Able to sea it through

By junior reporter Dhruv Singh

A sailing race is the ultimate test of endurance and teamwork

By junior reporter Dhruv Singh |

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Wilhelm Christensson, with teammate Aymeric Gillard, takes on the waves.

Being a world-class sailor isn't easy. It takes years to get to the top. That's what makes coming seventh with your teammate in a field of about 30 top teams so impressive - especially when you're only 17.

For Wilhelm Christensson, it took intense 12-hour training sessions, and plenty of dedication to achieve his goal.

"Sailing needs a tactical approach, [so you] navigate and win a race," says Wilhelm. "The complexity of sailing is due to the chemistry of sailors on board, predicting the wind direction and weather, and time management.

"But most importantly, you need to be very focused on your job, as there is no room for error [if you have] hopes of winning."

In April, Wilhelm took part in a Category1 offshore race, the Rolex China Sea Race, from Victoria Harbour to Subic Bay in the Philippines - which is 1,050km.

Category1 races are extremely hard to even qualify for. They stretch over long distances that test the endurance of sailors. On top of this, the yachts must also be completely self-sufficient and capable of withstanding heavy storms without help from anybody else. It is not a sport for the faint-hearted.

"Sailing is not an easy sport," Wilhelm says. "You must always be prepared for the worst and learn how to be a strong leader."

If a sailor doesn't take this responsibility seriously, they run the risk of disaster.

"From experience I can say that you must be in full control to ensure you prevent chaos onboard," says Wilhelm. "If the crew doesn't cooperate when you are offshore, things just don't work out. Sailing demands a lot of teamwork.

It can be tricky to combine all the skills required to sail. On the one hand, you need to be able to lead and anticipate any situation. But on the other, you must be able to work well with your teammates.

Sailing also requires endurance. In races that might last 48 hours or longer, you must be willing to give up sleep to make sure you cross the finishing line.

"We work four-hour shifts during the day, and shorter, three-hour shifts during the night, as people need to rest," says Wilhelm. "But problems, like a lack of sleep, arise while you constantly have to navigate the sea, even during the night. The clock is always ticking."

Despite all this, Wilhelm says any sailor would rather face a challenge than an easy ride on gentle seas. It is when the water is choppy and unpredictable that the human spirit shows what it is capable of, and when the members of a yacht crew come together to work as one.

"Although it requires a lot of experience to reach a world-class level, I have never felt sidelined or discriminated against because of my age," says Wilhelm.

Sailing is not a cheap sport: buying a yacht or even a small dinghy is extremely expensive, and beyond the means of most normal Hong Kong parents. But Wilhelm says that doesn't mean people can't give sailing a try.

"It is definitely not a cheap or easily-accessible sport," he says. "But you can still rent a boat if you want to brave the seas."

And who knows? If you are a natural, you might even attract sponsors to pay for your own boat one day.

So does Wilhelm see a future in sailing?

"Right now, my priority is to get into a good university," he says. "But I have a strong desire to sail in the Olympics, and I'll continue to work towards this."

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