If you’d have told me in 2008 during my 29er career that 10 years later I would rounding Cape Horn during the Volvo Ocean Race, I would never have believed you!
My 29er days are some of my favourite sailing memories and I learnt so much from both helming and crewing that has helped me in my more recent sailing career. I haven’t taken the most straightforward path to where I am today, moving from the 29er to a Laser Radial to start my time in Olympic Classes, a brief foray in the 49erFX when it was first introduced back in 2011 and then a 4 year Nacra 17 campaign towards Rio 2016 which we ultimately didn’t win the trials for but we won a number of International Medals along the way including World Championship Silver which I am still very proud of. The foundation of fast boat tactics and downwind apparent wind mode changes definitely transferred from the 29er to the Nacra and even though the boats are visually very different, the way we sailed the boats with the C foils (before the Nacra 17 became fully foiling) is more similar than you would first think!
After the trials for Rio, I wanted to take a few months out to do some different sailing with the intention of returning to campaign for Tokyo but I got a little side tracked by racing bigger boats and the introduction of mixed crews in the Volvo Ocean Race. I had grown up the odd one out being a dinghy sailor in a keelboat family and living on the Hamble River, the home of Yachting in the UK. My few months out turned into 4 years of ‘professional’ sailing so far including being a member of Vestas 11th Hour Racing in the 2017/2018 Volvo Ocean Race. It was a big step out of my comfort zone and a huge learning curve, I had done a few short offshore races but never crossed an ocean until my trial to join the team. In dinghy sailing, you might see 30 knots for a few seconds but rarely over 25 knots sustained, but mid-Atlantic, 30 knots is relatively calm compared to some of the weather we saw! The race was incredible to be part of, it tested me more mentally and physically then I ever could have imagined. Above all I learnt that it is a race of teamwork, individually no one can make it round the world in the 65ft carbon race boats on their own, it requires all 9 people on board to do everything – just to tack the boat needs everyone to be pulling their weight in their different roles and that creates a really special atmosphere on board that I’m not sure I’ll ever experience again.
We raced hard all the way round the World; through the doldrums at the equator in 40 degrees of heat, searching for every zephyr of wind to move us painstakingly slowly closer to the finish and all the way across the Southern Ocean from New Zealand to Cape Horn with boat speeds of well over 30 knots in the pitch black and snowstorms, trying to avoid the wall of water in front of us which would slow us down to 12/13 knots – you can imagine how hard it is to sail through that for two weeks let alone get any sleep!
Whatever your sailing goals, being able to master sailing the 29er is incredibly rewarding and the high level of racing available both nationally and internationally puts you in great shape for wherever you want your sailing career to take you!