Training camps and transitions

Journey of 4400km begins with checking out an old homestead 12 hours into the trip

What an insane last 6 months. I would have never imagined the position I’m in now at the end of my last blog post but I’m also incredibly happy and excited with what I’m a part of. Not all changes are bad. I’ve gone from racing at the highest level of competition, walking away from the Australian Sailing Team after 10 years of being an athlete, to coaching full on in the blink of an eye and I haven’t even had a moment to process any of it. Writing this now is almost a chance for me to consolidate what I’ve experience and reflect on it. The last time I wrote I was still in Brisbane in the first training camp of the season preparing for the World Championships in Adelaide at the end of January.

Once that windy camp in Queensland was over, I flew home and ended up racing in the Sail Freo regatta in an Etchell of all things. At the time I had a long-range plan of trying to squeeze in the Etchell worlds in Perth in February but that was just way too much and didn’t pan out. Having said that the weekend of sailing made a busy weekend even busier as I was simultaneity trying to pack everything I would need for the 4 months away over east! It was quite a stressful time but in a nutshell I got everything done and ready on the Sunday after sailing, (including packing 2 boats on the roof of my newly acquired van) ready for my 2am alarm the next morning. Why was I getting up so early you ask? Because I had to meet my dad the next day at 10am in Norseman (an 8-hour drive away) which was when the bus was going to drop him and the rest of our equipment off coming up from Esperance.

Somehow, I made it and immediately put dad on driving duties while I had a nap. So begun the long journey across the country to Sydney. In total when we stopped that night, I had covered 1700km and we had made it almost to Yalata. The next day was more mixed as I had to help my dad with some of his silo work in South Australia which is where we spent the next night, the day after that we passed Adelaide and dropped off the two boats there which is where they would stay until I met up with them in December. We made it to Mildura that night and I put us up in a motel for the night as we were knackered. The next day we had a cruisy 1000km left to Sydney where we pulled in and got to work almost straight away. We had a long to do list but in essence we had to upgrade the RIB trailer I had bought with a heavy-duty axle as well as build a frame that could carry the 4 other ILCA’s I had bought from the team. Same deal as last summer I was doing the charters again but on a larger scale and with a RIB involved. I had a rough plan but didn’t know how this was all going to come together and while all this was going on I had to keep with my next training camp kicking off in Sydney. Luckily dad is a welder and a very practical hands on guy so with my planning and his skills things started to come together. After a few hard days and dad sleeping rough in the Brookvale shed we had a frame and a trailer and a RIB ready to go. While a lot of that was going on in the background, I was also detailing the 4 other new boats I had bought, ready to be chartered out for the summer. It was a crazy 2 weeks and some of the most stressed I had ever been but it came together and all too soon the training camp was done and I was hitting the road for the first time heading for Melbourne.   

Now I wasn’t actually going straight to Melbourne but actually meeting Elyse in the charming town of St Andrews on the Mornington peninsular about an hour south of Melbourne. This was truly one of my highlights of 2023. I think the contrast of the stress in Sydney then matched with the peace and sense of relief being there made the trip just so nice. I did a little bit of private coaching out there, coupled with some nice rides, good food and one of the most amazing rounds of golf. At the end of Elyse’s camp we went to the Mornington Peninsular baths, an amazing network of hot and cold springs in a natural setting. We did a fire & ice treatment which was amazing and made me feel truly rested and ready for the regatta to come.

On the road the Melbourne

I can’t even remember how many times I’ve done Sail Melbourne and this year was typical of others. We had a mixed bag of onshore conditions and a solid fleet with all the Aussies and Kiwis in attendance as usual. I had a bit of a slow start to the event but knew I would have to kind of train through this one to get in form for the summer and ended up walking away with a 5th place overall after winning the last race. No time to think though, a quick pack up of the rig that afternoon and not just my own but the team one as well before a quick shower at home and then onto a date with Elyse for our 4 year anniversary at a lovely Japanese restaurant in Blackrock.

The next day it was time to hit the road again and make the day drive to Adelaide. It wouldn’t be a day drive for Elyse and I. After a late get away we already knew it would be a long day but things got worse about 5pm that afternoon as we were just leaving the town of Hay, about halfway along the journey, when we had one of the trailer tires blowout. With no spare I had to jack up the trailer, take the rim off and drive back 20min into town and try and find a tire place that could help. Obviously everywhere was closed but luckily I found a place that did callouts, the guy came, fixed the tire, I drove back out to the trailer, got the new wheel back on, drove back to town and found a motel for the night and Elyse and I ordered pizza. Oh, and it was also our 4 year anniversary so we spent it having dominos and watching big brother which at the time wasn’t ideal but Elyse later said it was one of our best ones yet! I must know how to charm them 😉

Exactly how Elyse wanted to spend our fourth year anniversary

 The next morning I bought a spare and got the other tire replaced just in case then we rolled on and made it to Adelaide. This time we were staying with Finn in a cool Airbnb and I had about a 2-week training camp to do leading up to Christmas. We had a few internationals involved which made the training great and I was starting to sail really well. I was second in the weekend regatta we did behind Wearny and other than nearly getting killed in a lightning storm the training was going great. That was until I did my back in the gym with some sloppy form deadlifts, it was stupid but I was having some serious spasms for a while and I had to reduce my training load. Elyse had left me before all this to do Sail Sydney which she won! We then met up again in Perth for 3 days before she flew out Christmas night headed to Argentina for her World Championships.

I had as restful 3 days in Perth as I could get before I had to go back to Adelaide to make sure everything was running well with the business as this was now my busy time of the charter season. All 6 boats and my RIB were chartered out and it was a bit of work making sure everything was going smoothly. It was nice though, I was just swagging it with the WA coaches Matt, Chris and Tristan and doing some nice cycling. Pretty soon our training kicked off as the last bit of preparation leading into the Nationals. In the new year I also had my mum and dad come over and stay with me for a holiday/regatta support for me as mum had never seen a major regatta before. We had over 100 boats racing nationals this year as it was the major lead in for the Worlds with country spots up for grabs at the Worlds along with individual Olympic trials happening as well. I started with a bang winning the first race and continuing the good form on through the event to finish 5th overall. I had a few hiccups that dragged me down from the podium contention but things were going in the right direction for the worlds and my back had come good so I was feeling ready.

Rafa with all the advice

Mum and dad left me and Elyse came in straight from her Worlds in Argentina to keep me company and have a bit of a holiday. She stayed for about a week before heading home to Perth and leaving me to my final prep for the Worlds. The training beforehand became a bit scrappy as it usually does when too many boats pile in but I felt fresh and ready to put in a focused effort, my main objective: get good starts.

I started with a bang again and for the 3rd time in the last 4 Worlds I won the first race of the event! I backed it up with a 2nd place in race two to have a dream start and be in second place after the first day of racing. The speed was there, could I maintain the consistency. The wind didn’t play ball the next day, we went out on time and waited around for several hours. We started one race in very variable conditions which was then abandoned halfway up the beat and we all got sent to shore. We waited for about an hour or so before the breeze filled in and we got back going again for a twilight session. It was quite funky and very tidal out there, I was having a tough time with my starting but always flighting hard and coming back, saving an amazing first race being in the 20s at the top mark and being 4th by the bottom of the run. I walked away with a 5th and 10th after day two, a hard-fought day but saving points as much as I could. The last fleet that day didn’t get back to shore until the sun was over the horizon.

The next day we had a much lighter day with tricky swings in pressure and seaweed patches to navigate. Again, my poor starting really plagued me this day, never even giving myself a chance off the line and always forcing myself to recover through the fleet which I was doing but it was always under pressure and not easy sailing like it is at the front. I took an 18th and a 10th to finish qualifying somewhere in the top 20 but off the pace of my goal to finish top 5! Finals started in a funky seabreeze where I had some of the best comebacks of my career. The first beat race one I was executing my plan to sail right well when halfway up the beat the breeze went persistent left and turned the fleet on its head. A rounded in the forties but dug deep with a great run and second beat to save an 18th somehow. The gold fleet is just so hard to move through so this comeback was significant. Finals race two again I couldn’t navigate to the top mark well. Some poor consolidation timing put me deep in the traffic and again I had to rely on my second beats to save the day. I saved a 20th which at the end of the day put me in 12th overall going into the last day of finals racing with a shot at the medal race.

I felt like I had had things against me most of the event but I knew if I could just hold firm in my racing people would crumble around me and I would probably at least save a top 10 result. The last day was one for the history books with 25-30 knots and massive waves. We were all right on the limit physically and control wise. I finally got away with a good start under black flag after several general recalls and was able to charge out left with good speed then cross back to round the top mark in 3rd place behind Wearny and Buli. I had a loose run but navigated to the bottom well to round 1st but ended up with a big clump of seaweed around my rudder on the second beat that I just couldn’t shake so slipped down to 5th at the finish line. The final race I knew I had to hold steady and even though I had another bad start I was composed and put together another great comeback. It was one of the loosest first runs I’ve very done in a Worlds with people on the limit of control and capsizing everywhere. The waves were just so steep and the seaweed making havoc. I took my gains on the run the took another chunk of boats on the second beat then again on the run to take a 12th place and put myself in 9th place going into the medal race! It was such a tough day; Jonatan from Hungary went from 4th to 12th in those 2 races. I was glad to make the medal race but I knew my top 5 goal was out of reach which left me feeling a little hollow.

Coach Keno giving me a last pep talk before the final day of fleet racing

The final day of the event was a little strange with the rest of the fleet launching to participate in the 11th race while the 10 of us waited for the medal race to happen. As things turned out the fleets that were sent out didn’t get their racing in as the wind was too shifty and they went over their allocated schedule so as they were coming in we were released to launch. By the time we were out we had a lovely 14knot seabreeze with fun waves. I had a job to do trying to keep Finn from Ireland behind me (it was who beat who between us) as well as not trying to let Fillip from Croatia beat me by more than 2 boats otherwise, he would jump me. It would have been a push for me to try and catch 10 points on JB in front of me so it was quite a defensive medal race on my part. As things turned out I had another poor start and was on the back foot but so had Finn. I had control of him but Fillip was out in front second around the top so nothing I could do there. I held Finn behind me the whole race protecting 9th overall but on the final run I fell out of pressure and he passed me along with JB so I ended my worlds 10th overall.

10th at the worlds with ILCA Australia President Ken Hurling

One thing I would like to highlight here is how hectic it was running the charters underneath all the racing. I enjoyed it but it definitely added another level of stress and organization needed to keep everything working. I put some serious hours in down at Adelaide Sailing Club this summer, most evenings you would see me down there as a regular feature doing something or rather with the boats or the RIB. It was an extra layer that I had to pay attention to and it for sure took a toll, I’m not sure what the consequences of it were on my racing and I probably never will but it put me on the limit of my mental and physical capacities.

I didn’t have much time to process any of this though as I was already lined up to coach the masters worlds starting only 2 days later. One day I’m racing at the highest level, the next I’m in a RIB coaching 8 sailors from all over the USA and one Aussie, all the while still running the charters to various sailors and trying to keep everyone happy. The masters worlds conditions seriously delivered the classic Adelaide summer seabreeze conditions with days easily peaking over 20knots. I was pulling some big days at the club but it was all worth it to get to know the guys I was working with so well and to give them my full effort. I find masters sailors some of the best clients you could ask for as a coach as they are very appreciative of any bit of help you can give them. I had a really good time with my sailors, I’ve become great friends with most of them and will hopefully be seeing them all again soon!

