Emma Commerford is just nine years old and is sailing in her first big regatta at Sail Sydney 2014. The Middle Harbour Yacht Club member only learned to sail this year but has entered the big event to get more experience in the sport she obviously loves.
Entered in the introductory level Green Fleet, she is sailing an Optimist dinghy named after her canary (Sunny) and her dog (Spot).
Interviewed before her first race, she admitted to being a little nervous but very excited to be at Rose Bay for the event. Showing she had put a lot of thought into her preparation, her start line strategy was “to stay out of trouble in the middle of the course” and to “get up on the startline” for the gun. As for her overall goal, that was simple: “I just want to finish.”
We spoke with Emma again when the kids came back to the shore and she was happy she had fulfilled that part of the plan – she sailed consistently to record placings of 20, 19 and 17, improving as the day went on. She said her starts had mainly gone to plan.
“I had to do a 360 though,” she admitted. “I was over the line at one start.”
It is obvious from the number of Sail Sydney entries that Yachting Australia's policy to make the Optimist the entry level dinghy of choice is succeeding. There are 120 Optis spread across the Green, Intermediate and Open fleets and the chatter and enthusiasm in the rigging area showed that the sport is in a good place.
Green Fleet operating procedure is very basic – no sailing in more than 15 knots and simplified rules. And it's all about having fun, not necessarily about winning. According to Yachting NSW Development Manager Andrew Cribb, at some regattas no places are recorded but at Sail Sydney they are. “The parents like to see a result,” he says.
NSW Opti Association President, Seamus Campbell, describes Green Fleet as a “bridging” tool between the Tackers learn-to-sail program and full-on racing.
“The aim is to give the kids confidence to move on to the next level,” he said. “They sail modified rules – basically port-starboard and windward-leeward – and a modified course, which is usually a triangle.
“Instructors are allowed on the course to offer advice, but they're generally helping the back of the fleet, not at the front.”
There is no age limit on Green Fleet, which technically means anyone from six to fourteen can take part but usually they are aged seven to nine.
Prior to the first race today a detailed briefing took place, attended by the sailors and their parents. They were in good hands as the race officer was none other than ETNZ America's Cup sailor Adam Beashel. “Beasho” explained the course in simple terms before throwing this gem into the mix: “Here's an unwritten rule that it's good to know. If the bow of your boat hits another boat, you're probably in the wrong.”
There are famous names in any sport and at most major regattas in Sydney, there is a fair chance that someone named Beashel, Rooklyn, Wilmot or Treharne will appear on the results sheet. Sailing in Green Fleet today were Adam's two youngsters, Joel and Trent.
Their mother is four-times Olympic board sailor Lanee Butler and on Adam's side they are nephews of Australia II crewman Colin Beashel and grandsons of 18ft Skiff champion Ken.
The results aren't important in Green Fleet, but Joel won the first race and was leading the fleet with his scoreline of 1,4,3. Trent was lying 10th.
About Sail Sydney
Sail Sydney is part of Sydney's Summer Aquatic Events program. The NSW Government is a key Sail Sydney supporter along with Nautilus Marine, Gill Marine clothing, Steve Jarvin Motors, Lejen Marine, Tohatsu Outboards and Sydney Harbour Boat Storage.
– Sail Sydney Media