Heading out on Port Phillip this week are 106 young, enthusiastic, noisy, International Optimist sailors drawn from around the globe.
There are nine New Zealanders, three Chinese, two Japanese, three Brazilians and 89 Australians from all states and territories.
Sail Melbourne provides a very special opportunity for the young champions of the future to sail among the national and international champions of today including London gold medallists and members of the Australian Sailing Team on the road to Rio.
Dean Joel, President of the Victorian International Optimist Dinghy Association (VIODA), said this week’s fleet is the biggest Sail Melbourne has hosted. “It’s great to see so many young faces out on the water. So many of them follow the elite sailors. To be at the same venue and then part of the same event is a great thrill for the kids.”
The timing of the Sail Melbourne has proven an excellent warm-up event for those young sailors heading off to the Opti nationals in January (3-10) as part of the 2015 Australian Youth Championships Summer of Sail at Fremantle Sailing Club.
“It’s really the most significant regatta prior to the nationals which is the key event on the class calendar. Attracting kids from interstate and now overseas gives them a great opportunity to measure themselves against the best,” Joel added.
Sail Melbourne’s strategy to encourage international entries to the Optimist competition is showing plenty of promise.
One of those strategies has been for VIODA to establish a cooperative agreement with New Zealand. “We are helping to support a number of their kids. They’re being billeted with local families with the understanding that the New Zealanders will reciprocate when we go there for a key events, including the New Zealand nationals,” Joel said.
New Zealand’s top Optimist sailor Sam Morgan has come from racing in this year’s tough European Championships and is looking for more of the same at Sail Melbourne. “I am here for the competition and the travel as well,” Morgan said with a cheeky grin. “From the Optimists I want to race Starlings, 29ers and then a 49er. My dream is the Olympics in a 49er. I watch them going round and they look like a lot of fun. If there were Nacras in New Zealand I might race them instead,” Morgan added.
Another important partnership between Sail Melbourne and its sister ISAF city in China is founded on the Chinese hosting sailors from Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia at the Qingdao International Sailing Week held at the same time as the ISAF Sailing World Cup Qingdao.
Sail Melbourne regatta director Mark Turnbull OAM and initiator of the exchange program explains that the Australian team sent to Qingdao hails from Victoria due to the association between the sister ISAF World Cup cities of Melbourne and Qingdao. “Yachting Victoria and this event have sent teams of six sailors from Victoria to compete with the idea that we would build a relationship with them, so in return they would send Chinese Opti sailors to Melbourne,” Turnbull said.
The relationship varies between the countries. For the Chinese it is mostly cultural with the visiting sailors experiencing Australia with social activities after racing each day. For New Zealanders the relationship is more about the competition with the agreement that boats are supplied here free of charge and in return boats are supplied to Victorian sailors when they attend the New Zealand Opti nationals.
“We would like to extend the exchange program from next year. We would like to see a team of six from Japan and the same size teams from China, Singapore and New Zealand to make our Opti event a true international event,” Turnbull added.
Racing in the International Optimist class four-day event continues on Port Phillip today and Sunday, the closing day of the week-long ISAF Sailing World Cup – Melbourne and Sail Melbourne.
By Tracey Johnstone/ ISAF Sailing World Cup – Event Media