2016 Skiff update 

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He hailed the inclusion of a women’s skiff for Rio 2016 as “a real step forward”.

Now RYA Performance Director/Racing Manager, John Derbyshire, is urging ISAF to really capitalise on the potential to grow women’s sailing around the world when it looks to select the equipment for the 2016 Olympics next spring.

The initial decision was that ISAF would select the 2016 kit in the three ‘new’ events of the women’s skiff, mixed multihull (one man, one woman) and men and women’s board or kiteboard event by November 2012.

The trials event has now been scheduled in Santander, Spain in April, with a clear steer from the ISAF Council to make a decision at ISAF’s Mid-Year Meeting in May. This decision was made at the recent 2011 ISAF Annual Conference in Puerto Rico, which John attended.

He said: “The most important thing is the selected skiff equipment is modern but needs to have a good international class infrastructure and an extensive distribution network around the world to encourage good class infrastructures in each country. We don’t want it to be another Elliott 6m, where there was limited Member National Authorities (MNA) take up.”  

However, although there was significant support for the women’s skiff kit to be the 29erXX at the ISAF Conference, John believes it is right that the trials process continues as agreed. 

“If we get a boat that is fun to sail, women will sail it. We have seen that with the 49er whereby it started as a challenge but has evolved and improved as we have gone along. Now it is a club boat around the world, but we also have the latest developed, high-end Olympic Classes version. The women’s skiff should follow the same managed process, whatever kit is chosen. The challenge is that different MNAs are looking for different equipment solutions.  

“In the UK, we are often too hi-tech with new equipment, but for example when you look at somewhere like India, there has been a rapid tenfold increase in the number of Oppies from 100 to 1,000 boats in the country. In another couple of years that could be 5,000. Mumbai alone is a ‘small’ city of 40 million people and if one per cent of those people sailed that would be huge. They have the Oppies but then where do they go? They are already buying 29ers so would they want to go down another route?

“The Council were under a lot of pressure to change the submission to enable a vote on the 29erXX being selected as the women’s skiff equipment now but this was not allowed under the regulations. In my view we got a pretty good compromise as we are still continuing with the trials process, which I believe is correct, but with the kit now likely to be agreed in May.”  

While the debate over the 2016 boat continues, the RYA has been forging ahead with its Girls for Gold Skiff Open Training programme to identify the first crop of female talents to join the RYA’s Olympic programme once the 2016 women’s skiff kit decision is made.  

Since the Girls for Gold initiative got underway in May this year, no fewer than 26 females aged 17 and over have taken advantage of eight weekends of top RYA skiff coaching.   These open sessions have included tips on RS800 rig-tuning and the chance to sail in some of the women’s skiff classes in contention for 2016 (Rebel, 29erXX and RS900) while also getting invaluable insights into life on the Olympic campaign trail.  

Under the watchful eye of RYA National Coach, Harvey Hillary, and with the support of the RS800 class, the girls have also had the opportunity to race regularly in competitive high-performance asymmetric double-handed club, Open and Championship fleets.

The RS800 class changed its rules to allow sheeting off the boom, which is likely to be an essential component of the future women’s Olympic skiff.  

Following the RS800 Nationals at Weymouth and Portland in August and the RS800 Inland Championships at Rutland SC in October, four teams were identified to go forward with specialist training with a view to these sailors potentially turning full-time and joining a new Skandia Team GBR Women’s Skiff squad once the 2016 kit has been chosen.

These eight sailors comprise girls currently in full-time education and employment, with three on sailing scholarships at Exeter University. Some are former ISAF Youth Worlds medallists, others have previously been involved in Olympic campaigns in different classes, and others have come from non-pathway classes and/or disciplines. As well as getting world class skiff coaching, they will also take part in whole Olympic Development Squad camps.  

However, Harvey is keen to stress that although these four teams have progressed through from this inaugural year of Girls for Gold, open training will commence again next spring, with the door very much still open for women interested in Olympic campaigning.

He said: “We were really pleased with the number of females that got involved in this first year of Girls for Gold. The women came from a range of backgrounds, from former and current Youth sailors looking for another alternative to follow an Olympic Classes pathway, to women wanting to sail a different class with good competitive training and event options.  

“The most pleasing things about Girls for Gold this year are firstly, we have identified a group of talented sailors to start training when the 2016 kit is announced. But secondly, for the first time ever, we have had a very open programme which has combined domestic club sailing with Olympic aspirations, and I think that is a very healthy thing to be encouraging.

“We hope those sailors who weren’t selected for the initial training group will come along to the Open Skiff Training weekends and/or continue on the RS800 racing circuit again next year, while new sailors are welcome to get involved regardless of their previous experience. That level of connection between club and Olympic sailing has not really existed before.”  

The dates for the 2012 Girls for Gold Skiff Open Training will be announced in due course, although Skandia Team GBR Women’s Skiff squad selections are likely to come from the Eurocup in Garda, Italy in July and the 2012 Nationals at Hayling Island in September. The Girls for Gold Skiff Open Training programme will be led next year by experienced coach, Tracey Covell, with Harvey Hillary coaching the Skandia Team GBR Women’s Skiff squad.