World sailing

Chester’s Lewin-LaFrance sisters are more than just hosts for the World Sailing Championships in St. Margaret’s Bay

World championships for three Olympic sailing classes – the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 – begin this week in St. Margaret’s Bay.

This is the first time the six-day international regatta will be held in Canadian waters.

Chester’s Lewin-LaFrance sisters – the only local sailors competing in the 49erFX class – will try not to get too carried away with the merriment of the event. They have high expectations for their own performance on the approach.

We do our best not to get too caught up in everything going on in and around the event. Of course, our close friends, we will help them if they need it. But for the most part, we try not to make it any different from a normal event outside the home.

“We are the one and only true local team and we only grew to 15 minutes from the event,” Antonia Lewin-LaFrance said in a recent interview.

“We do our best not to get too caught up in everything that happens in and around the event,” added Georgia Lewin-LaFrance. “Of course, our close friends, we will help them if they need it. But for the most part we try not to make it any different from a normal event away from home.

More than 400 top sailors from 28 countries are expected for the world championships, which begin Wednesday and run through Labor Day.

The Lewin-LaFrance siblings are one of three Canadian teams to race in the 49erFX, joining Tokyo 2020 Olympians Ali ten Hove and Mariah Millen and Tate Howell and Adrianna Baird.

Three sailing teams from the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron are entered in the other classes: John Jack Gogan and Hunter Hoy (49er) and Maya Heidenreich and Noah Adler and Galen Richardson and Madeline Gillis (Nacra 17).

Having competed all over the world, the Lewin-LaFrances said it was “a bit surreal” to have some of the best sailors in the world competing in their home bay.

In 2021, sailors from Chester Georgia, left, and Antonia Lewin-LaFrance finished third at the 49erFX European Championships and followed that up with a sixth-place finish overall at the World Championships in Oman, the best Canadian performance ever at that event. – CONTRIBUTED

“It’s so weird to see everyone here,” Antonia said. “I will never get used to this.

“We’ve traveled all over the world and made so many friends,” Georgia continued. “So it’s kind of funny that we welcome them all to Nova Scotia and to Hubbards.

“Everyone has questions to ask, looking for lifts to and from the airport. That’s something quite special.

The sisters would be riding a wave of momentum in 2021. They placed third at the European Championships last September and followed that up with a sixth-place finish overall at the 2021 World Championships in Oman, the best Canadian performance ever at this event.

They are aiming to qualify for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. They attempted to qualify for Tokyo last summer and competed in the inaugural Canadian Olympic Trials. The second set of trials did not take place due to the pandemic and ten Hove and Millen earned the Olympic berth for Canada. (They finished 16th overall in Tokyo).

“We weren’t sailing full time at the time, but we decided to go to the event to get the experience of being at the trials,” Antonia said.

Last year’s momentum was somewhat derailed in 2022 as Antonia recovered from knee surgery.

“I knew I needed surgery before our two best events last year, which was really tough mentally,” Antonia recalled.

She was operated on after the world championships.

“I asked the coaches to attend these events and delay the surgery against the doctors’ best recommendation,” she said.

“Honestly, the recovery was difficult but it allowed me to decompress a bit. It was tough getting back in the boat with a backup, that was probably the hardest part.

She said withdrawing from high-level regattas, such as Palma de Mallorca in Spain, was difficult.

“Seeing boats racing without us was such a mental challenge,” Antonia said. “I just wanted so much to get over the pain. In the end it was the right choice, but at the time it was difficult.

“The knee is holding up really well now and we’ve put in a ton of training days to get ready for these world championships. In terms of boat handling we’re feeling pretty good going into this one. Were excited. We like to race against the best in the world.

Georgia Lewin-LaFrance has been a strategist for the Canada SailGP team this year.  - SAIL CANADA
Georgia Lewin-LaFrance has been a strategist for the Canada SailGP team this year. – SAIL CANADA

In addition to competing at the international level with her sister, Georgia Lewin-LaFrance had the advantage this year of being selected for the Canadian SailGP team for its inaugural season.

SailGP is an international sailing competition using high performance F50 foiling catamarans. Ten international teams (Canada, Australia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the United States) took part in a season of several Grands Prix around the world. It started in May in Bermuda and stopped in Chicago, Plymouth, England and, more recently, Copenhagen.

It continues in France and Spain in September, in Dubai in November, in New Zealand next March and ends in San Francisco next May.

Each team member has a specialized role. Lewin-LaFrance is that of a strategist. She didn’t go to Denmark “because I wanted to prepare for the world championships,” but she will join the Canadian team next month.

“It’s really, really cool,” Georgia said of her SailGP experience. “I learned so much that helped the FX side of things.”