This year’s arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race – a yacht race held every three years – in Hong Kong comes on an almost literal wave of interest in sailing. Although most people have a rough idea of what sailing is, there is more to this seemingly simple sport than meets the eye.
What is sailing?
Sailing is a sport which uses the wind to propel a craft on the surface of the water.
A brief history of sailing
The earliest remains of a sailboat were found in Kuwait, and they were estimated to be more than 7000 years old. Up until the early 19th century, before motorised boats were invented, sailing was the main method of transporting goods between countries.
Sailing as sport
Sailing has been a competitive sport since the 18th century, and has been an official Olympic sport since 1900. There are now several different forms or classes of sailing. The main difference is between dinghy racing, which uses small boats, and yacht racing, which uses much larger boats.
Young Post spoke to Hong Kong’s 18-year-old sailing star Nicolas Bezy, who's competed in international events like Laser Radial Youth Worlds 2017, and he explained some of the differences between the two.
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There are many different classes in dinghy racing, in which the size of the boats vary. Most dinghy races are individual sports, although some classes require more than one person.
Nicolas, who now sails full time for the Hong Kong Sports Institute, races in the Laser class, a fast-paced, individual form of dinghy racing that uses “small, simple boats that are easy to set up”.
Nicolas’ third-place finish in the Laser Radial Youth World Championships in the Netherlands last summer cemented his status as one of the top young sailors in the world.
“My races are usually quite quick; they’re about 40 minutes to an hour long,” explained the former King George V School student. “The races are very intense, and you have to stay focused the entire time, and it requires a lot of focus. They are all very high level.”
Nicolas, who now races full time for the Hong Kong Sports Institute, added that dinghy boats are much cheaper and easier to maintain.
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This uses much larger boats than in dinghy racing, which is why large teams or crews, each with different roles, are needed. For example, one person might be the navigator, while another person will be in charge of the sail.
Yacht races typically take place over much longer distances than dinghy races. For example, the Volvo Ocean Race, which is widely considered to be the premier yacht race in the world, requires teams to travel around the world. This means crew members are required to stay on the boat for months at a time. In other words, yacht racing is more of a marathon, while dinghy racing is more of a sprint.
Yachts are much bigger and more difficult to maintain than dinghies. Any yacht can be used in a race as long as they meet the specifications of the race’s governing body.
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According to Nicolas, while dingy and yacht racing are drastically different sports, certain skills carry over into both.
“I’ve been doing a lot of yacht sailing recently, and I’ve learned a lot about the different angles [needed] to sail on the downwind, and what they do to get the boat faster,” he said. “I can definitely apply these skills to my own sailing.”
He added that many of the best yacht sailors start off racing dinghies.
“No matter what form of sailing you do, you have to be good at strategy and have a strong mind,” Nicolas said. “A lot of the best tacticians and strategists from dinghy racing go on to make the best yacht racers.”
Although Nicolas considers himself a strategist, he doesn’t see himself racing in the Volvo Race any time soon.
“I just love the intensity of Laser racing, and I don’t really like the idea of being stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean for months at a time,” he explained.
Still, with elite dinghy sailors like Nicolas, and with the Hong Kong team Scallywag currently poised to win the Volvo ocean race, it looks like Hong Kong will make a name for itself as a top sailing nation – in both dinghy and yacht racing – in years to come.