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Micky Beckett – 2020 wrap

Southeast Sailboats sponsored sailor Micky Beckett has written this great summary of his 2020 season.  “If I remember all the way back to March, and it feels like long enough ago, I was in Palma a few weeks ahead of the Princess Trofia Regatta. This remained the plan for about three days after arriving, and then our intentions evaporated on the 14th March. We had been following the terrifying progress of COVID-19 through the international population with as much disdain and disbelief as anyone else, but this was the day when our world turned upside down. Princess Sofia regatta had been cancelled and the international calendar was being haemorrhaged of events, local restrictions on travel were appearing everywhere. It was time to go home.

It was six long and slightly strange months until I travelled abroad again, I spent the entire time like everyone else; at home. I didn’t do anything too interesting, once we were allowed (from May) I did a lot of sailing out of WPNSA. It wasn’t the summer I had planned, but I’m sure the same is true for the majority of people. I’m not sure I’ll ever do another six-month training block, but if I did I probably wouldn’t do it that differently. To begin with, when we were first out of lockdown in May, it was just Elliot Hanson and I chasing each-other around without even any marks to direct us.

Training at Weymouth – photo credit Nick Thompson

As national travel restrictions were slowly eased we were able to have some coaching, then more and more sailors arrived to join our training group. Every time I could feel myself getting bored of the same training environment week-in week-out, some more guys would arrive and the races felt a little harder and a bit more real, it was great. When there’s a global pandemic causing untold chaos and making ‘unprecedented’ everyone’s favourite new word, I felt lucky just to be able to spend the summer sailing.

The UKLA Nationals were held in Weymouth in August. Understandably there was a reasonable amount of apprehension about the event actually going ahead in the circumstances. It is of course cliché to sing the graces of event organisers, however the event that WPNSA and the UKLA organised and conducted in the circumstances was just awesome. I’m sure I’m ignorant of the majority of the effort that went into it, but even so it was particularly impressive as it was the first major dinghy event in the UK, if not Europe, since Spring.

UKLA Nationals – photo credit Sam Pearce

The racing itself was tough, everyone was remembering how to deal with a fleet and a proper start-line, as opposed to two half-sunken lobster pot buoys lying vaguely perpendicular to the wind. I sailed around the course giving it full gas but seemingly stuck just behind Elliot. There was quite often a healthy gap behind me to the boat in third which usually lead us to some match racing. I finished second overall and took a few days off hiking.
Only a few weeks later, after such a long wait, it was finally time to go abroad for an international event! Kiel regatta was going ahead, I’ve never been so excited to go to North Germany.

Heading out to the racecourse on the first morning, having never sailed there before, it was quite clear what was going on. The gusts were at least twice as windy as the lulls and the shifts were frankly enormous. This was going to require my finest can-do attitude and a bold strategy based on fast & frequent observations. The racing was fun, I clung tightly to my sense of humour and tried not to throw my toys too far away from my metaphorical pram when the shifts didn’t go my way. I even picked up the lead for a couple of days. Kiel is one of those regattas where if you’re in the top three you have to wear a coloured bib corresponding to your podium position, the leaders bib being the least inconspicuous thing on the Baltic that day – I felt like a six-foot-tall yellow highlighter pen.

If the regatta hadn’t been windy and cold enough already, the final day was just unnecessarily so. Unfortunately, I slipped from first to third on the final day, with Phillip Buhl winning the regatta and Elliot finishing just in front of me. In my defence and humble opinion however, Phillip Buhl in Kiel is what Lewis Hamilton is in Silverstone; the World champion taking a casual walk all over everyone in his back yard.

With just a few weeks back at home in Weymouth, there wasn’t as much time to recover as I would have liked before the Senior Europeans. The event was originally supposed to be in Kalamata, Greece in May, then it was rescheduled to Athens later in the year, then to Gdansk in September before finally settling in Gdansk in October. Credit to EURILCA for their persistence, they got there in the end. When we arrived on October 1st a week before the event began, the weather was warmer than I had been led to expect, it was nice.

Racing began in relatively flat water with the racecourse stuffed right under the land, I joked that the wing mark was probably the first tree on the reach. I couldn’t find anyone else that thought this was funny. In-case it wasn’t already apparent, Lorenzo made it quite clear that, the man was back, sailing a very tricky day perfectly to take two very well deserved bullets.

