Gill Melges 24 Australian Championship - Natives hungry for victory

Festival of Sails, Gill Melges 24 Australian Open National Championship 2014
Teri Dodds
On day two of the Gill Melges 24 Australian Open National Championship, Australia’s Nathan Wilmot made a decent impression on the scorecard on Geelong’s Corio Bay.

The Olympic gold medallist and his crew of wife Shona, Chris Links, and Heath Walters and his 15 year-old son Harley Walters, played the Ace card at the class’ national title. They scored two bullets and a sixth, which has secured Wilmot’s Melges – Asia Kaito second overall, 10 points off the leading boat, Star.

It was a better day for the natives with Wilmot and Australian Melges 24 class president, Warwick Rooklyn and Bandit, both now in the top five from a starting list of 23, including multiple world and national champions in various sailors.

'We got lucky up the first beat, got ahead and just tried to stay there,' said Wilmot back at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club this afternoon. 'The last race we had a few issues, with battens flying out of the jib.'

On his prospects for next week’s Gill Melges 24 World Championship Wilmot added, 'We are hoping to get better than two worlds ago when we got second after blowing it on the last race. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t trying to win.'
Rooklyn was happy as a kid in a lolly shop in today’s heavier air. 'Heavy air suits me personally, and are we are coming together as a crew. The first time we raced together as a group was yesterday,' he reminded.

On the level of competition he reckons, 'We have the best guys in the world here. At the front it’s really close, you make one mistake and you are spat out.

'Having the nationals at the Festival of Sails ahead of the worlds is terrific for us because we are a new team. We are seeing the potential and coming together as a group.'

Harry Melges, the class’ namesake and supremo so far, and his Star crew (USA) are showing their counterparts how it’s done with consistent top three finishes. Today it was a third, second and a first, yesterday it was two firsts. Star leads with eight points.

Third on the pointscore at the half-way mark in the 10 race series is Flavio Favini’s Blue Moon (SUI) on 22 points.
The Melges 24 fleet was delayed getting the green light from the class PRO Hank Stuart as the lunchtime breeze shuffled around the compass. The anticipated southerly change came in early afternoon and the race committee let the fleet go in 12 knots.

As the afternoon wore on the breeze built to 16 knots then higher, to an average 20 knots, and Corio Bay whipped up correspondingly. With all crews packed aft on the windward rail the sports boats lit up downwind, Race Officer Greg Sinclair reporting 'smokin’ rides' and Rooklyn recording 18 knots of boat speed with the breeze behind.

A top mark for the Melges 24s adjacent to the channel where the 230-strong fleet was chewing through the closing miles of the Melbourne to Geelong passage race made for brilliant spectating.

Not far away the Sydney 38s had commenced their Morris Finance Australian Championship and next to them there was yahooing heard from the Maui Jim Sports Boat division, the crew of the lightweight bullets revelling in the stronger breezes. Tomorrow the Melges 24s have another three races scheduled, starting at 1230hrs, and Sunday is D-Day.

The forecast is for a 15 -20 knot southerly easing during the day to 10-15 knots.

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