Sail Sydney – fickle one minute, fabulous the next

Sometimes even the experts get it wrong and that was the case today when a beautiful nor-easter filled in on Sydney Harbour just after lunch, turning aside the earlier shifty light nor-westerly, which made a brief appearance on Day 3 of the Sail Sydney regatta, organised by Yachting NSW.

Due to unstable and at times non-existent breeze, Principal Race Officer Tony Denham held sailors ashore until a light north-westerly prevailed, the first classes getting away at 11.20am, instead of the planned 10.00am.

General recalls in some classes held up racing further, but the increasing nor-easter made sure the pace was kept relatively fast and all enjoyed a much better sail on the Harbour minus all the weekend traffic.

“Our first race was shifty and unstable and only around 5 knots, but by the second one we got a nice 12-13 knot north-easterly, similar to yesterday,” said leading 470 skipper Mat Belcher.

The Queenslander and his Sydney crew Malcolm Page continue to lead the 470 Open fleet after scoring 2-1 results today, beaten in the earlier race by Youth training partners Stacey Omay/Chelsea Hall. “The girls sailed really well,” said Belcher of the West Australian based crew.

After three days of racing, the top three places in the class are now filled out by Australian Olympic campaigners. Belcher/Page will not be beaten here. Their male training partners, Sam Kivell/Will Ryan (Vic) are in a good second place, with Omay/Hall eight points behind them, the girls overtaking New Zealand's Jo Aleh/Olivia Powrie after today's races.

The entire 470 Aussie squad, under the guidance of Victor Kovalenko, are looking in good shape, prompting their coach to comment: “I am proud of all of them. They are all honest and they work very hard.”

Aleh and Powrie are contented with their progress so far, the two only joining for a 470 campaign around a year ago. Aleh revealed this afternoon: “The best fun so far was beating the Aussie guys (Belcher and Beijing gold medallist Page), that was great,” she laughed. “We're happy with our campaign so far,” she added.

Powrie said she and Aleh had sailed together in the 420 Youth class: “We grew up at the same yacht club, sailed a 420 together and sailed a Laser Radial against each other. Now we're back together and I think we make a pretty good team.”

In what has been a closely contested regatta so far, the lead has changed again in the Laser Radial class, with Sydney Scott (second yesterday) taking over the lead from Chris ‘George' Jones (Tas) and Ben Franklin (Qld) is third.

The smiles on Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen's face when they came ashore this afternoon gave the game away. “We got three more wins,” Outteridge confirmed. Jensen said that while they led the first two races from early on, they still had to keep a close cover on their main rivals, especially the fairly new Kiwi crew of Peter Burling/Blair Tuke who have kept the Australian pair honest throughout.

“The third race was a lot closer. We had north-east on the left side of the course and east on the right; it was hard to pick, shifty, so it was a lot closer,” Outteridge confirmed. The pair is very happy. Six straight wins gives them a handy 16 point lead over the New Zealand pair.

Burling and Tuke have only sailed together for around a year and a half. Burling competed at Beijing in the 470 and made the switch after returning from China, while Tuke comes out of the feeder 29er class.

“We're pretty happy with how we're going so far,” said Burling this afternoon, confirming he'd made the class switch due to weight. “We'd like to beat Nathan (Outteridge) again though,” Tuke interjected.

“It was pretty shifty – you needed a bit of luck today – it was a bit like the first day. We're up there with the Aussie guys, but little things happen at the end…..”

Laura Baldwin (NSW) is in fourth overall and first in the Women's, with 31 year-old mother, Megan De Lange (Vic), fifth and second woman following the two winning a race each in the two races sailed today. The remaining three races will be sailed tomorrow.

Triple Olympian Jessica Crisp (AUS) has taken over the RS:X Sailboard lead held by Yasuko Kosuge (JPN) since Day 1. Crisp cites coaching from ex sailboarder, Sean O'Brien, as the reason for her improved performance in higher winds.

Crisp, who has finished just outside the medals at the last two games, racked up three wins from three races to take a two point lead from the petite Japanese sailor who admitted yesterday she struggled in conditions over 15 knots, and although conditions did not go over, it was quite gusty on the Harbour.

“I finally got my act together,” Crisp laughed. “Everything went well; it couldn't have gone better. I'm getting better in the higher end of the wind scale – it's all about technique, rather than strength,” she said.

Crisp's long-term training partner, Jannicke Stalstrom (NOR), has taken over third overall, a second and third place holding her in good stead this afternoon, with only three races remaining.

Hannah Nattrass (NSW) and her ring-in crew and boyfriend, Graham Biehl, have been like a runaway train in the 29er at Sail Sydney. So far the two have won six of the nine races contested, and this despite the fact that Biehl climbed into the boat with Nattrass for the first time in Saturday's first races!

They are 15 points clear of the nearest competition, Youth supremo's Byron White/Thomas Koerner (NSW) with a further six points up on Adam Lahey/Troy Rushton (Qld).

Biehl, who sailed at the Games in China in the 470, is in Australia to compete in that class at Sail Melbourne, but agreed to sail with Nattrass at Sail Sydney. Obviously the chemistry works. Asked what they had that the other entries didn't, Nattrass answered: “I don't know – I guess we've just got good team work!”

Biehl doesn't see it that way “She's a really good skipper, she saved our butts a few times, especially downwind.”

Unusually, Nattrass has no great sailing ambitions. “I just love sailing; I do it for the enjoyment and fun,” the refreshing 19 year-old said.

The Laser Full Rigs were one of the last classes of the water and in his usual style, Tom “come-back-kid” Slingsby used the pressured situation he was in to claim the lead of the series. However, he has last week's International Youth Match Racing champion, Josh Junior (NZL) right on his knocker, just one point off the leader.

A second Kiwi sailor, Andy Maloney, has also moved back up the board and into third overall, three points behind Junior. Maloney said  only yesterday that Junior would be his biggest threat among his team mates.

Javier Hernandez has broken the Kiwi stranglehold, his win in Race 8 moving the Spaniard up into fourth place, but on equal points with Sam Meech (NZL).

The ISAF Grade 1 Sail Sydney regatta is hosted by Woollahra Sailing Club with assistance from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club.

Tomorrow (Tuesday local time) is the last day of the regatta, with racing due to start from 10.00am.

Di Pearson, Sail Sydney media

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