Olympian Jason Saunders reports in with a campaign update…
Back in January Gemma [Jones] and I decided to team up in the exciting new Olympic class catamaran called the Nacra 17, with Gemma helming and myself crewing. The class is a mixed combination, where a girl and a guy sail together, deciding between themselves who is helming and crewing. The Nacra 17 is a brand new class designed specifically for the Olympics, and with the help of some cool design ideas, is the fastest on the circuit!
Because I am so new to the multihull scene, and Gemma is new to the European circuit, we decided on a program this year that included a lot of racing and as much time as possible with the new boats. With this in mind we opted to go first to Palma for the first World Cup event of the year, then to Hyeres, France and lastly a smaller event in Garda, Italy.
So off to Europe we went, and the first hurdle we had to overcome was figuring out how to put the boats together! We basically got given a manual to follow and all the parts we needed, and had to figure the rest out ourselves. Luckily with the help of a few people along the way, and some long days doing boat work we managed to get it all together and looking like a pretty speedy machine! Palma came around quickly and we were looking forward to the big learning curve ahead.
Our goals going into the regatta were to enjoy ourselves and just learn as much as possible about what the boats and what the experienced teams were doing. The regatta provided a good mix of conditions and provided us with a good look at what the racing was all about! We ended the regatta in 20th place but were happy with our progress and had a couple of good races during the event.
Next up we had a low key training regatta in Barcelona where we wanted to work specifically on our boat handling in a less intense environment. This was a great lead in to the next World Cup event in Hyeres, where all the top boats were competing again. The regatta started off a bit rocky for us but got better as it went on, and by the last day we were in with a chance to make the top 10 medal race. We had a solid last day but unfortunately ended up missing out by 1 point! Still we were very happy with our improvements and felt we were starting to get a better feel for the boat.
Last on the agenda was a smaller regatta on the famous Lake Garda in Italy. We were looking forward to showing what we could do and wanted to get a good result. We almost didn’t make the start line though… one morning we came down to the club to go sailing to find our boat upside down with the mast sticking out at a 90 degree angle! Apparently during the night our boat got hit by a freak wind gust and got blown off our trailer down a rocky bank. The mast was bent in half and we had a few scratches and dings on our boat, but really it could have been a lot worse! Luckily for us we had a spare mast we could use thanks to Tomer who had gone home and was missing the event.
So after we managed to sort everything out after that excitement it was time for the regatta to start! We had made some big improvements with our speed, especially in light winds and this helped us to get some good results over the next few days. We sailed well all week in some variable conditions, and going into the medal race we were in second overall! The new format being trialled out meant that only the top 6 were able to race, and you added the medal race result to your place going into the medal race and the winners were found. If it came down to a tie the person who beat the other in the medal race won on count-back. It basically meant that after a week of racing it all came down to one race! Unfortunately the race didn’t go well for us.. just before the start we dropped our gennaker and the retrieval line broke meaning we couldn’t pull the gennaker into the bag. We tried to fix it but weren’t able to and had to sail the race without using it. This meant we dropped to 4th overall which wasn’t the best way to finish the week, but there were a lot of positives to take away.
It all got pretty hectic from here! We had a mad rush to pack up the boat and had to leave as soon as we could to Geneva that night. A slight brain fade from Gemma meant she had left her passport behind in France and it was currently lost in the post somewhere.. Anyway to cut a long story short we drove to 2:30 in the morning that night, got up early the next morning to get Gemma a temporary passport, then drove to Zurich to drop off our boats and fly out that evening. By the time we got on the plane we were completely exhausted!
Everything else went smoothly enough and we arrived in New Zealand after a long but successful trip. We were very happy with how fast we were picking it up and really enjoyed the racing. We are home now for a couple of weeks before heading off again to build up to our World Championships this July in Holland. We will keep everyone posted with how things are going and are really looking forward to the rest of the year!
Later on in the year I have also been selected along with six others to represent the NZL Sailing Team with Emirates Team New Zealand at the Red Bull Youth Americas Cup. This is the first regatta of it’s kind and we will be racing on the exciting AC45’s! It is an amazing opportunity for our team and we are looking to put in a really good result. We are currently trying to fundraise to get over to San Francisco and could use as much help as possible! If anyone is able to donate or knows someone that can help out we are doing this thing called Thrill Pledge that people can get involved with and get behind our team!
Will keep everyone posted on our year as it progresses!