Local boy to fly

2018-07-17 06:01
Rhys Whitfield sailing in Muizenberg.

Rhys Whitfield sailing in Muizenberg.

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Rhys Whitfield (13) will be representing South Africa at the 2018 RS Tera World Championships in Weymouth, England, from Monday 6 to Friday 10 August. The Sweet Valley student will compete with another 143 sailors from 11 countries, and sail at the same venue where his coach, Asenathi Jim, competed in his first Olympics in 2012. Rhys competed in his first world champs last year in Carnac, France where he was placed 25th out of 66 boats.

The Imperial Yacht Club youth member sailed well in the South African selection events and made a clean sweep, earning himself a place in the team. Under the guidance of Asenathi Jim and the coaching staff at Imperial Yacht Club in Muizenberg, Rhys and the squad have been training regularly in all kinds of weather to best prepare themselves for the varied conditions offered in Weymouth­.

Jim has passed on his experience and knowledge of sailing conditions in Weymouth, which will prove invaluable in preparing for this gruelling five-day event.

“From a young age I was fascinated with boats. I admire the SA Olympic sailor Stefano Marcia for his commitment to the sport and find that inspirational,” Rhys says.

On a question as to what sailing means to him, he replies that sailing is a mental and physical sport.

“Knowing the rules, race tactics and how the boat performs is as critical as physical fitness. Sailing has given me confidence, independence and freedoms most children don’t experience. Not to mention international travel,” he says.

Sailing is all consuming, but like most boys a bit of downtime with a computer game and school sport are fitted into his other pastimes. He also loves cross-country, athletics, squash and swimming.

“What is next for him will probably be to continue in the RS Tera Class for one or two seasons. There is a possibility that he’ll be moving on to the larger Pro Class sail before moving to a larger boat. This selection will very much be dictated by his physical size and weight as he enters his teens,” David Whitfield, his father, says.

According to David, Rhys’s dream is to compete in the Olympics.

“Sailing being an expensive sport. Medium and his long-term plans would be dictated by what opportunities come his way. If you ask a 13-year-old where he sees himself in 10 years’ time, you will get a different answer each time. We first have to see what he is doing at Weymouth and take it from there,” David says.

Sailing is an expensive sport and sponsorship is a challenge.

“We have managed to secure a small sponsor from Samsa, North Sails and Quiver for some sailing gear for this year’s SA team. Most funding comes from the parents of the sailors. Understandably at this age sponsorship exposure is not great so there is a reluctance. Sponsorship is further complicated by diversity requirements, but it very much is a chicken and egg situation. With sponsorship diversity could be better addressed. At the moment bringing underprivileged youth into the sport is a financial battle but good progress is being made by several sailing clubs,” David says.

There is no age restriction to start sailing and the IYC starts sailing programmes from the age of eight. Some clubs will take children from age six but he thinks the latter is too young for most if you take Cape Town winds into consideration.

Rhys has been sailing competitively since 2016 and won the SAS Youth Nationals Champion RS Tera Sport Class 2016 Theewaterkloof, the SAS Western Cape Champion RS Tera Sport Class 2017 Mossel Bay, the National Champion RS Tera Sport Class 2017 Swartvlei (Pine Lake Marina), the SAS Youth Nationals Champion RS Tera Sport Class 2017 Theewaterkloof, the SAS Western Cape Champion RS Tera Sport Class 2018 Mossel Bay and the National Champion RS Tera Sport Class 2018 Swartvlei (Pine Lake Marina), and was 25th in the RS Tera World Championships 2017 in Carnac, France.

The boat he is sailing is an RS Tera Class, a UK-manufactured sailing boat. The RS Tera is a World Sailing recognised youth sailing class (u.18) comprising a standard 2.9m hull with an option of two standardised sail sizes, also defining the entry class; the 3.7m2 sail is known as the Sport Class, under 15 and the 4.8m2 sail the Pro Class u.18. This strict one-design racing means the best sailor wins.

“The modern design allows for from learning to sail, to doing competitive racing and, through the Class Association programmes up to World Championship level. This design also allows for techniques learned to be carried through to the larger youth and Olympic single-handed classes,” David says.

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