2023 Optimist World Championships – Costa, Brava – Spain – Coaches Report – Malcolm Hall

The Optimist Worlds was held in Costa Brava, Spain. More specifically off a camping resort called La Ballena Alegre, on the Gulf of Roses, which is 150km north of Barcelona. As is typical in any major regatta, the conditions were “not what we usually get here”, in that the normal thermal sea breeze failed to materialize, or at least win out over frontal systems, until after racing ended on the last day. As a result the wind was much lighter than expected, averaging around 4-6 knots for most races. The sea state was bigger than usual with choppy water and, on a handful of the days a shore break that meant we couldn’t launch, which reduced the individual races and cut all but the top seeds out of the team racing championship.

In all there were 248 sailors with over 65 countries represented. The best of the best in the world in the U16 age group.

The SA team consisted of Joshua Keytel, Dylan Hall, Ross Mukheiber and Sean Sadler with myself as coach and Alistair Keytel as team manager. Sean, who lives in Palma, and has considerable experience in international fleets, started out very well with a 4th in the first race of qualification but thereafter got pegged back by being on the wrong side of some big shifts during the rest of the qualification series to agonizingly miss out on Gold fleet by 3 points. The rest of the boys were well further back with the best result being Dylan’s 31st in the last qualification race. At the end of qualification we had Sean in Silver, with Josh, Dylan and Ross in Emerald.

What followed was 3 days of waiting as the sea state generated from distant gradient winds resulted in an unsafe beach launching situation and no contingency plan in place for this eventuality. It did mean that the boys got to surf in the Med and mingle with the boys and girls from other nations, but in general this time was enormously frustrating for everyone as the team racing schedule (and therefore eligible teams) got incrementally reduced. When we finally got out for finals racing on the 2nd last day, the race committee very controversially decided to abandon after only one race to run the teams racing, sending more than 200 sailors ashore just as a decent breeze finally filled in, with more than 7 hours of light left in the day.

Race management just managed to squeeze 3 further individual races in on the last day, with the final Emerald race starting less than 3 minutes before the cut off time. Again, these races were held in light breeze. This time clocking from the north to the east with a correction left every now and then to make it very difficult to read or predict. Sean managed some heroic comebacks from buried starts to end of 3rd in Silver and 65th overall. Josh finished off with a fine 22nd in the last race to end up 224th. Dylan ended up 235th and Ross 243rd after a disappointing BFD in his best race of the final series.

The big standouts to me were the little things that we miss in sailing: understanding how to work the boat in the marginal conditions – when you can’t hike; holding your body in tension so you connect to the boat better; sail and rig setup (so much more than just getting it up and the sprit tight); being comfortable with adjusting your rig whilst racing (all the top sailors change their rig at the top mark and do so again at the bottom gate); and so on. Interestingly, while we always bang on about starting, that wasn’t really an issue – the team mostly got decent starts. This is also much less of an issue than in the past with the IODA mandate to have start lines 1.25x the length of all the boats on the line, resulting in a 145m start line. It was about being able to change gears as the seconds ticked by from 8 seconds before to the 4 minutes afterwards. It was also about race craft thereafter – understanding how to find a lane and then defend it. Finally, it was also about how to race the reach – in the worlds (and all IODA events) the reach is a long (10 minutes of sailing) starboard leg where many places could be gained and lost – a lost art that we don’t train enough.

Most importantly, the boys all had fun and learnt a huge amount that they will take forward into their future sailing. For all of them, this is an opening chapter of their sailing career, not the conclusion. The future looks bright.