Zac Littlewood – 2022 Sailing Report

I started the year training in champagne conditions out of Perth, before flying to Sydney for a four-week block under Rafa Trujilo, our new Australian Sailing Laser coach. We had the whole squad there, 5-6 days a week on water in the lead up to leaving for our first World Cup of the season in Palma de Mallorca. Unfortunately, in the last week of training I had a crash on water and injured my back. I had great support and managed what I could in the lead up to Palma and was raring to go a few weeks later. However, two days before the event started, I got COVID so was unable to compete in the event. It was a bit upsetting with the timing of getting COVID, but the next World Cup was in Hyeres, France three weeks later. I started getting back into exercise a bit too early and ended up with some issues related to my heart and spent the weeks leading into Hyeres getting checks at hospitals in France and doing what I could to compete. Luckily, the team doctors gave me approval so I competed.

I started the event well, winning the first race and placing myself in the Top 20 going into Final series. However, I didn’t race well along with suffering some bad post-covid symptoms and struggled to get through the last two days of finals racing and ended up finishing 35th. After Hyeres, the team went to Lake Garda, Italy for a training camp before flying to Senior Worlds in Mexico. Garda has some of the best sailing, cycling, food, gym that I’ve ever done, so it was a great lead up to try and gain my fitness back and recover before the peak event of the year.

Mexico Worlds can be summed up as a big learning experience. I ended Day 1 in the protest room for a port starboard on the first race. I was disqualified, and the following day I didn’t sail my best and on the fourth race I was over the line, so I received another disqualification in qualifying series. This made it extremely difficult to qualify for gold fleet (Top 55). I ended up qualifying in silver fleet for the event. I can go back to reasons why the three events didn’t go my way, but I knew I just needed to get my health and fitness sorted and everything would work out.

The following months consisted of training at home and getting myself back to the fitness level I was at the start of the year. I went back to Europe in July and spent 5 weeks in Marseille, where the 2024 Olympic Games will be held. We were training with the Top 50 in the World and competed in an exclusive coach’s regatta where I placed, 25th. I felt like I was back on track and continued to train in Europe, where we travelled to Belgium which is near the venue for the 2023 World Championships. After this, the team went back to Australia for another month of training preparing for the Senior European Championships in November. This was the second peak event of the year and was my chance to make a comeback this year and show the improvements I’ve made since Mexico Worlds.

It was odd to have an event in November, especially in South France but I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity at competing. We arrived in Hyeres, 8 days before competition and surprisingly enough it was warm with light winds. I felt competent and was raring to go with the forecast for the first few days, cold and windy. In the first 3 days of qualifying, I posted a race win along with some mid fleet scores which I wasn’t happy about. I was getting into trouble with Rule 42, hitting marks (doing lots of penalties) and wasn’t sailing clean. However, for the first time since Worlds earlier in the year, I qualified for gold fleet in 35th. The finals series consisted of, 4-12 knot onshore breeze which was some of the hardest decisions you’d have to make in relations to upwind strategy. I managed it well and rounded most races in the Top 15, with a decent final’s score card going into the last day.

The last day of finals racing consisted of 0-6 knots, so we waited onshore then on water for most of the day. The race committee sent all the fleets in, except gold fleet men an hour before last warning signal. By this stage, there was no wind, so half the gold fleet men were on the tow in. 15mins before last warning signal, the flags went up and the race committee attempted to start the race. 5-10 knots filled the course, and half the fleet were frantically towing back to the course for the start. The race started with everyone crossing my bow at the Pinn end. I chipped up through the fleet to be positioned left going up the first beat. I managed to pop out first at the top mark and lead the fleet until the downwind where I got overtaken. I had a decent second beat but lost again on the downwind and finished 7th in the race.

This race bumped me up to 14th overall at the Senior Europeans. It’s a result, not near my best but one I’m happy with considering how the season has panned out. It was quite a mental battle this year, questioning if it was sickness or sailing ability that was the issue, so it’s satisfying to see that putting in the hours in getting my health and fitness back, was a major part of this result. This season wouldn’t have been possible without the support of RFBYC along with my support team at WAIS and Australian Sailing Team. The support received after the start of the year, was a major part in the way I was able to come back and put a result on the board, 5 months later.

The next two months, the Laser Team will be doing Nationals, Sail Melbourne and a month training in Adelaide, in preparation for the 2024 World Championships. We will then travel to Andora, for the 2023 European Championships and then Palma and Hyeres, for two World Cup events.