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GBR Development Team 1 at the IOCA Optimist Youth Centenary Regatta

by Richard Breese 18 Jun 13:31 BST 8-11 June 2021
GBR sailors gather their thoughts for the Optimist Youth Centenary Regatta at Lake Garda © Anette Soyer

On Saturday 12th June, eight weary but buzzing young sailors returned to the UK with their Coach and Team Leader from Lake Garda in Italy where they had participated in the Optimist Youth Centenary Regatta at Riva del Garda, as part of the IOCA UK GBR Development Team 1 - 2021.

I won't tell the story of the event as the sailors are far better qualified than I to do that, but I will give some context as to why they were there by quoting the Team's Information Sheet: "The aim of this Team will be to provide sailors with what can often be their first team experience where they aren't staying with/supported by parents. We will be looking to create routines for them which will help them cope on future teams like the Europeans and Worlds".

This part of the sailors' Optimist journey started with the Optimist Team Selection Trials, a four-day event held in May where the top sailors in the Optimist Class competed for a place on one of the four Teams (Worlds, Euros, Dev 1 and Dev 2).

Reading the sailors' reports I know we achieved the aim, particularly by the lack of any reference to results. Don't get me wrong, this was competitive racing at the highest level (many Worlds sailors were there training for the Optimist World Championships) challenging the sailors to their limits, but as with all these international events the key goal was the experience and the development of these young sailors.

Of course, we must respect that there will be differing opinions on whether we should be sending teams abroad in the current climate - all I will say with regard to this is that the safety of the team was our upmost priority, all the applicable Covid regulations were followed to protect the team as well as the general public and there was a resounding endorsement from the sailors' schools that the benefit of the overall experience far outweighed the loss of days in the classroom.

That is all from me, the IOCA UK Chair, and I will hand you over to the sailors to tell their story...

Angus McEwen

I loved the whole experience of doing an international regatta and travelling abroad to sail especially somewhere as great as Garda. The food was obviously amazing, but it was also fun to meet the Swiss team and hear about their sailing and stuff as well.

Dilara Soyer

Italy was an amazing experience in so many ways. First of all, the reason I was there, sailing! Although there were some tiring eight-hour days on the water it was always enjoyable whether racing or waiting for wind with the 25-degree weather and the beautiful view. On one of the days, we had to sail in early due to an enormous storm which just hit us on the way back; it was definitely the most wind I've ever sailed in, and it was pretty scary but fun at the same time.

Overall, I didn't do great, but it was so much fun and we made some Swiss friends who we hung out with on the water in between races and on shore afterwards! We also met some other people and managed to get some cool trades for some of our GBR kit.

Next up, the food. I've been to quite a lot of places, but I've never seen so many kinds of pasta. There was green pasta, multi coloured pasta and even the Italian flag pasta! Normally on the water we would take sandwiches and small cereal bars as snacks. After we get off the water (usually around 4pm) we go back to our apartment, shower, get changed then walk into town to find the local pizzeria and then have gelato on the way back! It was amazing but I have to say I got sick of all the pizza and pasta after a while.

On the last day we were lucky enough to hire bikes and cycle to Torbole (just a few minutes away from where we were sailing) which was an amazing experience. We had a great lunch there and did some souvenir shopping afterwards. Before we knew it, we had to go back and catch our bus to get to the airport. All in all, it was an amazing experience, the place, the people and the food! I enjoyed it very much and I hope that I get another opportunity like this - maybe even Euros next year!

Will Fletcher

The trip to Lake Garda was easily the best regatta I have ever been to; the scenery, food and the locals' love of Nutella also helped. But none of these came close to the racing, which was a very high level, with positions changing constantly through a race. The starts as well were extremely competitive as you almost never had a big gap to leeward, but if you did, especially in the stronger afternoon Ora wind, you could hold a good lane and have a good race.

I had loads of fun there and made friends with sailors from other teams, especially the Swiss team. The experience has definitely made me want to do more international regattas and would love to make another team next year.

Hennie Burlton

The experience of sailing in the Oppie fleet at Lake Garda was amazing. It taught me a lot about big fleet racing and was great to compete in my first international event as part of Team GBR. The starting there was very different to the starting in the UK, as they were so busy in Garda, large bias to the line and a need to get to one side of the course.

All the people taking part in the event were very welcoming and we made friends with some of the other international teams. I can't wait for my next international event.

Will Webster

Representing the GBR IOCA Dev 1 Team at the Youth Centenary Regatta in Lake Garda was an amazing experience. It was my first international competition and it felt like a real step up in terms of the sailing. We had some challenging conditions, but I learnt lots and it was great to compete with sailors from so many other countries. The team got on really well too, so it was a fun week off the water as well!

Bea West

I am sitting here at home in quarantine for ten days but it is worth it considering the amazing experience I have had over the past two weeks. The Optimist team selections were where the development team's journey started. Hennie Burlton, Will Wesbster, Angus McEwen, Will Fletcher, Merle Neweland, Dilara Soyer and I made up the team selected to represent GBR at the Centenary Regatta, Garda.

