by Craig Heydon
On day one of the 2012 Semaine Olympique Francaise in Hyeres, France, the fleet was battered by strong winds with a number of Australian crews picking up race wins in the tough conditions. At the end of the opening day, Tom Slingsby sits at the top of the Laser fleet, Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch are first in the Skud 18 and Krystal Weir is second in the Laser Radial, with all three winning races.
Belcher and Page after their rig collapsed in Hyeres
Brendan Casey is fourth in the Finn fleet and Tom Burton sixth in the Laser class while 470 sailors Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page had a mixed day, with a second place and a DNF due to gear failure.
Slingsby started his regatta in style, winning both of Sunday’s races to be first overall, tied on points with New Zealand’s Andy Maloney.
'Today was a good start to the event, it was very windy and very wild out there and I managed to get two wins so I’m pretty happy with that but there’s plenty of racing to go,' said Slingsby. 'I started race one well and led coming into the bottom mark but actually capsized, I came up in about fourth position and had really good speed up the next upwind and was able to pull back the lead.
'In race two I led from start to finish, I played it a bit more conservatively this time as I didn’t want to capsize again and went on to win,' he said.
Fellow Australian Sailing Team member Tom Burton is sixth in the Laser fleet following a second and a fifth with young West Australian sailor Matthew Wearn 18th and Jared West 24th. Ki-Raphael Sulkowski is 35th, ahead of James Burman in 45th, Ashley Brunning in 54th, Ryan Palk in 61st and Klade Hauschildt in 79th.
Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch began their European season in the perfect fashion, winning the only Skud 18 race of the day. The strong winds tested the Skud 18 fleet with the race committee sending them back to shore after race one.
'That was the most exciting racing I’ve done so far, it was great to be out there today,' said Tesch. 'It was unreal going downwind, flying along, coming off the top of waves and going nose first into the next one, water splashing all over me, it was awesome.
'Getting the first win under our belt was pretty important as we haven’t had a great start to a regatta for a while now so it was nice to put that one away and see how our boat speed is against the best boats in the world,' she said.
Krystal Weir is second overall in the Laser Radial class, just a point off the lead, following a second and a first.
'It was pretty tough day out there, we had 30 knots in that last race, it was all on,' said Weir. 'The upwinds were ok but going around the top mark and getting downwind was a bit of a mission, I spun out a few times, tipped over once, it was tight and a bit tough.'
At the end of day one Alex South is 35th in the Laser Radial class and Caitlin Elks 47th.
Brendan Casey is fourth overall in the Finn class following a third and an eighth.
'Today was big Sunday here in Hyeres. it was epic. In the first race we had 15 to 20 knots and then in the last race it was up to 25 knots, with gusts up to 35,' said Casey. 'I was third in race one and then in the top group in race two when I had a wipeout downwind and was struggling with a bit of gear damage, I couldn’t pull the centerboard up at all.
'Overall it was a very positive start to the event, who knows what’s in store for tomorrow I’ve just got to go out there and get some more good results,' he said.
Reigning 470 World Champions Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page had a mixed day, with a second to open the day before suffering major gear failure while leading race two, eventually limping across the line without a rig in 24th.
'In race two we had a nice lead and were about 200 metres from the bottom gate with just the final reach to go and the whole rig came down around us,' said Belcher. 'We managed to keep the boat upright and limped across the line, losing 24 spots in the process. It ended up taking us about 15 minutes just to get down the final reach, we were only doing about one knot.
'We’ve had a bit of work to do to repair the boat this afternoon but we’ll be ready to go for race three tomorrow morning,' he said.
Sam Kivell and Will Ryan are 24th in the 470 men’s fleet, with Matthew and Robert Crawford 31st, Alexander and Patrick Conway 32nd, Scott Cotton and Robert Size 67th and Matt and Ben Taylor 72nd.
In the RS:X men’s class Queenslander Luke Baillie had a good day with a ninth and a 10th leaving him 18th overall, ahead of Patrick Vos in 32nd and Jimmy Levy in 41st.
49er crew, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, spent the day waiting on shore, with the other 49er fleet only able to complete one race before being sent home due to the conditions, with racing eventually being cancelled just before 6pm.
Australia’s Women’s Match Racers, Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty will go racing for the first time on Monday morning after having the first few flights off.
Strong winds dominated day one of racing in Hyeres - Semaine Olympique Francaise 2012
Australian Sailing Team website