My squad for the masters worlds (missing Peter)
Toshi enjoying the downwinds
Very windy conditions for the Masters worlds

After the masters worlds were done it was time to leave Adelaide after 46 days in the city. I actually really like a lot about Adelaide and will be back again I’m sure but I had to keep the show on the road, there was a schedule to keep and it was tight! The night the masters finished I loaded my rig full for the first time (RIB, 4 boats on the trailer frame and two boats on the roof of the van) ready to hit the road early the next day. 330am my alarm went off and I was on the long road home to Perth. The drive was quite uneventful, I made it all the way to Eucla in time for one of their famous fish burgers on the first day then slept in the back of the van. The next day I got all the way home to Esperance to drop some things of and get some minor repairs done to the rig plus registration for the trailer and the RIB in WA which could have been a major job if I did it in Perth but I got it all done in a morning in Esperance. Then I hit the road late headed for my final destination Perth where I had a very busy two days unloading the rig and getting all the boats to their respective buyers. Without time to breath, I was repacking my bags and off to the airport again, this time headed for Mexico.

I love going to Mexico and any chance I get to go I’ll take. Colin had reached out a while ago asking if I could come back and I knew with my sailing slowing down that would be able to do a bit more work for ISA out there. I had two clinics back-to-back when I got to Puerto Vallarta. The first was with mostly a younger crowd of ILCA 6 sailors from Canada and USA along with resident coach Paul and another local ILCA 7 sailor. We had cracking weather as you can always expect and had plenty of fun sharing the Banderas Bay with the whales coming through. My next group was only 2, one ILCA 6 and one ILCA 7 both from the west coast. I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to make this productive for them but it turned out to be the opposite and we had a great time with some massive sessions on the water. One day we had 5 ½ hours on the water! Once that was all wrapped up I had a day or two to relax and enjoy La Cruz before I was back to the airport again, this time headed for LA.

Speaking at CISA

I had ended up with another coaching job that had been passed onto me from Saunders following his Olympic selection but I had a few days to kill before that clinic started so my friends the Stahl’s invited me to come up to Newport and stay with them for a while. I did a little coaching work with Landon and his friends but they mostly they were just showing me all the cool things SoCal has to offer and what a day in their lives looked like. It was great fun and I really enjoyed hanging out.

The oil rig off the beach at ABYC makes for an iconic backdrop

Next up was 5 days of coaching working with another coaches group out of Alamitos Bay Yacht Club, the center of where the 2028 Olympics will be hosted. Coach Rosie’s group was a mix of top youth, and developing/campaigning ILCA 6 girls and we had a blast. I didn’t know what to expect at all but things went great and the group was easy to work with and I had Rosie and Tania helping me run the show which made things so much easier. I got to see more of the Olympic venue and get my head around what that venue would be like both on and off the water. The 5 days coaching was backed up with a 3-day camp called CISA, I guess the equivalent of Westsail in California except with only 3 classes of boat, the I420, 29er and ILCA6 of which I was the lead coach working with 7 other coaches and 60 sailors! It was on a scale I hadn’t worked with before but I had a blast and learnt a lot more on how to be a facilitator in a big training environment like that.  

CISA coaching roster
Trump National Golf Club

To finish up my time in Los Angles Tony took me for one last round of golf at a course called Trump National which was far fancier than any course I had played before and I managed my way around the course with an 86 which I was very happy about! Then it was off to the airport that night for the red eye to Barcelona and the short hop over to Palma to finally be reunited with Elyse who was in the final stages of her preparation for the Princess Sofia Regatta. I wasn’t just here for a holiday though, on top of everything else that has been going on I have taken on the role as Futures coach for the ILCA 7 squad. Essentially this is the squad underpinning the AST/ASPT so my job is to support them to try and make that grade as they transition from youth classes to the open fleet. Most of the guys I already know from racing against them so it’s great to be able to continue working with them as they strive for the next level. The event in Palma threw a bit of everything at us as it usually does and the fleet was red hot being one of the last events before the Olympics. One thing that surprised me was the amount of people that came up to me saying “it’s weird to see you in a coach boat” or “how’s the coach life?” that I hadn’t really spoken too or never met. It’s certainly a different perspective seeing an event I’ve sailed in many times now from the coach boat. Hopefully it’s not my last time racing it!    

It was an intense week with Elyse racing as well and watching how that all unfolded but I won’t be going into that. After the event we went to the north of the island to the town of Port Pollenca which we have stayed in before to have a break and do some cycling. I really love the landscape Mallorca has to offer and the weather was really stunning to be riding in with mostly light winds, sun shining and mid 20-degree weather. I even had an attempt at completing a lap of the island but after 160km and over 1000m of climbing I decided to call it quits, I’ll have another crack next time when I’m better prepared as I basically hadn’t done any exercise since the end of my Worlds in January which now seems life a lifetime ago. It’s amazing how quickly you can move on from something that is so important to you if you have other things to keep you busy and that you are passionate about. Too soon our time on the island came to an end and Elyse and I were getting on the night ferry to Barcelona to do the drive to Hyeres. I wouldn’t be sticking around though and a day after arriving I was off to Nice and waving goodbye to Elyse to return home for the first time in months. Adelaide – Perth – Puerto Vallarta – Los Angles – Mallorca – Perth. Another round the world trip in the passport.

Top of Randa climb

Now I’m back home enjoying being in Perth with its amazing Autumn weather and trying to see people I haven’t had the chance to spend time with in the last 6 months. There’s plenty more coming up on the horizon, this so called hiatus is becoming busier than any of my competing years but it’s a change I needed in life at this time and I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given.

Until next time…

Post Worlds Update

It’s been a bit over 10 weeks since the Worlds finished for 2023 and I thought I would write a quick update on what’s occurring. When I first got home I was exhausted and took 10 days just to be in Perth with Elyse, play a little golf and do some relaxing coffee rides. The weather was so incredible for the first week I was back which definitely helped my mood. 

After 10 days I needed to get home to see my parents. I always have and hopefully always will go back home to Esperance post a major regatta. I really feel like I get the time and space to reflect and do some deep work on myself when I’m in the country. After 10 days there I drove back to Perth with much more clarity of mind and feeling recommitted to sailing and looking forward to the summer. 

My first session back in the boat was not in an ILCA though, it was actually in a Pacer at Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club for the annual Ron Tough Pacer challenge. This was my fourth time doing the regatta and was one I had been trying to win for a while but it had eluded me with light shifty winds the last few years. For those who don’t know, it’s an event put together by the foundation and WAIS as a way for the WAIS program to integrate with the sailing community. All the WAIS sailors (and a few extras that are invited) are made skippers and paired up with young sailors from all over Perth. You’re matched based on your combined weight so all the boats are quite fair and everyone races one afternoon as a dash for cash. For one reason or another my crew Nick and I had a day and posted a great scorecard, winning the event and getting our names added to the trophy. It was a great afternoon in the first seabreeze of the season to top it off. 

After that I had a little bit of training in the ILCA just to start me thinking about sailing before I flew back to Esperance, a little last minute, for the Flying Fifteen States! This had been a plan since the start of the year when my friend Muddi had suggested it due to his skipper being away for the event. I couldn’t commit as I thought I was going to be double booked and had forgotten about it for most of the year until I bumped into Muddi again about 10 days prior to the states and we realized we still could do it together! Muddi quickly arranged the trip and did the drive with the boat and I flew down to meet him. This would be my first time steering a Flying Fifteen and my first time racing at home since the 2006 Pelican states, which so happened to be my first regatta ever! Needless to say I was very excited to be racing at home again. 

Great racing on home waters

We had a breezy offshore south wester for the first day of racing and we started with a bang winning the first 2 races. We backed this up with a 4th and a tightly contested 2nd in the final race behind Grant and Luke who were the current national champs and state champs. Day two saw a tricky easterly breeze with some choppy water. We finished 2nd again behind Grant and were equal points now. Things changed for us in the 2nd race and we worked through the fleet to win the race and with Grant having a bad one it meant we secured the regatta win with a race to spare. We still did the last race and finished strong with another win to cap off a great weekend. We had a lovely presentation dinner that night with a 3 course meal! Never get anything like that at ILCA events. 

After the states I stayed on in town and coached the annual learn to sail course which was a heap of fun. I had a great group with 9 girls and 3 boys who were super keen and lovely to work with. By the end of the 4th morning everyone was able to sail a boat by themselves and was keen as mustard to do the sailing season which is the most rewarding feeling as a coach. That night I flew back to Perth to get ready for Westsail starting the next morning.

I’ve been thinking on how many I’ve done now and I’m pretty sure this is my 10th as a coach bringing my total Westsails to 14! It’s pretty cool to have such a great training camp happen every year in WA. It’s a core memory of my youth sailing and I could easily say I wouldn’t be in sailing today if it wasn’t for Westsail. It gave me the exposure I needed as a country sailor to get inspired by the Perth sailors and see how high the level was and where it could take me.

We had a few lousy days of weather to kick off Westsail this time but we had 20 keen ILCA 4 kids split between Ollie (the other coach working with me) and myself who all lapped it up. You never sleep as well as you do after a big day at Westsail and it was great to see everyone improve through the 4 days of training and then put it into practice at the two days of youth states. I’m really excited for the future of WA ILCA sailing. 

I was honored with the Coach K award at this years Westsail and got to stand with the legend himself
Fremantle Sailing Club Open Day 2023

Only a few days later it was the Freo Opening day and I was coaching a few of the sailors I had looked after at Westsail there. It was a lovely day to be on the water and I really was loving being out on the ocean again after being on the river the last week. Then just a few days later I was back at the airport again, this time headed for Hobart and their annual TAS Sail event. I had never done the event before but had been invited down by the Fader family who I had worked with the year before in Portugal for the ILCA 4 worlds. I stayed at their house and they were just the best hosts, cooking me homemade meals and everything! The weather was not kind to us for the 4 days of coaching though, a strong front had crossed the region with freezing cold and gusty winds. One of the morings of the youth states we woke up to snow on top of Mt Wellington even! After a quick 4 days in Tasmania I was off again for warmer climates and the first training camp of the season in Brisbane. 

Chatting to the TAS Sail kids on the first day of youth states (which was blown out)
Off to Brisbane

I hadn’t sailed in Brisbane since the 2018 Finn nationals but in all honesty not much had changed. All of us are in the same Airbnb close to the club which has been great vibes and we’ve got a solid hit of sailing in so far. The torture track is still just that, choppy and a grind to sail in but we’re all seeing the improvement from our good work. We’ve all had a cooking rotation which has been awesome and the yacht club has a small gym now which we’ve all been hitting nearly every day. We’ve had one day off so far and I got out on the water with my old buddy Ash for a fish offshore. We had a cracking day and even though the fish weren’t quite biting as well as we wanted I still managed to land a massive red snapper weighing in 8kg! I cooked it for dinner for the boys last night which went down a treat.

We’ve just got a few days to go before we’ve finished this camp up and I’m back in Perth for a hectic few days before I drive back across the country with my dad. I’ll let you know how that goes in a few weeks time but it’s going to be a big summer, definitely the biggest yet, I’m calling it now.  

