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Ship shape 

Local sailors go after their Olympic dream, and the funding they need to get there. Graham Pilsworth weighs anchor.

Spout “money makes a great servant but a demanding master” to Canada’s top-ranked male 470 class sailboat racers and check out the knowing nods from Stef Locas and Oliver Bone. With an eye on the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Nova Scotia-based duo have begun a full-time pursuit of a spot on Canada’s Olympic Team. And of support funding to achieve their goal. When you’re a mechanical engineering student (Locas) and a student chef (Bone), cash is a scarce commodity.

The Canadian Yachting Association and Sport Canada exist to help, but there are conditions based on how well a team does competing in two National Team qualifying regattas and the World Championship. The better a team performs, the more money they can receive. The more money, the better the coach they can hire. The more they improve, the better the chances of making the Olympic Team and finally, for a medal in Beijing.

“If we want to perform at a high level,” says Locas, “we need this kind of support.” The US Nationals (a Canadian National Team qualifying regatta) afforded Locas and Bone their first shot at their Olympic and funding targets. To compete, this summer, they went stateside to train for an event held off Santa Cruz. To familiarize themselves with the conditions, they trained on the not-so-balmy waters of San Francisco Bay.

The Bay Area’s geography and tides combine to create powerfully strong currents and heavy, steady winds. “Halifax provides a variety of conditions, different wind strengths and wave heights,” says Bone. “And we’ve done most of our training there but we haven’t trained or sailed that much in very strong wind.”

To race a 470 is to be hurtled across the water aboard one of the toughest-to-sail vessels imaginable. Light, narrow, sensitive to the slightest body movement, the French-designed planing dinghy demands the twosome racing it to be fit, acrobatic and specific body shapes. The skipper (Locas) ought to be shorter and lighter than the crew (Bone) who’s preferably taller but light to enable him to lean way out on a trapeze just above the water to keep the boat level in a bracing breeze.

San Franciscans claim the Area has three seasons: winter, fog and summer. Summer being September and October. In fog season, existing on loans, Quebec Government grants, fundraiser proceeds, credit cards and “small amounts from people that love us,” Locas and Bone sharpened their skills under Canadian Team coach Rob Fox’s mentoring. Then, for six days, the pair hired American coach Morgan Reeser, an Olympic silver medalist in the ’92 Games who coached the Greek women’s 470 team to gold at the ’04 Games.

“When Morgan Reeser came, “says Locas, “he definitely saved us a lot of time providing us with knowledge that takes time to learn.” The Reeser effect, Bone says, “improved our heavy air sailing. Also our speed.” “And,” Locas slides in, “our manoeuvres. Significantly.”

That may be putting it mildly. At the US Nationals, 13 teams from several nations competed with a Japanese boat (the Athens bronze medal winner) taking first, followed by another top-ranked Japanese boat, then two American boats and fifth, Locas and Bone. “We could have advanced one place if we hadn’t had problems with our gear, “ Bone says, “but we were very pleased with our result.”

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