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SA 49’er sailors plot their 2014 ambitions and beyond

Fresh from their 49er campaign in Europe, we caught up with our Southampton-based sailors, Graeme Willcox and Andrew Tarboton [pictured right], about the season, what the next few months hold and their Olympic aspirations

1. How has the season been for you?
This season has been great for us, as we have come a long way in our teamwork, boat speed and boat handling, despite missing some of the more important regattas on our calendar for various reasons.

2. What will you be taking away from this season?
We now feel that we can hold our own with most of the British teams in a straight line, and will hopefully continue to gain as we get more experience in big fleets. The difference in our sailing over the last year is staggering and we can take away from the season increased understanding in rig set-up, a confidence in our settings, and a comfort with our level of teamwork in the big breezes.

3. What’s the plan now?
With this in mind, our plan is to quieten down on the competition front for the next few months, but continue the momentum in our training regime, and build up slowly to the start of next season where we are hoping to return to competition in March.

4. You both have day jobs, don’t you? What do you do?
At present we both have full time jobs to pay the bills. Graeme designs masts for Selden Masts in Southampton, and I commission all the J-boats in the UK for the UK dealer.

5. How do you manage to balance that with training and competing?
It is quite tough to balance training and work, and our family time suffers as a result of the necessary sacrifice. We try to sail one night a week and as many weekends as possible, and also fit a two and a half hour gym session in every day. Couple this with a busy regatta schedule during the summer months and it becomes quite a balancing act, although we do see the benefits of this sacrifice and it motivates us further.

6. Going right back to the beginning, how did you get involved in sailing to begin with?
Both of us grew up in very active sailing families within the South African aailing fraternity, and from a young age were encouraged when we showed an interest in the sport. Our parents were great supporters and diligently drove us around the country for regattas. They were really good at being there when needed, always offering uplifting comments and not pushing us to do anything we didn’t want to, which only drove us harder rather than driving us away from the sport and as such we both progressed through the traditional youth paths and into senior classes. From there we diverged into classes that were available to us.

7. How and when did the two of you team up?
We teamed up nearly 18 months ago, just to have some fun sailing together, but then when we realised things had potential to go well, we decided to take it more seriously.

8. What is the ultimate long-term goal?
The ultimate goal is to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games, and with this in mind we are sailing on the European circuit as much as possible to gain the experience required.

9. And the short-term goals leading up to that?
In the short term, our goal is to gain some financial support and therefore do many more regattas on the international scene, starting with the Princess Sofia regatta in Palma next year.

10. What is it that you love about sailing that keeps you motivated to achieve those goals?
Sailing is a fantastic sport on so many different levels, challenging every part of one’s being, physically, mentally and emotionally, and it’s probably this immense personal demand that holds our attention and keeps us motivated.┬áThe drive towards the ultimate goal pushes us to our limit every time we get on the water together, and the 49er is a fantastically complex boat to try and master.