Brisbane camp

See you on the water,

Swifto

Where oceans feel like rivers

After a month in Marseilles, it was time to hit the road again. The Olympic Test event was about to get under way and the water ways were going to be shut down to anyone but competitors so while Wearny and Rafa were doing that Finn, Zac and I hit the road and drove to our second home Lake Garda. We had stunning weather all in the mid 30’s (celsius) and nice Oras blowing every afternoon. This was a great chance to get out of the boat for a bit and do one final fitness push before the final intensity leading into the world championships. We cycled nearly everyday with some of the best rides I’ve ever done in Garda including Mt. Baldo again and a new ride with my local friend and bike shop owner Rugga. This was a particularly memorable ride because we started out the from of his shop at 8pm and didn’t finish until after 10pm, the whole time having no idea where we were going. Unfortunately, Elyse didn’t manage to away to Garda until the very end but we made the most of the two days doing as much cycling and swimming as well could.

Too soon we were packing our bags again and on to the next part of the trip. One day I’ll stay in Garda long enough to feel satisfied with my stay but this is yet to happen. Elyse and I got the early bus to connect with a flight out of Milan headed for Brussels (few small dramas here like missing said bus and having to rush around catching 2 trains and a different bus to make it in time but everything worked out in the end). The change in temperature and scenery was stark compared to Italy but luckily we still had sunshine to welcome us into Oostende, a small seaside city just 20km further north of Newport where we trained last year. It’s almost a perfect match for the conditions we would face in Den Haag with massive current and moody seas.

A short hop to Brussels from Milan

Finn had managed to book an amazing apartment in the city center which made being in a pretty cloudy and rainy venue that much nicer. As Rafa had gone home for a break after the test event we had local legend and recently turned coach/performance director of Belgium sailing Wannes coaching us. Wannes has been on the tour longer than even I and is someone I’ve known since the beginning of my international racing so it was nice to have him coach us about what the North Sea had to offer. We also had Saunders joining us for our training as well which helped break up our regular group a bit and keep things fun. We spent a solid 2 weeks on the water acclimatizing to the current, sometimes I couldn’t believe the power of it. Downwinds could become longer than upwinds or be so short it was impossible to overtake anyone on them. Cross current was even worse, making one tack dominate a leg even though the course was set true to the wind. It really was a unique type of sailing. Finally, it was time to pack up and get ready to move one last time, just a few hours up the road to Holland.

Debrief with Wannes at Oostende Sailing Cub

Elyse and I had a few days to kill in Oostende before the move and unfortunately while we were resting up after our hard block of training, we both got a bad tummy bug. Only for 24 hours but having everything come up and out of both ends wasn’t very fun. Luckily, I was turning a corner when we had to catch the train up to Den Haag and we only had to change trains a couple of times to make it to town. Everything went smoothly and we made it to our new home, a self-contained apartment building that the AST had booked out for all the athletes. It was super close to the boat park which meant we could just walk each day to the beach which was super helpful. Den Haag was a very nice, clean city. I would say there wasn’t too much going on day to day but it had some nice coffee venues and sleepy streets to walk through which was nice when we got the chance to get away from the boat park.

Australian Sailing Team and Squad ahead the Sailing World Championships in The Hague (8-20 August 2023). Photo by Beau Outteridge / Australian Sailing Team

The usual mandatory charter boat collection all went well and we got a decent 4 days of training in pre-event. I don’t think I had ever been to a regatta that had so many sailing instruction rules and regulations to follow including dedicated time slots for your training that you had to sign in and out of each time. It all seemed a bit over the top but I didn’t let it distract me. My training was going well, I knew I had the speed to do well in any conditions and my mind was determined to stay focused on my processes and not results.

Qualifying: The event started steadily for me. We began in moderate conditions with a very strong current coming just left of the wind making the beats very long. I got away with a solid start but hadn’t expected in my strategy that the left of the course would be so dominant. I had crossed everyone on my right after starting near the pin only to have them all cross me later as I approached the top. I rounded in the mid-20s and got to work chasing, having a good reach and run and second beat, getting back to a top 5 position before losing a few and taking an 8th to end the first race. R2 I had quite a conservative start which hurt me a lot with the fleet really pulling away in the clear air I didn’t have back in the second row. I rounded in the 30s this time and got to work with a great second beat seeing me gain about 20 boats! I could have finished top 10 easily but messed up my top mark approach and had to settle for a 14th. This left me 11th after the first day surprisingly with a lot of people struggling with consistency.

I think I just lay this, every boat beneath me gets swept away with the current

Day 2 we launched and got towed way way out to one on the coursed further north. The wind was dropping and the current only getting stronger with the change coming in. We started a race barely moving upwind that later was abandoned about 10min in as we had hardly gone more that 100m upwind of the start line and never would have made the top mark in the time limit. The RC made the good call to abandon racing for the day and instead use one of the two reserve days to catch up racing later.

Day 3 was a massive day in sport. We launched in lovely sailing conditions with current going against the wind meaning long downwinds and short beats. Unfortunately, the RC wasted all that good breeze with anchor troubles. We waited around for nearly 4 hours before we started to get a race away. This was super disappointing as I felt a good day was on the cards. The wind had been so steady all the time we were waiting then of course, as we got our first race away we had a massive, 20 degree right hand shift come through and I was out on the left side after having a glamour start. I rounded in to 50s and with the remainder of the legs being a soldier’s course (one tack legs) I had no chance to recover and finished in the 40s. Not ideal. R4 the wind was dropping and the current shifting from behind us to in front which was messing with the course skew and length. I had a decent start under a black flag and got clear in the light breeze to round the top 12th and then chip away on the second beat and run to take 5th on the line. After this day the RC made the call to move to finals racing so we now were going to have 6 Gold fleet races instead of 4. I think most of the top competitors preferred this but it obviously meant a lot of disappointment for those that ended up outside the top 70 cut line.

Luke Elliott (ILCA 7). Australian Sailing Team competing the Sailing World Championships in The Hague (8-20 August 2023). Photo by Beau Outteridge / Australian Sailing Team

Day 4 was delayed due to a lack of wind but late in the day a true seabreeze filled in which was one of the first any of us had sailed in. Even the training in Belgium was all frontal driven so it was our first day with this direction but we all love 10-15 seabreezes. We had current against wind making long downwinds again and stressful starts trying not to be over. After many recalls we got away and I had a solid start near the pin. Using some good speed I got back across the majority but the right side of the course was actually the side paying. I rounded 15 or so but had an amazing run sailing right through the middle all the way up to 6th at the bottom. Some good speed on the upwind put me in 4th at the top but a bad run with me splitting away from the leaders cost me back to 7th. Still not a bad opening to finals series. R5 I didn’t get the same opportunities with a poorer start and being back in the pack at the top. I was in the 50s the majority of the race but chased hard on the final run to gain 15 boats to take a 37 and save some points on my drop of 41 from qualifying (only 1 drop this regatta).

Day 5 was absolutely hectic. Nice wind in the 10-15 range but strong current with it! The starting was so challenging trying to find front row position and protect it without being over or too exposed. I had a shocker start but that wasn’t the half of it. The first top mark was the worst thing I had ever been a part of. The level of chaos as people tried to jam in at the mark while the current ripped everyone down under the layline was insane. We had a 40 boat pile up and very little chance to escape the wall of boats. I think I had 4 attempts at getting around which is unheard of. Somehow, I got through not the worst of the bunch and made a good second beat comeback to 33rd from somewhere in the 50s! R8 was just as desperate and crazy. I had enough of getting spanked in the middle of the beat and my intuition was telling me I had to go right. I started right at the boat but didn’t get the greatest start, not being able to tack straight away. I had to reach under a Greek sailor to get clear then I was the most right boat, fully committed. The whole pack I was will well and truly overlayed the top mark even with the current but I cam screaming back in with so much pace that I rounded 12th. The race got a bit funky after that as I made gains then lost them again to hold 12th.

Craziest top mark ever!

Day 6 was a long stressful day of waiting around. The forecast wasn’t good and the RC knew it. After waiting all day they finally made the call to abandon racing, Elyse and I never even went to the boat park that day. Instead, we went for a nice spin in the afternoon to turn the legs over and get some pent-up energy out. I hate the waiting days of regattas, arguably the most stressful part of being a sailor.    

Day 7 (our second reserve day being used) we had some wind and a new course area close to the beach. I was in 13th going into the final day with only 15 points or so to take a top 10 and make the medal race. I knew just 2 solid scores would secure the deal so I was ready and focused. My starts had really let me down most of finals so I was determined to finally get a good start and be on the pointy end of the fleet early. I had a great start in the general recall tacking and crossing the fleet from the middle. I was super confident in my transit, a massive radio tower in the distance, but understandably the fleet was being cautious with the line as the current was ripping everyone upwind. I set up too boldly, in front of the pack waiting back and dragged everyone up to my line with about 20 seconds to go. I was still pushing at the front of this line and lost sight of my transit. That was that, another general recall and my number was on the board. I didn’t want to believe it as, at the time, I was so confident I wasn’t over but in hindsight I can say I definitely was. So, I sat around and watched a very challenging looking race unfold in front of me. I knew chances of top 10 were gone but it didn’t mean I couldn’t have a good last race to finish strong. R10 I was tucked up near the boat as the 50+ meter/min current took us all upwind, I didn’t get away clear and was sure it would be a general recall but we got away and I was back in the fight. I rounded 50 something and got to work on the long downwinds into the current. I didn’t make much ground back until the final run, taking 13 boats or so to finish 27th and 20th overall, my lowest rank of the week unfortunately.

The 2023 Sailing World Championships were a really stressful event, the extra hype with other classes around, all of management present and the crazy tides of Den Haag put all your systems on overdrive. I don’t feel bad about my effort, preparation or attitude towards this event, at the end of the day I just didn’t execute on the level I needed to reach my goals. My 11th worlds and 6th top 20.

Back home in Coogee on a typical winters day

After the worlds we celebrated Wearny taking the dub and Elyse and I managed to get out and see the city a little bit as we hadn’t been in yet at all. The before you know it, we’re on a long flight from London to Perth (the direct flight is very good, would recommend). Now is time to decompress, recover the body and start planning for next year and everything that is going to happen this summer. We have a January world championship in Adelaide, only my second time doing a worlds on Australian waters. It’s going to be super fun and I’m getting excited to get back into it already. See you on the water.              

Long overdue…continued (pt.3)

A nice day trip to Rottnest Island

When I got back to Perth the weather was amazing. Every time I come back to Western Australia; I’m reminded what a special place it is to call home. There’s nowhere quite like it. I had a little time to sort myself out then got back on the water in my own E6 boat which felt great. I did 4 days on water doing a little sail testing and maintenance of skills work before it was time to hop back in a big bird again and head for Milan. This was going to be a little bit of a different trip for me because for the first time ever my dad was coming with me to Europe.

My dad had never been to Europe before and hadn’t been overseas in at least 30 years so this was a once in a lifetime type adventure. We landed in Milan together event free and picked up a hire car to finish off the trip driving to Andora, right next to San Remo near the French boarder. We found Elyse who had travelled a few days ahead of us and she showed us into the Airbnb we had booked. It was tight but would do just fine. It was very early in the season for us, I had never been to Europe so early in the season so we were all prepared for a very cold start but because of Europe’s drought that I had experienced in November 22 and was still continuing, we had very sunny and mild days which were just beautiful. The sailing however was something else.

