Port Phillip sailing arena almost open for ISAF Sailing World Cup

The clock is ticking down to the start of the Southern Hemisphere’s leading internationally graded Olympic event, the ISAF Sailing World Cup – Melbourne. Early arrivals have spent their days acclimatising to Melbourne’s weather and testing out Port Phillip’s sailing conditions. Others wrapped up final competition practice at Sail Sydney yesterday, Thursday December 4, 2014, and are now on the route south towing boats and gear on trailers.

Full time sailor seems an odd job to most. For those on the long path to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games their reality is up to six days a week of on-water training and in the gym when they aren’t competing overseas.

Country qualification in the Olympic sailing classes is the first hurdle. National selection is the second.  The shining light at the end of the mandatory cull for Australia’s best is the chance to stand on the dais in Rio and possibly repeat or better the success of the previous Australian Sailing Team (AST).

Competition for selection in the new Olympic women’s 49erFX class is heating up.

London Olympic match racing silver medallist and AST athlete Olivia Price and her crew, Australian Sailing Squad member Eliza Solly want the spot. So does Victorian Australian Sailing Squad (ASS) athlete Tess Lloyd her crew Caitlin Elks, also part of the ASS. At the Santander Worlds, Lloyd and Elks qualified Australia for a 49erFX spot at the Rio Games with their 11th placing. Price and Solly were two places behind.

Solly used to sail with Lloyd. Elks used to sail with Price. They switched a year ago and for Price it’s a blossoming union.

“Eliza and I have just celebrated a year sailing together and everything is coming together quite well. We didn’t have the worlds we would have liked so we reassessed our priorities and have been working hard with our coach Shane Smith to rectify those things we didn’t quite achieve, including developing a good language between us, plus boat speed.”

Solly is learning what it takes to get to the highest level of sailing. At 22 and a silver medallist Price already appreciates the devotion. “It’s my sixth year competing so I’m getting along. I used to be the baby, now she is,” Price says of her 19-year-old crew and friend.

Similar “chilled personalities and a commitment to dedicate everything to a gold medal result in Rio” runs parallel in the pair who took top honours at Sail Sydney as a warm up for the ISAF Sailing World Cup – Melbourne  and the ISAF Sailing World Cup – Miami at the end of January.

Norwegian twins Ragna and Maia Agerup began sailing Optimists at seven years old, progressed through teams racing and in 2013 left the 29er class as the world’s best female team. They switched to the 49erFX and like the vying Australian 49erFX teams, their goal is to qualify and win a medal for their country at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Both members of the Norwegian National Sailing Team and on the Norwegian Olympic Development Team, the sisters are sailing full time and regulars at Melbourne’s Sailing World Cup.

“We lived in Perth for two years and coming back to Melbourne gives us a chance to catch up with friends and to sail in one of the best countries,” said Maia adding, “So many people have been extremely friendly in helping us with equipment, transportation and lodging.”

The waters of Port Phillip off the host club Sandringham Yacht Club can be a challenging playground for sailors both in summer and winter. Ragna agrees, “It’s often very challenging conditions and good competition. It is a great event and a very good start to a new season.”

The 49erFX is made up from 49er parts and FX parts. Added to the 49er platform is a modern purpose-designed FX mast and sails to provide the correct amount of power for the lighter crew target weight specified by the International Sailing Federation.

The 49er is typically crewed two-up by men, though at the ISAF Sailing World Cup – Melbourne Paul Coady is crewing for his sister Stephanie. The class made its first Olympic appearance in 2000 and in 2012 Australia’s Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen realised the highest possibly accolade, a gold medal. They are among a unique and truly diverse 49er line-up for Melbourne representing Italy, Poland, New Zealand, Australia and Austria.

Family combinations are a stand-out among the class roll call for next week’s ISAF Sailing World Cup.

Ian and David Cunningham is a father and son combination racing one of the toughest and most physically demanding Olympic classes. 

David Gilmour is the son of four-time world match racing champion Peter Gilmour and with fellow AST sailor Rhys Mara the pair is currently ranked second best Australian 49er crew.

Queenslanders Joel Turner and Lewis Brake, both ASS athletes, are the U21 junior 49er world champions and producing promising Open results including winning 49er crew at Sail Sydney. “It’s good to confirm our boat handling is up to scratch after a five week break,” said Brake who underwent a knee operation after Santander. “There’s a very competitive fleet heading to Melbourne and we’ll be going up against class veterans and world champions. If we can stay up with those guys we’ll be happy.”

There’s little doubt that New Zealand’s 49er sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are world-beaters in the 49er. Italians Ruggero Tita and Giacomo Cavilli, who placed second at Sail Sydney, say they can forget the gold medal two years out from the next Olympic Games, such is the Kiwi’s dominance.

Like Finn sailor Jake Lilley, Tita and Cavilli flew straight from Abu Dhabi and the ISAF World Cup Final to Sail Sydney, their first time in the harbour city. They have a day of sightseeing tomorrow before joining the exodus of high performance boats and people heading south to Melbourne and the next chapter of the winding path to Rio.

Lisa Ratcliff ISAF Sailing World Cup – Event Media

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