Valencia- Robert Deaves, the IFA media officer and sailing journalist, visited in mid March the Dinghy Academy Headquarters in Valencia. He spent three days here, enjoying the Comunitat Valencia Finn Open, a regatta sailed in full mode by the Dinghy Academy guys.
Robert Deaves video about Dinghy Academy:
Here his full report:
The Dinghy Academy in Valencia is going from strength to strength. Established two years ago by 2000 Olympic Finn silver medalist Luca Devoti as a way to develop the skills of aspiring Olympians in a group training environment, it has come of age and is ready to take the next step forward. More and more sailors are benefitting from his unique experience and coaching style, and the first class facilities offered at the Academy, which is located in the extensive grounds of the Real Club Náutico de Valencia.
In 2013 the Finn class partnered with the Dinghy Academy to part fund up to four sailors each year to train at the Academy, help out with equipment charter and purchase as well as travel to major events. That initiative is continuing with three sailors already signed up for 2015 season. Each sailor has to agree to specific goals and a training/regatta schedule and they can benefit from charter boats, sailing and fitness coaching as well as working in a very focussed sporting atmosphere of continual learning and improvement.
A visit in mid-March coincided with the Open Internacional Vela Olimpica, organised by the Real Club Nautico. Twenty-two Finn sailors of all abilities were taking part in the regatta, many as part of their final preparations before heading over to Palma for the Princesa Sofia Regatta. With six race winners from the six races sailed, it was clear that this is a wide open fleet with a wide range of sailors. There is always someone to learn from
The Real Club Nautico has the perfect location for a training base, with extensive facilities including a gym, restaurant and an Olympic sized swimming pool. The weather and wind is about as pleasant and reliable as anywhere in Europe with wind all but guaranteed on 98 out of every 100 days. The Academy has attracted all types of Finn sailors from juniors setting out on the journey to Masters warming up before a major championship.
One of the race winners last week was Alejandro Foglia (URU). He has already been to the Olympics three times in the Laser, with a best result of eighth in London 2012, before stepping into the Finn in 2013. However his Finn campaign didn’t start too well with a back problem in his first regatta. “I got injured in Palma and had to stop for almost a year. I had a slipped disk in my lower back so it was hard because I was used to training hard. I am an active person, so one year out was hard, but on the positive side I had more time to finish my physical education studies. Now it is back to 100 per cent OK, but of course I need to care of it.”
Foglia was one of the first sailors to receive funding from the Finn Class through its FIDeS programme (Finn International Development Support). “I am very happy to be here. I moved here to train and now live here all year round. We have a very good group here. It is the best option for me if I want to train in a good group.”
He described a typical training period in which recovery is as much a part of the programme as on the water work and physical training. “We have a routine of three weeks training and one week off, which is basically recovery training. During the three weeks the loads are gradually increased. We train on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then recover on Thursday. Then on Friday and Saturday we train harder and then have Sunday off to recover. We do that with increasing loads over the three weeks and then take a week off. If there is a regatta coming then we take a week off before the regatta.”
“We did endurance training from October to January. Now we are just maintaining that and increasing intensity with weights in the gym and sailing of course. The amount we do of each activity depends on the wind. If we look at the forecast and have a hard week coming then the most important thing is to sail, so we train in the gym but not as hard as if the wind is are light, because you want to be fresh when you go sailing to do the best you can.”
Like many sailors his main focus this year is on the world championship in Takapuna in November, the second Olympic Qualifier for nation places in Rio. “New Zealand is the final goal for us as a lot of guys here still need to qualify for Rio. We are working hard to get there but step by step. First we go to Palma, maybe Hyeres if we qualify and then the Europeans. I have some funding but I still need more. I am now involved in some crowd funding to buy a new mast, and many people are supporting me. If a lot of people give a little I can get a new mast. I also have an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship from the IOC. It’s helped me a lot it doesn’t cover everything.”
One of the past Olympians choosing to train in Valencia over the winter is Giorgio Poggi (ITA). He said, “It’s a nice group for training. All the guys training here have different skills so every day you have different guys going well, so every day you have to push because someone will always be sailing well. The conditions are beautiful, with great weather and of course with Luca he knows how to train and gives good advice and how to trim and find perfect speed.”
The ‘head sailor’ in Valencia is the 2013 European Champion, and double Olympic Laser medalist, Vasilij Zbogar (SLO). “For me Valencia is a great training place where I can focus just on the sailing.”
“For a guy like me that is from a small country with just few Finn sailors, the academy it is a great place to train with other sailors. Valencia is a nice town, and the Real Club Nautico and all the facilities, good weather and wind all year around will ensure a long and successful future for the Dinghy Academy.”
Head Coach Luca Devoti said, “Sailors who come here just get better day by day. The tough training and competition makes them grow at all levels from masters to top champions. The camaraderie between the sailors and the fact that we share all the information makes us grow day by day.”
“Since we started we have had more than 50 sailors coming here over the first three years of life. All kinds of sailors learn, they learn from the champions here and they share their passion. For this, Valencia is magic…I hope the Dinghy Academy will become the reference for dinghy sailing in a modern doping free, friendly and competent environment.”
Not only is the Dinghy Academy serving as a fantastic training base to a number of established sailors, it is also acting as a staging post for young sailors taking their first steps in the Finn, somewhere they can learn the ropes, get the best advice, and plan a campaign of substance and direction.
