Olympic offshore event to help sport

Published on October 24th, 2020

Having lived the adventure herself, sailor Erica Lush feels that the opportunity to showcase double handed offshore sailing at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games will capture the imagination of sailing fans around the world.

American Lush, from Rhode Island, grew up racing dinghies but stepped into the offshore world several years ago, and has chalked up over 40,000 nautical miles offshore over the last six years.

In 2019 she joined Maiden, the famous Farr 58, on their World Tour, raising awareness for girls’ education while also bringing women offshore to build up female sailors in the sport, and also captained the 12-metre Weatherly on several charters and races in Narragansett Bay this summer.

And as an experienced offshore sailor, who has fielded numerous questions over the years about her experiences, she thinks that the raised profile and media interest generated by the Olympic Games would go a long way in attracting others towards sailing in this discipline.

“The inclusion of a double handed event for the 2024 Olympics is super exciting for the sport,” Lush said. “It is definitely going to bring a lot of insight to the outside world of what it means to be sailing offshore and especially short handed.

“I get asked questions all the time that seem a little silly from the inside, such as ‘you’re sailing across an ocean so what do you do at night? Where do you go, how do you sleep, what do you do with the boat?’

“People just don’t have any idea what a watch system is, what it means to be on call 24/7 on a sailboat that’s moving, and once you start to explain these things, it kind of widens everyone’s imagination.

“The fact that a double handed class in the Olympics in 2024 would mean 24/7 media streaming of what’s happening on board is so exciting to imagine; people will be getting relatively first-hand experience of what goes on in offshore sailing.

“Another fantastic element of this newly-erupting discipline is that it’s going to have the top level sailors drawn to it because of the Olympics. That means that in all the new double handed classes being made, and the events that have been going on for decades, suddenly you’re going to have great competition in a fleet that’s pretty accessible.

“You don’t need a carbon fibre sled, you can have a fiberglass boat, and with only two people, it’s a lot more financially viable to run a campaign in these smaller boats with smaller crews, so you’ll have top-level competition in the same classes.”

If Paris 2024 can capture half as much of the tough challenges and life-changing experiences which Lush describes, it is sure to be quite the spectacle for those following this event at the Olympic Games.

“Offshore sailing is always an adventure,” insisted Lush. “It can run the whole gamut of the experience; with weather as cold and with the most enormous waves as you can imagine, and as flat, calm and hot as you can imagine.

“It will push you in every realm imaginable. It challenges you emotionally and physically, it makes you re-evaluate the meaning of teamwork and leadership, and you are contending with an ongoing, ever-changing environment, given the weather and the sea state and where your competition is.

“I know on Maiden, when we’re asked what our favourite leg was, we almost all say one of the longest ones: from Sri Lanka to Australia. It took us 27 days, I believe, and the last 10 days were upwind in a huge sea state. We had plenty of things go wrong, but for some reason, the most trying times are usually the most rewarding.

“I haven’t been offshore yet with a small team, but I’m really looking forward to it, because the memories we’ve developed offshore amongst eight or nine of us with Maiden is only going to be intensified when you bring it down to two and you’re battling the elements out there – almost alone, but not quite.

“It is the most dynamic sport I know of, and doing it double handed is just going to intensify the pressures and the rewards.”

In July 2020, Lush competed in her first double-handed distance race, Long Island Sound, in Oakcliff, a Melges 24, which she and her co-skipper won. They are both seeking further racing opportunities and are eager to continue competing in this class.

“My co skipper and I were a brand new team together but we had a lot of fun,” she continued. “The weather was pretty light winds but there was a rather large pop-up thunderstorm which was a lot of fun to navigate around and get us through the racecourse.

“We were really excited to have won the event and I think we’re both really excited to see what’s on the horizon and do more double handed racing. I think double handed offshore sailing is a rapidly-growing discipline in our sport because of its scope and its accessibility.

“Getting double handed experience can take the weekend cruiser to further limits within their local bay and sailing areas, or it can take the top level of sailors and hone in on their skills, the skills they want to develop, and bring competition even tighter amongst an ever-growing fleet.

“I’m still mostly young and I’ve done a lot of sailing for my age, but I have a lot more I want to learn. I want to see how far I can go with the sport, and double handed sailing seems like the perfect platform for that.

“It’s more financially accessible than running a larger race team or starting a fully-crewed ocean racing program. There’s only one other person to organize besides yourself, the boats are not that large, and everything is meant to be more attainable.

“If there’s ever a discipline where I’m going to be able to push myself and my boundaries, and grow as a sailor and an individual, then double handed offshore sailing is it.”

Editor’s note: Anyone with interest in shorthanded sailing, from beginner through advanced, is encouraged to sign-up for a free membership at Offshore Doubles Sailing Association: click here.

Source: World Sailing

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