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Letter from the Antipodes: Live Ocean Racing a big step for Women's sailing..Takeouts from Hyeres

by Richard Gladwell/ 2 May 22:13 PDT 22 March 2022
Jo Aleh and Molly Meech (NZL) - 49erFX - Day 5 - NZL Sailing Team - Semaine Olympique Française de Hyères - April 2022 © Sailing Energy / FFVOILE

This piece started as a look at the latest initiative by Live Ocean - Peter Burling and Blair Tuke's ocean conservation foundation. But a couple of weeks of Covid intervened, and that story has moved on. So we start again.

In mid-April, Pete and Blair announced the formation of a racing team - Live Ocean Racing.

Their first foray is into the ETF26 circuit with a crew comprising some of the top sailors in New Zealand - Jo Aleh, Molly Meech, Alex Maloney, Erica Dawson, and Liv Mackay. 2016 Olympian Jason Saunders is the coach. This is a very significant opportunity for women's sailing and the first real pathway for female sailors to traverse from the Olympic classes and into the high octane professional foiling world.

The ETF26 is a lightweight foiling catamaran designed by Guillaume Verdier, the leading high-performance yacht designer, from a concept by top French short-handed sailor Jean-Pierre (JP) Dick. ETF stands for Easy To Fly. The all-carbon boat weighs just 350kgs and can be launched off a beach.

In their first event - at Spi Ouest - part of the five regatta ETF26 Grand Prix circuit, they placed fifth in an eight boat fleet. Skippered by Liv Mackay, the Live Ocean Racing team scored five podium places in 14 races - improving as the series progressed and the breeze freshened. In their second, held last weekend at Quiberon, France Live Ocean Racing finished 5th overall - with Liv Mackay again skippering as part of a three person crew.

Spi Ouest was a promising first regatta by an all-female crew competing in an open or merit-based competition. We chatted to Live Ocean co-founder Blair Tuke after the event.

It is hard to see that this group will not become Emirates Team New Zealand's squad for the 2024 Women's America's Cup. There are also opportunities for this squad in SailGP - depending on that circuit's direction.

Medium to long term, this squad will span the ETF26, the F50, the AC40 and potentially the AC75 foiling classes. What other program offers opportunities like that?

Looking at the bigger picture, after the Spi Ouest result, Tuke says that the Women's SailGP program has already started and is expected to grow. "If there were a parallel women's league or similar in SailGP, then this group would be at the core of that from the NZ SailGP side."

"We need to very much widen this group - it is only just a start," he added.

"Live Ocean Racing will work with Yachting New Zealand, the New ZealandSailGP team, Emirates Team New Zealand and others to help accelerate the pathway for women into professional sailing."

"The women in the Live Ocean Racing team are among the best in New Zealand, and it will be exciting to see them hopefully grow into opportunities in SailGP and the America's Cup."

Several members of the Live Ocean Racing team are also running Olympic campaigns. Due to an event clash with French Olympic Week/Semaine Olympique Française de Hyères, where the NZL Sailing Team competed, several of the Live Ocean Racing crew were changed out for Quiberon.

The Live Ocean ETF26 was sailed with three crew for the second round of the ETF26's sailed as part of the Carnac Eurocat regatta in Brittany, NW France.

Joining were 49er exponents Marcus Hansen and Leo Takahashi. Liv Mackay was the skipper of Live Ocean Racing. All three have SailGP/F50 experience.

The Carnac event provided a valuable benchmark for the Live Ocean Racing team ahead of the return of the regular crew for the third event, the Raid Quiberon, a month later on June 2nd-5th at Quiberon in Brittany, also in the NW corner of France. Major work-on will be their starting - same as for the SailGP crew.

Hyères hitout

The Semaine Olympique Française de Hyères [SOF] is the first major regatta for the NZL Sailing team since the Covid outbreak just over two years ago in March 2020.

SOF is the first serious international outing in the 2024 Olympic classes for most countries , although some competed in the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofia Mallorca in Palma. At SOF, New Zealand is represented in seven of the ten Paris2024 events. Missing are the Men's and Women's Kiteboard and the Mixed 470.

The Kiwi results have a few good surprises. Those that are not so good are no cause for panic, just good learning experiences after a two-year hiatus from the international circuits.

