Different a tack

Kenn Oliver
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Ladha, Inkpen hope to sail all the way to London and 2012 Olympics

If you happened to be driving past, jogging or walking the perimeter of Quidi Vidi Lake this week, the sight of two men precariously clinging to a small vessel with enormous sails bobbing along the choppy waters might have caused a double take.

It is, after all, December in St. John's.

The Royal St. John's Regatta racing shells have long since been stowed away, and the most activity at the pond is from those using its walking trail.

Jonathan Ladha and Daniel Inkpen hope to wear Canada's colours at the 2012 London Olympics in the 49er sailing class. -Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

If you happened to be driving past, jogging or walking the perimeter of Quidi Vidi Lake this week, the sight of two men precariously clinging to a small vessel with enormous sails bobbing along the choppy waters might have caused a double take.

It is, after all, December in St. John's.

The Royal St. John's Regatta racing shells have long since been stowed away, and the most activity at the pond is from those using its walking trail.

But for Jonathan Ladha and Daniel Inkpen, sailing in less than ideal conditions now is only the first nautical mile on a long voyage the pair of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's natives are embarking on.

Ladha, 25, and Inkpen, 19, have started a four-year campaign in hopes of donning Canada's colours at the 2012 London Olympics in the 49er sailing class. The pair represented the province at the 2005 Canada Summer Games in Regina, Sask. where they won a bronze medal in the 29er class, a smaller version of the vessel they now sail.

"Anybody who's the best in any sport in the world has been doing it since they were born," says Ladha when asked if the goal is realistic considering the Canadian Olympic Committee is allowed to send just one 49er class crew from the national squad to London.

"Not only that, but we've had national success with a fraction of the time spent on it, a fraction of the money put into it, and a fraction of the coaching as our competitors (had)."

Inkpen, meanwhile, says their desire alone can make them better than the rest of the country.

"I mean, it's December in Newfoundland and I was sailing today. That's unheard of. Even to me," exclaims Inkpen.

In truth, the duo's journey began this summer when they placed fourth at the Canadian championships in Kingston, Ont. And it's continued ever since with as much time on the water they can get.

Focused on Florida regattas

But the real test begins with two all-important regattas in Miami, Fla., in the New Year. The first, the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta (OCR) scheduled to begin Jan. 25, is actually the first major international competition for the sailors. The event is an Olympic qualifier as well as a Canadian national team qualifier.

Depending on their results in the OCR and the North American championships Feb. 5, Ladha and Inkpen can apply to be carded with the national team. With only 24 senior cards and nine development cards awarded across all racing classes - and just three to each class - by the Canadian Yachting Association, it requires that Inkpen and Ladha finish in the top 40 per cent in the world fleet.

And that's if they are the only Canadian boat at the event, which they won't be since many of Canada's elite sailors are already in Miami preparing for the event.

Moreover, the application process looks at more than just results. According the Sport Canada carding criteria, the duo's annual training plan - complete with results from high level regattas, attendance at speed and training camps, coaching plan and fitness program - must be approved by the national team's coaching staff and the High Performance Director working in conjunction with the Olympic Development Committee.

Ladha, the 49er's skipper, is undaunted by the task.

"Fair enough, I haven't been in an international competition against these guys, but the way you go into something like this is truly believing you are the best and have the most potential. If you put in the work and you're determined, and you feel like you deserve it, then you'll get it."

In order to bolster their chances of getting one of the three cards for their class, Inkpen and Ladha are hoping to spend six months in Europe next year.

"The fleet in Europe is way harder than in North America," says Inkpen. "I think there's 50 boats (here) and in Europe there's probably 200."

But Europe, he says, is dependent on how well they perform in Miami and whether their sponsors continue to support them.

Needless to say, none of this is free and without a qualification card, there is no funding available. Just to get their vessel, Ladha had to take out a bank loan.

"That is an old, used boat with old, used equipment that we are still paying off and will be for the next couple of years," Inkpen explains of their 14-foot, 240-pound "giant surfboard with wings" with a mast that stands 27 feet.

In order to focus on training and less on the hefty finances required to fund their ambitious endeavor, Inkpen and Ladha are allowing a fundraising committee chaired by Glen Forbes to do the finance work.

In the meantime, Inkpen and Ladha have an equally ambitious short-term plan leading up to the New Year.

"Our goal, and it's kind of a crazy one, is to have our last day sailing on Christmas Day. If we can tough it through this, we've got an edge," Ladha says.

koliver@thetelegram.com

GIVIN' HER IN A 49ER

It's said the 49er class is one of the most physically challenging boats to operate on water. But 49er sailors Jonathan Ladha and Daniel Inkpen contend their vessel, "is not very boat-looking at all."

Measuring 14-feet from bow to stern with a 27-foot high mast, the two-person tandem required to control the 49er don't actually have seats. Instead, the occupants spend most of their time in a harness perched on one of the wings on either side of the vessel to leverage against wind pushing against the sails.

The vessel is steered using two 10-foot length carbon fibre poles attached to the rudder at the rear of the vessel.

But what makes it so challenging?

"Number one," says Ladha "is the huge sail area.

"It's literally a lot more power to control in your hands and arms. No matter how good you are, it's always on the edge of control, that's the way the boat is designed. You're always fighting to keep that thing upright and in control, clipped in by a single clip going up to the mast."

"You're always throwing your weight around, everything is right on the edge," contends Inkpen. "One of us could have to run out, grab on to a rope and hang our whole body weight from it for a few minutes while doing other stuff with our other hand."

On their 49er, Ladha serves as the boat's skipper - steering and handling the jib upwind, while handling the main sail when heading downwind. Inkpen controls the main sail heading upwind and handles the spinnaker (third sail) heading downwind.

Asked who has the harder task of the two, Inkpen couldn't help but tease his boat-mate.

"Jonathan's job isn't quite as physical as mine. He just drives."

Organizations: Canadian Olympic Committee, Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, North American Canadian Yachting Association Sport Canada Olympic Development Committee Jonathan's

Geographic location: London, Canada, St. John's Quidi Vidi Lake Portugal Cove Europe Regina Sask. Miami Newfoundland Kingston Florida Miami, Fla. North America Glen Forbes

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