Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Earle Alexander giving the young blokes a run for their money. Image copyright Christophe Favreau.
by Di Pearson
Sailing is one of those sports where even at the elite level, age can a benefit rather than a barrier, and that is the case with 67 year-old Brisbane skipper Earle Alexander, who is competing at the 2011 SAP 505 World Championship at Hamilton Island this week.
Alexander, who will turn 68 in June, and is a survivor of prostate cancer, reckons big boat yacht racing “is for old blokes – and I’m not old enough.” That line has insulted some big name yacht racers, but Alexander doesn’t care. He wants to keep sailing the highly technical and fast 505 double-handed trapeze dinghy.
Not only is the dinghy a hard one to sail, Alexander has pitted himself against some of the world’s finest sailors, including Olympic medallists, Volvo Ocean Race crews, America’s Cup sailors and quite a few world champions from various classes, including the 505. He is currently 37th in the 85-boat fleet.
Age has not wearied this competitive sailor who “mucked around in Moth’s at Balmoral in Sydney where I was born.” However, university study, then his career as a mining engineer took precedence over everything else when the sailor moved to the bush.
Eventually, he married, had children and moved his family to Mt Isa in Queensland. While living there, he bought a Corsair and sailed it with his sons on the dam. A few years later, his sons grew and pursued sailing with friends.
Both Kim and his younger brother Nick won 420 double-handed sailing national titles – both with recognised Olympic campaigners of the future, Adrian Finglas and Teague Czislowski. It tells plenty about their ‘old man’s’ sailing talent.
Alexander moved to Brisbane and in 1985, purchased his first 505 as a member of the Humpybong Yacht Club. Dave Porter and Dean Blatchford were just two of the famous names who came to help set the class up.
There were half a dozen or so 505 dinghies at the Club, which prompted the veteran sailor to buy one. He hasn’t looked back and still relishes every opportunity to sail. “Everything in moderation though. You have to make time for your family, work and other things too,” Alexander says.
He and crew and friend of 25 years, Australian 505 president Ian Gregg, have sailed together for six years now. “I was very ordinary for a long time. I didn’t really get it (how to sail the boat) until Ian came along,” Alexander says.
Now sailing at Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, Alexander admits: “We took a quantum leap from there, because we started calibrating the rig and settings. We got a lot of help from people like Howie Hamlin (USA), Ian Pinnell (GBR) and Holger Jess (the German 505 builder and competitor).
“Those guys are the best and they’re happy to share their knowledge. Why reinvent the wheel when you can get what you need from these guys,” he asks.
An exponent of the class, Alexander says: “I love the 505’s. They’re good in all conditions. I once sailed at Hayling Island (UK) and we got a 42 knot gust and we were still sailing along OK.
He still remembers his and Gregg’s best result, a sixth at the 2008 Nationals, also sailed at Hamilton Island. “We won on the windiest day, and backed up for second the next day, which was also windy. I love the big weather best.”
There are some, but not so many guys still sailing dinghies and skiffs into their sixties. Alexander puts some of his fitness down to, “eating properly and sailing as much as I can.
When questioned, rival competitors confirm Alexander is competitive, and not just there to make up the numbers and they find him inspirational – and why wouldn’t they? These are not easy boats to sail.
“I got prostate cancer five years ago and luckily I recovered. From that, I’ve learned to be more relaxed and to stay fit; and that’s a good thing, because I travel the world as a consultant now, and I sail at different venues around the world, so relaxing and staying fit are necessary,” Alexander confides.
When does the Queenslander see himself giving 505 sailing away? “I don’t. I’ll do it till I fall off my perch. I’ll just take each year as it comes,” he says.
Family and fans can follow racing live via the tracker with SAP analysis, video and more on the official site at: www.505sapworldchampionship2011.com