A Topper sailor from the North East has shared his experiences as an RYA Zone Squad sailor in the run up to this year’s selections to encourage other juniors to consider applying.

Topper, Optimist, RS Feva XL and Windsurf zone squads  provide regional coaching for talented young sailors who are looking to develop their racing and applications for this winter’s 2019/20 squads open on 2 August.

A key selection event for those wanting to be considered is the British Youth Sailing Regional Junior Championships over the weekend of 28-29 September 2019, which for the North region will take place at Derwent Reservoir Sailing Club.

Tom Bates from Ripon Sailing Club, who finished 9th in a 33-strong Topper fleet at last year’s BYS Regional Junior Championships at Ullswater YC, was selected for the RYA North Zone Squad for the class in 2018-19, and says his skills improved considerably after training at a variety of inland and sea venues over winter.

Tom’s account of his time in zone squad, written for his club’s newsletter Starboard Tack, provides a great insight into what junior sailors and their parents can expect. He writes:

“The first get-together of the squad was at Leeds University for a land day where we got to know the people in the squad and got an idea of what it was all going to be like. We looked at what would be expected from us during the training - such as focus and respect for the coaches - and how we only had 80 hours of training, so we needed to get our heads down if we wanted to really improve. We also went through nutrition and fitness, which is quite important in sailing.

After that it was onto our first sailing weekend at Pennine Sailing Club. We looked at mastering the basics here, like tacking and gybing in light and strong winds. Luckily, we had mixed winds over the weekend so we could practise light and heavy wind techniques. On Saturday we looked at roll tacks and gybes and on Sunday had a reasonably strong day where we could look at hiking technique, hike-to-hike tacks and beat-the-boom gybes which are important for high wind sailing. I didn’t realise before that how important getting the basics right is and I really improved on those two days.

Next, we went to Beaver SC where it was super windy, and we got some good experience in very high winds, and then on to West Kirby SC, which is normally a sea venue but the tides weren’t co-operating with us so we had to go on a little salt water lake. It was good because we had moderate speed wind that was coming from out to sea so it wasn’t shifty like it usually is at Ripon. We did a big fitness session on the Saturday morning, which was not the most enjoyable experience but it made me realise I need to do a bit more of it in my own time! We also did lots of work about starts with the prestart routine, transits and line bias. This really helped my racing.

Then we headed to Leigh and Lowton SC in Manchester, where there was about 40 knots of wind on the Sunday. We had to go out in threes so there could be a safety boat per person but one of the RIBs had a problem with its engine and we called it a day after that.

Our first sea venue of the zone squad was Filey.  There were some pretty big waves to play about in so it definitely improved my sea sailing that weekend! On the land we talked about tides and how they can affect your racing and how to not let the waves slow you down.

The final weekend was in Wales at Pwllheli SC where it was also very windy and wavy. We met up with the Midlands zone squad and did a mini-regatta which was fun, and I did quite well in. I also improved quite a bit in my sea sailing - and overall had a really fun time.

My time with the zone squad has been really great and I have improved so much in my racing. I would recommend squads without hesitation to anybody who wants to improve their racing. I made loads of new friends who I hopefully will stay in-touch with, and had two fantastic coaches called Curtis and Lucy, who really helped me improve and made me want to carry on with my sailing career.”

Find out more about RYA British Youth Sailing squads here - including all the essential dates and details about selection - and if your junior sailor is keen to apply, remember to enter the BYS Regional Junior Championships online, on or before Sunday 22 September 2019.