Lumpy light air conditions for the Euros

I had never sailed here before; I’ll try and describe it briefly. Andora had large hills and headlands falling into deep, cold water. Then prevailing wind was from the north east as was the current with protection from it the closer you got to shore under the headland. This headland also played havoc with the wind as our inner loop course was set right under it so it became a very common theme for the event to have a very different inner loop to the outer loop.

We started with 1 light race with onshore breeze, I just missed one crucial right shift late in the beat and could only come back to a 17th. The next day we were on the water 4 hours but got no racing. In the one beat we did I was 3rd up until abandonment due to no wind. Day three saw 3 races being run and a mega 7 hours on water. I again had a race in the top 2 get abandoned at the bottom mark to be resailed. When the wind steadied, I pulled out two 6ths in a row and unfortunately finished the day with a 20th. After the 4 races where completed we moved to finals racing straight away so everything was still to play for. We finally woke up to a morning of good breeze and I was excited to stretch my legs, knowing I was in great physical shape. I had a good start under black flag and played to beat quite well to round the top mark 2nd and then briefly take the lead on the reach only to get swallowed on the run as people behind got a big puff first. Still sailed well to take another 6th and keep my regatta alive. The next race was my own fault, I had a messy boat end start when the priority was to get left. This left me when a massive chase and I was happy to turn a 35th at the top mark into a 17th at the finish line but the reality was I should have been higher. Later that night a protest was conducted by a competitor against the race committee for improper action (allowing too many people to be over the start and not calling the start back) so my 6th place race was scrapped along with everyone else’s first race in finals. Another costly set back I could do nothing about.

Sailors strike

The next day we got to the boat park to find no one was launching. A strike by the sailors was in action against the race committee and the poor management of racing. I had never seen a sailor strike in all my years sailing but I was glad to be a part of this as the event to this point really had been poorly managed. After an hour of standing around we hit the water and we got two races away in some of the lightest and trickiest racing possible. I had some terrible starts but fought hard to claw back a 22nd in the first race but had nothing left mentally to make back any places in the second race and took a 58th, dead last. We finished the regatta with a triple race day, I started well with an 11th but after that I struggled to navigate the cramped course well, always finding myself at the back of the pack after going the wrong way up the beat and having to fight through in short 40min races which left no time to truly come back well. I ended the event 25th overall, not at all what I was aiming for but also not feeling too disappointed as quite a few things didn’t go my way this time around. Time to reset and refocus.

Game face

After the regatta Elyse, dad and I packed up the hire car and hit the road, this time headed for my favourite place in the world, Lake Garda. We all had a few days to kill before we moved on to Mallorca and I really wanted my dad to see the lake. We scored good weather again, the haziest I’ve ever seen though, due to the calm weather and lack of rain. I got some good riding and fitness in and managed to take dad around to see the sights including some of our favourite restaurants but all too soon it was time to hit the road again.

Palma would be dad’s final week with us, we had a large Airbnb booked not too far from the club which was very nice and we picked up a hire car again so we could explore the island. I had a few more days to kill before the boys showed up with the boats so dad and I went and explored the island a little. We drove to the other side of the island and by chance drove past Rafael Nadal’s Museum so stopped for a look. It’s an amazing facility with many tennis courts, a school, accommodation and the museum itself. One of the best things we saw was an underground cave network with the biggest underground lake in Europe apparently. This included an amazing concert with classical music being played from inside one of the rowed boats in a natural auditorium. It was truly stunning and I would highly recommend if you ever get to Mallorca.

Unfortunately, not long after this I came down with a nasty flu like virus. It felt exactly like covid which I had contracted the same time last year but it never came up with a positive test. I was down and out on my bed for 4 days and was only really feeling better after 8 days, which meant by this time it was time to start racing without having done nearly any training. I knew I wouldn’t have forgotten anything but it definitely wasn’t the best preparation for a major regatta. I started well, day 1 we were away in a very shifty cloud driven breeze. I had worked through the fleet in a dying breeze to make my way up to 6th on the final run when the race was abandoned due to lack of breeze.

Day 2 we started in a shifty onshore breeze where I picked up a 3rd and 6th place, the 6th feeling a bit disappointing as I was 2nd to the top in this race. After that race the wind did a 180 and started blowing very erratically from the land. I felt confident with what I was seeing and my choice of strategy to head right but as the gun went a massive left shift swept through the course and all of a sudden I was 100s of meters behind the race leaders. I fought hard but the front of the race was never to be seen again and I had to take a 31st. Not ideal.

Palma racing

Day 3 was where things really started to unravel. I had two great starts in in moderate seabreeze conditions and usually my speed would do the talking for there but this time I found myself still heavily in the fight at the top mark both races. This rattled me and pretty much shot my confidence, not thinking about the racing but all the time the outcome. I ended the day with two scores around 20 and I knew my goal of a top 5 finish was pretty much over. The next day finals started in similar conditions and I did not handle it well, some results in the 50s and a BFD in a race to top it off. By now I wanted to call it quits but we still had another day to go. I endured it, feeling very much like I was just sailing around the course and not racing at all but I’ve never pulled out of a regatta or not finished a race if I could help it and I wasn’t going to start now. I finished 57th overall, one of my worst results in a long time and not one I’m proud of. In hindsight my mentality was all or nothing, I was going to achieve my goal or I didn’t want it. I wasn’t prepared to grind out another 20 something result which ultimately lead to this massive collapse. Always something to learn from sport.

Not the result I was after

Once the event was over Elyse and I migrated over to the other side of the island as we usually do to unwind and maintain some fitness. Unofficially called “cycle camp”, everyone hits the road and makes the most of being at one of the most incredible cycling destinations in the world. We stayed at a very nice fitness hotel which had everything we needed and more. One new activity we all fell in love with was the European sport of Paddle, a cross between tennis and squash, which was at our hotel and would be played late into the night on many occasions.  

After a week in Port de Pollenca it was time to move again and before we knew it Elyse and I were on the ferry headed for Barcelona to then drive the remaining 500km or so to Hyeres. Everything went smoothly and all too soon we were back after only being in Hyeres a few months earlier. The training up to the event went well with a mix of light and moderate conditions and some nice country side cycling thrown in there as well. Then, as if on schedule, a mistral hit the coast and day one of the event was met with 15+ knots and the typical flat water that Hyeres provides. I started the event well with a 5th and 6th place in some very tricky sailing. Both races our outer loop became mixed in with the fleet behind so our second run would have 100+ boats on it creating carnage.

Day 2 was met with an even windier day and I was pumped to see what I could do. A little too pumped unfortunately as I gave myself a costly BFD in the first race, having to sit out for the entire race. This sucked as these conditions should have been an automatic top 5 in qualifying, and with only 1 drop this regatta it meant everything was going to count from here on in. Race two I came out of the blocks well and lead to the top and help the lead until the second beat where Wearny got a cross on me only for me to get it back at the top. Final run was a great Aussie battle with us two and Ej just behind who had an outstanding run to win the race, Wearny 2nd and me 3rd. All three of us had finished before anyone else had reached the gate so that felt good.

Windy racing on day 2

The wind made a turn after day two to become much lighter and variable. I felt good in the boat and like I made good starts and first beat choices but managed to get sucked into the pack still. I really had some poor second beats and runs which is where the real damage was done and I ended the day with two really disappointing scores. This was a bit of a reset for me as we still had finals to go and I wasn’t going to waste this chance to get better at my light air sailing. I really struggled to get good starts but I stayed patent and had some of my best runs ever to get myself back into races and finished with 16,13,15,7 in gold fleet and place 18th overall. To put that in context I had 49 points in the two races on the last day of qualifying and I had 51 points for the whole final’s series. I really need to get my consistency together.

After all was packed up and done Elyse and I got on a flight home and had a few days in Perth before we finally got away to my home town Esperance to get away from it all. We got to spend a night and two days on Woody Island which is a small camp ground set up on one of the many islands surrounding Esperance. It is so nice to have a home so far away from cities and my regular life, I feel like I get to reset fresh every time I come back. I also was given a very nice opportunity to speak at Esperance Bay Yacht Clubs annual presentation night and share some of my sailing adventures with everyone that I started my sailing journey with which was very cool.

After 10 days at home, it was back to Perth again and straight into a training camp with the Futures Squad, the next young generation coming through along with Zac and Ej too. We had 8 boats in total and got a great mix of conditions, mostly light and tricky winds. We had 5 solid days of that before the young guys went back home and I went back to regular training with the Perth guys for a few more weeks. This included a bit of coaching at Fremantle Sailing Club as well and a quick camping trip with my mate Ki. Just as winter was truly setting in it was time to fly again, this time to get my 2023 World Championships campaign under way, starting in Marseille, France to get some training in with the best groups in everyone’s lead up to the Olympic Test Even in July.

Coaches regatta

Now I’m coming to the end of my time in France after a month of training here from the start of June to the start of July. I really like the city of Marseille; it provides great sailing conditions and an interesting city to explore. I always find new things to see and do the more time I spend here. I had a very productive training block mostly focused on speed and starts for myself and placed well in the 4-day training regatta we had, finishing 5th overall. Next up is a fitness block in Lake Garda while the Test event is on and then on to Belgium to start getting exposure to the current that we are all waiting for in The Hague for the World Championships. I’ll give an update before the worlds begin. Finally, I am fully back up to date with my sailing travels. Thanks for hanging in there, see you on the water soon.

Some of the bluest water I’ve ever swam in

Swifto  

Long overdue continued…(pt.2)

Fueling up somewhere halfway across the country

Nullarbor and Nationals

Next up on the agenda was preparation for a summer of racing with my own charter business being run on the side. Many months earlier the opportunity to buy some team boats (6 to be exact) had been presented to me by Rafa and I thought I would take on the challenge. This started a massive logistical learning adventure but I had a lot of fun along the way. To begin with I had to fly to Esperance last minute to get mums car, which was the only thing big enough to tow the 6 boats across the country, then bring it back to Perth to pack the car and collect the trailer I was going to use for the trip. It was a lot of running around but eventually everything was sorted so Elyse and I could get on the road. We enjoyed Christmas morning in Perth with Elyse family before driving to Esperance (yes, all 8 hours’ worth) to then enjoy Christmas eve with my family. On boxing day we continued on across the country, camping one night, staying in the worlds roughest pub the next before getting into Sydney late on the 4th day of driving. We had quite the adventure as I kept telling Elyse who had never driven the Nullarbor before, “you have to do it once in your life!”

The iconic Eucla whale (shot on Elyse’s film camera)
Fueling in Port Augusta, 2,325km from Perth

The next day we settled in a bit more at my Uncle Rob and Aunty Kate’s house in Sydney for the nationals, the same place I had stayed for the same event at the same yacht club 12 years prior when I was still a radial sailor. No time to relax too long though, I had 6 boats I had to move out of storage on the other side of the city and get to Botany Bay in time for all the internationals coming to charter from me. The British boys and Kiwis were coming for most of the summer which included the Nationals, Sail Melbourne and a month of training in Adelaide so I had offered my services and they had all happily accepted my solution to their charter needs. Now I needed to pull this thing off otherwise I could have some grumpy competitors coming after me. It was a bit nerve racking trying to figure out how to best stack the boats the first time, not knowing even if I would have to capacity to do it but after the first short drive to Botany, I knew we would be alright. We got the boats to the club and Elyse and I quickly got to work putting the boats together with the parts that were missing, cleaning the hulls and spray painting the trolleys so they wouldn’t go missing during the week. It was a really big two days of work getting them ready but we got it done just in time and everyone was happy with what they had so that made me happy. Now it was time to start racing!

