With plenty of peaks and troughs during 2021, sailor Sam Whaley from Swanage is looking to establish himself next year as a contender to represent Great Britain at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Already part of the British Sailing Team based in Weymouth, he negotiated lockdown and Covid to win a national sailing competition and to come in the top 15 at the world championships in 2021.
Sam Whaley, home for Christmas in Swanage
Made it to Portugal
Sam Whaley, 24, who learnt to sail as a child at Swanage Sailing Club, said:
“I was pretty lucky to get an elite sailing exemption from Covid lockdown rules, which allowed me and a teammate to make it to Portugal at the beginning of 2021 and continue to train.
“Vilamoura was ideal for us and a great sailing environment. It was also very safe and quiet but it was sad that all competitions had been cancelled and by April I was starting to miss home and family, and with lockdown easing in England, I returned home.”
Sam at the Waszp UK national championships in June 2021
The first sailing event of the year was the Olympic qualifier, although GB had already qualified so it was just a question of Sam getting used to competitive racing again.
It was back in Portugal, so he headed out again, before returning home for the Waszp UK national championships in June. While Sam mainly sails a laser dinghy he also practises in a Waszp.
A Waszp is a small sailing dinghy with added hydrofoils to lift the boat up and out of the water, allowing speeds up to 30 mph, much faster than a more conventional laser dinghy that can usually only go up to 10 mph.
It’s considered similar to the racing in the America’s Cup – just on a smaller scale.
Sam wins the Waszp nationals at Rutland Water in the East Midlands
“It’s like driving a formula one car”
At the championships, out of more than 50 competitors at Rutland Water in the East Midlands, Sam came first, winning the top trophy. He said:
“That was pretty cool. I hadn’t sailed a Waszp for four months and it’s a very different type of sailing. It’s like driving a formula one car, compared to a Fiat Punto – very fast!
“The feeling of crossing the finish line and knowing I’d won was incredible and one I shan’t forget in a while!”
Crossing the finishing line in first position
Covid: ” My family called an ambulance”
Taking a break after that win, proved less relaxing than intended as Sam headed off on a family holiday to Cornwall.
After the highs of winning, he hit a low point, when he woke up with a sore throat and tested positive for Covid. Sam said:
“I was really ill for about two weeks and at one time my family called an ambulance for me. I was very tired afterwards and July and August were a real write off for me.
“Once I was well enough to train again, there was only three weeks before the start of the European Championships in Bulgaria. I did well to start with in the competition but still not fully recovered, I just ran out of energy and finished 22nd.”
Sam competing in the world championships in Barcelona in November 2021
A remarkable 15th in the world
Next up was the world championships in Barcelona in November. This is the top event for sailors when all the best in the world compete.
In 2020 Sam had come 60th but in 2021 he came a remarkable 15th in the world. He said:
“I was in the top 10 for the first few days and ending up 15th was a real breakthrough for me, especially considering everything that has happened over the year. I’m pretty chuffed about the result and it marks me out as a real contender.
“Basically if you’re in the top 20 in the world, you are in with a chance of winning at an international – it’s just down to nailing the wind and the weather conditions and making good decisions under pressure.
“That’s the brilliant thing about sailing, it’s a physical and mental workout.”
15th in the world
Swanage Sailing Club
Sam has had a lot of local support to help him achieve so much. He learnt to sail as a 12 year old at Swanage Sailing Club, near the pier, and always returns to sail there when he’s back home. He said:
“Swanage Sailing Club is a really perfect place to learn to sail. It has lots of boats, which you can use – you don’t have to own one.
“The sea is often dead flat and sheltered from the weather but if you go further out you can find massive waves, so you can choose your own conditions. It’s also a friendly club with a great sense of community and in normal times, very sociable!”
At the club where he learnt to sail as a child
Joe’s Gym and Actisense
Relying on sponsorship to allow Sam to travel and train, he is supported by two local sponsors, personal trainer Joe’s Gym in Swanage and marine electronic company Actisense in Poole. Sam said:
“Joe Shepherd has been a massive help. I went to him about three years ago and said I wanted to put on weight and muscle and he’s helped me do that.
“Whenever I’m back home I go and see him, as he’s a really good personal trainer – without him I would have struggled to get where I am with my sailing. He’s also a great guy as well!
“I’m also grateful to Actisense, not only do they support me but they also design and make specialised electronic kit for me, to give me an extra edge when competing.”
Tough conditions were overcome in Barcelona
What’s planned for 2022?
With the next summer Olympics scheduled for 2024 in Paris, 2022 is a warm up year for Sam and a chance to consolidate his success. He said:
“With the racing calendar disrupted, the next main event is actually the world championships again. It’s scheduled to be in Mexico in May and my goal is to stay in the top 15 – be solidly in there.
“Then in July it’s the Waszp world championships at Lake Garda in Italy and my aim there is to medal at the event – top three! It’s my chance to put my name on the map for an America’s Cup place in the future – a bit of CV building and making myself as employable as possible!”
Heading out to train in Swanage Bay whatever the weather or time of year
Olympic trials in 2023
Apart from those two events, Sam will be able to spend quite a bit of the year relaxing at home in Swanage before he’ll have to focus on the Olympic trials in 2023.
The sailing at the Olympics will be based at Marseilles, so he’s expecting to spend quite a bit of time there getting to know the conditions. He added:
“I may be able to relax a bit next year but no, it won’t be Netflix and popcorn! I’ll be working on my fitness and continuing to train but there will be less early starts in Weymouth.
“The Olympics is the pinnacle of any sailing career and 2023 will see me get serious!”
Watch Sam sailing with dolphins
- More about Sam Whaley is on his website