Girls and Boys
|Photo : Antoine Beysens|
The strong Mistral gusting up to 30kts at times meant it was too windy for the first scheduled Finals day of racing at the Nacra 17 European Championships. Racing is billed to resume Friday with a start sequence planned from 1000hrs local time.
There is no doubt that the Nacra 17 mixed crew catamaran will be one of the most exciting and closely watched of the sailing classes at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. All the forecasts and historical meteo data point to a light winds regatta favouring light sailors, but didn’t they say that about Qingdao?
At these Nacra 17 European Championships in La Grande Motte, France, which have so far been quite physical and breezy, in the top 16 placed after there are presently six crews with females steering. Women helms have been winning races here, notably GBR’s ex match race world champion Lucy MacGregor and Andrew Walsh, NZL’s Gemma Jones with Jason Saunders, and of course the current European champions are Mandy Mulder and Coen De Koening. Overall in the 71 strong fleet there are 24 teams with female helms.
In the stronger breeze conventional current thinking decrees that the girl crews need to be increasingly stronger and fitter. Around the boat park opinions vary as to what the likely trends are as the class moves first to its first ISAF World Championships in Santander, Spain in September and then through the Olympic cycle to Rio.
French multihull coach Franck Citeau is responsible for a team of four Nacra 17 crews of which one has a female helm, Audrey Ogerau who sails with Matthieu Vandame. They are lying eighth overall at the moment:
“As far as I’m concerned, the only configuration possible for the next Olympics (2020 not 2016) will be to have the woman at the helm and the man as crewman. For this campaign, there were many more boys with experience of catamaran sailing (from the Tornado and Formula18 circuits) than girls. Consequently, they have the advantage of being that much more aggressive at the start, also in the way they handle the boat and in their knowledge of racing catamarans. Once the girls have caught them up, by the end of this Olympic cycle, it will be the end of seeing the lads at the helm. That’s how I see it now with my professional experience. I may be wrong. But you can easily see that this boat requires a lot of physical strength as soon as the wind gets up. We’re looking at a boat that needs to be under control. If you can’t achieve that, the boat will control you. So, you need a lot of physical effort when carrying out manoeuvres. I think that countries that are beginning to train women to take the helm, like the Dutch and English, will stand out in the next few years.”
The Dutch come to the Nacra 17 with crews with much more of a monohull background. But they have an excellent, experienced talent base and are being coached by Mitch Booth, double Olympic Tornado medallist. Booth says:
“ It's obviously a big physical job on the front of the boat, crewing, and in the strong wind I think it can be very tiring. So I think the guys that are crewing in the strong wind probably are more physical. They are probably having an easier time than the girls that are crewing but I still think that either combination is capable of winning in strong wind it doesn't really matter if it is a guy or a girl crewing or steering, either way it works.”
“ Billy Besson is proving that with a girl crewing in strong wind and then there are other teams with girls steering that are doing well in strong wind.”
Booth cites an ideal Olympic world where there should be two multihull classes:
“ Well it should change, the Nacra 17 should be for girls and there should be a multi-hull, I believe, for guys as well. I never agreed with it. I think it is fantastic that the girls are being, in a way, forced into catamaran sailing, which is great, but I really believe that there is the right place for a girls discipline and a guys discipline on catamaran.”
“ I have said I am all for bringing the girls into the sport, particularly into catamaran sailing because we never had enough of that but this boat is perfectly suited to two girls because it is 120-140kg bracket and now we are seeing that the crew weights are going down, down, down and now I think as we get to the Olympics I think the best crew weight will be 120kgs which is too light for a guy to get to otherwise he is going to be nothing.”
“ Two girls sailing on the boat is the best configuration. That's the best configuration. I mean take the other classes in the Olympics, you have Laser Radials, Laser Standard, you have 470 men and women, you have 49er and 49er men and women FX so it should be a multi-hull the same way. We have the same amount of girls in the game then and it's more appropriate to represent the sport. In my own view anyway.”
GBR’s Lucy MacGregor is currently the top placed female helm:
“ I think generally in most of the events we have seen on average there are more male helms than female helms but I think a lot of that has come from the experience beforehand. If it has been an experienced guy helm and continuing to helm then that is the way they have stayed. To be honest I think most of the year you could probably do it either way around. The boats are very physical and I certainly don't envy the female crews at all, they have to work hard at the front of the boat and personally I think it's an advantage to have the fitter stronger person at the front but actually a lot of the time, as I say, it is pretty light and then it's not such a big deal.”
It's hard with Olympics sailing because at the end of the day we are all here for the same thing and that is the end thing and that's Rio, but you have to get there. You have to qualify, you have to do event after event and survive and there's a lot of female crews with a lot of bandages on them at the moment here, likewise there’s quite a few male crews with injuries but you have got to be able to get through the whole proccess and be able to do enough events to learn enough to actually get to the end game, Rio”
“ At the end of the day I think a lot of people are loving the boats. They're exciting, they're fast and a lot are really enjoying the challenge, for sure. It's a step up from what a lot of people have done before in terms of the physicality of it and you look around and the whole fleet looks really fit and healthy and that’s a great thing for our sport that it is moving to more athletecism. I think there is the odd day like yesterday.”
“It's been a relatively windy season so far and you only need one breeze and that can decide the fleet a bit.”
“ There doesn't seem to be a trend in terms of new teams coming in or teams switching. As I say, they stick coming in to who is suited to which role best and get on with it that way. I haven't seen that many swap.”
You see some of the guy helms like Billy (Besson) for example, who have done a lot of cat' sailing, are very experienced, myself and Pippa (Wilson, Olympic Yngling gold medallist) for example haven't done much catamaran sailing and are playing catch-up a little bit on that. We have all done a lot of sailing though.”
I think the boats are fairly evenly set out who does what, there's not that many options of who does what but you do see some of the guys take the main sheet upwind, but to me that just means a loss of performance because why wouldn't you just trim it as hard as you can all the time.”
“ Tactically, I think it depends a bit on the sailors. For us, the more I get used to the boat the more I can get my head out of the boat, the more I can give tactically. So at the moment Walsh has been doing a lot of it but we are trying to make it a bit more equal and there's different conditions that suit different roles. I don't think its like 470s much where it is all on the crew upwind because the helm is just so in the boat, there's a bit more leniency for people to share that out.”
“ Fitness compared to the Elliott match racing, it's very different, I think it helps to be very agile in the boat, to get around quickly, because when you do need to do something you need to do it quickly and powerfully. When it is that infrequent time where you end up doing something on the main sheet you do need to do that with some power so for sure I want to get fitter and stronger for the boat but well different because for example my leg strength is nothing like it was in the Elliot right now. So it's just a different type of physicality really and in many ways I am finding the racing less stressful on the mind than the match-racing. Often I would come of the water after the match-racing and be really tired mentally whereas here it's just different because you just don't have to be making decisions every ten seconds whereas sometimes you were in the Elliott.”
“ I think it helps because the racing is short and sharp generally and a bit bigger race-crosses here but often we are seeing 30 minute long races where things are happening quickly and you have to be on your toes.”
“ You have some fantastic sailors in there: Mandy, Renee, Myself, Pippa, a couple of the French girls, some awesome sailors in there. There's a great feeling in the fleet that there isn't a set way it should be there isn't a set size yet. No one knows that it should definitely be female helms or male helms yet. I think you get that even this week, it's a really nice atmosphere. We're racing really hard on the water but you come ashore and it's friendly and we're kind of sharing ideas a little bit without sharing too much.”Ends