SAILING: Setting course for 2012 Olympics

Erik van der Pol leans against the pull of his Kula 470 with teammate Fraser McMillan (not shown).

Erik van der Pol leans against the pull of his Kula 470 with teammate Fraser McMillan (not shown).

Canadian champs from RVYC racing world cup series

By Rebecca Kun – Special to the News

A pair Royal Victoria Yacht Club sailors are on track for the 2012 Olympics.

Erik van der Pol and Fraser McMillan were in Florida last week for the International Sailing Federation’s Miami World Cup.

Van der Pol (crew) and McMillan (helm) compete in the 470 class, a three-sail, two-person dingy raced in the Olympics. Their team, Kula 470, is named after the tectonic plate below Vancouver Island and the Pacific Ocean off the coast of B.C.

Team Kula finished outside the top 20 in Miami, unable to pick up any points towards the 2011 World Cup standings. But they finished as the second of five Canadian teams who competed and plan to race the Delta Lloyd Regatta in Holland at the end of May and Sail for Gold in England at the beginning of June.

Localized gusts on the waters off Miami made for difficult sailing conditions through the first two days, van der Pol said.

They showed good speed but, starts and the weather were a challenge as clouds and rainstorms moved in. Van der Pol and McMillan ended day 1 as the top Canadian team, a trend they continued until the end of the regatta.

“Day five (of the five day regatta) was the toughest day of racing,” van der Pol said. An OCS (over the starting line early) in their first race, immediately put Kula in last place.

“After (we) re-crossed the starting line (we) worked hard to pick up a few positions through the race but ran out of time to keep moving up,” McMillan said.

It was the most international Miami regatta to date, with 716 sailors and 53 nations competing in the various classes.

Thousands of hours of training paid off as did their philosophy, “to not over think and just do,” agreed the teammates.

When they are not competing McMillan works at UK-Halsey Sailmakers in Sidney, van der Pol coaches at RVYC. Their daily roles give them an edge when competing. Fraser is immersed in the theory behind sail shape and knows how to get the most out of their sails. Erik’s coaching gives him the ability to view and analyze their performance from another perspective.

Team Kula 470 were members of the Canadian Sailing Team in 2010. They’re already looking ahead to Perth, Australia, in December when they’ll to compete for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team.

Follow team Kula 470 at Photo and in depth Q & A with Erik van der Pol online at

Q & A with national champion Eric van der Pol of team Kula 470

On January 23rd over 50 Nations met on the waters of Biscayne Bay in Miami, Florida for the second regatta of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) World Cup. For seven days the world watched as they competed in the sailing classes that have been chosen for the 2012 Olympics. Kula 470 (Erik van der Pol and Fraser McMillan) is a team from Victoria, British Columbia that represented Canada in the 470 class. Erik sat down with me to talk about sailing, competing, his greatest achievement so far and the journey to the 2012 Olympics.

Which do you enjoy more competing or sailing?

That’s a good question. They have become very separate in my mind. It’s almost like two different sports. I really love being on the ocean, hanging out with my parents sailing around not thinking about anything too, too much. But, in the same stretch I really love the excitement and difficulty of competing especially at the Olympic level. So many things need to come together. It is interesting to learn how to manage and assemble all the parts. This is really what is sparking my interest lately, fueling me.

So, what drew you to the sport initially at 8 years old?

I don’t know if I was drawn to it, as I had to go with my parents every week-end. I certainly learned to love it over time but, I was more dragged along for the first year or two. My dad had always been sailing and my mom started to sail when I started. We ended up with a boat for the family, a 27 foot C&C. Every summer, all summer, every week-end, every spare afternoon we were on the water.

You sailed at Hubbard’s Yacht Club (in Nova Scotia,) where you were a race coach. How old were you then?

I started coaching there when I was 16 and I was the race coach from 17 until I was 20, four seasons. I coached Opti’s and a pretty competitive 420 program, which I really enjoyed. I sort of fell into it by luck, I was known in the community as a pretty reasonable sailor and the Club ended up in bit of corner one year, not having a race coach. This was my chance to sneak in and things flowed pretty easily from there.

I heard that you lived on a sailboat for a year and sailed through the Carribean. How did this impact on your sailing career?

I am sure it was life altering in a variety of ways. In terms of sailing it exposed me to the world wide community of sailors which was extremely interesting; sailors of all levels, from all backgrounds, from all places, of all circumstance. I definitely, came back from that trip with an enlarged view of the community and sport. What was possible and what sailing was all about.

Congratulations on winning the 470 Nationals last fall.

Thank you.

You competed in a variety of conditions during these races from light air to high winds. What was the most challenging aspect of these races and what did you learn that will help you in future races?

The Nationals were combined with a six day training camp. We were working with a coach named David Hughes from California, a sailing guru. He knows all the sailing tricks and tips in the 470. He was top ten in the world for a long time. The best thing about working with Dave is that he has been where we are so, when there was a situation where we felt oh, this is really hard, there is no way we could possibly do it better. Dave would tell us no, this has to be automatic you have to think about the next step. He understood and explained the fine details. He made us work really hard. He raised our expectations of ourselves. The camp was excellent in terms of sitting us down and focusing on sailing for 10 days. We had a good group and positive energy. It refocused, refreshed and recharged us.

