By Paula Sanderson
There is something about beating Americans that is just so sweet for Canadians. At the Student Yachting World Cup in France, Team Canada, represented by the Dalhousie Sailing Club, did exactly that, beating the Maine Maritime Academy.
“We killed them,” says Canadian team member Justin Hall. “They’ve been training together for a year. We only got the team in one spot—not training, but in one spot—in the airport on the way there.”
Despite the seven teammates only sailing together for the first time at the regatta, they finished a very respectable sixth place late last month. France, England and Ireland rounded out the top three. The Americans placed 11th.
The French team deserved to win, according to fellow crew member Valerie Keast.
“It was unbelievable. Pretty much every race they were leading with a big lead,” says Keast. “We were just looking at their boat wondering, ‘How are they doing this?’”
The Student Yachting World Cup featured 15 different countries from three continents. Each team sailed a Grand Surprise, a 32-foot French design sport boat.
“Basically they are all the same boat; they are one design class,” says Hall. “Each team, in theory, had the same boat, but there are some tolerances.”
Sailing this boat was a challenge for the team.
“None of us had sailed a Grand Surprise before or even seen one,” explains Hall. “We tried to gather as much information as we could before we got there from the Internet and from the event organizers.”
The team spent the first few days getting to know their ride.
“One of the first things I said to Dave [Castle], our bowman, when we stepped onto the boat was ‘It’s going to be a skating rink,’”says Hall. “There wasn’t much grip up forward.”
This was a big change from the J/22s, J/24s and J/35s the team had been sailing previously.
“There were some differences and changes we had to make in order to sail it effectively,” says Hall.
Due to high winds and major waves, the first two days of racing were called off. Because of this the team did not get as much practice time as they would have wanted.
Regardless of their lack of practice time, Dal raced to admirable times in their new sailboat.
“We were pretty consistent throughout,” says Hall. “We had some good races, and some that weren’t so good, but we were around fifth and sixth for the most part.”
The team’s best race was race 11 on the final day when they came in third.
“On the last day we had figured out the boat, we had figured out our positions, and just got used to sailing with one another,” says Hall, “We were able to pull off third, and considering the competition we had it was a very good race.”
That last day of racing determined the final result.
“One of our main competitors on the last day to maintain our sixth place spot was the Italians and basically the whole day we were looking to stay ahead of them,” says Hall, “And, in the end, I think we beat them by two points which was tight but, yeah, we pulled it off. It was great.”
The team was very proud of their finish on the international stage.
“It’s always nice to finish a regatta strong and I think we did that,” says Hall.
Dal has qualified to represent Canada again next year at the World Cup. They qualified in September, defeating McMaster University at the Canadian University Keelboat Championships held in Halifax.
“It was a really great experience,” says Hall, speaking of the team’s trip across the Atlantic. “We learned a whole lot, not just about sailing and racing, but logistically how to organize something so significant. Our budget was pretty small, but everyone put in a lot of effort in order to get us there.”
The World Cup took place during most of the team’s midterms.
“Imagine leaving for 10 days right in the middle of midterms. It’s a huge commitment,” says Keast. “But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
“We’d like to go next year and experience it a little bit more,” says Hall. “We might get lucky—it might be on the Mediterranean—which would be excellent.”
“Fingers crossed,” says Keast, smiling at the thought.