The mixed crew Nacra 17 is one of the new Olympic classes that have been selected for the 2016 Olympic Games. This week they are racing for the first time as a part of the ISAF World Sailing Cup Melbourne and the boat park at Sandringham Yacht Club abounds with luminaries of the multihull world, each looking to make or assist those trying to make their mark on the new Olympic class.
Nacra 17 / Gemma JONES & Jason SAUNDERS (NZL) 2013 ISAF Sailing World Cup - Melbourne, Sail Melbourne
One of those is five-time America’s Cup winner, the last two in bleeding edge multihulls, kiwi Murray Jones. Jones is in Melbourne supporting his daughter Gemma who has teamed up with Jason Saunders, a 2012 Olympic representative in the 470 class, to make a bid for Rio in 2016.
At the mid point of the regatta, the pair are leading the Nacra 17’s on count back, having scored a pair of wins and unlucky not to score a third on a challenging third day of racing on Tuesday.
They have locked horns and are tied on points with the Australian pairing of Darren Bundock and Nina Curtis.
'We had a nice breeze with good waves,' said Gemma Jones, reflecting on their third day of racing. 'But it was really shifty out there. We won the first two races, which was good, considering the shifty conditions. In the last one we leading and the rudder popped up and we capsized. So it didn’t end as well as we hoped. But it was still a good day.
'We had good starts and good speed, particularly downwind, which helped as well.'
'We were completely comfortable in the conditions which made it easier to win, I guess. We overlaid a few marks in the first race, which made the racing closer than we would have liked.'
'I really enjoy the Nacra. I guess it suits my type of sailing. The new rig has made the boat more fun. The loads are a little heavier on the mainsheet, but it helps downwind and you don’t nosedive so much.'
When asked of his role assisting at this regatta father Murray Jones says he’s not sure whether it is coach or sponsor. Jones a former 470 sailor, was selected to represent New Zealand at the 1980 OIympics before the team was pulled as part of a US-led protest over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
Putting his coaches’ hat on, Jones says the first days racing was tricky and a little lighter, and notes that the New Zealanders won one of the races sailed yesterday. 'It was a difficult day yesterday. The racing is very tight. There are some good crews in the class - some really good crews', he said emphatically.
'They had three good races, in 15kts of breeze and big waves. It was demanding on the crews,' was his take on the day’s racing.
He’s impressed with the new Olympic catamaran. 'They are very good, it was no problem handling the boats in today’s breeze. I think if there had been 5-6kts more wind, they would be a handful, but in today’s breeze it was no problem at all.'
One of those top crews is former Tornado world champion, and Oracle Team USA coach, Darren Bundock, who with crew Nina Curtis are lying second overall in their first Nacra 17 regatta.
'The Kiwis went for a swim in the last downwind which was nice of them,' Bundock quipped after the racing yesterday.
'It’s taken us a little while to get going. But we are steadily improving, by the last race yesterday we were very happy with our speed,' he added.
The world’s leading Olympic sailing coach, Victor Kovalenko likes what he sees from the Australian contingent in the new Olympic Nacra 17’s.
'I would say this is on Olympic class in which Australia can medal. We have very long list of achievements in catamarans - Olympic level, World, European, World Cup, and US championship level.
'We have a really good group of talented sailors who are now in the class and we are looking forward to seeing good results from them.
'We have already had good results from Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin, who came sixth in the Worlds this year. This is fantastic. This is a good first year objective to be top six. They are a really good prospect.'
Of special interest is the performance of two of Australia’s Olympic Silver Medallists in the new Mixed Multihull class. Kovalenko is following their progress with real interest. 'This is a combination of top multihull experience with a young Olympic crew, and it is a really interesting combination of people.'
Just two points separate the top four crews in this regatta, who have it all to sail for in the remaining days of the ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne.
ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne website