Championship win, and Boyd, who formerly successfully sailed a 49er with his brother John, should be a formidable combination.
Internationally, the (wr6) Sibello brothers, Pietro and Gianfranco (ITA), and Kenji Nakamura/Masato Tekaki (JPN) will join what is expected will be a large entry class following the Australian 49er Championship in Geelong over the next week.
Victoria's Sarah Blanck, (wr19) and current Europe World champion, will face (wr2) Carolijn Brouwer (NDL), (wr5) Lenka Smidova (CZE) and (wr12) Sarah Macky (NZL). Macky is joined here, for the first time, by younger sister Jane. This group, minus Smidova, is currently sailing in the Warm Up Regatta at Royal Brighton Y.C. this week, Blanck already scoring a 2-1 result to lead the series.
The Mens Finn single-handed dinghy class is also racing at Royal Brighton's Regatta, with 2000 Olympic competitor, Anthony Nossiter leading with two 1st placings to Pascal Rambeau (FRA) and Melbourne's Paul McKenzie.
Although expected to win this event, Nossiter will face tougher competition at the Sail Melbourne Invited & Olympic Classes Regatta starting January 11. Sebastien Godefroid (BEL), (wr5) is due to arrive in town shortly and will take some beating. Young Sydney hopeful, Josh Beaver is contesting his second Sail Melbourne event, his plan is to represent Australia at the 2004 Games.
Australia's Michael Blackburn has made a return to the Laser class, recently finishing 3rd to (wr1) Paul Goodison (GBR) and the 12th ranked Andreas Geritzer (AUT) at Sydney International Regatta in Sydney.
Sail Melbourne is his first major regatta back in the class, with tough competition for the Olympic spot expected to come from Queensland's Brendan Casey (wr6), who finished 5th at the Laser Worlds.
Top ranking Laser sailors from overseas are No. 5 ranked Ed Wright (GBR), 7th ranked Diego Negri (ITA), and 9th ranked Roope Suomalainen (FIN).
Dominic Tidey (GBR) and ranked 5 in the world, is the man leading the Mistral Mens line-up, with entries still coming in for this popular class. Tidey finished 3rd at last year's event, but will face strong international competition. Jonathan Bonnitcha and James Grunfelder are front runners for Australia.
Natasha Sturges (GBR) heads the Mistral Womens. A former Australian Olympian, Sturges is in brilliant form and currently ranked No. 1 in the world. Joining her is current World champion, Barbara Kendall (NZL), 7th world-ranked Wai Kei Chan (HK) and Allison Shreeve (AUS).
The Tornado class will be a mostly Australian affair, with world-ranked 1 Darren Bundock/John Forbes heading the entry list, joined by the upcoming Robbie Lovig/Josh Fugill. Iordanis Paschalides/Christos Garefis (GRE) are putting in their first appearance at Sail Melbourne, as are Nigel Williams/Jeremy Stephenson (NZL).
In the Star keelboat, Australian multiple Olympians, Colin Beashel/David Giles, making a return to the class after a long break are joined by others vying for the Australian Olympic spot, Iain Murray/Andrew Palfrey and Ian Walker/Nick Williams. Ex-patriot Aussie, Rod Hagerbols will sail for the US with Will Finlay as crew.
In a similar situation, the Yngling keel boat class will be mainly an Aussie competition between Melanie Dennison/Fiona Herbert/Caroline Aders and Nicky Bethwaite/Kristin Kosmala and new crew Kate McHugh. The latter combination recently finished 1st to Dennison's 3rd at the SIRS Regatta in Sydney. While Dennison and crew are ranked No. 2 in the World, and Bethwaite's crew is not in the top 20, the addition of McHugh seems to have made a big difference.
Joining these entries are Aussie evergreen proponents of the class, twin sisters Patricia and Joyce Warn, the quietly spoken sisters were the darlings of the media at last year's Sail Melbourne.
Jake Bartrom (NZL), winner of last year's Laser Radial class, will head the field of up-and-coming Olympians, and will be joined by Victoria's top chance, Krystal Weir. Chris Macky (NZL), brother of Europe sailors Sarah and Jane, will make his first appearance at Sail Melbourne.
Entries are expected Australia wide and internationally for this event.