Grey skies and a strong northerly wind greeted competitors on the final day of the ISAF World Sailing Cup Melbourne 2013.
The winds initially gusting above 30kts, forced officials to hold crews ashore. But a weather window emerged with perfect timing and the winds dropped sufficiently to allow Medals racing to get underway in all five Olympic classes, almost on time at noon.
Principal interest lay in the two new Olympic classes for Rio 2016 - the Nacra 17 catamaran with a promising debut of a new, but very experienced, Australian crew combination of Darren Bundock and Nina Curtis.
All three medals would be decided in the Medal race in the 49erFX for Women, with four crews in contention. The 49erFX is the new Olympic Womens skiff and like the Nacra 17 will be sailed for the first time in the Rio Olympics. Only the inaugural world championship has been held in each class, and with each round of the ISAF World Sailing Cup, new crew combinations emerge in both classes.
The winners in the RS:X Men’s and Women’s Windsurfer had been largely decided before the sailing of the Medal races, with Chinese crews taking all three podium places in both events.
In the Men’s 49er, the 2012 Olympic Gold Medalists, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) had a hefty 15 point lead and virtually had only to just complete the course to be assured of the Gold Medal.
In the end both the Nacra 17 and 49er FX Races proved to be a battle with the elements for most crews, as winds gusted above 25kts making for a real test of boat handling.
Darren Bundock and Nina Curtis (AUS) best survived the war of attrition that determined the outcome the Medal Race in the Nacra 17 Multihull class.
The New Zealand crew of Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders were clear leaders and the most windward boat as the fleet flew away from the start line.
The Kiwis dropped back into second around the first mark and Bundock and Curtis, sailing their first regatta in the class, marched through the fleet.
In the end the experience of the Olympic dual Silver medalist in the Tornado catamaran showed through, as Bundock eased his charge down the final run, whilst the other competitors engaged in various on the water gymnastics – either capsizing, or the catamarans going airborne in the now 25kt breeze.
On the final leg to the finish, in heavy gusts, Bundock and Curtis opted to just sail off a single trapeze and 'cruised' through to the finish, without a spinnaker. Following them in a similar mode was second place getter Euan McNicol and Lucinda Whitty (AUS)
'It was great fun out there', said a beaming Curtis after the race.
'We were in third place going around the top mark for the final time. We just backed off a little and it ended up working in our favour. The two boats ahead of us capsized just before the bottom mark – so we were pretty happy with our play it safe decision.'
'We almost nosedived a couple of times on the final run,' she said.
'But we gave her a jerk and she came back up, and we got her under control
'These are the strongest winds I have sailed in a Nacra – but it is good, I think I like it!' she exclaimed.
All competitors reported that the newly designed Nacra was taking to the air both up and downwind. 'I had to keep walking forwards, which was awkward at times,' Curtis added.
'We capsized just before the last mark to the finish,' said Gemma Jones (NZL).
'It was one of the windiest days I have sailed in,' she added. Her crew, 2012 Olympic representative, Jason Saunders, commented that they were lying second overall until just 50 metres before the bottom mark.
'The capsize really set us back obviously. It was very frustrating. But it has been a good regatta, but we have a lot to learn and have taken away a lot of knowledge with us.'
'The Nacra is definitely a hard boat to handle in these conditions, so you have to be on top of it the whole time. But it’s good, brings in a good element and makes it more challenging.'
After the race, winning skipper Darren Bundock said he, 'was very happy with the results here. We would have been happy to be pushing the others around - so in our first regatta, with just a few weeks of training against crews who have been sailing for almost a year, it’s encouraging to walk away with a win.'
'We can see a lot of places for improvement,' he added
'We will now mount a serious Rio campaign. Nina has an Olympic silver medal, and I´ve got a couple and so we won’t go to Rio to just make up the numbers.'
'We certainly believe we have the experience and the skill to win Olympic Gold in this class.'
'We won today because we sailed conservatively, in tough conditions. We have a handle now on the level of competition in this part of the world. Now it will be interesting racing against another fleet in Miami and then we will head to Palma and race hard on the European circuit. Palma will certainly be the big test as just about everyone in the Nacra 17’s will be there,' he concluded.
