Richard Walsh is back representing Canada at the Pan American Games for the first time in 12 years. The surrounding crew and competition may have changed, but the goals for the veteran sailor remain lofty.
Walsh will captain his three-person crew of fellow Thunder Bay natives Alex Cox and Nikka Stoger in the lightning class on the Bay of Paracas in Peru starting on Aug. 3. Walsh and Co. depart Thunder Bay on Sunday.
“For sure it’s exciting, the 44-year-old Walsh said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “That you’ve done it before, you know that it’s different than some of the other races that I’ve done in my life.”
A lifelong sailor, Walsh last hit the international stage at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Brazil. Partnered with Jim and Alisia Cameron, Team Walsh finished fifth. This time, Walsh is entering the seven-boat competition on a bit of a roll.
Walsh, Cox and Stoger made their debut together last year at a qualifier in San Diego, winning a berth for Canada in this class. Then last May, Team Walsh outright won the spot at the trials in Montreal.
Since the victory, the trio has been based in Thunder Bay and run regular practice on Lake Superior. Walsh lives and works in Dryden, but spends his summers in his hometown.
“It’s bit of a challenge to get out. It’s hard to replicate the conditions that we’re going to see there all the time in our practice,” Walsh said. “Peru is fairly consistent with the winds. It’s supposed to be windy — about 15 miles per hour, 15 knots.
“With a small fleet like that it’s important for boat handling,” he added. “A lot of the skills we have to learn (in practice). . . . How do we tack? How do we make it go faster? To the point where it’s just second nature for different wind conditions and who’s doing what. That kind of takes care of itself out there and you can really focus on wind direction and the other boats on the course.”
Walsh said he and Cox have worked together for 11 seasons. Stoger, the newest addition, has fit right in.
“Alex is my middle guy. . . . We have a really good rapport, a really good connection. He really knows what I kind of like,” Walsh said. “Nikka is sort of a newer addition. She came with us to San Diego last year and worked out really, really well.”
There are a total of nine Canadian boats in various divisions set to hit the Bay of Paracas. Four are from the Toronto area, while other crews are from Kingston, Ont., St. Margaret’s Bay, N.S., Montreal and Vancouver.
Lightning sailors will compete in two races every day starting on Aug. 3. Points are earned and the top five cumulative scores advance to the medal races. Scores from early races still count in the final round. Placement is based on straight winners on the course as the boats are not adjusted for handicap.
“It’s kind of like racing a stock car. They all measure into the same specs,” said Walsh, who has been competing on boats since he was seven years old with the Temple Reef Sailing Club.
A handful of sports at the Pan Am Games began Wednesday. The opening ceremonies will be held in Lima on Friday.