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

Expected, but not planned…

After my extended time in Sydney (nearly 3 months straight) it was time to round off the trip with some racing in a different venue. Swansea is a small community on the ocean side of Lake Macquarie, just south of Newcastle where we decided to run a mini regatta with as many boats as we could muster. We had all of the squad and the full attendance of the futures program and the NZL laser boys which made a total of 12 of the best boats in the southern hemisphere on the start line. The venue was predicted to give us lots of swell and some lumpy onshore winds. However, the forecast had another plan. We got all the swell but mixed with some very shifty offshore conditions which kept the swell coming from behind most of the event. I must say it was one of my worst weeks of sailing of my life. Not just from a performance standpoint but from a mental perspective. I was so burnt out from all the training in Sydney and a strong lack of purpose hung with me for that week. I hated the sailing and just wanted to go home more than anything, thoughts of quitting even crossed my mind. It was that bad. Sometimes sport and send you down a bad spiral and it takes stopping for a while to shake it off and start anew.

Fortunately, after that event I did manage to get a flight home after a brief scare that a few covid cases in Perth might holt my chance of leaving. The time was spent seeing my team at WAIS and having a few heart to hearts with Belinda about the road ahead. The time home was most important to me and allowed me to change my mindset for the coming training camps in Queensland. Changing my attitude towards something is always in my control, sometimes it just takes a bit of help from others to put me on the right path again.

Boat park rigging in Mooloolabar

My next stop was the Sunshine Coast for the start of our tour through Queensland, a choice we had made to seek out the most relevant conditions for Japan and warmer weather. We had done a block of training last year in Mbar and knew it was a good venue to train from. Luckily for me Elyse had a family friend that could lend us their apartment for out time there so we had stunning views of the water and easy access to the boat from out accommodation. The camp was a success with a great variety of wind and my new attitude, I definitely feel I made the most of my time during this camp. Once it was over, rather than travel all the way back to WA, Elyse and I decided to stay on for the 10 days between our next camp in Yeppoon, a town about 9 hours drive north of the Sunshine Coast. We spent our time cycling and exploring the beautiful sunny coast, arguably one of my favorite places in Australia.

Racing in front of the iconic Point Cartwright water tank
Keppel Island

When our time in Mooloolabar was done we packed up the car and trailer and started our journey further north. It was quite and adventurous rode with lot’s if twists and turns, not the easiest driving with such a big rig. We made it safe and happy though, meeting Zac and Stefan at the Airbnb we had booked around 10pm that night! None of the team had ever been to Yeppoon before and I think we were all pretty impressed with the conditions it provided for us. The swell and waves were fun and the cycling through the cattle country was really scenic. A highlight for me was our day off when we took the rib offshore to Keppel Island for the day. The Island itself was beautiful and this being the southern most tip of the barrier reef it had some reef to snorkel! We had a magic day swimming with turtles and rays and walking on deserted beaches. All to soon this 6-week trip had come to an end and it was time to go home to refresh.

When I got home, I went straight into a coaching clinic for the weekend with the WASS group, WA’s underpinning youth development program. We had a beautiful sunny weekend but not much wind unfortunately. It’s a great group of sailors though and they’ve all developed really quickly compared to the last time I saw them at Westsail 6 months ago. A few training sessions of my own later and a couple of rounds of golf and it was time to head back to Queensland one last time, this time to far north Queensland. 

Some light air fun and games at the WASS camp

I had never been to Cairns before but I had heard good things so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. After catching the red eye flight in my expectations of the place had changed immediately. I though it would be a flat dust bowl but it was the complete opposite with massive, jungle covered mountains and beautiful blue skies. Nearly all of us were staying in university accommodation which has been great with all the facilities we needed. The sailing was the best yet with 26-degree water and steady 10-15 knot trade winds blowing from the south east everyday like clockwork. The kiwi team had joined us again as this would be the last camp we do before the Olympics so we were all looking to show off our best stuff. My friend Tom had rejoined the Laser class as well and joined in with the camp which made for some extra competition too (on the water and the golf course).

Racing in the trade winds in Cairns

Cairns being the center of the Great Barrier Reef we made sure not to miss our chance to properly explore one of the natural wonders of the world. We had and amazing rest day exploring the reef on a professional charter, seeing some of the best stuff the reef had to offer. Upon returning from the reef, we started to learn that Sydney was going into lockdown due to a covid outbreak which now caused havoc for our logistics and return home! The repercussions of the lockdown are still in effect now, stopping me from going home to WA and as I write this I’m still here in Cairns over a week after the official camp had ended. Luckily in some ways I wasn’t the only one in the same boat and Finn, Richo and the Kiwis didn’t want to or couldn’t go home either. So, with the nothing to do other than train we went back to work and did another solid week on the water, this time us Aussies working with the Kiwi boys and their coach Mark. We definitely made the most of our time.

