Over a century of history will have a brand-new chapter added after St George boat Southerly tightened its grip on the 2024 Australian 16ft Skiff Championship.
Skipper Sarah Lee will become the first female in the event’s 102-year history to claim the national crown after Lee with crew Keagan York and Kurt Warner peeled off two seconds on the regatta’s penultimate race day.
Heat 9 on Saturday will be a celebration lap for Southerly who now holds an eight-point unassailable advantage over closest rival Imagine Signage (Nathan Wilmot). And with Ebix-Sail Racing skipper Jemma Hopkins a chance to take out the 13ft crown, it could be the first time the two classes have seen women on the top step of the podium.
A Southerly win means a drought-breaking triumph for the St George Sailing Club, coming 26 years after it last celebrated a nationals victory with Otis (Dean Blatchford).
After two general recalls in the day’s first race, which resulted in the dreaded black flag being hoisted, the fleet finally got underway the third time and it wasn’t long before the usual suspects hit the front. Imagine Signage skipper Nathan Wilmot promised to take the championship down to the wire and was good to his word, claiming the race by 38 seconds to move into second on the overall pointscore.
But the defending champion’s joy was tempered somewhat when he looked over his shoulder to see Southerly cross the line second with IMEI (Hugh Stodart) third.
The day’s second race took on even greater significance for both Imagine and Southerly, but they again couldn’t be split. Manly’s Sail Racing (Felix Grech) took out the heat with Southerly second and Imagine third.
Before Fridays racing, understandably cautious to take anything for granted given the vagaries of sailing and the quality of competition, 32-year-old Lee is nonetheless exited to be on the cusp of something very special.
“It would feel amazing to win the nationals. It’s every skiff sailor’s dream,” she said. “We are keeping our fingers crossed. “It’s not over until it’s over and this fleet is so talented. “The key to winning it is just to be in the top five every race and that’s what we’ve aimed to do all along.”
All results here:
13ft Skiff Results: https://ty.skiffs.org.au/assa/13ftSkiffs/SGrp6.htm?ty=47443
16ft Skiff Results: https://ty.skiffs.org.au/assa/16ftSkiffs/SGrp1.htm?ty=82611
Words Adam Lucius
IMAGES | SailMedia