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Southern Spars - North Technology

British Keelboat Academy Core Squad off to a great start

by Matt Carter on 22 Jan 2014
On the water RYA/UKSA
A total of fifteen sailors have now been selected for the 2014 British Keelboat Academy Core Squad, with the first training weekend being hailed a real success by Britain’s aspiring young keelboat sailing talents who attended the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy this weekend (17-19 January).

The British Keelboat Academy (BKA) is a partnership between UKSA and RYA. The BKA is designed to support young people aged between 18 and 24 in developing the skills needed to take their keelboat yacht racing to a professional level. So far it has produced some amazing talent, some of which have gone on to race in some of the biggest events in the world including the Volvo Ocean Race and the America's Cup.

Being staged at the Olympic and Paralympic sailing venue, the first of four weekends for the new look BKA14 Core Squad focused on one-design racing in the RYA’s fleet of Elliot 6ms.

Sailors all arrived Friday evening for a welcome and induction by BKA Head Coach, Ash Holmes, and a ‘Pathway to Professional’ session by RYA Keelboat Racing Manager, Nigel King.

Saturday started with a fitness test to monitor the sailor’s fitness levels throughout the winter and to set some realistic goals ahead of the 2014 racing season. Along with a bleep test, the sailors were tested on core body, upper body strength and balance and will be retested on the final weekend of training at the end of March.

Following this was a presentation by Chris Noble, boat captain of the RC44 ‘Team Aqua’. Noble came through the BKA programme and is now looking to select two BKA Core Squad sailors to join the team for a number of events throughout the racing season.

With Saturday’s forecast suggesting gusts up to 33 knots from the south, the only hope was to get some shelter under Portland. Luckily, the wind stayed within the BKA coaches’ operational limits, allowing the first session to be run which included crew roles, responsibilities and communication. With a weather front passing through in the afternoon, the wind was forecast to continue and eventually decrease giving the coaches the opportunity to get out on the water and run some back to back races to test the sailor’s ability and skills.


Saturday evening was put aside for a racing rules session, presented by an America’s Cup Jury team member, John Doerr. The focus was applying rules at speed, assessing a situation and making quick decisions based on facts. Following on from rules, Doerr gave an exceptional presentation on the America’s Cup, looking at the statistics and facts behind the technology and racing, which kept even the coaches on the edge of their seats.

Following another late night, the sailors were tasked to be ready to leave the dock by 0900 Sunday morning to make the most of the light westerly winds and sunny conditions. The focus for the day was looking at the process for making a successful start, looking at all the data required and how to apply a routine to gather the information in every race.

The sailors were also introduced to Mark Lees, world number 25th-ranked match racing skipper, who is offering BKA sailors the chance to join him for a Youth World Match World Championships campaign in 2014.

With the focus on starting, a line was set and continuously changed as the sailors completed a number of small five minute races. To finish the day, a course was set to test the sailor’s skills and to give them a chance to apply what they had learned. On the final race, all the boats were over the start line within five seconds of the start gun, proving their training had paid off.


James Neilson from Penrith in Cumbria, who is one of the 15 who attended the training weekend, said of his BKA selection: 'It’s a fantastic opportunity to be selected for the BKA. I hope to pick up some of the skills and knowledge from the wealth of experience from the various coaches during the BKA weekends. Looking forward, some of the opportunities made available to us are fantastic and hopefully I will be able to make the most of these.

'I hope that not only will I learn a great deal to improve my sailing in various keelboats, but also that I will develop the right approach and mind-set needed to become part of a successful team in whatever form of sailing I may choose.'

BKA Head Coach, Ash Holmes of UKSA, commented: 'I am very pleased and happy with the sailors’ professional attitude and efforts this weekend. They all came open minded and ready to push themselves. After two days, we already have teams planning 2014 campaigns together and creating links with each other that will pay off in their future sailing careers.


'A massive thanks must go out to all our guests, coaches and WPNSA for making this weekend a huge success. We can all now look forward to the second training weekend for the BKA Core Squad on 7-9 February based at UKSA in Cowes.'

2014 British Keelboat Academy Core Squad:

Aidan Dyne – Prudhoe
Alex Benbow – Alresford
Alex Curtis – Weybridge
Andrew Baker – Saintfield
Andrew Lis – London
Bradley McLaughlin - Isle of Wight
Emma Wroblewski – Ashurst
Gemma Bird - Hayling Island
Isobel Mitchell – Bristol
James Hall – Southampton
James Neilson – Penrith
Michael Calvert - Sittingbourne
Miles Ushaw – Leafield
Sam Barfoot – Harpenden
Thomas Corrigan - British Keelboat Academy

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