Top international yachting correspondent, Stuart Alexander, takes a look at the 2011 Optimist Worlds in Napier, first published in The Independent on 2 January :
A Maori war canoe led them out of the haven that is Napier Sailing Club to their appointed battleground. The training was over. The drenching opening ceremony in a memorial to yet another of the earthquakes on these southern Pacific islands could not dissolve the smiles.
The little blunt nosed, single sail dinghies aptly named the Optimist are staging their world championship in Napier, on Hawke's Bay half way down the east coast of New Zealand's North Island. The haka looks peaceful by comparison.
There are 208 of them, 40 Swallows and 168 (male) Amazons, racing on equal terms to take over a crown held by Noppakao Poonpat of Thailand, absent because she can no longer meet the age restriction of under 16 on 1 January.
She had been second the year before and Britain's best is also a woman. Hannah Mills was fifth in 2003 – she could so easily have been on the podium – and was top woman. This year she is picked to helm the 470 dinghy at the Olympic regatta in Weymouth for Britain. Less than a month ago, with crew Saskia Clark, the silver medal at the world championship in Fremantle was round her neck.
'The best girls are just as good as the best boys,' says class president Peter Barclay, whose very English name belies Peruvian nationality. 'This is particularly true at 11 and 12, when girls are maturing physically more quickly than the boys, and, in any case, there is a weight limit of 60 kgs.'
The most highly fancied nation this time is Singapore, where three of the five-strong team are girls, enjoying considerable government funding in a sport which is given national priority.
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