ISAF Sailing World Cup – Tight racing at Sail Melbourne

Nick Thompson - Sail Melbourne 2011
Sail Melbourne 2011, the opening round of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, is being held on Melbourne’s Port Phillip. With just the medal races to go tomorrow most of the eight Olympic events being contested are still wide open.

A day of light winds saw some champions make decisive moves, but others will have a nervous night.

Only one class has already been decided. Triple world Laser champion, Tom Slingsby (AUS), has a 19 point lead and can therefore finish last in the Medal Race and still win. Nick Thompson (GBR) will almost certainly win the silver medal, while Australian Ashley Brunning and Canadian Lee Parkhill will fight out the bronze.

One of Slingsby's many strengths is his ability to perform well in all conditions. In a regatta like this one, which has experienced every wind strength suitable for racing, he has moved further ahead each day. While light wind specialists struggled on the 25 knot days and heavy wind specialists fell behind in the 5-6 knot races, Slingsby had only one bad race in ten. After dropping the last race, his worst placing was a third, to go with five wins and three seconds.

Always the perfectionist, Slingsby says he still has areas for improvement. When he returns from sailing on one of the Oracle boats in the America's Cup World Series in San Diego next week, he will work on boatspeed and 'a few tactical things' before the Olympic qualifying event in Perth in December.

Meanwhile, his strategy for tomorrow is to 'stay out of everyone's way who is competing for a medal'.

The women's Laser Radial is a closer contest, but Lijia Xu of China holds the strongest position, 12 points ahead of Tuula Tenkanen of Finland. Again the battle for bronze will be interesting with three women in close contention. Alison Young (GBR), Krystal Weir (AUS and Sara Winther (NZL) are within three points of each other.

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

Although this year's Sail Melbourne fleet is not as strong as in previous years, owing to many of the top international sailors heading straight to Perth for the Olympic qualifier, Kondo and Tabata won the test event at the Olympic venue and are #12 in the world. The World #8 pair Kathrin Kadelbach and Rike Belcher (GER) are also competing at this event, as are the World #11 duo of Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan.

After today's two 'bullets', 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 (USA), 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 Dorian 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 (GBR) all but wrapping it up today with a first and third place. However, the veteran Australian Jessica 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 ten point lead after second-placed Oliver Tweddell had a bad day with two eighth placings. The Ukranian will be almost impossible to beat from this position. Rob McMillan (AUS) is currently third, six points behind Tweddell.

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 brothers, with the Kiwis three points further back.

The medal races start at 12:00 local time on Saturday and all races can be followed live via the event website.

For full results click here.

For more information on the ISAF Sailing World Cup click here.

ISAF website