Winter in the UK is probably the most depressing place to be on the planet. The rich escape to warmer climes and come back with tales of how sweltering it was in Barbados, leaving the rest of us to huddle in greasy spoon cafes, chomping on Prozac and eating lots of nutritious food like jam roly poly and custard. It’s not surprising that for years the best of the English and continental sailors have been heading south for the summer…
Laser former ISAF World Ranked number 2, British born Laura Baldwin is one sailor who has decided that scudding around on Sydney Harbour is a hell of a lot more fun than constant hypothermia on the Solent.
The British Olympian decided to wait out the northern winter in Australia in late 2005. She found the sailing so good that she kept returning, and eventually decided to move here, explaining that she found it ‘a fabulous place to sail'
Baldwin joked that when she first began sailing in Australian waters she harboured grave doubts about some of our local fauna, particularly the sharks. If you’ve ever wondered why the leggy brunette flips a capsized dinghy upright like it’s filled with helium, and then jumps on board at Tornado speed, it’s all to do with fear of the big fishes. She laughed and explained that: ‘The first time I came down here, I was determined I wasn’t going to capsize, but when I did I really moved fast. It actually made my capsize recoveries incredibly quick and efficient. When I capsize at International regattas anywhere else I still use the same really super fast recovery technique.’
‘You just scare yourself that there’s a shark and you get the adrenaline rush. I’ve never seen one but I’ve see plenty of dolphins.’
(Sail-World resisted the temptation to inform Baldwin that a school of dolphins close to shore had probably been chased there by a shark. Winding up overseas sailors about the feeding habits of local fauna has unfortunately become a common national pastime.)
Baldwin is now working for Yachting Australia and is busily promoting the event that she originally came to Australia to compete in: the Sail Down Under series.
Starting in late November and running to mid December, Australia will become a centre for international competition as the best from the Northern Hemisphere take on the finest from the South. Sailors are expected to attend from as far away as Chile, Italy, Finland, Ireland and of course Great Britain.
Sail Brisbane, the first regatta in the three event series, kicks off on Thursday 27th November to Sunday 30th November. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy ISAF grade 2 racing on beautiful Waterloo and Moreton Bays.
Sail Sydney is the next in the series, running from Saturday 6th to Tuesday 9th December on the Harbour; it’s the leg that will do most to test each sailor’s awareness and tactical skills.
And finally there’s Sail Melbourne, which is the first event in the ISAF World Cup Regatta 2008/2009, and is likely to attract the best of the best. Sail Melbourne runs from Tuesday 16th to Sunday 21st December.
The dust is still settling post Beijing with this year’s Sail Down Under likely to be the testing ground for the next generation of Olympians, already looking ahead to the London games. Baldwin commented that for Northern Hemisphere sailors, Australia was the perfect training ground for those looking to make their mark. ‘Ben Ainslie always said that the reason he ‘got good’ was going for the summers in Australia and racing. In the U.K. whenever I was training and had coaches that had coached him, they’d always say ‘if you want to get good in sailing, you’ve gotta go and race in Australia.’
‘There are actually really, really good conditions here. And it’s warm so you can put the hours in on the water. I think the biggest difference was that Ainslie left his competitors in the U.K. in the freezing cold in the winter, where you can only go out for about an hour before your fingers and toes get too cold for training. He’d get a great number of hours in, and it was a great competition…’
Baldwin noted that each of the Sail Down Under venues offers extremely different conditions, helping build ‘complete’ sailors able to excel in just about any situation.
Brisbane offers a mixture of everything, including quite strong tides, but ‘predominately choppy water, which is a specific technique in its own.’ On Sydney Harbour you need eyes in the back of your head to dodge an amazing array of shipping ‘so it’s really cool for your awareness and tactics.’ And Port Phillip Bay will inevitably deliver its usual miniature ocean combination of strong winds and rolling waves: ‘It’s very exciting surfing down those waves!’
Sailors visiting from Europe are often amazed by the sheer vastness of this country, and can find travelling between regattas challenging. Performance Sailcraft’s Chris Caldecoat said that a typical first time visitor would typically… ‘Go yep, sure I’m coming down and I’m going to get my Laser or whatever class boat and I’ll start off with Sail Brisbane, then go to Sail Sydney and then Sail Melbourne …’ and they don’t realise that they’ve just done a lap of Europe in the distance it takes to get to all three cities.’
Performance Sailcraft have put together a great package which enables visitors and locals to easily move their boats between the three venues.
‘Performance Sailcraft take care of all the logistics, they put together a package of the charter price and they transport the boats from each of the regattas, which means that the sailors can just fly; it saves them from getting tired between the regattas which just makes it that much easier’ said Baldwin. ‘I wish they had the same logistic organization in Europe that they have over here.’
Baldwin herself is one of that breed of exceptionally talented Northern Hemisphere sailors already looking forward to the next Olympics. For your chance to race against others of her calibre, and harbouring the same ambition, the Sail Down Under series is the place to do it.
d if you have a quiet word with them about the sharks, chances are you’ll be seeing some super fast capsize recoveries- always great entertainment!
For more information about the Sail Down Under series visit: http://www.saildownunder.org.au
Performance Sailcraft contact details:
Performance Sailcraft Pty Ltd
Lot 7 Catamaran Road, Ourimbah NSW 2258
Australia http://www.lasersailing.com.au http://rssailing.com.au