130 Sabres assembed at Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron in Victoria over the Christmas New Year period for the class's 34th national championship sponsored by Club Marine.
These numbers put the regatta in the top handful of class championships in Australia this year, and was easily the biggest in the history of the class. The event coincided with a delightful week of weather and lighter to moderate conditions which allowed all 10 scheduled races to be completed. Blairgowrie's facilities coped well with the big influx of sailors, aided well by its extensive lawn and beach areas and substantial patrol boat fleet. A focus on afternoon racing allowed competitors and their families to enjoy a sleep in or to explore the delightful southern Mornington Peninsula.
Entries were drawn from around the country, including the classes newest state of Western Australia where a 20 boat fleet has been created in recent years. A strong South Australian contingent of 12 were well placed to take on the big Victorian fleet.
The event was won by last year's winner - Black Rock sailor Chris Dance; with Adelaide sailors Mark Soulsby and Craig McPhee in second and third; and Blairgowrie's Wayne Bates and Peter Hackett in fourth and fifth. Chris Dance's three first places gave him a comfortable win in the series with 19 points between him and second placed Mark Soulsby. It was without doubt the most competitive Sabre fleet ever assembled, with many sailors having highly impressive national and international sailing credentials. The regatta also saw the largest number of youth entries yet seen in the class with 17 entries; with Blairgowrie's Liam Edleston winning the trophy in his first year in the class.
The racing was exciting, and provided close boat-to-boat experiences that will be long remembered by all who took part. The starts and mark roundings in particular saw concentrations of boats that could only be described as awesome - and provided fantastic racing at all parts of the fleet. Good start lines and an experienced start team meant that the fleet got away without excessive levels of recalls. Important given that social events were scheduled for 5 of the 7 evenings during the regatta ! Highlights of the social program were a party night courtesy of long-time Sabre builder Brett Young of YMS and a presentation dinner with 250 in what might be the final such event at Blairgowrie before their clubhouse re-build later in the year.
The regatta produced many notable stories and personal achievements. One was clearly the entry of Stuart Wallace. Stuart returned to the class some 31 years after winning the championship as a junior (and later winning a world championship in the Lasers). Stuart had 'stumbled across' his original Sabre and decided to buy it and enter the regatta. Result ? A credible 13th. Then there were the 3 generations of Safety Beach sailors - Natasha Martin, her mother Fiona, and her father Tom McCullough. (with Tom winning the newly introduced 'Super Vets' division for those over 70). Another competition was the battle of the sail makers - with Jamie Thomson of Thomson sails beating off Brent Frankcombe of Quantum and long time class sailmaker John Hooper.
Sabre championship fleets have been growing strongly in recent years, reflecting a broad range of favourable factors. The class is clearly filling a gap in attracting sailors seeking to 'simplify their sailing' by taking up a single handed boat. But within that cohort lies a full spectrum of sailing experience. At the pointy end; it is revealing that every one of the top 10 place getters in this year's nationals has moved into the class with solid national or international experience in the serious dinghy classes like Sharpies, 470's, Contenders, Lasers, Tasars and 505's . Move down the fleet a bit though and you'll find surprising numbers of sailors who have returned to sailing after a break of maybe a decade or more. Others again have taken to the class after having learned to sail as an adult and quickly adopted the Sabre as their natural 'sweet spot'. Others have been long time Sabre fans, Regardless of ability though; the Sabre provides the key attributes of a single handed boat that doesn't require an Olympic level of athleticism, but is still fun to sail and provides large fleets with close racing.
Those charged with managing the class though would point to a range of other factors behind the class's long term success. The addition of new fibreglass builders in 3 states has created ready availability of high quality and fast boats. This couples with a move by organisers of championships to choose venues with proven appeal to would-be participants and their facilities, plus the resources and experience to host bigger regattas. And then there is the classes culture - a good balance between great racing and a relaxed and supportive social side to the class.
The championships move to Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron and Perth Dinghy Sailing Club in the next two summers as the class moves to further develop as a national class by focussing on building up the states outside the traditional powerhouse states of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.