The sea spray had hardly settled on a breathless national championship at the weekend before Alex Maloney and Olivia Hobbs were already turning their attention to the next checkpoint on their road to the Paris Olympic Games.
The pair came out on top at the 49er FX National Championships at the Royal Akarana Yacht Club on Sunday after three days of close competition with Jo Aleh and Molly Meech, with each team winning four of the eight completed races.
Maloney and Hobbs’ national title was their first since teaming up in February last year and they will be lining up again off Torbay this weekend for the 2023 Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta – the country’s premier sailing event.
“It was good to finally be back racing, as our last actual competitive event was the World Champs in Canada [in August] last year,” Maloney said.
“It’s been a steep learning curve for Liv and me but we’re continuing to identify our strengths and the areas we need to push hard to improve in. We both really love racing and that's a big strength, just enjoying the process of an event like this.”
Improved communication has been key in the pair’s progress, Maloney said.
“It’s about working out how to best support each other and to get the best out of each other on the race course.”
Before joining Hobbs aboard ‘Rick’, as their NZ-based boat is known, Maloney spent a decade alongside Meech – most of that time near the front of the international fleet.
Maloney and Meech won FX silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics but decided to part ways after finishing 12th in Tokyo five years later.
“It was definitely a transition, not only for Molly and me but also for Liv, who had previously been sailing with Crystal Sun. But we know a new pairing takes time to develop. Last year was about finding out what works well and what doesn’t, and this year will be all about fine-tuning.”
This season is crucial in their Olympic campaign – a campaign that has the potential to reach the lofty heights of the podium in Marseille in just under 18 months, Maloney believes.
“Hopefully, we can secure a place for a New Zealand boat [at the Games] at the earliest opportunity, so we can focus on improving at a fast rate. There are about three FX teams internationally that have the jump on the rest of the fleet once it gets windy and we saw that a few times last year, including at the worlds.”
Maloney and Hobbs finished eighth at the 2022 49er FX World Championships in Nova Scotia after also achieving top 10 finishes in Aarhus and Hyeres.
“The goal has to be a lot bigger than just qualifying for the Olympics. We want to be on the podium, and we know we need to improve quickly. But if we can maintain a healthy and sustainable approach and just keep focusing on the process, the rest should take care of itself.”
The next step in the process is this weekend’s Oceanbridge - the title Aleh and Meech won by 13 points a year ago.
“We’ll be aware of them. Racing in a relatively small fleet like we have in New Zealand means you see much more of each other on the race course than you would at one of the big international regattas,” Maloney said.
“It should be another close race but whatever happens this weekend, it’s going to be a fun event and it will be cool to see all the other classes out racing again.”
Meanwhile, Campbell Stanton and Will Shapland continued their impressive start to 2023 at the weekend by claiming the 49er title.
The duo won two of their eight races and finished inside the top three in four others to top the eight-boat fleet on 17 points – two better than Sam Bacon and Cailen Rochford.
Last month, Stanton and Shapland also took out the Auckland Championship title.
Results from the 49er and 49er FX National Championships at Royal Akarana Yacht Club:
49er fleet (8 boats):
1st: Campbell Stanton (Royal Akarana Yacht Club)/Will Shapland (Torbay Sailing Club) 1 3 5 3 1 (6) 2 2 – 17points
2nd: Sam Bacon (Worser Bay Boating Club)/Cailen Rochford (Torbay Sailing Club) 3 1 1 5 4 2 (6) 3 – 19 pts
3rd: Scott McKenzie (Torbay Sailing Club)/Blake McGlashan (Murrays Bay Sailing Club) 4 4 2 1 (6) 1 5 6 – 23 pts
49er FX fleet (7 boats):
1st: Alex Maloney (Royal Akarana Yacht Club)/Olivia Hobbs (Murrays Bay Sailing Club) 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 (3) – 10 pts
2nd: Jo Aleh (Takapuna Boating Club)/Molly Meech (Royal Akarana Yacht Club) 2 1 2 1 4 1 (5) 1 – 12 pts
3rd: Courtney Reynolds-Smith (Takapuna Boating Club)/ Brianna Reynolds-Smith (Milford Cruising Club) (4) 3 4 3 2 3 2 2 – 19 pts
Full results here.