Dobson gears up for first event in ‘amazing’ new Olympic class 

Charlotte Dobson, 49er FX more features

Charlotte Dobson says her new Olympic challenge has left her feeling like an excitable teenager, as she prepares to race for the first time in the brand new 49er FX class introduced for the Rio 2016 Games.


Dobson, 26, made the switch to the two-person FX – the women’s equivalent of the men’s 49er high performance skiff – in September after two shots at Olympic qualification in the single-handed Laser Radial class, and will have her first taste of competitive action this week on the waters of Palma Bay, Majorca, at the Princess Sofia Trophy – the first European leg of the 2013 ISAF Sailing World Cup Series (1-6 April).  

Just like its male counterpart, the FX is fast and a tricky boat to tame, with both helm and crew on trapeze wires and needing to be fit and agile to negotiate manoeuvres and keep the boat upright.   But Dobson is relishing the challenge of a fast and exciting new class.

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” she enthuses.  “I actually can’t really believe that this sort of sailing was available and I never did it a lot earlier! 

“It’s been the most amount of fun and I’m having the best time doing it.  It’s been back to being 15 again – I’m just ridiculously excited about going sailing every day and I’m very, very happy I made the decision [to switch].”

Getting to grips with the new boat has been a steep learning curve and – literally – a bumpy ride for the eight-strong British Sailing Team FX squad.

“I definitely should have bought shares in an Arnica company because I’ve basically been black and blue the whole winter,” Dobson laughs.  “I’ve had so many capsizes and so many bruises and various injuries. [Team physio] Lily is pretty much my best friend now!”

“But it’s been absolutely amazing.  I think probably the hardest part has been just having to be standing up all the time! Having spent all my sailing life sitting down, using cycling as my fitness, now actually having to run around and be on my feet all the time has presented far more of a challenge than I potentially expected. 

“But it’s a lot more fun – the fitness stuff associated with the 49er I certainly enjoy a lot more than the Radial side of things.  

“I think if the Radial were a car it would probably be a Lada, or maybe one of those three-wheeler things – you have to work really hard to get it to go fast at all. The FX would be some kind of amazingly fast car that breaks all the time – a formula 1 car.  Maybe last year’s Maclaren car – very fast but breaks all the time!”

For this first Palma event, Dobson will be sailing with Sophie Ainsworth, but unlike the other classes within the British Sailing Team, the FX squad is currently running a rotation system.  Helms and crews swap around in training and between regattas to accelerate learning, and test out the best potential helm and crew combinations for the long term.

It’s an approach which Dobson says has been useful in the early days of the learning about the class.  

“Coming in as a single-handed sailor and now sailing a double-handed boat, I think it’s been really useful for me to sail with lots of different people and actually just learn.  Everybody you sail with is slightly different, so to just learn what my preferences are.  Back in September when I made this decision, I had no idea what my preferences would be, what I’m good at and what I’m bad at in a two-handed boat, so from that side of things it’s been really good. 

“Hopefully by the time we finish rotating we’ll be able to make the decisions as to who we sail with based on fact rather than who you’re getting on best with, or circumstance.”

The Palma World Cup regatta will a useful benchmark for the squad to test out how their winter training has fared, and what areas they will need to focus on for the coming season.  

“I think it’s just about doing a bit of racing, and putting everything into practice to find out where we’re at, find a baseline, and have something to work from,” Dobson explains.

“There are definitely no expectations results-wise, we’re very process-oriented, so a capsize in one race won’t be the end of the world.  Having said that it will be quite exciting to get in there and rip it up and hopefully do well!“

The rest of the world is sort of experiencing similar things. I’m sure there are a couple of sets of girls who are all over it at the moment, but we’re all at the bottom part of the learning curve just now and I think there’s a lot to play out in the next couple of months.”

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