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Celebrating the American youth sailing and a new solo circumnavigation record

by David Schmidt 18 Dec 2017 08:25 PST December 18, 2017

Simply put, some years are better than others. While this typically boils down to personal experiences, I haven’t witnessed too many years with as much heartache as 2017, from devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean, Florida and Gulf Coasts to rampant and determined wildfires in California, to some of America’s most horrific mass shootings. On a personal note, I also saw some damn good people cross the metaphoric bar this year, some abruptly, others less so, and while this heartache is a function of being human and of caring for others, it still doesn't make the load any easier to carry. So, you can imagine the smiles in my house this weekend when the news hit of two great achievements in sailing, the first a new rising sun for American-flagged Olympic sailing dreams, the second a jaw-dropping fast solo circumnavigation that helped reinforce the true magic of sailing’s adventurous side for countless sailors, your scribe happily included.

As anyone who follows Olympic sailing with even a single half-open eye knows, the past few quadrennials have not been kind to U.S. sailors. Despite strong lead-up performances at the Perth 2011 ISAF Worlds, the U.S. team suffered their first medal ceremony shut out since 1936 at the London 2012 Olympics, followed by a single bronze-medal win at the 2016 Rio Olympics. While Caleb Paine’s bronze was a great achievement for U.S. sailors (especially U.S. Finn sailors), this paled in comparison to the years of domination at the Olympic level that U.S. sailors used to enjoy.

The hard-boiled reality is that the rest of the world caught up and surpassed U.S. Olympic-sailing efforts, but-after years of investing in talent pipelines-the tide now seems to be changing.

Take the recent Youth World Sailing Championships, which just wrapped up in Sanya, China (December 9-16), where Carmen and Emma Cowles crushed the 420 Girl’s fleet to take home a gold medal, and where Charlotte Rose also captured gold in the Laser Radial Girl’s fleet. Additionally, Thomas Rice and Trevor Bornath brought home a silver medal in the 420 Boy’s fleet.

Outside of medals, Mark Brunsvold and Dylan Heinz finished in fourth place in the Nacra 15 class; Neil Marcellini and Ian Brill finished in seventh place in the 29er Boy’s fleet, and Joseph Hou cemented an eighth-place finish in the Laser Radial Boy’s class.

The culmination of this great sailing, as well as the strong and dedicated efforts of those sailors who didn’t place quite as well, was enough to put the USA in third place, just astern of Italy and Israel, in the regatta’s Nations Trophy, which recognizes national ranking based on results at this regatta.

While there’s no question that the U.S. flagged Olympic sailing team still has a long, steep and heavily crevassed hill to negotiate before we return to the halcyon days of the 1980s and 1990s, when the Star Spangled Banner was frequently heard at Olympic sailing medal ceremonies, there’s also no question that the efforts the team has made since its 2012 trouncing are starting to pay some handsome dividends.

Congrats and job well done to all U.S. sailors and coaches who participated at the Youth World Sailing Championships!

Meanwhile, on offshore sailing’s stage, Francois Gabart (FRA; 34) sailed into the record books on Saturday, December 17 when he crossed the finishing line-between the Créac’h lighthouse in Ushant, France, and the Lizard Point lighthouse in Cornwall, UK-of his record-breaking solo circumnavigation, which he pulled off in just 42 days, 16 hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds.

Given that Gabart sailed a total of 27,859.7 nautical miles, his average pace around the planet was a mind-bending 27.2 knots, which was fast enough to shave a staggering 6 days, 10 hours 23 minutes and 53 seconds off of Thomas Coville’s (FRA) 2016 record.

“I never dreamed of a time like this," a happy Gabart told on-scene reporters after crossing the finishing line. "On paper, with the weather and with what I am capable of doing with this boat, it was possible to beat the record, but in the best scenarios only by one or two days. It's quite extraordinary.”

While this achievement is stunning, so too is the fact that this was Gabart’s first attempt at breaking the solo circumnavigation record, but, much like his 2012/2013 Vendee Globe win during his freshman attempt, Gabart is rapidly demonstrating himself to be someone who doesn’t need second-takes.

Bravo to Gabart and his entire team for this record-smashing run, which also included a new 24-hour solo record of 851 nautical miles, a feat that shattered his own previous record of 784 nautical miles.

So, while 2017 might not be the best year on record for heck of a lot of people (and we haven’t even mentioned 2017’s geopolitical cacophony), it’s great to approach the holiday season’s starting line with something happier to consider than the old jingle about Rudolf mowing over Grandma and threat of having to (politely) consume fruitcake in public.

Fortunately, for anyone else who loves yuletide glee as much as I don’t, the famed Sydney Hobart Race starts on Boxing Day (December 26; with time zones changes this works rather nicely for us West Coasters, ahem), providing landlubbers with a great, flat-horizon view of one of offshore sailing’s greatest challenges. Gidyap!

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