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,