Finn and I saying goodbye to some of our old team boats we sold

As of today, the Kiwis have just left for Japan and Wearny and Blackers are already in Japan getting ready. The Olympics is only a few weeks away and everyone is starting to migrate over to Tokyo. Now Finn and I are the only two left in Cairns and will start our drive south in a few days. I have my good mate Kenno’s wedding to get to in Noosa before going home and starting my 14 days isolation in Esperance. After that I’m hoping to start planning for worlds but I’ll keep you all up to date with that as things unfold.

See you on the water

Swifto

The Big Extension

It’s been a bit of a break since my last post again, mostly due to a lack of major competitions to report on but I want to keep the blog continuous so it’s time to fill in the gaps. The last time I wrote on here I was doing my 14-day quarantine in Perth after returning from NSW which is funny because I’m back in Sydney as I write this. Here we go:

Exploring Little Island off the beach from Hillarys Boat Harbour
  • Finished quarantine at the end of September and went straight to work coaching at Westsail (in its new location, Hillary’s Yacht Club) with the next generation of WA’s Laser sailors.
The crystal clear water of Esperance. It looks like we could be in Fiji! Honestly the best place to grow up sailing
  • I backed that week up with a week coaching the learn to sail course in Esperance. This was an amazing week and I had the best group of kids I had ever coached. All were aged between 8 & 10 and were fully frothing on sailing. It was great!
Sunsets off Fremantle coaching the Laser Squad
  • After spending a few extra days at home, I went back to Perth and started getting to work. I started slowly coaching a few shifts a week while juggling normal sailing (3-4 times a week) and my normal training load (gym twice a week and cycling 3 times a week) but pretty quickly it became 7 days a week coaching! Summer was near and all the clubs in Perth were buzzing with courses and group training which was awesome.
River loop with Elyse
  • Towards the end of October the first major club event of the summer came around, the Sail Freo Regatta. We had a cracker two days for it and I sailed really well, unfortunately losing my picket fence scorecard on the last race of the event, on the last upwind of the event. Wasn’t meant to be I guess.
Grinding upwind on day one in a ripper seabreeze. Photo: Drew Malcolm
  • Amongst all this I was also preparing to do the Tour of Margaret River, a six-man, three-day, five stage bike race through the best wine country of Western Australia. The race covered 235km with three team time trials and two stage races with nearly 3000 meters of climbing. I was with my friend Tim’s team and we had an amazing time, earning our spot in C Grade through our opening TT efforts and holding our own the stage races. Elyse came to support me and we stayed in “The Bird House”, my sisters tiny home based just outside Margret River. It was honestly one of the highlights of 2020 for me.
About to begin the stage 5 TTT back to Nannup
  • Back to 7 days a week work for me and sailing in-between. Something that was great was coaching the Freo Laser Gang, especially Zac and Ethan who I got to coach and train against every week. The boys progressed massively throughout 2020 and are with the Australian Squad now training against Matt and I in Sydney.
One of the summer school groups I got to coach
Ethan, Zac & Stefan about to begin the grind back home into a storm after a long downwinder
  • The WA state championships camp around, hosted by FSC. It was run over two days and for the first time ever I won the event. I hadn’t done a state titles in many years just because I’m usually away overseas or interstate so I haven’t been able to compete in it. Ethan pushed me hard most races and pipped me in one but I was fortunate to win the other five which was very nice.
Ethan chasing hard during the states at Fremantle Sailing Club
  • The International Classes Regatta came and went, RFBYC’s annual event. It was a cracker weekend of racing with a tight race course and Freshies classic, unpredictable conditions. Zac got off to a hot start winning the first two races but I was able to hold steady and claw back the regatta to win, just not comfortably. It was great fun.  
  • Christmas was spent in Perth with Elyse’s family and my family came up to meet them for the first time. All went very well and it was a classic hot summer day for it. Elyse and I got away out to Rottnest Island a few days later and had a great time. New years was spent at Crown Casino which was a heap of fun and before I knew it, it was time to do some racing again
Christmas with my sisters Lauren & Sally
Perfect day out at Rottnest Island
  • ‘Nationals, not nationals’ was the unofficial title of the event because it was replacing what would have been the nationals if Covid hadn’t cancelled the real nationals. We had a few people come from interstate so we had a good little fleet and some very fresh and shifty Easterly winds to race in. I had a bit of a shocker despite sailing quite well I thought. My outhaul came undone on day one of racing while leading around the bottom mark. I managed to fix and finish the race but finished almost last. The next day I made a judgement error and broke the line to get myself a UFD (max points penalty for being over the line. To finish up I did the same mistake on the last day so with that many big scores I finished 4th overall.
  • Not long after that there was another event on at South of Perth Yacht Club which was great because we had Matt join our racing as well. Unfortunately, he was far too strong this event and I couldn’t even get a race win off him so I had to settle for 2nd place. To be able to get to do racing like this at home was great and isn’t something I’ve been able to do in ages.
Meeting the locals at Cape le Grande
Joining in for the club race. Not long after this image we managed to blow out side stay and subsequently snap the mast 🙁
  • By now it was looking certain I would be heading back to Sydney in early February so Elyse and I decided to get away to Esperance for one last trip away. I hadn’t been home since the coaching clinic so we took the chance to explore for a week and I could enjoy some nice time with my family. This trip was perfectly timed because a few days after arriving at home Perth went into a 5-day snap lockdown due to a Covid positive test in the community. Esperance was outside the lockdown boundary though so we had the freedom to enjoy our holiday which was a great stroke of luck!
  • The time at home went way too fast and before I knew it, I was on a plane to Sydney. It would be my first-time training in Sydney since October 2019 which is crazy to think because I usually come here 3-4 times a year!
Plenty of challenging conditions in Sydney
  • I came over with the plan of training for a few weeks before we all went off to Hyeres to compete but just a few weeks ago we got news that the Mayor of Hyeres had made the call to cancel the event which ended our hopes of going over. Just the way it is.
  • We started off with 2 weeks on, one week off, twice. In the second week off I had a bit of a whoopsie and crashed my bike giving myself a concussion ☹
  • I had to go through the full concussion protocol which meant not much activity all week unfortunately but luckily, I was able to get back on the water for the following week when the kiwis came across to join.
“Hey Ma, the rains are here!”
  • I’m now a further two weeks into training with the kiwis which has been great. I hadn’t seen Sam or George or Mark since the Melbourne worlds and it’s been so good to see them and catch up. The way things are going we’ll be doing a few more weeks in Sydney before we start to migrate north in search of warmer weather.
  • Now we’re waiting to see if and who can go to Japan to train and when that might be. Our time line is quite unclear but we have to keep pressing on as best we can to get Wearny prepared for the Games. Here’s hoping all the effort pays off. I’ll do better to keep this up to date as more action starts to unfold.

