Topper UK Junior Squad Camp 7
May half term holiday – for most a time for a rest and relaxation – for me a 7 hour journey to the Island of Cumbrae in Scotland for the final Topper UK Junior Squad residential camp. There I joined fellow Rooster Team mate, Frances, and the 22 other Squad members for 5 days of sunshine & sailing – what could be better?
Monday meant an early start for my family and me catching the ferry across from Largs so I could be rigged and ready at the Sailing Centre for a 9.30am start. Sailors went for a warm up with deputy coach, Tom, whilst head coach Natalie had a meeting with our parents before they headed off for a week of freedom.
After the warm up we met our other coaches for the week (Neil Marston and Duncan West) to find out the plan for the day. The focus was to be on strategy and getting your head out of the boat (race awareness). I was really keen to practice this ready for summer events.
We were put into groups of 6 for the week based on our results at the recent Inland Champs, where I’d managed 5th, and we set off out onto the water on a scorching 20 degree day.
We spent the morning on an exercise called “floating feature”. This was basically normal racing but, to make you get your head out of the boat, just before the start an extra mark is dropped somewhere on the beat and everyone has to pass within one boat length of it on their way to the windward mark. This is one of my favourite training exercises as it really makes you keep your eyes open on the start line and looking upwind.
After a couple of hours on the water the wind died to nothing – but at least it timed perfectly for lunch! We ate moored to the coaching ribs and talked through how things had gone so far.
Thankfully, the wind returned and we spent the afternoon doing tacking on the whistle before some whole squad racing to put everything into practice before heading in for a de-brief at about 5.30 then dinner, evening theory work and bed at 9.30pm.
Tuesday’s start reinforced that this was training, not a holiday. Junior Squad teaches the importance of fitness to maintain performance when racing and we started the day with a 7.30am run along the shoreline followed by circuit training before breakfast! Afterwards it was to be straight into sailing gear and off, but there was a problem, no wind. Instead we got stuck into classroom work based on the day’s topic of starting and the importance of rule 42 on the startline. Working in groups we were each given a rule scenario to investigate before presenting back to the squad. Next a quick rules quiz, before getting out of the heat of the classroom to go for lunch.
After lunch the wind filled in so we headed out into blazing sun to practice starting exercises. It was a good job that just before heading to Cumbrae I’d got some new summer kit from Rooster, a Long Sleeve Rash Top and an Aeromesh Cap which both kept me cool and protected me from the sun.
That evening we were set the challenge of planning our task for the next day – a circumnavigation of Cumbrae! This proved tricky as the combination of rip tides and little wind made it vital to plan the route so that the tide could help us as much as possible.
Wednesday began with fitness once again before a rush to launch straight after breakfast to ensure we’d get round the island in time for tea!
During our trip, along with seal spotting, turtle hunting and dodging jellyfish, we did a number of exercises to practice putting strategies in place that would help us to make the most of different features on a racecourse, such as tide and wind bends. The trip was steady as there was, once again, only about 5knts of wind at the best of times but we were rewarded with some fantastic views of the islands and, despite questions along the way about whether we’d make it, we did, finishing off with a long downwind race back to the academy with the tide pushing us along.
Thursday had a slow start. With no wind again first thing we made the best use of our time by doing our ‘evening work’ in the morning – a bike ride around the island! This was great fun. We tried a peloton formation, stopped at the beach for a sandcastle competition, and a swim for some, and had a quick stop on the way back for ice cream. On return to the sailing centre we took advantage of a steady 5-10knt breeze by sailing well into the evening. My group was with Neil that day and our focus was all about boat on boat tactics and overtaking. We practiced this with a number of short, sharp drills, which didn’t always go to plan (message to self: don’t tack into a rib!).
Day 5… The last day
Friday morning- and we got a lie in. Only half an hour though! At 8am we met for a yoga and stretching session with Neil before heading out to sea once more. We spent the morning on some more specific exercises before the 2016 Topper UK Junior Squad Regatta took place in the afternoon – won by Lorcan Knowles.
Finally, at 3pm the squad went back to shore to meet our parents, pack our boats up and get changed before a speedy debrief and a not so speedy 7 hour journey home!
Overall it was a fabulous week for me, I learned loads and it was a great end to a long winter of training with the UK Junior Squad where I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some amazing coaches and get to know some amazing fellow sailors, some of whom I’m sure will be friends for life. I’m now looking forward to trying out the techniques that we’ve learned and hopefully improving my racing. For anyone else who gets the opportunity to join an RYA squad my advice would be definitely go for it.