Former Olympian turned Psychology Masters Student Sara Winther back with familiar faces for another Women’s Keelboat Championship campaign

 In Ladies, Member Interest, News

2012 Olympic Laser Radial sailor Sara Winther is preparing to try repeat of her 2019 Barfoot & Thompson Women’s National Keelboat Championships, jumping back into the fortnightly RNZYS’s Ladies Series as part of Sally Garrett’s Ovlov Marine MRX crew. “I will never forget our MRX team winning”, says Sara”. “It’s so great to win an event as a team, and alongside all your friends who just sail for the love of it – some of the team have been sailing together since I was 19, so it was really cool to finally win!”

Sara has had an incredibly distinguished Laser Radial career, having been selected for the London Olympics as well as victories in the Spanish and French editions of the 2011 Sailing World Cup within a month of each other. Winther has also thrown her expertise into coaching, culminating in being a part of Irish sailor Annalise Murphy’s coaching team in her silver medal campaign at the 2016 Olympics, and most recently coaching Hungarian Maria Erdl at the 2021 Olympics.

The Ovlov Marine crew at the Barfoot & Thompson Tuesday Ladies Series – Live Sail Die

“I missed out on going to the Olympics in 2016, so Annalise invited me to train with her leading up to the games which went extremely well – we complimented each other’s styles and Annalise improved a lot over 6 weeks”, says Winther. “It was an amazing week of sailing and she took home Ireland’s first-ever sailing medal.” 

It was during this period as Murphy’s training partner that Sara realised how interested she was in the psychology of high performance sport. “Seeing how Annalise turned around the mindset of just being at the games to make up the numbers, to believing she could actually win was pivotal for me – it’s a long road of study, but I am really enjoying it”.

Sara’s current skipper Sally Garrett has been involved in the MRX scene since Sara can remember, and the two have sailed on and off for many years – however a call from Sarah Elle got the team back together on a more consistent basis. “I had finished my Olympic sailing but was still keen to do some racing, so we just re-started”.  Sara has just rejoined the crew as she has been away coaching for the last 2 years, so hasn’t sailed many keelboats recently. “I think we are all just getting back into it now but we are really looking forward to the Nationals in April and then targeting an event overseas in the future.

“I enjoy one-design racing, especially tactics which is my role aboard this year” says Winther. “ I think we are just 7 ordinary women who really enjoy racing together and we have a nice balance of being competitive but also being social – it’s a great mix”. Usual skipper Garrett has been away in Antarctica doing science for the Defence Force for the last month, so Sara has been filling in driving. 

“MRX’s have a kite and take 7 people to make it work, so that is all a bit foreign for us laser sailors”, says Sara. “They’re very different in some ways but the racing, tactics, and mindset is all the same. I enjoy being able to impart the tactical knowledge that I have to the women I sail with, and likewise, they teach me about sailing big boats which is really helpful”. 

“The ‘strongholds’ of the class like Karleen Dixon, and Melinda Henshaw never make the racing easier and you always have to be on your toes”. However coming from Laser fleet sailing Sara loves “how close and sometimes hectic the racing is – the Tuesday’s sprints are awesome and definitely the type of close racing I am accustomed to”.

The 2021 Women’s Keelboat National Championship fleet rounding a mark off Rangitoto

Something that Sara thinks should be adopted by Keelboat sailors from dinghy and Olympic sailors is “having fixed routines to find information to make good solid strategic decisions every time. That plays into the mental skills, regardless of what race or what day it is, trying to apply the same formula to the race, which should achieve consistent race results and win events.”

Looking at the current women’s sailing scene, Sara wishes she was able to have access to the increased amount of professional sailing pathways during her professional career “I guess when I was younger, there were some opportunities but it seemed really hard to break into, and not so much associated with your local yacht club or even your country. Now, with the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup announcement and the GP series there are some seriously cool opportunities for women” 

 “I think the greatest part of this sport is that you absolutely don’t need any special born talent to be good at it – you can learn to be a good sailor by just continual improvement”, says Winther.  She also acknowledges how “if you don’t know how to do something, you just ring people up and ask – there is so much knowledge in this country”. 

Sara on the final day of her Sailing World Cup campaign in Hyeres, France – Jesus Rend

She thinks that one of a sailor’s greatest tools is the ability to analyse your own sailing and then seeking advice if you are unsure of anything. “ Buying people coffee, and asking them questions is a tactic I have employed for many years. By seeking advice to set well thought out bite-sized goals and committing to the plan, you will see improvements.”

“Understanding how to break down parts of the race, or a skill etc into small bit size goals is important, or it can all get a bit daunting and overwhelming quite fast, advises Winther. “Be smart with your analysis, take on lots of small challenges, and don’t forget to celebrate the small successes!

Entries for the New Zealand Women’s Keelboat Championship are now open; here’s your oppournity to line up on the start line against former Olympian’s and world renown female sailors – Sign up and see the Notice of Race HERE.

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