See you on the water,

Swifto

A new kind of world

I’m writing this on day 13 of home isolation after finishing a 10-week stint on the east coast of Australia training with the national team. Its September and a lot has changed since the world championships came to a conclusion back in February. For the first time in 7 years I haven’t gone overseas and won’t be for the foreseeable future either. The world has been changed pretty dramatically since COVID-19 became a global pandemic and has wreaked havoc with what was normal life. I haven’t written much because I felt like there wasn’t enough content to keep up to date with but since I write this journal for my own memory I thought it was time to document things a little more. Here’s a brief shopping list of what this year has contained since the worlds:

Big wind and waves off Mbar
  • COVID-19 hits and all the planning for the European season goes out the window. Flights are cancelled, accommodation bookings called off and all plans put on hold while we battened down the hatches planning for the worst.
  • Training at WAIS is cancelled and everyone has to get ready to train from home while society went into lockdown.
Quick trip to Margaret River with Elyse and we managed to get this sunset at Redgate beach!
  • Started living in Fremantle at my old coaches’ house across the road from Fremantle Sailing Club. I stayed here for 3 ½ months helping clean up the house a bit and tending to the garden while they finished renovations.
  • I picked up surf skiing after my girlfriend introduced me to the sport and I started going on the regular. Great sport and lots of fun, plus great rehab for my shoulder.
  • My bike riding became a much more consistent while we had some great Autumn weather. Luke ‘Parko’ Parkinson lived close by as well as my mate Tooley so we did some hot river loop laps with a PB 36.5kph average one morning!!
Parko and Tooley towing me around the river as usual
  • I started training again in the Laser as things normalized a little after 6 weeks out of the boat. After some time, we were allowed to train with a coach as well and to assist me with my training the Team bought me a near new Laser to train on.
  • I got really good at baking muffins while everything was locked down and become temporarily known as the muffin man!
White chocolate, raspberry and macadamia muffins
  • After several weeks of training 3 – 5 times a week with Wearny, Zac and Ethan plans had been made to head over east for some training camps in swelly conditions.
  • Managed to get a quick week down in Esperance with Elyse and we had some amazing weather before we I left for over east. It was a great little refresher and somewhere she had never been.
  • Flew to Coffs Harbor, a small town about 7 hours drive north of Sydney for some swell training with the rest of the national team. We stayed here for two weeks cycling, gyming and sailing in great conditions. I really rated Coffs and probably would have never gone if it wasn’t for COVID.
Riding with Elyse up the Montville hill
Salute coffee always pre sailing in Coffs
  • I stayed on for another two weeks as travel was limited with the pandemic and Elyse was in town for her training camp. I even raced against the girls for 5 days of their camp before we packed up and moved north to Queensland.
Daily commute home from the yacht club in Mbar
  • The second leg of our camp started in Mooloolabar on the Sunshine Coast, about a 90min drive north of Brisbane. Another two weeks of training here was great with up to 10 boats racing was about a good a sized fleet as we could find. Again, we had a great mix of wind directions and got the swell we wanted which was exactly what we were looking for.
Great training in Mbar
  • Post that camp I stayed with Zac and Ethan in an Airbnb for a week and did some cycling and gym work while exploring what Mbar had to offer.
  • For my fourth week on the Sunny Coast us three moved north to Noosa to do a unique style of training camp with Palky in his home town where we learned about foil boarding, sailing in current and through waves.
Palky showing us the sights
Enjoying a coffee in Sunshine on the Sunshine Coast while sitting in the sunshine
My first time foiling in glassy conditions in the Noosa River
  • The circus then moved south once more as boarder restrictions had become tight again and we couldn’t keep Finn and Blackers in Queensland for the whole trip. We moved back to Coffs Harbor for another two weeks on the water in a very nice house near the beach. We even had TB come for some of this camp which made it really valuable time on water.
  • Too soon it was time to return back to WA though for the dreaded mandatory two weeks of isolation. Even this became difficult as our flight was delayed leaving Coffs which meant we missed our connection to Perth that evening. Luckily, we could get to Sydney that night, stay in a hotel, then catch another flight the next morning into Perth where I met Elyse at my aunt’s house to do the two weeks of iso
  • Now I’m a few days away from freedom before I start Westsail and the annual learn to sail clinic in Esperance.

