A race win in breezy conditions for Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove was the best possible start for the Howth Yacht Club and Skerries duo who are one of two Irish teams trying to qualify Ireland this week at the 49er World Championships in Tokyo.
As Afloat previously reported, this week's Championships is the most important regatta for sailors outside of the Olympic Games and four Olympic berths are up for grabs but Ireland must finish in the top eight overall to be in with a realistic chance of securing one of these prized places.
High winds delayed the racing schedule on Auckland Harbour today.
After two races from a possible 15 for the complete series, Dickson and Waddilove are 16th overall with double Olympian Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle lying 26th overall. Irish teams sailed in separate flights of 30 boats each.
After a general recall, the Blue fleet, , in which Dickson and Waddilove were sailing, was the last race to get going as they suffered from unstable winds. By the time racing did get going the wind started picking up quickly and many top teams got caught out on the wrong rig settings.
Some of the favourites in this fleet - such as Lukasz Przybytek and Pawel Kolodzinski (POL 42) - found themselves with a lot to do at the first windward mark. Portuguese sailors Jorge Lima and Jose Costa suffered rig damage and were forced to pull out of competition for the rest of the day, a disappointing start to the regatta with Costa also suffering an ankle injury.
Showing no hesitation were Rio Olympic bronze medalists Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel (GER 4), but in tacking to the left side upwind the experienced Germans let slip the 2018 Junior World Champions from Ireland, Dickson and Waddilove, who overtook for the lead.
In a tight downwind battle, the young Irishmen held off the Olympic medallists to win their first ever race at a World Championship, a massive moment for any sailor.
For the world's best this week is the best measuring stick for how they stack up as a fleet. Teams doing well will be the ones to beat in Tokyo, and their countries will deliver the resources needed to take aim at Tokyo for those who they think can win a medal.
A bit farther down in the fleet, there are four Olympic qualifying berths on offer and currently, Dickson and Waddilove are the fourth country, but it is far too early in the series to lay claim to a Tokyo berth. Full results are here. Organisers have indicated countries seeking Olympic berths with a blue bar. The key to success for Ireland will be a string of consistent results and this morning's opening bid shows Ireland has the potential to be in Tokyo.
Only 20 teams make it to the Olympics, and many top sailing teams are still not qualified for Tokyo. Qualifying is a three-stage process, where the first berths were awarded last year at the 2018 World Championship in Aarhus, and the 2019 Worlds is the second stage. The final stage is called continental qualifying, and it will occur in the spring of 2020 on each continent.
Organisers had to wait for a weather front to clear the racing area causing a six-hour wait for the 89 crews representing 30 countries and day two of racing will begin one hour earlier on Wednesday to catch-up on the lost programme.