A little over 20 years ago a young fellow by the name of Nathan hopped into a Sabot for the first time at Wangi RSL Amateur Sailing Club on the western shores of beautiful Lake Macquarie.
Last weekend the now Australian Olympian sailor returned to his first club to inspire a new generation of NSW Central Coast sailors.
Double World Champion Nathan Outteridge had his audience of 68 youngsters and their parents spellbound. He spoke about the mix of spectacular success and tough disappointments, the thrill of travelling to exotic countries to compete, a harrowing fightback from the edge of permanent disability after a car accident and he showed thrilling video of his most recent triumph, when he claimed a world title in Moths further up the lake from Wangi at Belmont.
Nathan was special surprise guest at a two-day Sabot training and development camp where his first Sabot Over and Out is still in use but now named Grace.
That title `Grace’ could well be a fitting one for one of his current collection of boats as there was plenty of grace about the way the Olympic sailor gave generously of his time at the little lakeside club where it all began. He fielded question after question from eager kids, many of whom may not have noticed on the walls of the clubhouse memorabilia celebrating his rise to the top of the sport.
Like the picture of Nathan and Ben Austin in action when they won the 49er worlds in 2008. And the framed flag signed by the Australian Olympic sailing team that he took to Beijing that same year as a 49er rep.
And grace was also a word that came to mind as Nathan described his battle to recover after shattering vertebrae in a car accident in 2005. `At one point I was completely dead and was resuscitated,’’ he said. (see separate story).
Wangi was also the club where his long-time 49er partner Ian Jensen also sailed a Sabot – there must be something in the water at Wangi Wangi.
The weekend Sabot training camp, organised by junior club captain Warwick Fatches and his wife Donna, was nothing short of a huge success.
`It’s been brilliant, we expected about 20 to participate and here we have 68,’’ said volunteer Michelle Russell.
The camp’s blueprint for success could no doubt be distilled to two vital ingredients - fun and affordability. The fun came in the form of the sleepover in the clubhouse for the kids with a big screen video to watch, the treasure hunts, the beach volleyball and early morning doughnut rides on the lake, not to mention the sailing.
The affordability was delivered thanks to the Northern NSW Sabot Sailing Association footing the bill for a band of qualified instructors, allowing the club itself to charge only $10 a head for participation (including lunch and brekkie). Really there was no better deal this side of the equator that weekend.
When it was realised a few weeks earlier that interest in the camp was so strong the organisers bunged on extra instructors, ordered stacks more snags, bacon and eggs and prayed for good conditions. It turned out to be heaven sent, starting with sunny skies and a friendly 10 knot nor-easterlie for the vast majority of relative newcomers and finishing with a testing 15knots for the more advanced sailors.
The coaching team was led by former Sabot champion Lauren Jeffries, whose history also includes sailing with Nathan to finish second at a world 29ers, and Nathan’s sister Haylee, who finished third at the same worlds event. They were ably assisted by Gosford Sailing School instructors Jessica McIntosh and Eliza Hansen. Another novelty at the camp was the use of helmet and mast cams to record some of the action.
`This club was built on junior and Sabot sailing,’’ Michelle said. `It’s what it’s all about and what keeps the club alive.’’
`This is a nurturing ground for sailing. We don’t push children to be elite sailors but opportunities are there for those who want to take them.
To facilitate this the club has club boats and equipment, including some sailing wetsuits and boots for those without, and has even established a scholarship to help the odd especially worthy kid get involved in a sport he or she might otherwise miss out on.
This nurturing policy has attracted learn to sail kids from far and wide and up to 50 juniors are on the water each Saturday. ``Nathan was nurtured here too,’’ said Michelle. ``He went on to high level sailing with great parental support. He now has a sense of ownership of the club he started off in and he’s also a great guy, coming back to inspire these kids.’’
Today’s crop includes Michelle’s daughter Kimberley, 12. She has sailing in Sabots since aged 10 and as crew for her dad Shane is now a NSW champion in NACRA 5.8s and nationals runner-up.
``But by starting her off in Sabots, steering, it gives her the tactical skills she wouldn’t develop so much of as a crew,’’ said Michelle. It looks very much like the Sabot class, on Lake Macquarie at least, is in good hands.
Note: Additional images of the weekend will be posted on www.ouraniaimages.com.au
in coming days.