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!