Gosford Sailing Club’s 420 sailors Sophie McIntosh and Emily Summerell are the 2016 Australian Open Female Champions after the week-long National Open Championships wound up on Friday on Sydney Harbour.

By winning the trophy at the aptly named Splash Festival 2016, the girls broke a 10-year NSW drought as it has not been in NSW hands since 2005.

More importantly for the girls the victory was the first step in their quest to secure the Australian female 420s representative spot on the Australian team at the next Youth Worlds in Oman. The next selection step is performing strongly at the Australian Youth Championship (starting on Sunday January 10) at the same venue, followed by the final selection regatta, Queensland Youth Week in July.

As well as winning the Girls Open and Youth (under-19s) trophies at the nationals skipper Sophie, 17, and her crew Emily, 15, were fourth overall in the Open category.

Conditions at the Splash Festival, hosted by Woollahra Sailing Club, were highly challenging with days of rain and at times strong and shifty breeze testing the 34-strong fleet.

“Close, shifty, wet, windy,” were the four words Sophie used to sum up the racing. “It was definitely the wettest regatta we have sailed in.”

“We went into the last day of the nationals a point ahead of our nearest rivals, (Madison Taylor and Orla Mulholland-Patterson from Western Australia).

“We just played the shifts and managed to separate ourselves from the WA girls. It was very busy on the harbour with ferries and powerboats making heaps of waves.”

(Not to mention some tall ships being welcomed to the harbour by a giant water spray from a tugboat on the final day).

The first day’s racing was held in the Sound, just inside the harbour headlands where large waves added to the challenge. The girls posted a 12th and a 3rd on day one, numbers they repeated the next day in lighter breeze when the rising swell forced the race officer to move the course further into the harbour off Watsons Bay.

Later in the regatta with the wind again strong the girls experienced their worst two results, not finishing one race when a mainsail baton was lost upon capsize and then falling behind the leaders in another race after sudden gusts knocked several other boats over.  

With two drop races accounted for in their scorecard the girls knew they could not afford to record any more high numbers in the final three races. They went into the final day a single point in front of their nearest female rivals determined to finish with a flourish.

They certainly did that, consistently picking the tricky wind shifts to find the lifts and showing great kite-setting skills in moderate breeze and sunshine on Friday. As well as wrapping up the girls title in the final three races they also beat the overall open winners in each of those races with a first and two second placings.

The girls finished fourth overall with an accumulated 40 points well ahead of next females Laura Harding and Eleanor Grimshaw from Victoria on 71, with the WA girls finishing another point behind them.

The overall regatta winners were the highly consistent Nicholas Sharman and James Grogan from Victoria who loved the heavier breeze, followed by Kiwis Josh Berry and Henry Haslett then third placed Nick Joel and Hugo Llewelyn from Victoria.    

Sophie and Emily were very happy to be in leading position among the girls fleet ahead of the Youth Nationals for sailors aged under 19.

“We still have another regatta coming up so we just have to keep our focus to secure the youth spot,” Sophie said.

The Splash Festival also involved the 29ers, 49ers and 49erFX classes, with 224 sailors and 110 boats participating.

Story by Peter McIntosh

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