The iQFoil (foiling windsurfer) performance is very encouraging. This class was only established in 2018 - after a lot of joint development between New Zealand and The Netherlands.

Aaron McIntosh, Olympic Bronze medalist and coach of the last three Gold Medalists in the Men's Windsurfer, played a key role - working between the two countries to promote the foiling windsurfers or windfoilers. Not that he had to do a lot of encouragement. The concept and class sold themselves, resulting in a phenomenal takeup, leaving World Sailing with little option but to slot it in for Paris 2024.

Silver medalist in the RS:X in the 2018 Youth Worlds, Veerle ten Have, finished 5th overall in the 32 strong Womens iQFoil fleet. French sailors finished in five of the top 11 overall. Former Youth World Champion in the Laser, Josh Armit, moved from 15th mi-regatta to finish 8th overall. Armit had a very soft start to the Men's iQFoil but has dramatically improved over the last couple of days of the event, and his results have been very encouraging in the back end of the regatta, with top ten places in all of the final seven races in the 16 race regatta - those were all in the highly competitive Gold fleet.

George Gautrey has stepped up in the ILCA7 after current World Champion Tom Saunders scored three maximum point races to place 24th overall. Two were for premature starts, and a third was determined in the protest room after he was judged to have made contact with a Hungarian competitor. Saunders bounced back with a second in the next race, but his goose was already cooked, and overdone when he turned in double digit placings to finish the series.

Gautrey moved into 4th overall - 8pts behind Matt Wearn (AUS). The current Olympic Champion had a couple of poor races in the Final series - being judged to be an early starter in one race and then finishing 15th in the next. Gautrey was consistent while others fell around him. He dropped back into double figures in the last two races of the Gold fleet, and with a seventh place in the Medal race and finished ninth overall.

The 49er class has attracted 61 entries, with many new names at the top of the fleet. Logan Dunning-Beck and Oscar Gunn were the best performed, lying 10th overall mid-regatta - but picked up several double-digit places in the Qualifying Round and Finals, weighing them down on the event leaderboard. They finished 12th overall. It has been a similar story for the other Kiwi crews in the regatta, with no one yet stepping up to stand in the massive shoes vacated by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.

It is better news in the 49erFX. Two reformed crews had their first international hit-out after the longstanding Alex Maloney and Molly Meech combo decided to split following an indifferent performance at Tokyo2020. They are now sailing as part of two new crews. Now teamed up with Olivia Hobbs, Alex Maloney was up to 7th overall but placed 9th overall after finishing last in the Medal race. Jo Aleh and Molly Meech, where a handy 12th overall. Nothing can be read into these placings other than Aleh is probably still finding her way as the helm in a challenging class. It is very much to NZ's benefit that two strong crews are now pushing each other in the FX and working together in Live Ocean Racing.

Double Olympic Gold medalists Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) were 4th overall mid-series in the 49erFX. But put in a good final lap at the end of the regatta to win the Gold Medal despite a sixth place in the Medal race, in what was a top 49er FX fleet.

In the Nacra 17 - Mixed Multihull - Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson (NZL) finished 5th overall - a big jump on their 12th place at Tokyo2020, in a classy fleet. Olympic champions Tita Ruggero and Caterina Banti (ITA) have won nine of the 16 races sailed to date.

Second was the Tokyo2020 Silver medalists John Gimson and Anna Burnet (GBR). Rio 2016 Silver medalists Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmamin (AUS) are one up on their Tokyo2020 place - lying in 4th overall. In third are Sinem Kurtbay and Aksell Kestkinen (FIN), who were one place behind Wilkinson and Dawson at Enoshima last August.

2016 Olympic Gold medalist Santiago Lange - sailing with a new crew was 17th overall in the 31 boat fleet. Lange finished 7th at Tokyo2020.

Big winners from Hyeres was the US team - which came away with one Gold medal and two Silver medals - their best result for a very long time. With two Silver medals in the 49er and 49erFX classes that program would seem to be running very well indeed. Daniela Moroz has been the leading light in the Womens Formula Kite for several years.

Still waters run deep in the America's Cup. There's plenty going on. We'll be starting a new feature this week - so stay tuned.

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