The Inaugural North American SKUD18 Championship was held from August 8th – 11th at Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. Eight international teams used this event as a warm up for the IFDS World Championships, which was held at the same venue the following week.Light winds across the regatta, saw races abandoned and the lead swap between the reigning World Champions, Britons Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell and 2012 Paralympic Gold Medalists, Australians Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch. In the end, the British team were triumphant, taking the regatta from the Australians, with Canada’s John McRoberts & Jackie Gay in third place.
Fourteen teams lined up the following week for the start of the IFDS World Championships. The inconsistent winds continued from the previous week, with 11 races being completed for the SKUD18’s. The first few days of the regatta saw a three-way battle between the GBR and AUS teams and the Italian’s Marco Gualandris and Marta Zanetti with the three teams sharing the race wins between them. Until, that was, race 8, when something unexpected happened.
Peter Beard and Rachel Cox, one of 3 teams from Australia, caught the whole fleet by surprise when they sailed up the middle of the course and beat everyone to the finish line in Race 8. It was surprising given their earlier results. But what made it so remarkable is the story behind this team. Peter is suffering from multiple system atrophy, a neurological disorder for which there is no cure. While in hospital in 2013, he decided to set a goal to compete in the IFDS Worlds as a way of creating a reason to keep living and enjoy his life-long passion for sailing. Friends and family in the Brisbane area rallied to raise the funds needed to travel to Halifax so he could reach his goal, despite deteriorating health. When the other members of the Australian team heard about the victory, they met his boat at the dock this evening with a round of applause as they sailed in and the familiar “Aussie Aussie Aussie” Oi Oi Oi chant. On the dock, the Australian team of Liesl Tesch and Dan Fitzgibbon presented Peter with an Australian Sailing T-shirt to recognize him as an honorary member of the national sailing team.
Going into the final day of competition, it was again a race between the Australian and British teams. The Brits needed to win the race, and have Australians Fitzgibbon & Tesch finish in fourth or worse position to take the Championships and retain their World Champions title – and they almost got their dream result. During the final race, the Australians picked up weed on their rudders and dropped back through the fleet, eventually finishing the race in 13th place – their worst result for the regatta. By contrast, the British team managed to finish the race in 2nd place, which put both teams on equal points after their discards at the end of the Championship. The result was decided on countback, with the title of IFDS World Champions being awarded to the Australians who had 4 race wins to the Brits 3. Third overall was the Italian team of Marco Gualandris & Marta Zanetti, 7 points behind Team GBR. Canada and the USA were fourth and fifth respectively.
As a result of this regatta, it is anticipated that Australia, Great Britain, Italy, Canada and the United States will have qualified for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition along with host nation Brazil.
At the medal ceremony the recorded national anthems of Australia and France didn’t play properly. But strong voices in the crowd took over with an impromptu singing of the Australian anthem, the Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oi Oi Oi chant and then La Marseillaise. It must have been swelling national pride that prompted the Canadian Sailing team to break out into O Canada when they gathered for a team photo at the end of the ceremony.
In 2015 the rest of the countries hoping to qualify for Rio will head to Melbourne, where the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria in Williamstown will host the 2015 World Championship.