Cut-throat conditions for sailing world championhips


Pirates on the next leg of the Volvo round the world race and two people killed by sharks in the waters off the race tracks of the world championships of sailing, with 10 world titles at stake, make sailing look even more dangerous than is normal.

The Volvo problem will be tackled by stopping the race from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, loading the yachts onto a ship, and avoiding the most dangerous operational areas Somali terrorism.

Off Fremantle, which is hosting Perth 2011, extra vigilance is the order of the day. “We are not alarmed, but we are in way going to be complacent and we want people out of the water as quickly as possible,” says Stephen Park, manager of Britain’s Olympic sailing squad.

So, if there is blood in the water, it will be as a result of cut-throat racing, not shark attacks. Some of that competition will be between fellow Brits. To be world champion is still a high priority target, even where the Olympic representatives have already been picked in seven of the 10 classes. There are five top heavyweight singlehanders in the Finn class, including the reigning gold medallist Ben Ainslie. Few would predict that Ainslie will lose; few would be surprised if all three podium places were occupied by Brits.

One problem that does not face the British squad is having to finish high enough to ensure the country is qualified to send a competitor to Weymouth next summer. As host nation, Team GBR qualifies automatically for every one of the 10 disciplines.

The slogan for the regatta runs “The dream begins in Perth.” But for many it will also end in Perth. Three quarters of the Weymouth places will be decided in Fremantle; many countries are using the regatta as selection trials.

Britain may also use the championships to test some new gear developments – though it may also be prudent to have left some of the favourite gear at home in case the famous Fremantle Doctor wind proves to be a mast-buster.

There will always be an element of establishing a pecking order, but if the Fremantle weather proves typical, and there is no guarantee of that, the value of picking a team based on performances in Weymouth rather than Indian Ocean conditions may pay handsomely.

It is likely that the names of the men’s pairing in the 470 dinghy will be filled in. But it is possible that the fight for the high performance 49er skiff team will be allowed to run on, unless there is a definitive world championship win.