Belcher and Ryan are 'just too cool for school'

At a major regatta like the Santander ISAF Worlds where there are more than 1250 sailors, it's sometimes hard to find a particular crew in the crowded boat parks. But looking for 470 world champions Mat Belcher and Will Ryan is pretty simple – just head for the shade tent.

Standing out like a sore thumb, the rectangular tent serves a multitude of purposes, including giving their competitors a not-so-subtle message: 'We're the most organised and professional team in the park'.

I asked Mat Belcher whether it was part of coach Victor Kovalenko's famed psychological warfare and he grinned and admitted “partly”. But there is a much more important reason for providing this shade.

Santander is in Spain and, as you would expect, it's hot – very hot. So hot in fact that all the locals, including the ice cream van man and about 80% of the event officials vanish in the middle of the day for siesta. Today the temperature topped out at about 35 degrees but it was probably hotter than that in the boat park with its black tarmac.

So part of the reason for the shade tent is to give Mat and Will somewhere to sit out of the sun when they're not on the water. And this is very important for Mat: “My brother Daniel had to give up sailing when he was diagnosed with a melanoma,” he explained.

Daniel has been a driving force behind Melanoma Patients Australia and for Mat its a cause that is never far from his thoughts. The organisation's website ( says: Melanoma Patients Australia is the only patient-driven non-profit organisation that offers a national network of support and information to patients, their families, carers, and friends, about melanoma prevention, diagnosis, management and treatment.

So the tent sends two signals to other competitors: 'Don't mess with us, we're the champions' and 'you're a sailor, think about your skin'.

If the “being organised” message is quite subtle, the “being cut” part isn't. Will Ryan has always been muscular and as a 470 crew he needs most of his muscle in the upper part of his body. But Mat Belcher is looking just as fit and almost as muscular, especially in the biceps and shoulders. He's obviously spent a lot of time in the gym.

When I commented on his new shape he said, “I have to keep up with Will.”

The 470 class starts its world championship tomorrow (Sunday) and will sail a four race qualifying series followed by a six-race finals series and then a double-points medal race. There is just one drop which can be used in qualifying or finals, so a good first day will be important.

– Roger McMillan in Santander


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