It’s bee a funny old year not have much competition and maintaining focus through everything. I’m learning I can still live a high-performance life while having balance and spending my time across several projects, not just one. This summer will be a very unique one as it won’t have the normal nationals competition which we would usually have so it will be my first time in 13 years without some form of sailing in the summer time. I’ll have to find a way to keep myself busy.

See you on the water soon hopefully,

Swifto  

Ethan at Diggers beach in Coffs Harbor

The Last Dance

 “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out” 

I’ve never had a major injury before. I take a lot of pride in that and give myself a fair bit of credit for it. I eat well, train well and feel pretty in tune with what my body and mind need on a day to day basis. The last thing I expected before the worlds was to get injured! My training preparation had been as good as it’s ever been and mentally, I was ready to give my all again. Then, just like that, everything turned for the worst. I’d just finished a really good four days of training and was planning on having the weekend off to recover when that night I woke up in the worst pain in my left shoulder. There was no way I was getting back to sleep and no way I could get away from the pain. I send a message first thing to our physio on site, Warrick, and he straight away took the time out of his weekend to see me. After some tests we weren’t sure what was going on but we knew I had lost all my external rotation in my shoulder. I literally couldn’t rotate my left arm out wards at all!

One of the last training sessions before the injury
One of the last training sessions before the injury

After a stressful and painful Saturday, I had to keep moving. Sunday was time to pick up my new charter boat and rig it properly. There was still no improvement by the days end so by Monday morning I was in the Melbourne CBD seeing our team doctor, Dr Kathy Yu. An ultrasound and cortisone shot later and I was back at the boat park to do my final sailing session and see if I could actually still sail a boat at all! The boat felt great and the new sail looked mint. I could still hike but I’d lost a lot of control of my left shoulder and was pretty out of control going downwind. It was going to be an interesting regatta, but at least I could still get out there.

Rare photo of Buhli behind me (or anyone for that matter) on day one of racing

Qualifying – The stage was set; it was time to race. After a little bit of time under AP to get everyone’s nerves up, the 126-boat fleet got out in a nice 10 -14 knot southerly. With the fleet split into three, low numbers where going to be important to making the cut. I started with a bang and was first to the top mark in a hot red fleet but couldn’t quite hold off JB (the Frenchman) or Elliot (GBR) so had to settle for a 3rd. I backed up the next race with a 6th which was a solid comeback from 11th at the top but still had room for improvement considering I got up to 2nd at one point. Still, a good first day.

Good starts lead to a good day on day two of racing (I’m third from left)

Day two was a cracking southerly breeze, 12-18 knots, with sunshine and nice waves. I sailed the day really well with some good speed and walked away with a 2nd and 1st to win the day in my fleet. It came at a cost though. That night, I didn’t sleep and wink, my shoulder was in so much pain. By now I’d figured out I couldn’t sleep lying down anymore. The only way to find some relief was to place some pillows behind me and try and sleep lying upright. It was far from ideal and make me feel horrible the next day.

I was pretty cranky on day three. The pain was bad and I hadn’t slept at all. We had a strange south easterly wind blowing as well but I managed to navigate it fairly well with a 10th and 5th place but found myself losing places throughout the races which is something that hadn’t happened yet. Rafa (my coach for the event while Blackers focused on Matt) didn’t let me get too frustrated by it though and told me I should be happy with how the qualifying had gone. I was in 5th place overall, well on track for my goal of top 10.

