Thomas Cooper – 2023 Campaign – A Sailing Development Journey

I was selected for the Australian Optimist Sailing Team (AOST) to represent Australia at the 2023 European Optimist Championship in Thessaloniki, Greece.

I saw the opportunity this event would give me and with the support of my family, club, and coaches, I started to prepare my 2023 Sailing Campaign.

AOST Camp and Victorian Youth Championship

In April 2023, the sailors selected for AOST were invited to an Australian International Optimist Dinghy Association camp hosted by Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club (SSCBC) in Victoria, followed by the Victorian Youth Championship. During the camp, sailors selected to represent Australia at different international events, formed friendships, learned to function together, and got to know the coach who would travel with them. At the end of the camp, each sailor received an Australian bib, specially designed for the AOST and AODS (Australian Optimist Development Squad).

The sailing conditions during the championship were light winds with a strong in and outgoing tide. These conditions were unfamiliar to me, and I didn’t make the best decisions on water. The strong tides come into Port Philip Bay and SSCBC because of the narrow inlet that allows water to flow through. Safe to say, I learnt more about the tide, current, and how to cope with those conditions.

East Coast Regatta (ECR)

I was lucky to be able to participate in the ECR, Sydney in June 2023 whilst being hosted by a local family whose sailor was also selected for the European Championship. The conditions at St Georges River Yacht Club were below 10 kts, mostly below 6 kts. I took some risks that were unnecessary for the light winds we were given, these risks included being over the start line in one of the races. Being away from my family taught me to be independent with my rigging, cleaning, and packing up my gear.

And I now know not to pack any sharp objects in my hand luggage!     Sorry for losing the sailing scissors Dad😉

Pre-European Championship Training (Denmark and Greece)

The weeks leading up to the Europeans were used to do training, fitness, and other preparations. Whilst I was in Denmark meeting up with family, opportunities arose to sail at Skovshoved Sejlklub. Skovshoved Sejlklub and Kongelig Danske Yachtklub have an alliance with Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club, so I was able to do my training with them. Special thanks to Finn for coaching me on the water.

My coach in Greece was Dave White. Dave is the Head Coach at SSCBC and AIODA, he also coached me at the AOST camp and Victorian Youth Championships. We had three training days including the practice races. Most of the sailors competed in the practice races with a short start line, so things got chaotic. Majority of the sailors were over, so it didn’t give others a chance to test their start line skills.

European Championship

The European Championship went for 5 days along with an opening and closing ceremony. The conditions were like the East Coast Regatta, light winds with choppy waves. The dirty air at the back of the fleet slowed you down too, so you had to have a clear lane with good boat speed to power over the waves. Because of the short start line and the fierce competition, it was often hard to find a clear lane off the start. This meant you had to push the line to make sure you were on the front row, however this also came with the risk of being over – which I ended up being twice. 

Overall reflection and forward look

It has been a busy few months for me sailing and I have learnt a lot from training and racing in different places and with different competitors. Special thanks to David, Heidi, Lottie, and Zac and my mum, (who was the team leader in Greece) for great teamwork.

Thanks to my family who always supports me and the Ron Tough Yachting Foundation and RFBYC for getting behind this campaign as well.