This evening 77 teams from 16 nations and 3 continents are registered, measured, weighed and fully prepared to commence battle for the Gazprom International Dragon World Championship 2013.
Portugal in action at the Gazprom International Dragon World Championship
'At least 20 teams could win.' notes Tim Tavinor, who will be defending the World title he won in Melbourne in 2011 with helm Lawrie Smith and fellow crew Ossie Stewart. 'Everyone is exceptionally well prepared and its impossible to identify a favourite. We'll just have to see what the conditions bring - its going to be a tough and very exciting regatta.'
Having completed two and a half days of registration and measurement, today the crews revelled in the opportunity to get out on the water and do some racing in the Save The Children Practice Race. Save The Children is a global charity working in 120 countries to save lives and protect the rights of children and entrants paid a discretionary 'entry' fee with all proceeds going to the charity. A significant number of the more superstitious competitors elected not to finish the practice race, but despite this it was clear that both the sailors and Weymouth Bay were on outstanding form.
Race Officer Tim Hancock and his team set up shop in the centre of the bay with around 15-18 knots from the SW, some lovely waves and glorious late summer sunshine. The first attempt at starting saw a big shift in the closing seconds of the countdown and this, combined with current taking the competitors up to the line, meant many were early and the general recall flag went up. At the second attempt the line was good but the fleet was again overly keen and once again they were recalled so out came the black flag and miraculously this time they got away with an individual recall.
The race was won by reigning European Champion Jose Matoso of Portugal with Hungary's Ferenc Kis-Szolgyemi in second, double Dragon Gold Cup and European Champion Lars Hendriksen of Denmark third, Klaus Diederichs of the UK fourth, Russia's Anatoly Loginov, winner of the Gold Cup in 2010, fifth and Hans Liljeblad of Sweden sixth. Reigning champion Lawrie Smith found himself the wrong side of a premature starter - 'in the second row' as Ossie Stewart put it - so got off to a bad start, but despite this they were clearly on the pace and fought their way back up to finish eleventh.
Mark Dicker, who has only been helming the Dragon seriously for a season, confirmed that he will be one to watch as he finished eighth, just ahead of fellow Brit Martin 'Stavros' Payne - more familiar to many as one of the top professional crews in the fleet, but this week out to prove that he still has what it takes to win from the back of the boat too. Another young new face to the fleet, Holland's Charlotte Ten Wolde, had never helmed a Dragon in a serious championship fleet until today, but she didn't let that put her off. After racing her last minute crew addition Martin Liefeldt was very impressed 'She's a totally natural helm. Even in the big waves we didn't have to say a word, she just instinctively pick her way through them and she's very fast. Once she gets her confidence she could be amazing. Our aim is for at least one really good result this week.'
Of the 77 teams, 29 will be racing in the Corinthian Division where all members of the crew must hold ISAF's Classification 1 status for amateur sailors. Today's race also gave the Corinthians a chance to test their form and it was Dragon legend Poul Richard Hoj-Jensen who rose to the top of the heap winning Corinthian and also taking seventh place in the overall standings. Poul won't mind us pointing out that, now in his 70th year, he is most definitely one of the more senior members of the fleet, however he is by no means the oldest competitor here. That honour goes to 87 years young America's Cup veteran Gordon Ingate who continues to prove that the Dragon is a boat for all ages as he put in a very nice mid fleet performance.
At the other end of the age spectrum is 12 year old Will Heritage, who crews for Julia Bailey, a past Corinthian Gold Cup winner, who will be hoping not only to claim the Corinthian World Championship, but also to become the first woman to win the overall title too. She didn't complete today's race but looked to be on excellent form in training. Second Corinthian behind Hoj-Jensen was Australia's Willy Packer with Sweden's Martin Palsson, a past Corinthian European Champion, third, and Brits Mark Wade fourth, Rob Campbell fifth and Julian Sowery sixth.
This evening the crews enjoyed a very hospitable welcoming ceremony with British Dragon Association Chairman Martin Makey noting how delighted the class is to welcome the international fleet to the home of the 2012 Olympic regattas. He also announced that the fleet excitedly anticipates a visit from its royal patron, HRH The Princess Royal, later in the week.
Championship racing commences tomorrow with the first warning signal at 11.55. A single race is planned and with the forecast promising around 12 knots from the south-west the scene is set for an exciting first day. You can keep up with the latest from the race course via the Pantaenius Live Tracking, where you can also replay today's Save The Children Race. News, results and further information will be posted at the event website.
The regatta will continue until Friday 13 September with a maximum of eight races being scheduled.