A new youth initiative from the British Finn class has been established to enable aspiring young sailors make the transition from local fleets to international competition by providing a range of training and funding opportunities. This past week the GAC Pindar sponsored U23 squad have been training at the Weymouth & Portland Sailing Academy, ahead of next month’s U23 Finn World Championship in Aarhus, Denmark.
The U23 squad consists of six sailors between the ages of 16 and 19 and is coached by former British Sailing Team member James Hadden. The inspiration for the project came from the British Finn Association (BFA) trying to provide a structured pathway for young sailors who outgrow classes such as the Laser (more than 90kg) to continue into the Finn class at a high level.
The BFA squad provides the U23 squad with training and various funding to compete at a limited number of events, with the key objective being to achieve high-level results at the Under 23 World Championship. For the successful sailors it also represents a possible route into the national team.
The 2016 squad has been formed with six sailors: Jack Arnell (18), Markus Bettum (19), Callum Dixon (16), Matt Stevens (19), Joe Stocker (18) and Cameron Tweedle (17).
The sailors come from a diverse range of sailing backgrounds, are from 92 to 110 kg in weight, and around 190-200 cm in height. All are too big to sail anything else at this level and are committed to the programme that the BFA has established. All of them have at least four more years at U23 level – the youngest has eight years – so there is plenty of scope to develop and create the champions of the future.
Last week in Weymouth the squad had a great week of training and sailing in a mix of conditions, and were joined by some of the National Team. It proved great preparation for July’s Finn Silver Cup (the U23 World Championship) in Denmark at which all six will compete alongside two British Sailing Team sailors, Henry Wetherell and Hector Simpson, in a fleet of around 40 of the world’s best young Finn sailors.
James Hadden said of the week, “The training camp was all about preparing for the Under 23 Worlds. We spent the week working on improving speed, and continuing their fitness development. We were lucky to have the British Sailing Team Podium Potential squad members join in for the week as well so the lads got a chance to line up against some experienced fast sailors, like Pete McCoy. It was encouraging to see the lads were pushing the PP sailors hard all week in a variety of conditions. The team are already very close and work really well with each other.”
Bettum says he learned a lot from the training camp and that he expects to benefit enormously from being included in the squad. “I thought the training camp was extremely beneficial for me. I got to work on all my weak points and got to train in a fantastic and friendly environment, which definitely sped up the learning process. The coaching was very high quality and I got plenty of attention, which helped me to improve.”
“I think the programme as a whole is fantastic and it offers a great path for young sailors who are too heavy for other classes. I think I will keep on improving with the help of this programme and I'm sure other young British sailors will as well.”
Recently, the squad underwent a physical assessment from Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR strength and conditioning team. The squad were joined by their coach James Hadden and the U23 programme coordinator, Ray New, at the impressive BAR headquarters in Portsmouth, UK.
The young sailors were each put through five separate tests for nearly two hours, each designed to test their Finn specific fitness. The sailors received a detailed assessment of their physical condition with pointers on areas to concentrate on. The fitness team also works closely with Giles Scott, so know exactly the strengths and techniques required by top Finn sailors and passed on invaluable training tips to the U23 squad.
"The visit to BAR was fantastic both in terms of learning and improving physically but also as an inspiration; it is a great privilege to be invited to train at the gym for the day and also too meet some of the team," commented Tweedle.
Arnell said, "It was such a nice day to go down to team BAR, and it was great to see the guys again. I thought the training was tough but really enjoyed the effort. I learned that it is such an explosive sport and I have taken lots from the fitness test - overall I really enjoyed myself.”
Hadden added, “The fitness testing at BAR certainly helped as a team building exercise as well.”
BFA Chairman John Heyes said youth development is a key aim of the Finn class. “It was my stated ambition when elected that we should develop our young Finn sailors. Whilst some youngsters are lucky enough to be fast-tracked into the RYA development squads directly from their youth classes, others are not so fortunate and find it hard to gain the necessary international competition to break through to the next level. We discussed our plans with the RYA Finn coaches who were very supportive and promised to keep an eye on any rising stars for inclusion in the National Team."
“I am really pleased that we have top coaching support from James Hadden, while GAC Pindar have generously supported the team with technical clothing from Zhik, who also kindly provided additional sponsorship.”
“Hopefully the scheme will grow and will encourage and support more young athletes sailing the Finn.”
In addition, the BFA provides a grant of £500 each for the top two U23 sailors in the British Travellers Trophy Series, which is largely funded by selling Personal Sail Numbers to the wider fleet. An application has also been made for a Sport England grant to obtain a one-time grant to fund the 2017 programme, which will begin as soon as the 2016 U23 World Championship is complete.
The programme is being coordinated by Ray New of the British Finn Association and any U23 sailors interested in sailing a Finn should contact [email protected]