The pain in my shoulder was as bad as it had been and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep much again and I was right. Dr Kathy agreed it was time to see what was going on and arranged an MRI for the first morning of finals racing. Luckily my Dad had been in Melbourne since the start of the event to support me, otherwise all of this would have been that much harder. We went to the MRI that morning before rushing back home again to get ready for racing. Fortunately, I had some luck on my side with the bipolar Melbourne weather delivering some strong storm cells to Port Phillip bay, cancelling racing for the day. This gave my shoulder a much-needed rest day but also meant I was going to have to deal with 6 races over the next two days of sailing. It was going to be an important weekend.

Gold fleet starting is on another level

Finals – We were greeted to the first day of finals with dark clouds, rain, cold and lots of wind from the south west. Classic Melbourne conditions. The racing was hard but I held my own. I was 10 at the top and banked a 6th in the first race to start finals strong. I backed that up with a really hard fought 10th and finished with a solid but very disappointing to me, 15th. It was disappointing because I was leading the race with only a few minutes of sailing left to the top mark. I made choice to duck and starboard tacker (Jesper, SWE) and continue to the lay line. He chose to cross the fleet and approach the top mark from the left lay. I was 20th at the top and he was 1st and won the race. It’s moments like those that keep you awake at night about what could have been. After all that my consistency was paying off and I was still holding down 5th place but the points were compressing with a bunch of really top yachties just behind me. It was going to be a super Sunday.

The worst part of my day, trying to get the mainsheet in with one arm around the bottom mark

Sunday was by far the most extreme conditions we had seen all event. East south east winds with diagonal waves, big pressure differences and massive shifts. It was nothing like any of us had really trained in yet and the potential to get caught out on the wrong side of the course was huge. Again, I set myself up for consistency and just had to hope my speed would carry me to the top. I was so exhausted by this point in the week. I had barely slept; my shoulder was really painful and I was so irritable I felt like I could snap just from someone looking at me the wrong way. I just wanted this to be over, which isn’t the way I really want to be ever, let alone when I’m doing what I love. I banked a 14th in the first race but with lots of small mistakes throughout the race. I felt like I should have easily been in the top 5 that race. The next race I had a good start but was rolled by someone sailing exceptionally quick, quicker I think than I’ve ever seen a laser sailed upwind. I was assuming it must have been on of the big guys like Buhl (GER) or JB (FRA) but to my surprise it was my friend Wannes (BEL). We were the head of the fleet but I didn’t want to stay in his bad air so I split away which turned out to be a costly error. With the majority of the fleet set up to my left I was looking great but as we got closer to the top the left continued to reward those out there and I ended up with my worst race, a 24th. Again, a race where I’m left kicking myself for the chances I had blown.

Off the start on the final day of racing. Good starts definitely helped my performance this regatta

For the final race I saved my worst start of the event. I got spat out so quickly but managed to work some shifts that put me back in the game by the top. I had a solid run and great second beat and all of a sudden, I was putting away a 10th place and sealing the deal on 7th overall! It was a huge relief to have finally finished in side the top 10, I goal I have had since I was 15 years old and one, I have tortured myself with for a very long time. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to do it but here we are. The points were so close in the end, as it turns out I was only 8 points away from a bronze medal! So now I’m back to kicking myself for all those points I’ve wasted throughout the week just like any other regatta. But overall, I’m stoked. And exhausted. And in pain. And just want to go home. It’s a weird mix of emotions when I come up the ramp for the last time.

Arthur and Belinda have coached and mentored me since I was 15 years old and were some of the first people to greet me on the ramp after racing.
Huge congratulations to Buhli for sailing an amazing regatta
Sam accidentally grabbing my sore shoulder!

About the shoulder – When I got back to Perth, I went straight to my WAIS Doctor and I had another cortisone shot put right down on the nerve this time. I got on some new medication and after about a week the pain was next to nothing and I could start to lay down when I went to sleep. In summary my supra scapula nerve had suffered some trauma, whether from a virus or inflammation they’re not sure but either way, that why my shoulder couldn’t rotate. The signal from my brain wasn’t getting through to my infraspinatus muscle, which has seriously atrophied now. I’m on a physio program to help get it back but it might take 6 months or more until it’s close to normal. At least the pain is gone now. Nerve pain is no joke!

The Amigos

It’s only fair that after a long summer I name the people that really helped my campaign and made it a success. I know it wouldn’t have been half as fun or rewarding if these people weren’t apart of it.

Coaches: Rafa, Blackers, Arthur, Belinda, Tristan, Palky, Ben and Ash. All of these amazing people helped contribute to my sailing a lot over my life and have shaped who I am today. This is a team sport played on an individual level. I know I wouldn’t be here or be the sailor I am without them.

Team mates – Kenno, Wearny, Finn, TB, Jezza, EJ, Zac, Wongy, Ricko. All these blokes have put in massive hours with me sailing and have become some of my best friends. I hope I have had as positive influence on you as you guys have had on me.