The fleet ready to go!
At our favorite pasta place in Newtown, Sydney

We got off to a cracker start with a strong North East seabreeze blowing and sunshine. The racing was red hot from the go and I think we all realised this was going to be a tough summer of sailing. We had the entire British Sailing Team of Micky, Elliot, Dan and Sam along with the Kiwi Team of George and Tom as well as Ryan from Singapore. We also had the whole host of young Australians coming up through the ranks to challenge us so from the first race I think we all knew we were on for a big summer. I got off to a bit of a shaky start to the Nationals but I improved as the event went on and put myself in a position to challenge for the podium on the last day but it wasn’t to be and I had to settle for 4th overall and second Australian behind Wearny, Micky and Elliot.

Day 1 racing
Presentation night

Then came the big pack up for the journey south to Melbourne and the second event of the summer. It took a while but we managed to get all the boats on the trailer and in a stable situation so the day after the event Elyse and I hit the road. We started late so the goal was Aubrey and we got in a bit later than planned but we had no time pressure so we could just plod along. The next day we rolled into Royal Brighton Yacht Club on a sunny afternoon and unloaded the boats. This time we were staying at our friends parents house of Eliza and Jeremy, the same as I stayed in for the worlds back at the start of 2020. This was actually the first time I had been in Melbourne since then so it was nice to be back and see how the city had changed after a few years away.

The big pack up after a big day of racing

After two days of training on the water and a day off the water playing golf we got stuck into the racing. Melbourne always throws up a mix of conditions and this was no exception with shifty offshore conditions and one and strong onshore conditions the next. I was able to keep my sailing fairly consistent throughout the event and coming into the last race had a good chance at finishing on the podium. I had George on equal points with me and Dan 1 point in front so it was going to be tight. I remember completely messing up my start though, getting trapped in irons moments before the gun and starting a whole 15 seconds late behind the fleet. I was able to catch up but knew I hadn’t done enough to beat Dan, although I did manage to keep George behind me, just beating him in the race to secure 4th. Then, when we got to shore and checked the results it had me in 3rd! Dan had be BFD on the start in the race to gift me the podium. I was very lucky but happy to take a medal behind Micky and Elliot again.

The Solly family
Ej in front and me in the background chasing
Trying to hang on to the lead
Sail Melbourne fleet
Sail Melbourne podium (R-L Myself, Micky, Elliot)

Once again, the circus was on the road, this time off to Adelaide. We packed up and Elyse and I left the day after the regatta, driving all the way in one go and arriving to our Airbnb (which was very nice) in the evening. We were here to complete a month of training in preparation for the 2024 world champs which were to be hosted here in 12 months’ time. Elyse and I had a few days to enjoy Adelaide, exploring the town and even riding down to see the start of one of the stages of the Tour Down Under, Australia’s premier cycling event. It was great to get to see all the pros and their expensive bikes, you could really tell just by looking at them just how fit they were. We then got stuck into the sailing again, completing 9 days on the water for the first part of the camp with the Adelaide State Champs as a part of it. I managed to finished 3rd here, finally beating Elliot in a regatta but losing to Micky and Wearny.

On the road again
Tour down under

I flew home to see Elyse and get some rest from sailing for a few days while we had some holiday time between camps, then got stuck back into it again for the second camp for another 8 days on the water. It was a great time with amazing cycling, good gyms and a very supportive venue. The sailing waters off Adelaide and very nice, with a mix of strong seabreezes and tricky gradient winds to keep you on your toes. After all this intense sailing it was time to pack up one final time and hit the road, all the way back to Perth! We loaded the trailer and I got all the parts in order and was driving out of Adelaide by 2pm. It was pretty hot so I took my time and has the goal of getting to Ceduna that evening. Nothing could have really prepared me for what happened next.

Adelaide States
Some big breeze in Adelaide
Amazing cycling in the hills of Adelaide

At around 2am, only 30km out of Ceduna, my right axle of my trailer snapped. The trailer hit the tarmac and an explosion of sparks followed as the right wheel whizzed past me into the bush on the other side of the road. Thank goodness there wasn’t anyone around and I was able to pull over safely off the road and park up near some bushes. I didn’t really know what to do but this wasn’t a part of the plan. I decided to camp up on the side of the road and see if I could find help the next morning in town. It was a Friday (of course) so I knew this was going to be tricky in a country town. I rolled in early, leaving the trailer on the side of the road, and found some breakfast before getting to work finding a repair place. One conversation led to another and I eventually found this guy Toby who could help me. He ordered a new axle for me to be freighted over night from Adelaide and said he would even fit it for me the next day on a Saturday. This meant I had another night to spend in Ceduna so I camped up at the local caravan park for the night and went exploring. I met a nice young guy from Korea who was camping next to me and he was cycling across Australia just because he felt like it. Crazy guy but we had dinner together and some interesting conversations. I cycled with him out of town and said goodbye then was able to pick up the trailer that afternoon and hit the road. Couldn’t believe it was only a 24 hour turn around to get going again, I was very lucky to break down where I did. If it was anywhere else, I could have been stuck for days. Also, amazing that nothing happened to the boats, they all could have fallen of and I would have been in real trouble but everything was fine and not a single boat was damaged.

I drove a bit over 1000ks that day, arriving in Balladonia in the early hours of the morning for a quick sleep before finishing the drive into Perth the next day, just in time for my dad to collect mum’s car from me to drive back to Esperance the next day. Meanwhile I got to work sorting out all the equipment and cleaning the boats up for the customers buying them, I had a big day on the tools that day but after 12 hours at Freo sailing club I had sorted everything as was ready to be done with my charter boat business expedition. I had to be anyway because the next day I was off to Sydney for a 3-day team camp, the annual get together of all the members and staff of the AST to talk about the year ahead. When that was finally done, I could go back home and enjoy 10 days of being in Perth, sail testing for a couple of them and just generally getting my life sorted before I headed over to Europe again for the first event of the season, the European Championships (I know I had just completed the 2022 European Championships but for whatever reason they decided to put the event late in 2022 and early in 2023 so that meant they were pretty much back to back events).

What an epic summer it was, definitely one of the most heavily packed sailing and busiest I’ve had but one I’ll always remember. I think it will be hard to top the summer of 2023.

Long overdue…

This is a well over due update. I’ve constantly been telling myself to update my blog but I keep finding excuses not to so now we’re here 7 months later with a biannual report I guess! It’s been one of the most packed tight 7 months of sailing and travel of my life so buckle up. Keeping things consistent I’m going back to were I left off in October where I’m just finishing up a training camp on the Gold Coast in preparation for the European Championships in Hyeres, my second trip to Hyeres in 2022 (and funnily enough I’m writing this from Hyeres mid regatta in 2023 but we’ll catch up to that at the end). I’m going to break this up into location-based chunks to keep things simple.

Fremantle

After the Gold Coast I still had a week at home training before I headed to Europe again for the European Championships. This was my last little time here for quite a while so I made the most of it. I also got to compete in my home clubs annual sailing regatta, Sail Freo where I got the win over my team mates Zac and Ethan. I always cherish being from such a great place as Western Australia and I’m lucky to call it home.

Hyeres, France

After just 6 months away I was back again in Hyeres but in an entirely different time of year. I think this was everybody’s first time in the venue in November and it certainly had a different feeling to the usual April sailing we were all used to. Most shops were closed up for the winter months as the town is very much a summer time destination only. We were very lucky to score some amazing weather however. With a drought hitting most of Europe it meant the sun was unseasonably still out and despite the days being quite a bit shorter we could still enjoy 20-degree weather each day.

Elyse and I had flown into Milan to collect the team trailer and van (along with my new boat) and then driven down to Hyeres the next day. The sailing conditions were really great in all the lead up training with nice onshore winds blowing and fun waves. Then in classic fashion the first day of the event saw a complete wind change with off shore winds and flat water for the entire regatta. I started out alright with a few good scores and a race win in qualifying to get into finals in an alright position, 14th if I remember right. Then finals started with a 3-race day and some of the most shifty and difficult conditions I’ve seen in Hyeres. We had a North West wind blowing which was a direction no one had ever seen before, including JB who is the local. Coming straight off the mountains it made for a bizarre day of racing. I lead to the top mark race one and held onto a 2nd place which was a good start but after that I couldn’t navigate to the top mark in any kind of a good position. I had an amazing come back race 2, going from 53rd at the top to 16th at the finish but couldn’t sustain that level of comeback for the final race.

New boat, thanks ElementSix!
First to the top in finals

On our final day of racing, it was looking like we were going to race after waiting on land and on water for many hours for wind. Then, in the dying moments before they would have to abandon the day a puff came through under a rain cloud and the race committee got the orange flag up. Half the fleet had towed in by now and they were racing back out to get to the start in time. We were the only fleet out and there was a strange feeling in the air, like we were in a stadium. I was fighting to try and get myself into a top 8 position overall to re qualify for AST and I had a good start and beat but didn’t capitalize on the left shift I knew was coming so was stuck in the late teens when a top 5 was probably needed to secure the result. I finished 11th overall after the hard-fought week then had to do the grimmest pack up I’ve ever done. It was dark when we got in and the rain had settled in. We had less than 10 degrees and were all in our sailing kit trying to put our boats on the trailer and all our luggage away. It was time to leave Hyeres for another year.

Worst pack up ever

Paris

After the European Championships were over Elyse and I had planned a little 3-day trip to Paris, seeing as we were already in France and neither of us had been. We had also heard November can be a very nice time to go with minimal tourists as the summer rush was over and the Christmas holiday makers hadn’t started filling up the city yet. We caught the train up via Marseilles which was a total of about 4 ½ hours. We had a lovely time seeing as much as we could and eating out at some very nice places. The weather was cold but not too rainy and a combination of public transport, walking and Lime bikes got us all over the city. It was a perfect amount of time to run around and enjoy travel away from a boat park. When out time was up it was time to say goodbye to Elyse as she was heading back to Perth and I was off to Mexico, again!

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

This was my second time in Mexico in the same year as well but for quite different reasons to the World Championships earlier in the year. This time I was invited back to run a coaching clinic of my own and I couldn’t be more excited. I truly love Mexico and think it’s one of the best places to visit, everything from the people, the climate, the food and the culture. It’s all very interesting and different to Australia and I’ve got great friends in Collin and his family after the staying with them the last time I was in PV. I did a 50/50 split in accommodation this time with half my time at Collins ranch and half my time at Vaughn’s apartment in Bucerias which is a very chill seaside town about 30min drive from the city of PV. I had a great time looking after my sailors for the week and can’t wait to come back again. The two weeks flew by and once again it was time to get in the air, this time for a very long flight from LA to Sydney.

Sydney

No rest for the wicked, it was time to compete again only 3 weeks after the Euros were finished. I hadn’t competed in Sail Sydney in what felt like forever with Covid preventing me from doing the event for several years. This was a doozey of an event with some of the windiest sailing I’ve ever done on the harbor but we all had a good time and I managed to just pip Finn for second overall behind Wearny in the last race. That afternoon was followed by a quick pack up and a flight out of there to start getting ready for a massively busy summer and a quick Christmas break (wasn’t much of a break).

