Australian pair are cream of the Cats

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The Independent Online
A dhow, two Bedouin tents and a camel shared the stage yesterday with rank on rank of brand new boats supplied for the opening of the Hobie Cat 16 World Championship here.

In contrast to the manufactured greens of the Emirates Golf Club, host later this month to a PGA Tour event, or the Nad Al Sheba course, setting a few days later for the richest horse race in the world, the Dubai Cup, the grey-blue seas of the Arabian Gulf provide a natural race track.

And the sunshine, interrupted by cloud and rain of late, fits well with the Californian origins of a boat which has sold 100,000 worldwide and hopes to replace the British-designed Tornado as the catamaran class for the 2000 Olympics.

There is more than one agenda to an event that has attracted more than 300 entries from 56 countries. In the Dubai International Marine Club, a few hundred yards along the beach from the racehorse owner Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Saeed Al Maktoum's palace, his uncle, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, was opening an event that is a test bed for the 1998 mid-Olympics World Championships of Sailing.

The huge entry will be trying to qualify over the next three days for one of the 25 to 32 slots being contested by more than 240 crews to join the existing 80 seeded semi-finalists. Britain already has Mark and Victoria Farrow in the field. Both Tornado sailor Stephen Park, crewed by Ruth Verrier-Jones, and Laser contender Chris Gowers, crewed by David Jones, will have to work hard as 60-boat fleets rotate equipment and time on the race course.

The Australian pair of Kerry Ireland and Jennifer Dickson, who is just 14 years old and also comes from Brisbane's Gold Coast, swept aside all comers to take the Hobie 16 Women's World Championship. They won eight out of 10 starts, were second and third in the other two, and could watch nonchalantly as America's Amiee Larchar and Susan Welch snatched silver from the South Africans, Inge Schabort and Gillian Anley.