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Letter from the Antipodes: Saunders' win a boost for 2024 Kiwi hopes...MIQ Quickstep

by Richard Gladwell/ 2 Dec 2021 18:27 PST 3 December 2021
Tom Saunders (NZL) 2021 World Champion ILCA7/Laser - Barcelona - December 2021 © ILCA

November 14: Tom Saunders' win in the ILCA7 (previously known as Laser) World Championship is a much-needed tonic for New Zealand sailing, after a lacklustre Olympic regatta and uncertain times ahead for Kiwi aspirations going into the 2024 Olympic regatta in Marseille.

A big part of the win appears to have come from top Laser sailor Michael Bullot's decision to move from competing into coaching. The two seem to have clicked as a combination, and hopefully, they will both get the backing of the Olympic funders to target Paris2024.

Tokyo2020 Olympic Regatta ended just three months ago, and it was understandable that some top Laser competitors would take a break. However, there were enough Tokyo2020 competitors at the Worlds to make a good benchmark. It remains to be seen how many of the Class of Tokyo2020 will continue onto the next Olympic Regatta in less than three years.

Tonci Stipanovic (CRO), winner of the Silver medal at Tokyo2020 and Rio 2016, was competing at Barcelona and placed third - a great piece of consistent sailing and a good benchmark for the rest of the 135 boat fleet from 44 nations.

Saunders' win might have been a piece of serendipity after deciding to stay for the Worlds encouraged by a sixth-place finish at the European Championships.

Having the confidence to back yourself is a characteristic of many champion sailors - and with that one decision, Saunders may have set himself up for a focused third Olympic campaign.

Another great result from the Laser/ILCA Worlds came in the form of the second placegetter at the Worlds, Ireland's Finn Lynch. He was unable to qualify Ireland for Tokyo2020 Olympics and couldn't compete. His Silver medal win is being hailed in Ireland as the best performance for the Emerald Isle in an Olympic class at a World Championship level. Lynch is coached by a top Laser and Finn sailor Vasilij Zbogar, the Slovenian triple Olympic medallist.

Saunders' win comes at an opportune time for Yachting New Zealand, who are pleading their case for Olympic funding for the next Olympic cycle. In this edition, there is a very long piece looking at the state of international sailing for New Zealand competitors and the buffeting the sport is taking with the restrictions imposed by Covid measures and the MIQ system in particular.

The insanity of MIQ is best gauged by the politicians' bureaucratic quick-step as they try to avoid the prescribed seven days in solitary confinement.

It is not a pretty scene. While many in the media don't have a lot of time for the sailors' need to compete internationally, it is an important time of their competitive lives - particularly for those in their late teens and early 20s.

While the Kiwis' Tokyo2020 Olympic result was not great - our worst since the medal-less Athens regatta - however it is not an irrecoverable situation. But in 2004 - as now, it does take some hard grind to get not a lot in the way of results. Next, you build some breadth and then depth into your Olympic squads.

While the international scene may be bleak, the dinghy sailing scene is staging a revival that a few years ago was difficult to imagine.

If getting into a Zephyr, OK or Cherub and others of that genre are not your thing, then RS Sailboats are the best option. They have been imported in New Zealand since 2005, and are now represented by NZ Sailcraft and Hayden Whitburn.

RS - stands for Racing Sailboats, based in England - found a new niche market in the mid-1990s producing well-designed boats able to be mass-produced and became the epitome of the SMOD acronym - Single Manufacturer One Design. Their boats had a variety of uses - for sailing resorts, club fleets for training - or hire, or individuals.

RS are now the world's pre-eminent builder, producing 25 different boats developed by a tight group of top UK dinghy designers - Phil Morrison, Jo Richards, Paul Handly, and Clive Everest. All are very skilled and successful designers in their own right in the UK's many restricted dinghy classes, and are all very adept at designing for production while not trading off performance. Each design has 2-3 years in development before being marketed. A careful look at the designed shapes and innovations reveals the quality of design thought.

Like all successful single manufacturer, one-design classes they are designed for a variety of uses - from sailing holiday resorts, club trainers and racers, and individual ownership. The resort use requires that the construction and design be robust, which is achieved without making a clunky shape.

This month NZ Sailcraft is importing a containerload or two of the RS Aero singlehander and the RS Quest - the popular Teaching/Training and Family boat which will take up to four adults or any number of kids. If you are buying a fleet on behalf of a club or organisation, there have been several successful grant applications to charitable trusts for assistance with funding a fleet.

Last year the RS Aero was one of four singlehanders tested to be a potential Olympic one person dinghy - for men and women. It topped the trial getting a score of 80, compared to the 69 for the Laser.

The RS Aero was lauded in World Sailing's Evaluation Panel's summary:

"RS Aero's finished product exceeded all others in terms of quality and durability. The hardware and systems are well designed to function easily for the sailor and are proven in international competition. The spars are built to a specification and quality control standard that is producing consistent equipment for this international class. The lightweight hull is engineered with modern materials and modern composite building expertise bringing consistency of manufacture that is performing in the current marketplace. The class has a single source of supply for all parts. The hull production is a single source in a high technology composite facility."

One of the features of the RS range is their versatility, and while the RS Aero was under serious consideration as an Olympic class - it is also a great club racer or a "bach boat".

NZ Sailcraft has a great deal going on the RS Aero. Contact Hayden.

Recreational sailor and noted sailing journalist Zoe Hawkins of French Bay Yacht Club in Auckland explains why she opted for an RS Aero to get back into the sport after some 'time out' and subsequently purchased one for her daughter. Both boats join the growing number of RS Aeros in and around Auckland.

"The RS Aero is very light. The hull weighs around 30kg, roughly the same as an Optimist. Getting it on and off the trailer and around the boat ramp, even with a back injury, is much easier than any boat I have had before. In fact, I can do it by myself. A big tick in its favour."

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