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After a long and unplanned delay in action, the 470 Class is eager and primed for the 2021 World Championship, which kicks off racing in Vilamoura, Portugal, on Monday March 8. A year has passed since the 2020 Worlds in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, were cancelled in response to COVID-19’s global escalation. Nikki Barnes (St. Thomas, USVI), 470 women’s skipper of Perfect Vision Sailing (USA 1810), recalled hearing murmurs throughout the boat park as news headlines made their way to the public. After travel restrictions were abruptly announced on March 12, 2020, all 470s were packed up, the venue emptied, and competitors booked the first flight home.
The 2020 Worlds were to serve as the final Olympic qualification event for the USA Women’s 470 fleet. The three women’s teams – each team separated by mere points in their quest to qualify for Tokyo – quickly reevaluated the next year, adjusted their plans, and mentally prepared for another year of training.
Finally, the highly anticipated World Championship event is here, where all three teams will have a chance to reengage with the international fleet and return to a familiar racecourse. The 2021 470 World Championship, taking place March 5-13, is a welcome return to competition. Additionally, as the last event of the Women’s 470 Olympic Trials, the regatta results will determine which team will represent Team USA in Japan this summer. The three US teams, Atlantic and Nora Brugman (Winthrop, Mass.), Carmen and Emma Cowles (Larchmont, NY), and Nikki Barnes and Lara Dallman-Weiss (Hugo, Minn.), separated by mere points in the Trials standings, are preparing in Vilamoura after dedicating an extra year to their campaigns, eager to secure their spot to Tokyo.
Over the past year, the three teams took varying approaches to their extended campaigns, capitalizing on their environments and finding advantages where they could. Emma and Carmen Cowles remained stateside, training in Buzzards Bay in one-on-one sparring sessions with fellow USST members Stu McNay and Dave Hughes and traveling sparingly to small regattas as Covid restrictions allowed. Nikki Barnes and Lara Dallman-Weiss split their time between the States and Lanzarote, Spain, where they trained with the men’s and women’s teams from other countries who made Lanzarote their training hub for the pandemic. Dual citizens Atlantic and Nora Brugman remained in Europe, training locally out of their family home in Spain. Like Barnes/Dallman-Weiss, the Brugmans also leveraged the European circuit, training with and competing against French and Spanish teams in Barcelona, Plougueeneau, and Marseille.
“We have created a really strong bond with the 470 Women’s fleet,” said Nora Brugman about their year in Europe. “We never thought we’d grow so close to our rivals. We spend so much time traveling and away from home that these girls have become our family. We share everything, we support each other, we care for each other, and we push each other to be better on and off the water. It’s interesting because we are the best of friends but as soon as we hit the water, we become rivals and push each other to be better. We have a lot of respect for all of them and are so lucky to have them in our lives.”
Team Brugman, Team Perfect Vision (Barnes/Dallman-Weiss), Team McNay/Hughes, & Team Cowles, photographed by Joao Costa Ferreira | @osga_photo
Across the board, all USA teams are feeling confident in the year of preparation that has led them to Vilamoura.
“We feel really good. We’ve used the year to our advantage,” said Barnes. “It definitely wasn’t easy to extend for another year and continue the training, but we changed our plans and adapted, and I think we’ve prepared really well. Now we just need to get out there and deliver.”
When asked about their mental strategy heading into Worlds, the Cowles team detailed their approach to events throughout their campaign and how their deliberate thought routine helps them maintain a healthy perspective.
“We feel confident going into Worlds. Our mindset for big events is simply treating them as any other regatta,” said Emma Cowles. “It takes a lot of stress off the event and minimizes any outside pressure we may put on ourselves. Our strategy is to go race by race and day by day, keep our head down, and work hard.”
The men’s 470 team, Stu McNay (Providence, RI) and Dave Hughes (Ithaca, NY), will also be racing in Vilamoura. The team has already secured their spot for the Tokyo Games, but they revel in the opportunity to compete in an international championship again, hoping to prove their training efforts over the last year as they return to a course of familiar rivals and fellow 2020 Games competitors. Remaining opportunities to race against the fleet they will see in Enoshima are sparse, so time on the water with their competitors is precious.
“Our focus this past year has been to get the most out of the hours, days, weeks, and months that we’ve put on the water during 2020. We’re also finding confidence in our own skin, knowing we’ve put in the time needed, while also acknowledging there are a great many unknowns, having not sailed against our international competition in quite some time,” said Dave Hughes. “We’re working to ensure each day is productive and efficient and that we’re biting off the correct amount to chew on any given practice or race day.”
The Olympic Development group will also be on the starting line in Vilamoura. Lousia Nordstrom (Sarasota, Fla.) and Trevor Bornarth (Martin County, Fla.) will race in the new Mixed 470 discipline, and Shawn Harvey (Miami, Fla.) and Augie Dale (Pewaukee, Wis.) in the Men’s 470 discipline. All four have their sights set on the Mixed 470 fleet for Paris 2024. Harvey and Dale plan to eventually find female counterparts for their campaigns, but in the meantime are focused on learning as much as they can in the men’s fleet, stacked as it is with veterans.
“We’re well aware that the fleet will be stiff competition, because everyone in the men’s division has been sailing these boats for years and years, so we’re just hoping to learn a lot on the racecourse,” said Dale. “I’m very excited; it’s going to be fun sparring against everyone. We were recently training with the Russians and it was great to see their technique, how they trim, and how they steer through the waves.”
Nordstrom agreed with Dale about the ripe opportunities for improvement, saying, “I’m looking forward to seeing how much progress we make this month, because after just one week of sailing in these conditions it’s crazy to see how much we’ve grown. I’m excited to see what a month of sailing here will do for our growth.”
The Mixed 470 fleet is a new feature on the Olympic stage, debuting at the Paris 2024 Games. Nordstrom and Bornarth noted how the mixed pairs are all fresh, so there is truly a clean slate for who will wind up as the top teams. This is an exciting refresh that doesn’t come along very often in Olympic sailing, and the ODP group has a strong appetite to become tomorrow’s legends.
“Campaigning has been a huge team effort and we have been so lucky to have a huge support system behind us,” shared Nora Brugman, “Every single person who has come into our campaign has been a part of our success and is the reason why we are still here fighting for our goals. We would like to especially thank the Shelter Island Community, our family, our coaches, and our friends from all over who have helped us get to where we are today. The generosity and support we have experiences from so many people has always given us the strength and motivation to keep pushing and has also been a very humbling experience. We know one day we will give it back to the younger generations by helping future athletes achieve their own goals.”
Team Perfect Vision Sailing (Barnes/Dallman-Weiss) would like to especially thank the U.S. Coast Guard for their support in their endeavors. “Without Coast Guard approval, I wouldn’t even be able to get into a 470 – let alone compete full time – while remaining active duty in the Coast Guard, so we’re very grateful,” said Barnes. They’d also like to thank their personal sponsors and donors and all who helped them get to where they are.
The Cowles team would like to emphasize that while the public may see just the two of them on the water, there is an entire team behind them making it happen. Their parents and sister, Margaux, have been travel companions as frequently as possible and video calling when apart, and their coach, Steve Keen, has pushed their development since their days in 420s. The US Sailing Team management staff, physical fitness and therapy staff, and mentors they’ve found along the way have been crucial components of their campaign.
Team McNay/Hughes is grateful for everyone who has made it possible for them to compete in Europe, corporate and private sponsors, and especially their coach, Thomas Barrows, who has put in a considerable amount of time to helping them perform as well as possible. They’d like to acknowledge the sacrifices of others in order to give their campaign the best chance.