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Olympic hopes hang on 49er, FX Nacra 17 Worlds

by Richard Gladwell 13 Nov 2019 01:38 PST 13 November 2019
Emirates Team New Zealand's Te Aihe, is towed past the new Hyundai Marine Sports Centre which houses the Royal Akarana Yacht Club. Waitemata Harbour, November 7, 2019 © Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com / nz

Racing gets under way early next week in the Oceania Regatta, the dress rehearsal for the 2019 Hyundai 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 Worlds which start a week later.

The World championship for the three Olympic classes has attracted a big fleet of over 200 boats, and more than 400 sailors.

At stake are 15 places in the 2020 Olympic Regatta, with further places on offer, if Olympic spots reserved for "Continental Entries" are not taken up.

For the countries who already qualified for the 2020 Olympic Regatta off the first qualification round at the 2018 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, the Auckland event is expected to be a selection trial to pick their 2020 Olympic representative. The selection process used by each country is not made public to avoid influence on the outcome by other competing Olympic teams.

International crews have been training in Auckland for several weeks, familiarising themselves with the 11-course areas that are available to be used for the regatta - depending on wind and sea conditions.

Several of the course locations are on the same water that will be used to contest the 2021 America's Cup in Auckland along with its preliminary series.

"Coming to a legendary sailing place like New Zealand and getting to do a regatta here has been such a breath of fresh air," says Ben Remocker, Class Manager for the 49er, Fx and Nacra 17. "The organisers here all know sailing. I come into events like this and try and help where I can. But here they are already kicking the ball down the road. It is wonderful," says the Canadian former 49er sailor.

"There has been a huge coalition of partners who have come in, along with Sky TV," he adds.

The regatta will make sailing history in that it will be the first Olympic class World Championship to be broadcast live on mainstream TV. Sky TV (no relation to the British media company of the same name) enjoys a subscriber base of 780,000 in a country of just under 5 million population. The subscription-only channel is also the largest outside broadcast organisation in New Zealand. It will bring many of those assets to the live coverage of the World Championships.

The Sky TV operation will be used to lift coverage of the sport to a new level, with several significant new offerings for international audiences expected to be announced in the next couple of days.

"The decision to come to New Zealand was made back in 2017," explains Remocker. "We knew New Zeland was a long way away, but there were quality local crews in each of the three fleets, and the infrastructure was in Auckland including ATEED (the specialist Auckland Events and Tourism authority)," he adds. "But it's one thing to come up with the theory, and another for it to come off," he says with a slightly nervous laugh.

"One of the early decisions we had to make was on the venue for the regatta, with one option being up at Torbay, (on Auckland's North Shore, and on the edge of the 2000/03 America's Cup course) where the 2016 Youth Worlds were held. But Pete Burling and Blair Tuke, and also Alex Maloney and Molly Meech, were really supportive of trying to be in the City.

"It's worked out well for the club, to get several projects completed in time for the Worlds - I'm sure it wasn't easy for them to hit the deadlines, but they have," he adds.

The Hyundai sponsored event will be the first major event for the magnificent new Royal Akarana Yacht Club facility, located on Okahu Bay at the entrance of the Waitemata harbour. The area is home for several sailing and boating organisations including water activities for the iwi, Ngati Whatua Orakei.

Stepped in history, Auckland Sailing Club is also located in the area, and is Remocker's "office" for the series. The building has been the home of skiff sailing for many decades back into the 1950s. The Club is home to the 12 and 18ft skiffs, and is one of the birthplaces of yachting sponsorship, with the first advertisement, then not permitted in the racing rules, being carried on an 18fter in 1964. Top 12ft skiff sailor, John Faire was the leading light in the campaign to have sponsorship in sailing legalised by the then International Yacht Racing Union. Over 55 years later it is the skiffs without prolific displays of sponsorship that are the oddity.