Sail Sydney 2022 podium

I’m going to cut off here and start fresh for the next blog instalment about the domestic season and all the craziness that was the summer of 2023. Hang tight!

Swifto

211 Days

That is the number of days I spent away from home in one consecutive trip this year, 211 days. It was probably one of the longest trips of my sailing career and certainly the most versatile. This will be a condensed version of events as there’s too many things and side stories all to fit in one post but I’ll do my best to remember back and fit it all in. I left off my last post at the end of Kieler Wocher in Germany after recovering from my food poisoning and about to start the epic drive to Lake Garda.

Ben and I with our very oversized trailer

The drive normally wouldn’t be a problem at all and if you were quick and early to start you could probably do it all in a day. We were neither of those things. To begin Elyse and I had to catch a train from Kiel to Hamburg Airport because there wasn’t enough space in the car to do the drive and I also needed to go and recheck if my bag had showed up at the airport or not (still missing after 2 weeks). Luckily my clothing suitcase had been found by my friend and I was able to recover it but I was still going around with no sailing equipment which is quite important when you’re a sailor! Still no sign of the bag unfortunately so as Ben (radial coach) unloaded Zoe, Mara and Casey at the airport we jumped in to an extremely over loaded and camped citron SUV and hit the road with the worlds biggest trailer in tow. We maxed out at 85km/hr so it was going to be a long drive.

The mountain of lost baggage in Hamburg airport

All went well with the drive though and now we had arrived in lake Garda, my favourite place in the world and soon to be Elyse’s as well. We had a lovely time in an Airbnb out in Arco and explored all over the area going on amazing rides and eating lots of great Italian food. This trip also doubled as a training camp for myself and I was very fortunate to get to train with Robert Scheidt who had been doing some sailing on the lake, mostly by himself! We had a great few weeks boat testing and I learnt a lot from my time training there. All too soon it was time to go and start the next phase of the trip, it was time to head to Marseilles, the 2024 Olympic venue, for a training camp and coaches regatta.

I had never been to Marseilles before and my first introduction to the city wasn’t great. Elyse and I drove from Lake Garda to France in one day, normally no big deal but with a max speed of 85km/hr it was a big day and to go on top of that we arrived into the city on the craziest afternoon, the eve of Frances biggest public holiday, Bastille Day. Trying to navigate very tight roads and small bridges and tunnels at the end of a big trip was very stressful and most of the local drivers weren’t sympathetic to our course, all trying to squeeze around us at every opportunity. Finally, we made it to Point Rouge, our yacht club where the team had rented a space for the duration of our time leading up to the Games. We dropped the trailer and got to our accommodation, sweating bullets in the mid-summer heat (Europe also going through its worst heat wave in years with temps up to 40 degrees celsius).

From here though things only got better and better. Our accommodation was lovely and airconditioned (a real luxury) and very close to the club. We had nice bakery’s all around and most importantly, the sailing conditions are amazing. The bay where the Olympics will be held is very interesting with lots of headlands and islands making the venue look stunning from the water and there was almost always wind that was great quality for racing. It is a fun venue and one I enjoyed a lot; I’m looking forward to sailing there more next season.

I finished up my three-week stint in Marseilles with a 4-day coaches regatta being sailed with all the heavy hitters in the fleet. We had quite a range of conditions throughout the event including one very windy day where Bulhi and I battled out the front all day with him just pipping me in both races. I ended the week in 7th overall in the 60 plus strong fleet which was a good step in the right direction after having a rough start to the season.

A few other notable things happened in my time in France. I sold both my boats in Europe ready to start fresh with a new boat later in the season for the European Championships. I also sold and bought a bike all within the space of a day. I had been looking for an upgrade to my old trusty for a while and the chance came to sell my bike to a mate of a mate so everything worked out very nicely and I have a very cool bike at the end of it.

All packed in like sardines in Vilamoura

Now was the sad part of the trip as it was time to say goodbye to Elyse, I left her at the airport at 5am as I caught my flight to Vilamoura in Portugal as she got on her flight to go back to Perth. Definitely one of the hardest parts about being travelling sailors is you do have to say good bye a lot. I hadn’t been to Portugal since 2019 and I had never been to the very famous Vilamoura so I was excited to see what it was all about. I was here to begin a nearly month long run of coaching, starting with the ILCA 4 World Championships and flowing into the ILCA 7 U21 World Championships.

I had 16 young and keen Australian sailors to look after for the ILCA 4 Worlds which turned out to be the biggest ILCA event ever run with over 440 sailors from more that 45 nations. It was amazing but extremely hectic with busy boat parks, hot weather, tricky wind and a million coach boats (actually 120 coach boats!) to navigate. It was a crazy 14 days but I met some lovely people and all the sailors we excellent to work with. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again soon this summer. Without any rest I went straight into coaching the 5 U21 boys from Australia who had made the trip for their worlds. In comparison to 16 sailors this was much easier to manage and in general the fleet sizes where less hectic than the ILCA 4s had been.

We didn’t get as good a quality breeze as the ILCA 4s though unfortunately with 3 days of the event lost to un-sailable conditions. The boys all learnt a lot from their trip and even though the results weren’t what they were after they still could take the good from the bad. As a side story to this event, I was very lucky to get to stay with Brett Beyer and Sylvie Stannage in their spacious three-bedroom apartment for the regatta rather than the other alternative I had which was to stay in a bunk bed in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with the boys. Thank you, Brett and Sylvie!

While all this was going on I had a problem forming in the background. I didn’t have a boat in Europe anymore but I had one last training camp to do in Belgium before my trip came to an end. My Belgium mate Wannes has a charter company so naturally I asked him if I could charter a boat and he said yes, only problem being they are in Vilamoura being used by all my Aussie sailors. Putting two and two together he made the proposal that if I drove the boats back to Belgium with his van I could use one of the boats for the camp. I really didn’t want to do the 2400km drive but as you can see, I was in a bind so off I went. On the last day of the U21 worlds I packed up all the boats as fast as I could get everyone to move and I hit the road that night, racing to get to the camp in time. I drove until 3am that night and pulled into Salamanca, about 800km from Vilamoura in Spain. I had a 3-hour sleep and continued on my way with the plan of getting just south of Paris. It was a massive day of driving but I soon realised that if I didn’t drive through the night I would be stuck dealing with the Paris traffic during the day and would rather just push on that waste time. I arrived into Nieuwpoort, Belgium just before 5am in the morning after having left at 8am the previous morning. I was wiped out and had a good sleep that day before I sorted my boat out and hit the water the following day.

The rig I drive 2400km back to Belgium from Portugal

That was a bit of a rude welcome back as well. After a month standing in the coach boat, I had definitely lost some hiking form and fitness but there was no avoiding the 25knots and massive seas that greeted me for the first 2 days of the camp. I was pleasantly surprised to see I still could sail a Laser pretty well though and had a really good time learning about the massive currents they get there. The whole point of this camp being in preparation for the World Championships coming in 2023 in The Hauge, just a few 100km down the road which has almost identical conditions. The tide was incredible, going through a 4–5-meter change though its cycle with up to 45 meters a minute of water moving where we were training. It really does change your judgment of laylines and acceleration so I was glad I did it. Having said that, after 7 months on the road I was well and truly ready to come home. I just had my final hurdle to get over which was getting out of Europe! I was well and truly over the number of days I was supposed to stay but luckily, I got out through Madrid no worries and was on my way home. If felt so good to finally land back in Australia but sadly I still had to wait another 10 days before I saw my girl as she was on the East coast doing a training camp in preparation for her own World Championships. I kept myself busy seeing friends, playing golf and doing all the normal jobs that build up that you just can’t do when you’re away from home.

Finn with some sheep on one of our rides in Belgium
Image from the Pacer challenge. A great initiative by the Ron Tough Foundation to get top sailors to interact with the next generation and all get together for some fun racing. Murry (my crew) and I finished 3rd.

Finally, Elyse came home and we had a lovely week together before she left me again to fly to Texas for her championships. Meanwhile I had started coaching Westsail, the annual WA based training camp that I usually coach but had missed out on the year before due to being in Europe for our European Championships. We had a great week, with 30 kids keen to learn about sailing and some of the best weather I could remember for a Westsail. It was such a fun time and is always a highlight of my year. To back it up I then drove home to Esperance for the first time since Christmas and saw my family. This also tied in nicely as I coached the learn to sail course at EBYC as I usually try and do and once again, I had 30 kids to teach, just at a slightly different level. We didn’t have as nice a weather as I had the week before but the kids were brave and got through the cold and the wind and the rain just fine. Hopefully many on the continue sailing this season and I’ll see them all this summer when I’m back home again.

Driving the rib back to Fremantle with a beautiful sunset
The start sailing course at EBYC

Then finally I rushed up to Perth on Friday night and unpacked and re packed my things and flew early Sunday morning to the Gold Coast which is where I am now doing a team training camp in preparation for the European Championships in Hyeres in November. The sailing has been really awesome and despite not touching a Laser since Belgium four weeks prior I’m sailing really well. We got out for an epic bike ride yesterday up Mt Tambourine which I think we all underestimated but it was well worth the effort. Only a few weeks to go now until I’m heading back to Europe and then on into the summer. Its been such a hectic year, it really feels like I’m a visitor in Australia rather than someone who lives here but that’s just part of the campaigning sailor life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

See you on the water,

Swifto

Unexpected Changes

The title to this post relates on two levels. The first was the unexpected nature of the wind in Puerto Vallarta compared to my time racing in 2016 and the second is about my dramatic change in calendar from what it first looked like when I left for Europe back in March to now in June. Some changes have been great and very exciting and others (like the wind) didn’t match my expectation.

Top mark race lead

My 10th Laser worlds (now called ILCA) is now in the books. I’ve done every single one since 2013 and I must say it’s been quite a journey riding the highs and lows of high-performance sport and also watching myself change as I grow up doing it. Despite its challenges I’ve loved every minute of my time doing this and I wouldn’t have rather spent the last 10 years of my life doing anything else.

The event here in Mexico has taught me once again some valuable lessons about racing and my own thinking that I can hopefully implement for the rest of this Paris campaign. I had arrived here in Puerto Vallarta with what I thought was an understanding of the venue and the way the breeze worked here. I now know that it was based on a one-time experience 7 years ago and that I really didn’t understand anything about this place at all. The wind last time made the racing a very right-handed race course and because the thermal here is so reliable and regular I wrongly assumed it would be working the same under all circumstances. I now have a much, much better idea of what this venue is but I more importantly know that it is always a trap to not just sail the wind you have in the moment. If you set a trap for the wind, you’ll get caught in it every time.

Back to the traveling part, we had a mega day leaving Lake Garda. On our final day (as we usually do) we crammed as much stuff into the day as we could. This included me picking up a hire car, packing my bags, going sailing and packing up my boat, going riding up Tenno one last time, having pizza at SUD, packing more stuff again (at the yacht club at 11pm packing still until security kicked us out) then finally loading the car and going to bed at 2am only to wake up at 5am and hit the road. We all crammed into our car and I dropped Ej and Zac at Linate Airport before Finn and I continued on to MXP Airport to get our flight. We were getting close on time and starting to worry but we made it to the airport and thought we were clear. However, we couldn’t find where to drop our car off!! We did lap after lap trying to find the car drop until luckily Finn spotted it and we raced in. We ran up to the check in desk to find no one behind the desk, just some of the British Airways staff about to go and find some lunch. We asked if we could check in and they said it was too late but they could put us on another plane. We explained we had a connection to Mexico that we couldn’t miss and thankfully they were very helpful and quickly rushed us through. It was as close to missing your flight as you could get without missing it.

