Max Gallant can see the wind, or at least that’s how it seems to his competitors.
Gallant, 16, recently won the gold medal in the Full Rig Laser Competition at the Craig and Ross 2012 CYA Youth National (Sailing) Championships. The Championships were held in Gimli, Manitoba between Aug. 28 and Sept. 1 and included sailors in all classes from around the country. The competition was especially important as it served as a qualifier for the 2013 Canadian Youth Sailing Team – a team that Gallant will now join.
Gallant was part of a six-person team including Matthew Turner, Nick Smith, Reece Myerscough, Maddi Innes and Sophie Papp representing the Royal Victoria Yacht Club.
Turner placed fourth in the Full Rig Laser – an impressive showing for the yacht club team.
Gallant’s victory was decisive as he managed to claim his title with a final score of 17 after 12 races. His nearest competitor scored 29 and the middle of the pack had scores ranging between 50 and 78. (Sailing scores are similar to golf – the lower your score, the better you’ve done.)
The coach of the yacht club sailing team, Steve McBride, isn’t surprised at Gallant’s success.
“Max has an extraordinary talent,” said McBride. “All the boats are the same, and everyone is starting with the same wind and water. Then it becomes a matter of who has the fitness, the tactical ability, the experience and the skill to win. Max has all of those.”
He’s been sailing since he was six years old and has developed a love for the sport that transcends most of the other aspects of his life. He trains every day, spending 20 to 30 hours a week honing his skills.
“When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check out the wind,” said Gallant. “I do it without thinking.”
Yet strategy is a big part of the sport. “It’s like chess on the water,” said McBride. “In ‘one design racing’ it’s not about the boat. You can’t buy a win with a better boat design. There are a hundred other sailors out there trying to do the same thing you’re doing and it comes down to who makes the least mistakes.”
That’s Gallant’s strength. “When I am getting ready to start, I’m always a little nervous,” he said. “But once the race starts I forget about everyone else and just do what comes naturally. I can look ahead and see the wind and know what I have to do.”
See the wind? Apparently, it’s not as mystical as it seems. “Max can see if there are puffs in the clouds and how they’re moving. He can see the ripples on the water up ahead and he can feel the action of the wind on the sail. He processes all of that without thinking and makes his moves at exactly the right time; he knows the wind will behave in a certain way. It takes a lot of skill and experience,” McBride said.
McBride and the yacht club are working diligently to provide that understanding to as many sailors as they can. He has more than 25 years of experience as a coach and has been with the Royal Victoria Yacht Club for seven years. He coaches the youth team for national competition as well as the paralympic sailing team. Currently, he has some 50 members on his youth team and also oversees the Learn to Sail program at the club.
McBride ensures that fitness, technical training and even sport psychology are a part of the training for his athletes. “Sailing is arguably the most technical sport in the world,” he said. “It takes a lot of preparation to do well.”
Sailing is also one of the sports where early entry has been identified as being crucial for success, he said.
“The younger we can get kids into the sport, the greater their potential for success. Max is a good example of that,” McBride said.
As for Gallant, he’s just starting Grade 11 and is looking toward a future that includes finishing his education and planning for a career, all the things that occupy the lives of other 16 year olds. But for Gallant, there are other dreams as well.
“I’m on the national team now, but I want to make it to the Olympics – and win,” he said.