January 06, 2020 6 min read

Ben Flower - 2019 Year End Review

Overall a very difficult year, with a lot of ups and downs throughout the year where similarities to the Steelers 2019 season so far can be compared. So with 2019 nearing its end and winter in full force, how has the past year compared to how initial hopes heading into the year?

Last Winter

Let’s begin with last winter, having finally getting into the RYA Youth Squad I was determined not to waste the opportunity presented. Having not met the majority of people in the squad, with several freshly out of the Radial class, you never know what others are going to be like but thankfully all were pleasant and enjoyable to train with. Whilst in Weymouth for all the squad camps I stayed with two of the hardest working people I know in James Skulczuk and Callum Dixon, both training full time in the Finn class. It was always a warm welcoming from two of my closest friends and pushing each other and keeping each other optimistically thinking. That past winter I had to rely on a lot of friends and family around the country for accommodation whilst I sofa surfed and none more than fellow Sailing Chandlery sponsored sailor George Coles at Portsmouth University who I stayed the majority of the winter with, cycling round to Hayling Island SC each day to sail.

Also at Weymouth training was Cameron Tweedle, an ex-Finn sailor who with the recent decision by World Sailing to drop the Finn was now losing over 20kg to get back into a Laser and compete in 2019 with the same goal as myself to make the British Sailing Team. We had several cold days training out at Weymouth and we discussed about the events in the summer which we planned to do. We made a plan to go together for over 3 months abroad circuiting the length of Europe in only a two seater Abarth Punto with the rear seats taken out for more room for our sailing gear. We set off on the Sunday evening of the UKLA Plymouth Qualifier and headed down to Barcelona to get onto another Ferry to Palma for the Princess Sofia Regatta also taking more equipment for 6 other sailors who were also competing.

Palma

Freshly off the ferry in the morning we drove to Sa Calobra, one of the most known cycling climbs in the world, having driven over 1,300km (avoiding toll roads) the previous day across France; I wasn’t fully prepared for the challenge that was presented. Tweedle and I were joined by Dixon, Skulczuk and two Australian Finn sailors in Jock Calvert and Lachy Gilham. Later that day I was quickly reminded of how tough senior racing in a Laser was when I got rolled by Laser and sailing legend Robert Scheidt.

Heading into the regatta James Grey (British Sailing Team coach) sat down over a coffee and talked about my plans in 2019 and some last minute advice before the event started. Throughout the winter with the youth squad he had been giving me pointers in the right direction and along with Charlie Baillie-Strong had helped improve my sailing massively. The sailing in Palma was tough as to be expected and my expectations of how I felt I had improved were not matched by the results.

Hyeres

Our next event was a Europa Cup event in Hyeres, France on our way to the World Cup in Genoa, Italy. In Genoa it started to dawn on me that I was ultimately suffering from camping in the car rather than accommodation. Having looked to save money this way it was costing more as the events were getting wasted by not having the best nights sleep and spending a lot of time on my own.

Heading back now to Hyeres for the Olympic week Regatta with accommodation booked, nothing could go wrong, right? No, on my way out of Genoa I was pulled over by the police for going down a road I shouldn’t have with a trailer. Late at night on my own not knowing any Italian at this point and the police not knowing any English I was worried for what might happen. Thankfully however I was helped out by Lorenzo Chiavarini who over the phone translated what had happened, with the fine paid I headed to the next destination.

The event in Hyeres was by far my best result in my sailing career to date, with accommodation and able to cook my own food the difference was drastic and felt like a different person. Having taken a race win and won the day on result was breath taking in its self but then to be congratulated by British Sailing Team sailors and coaches was a memory I will remember.

Lake Garda

Another long drive beckoned the day after this time to Lake Garda in Italy for another Europa Cup before driving for two and a half days to Porto for the Senior European Championships. At this point I was gassed and wanted to rest as I felt so burnt out from non-stop events. 

Ben Flower - Laser Sailing on Lake Garda

This was a big learning point for me, I had been told that doing so many big events close together was going to be tough but I felt I could deal with it, I was wrong, its only something you really realise when you experience it for yourself and learn from your mistakes. However at this point I still had 4 more events planned before going back to the UK. With a little more time in-between events I was able to break up the drive and stop by a few places along the way for some sight-seeing. Finally arriving in Holland for the Europa Cup there I was greeted with a lovely meal prepared by Tina Farley, mother of Arthur Farley a Laser Radial sailor. During the week I started to plan to fly back to the UK for a couple weeks and get some training in there with two other great friends in Craig Williamson and Jack Hopkins in preparation for Kiel.

Kiel Week

This couple week’s break made a big difference and heading into Kiel I felt super good. I’ve never had any luck at Kiel with never making it through the entire week without a boat breakage or injury that has ruled me out but this year I was determined to make sure I not only got through the week but got a good result like in Hyeres. I got out a few days early and was training with a friend from Italy who I was also staying with in Stefano Angeloni and I made sure the day before that nothing was going to give way and break. 

The racing started really well, was 2nd to the first windward mark and was able to get a couple top 5 finishes on the second day before disaster struck as I was hit heavily in the head by another competitor. I continued sailing but started to not be able to see much in front of me as it all went blurry. Started to vomit and the safety boats nearby came and called the German Equivalent to the RYA. I was given some tablets and put in a neck brace and taken to a local hospital. I was there for several hours before being told I had a concussion and sometime after being discharged. I still didn’t feel great but was thankful to Lewis Smith, Jake Farren-Price and Dan Whiteley for coming to pick me up, the event was over for me.

Back to the UK

Back in the UK and the doctors said to take it easy for the next month or so. If I’m honest I never really felt the same after that. I really felt I was sailing well and believed I could have made the medal race. After an extremely disappointing U21 Europeans in Poland I started to prepare for life after sailing, applying for jobs across the pond in the US and Canada. However ultimately falling short of the grade, a few friends encouraged me to come out of retirement for the qualifiers at WPNSA and Hayling Island.

UKLA Laser Qualifiers

Having not sailed in now quite a while I felt so out of shape and knew I wouldn’t be there on the results. However this ignited a fire, a new challenge, I’m not yet done but I’ve got to put even more time and work in for preparation for the 2020 season.


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