In less than three weeks time the largest high performance sailing event conducted will take place in the one of the remotest cities on the planet. It is Perth 2011, the World Championships for ten Olympic fleets. The event is just eight months ahead of the London 2012 Olympic sailing competition.
In Fremantle, Western Australia around 1,200 sailors from approximately 80 nations will compete in 800 plus boats, sailing across six courses.
Now the task is ‘to land the fish’ says John Longley, the Event Director for Perth 2011.
‘Long John’ (he is 6’ 4’') competed in five America’s Cup campaigns and was the Project Manager and a member of the crew of Australia II when she won the Cup in 1983, so he knows how to make things happen.
‘You know when you hook a fish and you are playing with it out there and the fish swims around and swims around, you deal with it. As you get it closer to the beach, the fish suddenly goes ‘heck this isn’t good’ and really starts ripping around the place.
‘Well an event is like that too. You get closer and closer and suddenly more issues crop up. But we have been knocking them on the head as fast that they appear and we are on track.
‘We were sweating with the Qantas airline strike, because they are our major international carrier and were delighted when 42 days of arbitration and a peace was announced as the event will be done and dusted by then.
‘It is not easy bringing a very major event into a public domain. We are not operating out of a yacht club and we are not operating out of the Weymouth National Sailing centre. We are operating out of a range of public spaces, car parks and in temporary structures.
‘Certainly that has advantages for the general public, with terrific access to the event and that’s one of the things we are obviously trying to achieve.
‘We want people who have never had anything to do with sailing before to come down and look at these amazing athletes, watch them rigging their boats, watch them going to sea, watch them sailing, gaining some idea of what the sport is about by watching animation on the big screen while sucking in the vibe and thinking ‘wow … this is a great thing.’
‘We are still obviously very, very busy. I currently feel like someone who has trained very hard for a regatta and I am ready to go and race. If I win that’s great but if I lose, well I know I would have given it my absolute best.
‘I think all the team is feeling the same.
‘We are certainly getting terrific feedback from the athletes who are already here, around 50 countries so far. They are loving it.
‘Down at the yacht clubs we can talk to the sailors and they are just so pleased to be here and are having a really good time.
‘Our offices overlook the centre course and we look out every day and there are just more and more sailors out there and training.
‘The standard is so high. The other day there were three Danish 49ers coming into a leeward mark set 40 metres off the beach. There were a lot of people sitting watching and I said ‘there is no way all those blokes are going to get in there’ but they did and it was just wonderful to watch.
‘I am personally very excited. I’m really genuinely full of adrenaline, looking forward to it. We’ve been three years pulling this together. I just hope that it all goes well and that we get good winds.
‘Obviously there are going to be issues and obviously there are going to be problems but everything we can do to put all into place, we have.
‘Bring it on! And so the dream begins in Perth. 16 more sleeps’ concluded Longley, smiling broadly.
Competition Manager Skip Lissiman was involved in four America's Cups and was part of the Australia II team in 1983.
Lissiman is in charge of the sailing competition and responsible for the co-ordination of the sailors and their boats and all the officials in the sailing arena.
‘The ISAF World Championships in the pre-Olympic year is moving to a new level as a major international sporting event. This will be hugely bigger than Cascais.
There are around 388 sailors at the Olympics. Perth 2011 is three times larger, as 75 per cent of the Olympic qualifications will occur here.
‘In each of the ten different medal disciplines there are limits on the Member National Authorities (MNA’s) that can qualify for the Olympics, so there is intense pressure. In the one person boats, like the Laser or the Finn, it’s roughly 38 boats in the fleets. In the two person classes it’s roughly 17 boats and in Women’s Match Racing it is 12, being a three person boat.
‘The way it works is that it is the MNA that qualifies, not the actual person. For example there might be three Finn sailors from USA in Perth and the top person who qualifies the country might not necessarily be the person that the country selects to represent them at the Olympics, even though that person qualified the MNA for the Olympics.
‘While for many Perth 2011 is just about to begin, for us, it’s been going for three years. Over the last two years, the Emerging Nations programme we've been operating has been hugely successful and has been a huge boost for sailing in these emerging countries.
‘ISAF are very keen to expand into Africa and the Asian markets. Most of these countries don’t have sailing as a key sport and they can see that this programme does help in that respect. At this event we will have around 80 countries, if everyone comes. That is an increase from Cascais and some of that increase can be attributed to the Emerging Nations programme. Whether it actually gets any athletes to the Olympics … well let’s hope it does.
‘Across all the fleets we have tried to give these nations an opportunity to showcase their fleet and put them out into areas where they can experience clear sailing conditions.
‘Obviously we are very keen to showcase sailing to the media, the public in general and also to promote the athletes.
‘We don’t want them being little white triangles on the horizon all the time. We want to have a mix of both.
(Some courses are close to the foreshore and some are further out. Perth 2011 is aiming to mix the two course types enabling spectators the best views of the athletes in action.)
Lissiman concluded by touching on the all important weather.
‘Weather wise we are still a few weeks out from the event but normally in December here in Perth, we get into a pretty favourable sea breeze pattern and that's what we are banking on for the event. So bring on the Doctor will be the cry.'
Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships will run from third to 18th December 2011 in Fremantle, Western Australia.
More information at www.perth2011.com