The 44Cup has its fair share of Olympic sailors, from tacticians to crew, most packed on to Artemis Racing, including triple Olympic medallist Iain Percy and bronze medallist Anders Ekström while their regular tactician reigning Dylan Fletcher is the reigning 49er gold medallist.
For the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina, Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team is trialling gold and silver medallist Will Ryan on mainsheet 470. Ryan has been part of the extraordinary Australia Olympic 470 medal-making machine that saw their men’s crews win gold in four out of the last six Olympic Games, and podiuming in five. Ryan was part of the last two of these, winning silver in Rio then gold in Tokyo with helm Matt Belcher. With the change of classes for Paris 2024, so Ryan has shelved his Olympic aspirations. “The racing you do in the Olympics is phenomenal and I miss it a lot. I was so happy with where our program got to with Matt that now to go back into that space I would have such high expectations.”
Ryan had his first taste of RC44 racing in at the opening event of the 2022 season in Puerto Calero, Lanzarote where he joined his former 470 competitor Nick Asher on board La Pericolosa as the German team tried out 44Cup racing on the class’ trial boat. However even then he had already been big boat racing previously as tactician and trimmer with Australian owner Marcus Blackmore on the Hooligan TP52 and on his Southern Wind 96.
So what does he make of the RC44? “The 44 is a phenomenal class. I’ve always admired them. These boats existed before I even knew how to sail, so the fact that they are still amazing boats now and provide such close racing shows the quality of their design. But what strikes me most, besides the closeness at the top marks, is just the openness and friendliness of everyone. In other fleets there is a lot of secrecy and games and politics.”
Compared to other big boats Ryan says the RC44 is more “dinghy-like. As an individual you can contribute a lot more dynamically whereas in the 52s you have to work as a whole team to make those little gains.
“In the 52s you often get the same boats featuring at the top mark, whereas here a different boat leads around every race. And downwind these are much more dinghy-like and you can catch the waves. Just being narrower they heel over and that gives you more scope - you can compromise in one area and gain in another. Coming from a dinghy background, you have these options with the RC44 where you can mode it. Downwind is always fun and the racing is short and intense. The narrow hull shape means you can heel the boat and sail it aggressively in almost all wind conditions. I think it is something about the fact that there is so much weight in the keel bulb that makes them so powerful around the course.”
For a while now Ryan has been living in Switzerland as his girlfriend is Swiss and he has become a Swiss resident. Because of this he is taking more interest in Swiss sailing. To this end he has become Swiss J/70 champion. He has also come into contact with Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team. “Christian is doing a great job getting young Swiss up-and-comers involved. I am friends with a few of those guys and the opportunity came around for me to get involved. My intention is to come in as an observer and see maybe how I could help in the future but the opportunity arose to jump in at the deep end.” This week he is trimming mainsail.
“Christian has a great attitude and he is a good team organiser. He puts good pieces together and I hope I can use my experience to unlock the potential from the young guys and get the communication through the group going and unload Cam [Cameron Dunn - tactician] a little bit. He has done a super job lifting the team over this last year.”
Whether Ryan becomes a full-time Black Star Sailing Team member also depends very much upon his schedule. He is busy already racing a TF35 foiling catamaran in Switzerland but taking up most time is his position as wing trimmer with the Switzerland Sail GP team. He would also love to defend the Etchells World Championship title his team won this year.
“I enjoy racing the RC44 a lot. Hopefully I can contribute positively. It is about how the comms style works but my commitment to the program is going to be hard as next year’s calendar is going to be extremely difficult.”