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Two Mirror Dinghy World Championship Titles – A Story Of Mirrors & Mentorship

25th January 2015
Two Mirror Dinghy World Championship Titles – A Story Of Mirrors & Mentorship

#mirrorworlds – In 2013 Father of Mirror World Champions Michael Robinson wrote about Ryan and Michaela winning the Mirror World championships on Lough Derg. Two years later a second title has been won. Here Michael updates the story after victory at Theewaterskloof, South Africa.

I did not know at that time, if the 2013 achievement should be described as a culmination, the end of the story, or just another chapter, but I was asked me to put our family's experiences down in writing, so that they could be shared by others – so I wrote it as I saw it then. This is an account of the relationship between the Mirror Class and the Robinson family...

It seems like a long time ago now, when we first made exploratory steps into junior sailing. Our older children, Kathryn, Ricky and Brennan, had all sailed Optimists without much success and without much sparkle. It must be said that the family was a little impecunious at that time, and their equipment was not the best available, but there was more to their lack of success than just that. There was another undefinable factor. Whether it was apprehension, something a little short of fear, a lack of fun or something deeper, I am not sure, but Optimists just did not cut it for them.

So, we bought an old Mirror.

And, I mean old. We paid R200-00 (about 30 Euros or 20 Pounds) for it. It didn't look great. It had a thirty year old suit of "Fast Sails" made by a company who specialised in the manufacture of tarpaulins. There were copper ring nails (as were used in the construction of the Ark, I am sure) all over the hull. It had clearly been built in the pre-epoxy era, and every seam was shaky.

Ricky and Brennan, then about ten and eleven, set about sprucing it up with relish. They found a half empty tin of swimming pool paint that had the word "polyurethane" somewhere on the label, and we ended up with a reasonably badly painted blue and white Mirror, with really badly blown sails. A strip of duct tape was stuck down the leech to try and encourage some shape in a sail which was decades past its sell-by date.

The South African Junior National Championships that year, were the first where boats other than Optimists and Dabchicks were invited. Brennan sailed the blue Mirror with his little Boskop Yacht Club friend Sean, who still sails with the family from time to time. This regatta was Kathryn and Ricky's last in Optimists.

Ricky and Brennan sailed the old blue Mirror in their first Mirror Nationals at the ages of 11 and 12. They asked whether they could have some new sails to replace the black duct taped leech set, but were told that new sails would only come their way if they cracked the top ten.

Up to this point, our children's sailing had not cost much – but that was going to change!

They did not make the top ten. They finished eleventh. Father heaved a sigh of relief. The cost of a set of sails was going to be pushing what was then a very skinny budget. But they had lost places in one race because a knot that Father had tied had come loose. So, they applied to Mother for redress, and the next thing we knew, there was a nice set of Harry Ellens's best, hanging from the gaff.

Each time they sailed the old blue Mirror, their confidence grew. It was a complete turnaround from the family's experience in Optimists. It seemed that they were making each other brave, and were feeding on each other's enthusiasm. Brennan, the younger, and the less dexterous of the two was the helmsman, with Ricky, the crew and tactician. The combination was a masterstroke. Ricky immediately took on the mantle of the de-facto mentor, while Brennan had the confidence boost that came with holding the stick.

So confident had they become, that one day they approached their father to ask if they could enter the selections for the Mirror Worlds in Tanzania.

With the family's budget just having recovered from the new sails, and with the likelihood of them being selected in the old boat very slim, even remote, and with Mother menacingly watching every move, Father gave the go ahead. After all, what harm could it do? In the unlikely event of them being selected, one could drive from Carletonville to Tanzania with a Mirror on the roof.

(If, you are wondering where Jim found the temerity to insist that I write this all down, it is because he was at that regatta. This was where we first met him. He saw the old blue boat first hand, and has followed the story ever since. Cormac, on the other hand, knew this bunch intimately before he exiled himself back to Ireland – hence his right to know!)

