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A ticket to ride - Chris Steele from the Wakatere Sailing Club owns a new boat today (18/02/09) after winning an O'Pen Bic dinghy in the NZ Herald Junior Pacific Series.
Sixteen-year-old Chris Steele has Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker as a mentor, but it is the Alinghi crew he will be sailing with today in the final of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series.
Steele's ticket to ride as 18th man on board Alinghi was handed to him last night after he won the New Zealand Herald Junior Pacific Series sailing championships on the waters of the Viaduct Harbour.
The other half of the winner's prize for Steele, a former world Optimist dinghy champion, was one of the thrilling little O'pen Bic boats - a new breed of superfast dinghies - in which the regatta was sailed over the past fortnight.
Twenty O'pen Bic boats were brought into the country by Frenchman Bruno Troublé, co-ordinator of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, to be raced inside the Viaduct by 40 of Auckland's top young sailors. Last night's final was fought out by 20 boys and girls, who battled gusty winds to stay upright in the zippy boats, and it wasn't until the last race of the evening - with the setting sun glinting off the clear mylar sails - that Steele clinched the inaugural title.
"The winds made it a bit of a lottery, but these boats are very interesting," said Steele, a sixth former at Westlake Boys High School who sails for the Wakatere sailing club in Auckland. "I can't wait to take one out to sea to see how it goes in the waves.
"I think this class has potential to be raced inside the harbour and be a real spectator sport. I think it's exciting and it could really take off."
Steele keeps in regular contact with Barker through emails and texts, after meeting him at the Yachting New Zealand Sailor of the Year awards in 2007, where Steele was named Young Sailor of the Year along with world 420 champions Carl Evans and Peter Burling. He has also crewed for Emirates Team New Zealand afterguard members Ray Davies and Kevin Hall, but today will be his first experience on an America's Cup boat. He sees himself graduating from the little dinghies to the big Cup yachts in the future, but has plans for an Olympic campaign in the middle.
The O'pen Bic boats - created by the family of Baron Marcel Bich, who led France's first America's Cup syndicate - will stay in New Zealand to be raced by the latest generation of young sailing stars. The regatta was deemed a success by its organizers. New Zealand 420 women's sailor Sarah Bilkey was the race chairman with the support of the Kohimarama Yacht Club and the Murray's Bay Sailing Club.
Text courtesy of Suzanne McFadden.