by Matt Carter
The opening event of the RYA Olympic Classes Spring Series begins this weekend (9-10 March) with Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell returning back to competitive action for the first time since winning bronze at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell competing in the SKUD18 class
The SKUD duo, who have been out of action for the past six months since winning their first Paralympic medal in Weymouth and Portland last summer, will be joined by Britain’s up-and-coming Olympic Classes sailors as they test their mettle on the opening weekend of the domestic Olympic Classes racing season.
Compulsory for all Skandia Team GBR Development and Transition squad members, the first of three events welcomes racing in the Finn, Men’s and Women’s 470, 49er, RSX 9.5 men and 8.5 open, and the Paralympic 2.4mR and SKUD18 classes.
'It’s certainly been a while since Niki and I have competed,' explained the four time SKUD class World Champion Rickham.
'The last time was when we won the bronze medal at the Paralympic Games last summer so we are definitely excited to be returning to the same waters of Weymouth and Portland for our first taste of competition and to kick start our Rio 2016 campaign.'
The 31-year-old continued: 'The Spring Series is always a great event and we will be entering the weekend with no expectations and to just have a fun and enjoyable event while we re-familiarise ourselves with the boat. I know Niki and I are really looking forward to getting back out on the water and it will be a great opening event to set us up for our European regattas over the Spring and Summer months.'
In one of the largest fleets this weekend, Miami Sailing World Cup 2.4mR gold medallist Megan Pascoe will be looking to build on her momentum ahead of next month’s Princess Sofia and Hyeres World Cup Regattas, while for some of Skandia Team GBR’s younger sailors the event provides the chance to put their winters training to the test and pit their racing skills against some of the top names in their respective classes.
2012 Junior World Championship bronze medallists Anna Burnett and Flora Stewart will be among the talent in the double-handed 470 fleet while there fellow Skandia Team GBR Development Squad teammates and 2012 RYA Olympic Classes Spring Series champions James Peters and Ed Fitzgerald will be looking to retain their crown and stake an early claim in the 49er class.
Meanwhile, 2012 ISAF Youth World gold medallist Saskia Sills will be vying for success in the RS:X 8.5 class as she looks to cement herself at the top of the fleet ahead of the RYA Youth National Championships in Largs over the Easter break. Joining Sills in the hunt for victory will be the 2012 Youth World and European silver medallist Kieran Martin as he enters the event reigning Spring Series Champion.
Tim Hall, RYA Competitions Manager, commented: 'We are looking forward to the first of the RYA Spring Series events at WPNSA this weekend. Not only will this be the first event of the season for the sailors, it is also the first event for race officials who are all looking forward to getting back on the water. The weather looks like giving us a variety of conditions to really test the sailors and officials alike.'
The second event of the Spring Series will also take place at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy from 13-14 April, with the finale being hosted by Hayling Island Sailing Club on the 18-19 May.
Entries for the second weekend at WPNSA are being accepted online at RYA Racing Events website with early bird prices available if you enter online by Monday 8th April. For the Hayling Island SC event, entries will be taken at registration.
The Spring Series Notice of Race can also be found in the RYA Olympic Classes Handbook, which is available from the Crew Room section of theSkandia Team GBR website. This also contains information regarding the applicable class for each weekend, key class dates and the series of qualifiers for grants.