Waiting to collect out boats on the first day of charter. We almost didn’t have boats for this event with many dramas going on behind the scene, mostly to do with shipping and customs

Everything went fairly smooth after that, we were all super tired after finally getting in to Mexico and it took a while to get used to the time difference again and the heat but it was good vibes being somewhere tropical. I had booked a really nice condo on Airbnb with Ej and Sam King that was huge! We each had a bedroom and bathroom with a bed to spare and it saved us a lot of money compared to the resort at the club. We had a day to sleep and chill (or play golf in my case) and then we got into our preparation. The boats were all very good being one builder this time, thank goodness, so there was no room to blame our equipment for the regatta. We got 5 days on the water before the event and I would say things were going quite well. I was pretty happy with my speed and I thought I had a handle on the venue but that was a mistake.

The island green par 3 on the 7th hole, El Tigre Golf Course
Some great prawn tacos at a small restaurant near our Airbnb

The Worlds: Winning the first race can either be a blessing or a curse and this time I feel it was the latter. Before this event started, I was bringing a lot of bias into my thinking from my last experience here which was a very right-handed course. Just about no matter what you did you had to get right to take advantage of a pretty consistent geographical shift. I did exactly this on the first race and it set me up to win the race. Now I’m certain the right is the must do strategy and I started backing that plan with no question to anything else. So when the first left handed shifts started showing up I was confused and not ready to accept that the left could be an option. I wrote it off as a once off and that it wouldn’t happen again, until it did! Now I was scrambling and it pretty much summed up the story of how my event unraveled. It was only by the last day of the event that I let go of that idea and just sailed the races how I felt was best and I had a much better time.

I didn’t have any time to mope about it though as I had two more events to gear up for! My original plan was to finish the worlds and fly home but before the event started, I was given a chance to potentially coach the ILCA 6 Masters Worlds two weeks after my event and I jumped at the chance. I didn’t want to just sit around for 10 days though and with the help of Brett Beyer we scrapped together 12 sailors for me to look after for the ILCA 7 Masters Worlds. It was a busy week trying to remember 12 different water bottles and getting to know a crowd made up of Australians, an Argentinian, a Frenchmen, a Thai sailor and two USA but I had a lot of fun and I think they did as well. We got two Champs from the week with Brett winning his GM category and Andres winning the Apprentice division. More importantly we all became friends from a group that otherwise would have had little interaction.

Brett and I chatting pre-race

With just one day off I was back to it again with the ILCA 6 group, a bit more manageable this time with just 6 older gentlemen from the States. I started a little unsure how to coach a group like this because most of them had plenty of experience but I quickly learnt you can teach old dogs’ new tricks and they were some of the most enthusiastic students I had ever had! We had a blast of a week accumulating with a really exciting final day that saw my sailor Boomer win the coveted Legends category (75 and older) on the final race which was truly exciting. I really bonded with the group and I know I’ll be seeing them in America one day, from the stories they told there are some places that I absolutely must see and sail at.  

Mine and Toms coaching group with Boomer in the middle

I should also quickly mention what was happening off the water during these 3 weeks. Colin and his family, who are all now good friends, kindly invited me into his home to stay while I was working for him. He was the one who set me up with the job in the first place but more than that, he showed me how he and his family lived on their beautiful property outside Bucerias, a small town 15min from the club in Nuevo. I don’t think I could have stayed in Mexico for so long if it wasn’t for their kind hospitality. I had such a good time; I know I will be back again. Colin and Paulina went above and beyond to look after me.

The new burro (donkey) at “The Ranch” (Colins house) with Colin and their German shepherd Oso in the background

So now after 5 weeks in Mexico it was time to leave, but not back to Australia. There seemed little point on returning home now with the team coming back to France in the middle of July so I decided to come here to Kiel in Germany to see my girl and race in the famous Kiel Week! This hasn’t at all gone to plan though unfortunately starting with all my luggage becoming lost on the flight over here and on top of that, me getting very bad food poisoning on my second night here. For 3 days I was feeling really bad and was stuck in bed while everyone else got to enjoy the sunshine and sailing. I did manage to get a quick sail in yesterday (in my new E6 boat) and compete in 1 race (which I won) but I felt the priority is to get better so I can start training properly again, rather than push through for little reward. It’s been a bit unfortunate but that’s all a part of being a campaigning sailor and you have to take the good with the bad. Hopefully they can find my bags soon because I’ve been in the same clothes for a week and I won’t have much luck training without the stuff inside them.

Next up is two weeks in my favorite place in the world, Lake Garda in Italy for bit of a fitness boot camp and to get some good sailing in before I meet with the rest of the Australian Team in Marseilles for a good block of training at the Olympic venue. It’s going to be a great next few months and is hopefully productive towards my campaign.

Strawberry picking with my girl in Heikendorf (near our accommodation in Kiel)

Talk soon,

Swifto

Back to a different kind of normal

Its been quite a while since I last posted (as per normal) but this rainy weather I’m experiencing now has given me the perfect opportunity to sit down and write again. I find it nice to sit and reflect sometimes and remembering back to where my last post ended, I realized I’ve had a great last few months with friends and family.

Dec. 21

The mandatory “prison gym” session Zac and I would do while in isolation every evening

It was a long round about way to get home from Europe last year. I had two weeks of waiting in Sydney quarantine free before making my way to WA after losing my international traveler status to then be allowed to complete my two weeks home isolation as a traveler from NSW. It was pretty crazy but I got to iso with Zac and WAIS was very kind and put us up in a cool house with a pool. There were worse ways to do it for sure.

Quick camping adventure with Dad
Sunset walks with the family
Nothing like a stop at coffee cat after an early morning ride at home

On getting out I went straight home to Esperance to see my family that I hadn’t visited in a long time and spent a wonderful summer Christmas with them. The only sad part was not having Elyse with me as she was in hotel quarantine after making her way back from overseas after me.

Coaching a summer clinic at my home club, EBYC

After a few weeks at home, it was time to get back into training in Perth and by the end of January I was gearing up to head to Sydney for the long haul. I wouldn’t be back in WA for many months once I left with Covid restrictions still inhibiting travel.

Finally reunited with my girl after 72 days apart

Feb. 22

This would be the first time doing proper training under Rafa as the new coach, not just regatta training and racing. It was exciting to be working with someone different and learning their take on the sport and the best ways to train and prepare for a campaign. I’ve been very lucky in my career to get to work with so many great coaches and sailors and take the best parts of each of them to incorporate into my own racing.

One of the few sunny days the Sydney had to offer

It was a very wet summer in Sydney this year which made quite a few things difficult. One being the wind mostly got sucked away so we had a pretty light few weeks of training (not such a bad thing for us). We also had to deal with poo brown water that ended up making most of the AST sick with gastro at some point including myself! In all though the training I got done in Feb & March was of a really high quality and I felt pretty ready to get to Europe again and race.

March. 22

I flew to Mallorca on the 20th March to allow myself two weeks on the ground training before the event kicked off. This was because our camp in Sydney had ended and usually the weather in Palma is nice that time of year, surely better than rainy Sydney. Turns out this time I was wrong and Palma was nearly as wet and even colder than Sydney.  I still managed to get a few good days of training in until something I didn’t really expect happened. I got Covid for the first time and boy did it rock me.

Gloomy Palma training in front of the city

I was down and out not just from an isolation point of view but also from a being very sick point of view. I had it bad enough to test positive for it for 10 days, the first day of the Princess Sofia Regatta was my day 11 and the first day I tested negative to the virus since I got it. It really messed up my training leading into the event and my performance all though the event as well to be honest. It was quite a frustrating thing because I had put in months of work over the summer to try and peak at these regattas and now here I was not even a shade of what I was just a few weeks ago. This game and journey never ceases to surprise and challenge me.

Palma. 22

Despite my covid I still managed to have a nice time in Palma and made the most of the regatta. We had one of the coldest and strongest wind events in recent memory for the 2022 Princess Sofia Regatta with 25-30 knots and freezing cold temperatures to start the event off. I didn’t have the greatest qualifying but I did manage to take a race win still and got safely though to finals (better than my silver fleet effort last time I did the event in 2018). Finals got a bit tricker with a tough mountain breeze causing a bit of chaos on day one but things got back to a more regular Palma for the last two days with a nice onshore breeze and some good waves. I had a good moment leading to the top mark in gold fleet on the first race of the onshore breeze but didn’t get my strategy right at all in the following races, backing the wrong side of the course too many times and having to chase down the leaders. I finished 14th overall from the 165-boat fleet. I was disappointed to not make the medal race being 10th going into the last day but it wasn’t to be this time.

Something I’m working on this trip is not hanging on to my mistakes for so long and trying to stay very present with each day as it comes. I don’t want to be feeling disappointed with myself any more than I need to be so making this conscious choice moving forward will hopefully help me sail better and have a more enjoyable time in general.

The hidden town of Cala Sant Vicenc

After the event I got to do something I never really had to chance to do before, I moved to the north side of the Island with Elyse, Zac and Ethan to a beautiful town called Cala Sant Vicenc to do the traditional cycle camp post regatta. Mallorca is well known as one of the best cycling destinations in the world and the North side of the island has easy access to some of the best climbs the island has to offer. There is a much slower pace to life away from the city on this side of Mallorca with open farm land, dramatic landscape and clear blue ocean in every direction you look. I can’t say my cycling form was much good due to still recovering from covid but I loved every second I was out there and we still got some epic rides in. My favorite was a ride I did with Elyse, only 60km long but 2000m of climbing over 5 different climbs finishing off with a stop at our new favorite restaurant on the island.

Not the happiest of campers (summit of climb number 4)
The feast afterwards at our secret spot. Grilled vegetables, breaded aubergine and local cuttlefish with honey.

After a week of training and recovering it was time to leave again. Elyse and I flew to Barcelona (a place I felt much more familiar with after the worlds just a few months earlier) to pick up a hire car and make the drive to Hyeres. After a few adventures we made it to our accommodation just before midnight under a very full moon.

A quick look around the city of Girona

Hyeres. 22

This was to be my 8th French Olympic week so safe to say I know the place pretty well now. I booked a nice apartment close to the club with Elyse and my mate Greg and we got stuck into our preparation straight away. The weather, I must admit, was the nicest Hyeres as ever given me with beautiful sunshine and wind for the whole regatta, something I haven’t experience there before.

It wouldn’t be Hyeres if we didn’t have one morning of waiting for wind

Unfortunately, I really struggled to get off the line this event with some of my worst starting ever. I’m going through some changes with my starting and at the moment I’m paying my dues. Short term losses for a long-term gain hopefully. I did manage to turn them around briefly for the first day of finals but the consistency just wasn’t there. I finished the event 21st in a very competitive fleet, well below the standard I’m setting for myself this year. It’s one of the worst feelings really trying to do something and falling short but it’s only added fire to the belly for the world championships to come.

