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420 National Open Championships - Fresh winds at Splash Festival
Sophie McIntosh (skipper) and Emily Summerell in action.© Jeff Crow

420 National Open Championships

This year’s 420 National Open Championships were wet and wild and very well named at the Splash Festival 2016.

The week-long regatta, hosted by Woollahra Sailing Club, wound up on Friday on Sydney Harbour.

Conditions were highly challenging with days of rain and at times over 20 knots of breeze and at other times light and shifty breeze testing the 34-strong fleet. It rained a lot but that bright yellow thing in the sky appeared on the final day and all was forgiven.

Two talented Victorian guys dominated as strong breeze and seemingly endless rain ruled the regatta but the impressively consistent winners did not have it all their own way.

Fellow Victorians and the top female crews, along with some red hot visitors from across the Tasman, had plenty to say throughout the keenly contested regatta.

Sailing conditions ranged from strong with swell (and soaked) to light and shifty (and soaked). It was sunny, and shifty, on the last day, though, and that is when the winners had to settle for slightly less glory.

After 10 races the overall winners were the near faultless Nicholas Sharman and James Grogan from Victoria who especially loved the heavier breeze but also placed highly in the lighter stuff. They were followed by the consistent flying Kiwis Josh Berry and Henry Haslett, then third-placed Nick Joel and Hugo Llewelyn from Victoria.

Six wins by the winners helped them post a final points tally of 11, still streets ahead of valiant runners-up Kiwis Josh Berry and Henry Haslett. In third spot were Victorians Nick Joel and Hugo Llewelyn, a single point ahead of the overall girls winners Sophie McIntosh and Emily Summerell, from Gosford, in fourth spot. (That one spot in a regatta like this could make you feel a little cranky!)

But despite not stepping up onto the open results podium, Sophie, 17, and Emily, 15, were naturally thrilled to fight off strong challenges and become the 2016 Australian Open Female Champions.

By winning the females champions trophy, the girls broke a 10-year NSW drought as it has not been in NSW hands since 2005. More importantly for them the victory was the first step in their quest to secure the Australian female 420s representative spot on the Australian team at the next Youth Worlds in Oman. The next selection step is performing strongly at the Australian Youth Championship starting on Sunday (January 10) at the same venue, followed by the final selection regatta, Queensland Youth Week in July.

“Close, shifty, wet, windy,” were the four words Sophie used to sum up the racing. “It was definitely the wettest regatta we have sailed in.”

“We went into the last day of the nationals a point ahead of our nearest rivals, (Madison Taylor and Orla Mulholland-Patterson from Western Australia),” she said.

“We just played the shifts and managed to separate ourselves from the WA girls. It was very busy on the harbour with ferries and powerboats making heaps of waves.”

The first day’s racing was held in the Sound, just inside the harbour headlands where large waves added to the challenge. The girls posted a 12th and a third on day one, numbers they repeated the next day in lighter breeze when the rising swell forced the race officer to move the course further into the harbour off Watsons Bay.

Later in the regatta with the wind again strong the girls experienced their worst two results, not finishing one race when a mainsail baton was lost upon capsize and then falling behind the leaders in another race after sudden gusts knocked several other boats over.

With two drop races accounted for the girls knew they could not afford to record any more high numbers in the final three races. They went into the final day a single point in front of their nearest female rivals determined to finish with a flourish.

They certainly did that, consistently picking the tricky wind shifts to find the lifts and showing great kite-setting skills in moderate breeze and sunshine on Friday. As well as wrapping up the girls title in the final three races they also beat the overall open winners in each of those races with a first and two second placings.

After a great final day of racing the Gosford girls had accumulated 40 points, comfortably ahead of next females Laura Harding and Eleanor Grimshaw from Victoria on 71, with the WA girls finishing another point behind them.

Sophie and Emily were very happy to be in leading position among the girls fleet ahead of the Youth Nationals for sailors aged under 19.

“We still have another regatta coming up so we just have to keep our focus to secure the youth spot,” McIntosh said.

The Splash Festival also involved the 29ers, 49ers and 49erFX classes, with 224 sailors and 110 boats participating. Despite the big wet the hospitality was outstanding and all volunteers and organisers deserve a big hand of applause in difficult circumstances.

In the 29ers John Cooley and Simon Hoffman from NSW totally dominated. In second possie were Tom Crockett and Tom Grimes from NSW and in third spot were Natasha Bryant and Annie Wilmot.

In the 49ers David Gilmour and Lewis Brake were too strong, with the runners up being Joel Turner and Tom Siganto followed by Harry Price and Harry Morton.

It was a similar story of dominance in the 49erFX with Olivia Price and Eliza Solly from NSW dominating over runners up Tess Lloyd and Caitlin Elks from Victoria, followed by the Sydney-Victorian pairing of Hayden Brown and Mackenzie Bird.

by Peter McIntosh

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