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International stars in NZ ahead of 49er / Nacra worlds

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Anyone gazing out onto the waters around the Royal Akarana Yacht Club over the last couple of months would have noticed boats from a handful of different countries buzzing around and it’s something that’s only going to become more common this year.

New Zealand is hosting the 2019 Hyundai 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 world championships at the end of the year and international teams have already ventured to the Royal Akarana Yacht Club to train and try to get a handle on what they can expect at the world champs.

It’s not unheard of for international teams to train here – three of the world’s top-10 Nacra 17 combinations based themselves in Auckland last summer – but it is rare.

Rio Olympic 49erFX champions Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (Brazil) and European champions Helene Naess and Marie Tonningen (Norway) recently spent three weeks training with New Zealand’s Alex Maloney and Molly Meech.

Austria’s Tanja Frank and Lorena Abicht, who were second at last year’s sailing world championships in Aarhus, are also expected to train here for a period in February.

“It’s awesome because, at the moment, we have just the one top FX here in New Zealand so to get the Olympic and Europeans champions down here was fantastic,” 49erFX coach Nathan Handley said. “It’s hard [to get international teams down here] because it’s obviously such a big logistical exercise to come all this way and we have to have the right venue and right training boats and gear to make it worthwhile.

“Hopefully the Austrians will be here in February, so that would be great, and we expect a lot more towards the end of the year building up to the worlds. We will start seeing a lot of teams and, before you know it, we’ll have 100 49ers and 49erFXs sailing off Akarana. It will be an awesome sight.”

As many as 400 sailors are expected to compete at the 2019 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 world championships from November 29-December 8.

It will be the first world championships since 2016 for Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who dominated the 49er between the London and Rio Olympics and who have recently returned to the class after sailing in the 2017 America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race.

The pair have returned to training alongside a strong group of New Zealand 49er sailors, and they were joined recently by Germany’s Justus Schmidt and Max Boehme and Japanese combination Leonard Takahashi and Ibuki Koizumi.

"It’s been really good," said Josh Porebski, who won bronze at last year’s Hyeres World Cup with Trent Rippey. "It’s always good having heaps of good boats around. It's definitely the strongest group of teams we’ve had in New Zealand. Everyone learns off each other and keeps the intensity high."

New Zealand’s top three Nacra 17 crews have also been using the Royal Akarana Yacht Club as their base over the summer and they’re likely to be joined by Australian crews over the coming months, including former 49er world and Olympic champion and America’s Cup helmsman Nathan Outteridge who has switched to the foiling catamaran alongside his sister Haylee.

The 2019 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 world championships will be the first in a series of major events that will bring a spotlight on New Zealand sailing, culminating in the 2021 America’s Cup and a likely stopover of the 2021/22 round the world yacht race.

“It’s going to be awesome to have the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra worlds here,” Handley said. “We’ll see the best sailors in the world in our own back yard.

“A lot of the athletes and coaches often say to me they want to come to New Zealand. Now they have an excuse and they’re looking forward to coming down.”

49er worlds