Tuesday, December 17, 2019

2019 Sail Sydney Regatta

This past weekend was the 2019 Sail Sydney regatta, sailed out of the Woollara Sailing Club in Rose Bay. It'd been 19 years since I last sailed on the Harbour (when training for the 2000 Olympics in the Laser), so it was fun to once again see the beautiful water and topography. Saturday the breeze was a bit more right than Sunday, but both days featured LOTS of chop, motorboat wakes and traffic, including the (in)famous Sydney Harbour ferries, which stop for NO one/boat. As a result of deaths caused by collisions, it is now illegal to pass within 100 meters in front and 50 meters to the side of the ferries, with a fine of up to $2000 for infractions!

Apologies for no videos: my 360 degree camera was only taking 3 second snippets, definitely not usable. Need to get that sorted...

Back in 1999/2000, we raced on four sailing circles around the Harbour. In 2019, we didn't sail in any of those locations, so past experience didn't help much. Friday before the event a number of us went out for training, but I had a breakdown and couldn't push the boat as hard as I might. Setting up the new boat took a fair bit of time on Saturday morning, so I was the last Aero to leave the ramp. NOT my preferred modus operandi...

I got to the racing area about 10 minutes before the first start. It was just enough time to get the boat set-up for upwind work and check out the start line. The breeze for Race 1 started at a rather pleasant 12-15 knots (plenty to keep me hiking with the 7 rig), and after a good start at the boat, I played a few shifts and had a substantial lead at the first mark that I was able to hold to the finish.

The wind dropped throughout Races 2 and 3, making it harder to hold off the 9s, sailed by locals Simon Reffold and David Andrew. I made a big mistake in the final run of Race 3, getting stuck to leeward of a slow I420 and staying there for too long, which allowed Simon to walk away for the on-the-water win.

Another late departure had me racing to get to the line. Fortunately the breeze was a bit stronger, so I had enough time to do some wind and current readings before the start that turned out to be crucial.

We started around 1050, and the locals said the tide would switch at 1100. OK fine, but my readings showed a still-significant amount of incoming tide, which would favor staying right on the beats and left (looking upwind) on the runs. In Race 4 I port-tacked the fleet (surfing a nice motorboat wake) and covered the right side of the fleet upwind. Simon did another fine job of playing shifts and we rounded very close at the top mark. On the runs there was a definite current line (a band of leaves/debris) that I made sure to stay on the correct side of, while the rest of the fleet sailed more directly toward the mark, but in bad current. This allowed me to gain on the runs. It wasn't until the final run of Race 6 that I felt comfortable sailing more directly to the leeward mark on the runs (nearly 1.5 hours after the tide was "supposed" to have changed). Simon got ahead of me on one of the races upwind, but I won the other two on-the-water to take the event overall.

There was tons of chop and boat wakes to deal with on busy Sydney Harbour. I worked really hard downwind, steering all over the place to catch waves and ride them as long as possible. Upwind, one could occasionally surf wakes by sitting very far forward and hiking super hard. The nice thing about the Aero in these conditions is that it accelerates so incredibly well--I was even able to hold off the leading I420s on some beats Sunday!

The Sydney Aero fleet is growing rapidly. It's a good bunch of people who are keen to sail and learn the boat. Off the water we spent a lot of time going over rigging and techniques, which resulted in significantly tighter competition as the weekend went on. I look forward to sailing against a number of these fine sailors again at the World Championship in Melbourne 28 Dec-4 Jan!

Be sure to check out www.SailStar.org, a sponsor of my 2019 Worlds campaign! They are a sailing school with locations in Sweden, Croatia and Tenerife. For those who want to enjoy some Winter sailing in the sun and surf, SailStar recently added 4 RS Aeros to their Tenerife fleet, which includes bigger and smaller boats as well.


I was heartened to see so many junior sailors handling the windier conditions just fine. They looked fit, focused and competent. It was so nice seeing young sailors not afraid of wind--if anything, they wanted more. American instructors, race officers and yacht clubs: please allow our youth to learn/sail/grow in stronger breezes, or we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.

In general, the Aussie sailors looked more trim/muscular than Americans--clearly they're not shying away from fitness. If I was a junior, I'd definitely be working on my strength and stamina to compete at the international level!


  1. Aussies may have fitness and stamina, but American youth sailors have reefer. It worked for Benji and the McKee brothers...

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