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Zach Railey – US Finn sailing like a shark in Perth

by Shauna McGee Kinney on 5 Dec 2011
Downwind style. Zach Railey Finn Class action - Kieler Woche 2011 - © segel-bilder.de / Christian Be - Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships segel-bilder.de / Christian Be
US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics has a shark on their side and he’s chasing down the competition. Zach Railey – 2008 Silver Medalist and ISAF #5 Ranked Finn sailor is heating up the competition at Perth 2011.

Not many people wanted to think about the shark attacks off the coast of Perth and Western Australia prior to the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships. Several swimmers, divers and surfers were lost in local attacks in October. USSTAG sailor Zach Railey from Florida points out, ‘We have sharks in Florida, too. That’s always something we have grown up with -- the sharks.’ And he honestly adds, ‘When [local experts] did a ranking, Florida was ranked number one for the most amount of shark attacks in the year.’

In fact, The Florida Museum of Natural History’s Ichthyology group produces the ‘International Shark Attack File’ (ironically known as ISAF) [ link http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/statistics/statsw.htm ]. Their recent report shows 268 recorded shark attacks on humans in Florida since 2000. And, 120 attacks in all-of-Australia in that same time period.

When Sail-World got this interview, Zach was having dinner with his sister USSTAG Laser Radial champion Paige Railey. They laughed as they ate their steak and Zach teased, ‘The shark would eat me first -- I have more meat on me.’

But, enough about sharks – it’s time to talk to Zach Railey about Finn racing.

He has had an impressive series of top-five finishes in many major regattas this year – including the Kiel Week in Germany, French Olympic Sailing Week and Princess Sophia Trophy regatta in Spain. He has a proven competitive edge, winning US Nationals in 2009, 2010 and another championship this September at the 2011 US Finn Nationals held in Long Beach (Los Angeles) California.

Looking back on how he got started in sailing, Zach admits finding sailing was luck. The family dentist recommended sailing to his mom as a summer-camp idea. At that time, Zach was an active eight year old and the oldest of three children. Over the next several years, Zach and his twin sisters, Paige and Brooke enrolled in the learn to sail class and the club racing team.

Both Zach and Paige are the sailors in the family and he admits his parents still haven’t taken to sailing. Brooke enjoyed sailing as a youth, but dropped out of sailing as an older teen after seeing the amount of travel and sacrifice her siblings were making. Paige was consumed by the same passion as her brother and has been one of top Laser Radial sailors for years.

The transition to the Finn class was driven by Zach’s height and size. Around the time he was leaving high school and heading into university he was 6 foot 3 and 195 lbs (1.9 m/ 88-89 kg). He was still racing Lasers at that point when he recalls being introduced to the Finn by his friend Chris Cook from Canada.

Zach quips, ‘Yes, I was big for a Laser and we were trying to decide what boat I was going to sail. Chris gave me the opportunity to come and sail with him in the ocean in Fort Lauderdale -- out in the Atlantic. It was 15 to 20 knots with big waves. He started showing me the free pumping technique downwind. I just thought it was so cool, coming from a Laser. I certainly wasn’t strong enough to do it at that point. Watching how he would pump like crazy. He was standing up in the boat and surfing down the waves. It’s a unique technique and caught my eye right away. That was it. I was hooked.’

Zach enjoyed the progression from youth sailing to world class sailing. He passes words of encouragement to other potential young sailors about enjoying sailing, ‘Regardless of what boat you are sailing, all the maneuvers are the same concepts. There are times [the Finns] go out with the Radials to practice. The Finns start right behind [the Radials]. The training gets repetitive, because you are working on the same stuff all the time. Sometimes you just need breaks to have a little bit of fun, laugh and relax bit on the water.’


Zach is now 27 and his sister is 24. They often train together and Zach admits that the fun is still the same. He shares, ‘[I like] doing the match racing and sailing backwards downwind. Fun stuff like this helps you. I think the Laser Radial goes better backwards, because Finns have drainage tubes in the back. The water comes in through the back and the flaps lift up when you are going backwards.’

As the interview wraps up, Zach and Paige explain how their life is more than sailing. Zach loves fishing. And, though he hasn’t been fishing in Perth or Fremantle yet, he’s been looking into it, ‘On one of the days -- before the event I definitely want to go fishing. I love everything about the water.’

Maybe Zach will catch a shark – and a Finn World Championship at Perth2011? Keep your eyes on the Fremantle water and the results as the Finn sailors progress through their races over the next couple weeks. The Finn medal race is going to be Saturday 11 December.

Follow Zach Railey here


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