The 2023 Optimist European Championships was hosted by the Nautical Club of Thessaloniki in Greece from 15th – 22nd July. With 292 competitors from 47 countries, the event was bigger in numbers that the World Championship. One unique feature of the European Championship is that the boys and girls race separately with 166 boys split into three groups, and 126 girls split in two groups.
The four sailors representing New Zealand were Callum Hyde and Tony Li in the boys, and Greta Hutton and Isla Barker in the girls. Wade Tresadern was the Team coach. I was supporting in the Team Leader role.
The sailors preparation in Greece started with participating the last three days of the Greek Nationals which was invaluable in experiencing big fleet starts and sailing against the top international competitors. Wade then linked up with some of the other team coaches to run some training sessions for the remainder of the week leading into the start of competition. Unfortunately with a heatwave impacting much of Europe, temperatures rocketed into the 40’s and with this heat it killed all the breeze. Training was limited to evening sessions heading out on the water around 6pm to catch an hour or two of practice as the temperature dropped allowing a very light breeze to fill in.
Measurement was conducted over five days leading into the start of racing. Compared to our measurement in New Zealand, the process is incredibly thorough with every component of the boats being checked and boats weighed.
The Opening Ceremony was run out of a Naval Facility adjacent to the Yacht Club. It was an amazing experience to see all the different teams from around the World ready to get into the competition the following day.
Racing consisted of three days of qualifying races and two days of finals racing with a maximum of ten races. With the prospect of another heatwave towards the end of the week, the Race Committee decided to run three races on day one to get ahead of schedule. Winds on day one were mainly in the 6 – 9 knot range. Greta and Isla both had some good racing on day one with Greta finishing day one with a 14,34,16 in her fleet and Isla with a 28,7,UFD. Callum recorded a 35,21,34 and Tony 20,14,31.
Day two was light with some large shifts. The girls were started first, and with numerous abandoned races and difficult conditions they managed to get in two more races. Greta had a great first race nearly managing to get a race win and finished the day with a 2,27 in her fleet. Isla also had a good day with a 24,3. The boys only managed to get one race away in a dying breeze with Callum posting a 16th and Tony a 42nd.
With one more day of qualifying, the Race Committee decided to go for two more races for the girls and three more races for the boys. Again the wind was in the 6-10 kt range throughout the day. Greta sailed really well to secure 7,7 and Isla with a BFD, 5. Callum placed 33,13,21 and Tony 30,24,22 to finish out the qualifying.
At the conclusion of the qualifying series Greta and Isla both advanced to the Gold fleet even with Isla having to carry a BFD, while both Callum and Tony qualified for Silver fleet.
As I witnessed at the Worlds, the step up from the qualifying series to the Gold fleet is huge with all the top sailors coming together. Both girls sailed well, but it proved very difficult over the final two days to mix it at the front of the fleet. Greta finished the series with a 46,32,31 for a great result of 25th overall. Isla finished with a 57,49,21 for a very creditable 45th in her last Optimist event.
In the boys final series, Callum placed 37,21,3 leaving his best to last finishing 67th overall (11th Silver fleet) and Tony 34,40,29 to place 88th overall (32nd Silver fleet).
Having the privilege to be the Country Rep at the Worlds and then Team Leader at the Europeans it was great to see many of the same lessons for the New Zealand sailors coming through. The standard of sailing it is at an incredibly high level and many of the sailors performing at the front end of the fleet are competing at numerous big fleet events throughout the season against all the top competitors. While our sailors were able to put together some fantastic results over the course of the regatta, the ability to start consistently well is certainly something which is difficult to achieve given the limited exposure our sailors have at the International level. Wade did a fantastic job working on different techniques and strategies with our sailors to help develop these skills and it was nice to see the improvement from the time we arrived in Greece. The encouraging aspect again from both Worlds and Euros is that the New Zealand sailors have good speed across a variety of conditions and it is more a case of developing the starting and strategic decision making to achieve more consistent results.
The Prizegiving ceremony was a great event. The girls was won by an Italian girl, and the boys by the defending champion from Greece. This was followed up over the next few hours with all the sailors trading lifejackets and team clothing which was really cool.
The experience for our sailors to be able to compete at the top level is something very special. The friendships that they made with the other countries will last for many years to come, and something I am sure they will look back on over the years.
Finally I want to thank the parents that supported the Team at the venue which made mine and Wade’s jobs much easier. It was nice to have Andrew and Michaela, Robin, and Richard and Tina around to be able to help out with different tasks. It was a huge privilege to support our team and I am very proud of the way our sailors conducted themselves throughout the event.
Dean Barker, Team Leader