And, lo and behold, they were selected. Theirs was the fifth name to be announced in the team to go to the Mirror worlds. Father sat, awed, not only by his sons' achievement, but also by the apparent dyslexia of the chairman of the South African Mirror Class Association, an Afrikaans gentleman, who kept on referring to Tanzania as Tasmania.

It turned out that dyslexia was not at issue here. And obviously, the decision to school the children in Carletonville was now severely in the spotlight.

"Do you have any concept where Tasmania is? Do you have any idea what this will cost?" 

"Dad, it always was Tasmania. You just don't listen properly!"

And again, they applied to Mother for redress. And, again, got it!

This, by the way, has been a recurring theme.

Fuad Jacobs was commissioned to build a new racing Mirror. A stunning looking boat, pretty as a piece of furniture, and christened African Express after the Fireball that Mother and Father had sailed together. Harry Ellens's sails just had to do, the budget would not stretch to new sails as well. The boys got hold of a copy of the book "Mirror Racing" by Guy Wilkins, and spent hours fitting the boat out and setting it up exactly as the book said.

Before they left, in fact it was on the way to the airport, just after Father had handed over the family credit card with instructions to use it in the case of emergency only, that they were given the instruction to meet people and make friends.

The two little boys from Carletonville, on their way to a place on the other side of the world, to compete in a regatta against the best Mirror sailors in the world, were justifiably apprehensive. They asked how he expected them to do that. Father had to think on his feet (as fathers often have to do, I am sure) and the best he could come up with was a vague strategy: After each race, go and find the winner. Shake his hand and say, "We are Ricky and Brennan from South Africa. Congratulations on your win." And see what happens.

After the first race in the pre-world regatta, they went up to the winner and said "We are Ricky and Brennan from South Africa. Congratulations on your win." He said, "Hi. I am Guy Wilkins."

That rather contrived meeting with the author of their sailing Bible, was the beginning of the first of many friendships that this family has built up with really nice people all over the world. Some of them have gone on to do amazing things in the world of yachting, like Olympic representation and world championship medals, and some are just good friends. The Facebook pages are littered with sailing friends from all over the world – all starting with that simple introduction.

Ricky and Brennan did not do badly in that regatta, and sailed one more Mirror Worlds together in Sweden, after which, their weight combination was just too much for the Mirror.

They had started sailing 420s alongside the Mirror, and in fact sailed in three Youth World Championships together, with Ricky on the helm this time. Ricky has become a formidable helmsman, eventually helming the Royal Natal Yacht Club entry to victory in the Lipton Cup. At his side, as tactician was Brennan, an excellent crew, but a very good helmsman in his own right. Not bad for two little boys who just could not make it happen as single handed sailors.

Ryan (nine years younger than Brennan) had his first experience in Mirror Racing at the twenty four hour race at Milnerton Aquatic club, sailing as part of a family challenge, but he was always destined to sail with his hero, Ricky. Kathryn commissioned a wooden hull from Steve Du Toit, South Africa's foremost dinghy builder, and it was game on. She (the boat that is) was stunning, and was christened (in keeping with Ricky's new status of "university student") Mirrorjuana.

Brennan took over sole control of African Express, but Michaela Mae, then only about seven years old, was just too small for the Port Elizabeth worlds. He sailed with young Julian. Ryan got to sail with Ricky.

And that is where the mentorship started in earnest.

Mirrorjuana's history is a little chequered. She was collected from Steve du Toit immediately before the Selection regatta for the Port Elizabeth worlds. Ricky, with Ryan (then about ten or eleven) as his crew, won the selection regatta, with Brennan and Julian close behind. No sooner had the little boat showed its potential, when it fell off the trailer on the way home. The newly acquired boat straps just did not have the same staying ability as the Mirror. So off she went, back to Steve for a rebuild.