RS:X Men and Women:
A strong Chinese team turned in an impressive overall result in the regatta, winning all medals in the Men’s and Women’s Windsurfing events.
China has the largest RS:X race squad in the world, with both men and women’s teams training and racing together and the top competitors from that squad are medal material at any event.
In the men’s fleet, Chuankun Shi, after dominating the qualifying series with eight wins took second place in the Medal Race and therefore won the Gold Medal.
Fourth in the Medal race was Chunzhuang Lui, who took Silver. He would have had to beat Shi by five places to snatch gold – a huge task in any class.
Zhengnan Fang won the Bronze after finishing fourth in the Medal race, while the leading Australian Patrick Vos won the medal race, to finished fourth overall in the regatta.
An even more predictable result happened in the RS:X Women’s Medal Race with series leader Manjia Zheng, the newly crowned China National Games Champion, making it nine wins from 13 starts.
Qiaoshan Weng, who was second in the series finished in the same place in the Medal Race, as did ISAF Sailing World Cup Qingdao winner, Peina Chen.
The Medal Race in the 49erFX was virtually a replay of what had gone before in the Nacra 17. Except all crews struggled in the conditions despite the wind easing back to 15-18kts with an accompanying reduction of the sea state.
London Olympic Match Racing silver medalist Olivia Price with her crew Eliza Solly won the 49FX after taking second place in the Medal Race.
Medal Race Winner Haylee Outteridge with her new crew, Ella Clark, were an impressive second overall. Clark had won a Youth Worlds in 420 but had just eight days of training in the 49erFX
Haylee commented 'We enjoyed that race. This was our first event together, so we found ways to make new mistakes and we learnt new lessons. We found we are a good combination. '
In third place overall were the 18 year old Norwegian twins Ragna and Maia Agerup, who only made the switch from the 29er mid-year.
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen returned to their 2012 winning form in the Men’s 49er skiff, taking the winner’s gun in eight of the 13 races sailed.
Nathan was smiling as he hit the beach, 'before the start there were some heavy gusts and it was survival time but the wind eased.'
'We had a fast start on the windward end of the line and we covered the fleet. We managed to keep it upright in winds from 12-28kts'.
'It was one of those days where lots of people made mistakes and we did not.'
'Our time back in the 49er before the 2013 Worlds was very limited and we were happy with our result considering that factor. Now we have had more time in the boat and it feels like we’ve not stopped sailing.
'There are America’s Cup decisions to be made before we work out our program from here.'
Iain Jensen chimed in, 'but one way or another we will fit in a Rio campaign.'
Second overall, after their third in the medal race, was David Gilmour and Sam Phillips. (AUS)
David Gilmour commented, 'this is a class in which we are learning from the best. It’s fast and its fun, though today it was pretty stressful for the whole race. On the second upwind we realised we were well placed and we played it safe from there.'
Third overall were Will Phillips and Rhys Mara (AUS), who were fast today, pushing the Gold medallists all the way around the course.
The new British pairing of Stevie Morrison and Chris (Twiggy) Grube (GBR) had gone into the medal race second overall and were disappointed with the eighth place finish, that resulted from a capsize, dragging them down to fifth place overall.
Morrison said: 'It was a little wild out there and our newness found us out.'
'We managed to find a combination of a gust and a big wave mid-gybe and we found ourselves upside down. Overall though we are very pleased with the week, we need time in the boat before heading to Miami and we will get that here in Australia.'
'It’s been a wild week with every kind of wind and wave combination, in Melbourne. But when it comes down to it, would you be anywhere else?'
The ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne ran from 1 – 8 December 2013, from host club Sandringham Yacht Club, thanks to the support of the State Government of Victoria and many corporate sponsors.
Victorian Minister for Sport and Recreation, the Hon. Hugh Delahunty said, 'Hosting a leg of the ISAF Sailing World Cup puts the international spotlight on our sporting capital, Melbourne. On behalf of the Victorian Government, congratulations to all our Australian Olympic competitors and Invited Classes who have participated in this fantastic regatta.'
Many competitors will now head to Miami to compete in the next leg of the 2014 ISAF Sailing World Cup, to be held from 25 January – 1 February 2014.
ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne website
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