How did the Miami Rolex OCR compare to the 470 National Races?

(It is a World Cup event, the second regatta of the circuit.) It was our first event this year, we have competed in it for three years. The focus of the Nationals was to be in the boat and to be racing at a reasonable level but, help each other out as well. Everything was really open and everyone would try to work with each other. At the World Cup level this changes drastically. You have to keep your cards close to you. We worked closely with an American team: Brendan Kopp and Micheal Costello who pushed us hard and at the same time were both a great resource and considerate. We developed a relationship with them during our time in Miami. It was pretty focused and selfish down there. We tried to get our own edge every time. Everything about the atmosphere was much more competitive. In Halifax there was not any tension in the air, Miami was like a pressure cooker.

What would you say is your greatest sailing accomplishment so far?

Being on the Canadian Sailing Team for 2010 was a great accomplishment. Our CST status gave us a fantastic opportunity to train with one of the best sport science teams in Canada at the Pacific Sports Center, and with Canada’s top coaches. We learned a great deal about training on and off the water, and we now have a far better understanding of how to get the most out of ourselves going forward. We find out whether or not we’ve qualified for the 2011 team some time in the last week of Feburary.

What is the significance of your team name: Kula 470?

Kula is the tectonic plate that formed Vancouver Island. Short and simple, it has relevance to where we are from. We were brainstorming names; it was the best we could come with at the time, so we went with it.

How does sailing on the West coast compare to sailing on the East Coast?

The nice thing here (the West) is that we can sail year round. Under the direction of Steve Macbride at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club we have been expanding and the level of sailing here is quite high. We take everybody and anybody on the race teams and in our summer programs, it is super accessible. It is a really good atmosphere for people to grow and progress. We (Fraser and I,) are at the pointy end of that pyramid but, everyone comes up to that level. The accessibility of sailing, the progression and the level of sailing is an atmosphere I have not felt before. On the East coast it was a little more exclusive. You had to qualify to do this and that. There was a disconnect between the top tier and everybody else but, not here in Victoria.

How did you and Fraser meet?

Fraser and I met at the Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club at Wednesday night sailing. I was the Head Coach there and it was my first year here on the Island. A friend of a friend was looking for crew; Fraser and I were both on the same boat racing. He had this grand idea to start sailing really competitively again and I was in the same boat. We both had not sailed to our potential for a few years. It was one of those spots where you either dive in or you back off again. We both shut everything else out and focused on sailing.

Your goal is to compete in the 2012 Olympics for Canada. How is this progressing?

We are where we thought we should be in our own little plan. Being on the National Team helps a lot, we spent last summer competing in Europe, which was our goal. We are starting to feel really comfortable on the World Cup circuit and at an international level. We will know if we qualify only a few months before the games. There are two qualifiers, the first is in Perth, the ISAF Worlds. It is the World Championships for all the Olympic classes. It is a massive event, thousands of sailors and boats will be there.

Is that a continuation of the World Cup? A fourth regatta?

The World Cup is in a sense the proving grounds. It is where you learn the skills to come to these events and be ready to make a bid for an Olympic Berth. Not just anybody can show up. You have to qualify, it is pretty inclusive. Although, if you are a Superstar you can just show up and compete without qualifying, which is interesting. The first qualifier for the Olympics is in Perth in December 2011. The World Championships in Barcelona, that’s the second one. So we will know after Barcelona in April 2012, that is only a few months before the games. We are on pins and needles for a long time which is very challenging.

What advice do you have for other sailors that want to compete internationally and excel at the sport?

I think the biggest thing is that you need to make a decision to put on the blinders and focus. If you do not absolutely want to be there then it might not be for you. So dive in, if the water is too cold that’s alright you can hop out. You have to put a lot of effort in especially in the beginning. Be prepared to be poor for three or four years, after that you’ll still be poor but you’ll have learned how to stretch what you have and you’ll have the support you need in terms of coaching etc. Go with an open mind. The guys at the top are at the top because they have been competing internationally for at least 10 years. When you attend an international event it is important to manage your expectations. You can’t compete in your first Miami OCR and expect to win, maybe your 5th, 6th or 7th year. It takes a long time but, it is a good ride. We are able to globetrot and meet all kinds of great people from all over the world.

What is your perfect day on the water? What kind of boat? I suppose there is more than one perfect day.

A good day on the water is in the 470 with Fraser and a few buddies hopefully, from the East Coast and Finland. We meet up with the guys, not too early, hang out at the boat park for a little bit. Hopefully, the breeze comes up and it’s not freezing cold, 18 knots, 3 or 4 boats, good friends, good teams and off we go for 5 hours. Then, we come back really exhausted and have a barbecue.

What is the best way for people to keep up to date to how Kula 470 is doing?

The best way is through a link from our website ( to our Facebook page: Kula 470. We post on Facebook all the time. We try to keep all our friends in the loop and post pictures.

By Rebecca Kun

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