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Cadet Australian Nationals & Worlds: A first person sailing account from two teenagers

by Jeanette Severs 17 Jan 2023 22:45 UTC
Emily and Sara Melrose © FSR Industries for Downundersail

Sara (14) and Emily (12) Melrose, of Paynesville, have been sailing for several years. During their summer holidays, they competed in the International Cadet Class 2022 National Championships and 2022 World Championships, held on Hobsons Bay, west of Melbourne. They write about their experience here...

Emily: We joined Metung Yacht Club a year ago after sailing Minnows (a class of sailing dinghy) since we were both about seven or eight years old. We've pretty much been sailing Minnows since we can remember, which is a single-handed boat with only one sail. Both of us have competed in multiple State and National championships in Minnows.

In last year's Easter Regatta at Metung, we thought we would give sailing a Cadet dinghy a try, as most the juniors here have a big tradition of sailing Cadets. We heard of a National Championships in Williamstown held at the end of 2022, so during the Easter Regatta we bought a little Cadet called 'Hacker', and decided to give these Nationals a go.

Sailing in a Cadet was really new to both of us for many reasons; such as sailing with two people, having more than one sail to manage, using a spinnaker; and getting back into competing in large competitive fleets after two years of Covid.

Competing at the Nationals in late December was pretty interesting. We've both sailed in big fleets, but 58 boats was a lot to navigate. During the Nationals (also known as the 'pre-Worlds') there were countless international competitors sailing with us as well. A lot of them who had come to compete in the World Championships had arrived earlier to compete in Australia's National Championships.

We were competing against quite a few crews from Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, and elsewhere. I think the numbers were 118 sailors altogether, from five countries, so the competition was pretty big.

We learned a lot throughout the Nationals, like... so much. We learned how to control and properly work a two-handed boat. The weather conditions on Hobsons Bay (in Port Philip Bay, Victoria, Australia) were also really different compared to Metung, which is on the Gippsland Lakes (also in Victoria).

The swell was definitely a big difference; the water is nowhere near as flat as the Gippsland Lakes. Especially on some of the windier days, we almost just felt like we were going up and down. The wind was also really shifty and gusty and we had to put all of that into play along with the tide and current.

We have also never sailed so close to a shipping channel before. We were almost right next to it - sometimes when going out and heading back in to Hobsons Bay, we would even have to give way and wait for the ships to cross before we went over.

We also learned how to work with each other, which we both think was a pretty big one. Yes, we fought a lot, ha ha! But by the end of the two regattas we overcame that. Sort of.

Sara: I think for me, as skipper, it was also a bit of getting used to and getting back into an old routine of sailing, as I hadn't raced competitively for quite a while. On behalf of my sister, Emily, for her it was really different and new to become a crew rather than a skipper, so she had to learn a new role which she had never done before.

Fourteen Australian boats that competed in the Nationals qualified for the World Championships, which was a week later also in Hobsons Bay. Although we didn't qualify, we were invited along with the other boats that didn't qualify for the Worlds, to compete in a promotional regatta. This was held at the same time as the Worlds fleet and along the same guidelines. So we used the same start line, except our start sequence was a few minutes after theirs, and our race courses were slightly different.

Those two weeks of sailing were the biggest learning curve for both of us, and we think we definitely improved our sailing overall. A few funny things also happened that week:

In one of the races, we were getting ready for the race and it was about five seconds to go until the start. Both our sails were flapping and Sara was just about to sheet in and head up wind when the rope holding our jib completely snapped in half. Which, mind you, the conditions that week weren't easy at all, a lot of it was really strong and shifty winds.

We didn't really know what to do so Sara quickly told Emily to just tie the jib down to the boat so we could keep sailing. And that's exactly what we did. From the very start of the race, we had no jib, so we just sailed the whole race without it.

One of the rescue boats even came over to us and asked if we were going in and we just shook our heads and kept sailing. It all happened very quickly, and in the moment going back just didn't seem like an option, so I guess we just kept going, there wasn't much thinking about it.

Another funny thing that happened was when we had a really sudden wind shift and somehow managed to capsize the boat. The odds of that capsize was crazy because that day the conditions weren't even slightly rough compared to the 20 knots and more winds we had the previous days, when we actually didn't capsize at all. It was a miracle.

Anyway, I could see our boat going over and there was no saving it so I did a dry capsize and got onto the centreboard while my crew got stuck under the boat once it fully tipped. I could hear Emily say, "Sara, I'm under the boat!" while I was on top of it. Then I had to wait for Emily to crawl out because I didn't want to pull the boat up and hurt her. It was only like 10-15 seconds before I saw Emily's head pop out of the water, but that was the longest 10 seconds of my life. We pulled our Cadet up really quickly and the capsize was completely fine, but that was actually pretty scary, for the both of us.

Overall, some moments throughout both regattas definitely did feel like a disaster, but what fun would it be if it didn't. We're both extremely glad we did it and it was 100% worth it. I don't think we could've achieved more with all the things we've learned.

We also made a number of new friends across the water, which was a really great thing - to be able to chat to other sailors on-shore, off-shore, and even between races. We definitely recommend for any junior sailors to go out and try things like this, because, especially after doing this regatta, we believe there's a lot more things you can take out of sailing than just winning.

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