Inclusive sailing in New Zealand

A regatta held in Wellington New Zealand shows what an inclusive sport sailing can be.

The event, consisted of 3 regattas – the Kiwi Cup, the Kiwi Ability Regatta and the NZ Hansa Class Championships. Sailors from New Zealand – and one from Australia – came together at Lowry Bay Yacht Club for the 3 day event over the Wellington Anniversary Day long weekend. Held in Hansa 303’s, Liberties and SKUD18’s the event saw able bodied sailors competing with and against sailors with physical disabilities, vision problems, amputees and sailors with intellectual disabilities.

Good conditions greeted the competitors on the 1st day of racing with two races completed as winds built in the afternoon. The second day of racing saw ‘Windy Wellington’ live up to its name with racing abandoned for the day in for the open 303, Liberty and SKUD18 fleets. Having completed 2 races on the 1st day, the race management decided to move the Kiwi Ability participants within the breakwater walls of Seaview Marina, and complete the 4 races required to decide their championship.

This decision put the competitors on a ‘stadium’ course, using moored boats in the middle of the marina as rounding marks. This also allowed spectators to be up close to the action and cheer the sailors around the course. The course was tight and tricky and racing was close amongst the fleet, with more than one competitor running aground trying to improve their positions and get the edge around the marks.

WindP1050408s were still strong on day 3 of competition when the open fleets returned to the course. Local keelboat sailors were impressed by the skills and tenacity of the competitors, in conditions where the winds were beginning to gust up to 35 knots. Many locals had not seen the SKUD18’s in action previously, and they marvelled at the speed the boats were able to attain with spinnakers flying on the downwind legs.

With one race required to complete the Championships, the fleets came ashore to wait for the winds to ease. The competition, however, ended early for the SKUD18’s with 2 of the 3 boats coming together in the windy conditions causing damage to both boats that meant they would take no further part. When the decision was made to return to the course, several competitors decided that discretion was the better part of valour and began the task of packing up. The final race was completed, with strong winds and waves seeing several of the sailors wet but elated at completing the regatta.

One higlight from this event surrounded the sailor who won the Kiwi Cup. The Kiwi Cup is the trophy awarded bi-annually at the NZ Hansa Class Championships. Awarded for the sailor(s) who score the lowest points in fleets of more than 5 boats, this year the trophy was won by Tony Vaka who was sailing in his first regatta and has only been sailing these boats for about 8 months – a remarkable achievement in a field of experienced sailors. Given that 2 of the previous winners have gone on to represent New Zealand in International competitions, the future looks very bright for this sailor.

Results and more photos can be found at the Sailability Wellington website

P1050570a         P1050423a          TonyVaka2

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