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women's keelboat nationals

Argentines wedded to compete at women's keelboat nationals

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The women's national keelboat championships has grown in size again this year and will even feature a team made up of Argentines in the country for a wedding.

Thirteen teams will line up for the three-day regatta which starts on Friday at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. There had initially been 16 entries but three teams pulled out.

There will be 10 teams from Auckland, one from Tauranga, one from Christchurch and one from Argentina.

Maria Ferrario, who is the Akarana Sailing Academy's head coach and who has lived in New Zealand for some time, is getting married and asked some friends over for the wedding if they would like to compete in the women's national keelboat championships as well.

The crews will utilise the 11 MRX boats at the Squadron, meaning byes will be built into the racing, and MRX fleet manager Gary Sugden expects it to be one of the most competitive fleets in years.

"There are five or six boats that could win it this year and that's not been the case for some time," he said.

Karleen Dixon, who won last year, and Melinda Henshaw have dominated for some time, finishing in the top two for the last four years. The pair will be among the favourites again but Sugden expected strong challenges from a handful of other teams.

The level of the entire women's fleet has gone up over the past 12 months on the back of the summer series. As many as 10 teams raced every second Tuesday evening at the Squadron and a number of them also raced in the Ponsonby series.

"There's significantly more interest in women's keelboat racing and it bodes well for the future," Sugden said. "The skill level was already good in a number of boats and others have learned a lot more and gained a lot of confidence and experience that they can go into a nationals and perform well."

Organisers are hopeful of attracting 20 teams for next year's national championships, which would be comparable in size to fleets in the heyday of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Many crews have also talked about travelling to support regattas around the country, in the way an Auckland crew competed in Picton this summer.