The inner Waitemata off the Hyundai Water Sports Centre has always been the heart of skiff sailing in Auckland, with the annual Interdominion battles extending back prior to World War 2. The Auckland harbour has also been the birthplace of many innovations that have impacted sailing. A rule-beating 12ft catamaran cleaned up a 12ft Skiff Interdominion fleet, before the rules were changed to restrict the event to monohulls. Previously skimmers made their appearance and impact. Many designers and builders made their reputations at Auckland Sailing Club, including top international designer Bruce Farr - who was a designer and builder of skiffs while still a teenager.

Top Australian sailor Iain Murray put his mark on the sailing world in Auckland, with a memorable and courageous, come from behind, win in the final race of the 1977 JJ Giltinan Trophy. Still a teenager in his rookie year in the 18ft skiffs, Murray's was the only boat in the fleet to set a spinnaker in the teeth of a NE gale, on the final run from North Head to the finish off Orakei Wharf.

The year before, 1976, Murray, another in the Farr mould, won a 12ft Interdominion title, as a teenager, sailing a boat he designed and built. So-called "foam and fibreglass" skiff construction also made its debut on the Waitemata. High density foam followed by other lightweight cored construction became another industry standard in the sailing world.

The key match-ups of the World Championships are likely to be a rematch of the 2016 Olympic Medal Race in the 49erFX women's skiff. Brazilian crew of Martine Grael and Kahuna Kunze snatched the Gold Medal from Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) in the final metres of the race. Grael was last in Auckland, in 2018 crewing on the Volvo Ocean Race entry AkzoNobel, and is now focussed on defending her Olympic Champions title in Enoshima. Current World Champions Annemiek Bekkering and Anette Duetz (NED) will be equally determined to defend their world title, with several other crews looking to inject themselves into the 2020 Olympic equation.

In the 49er Men's skiff, defending World champions, Sime and Mihovil Fantela from Croatia will take on Olympic and America's Cup champions, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke on their home waters. Nathan Outteridge (AUS) Silver medalist in Rio and Gold medalist in the 2012 Olympics, has switched from the 49er Men's Skiff to the Nacra 17 Mixed Multihull and is crewed by his sister Hayley. There are 12 New Zealand crews in the 49er, who have all been training intently, with a world championship on their home waters, and with New Zealand already qualified for the 2020 Olympics after Logan Dunning-Beck and Oscar Gunn placed seventh in the 2018 World Championships in Aarhus. Burling and Tuke missed the 2018 Worlds, having just finished the Volvo Ocean Race.

Outteridge who battled with Burling in the Challenger Final for the 2017 America's Cup, is now resident in Auckland with a training base just down the road from his house on Auckland's North Shore, and close to the courses to be used for the World Championships. They placed second in the 2018 World Championships in Aarhus to world champions Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti (ITA). Also competing in Auckland is the 2016 Gold Medalists Santiago Lange and Cecilia Saroli (ARG), who won their Gold medal in the final stages of the dramatic Medal Race in Rio. Lange's two sons Yago and Klaus, will also compete in Auckland.

Remocker says a key point of interest in the Nacra 17 will be whether the 17ft catamaran can foil efficiently upwind. The constraints of the one-design dictate that the foils are relatively shallow compared to the AC50 used in the last America's Cup. While the Nacra can foil upwind, he says it is quite a tricky process to get the settings and balance just right, to gain the reward of a significant speed advantage over their less aggressive rivals.

Although New Zealand has qualified for the 2020 Olympics in the Nacra 17, several of the top Kiwi crews simo-split and reformed with new sailing partners. This regatta will be the first to sort out the new pecking order, and it is obvious that it will form part of the Kiwi Olympic selection trials.

The three Olympic classes are under common class management which, as Remocker explains, gives them all a more viable package for staging events like the Auckland World Championships, than would have been the case had they operated as three separate classes.

After Auckland, the three classes will head for the state of Victoria, Australia, where they will begin training for their 2020 World Championship in Geelong, which will be the final Olympic Qualifier and also a probable Olympic selection event for some. However that event is almost four months away, and just over four months before the Olympic Regatta in Enoshima. For many, Auckland will be the last roll of the Olympic dice.

Event website 49er.org/event/2019-oceania-championship

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