The Port Elizabeth Mirror Worlds were interesting. The city had put on her finest clothes for the occasion, the organisation was superb and a whole lot of friends that Ricky and Brennan had made in Tasmania and Sweden arrived. All five of the children were there, so the capacity to make friends was multiplied. With these five interacting with the existing friends from Tasmania and Sweden, and the new arrivals, the family's circle of Mirror friends grew exponentially. One of these friends was Johnny McGovern, who was press ganged into being the South African team coach, for the rather dubious privilege of spending some time with the Robinson family.

Ryan was a little boy. Not particularly athletic, with an air of trepidation about him. The one thing he had going for him though, was his adoration of Ricky. There was nothing that he would not do to earn the respect of his hero.

Brennan, who had always been earmarked as the ship's secretary, remarkably, started to live out his aptitude for tinkering. (One does not perform engineering on a Mirror – one tinkers.) African Express slowly converted into a minor masterpiece of expertly spliced twine on intricate multi purchase gadgets.

It was a great family time. The three students enjoying the pleasures of their young adulthood with the friends that they had built up over the previous years, and the B team, being drawn into that circle when appropriate, and back to the Mom and Dad comfort zone when the going got tough (or inappropriate, as the case may be).

And the transfer of knowledge was well on the way. Ryan hung on to every word that Ricky said. Johnny was amazingly patient and explained endless intricacies that Ryan pretended to grasp. Brennan had an entourage of girls following him, but the most persistent of all was a seven year old, with a haircut that made her look like a mushroom. She stuck to him like a leech, always carrying a piece of line, practicing knots that he was teaching her.

And the results were not bad. African Express around eleventh, and Mirrorjuana around fifth.

Somehow, the Mirror Worlds in Wales sneaked by unnoticed. And with the family budget being as unpredictable as always, it's probably just as well. There may have had to be a call to be made between University Fees and Airfares, and with Mother on the redress panel, who knows where that may have ended.

Ricky and Brennan were now sailing 470s, and anything else they could lay their hands on, and were helping with the training of youngsters in the various junior fleets in South Africa. Kathryn was making a name for herself as a keelboat crew. But when it came to Mirrors, there were some changes in the air.

Michaela Mae declared herself Brennan's crew. There is no certainty about what Kathryn may have thought of her chances of becoming the crew on African Express, but if she had any ambitions, they were shredded by this bold move. She was destined to fill the role of substitute crew 

Ricky was now approaching the top of the class as a helmsman, and should have been assessing his chances at a medal at the up-coming Mirror Worlds in Albany. He chose instead, to take up the position that he held when he and Brennan started out, at the front of the boat, and hand the tiller over to young Ryan. This decision was pivotal – and was the cornerstone behind the future success. 

Ricky and Brennan's decision to take the time out of their other sailing stuff, to spend time sailing with, and mentoring their younger siblings, was the decisive moment in the development of Ryan and Michaela into a winning combination.

And each had his challenges. Brennan had to help Michaela overcome her fear of heavy weather, and teach a really little girl the skills required to be a successful crew in a World Championship regatta. Ricky had to find ways to instil confidence into Ryan, while transferring to him as much skill and understanding as Ryan could absorb. And this all had to happen against the background of Father's insistence that they always treat each other with respect, and that the sailing always had to be fun.

And each had a different perspective and skill set to pass on. From Brennan, Michaela learnt a passion for knots and splicing, learnt the art of flying a spinnaker, upped her concentrations levels and learned to focus on the job at hand until its conclusion. Ryan learned about intensive helming, boat speed, surfing and sail trim. And both learnt about the art and science of yacht racing, from tactics at the start through to covering up the last beat. With Michaela being three years the junior, she was learning at a slightly more basic level, but there were no excuses made for her youth. She had committed to the plan, and she was held to her commitment.

African Express and Mirrorjuana were duly selected for the Mirror worlds in Albany, Australia.

Then came the curved ball. The family was given the opportunity to sail together in the Cape to Rio race, on a boat lent to them for a case of beer. Common sense said that the Rio Race should take precedence. The budget agreed with the common sense approach, and Father made the proposal that the Mirror Worlds in Albany should be taken off the family agenda.


