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Steve Cockerill discusses his time sailing the Europe

by Ben Harris & Steve Cockerill 27 Nov 2020 10:43 UTC
Steve Cockerill (399) reaching down the lake during the Europe Inlands at Haversham © Sue Johnson

With the resurgence of the Europe class in the UK, ex-Europe sailor and sailing legend Steve Cockerill has recently bought two Europes for himself and his wife to sail! We spoke to Steve to discuss his time sailing Europes and why he has decided to return to the class.

Steve: I was a Graduate sailor at Tamworth Sailing Club where the dominant sailors in that class nationally were my brother and John Burgoine. These two had bought Europe's to race during the winter as their crews were less than fanatical about sailing in the cold. I was team racing at university and darting back to the club for the odd race. A friend of mine, an ex-crew, also had a Europe and offered to lend it to me for one race. The first time I sailed the boat to windward it felt awesome. Responsive. Lively. Wow! - I was hooked. I guess it also helped that in this first race I beat the two legends in the club by a considerable margin.... Perhaps my Graduate was a slow boat. I then borrowed a boat from the then chairman to go to the National Championships in Plymouth in 1987? I was chuffed to come 7th out of 50. I met a nice chap from Belgium who worked at Scaldia Yachting Centre in Dornik (now called Van Laer Yachting Centre) and he said he had some second-hand Roland Europe's for sale at his work. And so began my love of buying Europes from abroad and bringing them back to the UK.

My first Europe was K145 a yellow Roland. The mast foot was fixed with wing nuts and only had 4 positions. Dick Batt made me a sail. I went to the Nationals with no expectations and came 2nd to Ian Walters. Although I had a job at Performance Sails and a boss who wanted me to windsurf, I was smitten with the Europe and so left for a 'real' job in industry, at British Aerospace in Bristol, allowing me to take a decent bank loan to buy a nicer Europe. I used to travel back to Draycote Water Sailing Club at weekends so I could race Ian Walters and Nigel Snedker who were 1st and 3rd at my first nationals. It was tough sailing those two - I rarely beat them.

We had to qualify for the Worlds - my first was in Norway. I was not prepared for a start line with the bias end that was full from 5 mins to go to the start. You either had to have boat control or you would start on the third row! It was not until I had joined my local sailing club in Bristol, racing the large Enterprise fleet as a guest that my fortunes changed. I started a serious training regime, running home from work each day. I spent the breaks between races practising holding my boat on the line. Every holiday, I would be on a ferry to Belgium, or the Netherlands to take part in the serious racing. It was obvious that I was weak at downwind sailing so I needed to learn from the Europeans. I would join a bank holiday and some time off to take part in the Belgian and Dutch championships and then take a ferry home, tired ready for another week at work. On my third attempt I won my first of 7 National titles. I became the class sail measurer and newsletter editor. Re-naming the newsletter title 'Europinions' was perhaps my first stab at marketing!

I realised that I was not going to be able to compete at the front of the international fleet unless I competed with them full time so I sold my house, making me enough profit to take 6 months off, living in my £50 Bedford campervan and racing at all the European regattas. I was not alone on the circuit, with the same sailors from Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden turning up to pretty much every major regatta, however I was the only British sailor. They had coaches and ribs, whilst I had to leave the beach very early just to make the start. I had my guitar, my boat and just enough money to eat, sleep, sail, strum, repeat. I was certainly the poor relation. Everyone else had new smart camper vans, gleaming ribs and well-paid coaches.

I did however make a surprising number of Europe friends and training partners along the way, including Thomas Johansen (Laser World Champion and Olympic gold medallist in 49er), Jyurki Taimenen (Europe World Champion) Sebastian Godefroid (Laser World and European Champion and Finn Olympic silver medallist) and Serge Kats, (Europe World Champion). Obviously there were more but I do like to name drop!

After taking up a job with the Royal Navy, I sailed the 470 as I was nearly the size to be a helm. I did not have the experience of the ex-420 sailors- so I would hike rather too much! When I made the move to the Laser - I spent the first couple of years trying to make the boat do transitions like the Europe. Despite going slower at first, I continued to work at it. I would say now that my downwind in the Laser is where I am most dominant. After leaving the Royal Navy, I took another role back in the aerospace industry, but I was itching to get back to the sport I love. I took up the role as the Europe Development Coach which paid enough for me to start to develop Rooster in the market. I also coached Min Dezille, the Belgian Europe class representative for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Despite winning the Aero 7 worlds in 2017, I was really not big enough for the Aero 7 rig and my wife, Sarah, did not like the Aero 5 rig. I knew she would like the Europe and took a gamble and got hold of two boats so we could train together - call it my midlife crisis! I think I heard the boat calling me back, so many great memories and such a wonderful boat. I think I would like to be thought of as a Europe Sailor first rather than a Laser sailor.

We are hugely grateful to Steve for taking the time to share his Europe stories, and are happy to have him back in the class! Steve and Sarah Cockerill will sail GBR 387 and GBR 399, and Steve has proven he has not forgotten how to sail a Europe, dominating at the 2020 Inland Championships! Steve's interview has already sparked lots of interest amongst the UK Europe fleet, with several past Europe sailors considering re-joining the fleet!

To find out more about the UK Europe class, feel free to visit our website at www.ukeuropeclass.com

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