Sailed on Port Phillip, the Sail Melbourne Olympic and Invited Classes Regatta boasted 308 competitors. The 25-event regatta, sailed from 13 yacht clubs around Port Phillip arguably ranks as the premier off the beach event in Australia – and it is the only one where competitors can win prize money.

(Above) The Warn sisters and Tneal Kawalla show you’re never too old.

A happy crew is a winning crew. Melanie Dennison in the Yngling class.

Lars Kleppich took the lead in men’s sailboarding.

The Australian Yachting Federation used this regatta as an Australian selection event for the 2004 Olympics, with the exception of the Laser Class. As the only Grade One ISAF ranking event in the southern hemisphere, a world-class fleet came to try their luck on a tough sailing arena.

There were no surprise winners, but there were some nail-biting finishes on the final day.

Sydney Olympian Lars Kleppich used it to “dip his toes” back into sailing. Former professional windsurfer Jessica Crisp was there to launch her Athens Olympic campaign and Sarah Blanck raced on Port Phillip for the first time since winning the coveted world Europe crown.

World number one 470 sailors Nathan Wilmot and Mal Page continued to show why they hold sailing’s top ranking, triple world champion Chris Nicholson paraded a new crewmate and world champions Darren Bundock and John Forbes enhanced their prospects of a gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games by clean sweeping the Tornado racing.

Michael Blackburn made his return to the Laser, taking control from race five with four straight wins, displaying his 2000 Olympic bronze medal form in a tough 47-strong fleet.

But it wasn’t the men and women who will bid for a record haul of medals in Greece next year who stole the show. It was twin sisters Patricia and Joyce Warn and their young, teenage apprentice Tneal Kawalla.



Michael Blackburn (top) took control in Lasers.
470 sailors Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell stormed to victory.
Darren Bundock and John Forbes set sail for Athens in the Tornados.

These feisty sisters, 72-years-young, were the talk of the boat park at Sandringham Yacht Club. In their matching sailing gear and up against the two female crews bidding for the one spot in the Yngling class at next year’s Athens Olympics, the fabulous Warn sisters sailed into the overall lead on the first day of the regatta.

It was a feat, which captured sporting headlines around the country and canvassed enormous interest from the local press in Victoria. While their time in the limelight was short-lived, the agile feats of the Warn sisters helped present a new side of sailing to the country and to prove you are never to old to sail.

At the other end of the age scale, Melbourne duo Ben, 22, and Marcus, 24, Tardrew turned heads with their strong performance in the 49er skiff class. With just over a year’s competition under their belts, the pair was the second Australian finishers in the 49er class won by triple world champion Chris Nicholson and his new crewmate Gary Boyd.

Nicholson’s lead-up to Sail Melbourne was unusual to say the least, with he and Boyd racing together – but not on a 49er. The pair sailed on the Open 66-footer Grundig in the Sydney to Hobart race with Nicholson also taking time out from his Olympic campaign to win a third world 505 crown with older brother Darren in late December.

Sail Melbourne also marked the sailing return of another old pro with sailboarder Lars Kleppich competing in a major event for the first time since the Sydney Olympics.

Kleppich is yet to decide whether he will launch a campaign for the Athens Olympics but still managed to finish as top Australian at the regatta to take the lead in the Olympic selection series. Olympian Jessica Crisp has committed to the Athens Olympics and flew in from her home in the US to take the lead in the women’s sailboarding selection series.

Bob Steel’s Quest won the IRC trophy and Kevin Wood’s Ticket of Leave the IMS Trophy, at the Australian Offshore Keelboat Championships in Melbourne.

Sailed as part of the Sail Melbourne regatta, the series, organised by the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria under the auspices of the Australian Yachting Federation, comprised six windward-leeward courses and a long bay race.

With IRC now the popular choice across the board, 40 yachts entered with only six yachts sailing under IMS.

Quest, a Nelson Marek 46, representing the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, has this past year won the inaugural Sydney-Newcastle Race, Sydney-Mooloolaba, Hamilton Island Race Week and was the former IMS champion.

In December, Steel’s long-held dream came true with his overall win in the Sydney-Hobart race under IMS. It is an outstanding strike rate for any yacht. His next wish, he says, is to win the CYCA’s Blue Water Point Score.

“This has been a phenomenal year for me, it’s fantastic, what a roll we’re on, we’re just all really pleased, now we are the IRC champions, we’ll take it as we can get it,” Steel said of the yacht, which sails just as well in flat water light breezes as it does in the choppier, windier conditions of Port Phillip.

“We have an alright boat that’s sailed consistently well, I have a great crew, Greeny (Mike Green) steering, Sean Kirkjian calling tactics, Daniel Birch, Col Anderson, Jacko (Jack Goluzd), Peter Messenger, Stuart Bon and Simon Reffold,” he added.

Hollywood Boulevard (CYCA) finished second overall, producing some good results to also grab third overall in IMS. The Farr 52, however, finished 17 points behind Quest, but went on to clean-sweep IRC at the Bundaberg Festival of Sail with five wins and a second place.

Robert Hick’s ‘little boat with a lot of heart’, Toecutter (RYCV), the owner-designed Hick 31, not perturbed in the mixed conditions gave her larger rivals a run for their money and finished in third place on count back from Lou Abrahams’ Sydney 38, Another Challenge (SYC).

A well-respected Abrahams must be pondering his luck of late, relegated to second place on count back after tying for first with Ticket of Leave in IMS, and recently slipping to third overall in the Sydney-Hobart on the home stretch in diminishing breezes.

Stephen Ainsworth must have contemplated what could have been. His fifth overall did not reflect the fact that he was at all times Steel’s biggest threat for the IRC crown.

Ainsworth, skippering his Swan 48 Loki (CYCA), actually won four races, including the first two windward and return races in 18-22 knot winds on lumpy seas and looked unbeatable.

The following day, in 10-knot breezes on flat seas, she dropped to ninth place in the early race. This was the race in which Quest scored her only win of the series. By afternoon, in an increasing 15 knots on choppy seas, Loki was back in the winner’s circle, Quest second.

Next came the 57 nautical mile Bay race, Magnavox, a Volvo 60 co-owned and steered by Peter Sorenson (MHYC) taking line honours from Hollywood Boulevard in a building 12-25 knot wind on choppy seas.

Gary Smith’s Swarbrick 9.7, Tusk (RPYC), the lone West Australian entry, won the race and in doing so, helped third placed Quest maintain her series lead over second placed Loki by one point.

Light fickle airs in race six the next day were Ainsworth’s undoing. A 32nd place to Quest’s fifth, saw Loki go from rooster to feather duster in a series that did not allow for a race drop.

It was all over by the final race seven, even though Loki took podium position, Hollywood Boulevard second and Quest third in a gusty 15-22 knots.

Chairman of Sail Melbourne and Immediate Past Commodore of Sandringham Yacht Club, Kevin Wood, and owner of the IMS winner, Ticket of Leave, was exceptionally pleased with his win.

Wood had previously placed second at numerous regattas during the past 18 months with his Beneteau 40.7 and a major success had eluded him.

He summed up this way, “yes, we’ve finished second at many regattas including Hamilton Island Race Week and others, so this is very pleasing for me and my crew, who have worked very hard. They did a great job.”

Chris Dare’s Ninety Seven (SYC), the Sydney-Hobart line honours winner of 1993, was the only casualty of the championships. The yacht broke her mast on the first day in sharp, short seas.