Testing the water

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 12:00am

Young sailor Akiko Sakai wants to prove herself in the male-dominated sport in July's Laser 4.7 World Championship.

Akiko, born and raised in Hong Kong, will fly the SAR flag in Riva Del Garda, Italy, with Jamie Dalton, Charles Walthers and Andrew Houston-Floyd.

The Laser 4.7 Youth World Championship is an open event for young sailors aged between 12 and 17 years old from all around the world.

Organised by the youth sailing class at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC), the fleet of four were selected three weeks ago from a squad of 11.

'I am really excited about it, said 16-year-old Akiko, the top youth sailor from Hebe Haven Yacht Club.

'People always underestimate girls. Even my teammate teases me and says: 'Are you embarrassed to represent a club that has a girl as top sailor?' Although physically I am the most unfit one among the four of us, I want to do well and show them that girls can do it.'

Laser, a recognised Olympic class, is a four-metre long dinghy designed to be sailed by one person.

The three sizes of mast and sail combination - laser 4.7 and the bigger laser radial and laser standard - make the design manageable for sailors ranging from as young as 12 years old to adults.

In Riva Del Garda, male and female sailors will race together but the overall results will be counted separately.

Both Jamie and Andrew achieved promising results in the New South Wales State Laser Championships in February this year, ranking seventh and ninth overall respectively out of the 44-strong fleet.

'We've been training hard for the Worlds in the past five months and it will be the biggest regatta for us,' said Jamie, a Year Nine student at South Island School.

'Our parents and the clubs have been very supportive. One of the RHKYC members, Jorgen Christensen, who is an ex-Danish national laser champion, has given us a lot of useful advice.

'Our coach Andy Service and fitness instructor Simon Mathews have also been helping us improve.'

The team are currently training on water for at least two days a month and do fitness training once every two weeks.

They are also taking part in local regattas to boost their form.

Charles, 14, has been enjoying the sport since he started two years ago.

'Sailing is an interesting sport,' said the Form Three student at German Swiss International School.

'I enjoy being out there on my own in the big sea, though it freaked me out once when I capsized outside Repulse Bay under a strong wind.

'I may not be as experienced as my teammates, but I will try my best to beat them in Italy.'

Despite some financial support from the Hong Kong Yachting Association, the fleet is still seeking sponsorship to cover the huge cost.

'It is a very expensive event as we have to pay for air tickets, hotel, training and shipping the equipment like the sails, all the way to Riva Del Garda,' Charles said.

'We definitely need more support.'