Sixteen-year-old Bermudian sailor Rachael Betschart has opened up about becoming the first female winner of the WASZP foiling class after soaring to victory on the same racecourse as SailGP’s F50s during the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix.
Betschart, who was competing in the WASZP for the first time, triumphed after five fleet races against seven other competitors but admits there were moments of doubt as she sailed around the racecourse.
“I actually came second in the qualifiers and at the beginning of the final five races I wasn’t winning so I was a little nervous,” she says.
However, following advice from her coaches Nathan Bailey and Josh Greenslade, Betschart focused on her race starts.
“This was the first time I’ve raced in a WASZP and the starts are crucial,” she says. “We had a lot of people who had really good starts so I just had to match them.”
Her strategy was ‘to sail around on the foils as much as possible’ ahead of the race and ‘go for the line with 30 seconds to go.’
“That was a little hard because I’m not that advanced yet to stay up on the foils the whole time but after every race I got progressively better.”
Heading into the final race, Betschart was ‘trying to do the math’ as she sailed around the racecourse and realised she ‘couldn’t do worse than third’.
“I was just trying to nail those gybes, do them consistently and stay up on those foils to keep up my speed.”
The strategy paid off. Rachael crossed the line to finish with 44 points and soon realised she’d not only won the league but become the first female winner to do so.
“I didn’t actually realise I was the first female winner until the interview after coming off the water so it came to me as a bit of a shock,” Betschart says. “It was such a wonderful experience - I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it.”
While Betschart started sailing young - at ‘around three or four’ - it took her a while to warm to the sport.
“When I was little I hated sailing,” she says. “It gets frustrating sometimes - you have to have the patience to learn and when you’re little you don’t really have that mindset.”
However, after a string of inspiring sailing coaches, including SailGP’s own youth program manager Tom Herbert-Evans, Betschart moved into the Optimist class and discovered a passion for sailing.
“I loved Optimists - I was able to go to so many different places and experience so many different things. Once I really started progressing in my Optimist career, I started to really love sailing.”
Betschart began long-distance racing and, at the age of 12, raced from North Rock to Hogfish Beacon - a journey of 11 nautical miles that took around six hours. But, after hearing that her old coach Tom Herbert-Evans had sailed around the island single-handedly, she knew she had to match him.
At the age of 13, she set about fundraising for the Bermuda Optimist Dinghy Association and circumnavigated the island in exactly ’10 hours and nine minutes’ - becoming the youngest person to make the journey.
“It benefited me in so many ways mentally and physically,” she says. “It was one of the biggest things I’ve ever done in my life.”
Three years later and she’s won the WASZP racing league after foiling for the first time under a year ago. “The first time I foiled, I absolutely fell in love with it,” she says. “It was just this big adrenaline rush. It’s amazing when you’re able to go really fast and stay up on the foils.”
While Betschart plans to continue sailing, her professional ambitions lie beyond the racecourse. Instead of pursuing Olympic campaigns, she plans to become an aeronautical or mechanical engineer - ‘I’m still deciding.’
“My dream job would be working for SailGP,” she says. “I want to be a part of building and engineering the boats. I’m really in love with the whole physics of the wing and the foils - I love everything about that.”
Following the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix, Betschart and the top male WASZP sailor Ethan Thompson, have been invited to compete in the WASZP Grand Final in San Francisco against 11 other nations in May 2023.