Again, they appealed to Mother for redress. Again, redress was granted.

So while Mom Dad and Kathryn made ready for the Rio race, Ryan and Michaela set off for Albany in the company, care and custody of their older brothers.

And it worked out well.

African Express, by now an old lady, in a fleet of shiny new glass fibre Mirrors, had a few breakages, one of which was the new aluminium boom, which broke early on in the game, only to be replaced by the original wooden boom, which she still sports to this day. Another was a critical failure to the vang in the closing stages of the event, which resulted in Brennan and his intrepid little crew logging around eleventh overall.

Mirrorjuana, on the other hand, revelled in her new crew format. Ryan was nicknamed "Pocket Rocket", and he and Ricky left Australia well satisfied with their fourth place. And, of course, they broadened their circle of Mirror friends, with Ryan and Michaela bringing a new generation into the circle.

There was a logic developing here. The next step needed to be to set the little ones free to fend for themselves in the Mirror fleet. And so it was that Ryan and Michaela teamed up for the Lough Derg Mirror Worlds.

The build-up was quite hectic, with Michaela sailing her Oppie with some success, and Ryan trying his hand at following in his brothers' footsteps on a 420. Ricky and Brennan were always closely involved in the sailing activities of the younger siblings, notwithstanding their studies, their 470 aspirations and their involvement in what eventually turned out to be a successful Lipton Cup campaign.

As it happened, Ryan and his pal Dominic, were selected to represent South Africa in the ISAF Youth Worlds in Cyprus, which ended the day before the Irish Nationals started. Michaela, in turn, was selected to sail In the South African Optimist team at the African Optimist Championships in Langebaan, which literally started five days after the Mirror Worlds ended.

I am sure that the thought of a new glass fibre Mirror crossed a mind or two. I am sure that the spars and foils were examined with a view to being replaced. I know that the sails were at least three years old. But, the budgetary pressure occasioned by the simultaneous realisation of all these ambitions was clear, even to the youngest of the team.

The Irish Mirror Worlds were going to have to be contended in a seven year old rebuilt wooden boat, with the existing spars, foils and sails.

Nobody even thought of redress. I think that even Mother realised that if redress was granted, it may impact on her chances of accompanying the expedition to Cyprus and Ireland.

Ryan and Dom took a bit of a pasting at the Youth Worlds, and Michaela was on hand to witness the humble pie being chewed, as the reality of just how fierce the competition on a global scale really is, set in.

And that was the reality that they had to face, when they arrived in Ireland. Not the hottest boat in the fleet. No new equipment. Ryan nursing a severely bruised self-confidence, and Michaela watching surreptitiously out of the corner of her eye, to see if he would pick up, or fold completely. And the luggage was lost!

Two things conspired to get things on track during the course of the Irish Nationals. The first was Michaela's indomitable nature. Ryan had no choice but to buck up, and keep up with her as she set them up in the routine that Brennan had taught her. Check every fitting. Check the rake. Foils. Sails. Rig tension. Water in the hatches.

The second was the joy of running into their old friends, and the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a whole lot of new friends. Vastly different from the stiff relationships encountered at the Youth Worlds. Very soon, it was clear that they were in a comfort zone. They were lent gear by people that they had never met before, until the luggage arrived. And they were absorbed into the Mirror community.

By the end of the Irish Nationals, the team seemed to be on track.

They stuck to the concept of the routine for the whole regatta – right up to the last race. A pre-launch routine. A pre-start routine. A post-race debrief chat on the water. A de-rigging routine. And in that routine, they found confidence, especially, when the results started to look good.

In the switchy conditions that prevailed, it was clear that consistency was going to be important, and that conservative sailing was going to be the key. Father thought he had got the three pronged theme of confident conservative consistency embedded in their combined being, when suddenly it became apparent that Confidence had suddenly over taken the other two prongs.