Friends & Family – Kate & Fitzy. Ben & Kath. Greg & George. Meechy. Liza. Elyse. The Duncan Family. The Lloyd Family. Mum & Dad and everyone else who came along for the ride, hosted me, let me use their home gym, fed me, was a friend to me and supported me this summer and on every other occasion, a massive thank you. You all enrich my life and make the whole experience what it is. The sailing is just a bonus.  

Continuance

 /kənˈtɪnjʊəns/
noun

FORMAL
the state of remaining in existence or operation.
"his interests encouraged him to favour the continuance of war" 

“If in doubt, don’t tack”

One of Stewart Walkers golden rules of racing and one that guided me through my choices off the water as well. I had been having a tough time deciding what the future would hold for me after the 2019 season had ended but this simple idea ended up having a big influence. I’ve been living for the last seven years what my dream was as a teenager, and even though it has its challenges and differences to what I might have imagined it would be like, it is ultimately exactly what I asked for. ‘Tacking’ away from my Laser sailing would be walking away from my Olympic dream after so much struggle to get to this position in the first place. Once made, the decision to continue has been a simple one and has given my life clarity again. The last few months have been some of the most enjoyable of my sailing career, and now, on the cusp of doing my 8th Laser World Championships, and first in Australian waters, I couldn’t be more excited.

Staying true to this blog though, I’ll keep it chronological and go back to where I left off in September:

After I had decided to continue in the Laser, I had to start thinking about how I was going to do it? I didn’t want to fall into the same traps as I had in the past, I wanted to do it a bit different this time, using the experience I had gained from the past 10 + years of competing. The aim was simplicity and enjoyment.

Some fun, windy sessions out at Freo, just like the old days

Perth: After Esperance I went back to Perth and found myself with time on my hands for once. Out of habit or maybe because I truly wanted to, I started going to training at FSC again, just like I used to when I first moved to Perth. I wasn’t really thinking too far ahead with it, I was just doing it and found myself really falling in love with the sport again.

The boys lining up on a smokey Sydney Harbour

Sydney: Whether I was ready or not, the last two weeks of October was spent at Middle Harbor Yacht Club training with Matt and Finn. It had a very different feel to it with there only being three of us there, but none the less it was a productive camp. The strength was starting to come back and the feel in the boat was getting better.

Perth: Back West again for two weeks. I used this time to continue my training from Sydney. My fitness and boat feel were way off what I wanted and this was a great chance to improve those things in the best training ground in the world. Also, Perth in summer time is just the best place to be, sailing or not.

The strongest wind I have ever sailed in. A classic Melbourne SW front with an initial gust of 52 knots!!

Melbourne: Starting to get real now. The last two weeks of November was spent training at Sandringham with some of the worlds best. We had almost 30 boats which consisted of the Scandinavians, Kiwis and some European and American teams. 5 days of training was backed up by the Victorian State Championships, where I finished 9th with a confidence boosting win on the last race. That was then followed by a brutal four-day coaches regatta, mostly in strong winds and with long days. Great conditioning but once again, I was feeling my fitness still wasn’t in place yet.

On my way to winning the last race of Victoria Laser States
Last day of our coaches regatta in Melbourne. I’m second from right with Phillip Buhl (GER) and Wearny close by
TB at the moth worlds. Had the chance to coach him and Chewy the weekend before racing kicked off. He ended up finishing 3rd!

Perth (Again!!): Returning to Perth was signing off on a solid six-week block of training. It was time for a rest from the Laser and to enjoy some much-needed therapy (time on the golf course). The Moth World Championships were in Perth as well so it was a great chance to catch up with friends and watch some of the best foilers around do their thing. I couldn’t just take the whole month of December off though so I made sure I got another five-day block in, just to top up the tank before I checked out for Christmas. It was getting close to business time now.

Christmas day sunset – Esperance

Esperance: Now was time for some much-needed family time. It would be the first Elliott Christmas with myself and two sisters there in ten years, so safe to say it was a special time. I even got out on a Laser, (sorry fam), but for a different kind of training. This was more of a nostalgic throwback to my high school days when I used to sail around the bay for hours on end by myself. Plus, the seabreezes in Esperance are epic and it’d be a shame to waste such a good opportunity to get out there. I obviously also got plenty of golf in and made some new friends while at it. It was a great holiday and just what I needed.

Classic Esperance Seabreeze
Watt bike sets on the deck
Radio tower – Nullarbor roadhouse

The Nullarbor: Now was my time to drive back to Melbourne (so much back and forth this summer!!). I had my car loaded with my toys and I set out for the three-day journey across the country. I’ve done the drive two times before but this was my first alone. Not that that’s much of a problem for me, I like road trips, they help clear my head. I was sleeping rough as well with my sleeping bag and camp bed wherever I decided to pull up which added to the experience. I even managed to play a couple of holes worth of the Nullarbor Golf Links, the worlds longest golf course.

