ISAF Sailing World Cup – Light winds test crews at Sail Melbourne

Tom Slingsy leads the Laser fleet around the course - 2011 ISAF Sailing World Cup - Sail Melbourne
Sail Melbourne, hosted by Sandringham Yacht Club on Port Phillip Bay, is the opening round of the ISAF Sailing World Cup. The final day of racing tomorrow, Saturday, is set for an exciting finish with the final positions in the majority of classes still to be decided.

Light winds tested all of the crews with tight racing the highlight of day five.

Heading into the final day of racing the only classes where the Gold medals have been decided are the Laser class with Australia’s triple World Champion Tom Slingsby is 19 points clear, and the two Paralympic classes with Alex Rickham and Niki Birrell of Great Britain in control of the Skud 18 fleet and Australian Matt Bugg well ahead in the 2.4mR.

Slingsby’s 19 point lead means he can finish last in the medal race and still win with Nick Thompson of Great Britain second, while Australian Ashley Brunning and Canadian Lee Parkhill will fight out the bronze.

The 2010 Rolex World Sailor of the Year is known for his ability to perform well in all conditions. In a regatta like Sail Melbourne, which has experienced every wind strength suitable for racing, he has moved further ahead each day.

The Laser Radial is a closer contest, with Lijia Xu of China in the strongest position, 12 points ahead of Tuula Tenkanen of Finland. The battle for Bronze will be interesting with three sailors in close contention. Great Britain’s Alison Young, Krystal Weir of Australia and New Zealand’s Sara Winther are within three points of each other.

Australia’s 470 crew Elise Rechichi and Belinda Stowell - ISAF Sailing World Cup - Sail Melbourne 2011

The surprise performance of the event has been in the women's 470, where the new pairing of Elise Rechichi and Belinda Stowell have won six of the 10 qualifying races and hold a seven point lead over the Japanese team of Ai Kondo and Wakako Tabata.

Kondo and Tabata won the recent Olympic test event in Weymouth and are ranked 12th in the world. The eighth ranked Kathrin Kadelbach and Rike Belcher of Germany are also competing at this event, as are the 11th ranked Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan.

After two wins today Stowell commented that she and Rechichi were 'clicking quite well', which could be the understatement of the event. On a more serious note, she added that they were getting welcome competition from the strong Japanese combination. 'It's great to have a battle with the Japanese. Today's tacking duel had us both working,' Stowell said.

If she and Rechichi go on to win the event, and they would need to finish fifth or worse in tomorrow's medal race not to do so, it will be a remarkable debut considering that Rechichi has not sailed competitively since 2009.

Both women are Olympic gold medallists, although not as a combination. Stowell won her medal at Sydney in 2000 with Jenny Armstrong while Rechichi will be the defending champion if selected, as she and Tessa Parkinson won at Beijing in 2008.

Their gold medal winning compatriot Malcolm Page and his helmsman, Mat Belcher, have a lot more work to do if they are to win their event. They go into the medal race seven points behind the leaders, Stuart McNay and Graham Biehl of America, and four behind fellow Australians Sam and Will Kivell. Belcher and Page had a forgettable day, with a fifth and sixth placing, while McNay and Biehl scored a second and a third.

Another event that has seen very tight competition among the men is the RS:X windsurfer. Kiwi JP Tobin, who won both races today, holds a three point lead over Dorien van Rijsselberge (NED) who is one point ahead of Zach Plavsic of Canada. If the wind is light for the medal race, as predicted, Tobin will start favourite as he won both of today's 'pumping' races.

The women's field is more widely spread with Bryony Shaw of GBR all but wrapping it up today with a first and third place. However, the veteran Australian Jess Crisp moved a point closer and overtook Flavia Tartaglini for second place. Crisp is seven points behind and Shaw will need a poor medal race to lose the title.

The small Finn fleet were the first back to the showers this afternoon, with Oleksiy Borysov moving to a 10 point lead after second-placed Oliver Tweddell had a bad day with two eigth placings. The Ukranian will be almost impossible to beat from this position. Rob McMillan (AUS) is currently third, six points behind Tweddell.

49er pair Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen - ISAF Sailing World Cup - Sail Melbourne 2011

The most interesting racing today, from a spectator viewpoint, was in the 49er class, where there were three different winners in the four races.

In the light and steady winds, passing lanes were again hard to find and almost every race was won by the first windward mark. Multiple world champion, Nathan Outteridge commented that 'it was about not making any mistakes at all today'. He said that a good start was essential but so was boatspeed.

'Will (Phillips) had really good boatspeed today - we weren't as quick as we needed to be,' Outteridge said.

Will Phillips and his brother Sam won two of the races, but a fourth in the third race cost them dearly. The Kiwis, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, also suffered from two bad starts, recording a win, a third and two fourths to drop to third overall.

Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, with a win and three seconds, hold a four point lead over the Phillips, with the Kiwis three points further back.

The medal races start at 12 noon tomorrow (Saturday) and all races can be followed live via the event website, where you will also find full results.

Sail Melbourne website