Heading out to the start on the second or third day of the worlds, on a support boat, it was clear, in the distance that the race had just started. An SMS message arrives from South Africa: "Port Start?" Father's response: "Please no!" Rosanna, the pretty driver of the RIB pressed the pedal to the metal, and the rib got there just in time to witness Ryan and Michaela crossing the entire 91 boat fleet on port in 20 knots of breeze. Clearly, the Mojo had been found.

The rest, as they say, is history.

This is an interview done at that time....

Question: At what point did you realise you had victory in the bag?

Ryan Robinson: We went into the last day with all to play for. Three points ahead of second (the "Philippinos"). Luckily we were discarding a 9th and a 10th while the Philippines Team were discarding a 33 and a DNC. We managed to beat the Philippines Team in the second last race by a few places.

Then the last race came with a few boats being black flagged and... We were one of them!

This meant that if the Philippines Team won the last race, they would get the title. While leaving the race area, with our tails in between our legs, a friend of ours, sailing for Ireland, came past us and screamed "Guys you've won, the Philippines also got a black flag!"

As true as Bob, he was right!

Michaela jumped straight into the water, and a feeling of total relief flowed over me. Then total elation!

And if there was any disadvantage to sailing the older wooden boat, it was not evident. Mind you, it must be noted that Ricky and Brennan were meticulous in the way they looked after and stored the Mirror equipment, and ensured that Ryan and Michaela followed suit, which had the effect of enhancing the longevity.

From the earliest days, when Brennan helmed, and Ricky crewed, it was clear that a proper team had at its disposal the sum of the intellects of the crew members, as opposed to the intellect of the skipper supplemented occasionally by snippets that he allowed from the crew. It seems that when this teamwork is supplemented by the transfer of knowledge, skills and experience by way of both deed and word, that anything is possible.

And that, I hoped, was the story that Cormac and Jim wanted me to record.

Of Mirrors and mentorship.

It was a special moment, and one that needed to be savoured, because moments like that are hard to come by.

In that conclusion, I asked: "Was this the end of the story? Or just another chapter? Does logic dictate that Ryan will be crewing for Michaela at the Mirror Worlds at Theewaterskloof?"

Time, no doubt, would tell. And it surely did.

After the Irish dust had settled, Ryan had 420 things to do. There was an ISAF Youth Worlds coming up, and all his focus went in that direction. Michaela decided that she would be comfortable on the helm of the Mirror, and press ganged Kathryn (the substitute crew) into service. With the confidence that came from having her indomitable sister with her, and under pressure to impress her other siblings, Michaela won the next South African Nationals, and then proceeded to sail almost everything she could lay her hands on for the next few months.

Mirrorjuana was neatly packed away, ready to be called back into service at a moment's notice.

It must have been a rush of blood that caused Father to buy Ciao Bella – the 35ft Simonis that the family had sailed to Rio from Cape Town, just after the Albany Mirror Worlds. That race was on again, and the family was all still young enough and keen enough to give it another bash. Dinghy sailing had to fit in with the refurbishment and preparation for the Rio race.

It is important to tell about the second Rio race, when discussing mentorship, because Ryan and Michaela were older and more mature the second time around. And the race was a lot more difficult.

This is part of what Mother wrote after the race:

"The fierce start of the race tested not only the boat and the abilities of the crew, but also the fibre of what holds a family together. Fifty knots of wind and fifteen metre swells, with horizontal rain and foaming crests should leave a memory of fear and dread. For me though, the memory is of the oldest three taking control of the situation, and moving into the decision making role on the boat with a level of confidence that did not countenance fear from their younger siblings. The memory is of the younger two finding their sea legs and being inspired by their elders – of moments of quiet words between Ricky and Ryan, of Brennan taking Michaela on deck on the second morning and leading her through processes involved in sailing in really heavy weather, and of Kathryn setting the example by simply being indomitable."

