Racing needs to be fast, not the food

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sailors come in all shapes and sizes. Some are suited to lighter winds. Some stronger. For the 541 sailors from 52 nations racing at the 2017 World Cup Series in Hyères, France from 23 – 30 April, it looks like the latter will get the advantage with strong winds forecast for the week.

Sailing is a sport with variables in wind and nature, equipment, athlete shape and even age and experience meaning results are never a certainty. But that's why we love it.

Many sailors will be brimming with confidence after browsing the weather forecast and will be striving for gold in Hyères. But it is a team small in stature that know exactly where they stand in terms of performance that intrigues. 

Spanish sisters, Carla and Marta Munté Carrasco, sail together in the 49erFX and know they have a problem. They are small and light. Not a great combination in strong winds. So, what can they do to change that? "We have to eat a lot," Carla says, almost with a smile.

Although those words may be music to anyone's ears, it's not as simple as it first sounds. A sailor cannot simply head to a fast food chain and eat until their heart's content, weight gain has to be done strategically to ensure the health of the athlete. "We have to spend a lot of time at the gym as well," explains Carla, "We train at a high-performance centre and we have a nutritionist and physical trainer. With the team behind us we are trying to change our weight."

The future may see some heavier Carrasco sisters racing, but what about right now, "We aren't worried about being too light," states Carla, "we know it's a negative point and we can't do much about it now so we have to do our best based on what we have. We know it's something we need to address."

The young team are certainly looking ahead and addressing a problem they recognise, which actually takes the pressure off the pair in Hyères and in their first season on the senior circuit, "We don't really have an objective based on results as it's our first World Cup. Our main objective is to learn from the best and we will aim to finish in the middle of the fleets, especially in this wind."

If the young sisters know that having a light crew in the boat isn't going to help them in Hyères, then no one told New Zealand's Micah Wilkinson. Looking forward to proving the theory wrong with helm Olivia Mackay, Wilkinson's enthusiasm for a strong wind regatta is evident, "Love it! We are from New Zealand so we love the wind."

The Kiwi pair, just like the Carrasco sisters, may be among the shortest and lightest in their respective fleets, but Wilkinson believes that different equipment equals different rules, "We are on the smaller side height wise but it doesn't make too much of a difference on these boats. We sail in big winds a lot so we are used to it."

From one extreme to the other. If all four young sailors were standing side by side, France's Finn sailor, Jonathan Lobert, would be towering over them all. Yet another shape and size to suit different equipment and who better to ask if home advantage could play a part, "Although I am French it's not really 'home' for me. I live and train on the west coast so I don't really get an advantage here, it's like any other venue. Saying that I have raced here quite a few times so I feel I know it quite well."

Although the heavyweights relish a strong wind challenge, somewhere inside Lobert would have been hoping for light winds as he explains, "I actually had surgery on my knee only around two months ago so I'm still in the recovery phase. I will have to take it easy and see how it goes."

Returning to action for a different reason is Brazil's RS:X sailor, Patricia Freitas. Taking some time out after the first South American Olympic Games in her homeland, Freitas is enjoying being back among the hustle and bustle again, "I'm happy to be back to the circuit. I started training earlier in the month back in the [Guanabara] Bay and it was weird. It was so empty after the Games when it was so busy."

With a gusty forecast, Freitas knows that it's not always about being the strongest out on the water. There are other factors that can equal success as the Brazilian explained, "It's not so much training differently, it's more choosing the right equipment to handle the strong winds. That's the biggest difference."

There will be some venues where you just know what wind you will get. As a sailor you can prepare for that in advance. But then there are some like Hyères which can be a bit of pot luck. Although the forecast will give you an idea beforehand, sometimes it's too little too late and you need to be prepared for everything, as Wilkinson explains, "By the time you realise what the forecast is going to be it's too late. You've just got to maintain a high level of fitness constantly so you can cope with weeks like this."

That thought is echoed by Freitas, "We only know the forecast a few days before so you can't really focus too much, and, as we all know, forecasts can change during an event also. It could be strong now but tomorrow totally different."

Whatever the forecast brings one thing is for certain, there will be at least one person from somewhere across all the fleets who will like those conditions. If it's not strong wind, it's light wind, and surely there will be a smile from the Carrasco sisters who will be thankful they haven't eaten so much quite yet.

Racing is scheduled to commence on Tuesday 25 April at 11:00 local time. Live Medal Races will be shown on the World Sailing YouTube Channel on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 April, bringing the penultimate event before the Santander Final to a close.


By Richard Aspland - World Sailing



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