Where oceans feel like rivers

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

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

A short hop to Brussels from Milan

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

Debrief with Wannes at Oostende Sailing Cub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craziest top mark ever!

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

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

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

Back home in Coogee on a typical winters day

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