by Craig Heydon
Australian sailors are in strong positions as racing enters the finals series after day three of the 2012 Skandia Sail for Gold regatta in Weymouth, England.
Tom Burton, (AUS) racing in the Laser class on the day 3 of the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta
The regatta is providing the final chance for sailors to measure themselves against their competition ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games with Australian crews currently in podium positions in four classes and the Women’s Match Racing crew qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Reigning World Champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen have taken the lead in the 49er class following their best day of the regatta so far with a fourth and two race wins. The pair entered the day in second with their results on Wednesday giving them the overall lead, six points ahead of the French crew of Emmanuel Dyen and Stephane Christidis.
'It was a good day of racing for us,' said Outteridge. 'We had a good come back in the first race and then some tough battles with Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes who will be representing Great Britain at the Games in the second and third races. 'The racing with Stevie and Ben was really close in those final two races with us winning and them second in both, in race two we got them by one metre on the line,' he said.
'We were racing in the harbour today with flat water which was nice for a change and an average of 20 knots of breeze. 'We head into the finals series tomorrow which is going to be tough but the conditions look even tougher with breeze in the high 20s and low 30s forecast for the next few days,' said Outteridge.
In the 470 men’s Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page enter the finals series in second position on a count back, tied on points with New Zealanders Paul Snow-Hansen and Jason Saunders. Belcher and Page, who have won the last three 470 World Championships together, won the opening race of the day before finishing third in race two and now head into the finals series in a strong position with their worst results so far this week a fourth.
'We’re sailing well at this stage of the regatta and are happy with where we sit,' said Belcher. 'In race one we started well, got some good shifts and managed to extend to take the win. Then in race two we started well again but a rain squall came through and rotated things and we rounded the top mark around 12th or 13th with all of the top guys.
'We plugged away and came back to third which we were happy with,' he said. 'We’re looking forward to the finals and racing the top crews, it will be the first chance to race against the third placed British crew this event which will be good. 'We’re sailing well, are in a good position and are getting a good understanding of the conditions as we continue the lead-in to the Games,' said Belcher.
Tom Burton continues to lead the way in the Laser class, opening up an eight point lead on second place after six races. Burton won the day’s first race before crossing the line ninth in race two, giving him the overall lead heading into the final series.
'Today was another solid day, I had a first in the opening race after a nice start, rounding in fourth and kept the pressure on to get the lead down the final run,' said Burton. 'In race two my start wasn't that great but I rounded the top mark in sixth but then had some speed issues downwind and lost a few places and it was a hard battle for the rest of the race finishing in ninth. So a solid day as I was able to drop the ninth.
'Similar to yesterday the goal is to have another solid day tomorrow,' he said. 'We are racing earlier tomorrow in the hope of getting some racing in before the big breeze which is forecast, comes in. The next two days are supposed to be really windy so it will be interesting if we get any racing in. The points at the front are still really close so it will be all down to the finals series over the coming two days.'
Fellow Australian Tom Slingsby is fourth overall, just a point off second, following a sixth and a seventh from Wednesday’s two races. Australia’s Women’s Match Racing crew of Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty qualified for the gold group in third position after winning nine of their 12 races in the round robin.
Price and crew are currently racing in the gold round robin to decide the seedings for the quarter-finals with the Australians having two wins and a loss from the opening three races. The two wins came against their British and French opposition, impressive results given they lost to both crews during racing on Tuesday.
Price, Curtis and Whitty are currently second in the group with two races remaining ahead of the quarter-finals. 'We’re feeling happy with the way we’ve been sailing, our technical skills are high and we are achieving some good race wins,' said Price. 'We raced well against the British, Finnish and French teams in the gold fleet this afternoon, which has continued from the past couple of days racing. We’re getting some great racing in against the top performers and it's great that we have an opportunity to measure up against them at the Olympic venue.'
In the Skud 18 fleet Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch continue to hold down third position with four races remaining. The pair, who will represent Australia at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, did not finish the opening race due to a broken mainsheet block, before bouncing back with a third in race two to sit three points behind the second placed Canadian crew.
Brendan Casey has moved up to 14th overall in the Finn fleet following his best day of the regatta so far. After gear breakages troubled him on day two Casey was 19th in the opening race of the day before his best results of the regatta so far in race two, a fifth.
Krystal Weir heads into the finals series 11th overall in the Laser Radial fleet, working her way up the ladder. The Victorian finished the day with a seventh and a third. Alexandra South is the next best Australian in 32nd, ahead of Ashley Stoddart in 51st and Caitlin Elks in 59th.
In the 470 women’s fleet Elise Rechichi and Belinda Stowell have slipped to 12th position, after not finishing race one following a capsize which saw their spinnaker caught under the boat forcing them to retire. They then came home 17th in race two.
Jessica Crisp is 12th in the RS:X women’s class after a 13th and a 22nd from the day’s two races. Fellow Australian Joanna Sterling is 36th. Australia’s Sonar crew of Colin Harrision, Stephen Churm and Jonathan Harris have dropped one position to be fifth overall following a sixth and an eighth in the two races on Portland Harbour.
'It was a very tough day on the race track today with winds ranging from 10 to 28 knots,' said Harrison. 'The fleet again remains tight with any mistake very costly in positions and tomorrow has a stronger wind forecast, so we’ll have another chance to test ourselves in these conditions.'
Sam Kivell and Will Ryan are 15th in the 470 men’s fleet following day three results of a sixth and a ninth, the pair finished in the top 10 in all six races so far this regatta and head into the finals series just six points off the top 10.
Matthew and Robert Crawford are 36th.
Matt Bugg is now 13th in the 2.4mR class after his two best results so far this event. The Tasmanian was eighth in race one before finishing 10th in race two and is now just 10 points off 10th overall. Ryan Palk is 35th in the Laser class following his best day so far this week, a 12th and a ninth, with Ki-Raphael Sulkowski 57th, Jared West 61st and Jake Lilley 66th.
In the 49er fleet West Australians Luke Parkinson and Jaspar Warren are 22nd overall, while in the RS:X men’s Luke Baillie is 37th.
Racing continues in Weymouth on Thursday with racing wrapping up on Saturday.
Full results on the Sail for Gold website
Australian Sailing Team website