Since early 2013 more than 50 sailors, ranging from juniors up to Grand Masters have made use of the facilities and the coaching and training opportunities on offer. Head Coach, Luca Devoti is ardent that the Academy is there for everyone and encourages Masters to train there as much as he does young sailors. The Swiss and Russian Masters are already frequenting the centre on a regular basis.
However he recognises that the future of the class lies with its youth and attracting new blood into the fleet. Together with the Finn Class through the FIDeS (Finn International Development Support) programme he actively seeks out sailors to join the programme, for example Laser sailors who have grown too big, and emerging talents from developing nations. Over the past two years the Academy has helped sailors from many nations developing sailing from Africa, the Caribbean and South America.
Santiago Falasca (ARG) is currently receiving FIDeS funding to train in Valencia. “I came here last year when I began in the Finn. I have improved a lot and sometimes I am already catching the guys who have done many Olympic campaigns. So I am feeling very confident and very good about the future. I think this year is going to be a breakthrough year, a very important year to change and improve and break through to the professional sailors. Hopefully by Takapuna [the Finn Gold Cup, the second Olympic qualifier] I will be fully prepared and will make some good races and have good regatta.”
“I have improved my free pumping a lot. Last year it wasn’t a good thing for me but I have improved. Also I am now up to 96 kg – last year I was 85 kg – so I feel much more confident in the strong winds, and I have still have very good upwind speed in the light. I still need to improve my downwind in light winds, but I think with this training all year in Valencia I will manage that.”
Falasca talked about using Valencia as his base, ”I think it is probably the best place to learn everything. We are always sailing with the top guys of the Finn class. We have a gym here, we have a top coach coming all the time to give us advice. We have every aspect of the training covered. Coaching on the water, coaching in the gym and physiotherapy. Everything is covered. Of course having a coach that has a silver medal in the Finn is also very positive. He knows a lot about how to sail the Finn and about the materials we need to improve our sailing.”
But it is not just beginners training in Valencia. One of the international fleets fastest rising stars, Josh Junior (NZL), is also an occasional visitor to Valencia. “It’s pretty awesome training with a good bunch of guys and normally pretty good weather. You get some pretty good racing with some really good guys.”
“I am here for two weeks now, but I will be back in June and July to live here for a month and a half. It’s really good because you just end up sailing five days a week and it’s gym and sail, gym and sail, always racing 10-15 other boats of which at least five of them are really, really good. So you just end up getting better.”
One of the newest Finn converts to the class is Rockal Evans (BER). At two metres tall and a lean 104 kg he towers over almost everyone. At the time of writing he had only spent five days in the Finn after coming to the decision to do an Olympic campaign. He took the trip to Valencia, jumped in a Finn provided by the Academy, sailed in the Valencia Open regatta and began the vast learning process.
“I’m still getting comfortable in the boat but am really starting to get the feeling upwind with speed and the power, but I still need to do a lot of work on the downwind technique. In the last race I was fifth at the last upwind mark but rounded the gate in about 25th, so I caught up a lot. I find it very comfortable. I used to sail a Laser, but the Finn is way better for my size.”
“In Lasers, I used to do better when it was windy, but suffered in the light. I won a few events in Bermuda and got a couple of top fives in all island games.”
“I am in Valencia for three weeks to train to try and get the feel of the boat. Hopefully I will be able get a boat back in Bermuda and train there and do a couple of regattas in Europe. But for that to happen I need sponsorship, a lot of sponsorship. There are no Finns in Bermuda, but I am trying to get one now, either from the States or from Europe. Hopefully, with the America’s Cup coming to Bermuda, there will be a bunch of guys I can train with and maybe help with getting a boat there.”
“In the summer I hope to come back here for another month, but I need some boat time first and get more familiar in the boat and more time on the water.”
He is in no doubt about the path he has chosen but appears committed to the task in hand. “If Rio is possible then I’ll try for that, but I will definitely be trying hard for Tokyo. It’s a long-term plan. It’s a lot of hard work but I am fully committed to it.”
He has a lot to live up to. His grandfather, Howard Lee, competed for Bermuda in the Finn Class in the 1976 Olympics.
In 2014 the Dinghy Academy became an ISAF Approved Training Centre following a full audit of its operations and facilities. Luca Devoti explained, “So far this has not really had much impact on our operations, though with time I hope that such a prestigious acknowledgment will help us grow and promote the sport even more.”
Devoti has a lot of plans for the future of the Academy. “I am trying to put together a programme that includes studying and a degree in economics starting from September 2016 in conjunction with a local university so that sailors can also get an academic qualification while they train.”
This coming June the Dinghy Academy and the Real Club Nautico will host the Finn Junior World Championship, for the Finn Silver Cup. Already Devoti sees the synergy between the emerging youngsters and the established sailors based there, some of which are on their fourth Olympic campaign. Transfer of knowledge is an important part of the Finn culture, and there are plans to put this into practice with a coached regatta and training sessions designed to bring as many of the juniors up to speed as possible.
The diversity of sailors using the facilities in Valencia speaks volumes about the success of the programme. As well as the Spanish team there have been sailors from Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland and Uruguay. It is a truly international bunch of like-minded sailors all focussed on one goal – getting better at Finn sailing. And they way they are going about it, you are left in no doubt they will succeed.