Fighting hard
A brief moment of open water in an otherwise very crowded week of racing

Lake Garda. 22

Straight after the event in Hyeres was finished, I packed and said goodbye to Elyse over a final croissant at the local boulangerie. She was off home and I wouldn’t see her again for another 2 ½ months. I however was hitching a ride to Milan with some friends then catching a train and a taxi to get to my favorite place on earth, Lake Garda. The calendar allowed us 12 days to use and we could think of no better way than to come to Garda to train and reset before we head to Mexico for the Worlds. I’ll admit the weather hasn’t been the greatest this time around but we’ve still got a ton of conditioning in and have been starting to get some good on water work done with the one and only Robert Scheidt. Yesterday I did my first ever double downwinder session and backed it up straight away with a windsurf. It was probably my best day in Garda ever, it was so much fun. Today is my final day in Lake Garda and I’m writing this as I wait for the Ora breeze to fill in so I can do one last sail before packing up and getting ready for the long journey to Mexico.

Parked the boats up and having some lunch while waiting for the Ora to kick in
Cute date night a the best gelato in the world, Flora

This will be my last post until after the worlds so here’s to everything going to plan and the training all coming together and paying off. The last time I was in Mexico was for the Worlds in 2016 and we were at the same venue of Puerto Vallarta again so it will be a reunion of sorts. The sailing conditions there are challenging but also awesome with reliable seabreezes every day and warm water. I’m really looking forward to it.

Until later,

Swifto    

P.S these are a few extra photos I took while exploring in Arco on a rainy day off

Quite the trip

Cathedral in Varna

Upon returning to WA, I was sent straight into two weeks of home isolation, the second time I have done it. Being able to do it in Esperance was a huge help though, at least I had my family close by and the nice views from the balcony to enjoy each day. Plus, the Olympics were on TV everyday so I was more than entertained keeping up with how all the sailing and other sports were going which was awesome. It was really inspiring to watch the Aussie Team and especially see Wearny win his Gold Medal only having trained with him two weeks earlier. It gave me a sense that I could be successful at a high level for my own sailing regattas coming up.

Masks were mandatory as part of our team protocols in Europe

When I returned to Perth it was straight into full on preparation for Europe. I had 6 weeks to get myself fully really for the two events I was competing in, the European Championships and the World Championships. We had a really good squad in Perth with up to 8 guys training regularly each week and Ben running everyone through the program. We got a real mix of conditions in which was great and I left Perth feeling as ready as I could be, despite not having raced for nearly 2 years!

Part of the very exclusive SSL club
Launching the boat was one of the hardest parts of the day

The European Championships were held somewhere I had never been before and I don’t think really anyone else had been either. The event was held in Varna, Bulgaria on the west coast of the Black Sea. I had never sailed on the Black Sea but I knew of it’s reputation of being a windy place (even though I didn’t believe it). The feel of the town was of an old European city that had been left behind by the west. It was pretty grungy and what I would imagine living in Europe 50 years ago would have been like. There were some beautiful buildings though and patches of modern living and cafes that kind of tucked into all the ancient ones in a weird mix of old and new. Safe to say it was like nowhere I had been before.

Day one of racing in Bulgaria

The weather was lovely for all the training leading up to the event and we had a real mix of conditions, anything from a seabreeze to shifty offshore conditions. Palky had arrived a few days before the event to look after us which was great and we had a good little squad to work with including the 4 of us Aussies, Max our Russian friend and Greg from New Zealand. The event started really well for me, I knew I could win this event if I sailed well enough because all the pre-regatta training had been going so well and my speed was good as anyone’s, if not better. We had a light to moderate onshore breeze, normally a condition I would panic in a bit but I walked away with a 2nd and a 6th on the first day.

Probably the furthest I’ve ever won a race by

The regatta started to take a turn after that though, we all started to realize that the race committee was nowhere near as experienced or organized as they should be for a major event and we wasted many hours on the water from here on in. We had a good 15 knots of breeze but still ended up sitting around waiting to start for several hours, to then only squeeze one race in before sunset. I made the most of the race though and won by the biggest margin I have ever won a race by which was very satisfying. To finish qualifying we did two more races where I had and 8th and 2nd to be 4th overall going into finals but only 3 points off the lead. Everything was going exactly how I wanted it to go which should have been a warning sign.

In the trenches in gold fleet

Finals was a different beast to qualifying and the wind for the event started to build and the temperature started to drop. The swell was huge and the drift massive as it started to blow stronger and stronger from the North, normally a condition I am very confident in. Too confident unfortunately. Because of my great speed I decided to start sailing quite conservatively and this was not the play at all in these shifty conditions. You had to still be aggressive and position yourself well for the advantaged left-hand side of the course. Race one of finals again we had been left waiting for several hours in 15-20 knots and 10 degrees as the race committee sorted themselves out. We got 1 race in and it all seemed a made scramble as all of a sudden, the orange flag was up after 3 hours of waiting and we were away. I had my chance to get myself back in the race on the second beat but just couldn’t convert, finishing 23rd.

Day 5 of the Europeans was a big one with 3 races on the cards and a race committee that wasn’t messing around anymore. We got straight into it but I just couldn’t get it going. I was always putting myself in tough places around the course or having really bad starts and just not being able to use the great speed that I had. I finished the day with 16, 27, 16. Not the kind of day needed to win a regatta, especially in conditions where I would normally struggle to finish outside the top 10. I was disappointed I had let this happen and that I had let this old habit of conservatism creep back in. We had one more day to go and it was the windiest and coldest yet and I was fully hoping to get two races in that could turn my regatta around. Again, I had a bad start but this time I wasn’t going to back down on strategy and committed to the left as everyone knew you had to. I rounded in 10th or so, took 7 boats on the run, rounded the correct gate mark and was clear first up the second beat of the race. Unfortunately, I missed the last bit of pressure on the run to the bottom and had to settle for 3rd in the race. The race committee tried half-heartedly for a 2nd race but quickly gave up after a general recall and that was the end of the European Championships for 2021. I ended up falling to 10th overall, a personal best at a European Championship but far from where I wanted to be. There were mostly positives to be taken away from the event but the way I handled the gold fleet was a warning and one I’m going to have to watch out for in future events.

After Varna it was time to finally return to my one of my favorite places on earth, Lake Garda in Italy. We had a little time to kill before the worlds and there’s no better place to refresh and relax. Elyse and I had a lovely little apartment by the water in the town of Tobole and much pizza and coffee were to be consumed. We had hired bikes and did plenty of cycling in the beautiful mountains as well as the traditional Santa Barbra church climb. The weather was stunning and I even managed to get a windsurf in one of the last Oras of the season. We only had 10 days but it was exactly what I needed before the pressure really intensified.

The view from out apartment
The top of Punta Larici

I hit the ground running in Barcelona going straight into training the day after I had arrived. Rafa was already there and we went straight to work with him giving me as much of his 7 years of sailing experience there as he could give me. The weather was light and the waves were massive and sloppy, not exactly conditions I normally perform in. We had a really good group to train with including the Kiwis and Max the Russian again. As we got closer to the event, we picked up our charter boats and started to plan our taper into the event. The forecast was marginal at best but we felt pretty prepared for what was to come. I don’t think anyone could have forecast the week that was to come.

Rafa buying us all a proper Spanish lunch including this massive paella

We lost the first day of the event to no wind at all, staying in the boat park all day waiting around for the AP over A flag to go up. Day two was an early start with 3 races planned, we got the first one away after several nervous tries and everything seemed to go my way. I was ready for what was to come and confident in the conditions and I lead to the top mark. I kept my lead most of the race, briefly lost it around the top mark the second time then quickly regained it on the run and never lost it again to win the first race of the World Championships. Not sure if that’s bad luck or not? After another half race that was abandoned due to no wind we went ashore and waited. The next time we launched was several hours later in a very different day, 14-18 knots of wind with some of the biggest waves I’ve ever raced in and a massive tide going upwind. I messed my start up in this race by putting myself too far away from the favored end but managed to claw my way back into it and save an 11th. Not the score I was after in conditions I’m normally really good in but it could have been much worse.

Winning the first race of the world championships

Day three was another waste, we launched early and started a race only to have it abandoned due to lack of wind on the outer loop of the course. We moved course area and tried again only to have the thermal breeze come in on the run and turn it into a beat. We waited several more hours until the day was abandoned. Day 4 was another very early start, arriving at the boat park while the street lights were still on! We got two morning races away and despite sailing well in both of these races it wasn’t well enough. I got sucked back into the pack on the first race after hitting the top mark and had to take a 17th. I was in the fight on the 2nd race as well but a slow first downwind let me down and put me back in traffic. Not long after that on the final run of the race the wind glassed out and the race was shortened to finish at the gate. Unfortunately, I was swallowed by the fleet as they carried the final bit of pressure down to the finish and I had to take a 30th. A very frustrating morning of racing for me when I knew it could have been so much better. We went to shore and waited before launching once more in a light seabreeze later that afternoon to try and finish off qualifying. I had my best comeback of the event in this race, I had hedged my bets and played it safe on the first beat, not trusting that the right-hand corner of the beat was as good as it looked. Turns out it was and every single boat that had hit the right was well in front of me. It could have easily been a 40th but I had a great run and changed my fortune to finish 24th, but even that didn’t satisfy me as I knew I could have been higher again. I left the water feeling frustrated with the day and very fatigued mentally.

Me on the top left about to lose 15 boats on the final run

Day 5, the first day of finals, was another very early start with the street lights and freezing cold air there to greet us. We had 3 races back-to-back and the race committee wasn’t messing around, smashing them out as quickly as they could. I was on another level of focus this day, desperate not to let a repeat of Varna happen again and see my sailing fall down when it mattered the most. After a good start and excellent top reach, I had gone from 15th to 5th by the bottom mark and held that position to the finish. The next race was another great start but didn’t quite get the first shift right and was left in the middle of the fleet fighting. I pulled through with another great run to make places up to 23rd in what could have been a much worse race. To finish the day, I had another great start and beat and put myself in the top 10 at the top. Things started to get funky after that with the wind dying and shifting a lot, similar to the final morning of qualifying. After a shortened second beat the fight was on just to save what points I could as the fleet was starting to flip on top of its head. Luckily, I was at the front and held onto a 9th place at the finish line. With those consistent scores I had elevated from starting the day in 27th overall to 10th. We were promised a massive final day of racing with 20 knots of breeze predicted and massive swell and I couldn’t be more excited to see what I could do.

Early morning finals racing

We got to the boat park to start the final day and nothing happened. The wind was glassy and the waves were so big the race committee was having a hard time just getting in and out of the harbor. More and more time passed and the less and less likely it seemed we would get out on the water. At around 2pm the race committee raised the AP over A and the event was over after just 8 races. I was sad not to race on the final day and see what I could do with my good form but on the flipside, I was really happy for my friend Tom Saunders for winning the World Title. He had sailed an amazing event and came through clutch on the final day with some amazing racing. If I wanted anyone to win a world title it would be him.

Greg the new World Champion
Ethan, myself, Rafa, Zac & Finn

Two days later I was on a plane back to Australia but not to WA. With covid restrictions still being in place I couldn’t get a flight into Perth and had to settle for Sydney instead, the benefits of this being I didn’t have to quarantine once getting off the plane. Now I’m waiting here until I’m allowed to go back to Perth which hopefully won’t take too long. There are worse places to be though. I’m probably going to have some good time out of the boat now to refresh and reflect before a massive season begins next year. See you in 2022!

Swifto