Britain’s sailors enjoyed mixed fortunes on Day 4 of the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships on Wednesday (6 July), where stronger winds let to more physical racing conditions in Weymouth and Portland.
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell extended their lead at the top of the two-person SKUD fleet to take them closer to their title defence and a hat-trick of World Championship wins, while it was a day of two halves for the Sonar crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas.
They took a sizeable victory in the first race of the day to close in on the French series leaders, before a tough start and mainsail damage in the second race saw them finish ninth, and in third place overall with two days of the regatta left to run.
The 2012 Paralympic waters of Portland Harbour saw conditions in excess of 20 knots on Wednesday, with heavy wind boat-handling testing even the most experienced international sailors across the three classes.
Rickham and Birrell were once again engaged in a close fight with their key rivals, Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, with the Australian pair winning the first race of the day with Rickham and Birrell third to close the points gap to just two behind the British World Champions.
The Skandia Team GBR pair held their nerve and hit back to take the win in the second race, and with Fitzgibbon and Tesch finishing fifth, Rickham and Birrell ended the day with a six point lead with three races left in the regatta.
“I think our boat-handling really paid off in this weather,” explained Rickham. “A lot of people were struggling quite heavily and I think for Niki and I it’s one of our strengths that even if we’re down on speed we manage to make up ground where other people have to tack and gybe.
“We’re very, very happy with today, and it was great to be able to put two more points on our lead.”
With just two days left of the event, the 29-year-old is starting to entertain thoughts of her third straight world title win with Birrell.
“At the end of the day that’s what we want – I’m not going to deny it, we want to keep our title so we’re trying to do everything possible to try and maintain that. We could pretend that we want less than that, but we don’t.
“Obviously we want to come away with a medal in general, but we do want it to be the gold one. That’s what we’re plugging away for, and that’s what we’ll keep doing for the next three races.”
After falling foul of a protest disqualification yesterday, the 2010 world silver medal-winning Sonar trio of Robertson, Stodel and Thomas came out fighting in the big breeze to win their first race of the day, but things went less to plan in the second race, as Thomas explained:
“We didn’t have such a good start off the line and got tucked up with a few boats so we were just trying to find our way back and take boat by boat.
“On the last gybe going down the run we managed to put the pole through the mainsail, which isn’t fast, but we managed to hang in there and finish the race, so we sort of had a five average for the day which isn’t too bad.
The Welshman remained upbeat about their medal prospects heading into the last two years.
“We’re still in the hunt for medals – it’s a bit disappointing in a way as we led out at the beginning of the week, but it’s a matter of keeping our heads down, doing the best we can in every race and the results will look after themselves at the end of the week.
“The big breeze is our forte, so tomorrow we’ll be looking to go out there, win some more races and claw back up there into silver and gold positions.”
In the one-person 2.4mR class, Dutch defending champion Thierry Schmitter has now amassed a 17 point lead with Skandia Team GBR’s Helena Lucas in second overall, while there was disappointment for Megan Pascoe who suffered a disqualification from her second race after a startline collision with Australian Matt Bugg.
Lucas occupies the silver medal position on 35 points, with Dutchman Andre Rademaker in third on 36 points and Pascoe, in spite of her disqualification, still well within reach of the podium spots in fourth with 39 points. The world title looks to be heading for a third time to Schmitter, but the other medals remain firmly up for grabs with three races left to go.
“We’re all so close on points I think – it’s going to be a full on exciting day tomorrow!” said Lucas.
Racing at the IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships continues until Friday 8 July. There are 11 races in total scheduled for each class (two races per day Sunday-Thursday and one race on Friday 8 July).