This month's 2017 national Laser championships at Lake Taupo promise close competition across all open, masters and youth fleets.
With Olympic Laser bronze medallist Sam Meech recovering from knee surgery (although he will be doing some pre-regatta coaching) and Andy Maloney part of Team New Zealand's America's Cup campaign, the Open championship looks like a showdown between defending champion Andrew McKenzie, NZL squad sailor Tom Saunders, World Youth Sailing Championships representative George Gautrey, who is stepping up from the Laser Radial to the standard rig, and an overseas contingent which includes an expanded Chinese squad returning after strong showings at Muritai last year.
(George Gautrey is jumping up from the Laser Radial to the standard Laser for the upcoming nationals. Photo: Sailing Energy / World Sailing)
The Radial open and youth fleet will be missing regular front runner Sara Winther, who is still recovering from a wrist injury, leaving Olympic campaigner Sussanah Pyatt and several outstanding youth sailors including last year's youth runner-up Josh Armit, Jason Hewitt and recent Youth Worlds representative Olivia Christie to fight it out with world apprentice masters champion Scott Leith, who has again elected to sail in the open division this year.
The masters classes look extremely strong, with many gearing up for April's World Masters Games in Auckland.
Defending champion Andrew Dellabarca will face a raft of challenges in the masters standard division, including from 2015 champion Chris Decke, past national champions Rohan Lord, Mark Oliver, Chris Brodie and Giles Grigg and the strong Wellington contingent with the likes of Rob Woodward and Owen Anderson. There will also be several "young guns" in the fleet, such as expat Aussie apprentice master and recent North Harbour Masters winner Anthony Merrington.
With Scott opting to sail in the open fleet, the Radial masters contest is likely to feature a battle between defending champion Ed Tam, last year's runner up Hamish Atkinson, World Laser Masters cube winner Richard Blakey and returning faces such as past World Masters champion Mark Orams and apprentice Phil Wild.
A near record-sized fleet of at least 120 competitors is expected, and entries can be done online. The New Zealand Laser Association will sponsor pre-regatta coaching on the two lead-up days, which will feature several top sailors including Sam Meech and Susannah Pyatt.