Smoke from the worst bushfires Australia has ever had on day one of racing. Air quality was at hazardous levels for quite a few days in Melbourne this summer

Australian Laser Nationals: Finally!! The racing. Months of prepping and planning and thinking had finally come to a head and it was time to see where I was at. We had the strongest nationals’ fleet in recent memory competing with 70 sailors lining up at the start, including the kiwis, Americans and Dutch teams. I started with a 16th and 25th ☹ funny old game. This was not the start I was hoping for. Fortunately, I was able to adjust quickly and got on a run over the next 7 races to move through the fleet into 4th going into the final day. It was tight, and there was a chance to move up or down on the scoreboard but unfortunately, I made the worst of it and fell to 8th. I didn’t have a disastrous day so much, but my close competition had much better days and that made all the difference. Still, I managed to take some confidence away from the event and felt good about the next one to come.

My one race win at Nationals came on the lightest and least predictable race of the event
Day three of sail Melbourne

Sail Melbourne: After a few easier days of training and some time spent with friends (I was living with Jez and Eliza for a week) it was time to race again. It took a good few days to feel fully recovered after the Nationals so I only spent two days in the boat before the event started but my mind felt ready to pick up where I left off. The fleet was about 70 strong again but much deeper in competition with the British, Scandinavian, French and other various European teams representing. It would be a real test of what the worlds would be like in a couple weeks time. I got off to a hot start, leading around the top mark in race one and finished with a 5th in challenging conditions. The next day of racing wasn’t as successful but some great comebacks and a good attitude kept me in the game to move up later with a 18, 3, 19. The conditions became quite tough for the race committee after that with us only getting another three races in for the event. My consistency was paying off though, banking a 2, 10 the next two races pulled me up into 6th with a chance to move up or down again on the last day, just like at nationals. This time I held my nerve and put another solid score on the board with an 11th, which was enough to jump to 3rd overall with my competition all having bad races. I was stoked to be on the podium in such a tough event and it was a good confidence booster in the last event before the worlds.

Leading race one of Sail Melbourne in an unusually strong SE breeze. I would finish up fifth
Keeping a close eye on the competition
From left: Elliot Hansen (GBR), Matt Wearn (AUS) Jean-Baptist Bernaz (FRA), Me, Duko Boss (NED)

Perth (Again, again!!): Time to have a break from Melbourne and refresh. I only had ten days back west but I needed them. The weather was gorgeous and sunny and I was home at the perfect time to watch the Warren Jones Regatta being hosted right in front of the city. The thought of the worlds being only a few days away was never far from my mind.

Melbourne (the last dance): I returned fresh and ready to race. I’ve completed three days on the water and I can honestly say I’ve never felt so good. Not just in speed but in my attitude and decision making. Maybe the event will be a flop but it won’t be from a lack of effort and preparation. I’m very excited to see how things play out.

Second to last training session before racing kicks off. Everything going great so far

See you on the other side,

Swifto

Flux

Flux                                                                                                                    /flʌks                                                                                                                  noun: continuous change

The last few months have been some of the most turbulent of my career. With our Olympic trials coming to an end and a decision being made on who will go to the games looming closer, its been a time of reflection and contemplation the last few weeks. Before I get into that though I’m going back to the ending of my last post to tell the story in order.

Charter boats ready to go at the World Championships

The 2019 Laser World Championships:

The biggest event of the year and also the most remote, we had over 150 sailors arrive into the unpopulated district of Tottori, in the middle of July to compete for the world title. The small city of Sakaiminato seemed crowded with sailors or maybe that was because pretty much everyone was staying in one of two hotels that could host us. Our team stayed in the hotel Nono which was quite traditional but very nice. I don’t usually stay in hotels but with a lack of Airbnb’s in the area it was the only appropriate choice. It turned out to be a really good time and a nice way to see some old friends and make some new ones.

The sailing was tough! The venue threw up a real mixed bag of conditions for us in training with each day bringing its challenges. Coming from a cold Sydney winter the heat of Japan was taking a bit of a tax on me and I was struggling to feel the kind of form I would expect of myself going into such a big event. I wasn’t too concerned at the time, not that I could have changed anything by then anyway, but there were warning signs that this was going to be a tough event for me.

The first day of racing set the tone of the event a little for me. A good start at the pin heading to the side that had paid for the first two fleets (I was in red fleet day one) only for a massive right shift to come through and put me in the pack. A dropped mainsheet on my first tack in the second race rattled the nerves but I scrapped through with a 13th.  The wind increased for the next two days with awesome onshore wind and waves, normally conditions I excel in. A BFD in the first race of the second day, then a mixed bag of results rounded out qualifying and saw me scrape into gold fleet. The form wasn’t there and I knew it and there’s nothing I could do about it. Too little, too late! It’s probably one of the worst feelings you can have as a sailor, knowing you don’t have the speed you need but still having to slog through and event either way. You’re trapped between a rock and a hard place.