The 22 days together at sea, directly and unconsciously absorbing skills from one another cannot be overlooked or underrated.

And it was during that trip that it became clear that Michaela was ready to take the helm – if Ryan had what it took to be her crew!

Ryan could be described as a cerebral sailor, whose intellect it supplemented by his tenacity and quiet perseverance. Michaela has been described as feisty and is a bit of a firebrand. Two more different characters you could not wish to meet. And the old rule was still in force, no matter how difficult compliance may seem. It all had to happen against the background of Father's insistence that they always treat each other with respect, and that the sailing always had to be fun. 


Michaela and Ryan in South Africa. Photo: courtesy Trevor Wilkins

There was a tight rope that needed to be walked, balancing between Michaela being able to express her skills and independence and Ryan having enough authority in their partnership to ensure that his advice was followed and his skills transferred to Michaela. And there was another little issue – one that very few people who see the brave Michaela face would believe - Michaela was not particularly confident in strong wind.

By the time April arrived, Ryan was in full swing with his preparations for the Youth Worlds but had to climb down from the giddy heights of being the selected 420 helm, to crew for his little sister at the Mirror Nationals and selection regatta at Theewaterskloof. They won the regatta, but there was still a lot of work to do. Sometimes the tensions on the boat were palpable.

Ryan changed focus to the Youth Worlds, and Michaela was asked to crew on the Royal Natal Yacht Club Lipton Cup Challenger which was under the charge of her idol and older sibling, Brennan. But, they kept on getting back together on the Mirror, and slowly, the interpersonal relationships were getting sorted out. Ryan had a debt of honour, based on what Ricky had done in Albany four or so years earlier, and worked hard at establishing a workable relationship.

The two resorted to the tried and tested formula of finding confidence in routine, and added to their existing routine, a post-race moment when any harsh words said during a race, were addressed on the water before the start of the next race, or before coming ashore. They became very open about their disagreements on the water, and discussed the disagreements with both parents and the siblings, invariably ending the explanation with words like: "But we have talked it through and have apologised to each other on the water." 

As the Theewaterskloof Worlds came closer, so the Mirror sailing became more intense. The two went off to Theewaterskloof to spend a week practicing while Brennan was sailing the inter-varsity regatta at the same venue. Ricky and Brennan had acquired a 505, and sailed their first regatta in this class at the Theewaterskloof leg of the regional Grand Slam series, part of the Mirror build up.

And Ryan and Michaela lost in that same event, to the Vivier twins.

It had been a while since anyone in the family had been beaten in a Mirror class regatta, and, the reminder that the Vivier boys are a class act, and the fact that they would be joined at the worlds by a few other top South African teams, made it clear that some additional preparation was going to be required. And, a strategy was needed to cope with the build-up of pressure that came with the expectations that surrounded the concept of "defending champions."

The strategy was two-fold. Firstly a step back from the Mirror for a while – with Ryan and Michaela sailing separately in the Youth Nationals. Michaela sailed a 420 with her friend Benji, who, I am pleased to report did not require counselling after the experience. Ryan sailed a Dabchick, and won the trophy that his mother had won 40 years previously, and which his hero Ricky had won 10 years earlier. For them it was a low pressure social regatta, sailed at a familiar venue and amongst friends that they had built up over all their years of sailing.

The second leg of the strategy was a little more complex. Based on the ineptitude of their parents, the initial family goal in any regatta was half way up the fleet. This became known as the Wanker Line. Because there was a secondary goal to winning at any event, the pressure to win was reduced, and the emphasis could be on enjoyment, with the Wanker Line target providing just enough pressure to keep the competitive juices active.

Following that train of thought, and assuming that consistency was going to be key to the successful completion of the regatta, the decision was made to establish a consistency quadrant – the position in the fleet that needed to be achieved consistently, in order for a bit of luck at the right moment to bring about a happy outcome.

So, the word "win" was dropped from all conversation, and "consistency" became king.

