Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Peter Burling and Blair Tuke share early lead in Florida

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke opened their 49er world championship defence in emphatic style, winning the opening race of the regatta in Florida today. Photo/Getty
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke opened their 49er world championship defence in emphatic style, winning the opening race of the regatta in Florida today. Photo/Getty

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have opened their 49er world championship defence in emphatic style, winning the opening race of the regatta in Florida today.

The Clearwater venue, which is playing host to three Olympic class sailing world championships this week, provided challenging conditions on the opening day.

The 49er fleet, featuring close to 70 boats, sailed just one heat in blustery, wavy conditions which increased as the day progressed.

The women's 49erFX skiff fleet, which will feature in the Olympic programme for the first time in Rio, were scheduled to sail after the men today, but their racing was abandoned. One race was possible to open the 2016 Nacra 17 World Champs.

Taking the win in their first fleet race, Burling and Tuke share the early lead in the championship with Denmark's Jonas Warrer and Anders Thomsen who took the gun in their heat.

Burling said he was pleased to come through a difficult day on the water unscathed.

"We're really happy to take a win in that first race. We got off the line pretty well and managed to keep it upright," he said.

"I think a fair few guys were swimming and doing a fair bit of damage to their gear and we're really happy to get a solid one under our belt to start with."

Burling and Tuke are chasing a fourth straight world title in Florida following wins in Marseille (2013), Santander (2014) and Buenos Aires (2015). Their 2015 crown came just three months ago in Argentina, but with the Olympics being the pinnacle event in the 49er programme this year, the world championships were moved to early this year.

"This is our World Champs in an Olympic year and the goal for us for the whole campaign is to try and get the gold in Rio. We've got a lot of little steps along the way, and we're trying a lot of things this week. It's good to check in and see how everyone is going," said Burling.

Isaac McHardie and Trent Rippey, who are part of New Zealand's Aon Fast Track Squad, can be pleased with their first race. The young pair finished 11th in their fleet, giving them a big boost as they head into day two of racing against the world's best.

Things in the Nacra 17 mixed gender multihull fleet are heating up as they build towards their Olympic debut, and racing got underway for them in Clearwater today too, with just one race possible in the trying conditions.

New Zealand Olympic hopefuls Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders had a tough opening race, finishing 25th, while Aon Fast Track Squad sailors Olivia Mackay and Micah Wilkinson had a better day with an 11th place in the opening race.

Jones said she and Saunders struggled with the big sea state.

"When the race started [the conditions] built up a lot and it shifted left, and the sea state came up and by the end of it waves were pretty much breaking over the top of us.

"It was a really crazy race, it didn't go so well for us, we had two spills which were very frustrating, but we had good speed so a lot of positives as well."

Speaking about their Road to Rio Jones said, "We've been just off the podium for a long time, so we are really hoping to get on that podium in a few regattas before the Games so that we can hopefully be on the podium in the Games."

Qualifying racing runs until Friday, before the regatta moves to finals racing. Medal races are planned for Monday.

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 10 Dec 2016 05:02:41 Processing Time: 306ms