To be well prepared for Garda we had a four-day residential in Calshot, together with the Worlds team who will be attending the Worlds at Garda later this month. We worked to be independent off the water, as our parents weren't coming to the event with us, to work as a team on the water and learnt lots about what to expect when we arrived at the lake, like the Peler and Ora winds.

We were still unsure about whether the Covid rules would change to stop us travelling as, while in Calshot, France closed its borders and Portugal was moved to amber. We all had to do a Covid test before we left, luckily all of our team members were negative, full steam ahead for Italy!

It was an early start for us all when we met at Stanstead airport at 5am; despite being a bit sleepy everyone was buzzing and raring to go. After all the bags and sail tubes were checked on to the plane it was time for our first team photo and to say goodbye to our parents. Our flight was smooth; once in Milan we were greeted by our bus driver who took us to our home for the next week in Riva del Garda. On the way we stopped to get lunch - obviously we chose pizza!

After dropping our bags off at out apartments and loving the warm sun, we carried our sail tubes the ten-minute walk to the sailing club ready to put on our charter spars and boats. When we arrived, our boats weren't quite ready, so we all went for a lovely refreshing swim in the cool Garda water. We all dried off in minutes and then it was off to rig, ready for the next day's first training. Our charter boats were lovely, they were almost brand new. It took two hours for us to rig our sails and swap some of our ropes onto the boat, but we all worked as a team to make sure everyone was happy with their new set up.

We had two days initial training prior to racing. We all had a great time even with a slow capsize from Angus as we got towed out by our coach, James, to find good wind. On the way he pointed out many of the key land features we covered in Calshot. Together we decided what we needed to work on to improve, the exercise had to not need buoys as Lake Garda is so deep an anchor won't reach the bottom. We did tuning runs and lane holding exercises to ensure when we raced in the big international fleet we would get the best race possible. The wind was light and unfortunately completely went when we tried to race against some of the other teams.

On the first day of racing there were lots of sailors from at least 13 different countries. As a team we went on a wander around the dinghy park as we rigged our boats, it was nice to see the other competitors. There was lots of waiting, four hours, before we managed one lone race. It was tricky getting a front row place on the line with a fleet of such a high standard.

Day 2 of racing was eventful; racing in the morning was tricky yet again with the wind shifting and dropping and 34 sailors getting a DNF in race 2 as the wind dropped so much. For a while angry clouds were looming over the mountains but after two races a sudden decision was made to head in while big wild wind gusting 30-40 knots swept across the lake. I, with many others, managed to capsize straight away so didn't get the fun of reaching back to the club with super speed.

5am was the time we had to wake for the final day of racing! The first start signal was at 8am, but after a long eight hours on the water we had only sailed three races. While waiting around for the Ora, James our coach persuaded us to make friends with the other countries and we had a wonderful time chatting to seven Swiss sailors. They spoke great English, so it was easy to talk and get to know each other.

Sadly, when we got in everything had to be put back like we found it, though working as a team sped this up. All of us had been told before coming that's it's fun to trade team kit but as teenagers were all too embarrassed to go up and start a conversation with the other teams; Dilara though, was great at it. The Israelis were great traders - I've got a lovely light blue team top.

After 14 days of sailing with only one days rest the whole team were very tired; we all just wanted to sleep in the apartment but managed to stay awake for a while longer to get ice cream with some Swiss friends and go to the park with them to hang out afterwards. Torbole - next to Riva del Garda - was our last stop. We got presents to bring home for families and a final Italian pizza before we got on the bus back to the airport to return home. As a team we didn't worry about the results as it was a great experience and a great way to learn about sailing in Garda and an international fleet.

Thank you James our coach and Anette our house parent for looking after us all and making our week great.

Tom Hakes

I had the time of my life in Garda. The venue is famous for the local thermal Ora wind which gives strong steady winds every afternoon. However, we had a lot of cloud cover, and the land didn't warm up enough, so we had generally quite light, shifty and unpredictable conditions.

This didn't stop me from loving the experience. Lake Garda is beautiful. There are giant cliffs on each side of the racecourse and small dustings of snow on the tallest of the mountains. I learnt so much whilst in Italy. For example, I improved my roll tacking after seeing how people in other countries do it so well.

It was also amazing to see the competition on the start line, and we all had to be on the line very early to get a gap. I really look forward to competing in my next international event. I would like to say thank you to James and Anette for helping us have such a fantastic time.

Merle Nieuwland

I had an amazing time in Riva del Garda with lots of challenging sailing conditions. It was fantastic to be able to sail against so many international sailors in the Youth Centenary Regatta. I would like to thank everyone who helped make this experience possible, and I would like to wish the Worlds team good luck for when they go. I hope they will have the same wonderful experience as our team have had.

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