BRITAIN’S sailors got off to a flying start in the opening weekend of Paralympic Sailing races on home waters.

Fiercely competitive fleet racing in Port-land Harbour saw the ParalympicsGB contenders make gains towards achieving the country's first medals in the three keelboat classes.

After four races, quadruple Skud-18 World Champions Alex Rickham and crewmate Niki Birrell are second overall in the 11-boat fleet, just one point behind their Australian rivals Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch.

The American team of Jen French and JP Creignou are third, with seven races to go, following two wins yesterday.

Helm Rickham, 30, said: “We don't really like being pushed down the leaderboard but it's quite tough conditions and obviously the Americans showed great pace all day to take two bullets.

“We had a bad start in the first race but managed to battle back to fourth so we're pretty happy with that.

“In the second race there was a bit of a dog fight going on, we ended up doing some turns for something, I'm not sure if we needed to, but all in all we're quite happy with the day.”

Rickham said it was still early days but every race counted.

She added: “We’ve worked at this for four years, if we can’t do it now it’s not going to happen. This is it.”

Helena Lucas enjoyed a flying start in the 16-boat 2.4mR fleet on Saturday but slipped from first to third place overall yesterday after taking a 720-degree penalty turn in race four for allegedly ‘rocking’ the boat to increase its speed.

The 37-year-old denied the charge and said: “From my point of view I was steering the boat in the waves, which in the 2.4 creates a rocking motion.

“Look at the size of me – I’m not very big to rock the boat but it’s a jury decision, that's the way it goes.”

Lucas intended to unwind watching her football team Southampton against Manchester United and then ‘keep chipping away’ to get on the podium.

Drama in the 2.4mR class on Saturday saw reigning World Champion Damien Seguin, of France, disqualified from race two following a protest by his Canadian rival for a starting line incident.

The Athens gold medallist fell from second to ninth place but progressed to sixth overall after yesterday’s races.

Meanwhile, the British Sonar Team of John Robertson , Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas clawed their way back from 10th to fifth place in their last race yesterday, to lie fifth overall in the 14-boat Sonar fleet.

The trio made an unsuccessful redress request on Saturday, after a confusing X flag made them unnecessarily turn back to the starting line in race two, costing vital places.

But skipper Robertson, 40, said their plan still remained to ‘get the job done and nail it’.

Crewmate Thomas added that Weymouth and Portland was ‘showcasing itself as a fantastic sailing venue’.

  • EIGHTY competitors from 23 nations are taking part in the London 2012 Paralympic sailing regatta.

The competition began on Saturday and will finish on Thursday, September 6, with races taking place from 11am daily on Portland Harbour.

Medals will be decided after 11 races in each of the three keelboat events – the 2.4mR single-handed class, Skud-18 two-person class and Sonar three-person class.

Channel 4, the official broadcaster of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, has so far failed to show any of the sailing action.

Hundreds of spectators have been gathering at harbour vantage points to watch with binoculars, including 180 people at Sandsfoot Castle and Gardens, plus dozens of friends and family members of the ParalympicsGB contenders at Castle Cove Sailing Club and more at Hamm Beach.

The ICCI 360 dome on Weymouth Pavilion forecourt has pledged to show sailing footage.

Follow the racing on Twitter by following @EchoSailing, @BritishSailing and @IFDS_updates.

  • A CRUISE ship added Portland to its list of exotic destinations as it arrived at the port yesterday.

Royal Caribbean’s 962ft Jewel of the Seas came for a day visit as the Paralympics sailing events took place in the surrounding seas.

The ship can hold more than 2,500 passengers weighs more than 90,000 tonnes.

Today, ship enthusiasts should be on the lookout for 51,000-tonne cruise liner Crystal Symphony, owned by Crystal Cruises, which will also pay a visit.