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Melges 24 Australian Championship heating up at the Festival of Sails

by Di Pearson/Festival of Sails 27 Jan 22:51 PST 26-29 January 2023

Two days into the Melges 24 Australian Championship at Royal Geelong Yacht Club's 2023 Festival of Sails, Chris Links and crew on Banta have one hand on the trophy and a well-tuned NSW crew answers for their strong performance.

When competitors came ashore from racing on Corio Bay late yesterday, four races ticked off the program, Banta led the series by six points from the defending champion, Kevin Nixon's Accru, also from NSW.

Links and crew have scored three bullets and a second place, heading into Saturday's racing.

Currently in third place is another NSW crew. Amigos (Peter Kendall), holders of the 2022 Melges 24NSW Championship title. They are the only crew to take a race from Banta on the windward/leeward courses, winning Race 2 on Thursday.

"Accru has been our closest competition so far, but Amigos took a win off us too. It's still anyone's event," Links insists.

Banta was always going to be hard to beat. Links is a respected sailor of small sports boats and of super maxis such as Wild Oats XI - and anything in between. Through Northshore Marine Group and Melges Asia Pacific, the Sydney sailor is also the Melges agent.

It's not just a business for him, Links loves sailing the Melges boats; a great advocate for the class.

"This year is the 30th for the class. Melges boats were designed by Reichel/Pugh (renowned US boat designers) and they were ahead of their time," Links enthuses. "It has a strong following. All the greats have sailed the class. It lights up downwind, is technical and is hard to sail. It's a class where you see results from the hard work you put in."

Banta sports a formidable team. Heath Walters, from an avid sailing family in Sydney, is programmed to win whatever class he sails and derives great pleasure from it.

Warwick Rooklyn is a champion sailor and is still sought out since his early days racing offshore yachts, Apollo and Ballyhoo, at the top level. More recently he was aboard Garry Holt's Adams 10, Get It On, winning Division 4 of the 2022 Australian Yachting Championships. In a break from sailing, he raced Formula cars.

Rounding out the crew are former Olympic class 470 sailors, Josh Dawson and Katherine Shannon. It's been an ideal segue to the Melges 24.

"We've had an influx of new people in the class after it dropped off due to Covid. All the current sailors are happy to help the newer ones. We have to get the new ones back into it and get them travelling to events again," Links says. "I feel the numbers will come back."

Recalling yesterday's races, Links says, "It was pretty brutal. Hot with little wind. We're hoping for a bit more today, but when we looked at the weather models, it looks like the wind will be all over the place.

"We did the Melges 24 Worlds at Geelong in 2014. Royal Geelong Yacht Club is a big supporter of our class. We love coming here because they put so much effort into the Festival of Sails. All the volunteers are helpful and friendly. You always get a good welcome. The race courses keep you thinking all the time and you get a bit of everything.

"There's lots of accommodation options and great restaurants and cafes to choose from. Geelong and the Yacht Club seem to cope with large influx of numbers well. Lots of people having holidays and the Cadel Evans' cycling event as well. Everyone is mixing together with the public in Geelong and at the Club every day. It's all good..."

The Melges 24 Australian Championship resumes today on windward/leeward courses and finishes tomorrow.

For all information on the Festival of Sails, including full results, please visit:

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