National Champion! #likeagirl

Writing an update is much more fun than trying to sort out a Chinese visa, so here we go..!

First stop since the last update was Aarhus, Denmark for the Europeans. Turns out that when you are driving from Calais, Denmark is FAR AWAY. It was an adventure. I drove out with fellow Radial sailor, long time training partner and great friend Ben Elvin in his less-than-subtle big red van. It was with some trepidation that he let me take the helm and drive his pride and joy off of the ferry in Calais for the first European stint of driving, but fortunately it all passed without incident! Six countries and 18 hours later and we made it!

I spent the 2 weeks in Aarhus living with the 2 girls from Ireland and Australia. They are a lot of fun, and we had some giggles which helps to relieve some of the inevitable pressure that comes with a European Championships. I did a couple of great days training before the regatta started and was feeling fast and really good about the event.

I got off to a great start, sitting 5th overall after a tricky first day where the majority of the fleet had struggled to be consistent across the 2 races. Sadly, consistency was a major problem for most people, including myself, for the rest of the week. The wind shifts were absolutely huge, often at least 50 degrees, and the rules of thumb that usually lead to you sailing a successful conservative series seemed to go out of the window.

I ended the regatta as 19th European. I wanted top 15 at least, so I was pretty unhappy with the result, though happy with most aspects of my sailing. A couple of silly mistakes (like capsizing twice in one day, once due to my toe strap slipping loose, and once due to the wind shifting about 90 degrees when I was mid-tack!) really cost me, and I was very frustrated with myself for that, especially since at the end of the regatta the points were all so close. Lessons learned.

The double capsize day was topped off with a trip to Danish A&E after a large rusty splicing needle went through my boot, and some of my foot, in the boat park when I came ashore. That was not a good day. I can confirm, however, that the Danish health care system is excellent, which is a good life fact to know. Ben’s parents had come out for a few days holiday and were superstars offering to take me to hospital and successfully negotiating the tricky one way systems of Aarhus!

Funnily enough, the journey home was just as far as it was on the way out there. This time though we had the additional factor of hurricane force winds to contend with. We realised it was pretty windy at the time but it was only once we got home and saw pictures of the Dutch trailer overturned on a motorway that we realised we had come away luckily very unscathed! Ben and I were also still talking (despite my near-continuous karaoke which I insist was world class and which he contends). This was fortunate given that the adventures in the big red van were not yet over…

A few days were then spent at home, it felt like these were mainly spent unpacking and re-packing, but I did get some decent hours in on the bike in between. I am doing a bit of a weight dip at the moment since the major regattas in the autumn are expected to be fairly light wind venues, so fasted morning riding is the order of the day. The benefit of this is that as you pedal along deserted roads before breakfast, it feels like the whole world is yours.

Adventures in the big red van continued with a trip down to Mounts Bay in Cornwall for the Nationals with Ben and British Sailing Team Laser Standard boys’ coach James Gray, who was hopping back into a Laser for the regatta. Our accommodation for the week was a tent. I haven’t camped at a sailing event before and it was certainly an ‘experience’, particularly since for the first 4 nights it rained and blew a gale!

It was an absolute blast of a week. There were 104 competitors in the Radial fleet. I had a brilliant qualifying series, counting only 1st places with a discarded 2nd place from the 7 races. It was quite windy and my boat speed made life tactically pretty simple. I was nailing the starts and extending from there, winning most races by a leg. A nice feeling! On the fourth day of qualifying we only got one race in as the wind got up to a level I would describe as fresh to frightening. The waves were incredible! It was a big day out, and so much fun. Ben, I and a few others were straight back into the water once we were sent in, but this time with surfboards… well it would be a shame to waste such good waves, right?!

Despite sailing a near perfect qualifying series, the points were actually still really close going into the 2 day finals series (where the fleet splits into top and bottom half). Three of the four races were scheduled for the Thursday due to a poor forecast for the Friday, so on the Thursday the pressure was really on. The Championship could be won or lost in those 3 races, especially because the winds were much lighter and more patchy. There was only one discard allowed from the finals series, so my game plan was to be very conservative in my sailing. One big score on the board was a no-no as even though you could discard it, it meant that (a) you couldn’t make any more mistakes and (b) you could be the subject of a match race on the final day, where somebody close to you on points literally takes you out (sails you off the race course) if they don’t have a big race score to discard. I wasn’t prepared to take that risk, so conservative it was! I also had eyes in the back of my head watching for where my nearest competitors were, especially Ben and Jon Emmett. I made sure I never let them get too far away from me.

It paid off. I sailed the second best day of the fleet on the Thursday with a consistent 2, 9, 4. I thought as I crossed the line that I had won the regatta but didn’t know for sure until I had got in and we had added the points up! My lead was greater than my 9 point discard and therefore unassailable. National Champion with a race to spare!

Internationally we only sail against other girls but nationally in the Radial we sail against the boys, too. There is definitely a bit of additional pride in beating the boys! There is a lot of mutual respect which is really nice. In 2012 I became the first girl ever to win the Laser Radial Nationals. I’m still the only girl to have managed it, only now I have done it twice! I am very proud to be in a three person club with legendary Radial sailors Steve Cockerill and Jon Emmett as the only people to have won the Radial Nationals more than once. I have many, many more to win to get close to their tallies though. That’s a challenge…! 

So, what next? I am watching the British Sailing Team Olympic Test Event results out in Rio with interest and a tinge of nostalgia. There is only one representative in each class out there this year, but I do miss sailing in that incredible place and I can’t believe it’s been a year since I was last training out there with the team.

I have plenty to keep me occupied, though. Chinese visas and finding the money to get out to China in September being the priorities! And lots of bike riding, and avoidance of yummy food!