Belfast Telegraph

Opening win puts wind in Larsen's sails

By Ali Gordon

The world's best sailors flocked to the picturesque seaside village of Ballyholme yesterday to kick off the F18 World Championships.

Hosted by Ballyholme Yacht Club, overlooking the stunning Ballyholme Bay in east Bangor, 61 boats took to the shore to compete in the prestigious five-day event.

Like last year's event in Marina di Grossetto in Italy, wind played havoc with racing and only one race took place on the first day of the Championships.

However, event organisers are optimistic that today's weather will hold out for a jam-packed day filled with five races.

"It was a tricky day – the wind kept changing in terms of velocity but we came out the best we could," said race winner Gunnar Larsen. The Dutch sailor pulled off a magnificent victory against stiff opposition from Australian Glenn Ashby in second place and Helge Sach in third.

A world renowned competitor, Ashby was one of the stars on the Emirates Team New Zealand in the America's Cup in San Francisco last summer and will undoubtedly cause problems for competitors this week.

"He is in the top 30/40 sailors in the world. In fact, you could potentially say he's in the top 10," said Ballyholme Yacht Club's Rear Commodore, Mark Mackey.

With some of the top sailors in the world in attendance, the event, which runs until Friday, is set to be very exciting and race leader Larsen does not underestimate the challenges that the next few days will bring.

"We've got a good boat and a good crew so we do feel very confident but this has only been the first race. Because of the good start, it boosts your confidence but the trick is to stay there," he said.

The sport has grown in popularity in recent years with multihull sailing returning to the Olympics in the mixed crew Nacra 17s and last year's America's Cup, which hosted 72-foot 'foiling' catamarans match racing.

Sir Ben Ainslie has also helped to raise its profile through his campaign to build a team to compete in the America's Cup in 2017.

Nacra's Commercial Director, Larsen has been impressed with both the friendly Northern Ireland hospitality he has received and the organisation of such a massive event.

"This feels like coming home, it has been very welcoming. I'm very happy to be here. We've been invited to meet the locals and it sounds childish but we love it.

"It's (F18 World Championships) very well organised and the race committee pulled off one race which was the maximum they could have done today," the cheerful competitor said.

Ballyholme Yacht Club are hoping that the success of this week's event will pave the way for even bigger events in the future.

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