The second day felt a lot like a qualifier in South Shields or Sunderland, or another one of those East coast venues that are too far away and have short-steep waves that are offset the wrong way (in my two-fold defence, I grew up in West Wales so everywhere is a long way away, this also means I’m used to waves being offset the other way). The first race of the day felt simple, I was half way down the run in third with a gap in-front and an even bigger one behind me, easy cruise to the finish, right? The wind dropped rapidly from 8 knots to no knots, the race went from simple to stressful long before I even realised what was going on, the fleet closed in on me from behind. I narrowly avoided losing to a lot of boats right before the finish line, escaping with a fourth place. The venue and the racing was clearly out to get me, I told myself, this was the worst time to carry any complacency, so I needed to by cynical of anything that looked simple.
I managed to hold my scores low and consistent throughout three days of qualifying which give me the overall event lead. Whilst leading an event before its conclusion is fairly irrelevant as achievements go, I took some pleasure in having learned how to be consistent in such light and shifty conditions (once again, West Wales – does wind & waves, doesn’t do light and shifty).

As the event went on the wind kept pouring off the land from the South, blowing over an increasingly cold central-European land mass. In the mornings travelling down to the club a cold mist was sprawled over the land and the air was freezing, the final few days racing were bitterly cold.
I entered the final days racing, the sixth of six long cold days, with a nominal lead over the rest of the fleet. My lead was made even more insignificant by the second discard which was going to appear after the first race that day, this would have the effect of compacting the whole top ten.
The whole day was chaotic, the waves were building all day in the first onshore breeze in a fortnight, I found the breeze to be subtle but twitchy and unpredictable. The wait before the final race seemed to last an eternity, recall after recall created so much hanging around in the freezing cold wind. Finally when the race did start there was a desperate clamour by the fleet to chase to the right side of the course, I rounded the top mark around 20th, I was too cold and too busy fighting to bother with the maths, although I knew I had to catch up to Elliot, who, looking under my boom, I could already see flying down the first reach easily inside the top ten. Like any race, there is a lot I could say, but ultimately I didn’t have it. I finished 14th, at some point my centreboard stopper snapped in half and one of the callouses on my thumb ripped off, so if all the drama wasn’t enough there was blood everywhere.

I crossed the finish line with a Swedish guy who I’ve known for a long time, he span around to ask me “Did you win? Did you win? Did you!”. I didn’t think anyone would care, it was freezing, the waves were massive and the day had been exhausting. I didn’t reply, I just slowly shook my head.
I could only be sad until I got ashore, I already knew that Elliot had won an incredibly well-deserved win and that I was second. When I found out that Lorenzo had come third, to make a whole British podium, a shared euphoria took over.

We have worked with each other for so long, literally since we were kids, and now we had just taken on all of Europe, and all of us had prevailed. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be good, not even remotely good at sailing, without the British Laser squad, not just everyone who is in it right now, but everyone who has ever been in it. There has always been a fantastic culture underpinned by what I see as two things. The first being open and honest hard work, it’s a lot easier to be inspired by your mates and the work that they do in pushing each-other, than it is by some bloke on the telly. The second is a fairly relentless amount of piss-taking that stops us from ever taking ourselves too seriously, its kept our feet on the ground and our eyes pointing forwards, so long may it continue.

Final Autumn Qualifier at Weymouth – photo credit Georgie Altham

Along with the Worlds I did back in February, that is a wrap for 2020. It’s been strange, and I think it will continue to be so, but personally I am forever fortunate to call Laser sailing ‘a job’. I have had some fantastic coaching over the summer from James Gray, Chris Gowers and no less than Nick Thompson. The British Sailing Team may seem like a slightly opaque organisation but it really is full of the most passionate and helpful people you could find. And finally, there are two reasons I need a really, really well rigged Laser. The first is because if you’re taking on the best, every single bit of kit on-board needs to be better than theirs. The second is because a well-rigged boat is a just so enjoyable to use, it makes doing large amounts of sailing the pleasure it should be. For this, thank-you to Southeast Sailboats.