A quiet Christmas at home, with all the family there – some words of wisdom from Ricky and Brennan, and off we went. Mirror on the roof. Holiday 23 behind. And Kathryn on hand as the main support.

I said when writing about the event in Ireland a few years before, that they had experienced "the joy of running into their old friends, and the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a whole lot of new friends." This was absolutely true again at Theewaterskloof. Very soon, again, it was clear that they were in a comfort zone.

And the mentorship took another turn. Ryan and Michaela set about setting up their friends' Mirrors to all the settings that the family had worked out over the years. Very soon, there were a whole number of boats set up to the same rake, rig tension and sail settings as Mirrorjuana.

The pre-worlds started with a stutter, and a bit of a squabble on the water – and the inevitable disappointing result. The routine kicked in. The harsh words were discussed in the post-race moment, and the issues were addressed. In race 2, the mojo returned, and the first win of the event was recorded. The consistency quadrant was set at 7, and was achieved in every race. Even though the wind was heavy for most of the races, Michaela did not baulk – the team seemed fine in a strong South Easter.

But things were still not settled. Michaela offered Ryan the helm, with the explanation that this may be his last Mirror Worlds. Ryan offered to drive, to take the pressure of expectation off Michaela's shoulders. And when talk started about the superstition that a win in the pre-worlds spelt disaster for the results in the main event......

There were moments of deep conversation with Kathryn, and a number of quiet calls to Ricky and Brennan – and who would helm in the Worlds was all up in the air until the morning of the last races of the Africans. 

Ryan said simply: "We have come this far with this plan – we must just see it through."

With that settled, all the routines in place, and the consistency quadrant system ostensibly working, they had a great last day, and ended up winning by 4 points from their closest rivals and close friends, with the Vivier boys looming large in third place. 

With the New year celebrations done and dusted, and a lay day spent exploring Cape Town with the Bellfield family, the emphasis moved on to the Worlds.

And there were a few new challengers in the mix – some serious South African hot shots had joined the fray.

The need for calm was clear. Shelter was found in the established routine 

The consistency quadrant was set at 9. Easy meat – no pressure.

The routine kicked in at 07h00 each morning, with a run and a stretch and a strategy chat with which ever South African participants wanted to be there. The breakfast and on the water snacks and drinks preparation routine became rigid. The boat check and rigging routine became as much a shield against pre-race conversational pressure, as it was a method of ensuring continuity of performance. The pre-start routine and the post-race routine were followed with almost religious fervour. And the more items that were included in the various routines, the less variables there were to deal with in the racing, and the calmer things became.

And the routine worked right from the beginning. The first two races saw huge disparities in the positions achieved by the leaders of the Africans/Pre-Worlds. Mirrorjuana's 4 and 1 compared comfortably to the Australian 16 and 12, the GBR 1 and 14, the GBR 9 and 5 and the Vivier Twins 17 and 2.

And it looked like the consistency quadrant, set at 9, was doing the job of taking performance anxiety out of the equation 

But, there was more to it than that. In many of the races Mirrorjuana rounded the first weather mark well outside of the consistency quadrant. Somehow, the two always found the tenacity, tactics and technique to get back into contention. Even when Michaela was sailing with a fever, they managed to stay within (or in one case very close to) the magical number 9. The consistency meant that one DNF, due to a main halyard failure, could be discarded, and that they effectively won the regatta with a day to spare.

Of course this records many of the things that a father could hope to see in his children. Tenacity, courage, commitment, siblings working together, grace, friendliness and all the good things which are a source of pride. But, more and more, I am starting to see the point made by Jim and Cormac and more recently by Grant.

The value of sailing as a family activity needs to be emphasised, as does the value of family in the sport of sailing. Mentorship as a method of transferring knowledge, (not necessarily even only in sailing), needs to be revisited.

But mostly, it is important to record the friendships made and the joy experienced in this very special sport – and the role that this very special little boat has played in those friendships and that joy.

Published in Mirror Team

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