Preparing for Olympic Sailing Marathon

Published on January 14th, 2020

by Jonathan McKee, Sailing World
The moon has set, and now it’s really dark. My partner and I have been racing for 46 hours straight. We’re beating against the fabled Mistral wind, toward the coast of France and the final turning mark off Camargue. I’m incredibly tired after two days of relentless ocean racing, with only two of us on board our cramped craft.

Competitors from six other countries are in sight. We’ve been dueling with the Australians right next to us for the past six hours. I’m trying to determine how much the current is going to set us and keep thinking, “We really have to nail the layline to the turning mark. Two more tacks would be devastating. Overstanding would open the door to the Brits and Japanese to our west.”

But I am so tired. Only five more hours to go.

I’m trying to keep a light grip on the tiller extension as I feather against the increasing gusts. The jib is too tight now. This Mistral is stronger as we sail closer to the coast. Time to put a reef in the mainsail, which means time to wake my teammate. She’s exhausted after steering all last night, but she wants that gold medal just as much as I do. It’s within our capability. If we can only concentrate.

This is not some far-flung fantasy. This is the 2024 Olympic regatta, which will include for the first time an offshore, mixed-­gender endurance event. This is an entirely new sailing ­discipline for most of us.

The 30-foot keelboats for this discipline will be provided one‑designs, so the racing is guaranteed to be close. The course on the Gulf du Lyon is going to be tactically challenging because weather in August can be anything from a 35-knot Mistral to hours of drifting.

The course chosen will have a race length of two to three days. No one can stay awake for that amount of time and perform at their best. Who can manage their sleep? What coed team can utilize their combined skills to maximum effect? Who will crash and burn because they get too tired or push too hard?

Do you think you have the right stuff to make a run at an Olympic sailing marathon? Let’s explore the attributes of a gold medalist. Full report.

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