Sitting on the plane as we descend into Toronto, I begin to think about the whole experience. I get the same goose bumps on my arms and neck and the same chills down my spine as I did the moment we crossed that line. It is an amazing feeling, knowing that for the rest of my life, for the rest of our lives, we will be World Champions.
It all seems surreal, looking back on it. From the first day of the Student Yachting World Cup, there was so much that needed to fall into place. There were over 70 student-athletes from Japan, England, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, and the United States, all rearing to compete for the title of the 36th collegiate sailing World Champion.
Arriving in La Rochelle the morning before the training day, the list of tasks and to-do’s seemed insurmountable. The first and most important of which was making weight. With the team working hard to watch their diet and liquid intake, we managed to shed nearly 50 pounds in the week leading up to the event. However, after making weight, and a lunch stop at McDonalds and for crepes, the Queen’s team was far from ready to hit the water. They had discussed, planned, and were ready to work hard on the boat, measuring, checking for damage, checking the conditions of sails, marking lines, diving and cleaning the underside of the boat. The list went on and on, but the team was determined, nervous yet excited to transform their Grand Surprise 32 “Visigoth” into a precision racing machine, tailored to their every need. After hours of boat work, provisioning, preparation and paperwork, the team was ready to let off some much needed steam in the bar. However, as giddy as they were to have made weight and to be within 12 hours of hitting the water for the first time, there was still a nervous apprehension in the air.
When the training day rolled around, the pressure was evident. The team worked hard to figure out the ins and outs of the boat before the single practice race that afternoon, but there was an evident feeling of nervousness clouding the boat. However, from the first signal of the practice race, the team seemed to be honed in on not only racing, but also winning. It was an incredible feeling, the Canadian flag on their backs, a nations’ reputation at stake. It was clear they all wanted this. They had qualified over a year before hand, and had been training and preparing ever since in anticipation.
On the first day of racing, with the bottom freshly cleaned and the boat precisely rigged, Team Canada hit the water to show the world what they were made of. Out of the gate, the boat was moving fast, and we were making all the right calls. Clifton, our tactician and main trimmer, Sam our strategist and pit man, Dan our headsail trimmer and Will, our trusty skipper, were all working in unison, and we got off the start line in the first race in great position and with great speed. Recording a 4th in the first race, the team dug deep, and with incredible teamwork, strategy, and tactics, they finished in 2nd, 3rd, and 6th in the following races of the day, placing Queen’s in 4th overall.
The second day of racing posed two course races, as well as a 20-mile, coastal night race. When the team hit the water at 2:30, they were primed and ready to move up in the ranks. To start the day, Team Canada showed what the great white North has to offer, leading off the line and all the way around the racecourse, recording a 1st place finish, followed by a 3rd. The night race brought on big breeze, freezing rain, and the low light conditions proved challenging for the team. After a disappointing first 15 miles, the team managed to catch 3 boats in the last 5 miles, and finish 5th.
Day 3 brought on fresh breeze and fresh weather, and the team came out of the gates hot yet again. However, after a 2nd and 3rd in the first two races, a rough tactical error put the team in a compromising position, and after fouling the Swiss, the team found themselves recording a disappointing 8th. However, the unwavering dedication and spirit of Queen’s shone through, and the team bounced back with a 3rd place finish to close out the day.
Heading into the 4th day, the team sat in 3rd place overall, as their consistency proved to be a quality many teams lacked, as their streaky score-lines showed. Team Canada set sail with nothing but gold in their sights, and after a close 3rd place finish, they caught fire, and recorded two consecutive 1st place finishes. In the final distance race, of the day, the team led the fleet for the whole 15 miles, before losing out in a gybing duel with the Swiss team, and placing 2nd by a matter of feet… However, their impressive showing translated well to the results page, and they found themselves in FIRST PLACE going into the final day of medal races.
Sitting only 3 points ahead of the Americans, it was still anyone’s regatta to win. The tension and nerves were palpable as the team set out for the final 2 races of the regatta, the championship in their grasps. After beating the Americans in the first race, with a 3rd place finish, Team Canada needed one more race with a 4th place finish or higher to win it all. However, after a tough start, the Canadians faltered and found themselves in last, the title slowly slipping from their grasps. Yet, while tactical call after tactical call seemed to go awry, Team Canada stood strong, knowing that they still had a chance. After picking off a few boats on the first lap, tactician Clifton said something that will seemed to resonate throughout the whole team: “There’s a lot of racing left guys, this is our race, lets stay in it”
And stay in it they did. Clawing and fighting for every inch, the team crossed the line in 4th place… Edging out the Americans by a single point, they did it, first Canadian team to ever win the World Championship. Emotions swelled as the fellow teams and coaches, the jury, and the race committee provided a standing ovation as the team celebrated. Tears, embraces, smiles plastered across every members face; the moment was unforgettable. As they sailed into the marina, the team proceeded to make emotional calls home to their family and friends, announcing their monumental victory.
Later that evening, as the team stood at the awards ceremony watching and cheering as the Americans mounted their second place podium spot, it all became reality. The champagne sprayed, the tears flowed, and the anthem blared. Atop the podium, for the first time ever, stood Team Canada, World Champions.
Will Jones, Sam Thompson, Adrienne Gaudreault, Clifton Kartner, Denby McDonnell, Dan Sheedy, Claire Boileau, and Connor MacKenzie, a team, a group of friends, sharing the privilege of forever knowing they not only had the honour to represent Team Canada, but that they were, and will forever be, World Champions.