Collisions and Broken Masts in Wild Williamstown Wind
by Bernie Kaaks
Broken masts, collisions and a tough old day for the sailors at the Para World Sailing Championships as Port Phillip showed its wild side on the third day of competition in Williamstown, Melbourne, Australia.
A warm northerly breeze lured the sailors out of the comfortable surroundings of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria to their respective course areas with no sign of what was to follow.
The first race for all fleets was run in a breeze of 15 knots or so, with gusts to 20 knots and the wind direction swinging wildly in each gust. It was challenging but enjoyable sailing. In the second race however, the breeze built quickly. Strong gusts, reported at 30 knots, caught many crews unawares, with spectacular results.
Israeli and American SKUD18 sailors fell victim to the second race gusts as their masts snapped whilst Puerto Rico’s Julio Reguero collided with the committee boat on the 2.4mR race track.
On the SKUD18 course, conditions were trying for all crews in the first race, which was won by Australians Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch ahead of their team mates Amethyst Barnbrook and Brett Pearce, with the Netherlands crew of Rolf Schrama and Sandra Nap third.
In the race that followed, conditions were frightening, with vicious gusts sweeping down the course. Americans Ryan Porteous and Maureen McKinnon launched their spinnaker after rounding the windward mark, only to watch it fill instantly as a gust hit, and snap the mast neatly at the spreaders.
Soon afterwards, the Israeli crew of Hagar and Moshe Zahavi suffered a similar fate, both boats being towed back to the marina. The Australian crew, having established a good lead by the final lap, delayed the deployment of a spinnaker until after they had gybed, and kept a close watch on the Canadian boat closing in behind them. They went on to score another win, with Canada’s John McRoberts and Jackie Gray second and the Netherlands’ Rolf Schrama and Sandra Nap third.
Total points after dropping the worst are now Australia on 6 points, Great Britain on 17 and Italy on 21.
At one point during the final race, Julio Reguero (PUR) in the 2.4mR fleet was unable to keep clear of an anchored committee boat during a particularly strong gust, while down the course there were four boats in the hands of support craft. For these little boats with their low freeboard, just keeping then afloat was challenging, and bilge pumps were being used by everyone to pump out water that had swept over them in the high winds. France’s Damien Seguin showed his versatility today by winning followed by Australia’s Matt Bugg, who was third in both races. Canadian Brian Miller was third in race six.
After six races, dropping the worst, Damien Seguin leads with nine points, from Germany’s Heiko Kroeger on 14 and Australian Matt Bugg on 19.
On the Sonar course, the predicted tightening of the competition was clear when the first three boats crossed the finish line almost together, each overlapped with the boat ahead. The Australian crew of Colin Harrison, Jonathan Harris and Russell Boaden started soundly in the centre of the fleet and narrowly led at the first mark from the British and French crews. During the final downwind leg, French skipper Bruno Jourdren broke away from the Australian and British boats, favouring the left as they closed on the finish line. The Australians held their nerve, and with the British boat closing fast behind them, kept the French boat out wide until they gybed back, leaving the Frenchmen to lament what might have been. The finishing order was Australia, France and Britain.
In much stronger conditions during the second race, the British turned the tables, leading the Australians home with the New Zealand crew of Richard Dodson, Chris Sharp and Andrew May in third place. The French boat had their worst result for the series so far, finishing eighth.
Total scores, now incorporating the dropping of each boat’s worst score, shows the Australians leading on seven points, ahead of the British crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas on 13 points and the French crew on 22.
With severe conditions forecast for tomorrow, teams are already discussing their strategy after today’s carnage on the race course.