Elyse’s Travels – European Championships, Varna, Bulgaria

Finally, we are off and running! After two years of travelling up and down the east coast, finding new places to sail and helping prepare our Tokyo Olympians, it was our time to shine, and we couldn’t be more excited!

It was a last-minute ditch effort to race across the world in time for the European Championships in Varna, Bulgaria.

The 19th of September 2021 was my first international flight in nearly two years. Weirdly enough, it was nerve-wracking, not knowing what it would be like in Europe. We heard lots of things on the news with countries in lockdown. Nevertheless, I was excited and eager to return to the world stage.

After three flights, we arrived in Varna at 10 pm, and it felt like the longest day of travel I had experienced in a while. The next few days comprised of familiarising myself with the town and walking down to the yacht club, which was mainly what I had travelled there for! Although not quite the typical club you think it would be, just a few demountable buildings on the side of a pier and a fenced-off area full of boats.

Eventually, I was joined by my other teammates and superstar coach for the week, Matt Wearn. Although having a few boat troubles on the first day, he could get out and join us for some training back with more than just us, four girls! The start of the regatta brought a rude shock with a complete start line of 80 boats; my brain couldn’t yet comprehend anything that large. However, it was a chance to race on a big stage and see what had been gained and lost in temporary Covid retirement!

The days were long and COLD, sometimes waiting up to 6 hours for one race. We lost the pin boat at one point and later found it finishing in the middle of the course; maybe it was a prime time spot?

I finished 15th overall (and first Aus girl), and while this was my best result at the Euros, I was disappointed that I had missed the opportunity to finish in the top 10. While it was tough to get over, I am happy with how I sailed in such a formidable fleet and had gained quite a lot of confidence aiming for the World Championships.

I was sad to be waving goodbye to Varna; although it was full of history, its cold breath of winter was coming in fast. We needed to go somewhere warmer, well, slightly!

It was now time for the real reason we came to Europe, Lake Garda. The holy grail of outdoor activities, and when you weren’t walking a mountain or passing the beautiful vineyards on a vigorous bike ride, you were strategically positioned at a café admiring the view. After ten days of riding up and down hills, burning enough calories to eat some gelato, it was time to drive to Denia, Spain.

This was our first time as a squad driving the 1,581km across Europe! The journey took three days to complete; we were more conservative, considering this was our maiden journey. While it was all laughter and singing for the first 2 hours, silence quickly fell as members started to fall asleep. However, life was brought back when attempting to fill up the car and using a series of simple words and hand gestures to communicate to the worker at the petrol station that we were trying to pay for fuel. It’s all a bit of a laugh, really, but nothing funnier than me getting stuck in a toll booth in the middle of France. I felt sorry for the lady on the other end of the speakerphone trying to decipher what to do with a bunch of girls with no money and little reversing skills. I felt like a horse in a starting pen! Although I’m sure we could have managed to get out, the line of traffic behind us made us quite reluctant to do so.

Finally, we made it to Denia, in the middle of the pouring rain! However, we were chuffed to have made it and ready for a 10-hour sleep!! We made our way to the yacht club the next day, and our six-week training block began. We were excited to join the Dutch, and the Polish squads, whose top sailors finished first and second at the Europeans. We were definitely in good company.

We had hoped that Denia would provide light winds and flat seas; although Mother Nature is a fickle lady, she decided to do the opposite. Not that I was disappointed. I was sailing with such strong sailors; it made for good gains! We had close racing and great learnings, and we felt ready for Oman.

Oman is by far the most fascinating country I’ve ever been to. Arriving at 11 pm and then driving an hour to the hotel in the middle of the night gave me time to reflect on the journey so far, and I was slightly concerned that we were driving into the middle of the dessert. However, we made it and fell straight into bed.

We arrived a few days early before the charter to get our bearings and settle into the new time zone. We managed to catch the end of the 49er worlds and see how the sea breeze develops.
Eventually, we could get our boats and head on the water! The light breeze and hot air made it challenging mentally, but nothing a lot of water and a cool towel couldn’t fix! You also had to keep your eyes peeled for sea snakes or “snake balls”.

A few days of training had given me great confidence, and I was ready to face the world head-on, no questions asked. I knew the regatta would be long and challenging, but I was prepared to face it all. The first few days of the regatta showed my strengths; I was in it to win. I hadn’t looked at the results, but I knew I was doing well; however, the pressure of knowing I was up the front is where I became unstuck. I tried my best to forget about the results and sail-like I had, but the thought and need of gaining a better scholarship level and more funding got the better of me. Sadly, the only person that beat me was myself.

It was a disappointing end to the European trip to have started so well and fallen so short at the finishing line, because of something so simple as my mental state. Never underestimate the power of the mind! I took a lot of learnings from it, and as many have said to me, you have to be at the top to lose it, and although I lost it, upon reflection, there is confidence in knowing that I can be competitive and mix it with the top-end of the fleet.

After three months away and nothing else to give, I was happy to be returning to home soil. Nothing like breathing in fresh Aussie air after such a long time away. After another four weeks of waiting and a final 14-day hotel quarantine, I finally walked free in Perth, and nothing felt so good to be back with family and friends.

It’s a short turnaround between now and going back to Europe, but it’s a new year with new goals and a fresh perspective, so who knows what can happen? Or maybe I do!