Japan, Australian and Mexican sailors at Optimist North Islands

Tight start at the 2007 Toyota Optimist Nationals in Napier - venue for the 2011 Optimist Worlds

A team of Japanese sailors will compete at the Optimist North Island Open Championships, as hosts of junior members of the Napier Sailing Club starting today (Friday).

Many competitive junior New Zealand sailors have benefited from the generosity of a Japanese scheme started 24 years ago. Five kiwis and a coach/mentor have been making the journey across the Pacific to attend the All Japan Regatta, a top regional event as guests of the Japanese Government.

All balance and concentration downwind in the 2007 Toyota Optimist National Championships, Napier Sailing Club
Mike Smith
Napier lawyer Alan Cressey wanted to show his gratitude for the trip his son Daniel, from Taradale had experienced in August this year when attended the All Japan Regatta in Gamagochi, southern Japan. Alan, who is also the junior chairman of the Napier Sailing Club, organized a reciprocal trip for a team of five Japanese sailors to attend the Optimist North Islands over Labour Weekend, and to be billeted by Napier sailing families.

In recent years five sailors from Napier have been to Japan, Ben Goodwin, Naomi Mannering (first as a sailor and later as a coach), her younger sister Ava, Sam Broome and Daniel.

New Zealand teams are accompanied in Japan by a representative from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is a cultural exchange as well as a sporting event, with visits to historic sites and tourist attractions. The trip usually lasts for 10 days and every year 5 New Zealand sailors participate in the programme. 'They meet kids from all around NZ who become lifelong friends,' Alan says.

More than 100 New Zealand sailors have benefited from the trip and the Japanese hospitality.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron member Bruce Tantrum set the trip to Japan up; he was involved with Nippon and he accompanied the sailors to Japan on every trip for many years.

Japanese coach Kunio Suzuki says the Japanese team leapt at the chance to come to New Zealand to test out the venue for the Optiworlds, which will be held in Napier on December 31. Just one of the Japanese sailors, Yuuka, will be coming back to represent Japan at the world championship.

After just one day in New Zealand, a stiff southerly breeze had presented a challenge the team had relished, although Kunio says they are looking forward to warmer weather over the weekend.

Twelve Australian competitors and one Mexican will be joining the 112-strong fleet as they vie for top line honours at the Mr Apple Optimist North Island Open Championships from October 22-24. Today(Friday) is a one day teams racing regatta, where 16 teams of four will compete for the Falcon Electrical Optimist North Island Teams Racing Regatta. This event pits two teams of four sailors against each other, with the winner progressing through the draw. Action can be viewed off Harding Rd; the New Zealand team, top club teams and international teams will battle for top line honours.