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…