Mid-air above Mongolia

I am writing this from a UK-bound Air China plane 36,000 feet above Mongolia (to be precise my little screen informs me we are going past Ulaangom) having just managed to negotiate the seaweed concoction that was served for dinner (I am not particularly averse to seaweed in itself, but combined with an especially nasty bout of turbulence it constituted one of life’s ‘experiences’…).

I can confirm that having sent my passport off in the post with no small amount of trepidation, it was successfully returned to me complete with Chinese visa, in time for my flight to Qingdao for the World Cup regatta back in September, as evidenced by being mid-air above Mongolia at the current time.

In the weeks following my previous installment I had some time at home to train and try to find the money for some of the upcoming autumn events. I have a rapidly expanding base of coaching clients so I had an intensive few weeks where I was out coaching most days, and trying to train and sponsorship hunt at the ends of the days. I think the phrase is ‘burning the candle at both ends’, although in this case it felt like I was doing a good job of burning the candle pretty hard in the middle as well!

New Zealand Radial sailor and friend Susannah Pyatt came to stay for a couple of days training in Lymington before we headed out to China. Suzi went to London 2012 but in the three-person Elliott 6m Women’s Match Racing – a different class of boat which is now no longer an Olympic class.   Lymington did a cracking job of putting on some Qingdao-esque conditions for us (i.e. very little wind and a lot of tide!), and it was good have someone to measure up against.

I managed to fit in a quick trip up to Bath University the day before my flight for the British Athlete Commission (BAC) AGM and Athlete’s Day. The BAC have been an incredible source of support, advice and friendship for me over the past year since losing my funding.  It was really great to meet so many athletes from other Olympic and Paralympic sports, although in almost all cases it served to highlight to me how much support and guidance others are receiving, and how the level of professionalism they are able to achieve as a result is just unattainable in a campaign of the type I have struggled to piece together over the past year.

I found out the morning of the BAC day that the first British Sailing Team selections had been made for some Olympic classes for Rio 2016, and that Alison Young would be the British representative in the Laser Radial, so big congratulations to her, but naturally a little disappointed for myself!

Despite an initial wobble about whether I was in the right mind set to fly by myself to China the following day to compete in an International Sailing Federation (ISAF) World Cup unsupported, I resolved that (a) getting a Chinese visa was far too much like hard work,  (b) I was sailing really well in training, (c) I was used to doing things unsupported by now, (d) I had a lot of great friends in the international sailing community who would be out there, and I was staying with my great friend Betsy from Singapore, and (e) if this wouldn’t be a good test of mental toughness that not much would be! Five very good reasons to get on that plane.

I have visited China once previously – for the Laser Radial World Championships in Rizhao back in 2013. This was my first time in Qingdao, the sailing venue for the Beijing Olympics 2008. I hadn’t quite appreciated how huge a metropolis Qingdao is! I have really enjoyed both of my China visits, though it is slightly hard work when you are there to race – firstly because of the fairly insurmountable language barrier, and secondly the food and water situation. From past experience I opted for the completely neurotic approach to eating and drinking – Western restaurants only, bottled water to brush your teeth – I think that was the sensible decision, as much as I would have loved to try the fried scorpion kebabs that I walked past on a night market stall.

Two days prior to racing I was just minding my own business packing things away in the boat park after training (with fresh ‘off the water hair’) when I was approached by one of the media guys from ISAF with a camera and a microphone asking if he could do a ‘little interview’ about the regatta. I blithely said “yes” and the following day this ‘little interview’ rocked up on the front page of the ISAF website and 24 hours later had about 5,000 views. Totally going viral. The worst part was that I couldn’t check how bad it was because I couldn’t get the video to play on the slightly intermittent Chinese Internet… I just kept getting texts from friends back home saying “nice interview”, “4.8k views now” and the most frequent… “nice hair”!!  If you are one of the few people in the whole world who seems to have not seen it, the link is here! http://www.sailing.org/news/40626.php

True to form, the champagne sailing conditions disappeared for the start of the regatta and very little wind accompanied by a huge amount of current and glaring fog made their presence known. We still managed to complete all 8 scheduled races, which was great. After an 8th and a 1st on the first day I was actually in a medal position for the first time at a World Cup, which was a nice feeling. A few too many mistakes meant I ended up 11th overall, 1st British boat, and though I was disappointed to just miss the top 10 medal race cut, for a very light wind regatta that was a solid result for me.

So mission accomplished in Qingdao, I managed to get an invite as a result of that regatta to the ISAF World Cup Final for the world top 20 in Abu Dhabi at the end of October, for the second year running (last year was the inaugural event). Very exciting!

See you in the United Arab Emirates!