The wind lightened for the start of finals and produced some of the most challenging conditions with variable wind and some big swell. It was one of the hardest days of sailing I’ve had. The two days after threw up similar conditions. Moderate wind, chop and plenty of shifts. I had one good race in finals, the second last race of the event. A good start in the middle, I held a long lane and a small pack of us extended away from the fleet. A good first run moved me up and I held onto a 5th place which was nice. The damage was done though and I had to settle for a 38th overall. However, at the other end of the fleet something special was happening. Tom and Matt were fighting out at the front and ended up placing 1st and 2nd respectively. It was Australia’s first world title since Slingsby in 2012 and TB’s first. It was an awesome result and I was really proud that those guys had come out on top.

My one good race a few minutes after the start (I’m second from left)

The next day everyone was packing up and starting to get ready to fly home. Not me though. We had a training camp back at the Olympic venue in Enoshima in 10 days and rather than fly home and back again I decided to stay in Japan and go on an adventure. I’d spent plenty of time in Japan but had never gotten out to see much. That was about to change.

I’m not going to say everything I did and saw but as a quick rundown:

  • Two days exploring Hiroshima including the A Dome and the world-famous Itsukushima Shrine
  • Two days riding the Shimanami Kaido trail from Onomichi to Imbari which is a road connecting six small islands between the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku.
  • One night in Okayama
  • Two nights on Shodo Island with Kyotas (my Enoshima host) cousins’ family. Amazing, authentic taste of a different side of life in Japan.
  • One night in a back packers in the city of Fuji
  • One night at the 9 ½ station (the closest to the top at 3550m altitude) on Mt Fuji. Yes, I climbed to the top!
  • Back to Enoshima and my lovely host family.

It was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had and so different to the normal sailing travel I do. I’d hope to do more travel like it someday.

Itsukushima Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage sight
Somewhere on Mt. Fuji with Velika, a fellow backpacker that I met on the way

Training camp:

The ten days of travel went really slow and really fast at the same time. Before I knew it, I was back in the whirlwind of the sailing world and the buzz of the Olympic venue. We had two weeks of training in a variety of conditions finished off with a three-day coaches’ regatta with pretty much all of the Laser world rankings top 20 in attendance. I didn’t sail amazing but I didn’t make too many mistakes either which lead to me finishing the week 8th overall.

Perth:

After six weeks I finally got back home to Perth. The weather was colder but it was great to be back in a familiar environment and to see my friends again. I also ended up spending quite a bit of time coaching at FSC which was really fun and nice to be a part of. I knew it wasn’t going to last long though as I was going back to Enoshima after only 20 days in Australia. This time it was for the final event of the season, the World Cup, Japan.

Enoshima (again!):

The unique thing about this trip was that when I arrived an event was already being run, the Olympic test event, that has a closed entry. Tom and Matt were our representatives at the event and were already fighting it out when I landed. This left Finn, Mitch and I to find our own training partners for a bit and make the most of the venue on our own. The first day of the event we had a really soft seabreeze that I didn’t sail very well in. We lost the second day of the event because of too much wind before we settled in to three of the biggest days of Laser sailing I’d done. Eight races were crammed into those last three days and every day was over 15 knots with big waves. The beats were long and physical, everyone was hurting. By the end I was barely holding on, my speed had been similar to that of the worlds and my determination had faded. I ended the regatta feeling pretty crushed. Not so much about the result but because of my poor effort. It’s one thing to lose when you’ve given everything like in Aarhus the year before. These last two events were something different. I’d lost, I hadn’t put in the work and I knew it.

Now we get to the part that gives this article its title. On top of my poor sailing in Japan, I knew this meant that my selection for the Olympics was over. I’d made all of my plans for the season end at the World Cup in Japan. By the time this event rolled around though I knew I wouldn’t be going and was struggling to think of what the future would hold for me. Then, on top of that, I’d been given some really enticing opportunities that would see me leaving the Laser class, at least for a while, and maybe even the country. It had sent my mind spinning and had me struggling with my integrity as a person, made me question what I valued most in life and put doubt in my mind that continuing on this Olympic path was the right one. Since the European Championships I’ve been in two minds and it has really made me appreciate the value of single mindedness in sport, something I’ve never usually lacked.

Home:

After the World Cup I went back home and had a proper rest. I had time and space to think, reflect and write. I’m always learning from this sport and not in the ways I always expect. This period of time has made me question everything and check in with who I am all the way to my core. Its been a time of growth and introspection that I probably wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for the unique situations sailing has put me through. I’ve come out the other side with a different perspective that will hopefully guide me to better success in the future. I won’t commit to anything now but I see myself continuing on the Laser path for the foreseeable future. There’s just nothing quite like it.

Swift/