by Craig Heydon
On London 2012 Paralympic Games opening day Australia’s sailors have made a strong start to their campaign with all three crews inside their respective top fives.
Australia’s Sonar crew - London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta
Colin Harrison, Jonathan Harris and Stephen Churm have the outright lead in the Sonar class after two races while Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch are tied for first in the Skud 18 and Matt Bugg is fifth in the 2.4mR.
London 2012 is just the third international regatta that Harrison, Harris and Churm have competed in together but that didn’t slow them down on Saturday, with the trio winning race one and finishing third in race two to lead the event overall.
The Australians are three points clear of their German and French opponents after two races in breeze between eight and 13 knots on Portland Harbour.
'The Sonar team put on a text book display of sailing in the first race, making a great start and then going on to lead all race to the finish,' said coach Grant Alderson. 'In the second race they thought they were over at the start and took the low risk decision to go back and start again.
'The guys fought hard and by the top mark were in third position and maintained that until the finish,' he said. 'It’s all smiles onboard and the team is in good spirits but know that there is a long way to go.'
Skipper Harrison said the crew was enjoying racing on the biggest stage.
'The light to moderate breezes and a sunny day made for ideal conditions to play the shifts and sail fast,' said Harrison. 'Everyone is looking forward to continuing the racing tomorrow where hopefully more success will come.'
Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch are tied for the Skud 18 lead with Great Britain’s Alexandra Rickham and Nikki Birrell after two races.
The Australian and British crews each had a win and a second with Fitzgibbon and Tesch taking the honours in race one before their British opponents got the edge in race two.
The opening race was incredibly close with Fitzgibbon and Tesch leading to the top mark and opening up a slight lead before Rickham and Birrell fought back, taking the lead late in the race.
Nothing separated the two crews, with the Australians rounding the top mark for the final time just three seconds behind the British, getting the edge on the final run to win by the same margin.
In race two the British led from start to finish, with Fitzgibbon and Tesch chasing hard all race but eventually finishing second.
'We had two good races today, finishing with a first and a second which leaves us tied for the overnight lead,' said Fitzgibbon 'We’re happy with this result as we were concentrating on being conservative on the first day without making any major mistakes and executed this plan well.
'It’s still early days and we’re looking forward to continuing the fight tomorrow,' he said.
In the single person 2.4mR fleet Tasmanian sailor Matt Bugg ended his first day of Paralympic Games racing in fifth overall.
Bugg was eighth at the finish of race one, coming back from 10th on the final run before crossing the line fourth in race two.
The results leave Bugg fifth overall in the 16 boat fleet, five points off the silver medal position and a further four behind the leading British sailor.
'Today was a great day for yacht racing,' said Bugg. 'We had perfect wind, almost some sunshine and warm weather.
'I'm happy with my first day of racing, with an eighth and a fourth,' he said. 'I think I sailed well and was happy with my boat speed and most of my decisions and can't wait to get out there again tomorrow.'
Racing continues on Portland Harbour on Sunday with another two races for each fleet. The sailing competition at the London 2012 Paralympic Games continues until Thursday 6 September.
Australian Sailing Team website
London 2012 Paralympic Games website