Three Irish boats made the journey to Weymouth (sailing venue for the London Olympic Games in 2012) last week for the 49er National Championships. Former 420 legend David Copithorne made the journey from Schull with Tony Sheehan, while Ross McDonald and John Downey along with Alistair Kissane and Ronan Wallace who sail out of Howth also made the trip. Several other international boats competed, including teams from Germany, Finland and South Africa, a fact which is indicative of the strength of the British fleet.
The event was preceded by two days of open class training, with coaching from Paul Campbell-James and Ian Martin, which was very beneficial to all those who took part. This involved several practice races with the British Development Squad, which gave the participants, most of whom had not yet raced in the 49er, a taste of things to come over for the event.
The event was dominated by the British pairing of John Pink and Rick Peacock, members of the British Olympic Squad, while the Finish team managed a well-deserved third overall. With a relatively comfortable 12 knots and flat waters on the first day, the Irish got off to an impressive start, with Downey and McDonald lying in 12th overall, having beaten two-time Olympic medallist in the 49er, Simon Hiscocks, in the opening two races.
The breeze built considerably on the second day, gusting over twenty knots for much of the day. Despite the flat waters of Weymouth harbour, the four races sailed that day were a spectacular display of the dramatic thrills and spills that typify 49er racing. The boathandling and speed of the top boats was a sight to behold, with the unstoppable Pink and Peacock sailing flawlessly to secure the event with a day to spare.
On the final day, the breeze built yet again, with gusts of 28knots making it difficult for many boats even to get to the starting line! Most of the chat in the dinghy park involved some mention of the now infamous 49er medal race from the Beijing games, in which all of the teams, the top ten in the world, capsized at some point during the race!
With two races on the final day, the fleet was quickly separated with gear failure and some very entertaining acts of on-the-water acrobatics, combined with a whole host of swimming strokes. Downey and McDonald managed to finish both races, something for which they received a wooden-spoon prize for finishing all races.
All in all, it was a very worthwhile event for the Irish boats to compete in and hopefully another foundation stone for the Irish 49er fleet. Some of the Irish boats also hope to compete in the Sail for Gold event to be sailed in Weymouth on September 15-20th.
Final results were as follows:
1. John Pink and Rick Peacock 7pts
2. Dylan Fletcher and Alaun Sign 18pts
3. Lauri Lehtinen and Heizzi Soininen 24pts
16. John Downey and Ross McDonald 94pts
21. Alistair Kissane and Ronan Wallace 155pts
34. David Copitorne and Tony Sheehan 242pts