Takapuna Beach comes alive with world championship action

Takapuna Boating Club - venue for the 2010 Splash Worlds

The Splash World Sailing Championship for international youth sailors is being raced this week off beautiful Takapuna Beach in Auckland, New Zealand. 74 competitors from 12 countries are participating.

On the eve of the first official race anticipation was high as sailors prepared for the opportunity to secure sailing’s first world title of 2010 by competing in a warm-up race in brisk 15 knot conditions that provided testing opportunities where sailors could test their boat speed against one another.

The fleet of 74 is dominated by the large New Zealand team of 44 sailors enjoying the opportunity to sail in home waters. The pre-Worlds regatta held prior to Christmas was led by George Lane (North Shore), Michael Cate (Northland) and reigning world champion Declan Burn (Picton), with Melissa Gibbs (North Shore) the leading girl. Other New Zealanders considered serious prospects are former World Champion Optimist sailor Chris Steele (North Shore), and 2008 Splash World Champion Ben Lutze (Taipa).

There are 14 entrants from the Netherlands, including Nienke Reina Jorna, who won the Girl’s title in 2009. Amongst competitors from the Cook Islands, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands Antilles, Germany, France, Peoples Republic of China, American Samoa, Samoa and Switzerland, are European Opti Champ Etienne Le Pen of New Caledonia, and 2008 World Girls Champ and 2009 Runner-Up, a female sailor Philipine van Aanholt from The Dutch Antilles.

“Everyone here is doing their best,” says Netherlands coach Jildert Koopman. “Our success depends on the conditions. Last year we won the world championships for the ladies.”

Dutch competitor Wouter Hufen nominates Ben Lutze, Mathieu de By and Nienke Reina Jorna as sailors that he will be watching very closely, whilst New Zealand’s Splash Class President Helen McKenzie suggests that the conditions – which look to be predominantly light to moderate, with at least one heavier day, will influence the outcome.

Reigning champ, New Zealander Declan Burn, always performs very strongly in the light, she says, while Ben Lutze and George Lane are exemplary heavy air sailors, as are several of the Dutch competitors, all here with the intention of taking home the trophy.

Declan Burn excels in light conditions but heavy air sailing is something that he has been working hard on, says his father, Rob Burn. Whilst still under 60kg and therefore relatively lightweight compared to several other sailors at the top end of the fleet, the extra height Declan has gained in the last year has given him important leverage in heavier seas, and he will be able to perform consistently in anything under 25 knots.

Here on his second trip to Takapuna for a sailing world champs, Stefan Maes is a parent accompanying the Belgian team of three sailors on their New Zealand trip. He states that their goal is to make it into the top ten or fifteen.

The Splash class is one of few international classes to encourage females to compete on a fair footing with males, and Norwegian international Ina Berentsen Kullman, who has been training locally in a coaching group with New Zealand sailors, is tipped to be ‘wickedly’ quick. Rival Philipine van Aanholt, who was very sick during the 2009 Worlds yet still performed very consistently, is racing this year despite being on crutches with an injured ankle, and 17-year old Aucklander Melissa Gibbs is competing in her third world championship regatta and following a top race season, intends to push hard for a top finish.

The forecast is for heavier racing on Monday, which will ease on Tuesday.

The Splash Dinghy is a fast, modern single handed dinghy designed for sailors under the age of 19. Favoured for its ability to build confidence in mostly teenage sailors, the boat is a step up from the Optimist, and a precursor and training vessel for the Laser class raced by both men and women at the Olympic Games.

The line up at the 2010 Splash World Sailing Championships includes 75 youth sailors from 12 countries. New Zealanders have been world champions in the class in 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009, and in 2009 New Zealand also won the Nations Cup at the Splash World Champs held in Europe.

Racing proper starts at 11am on Monday 4 January, and conditions permitting, 13 races will be held, finishing on Friday 8 January, and followed by a prizegiving on the Friday evening.

Takapuna Boating Club is organising the Splash World Sailing Championships, with support from North Shore City Council, SPARC, The Lion Foundation, Victoria Cruising Club and Yachting New Zealand.

The best spot for viewing is the beachfront reserve around Takapuna Boating Club on Takapuna Beach, where boats will be readied and launched from the beach each morning, or on the waters between Takapuna Boating Club and Rangitoto Island, from the first start at 11am.

Prizes will be awarded to the winner of the Open Splash Championship, the best female winner, and the country with the lowest total points from amongst their three best sailors.