New crews tackle Sail Auckland

For a number of New Zealand's Olympic sailors, this weekend's Sail Auckland represents familiar ground but for others it will be the start of something new.

Sail Auckland, which is New Zealand's biggest Olympic class regatta, will feature nearly 200 sailors from 10 countries and gets under way at the Royal Akarana Yacht Club on Saturday.

Olympic Gold medallists Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie will win the women's 470 - they are the only entrants - but will compete against the men's crews which include Paul Snow-Hansen, who finished fifth in London with Jason Saunders.

Snow-Hansen is teaming up with Daniel Willcox as they target Rio and the pair will face stiff competition from Carl Evans, Peter Burling's Beijing 2008 Olympic 470 teammate, and partner James Turner.

Saunders has left the 470 to sail a catamaran with Gemma Jones as they put together a campaign in the new Olympic mixed multihull class Nacra 17s. Saunders and Jones will compete in the F-18 at Sail Auckland.

Andrew Murdoch, who has finished fifth in the Laser at the last two Olympics, has switched to the Finn class. He's already put on more than 10kg of the 15kg he probably needs to add to his 30-year-old frame to help him handle the heavyweight dinghy.

He wanted a change after 14 years in a Laser and leaves the class in good shape, with 2012 world championship bronze medallist Andy Maloney and Sam Meech the obvious heir apparents.

The Finn class is a lot weaker, especially after Dan Slater's retirement after the Olympics, although Murdoch will face good competition from promising youngster Josh Junior who also switched from the Laser to the Finn last year.

"I have no idea how it will go but I've got to start somewhere," Murdoch said. "Exciting times ahead with a lot of learning... but I can't wait."

A lot has happened for Peter Burling and Blair Tuke since they won silver in the 49er in London and the pair will race together for the first time since the Olympics.

Burling's rise to sailing royalty has accelerated and he skippered Team Korea in the America's Cup world series and also won the Australian moth nationals. Tuke sailed in last month's Sydney-Hobart race as well as the New Zealand A-class catamaran championships in Christchurch.

Burling and Tuke are one of five male crews in the 49er skiff - their biggest competition is likely to come from Marcus Hansen and Josh Porebski who finished sixth at last year's world championships - and they will be joined on the start line by three female teams in the 49er FX, a new Olympic class. Alex Maloney and Molly Meech are currently ranked No 1 in the 49er FX after winning both Sail Melbourne and Sail Sydney.

- APNZ

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