Michael Beckett is a brilliant young sailor from the north of the county and Bill Carne enjoyed a chat with someone already world ranked for his age and destined for the very top of the sailing world . . .
At 18 years of age Michael Beckett is hugely regarded in the world of sailing as he races his Laser Radial boat in world-class events for his age group, an achievement made even more remarkable because he doubles up his sailing endeavours with his studies at Southampton for a degree in Ship Science and Naval Architecture.
Michael’s dad has a sailing school at Solva and so perhaps it was natural that he should feel at ease in a boat, especially since his big brother also sailed and Michael gained more experience in Solva Harbour, but also at Neyland and Gellyswick.
“I completed my A level exams at St Davids School,” said Michael, Where they were really great putting up with me going sailing all the time and still managing to get me through sixth form with some A-levels that would get me into university. I really wouldn’t have been able to do as much sailing at a high level if my teachers hadn’t been so supportive and willing to put extra time in.
“My family have also been outstanding in their support, as have Welsh Sailing and the Sports Council for Wales
It’s a similar story as school now because, as Michael told us,
“I will be training with the Olympic Development Squad through this winter, while trying to balance his academic studies at Southampton University, studying Ship Science & Naval Architecture, with a Silver Bursary for my sailing.”
“I began sailing in Solva Harbour from about five and I didn’t mind falling in because there was always someone there to pull me out. I started racing aged 9, when I sailed Toppers until I was 14,” said Michael, “moving to Laser Radials after winning the Topper Nationwide series in 2009.
“In Radials, I spent 2010 getting to grips with a new class and soon emerged to the front of the national fleet. It was tough at first because more upper body strength was needed as my speed increased.”
Michael now spends time each week with some weight training as part of his regime. He is already ranked seventh in the UK at senior level and is the youngest in the squad and when he was in Spain before Christmas worked with Olympians as well as Nick Thompson, who has three world championship medals.
“In 2012 I won the RYA Youth Nationals in Pwllheli, so I was then the representative for GBR at the ISAF Youth Worlds where, after a tough week I finished 20th. It was great to be part of the team that won the Nations Cup for top overall Nation. That Summer I went on to win a silver medal at the Youth European Championships in Denmark.
In September 2012 Michael moved to the Olympic Class, the Laser standard, qualifying for the British under 21 Youth Squad – and after a hard winter’s training he won the RYA Youth Nationals for a second year running.
“In April 2013 I travelled to Hyeres in the South of France to compete in his first-ever World Cup event, where the competition was very tough, racing against many Olympians and a predominantly professional fleet – and I learned a huge amount.”
It is worth recording the fact that he was competing just eight months after the Olympics against the likes of Robert Scheidt, who came second in the championships at 41, having already won five world and Olympic medals!
“I started off this summer with ten days intense training in Weymouth,” added Michael, “followed by my main event this year, which was the Laser under 21 World & Europeans. “After six scheduled days of hot and tricky racing I had to settle for 13th overall and second under 19, narrowly missing out on becoming the under 19 World & European Champion.
The national press told us,
“At Aarhus, in Denmark, in the single-handed Laser Radial class, Welsh sailor Michael Beckett posted a consistent set of scores across the nine race series. The RYA Volvo Youth National Champion finished the 10-man medal race in second place, clinching the silver medal, six points behind Henrik Begby (NOR) who took gold
“In the larger Laser Standard class at Largs, Michael Beckett, last year's champion in the Laser Radial, continued the Welsh dominance of the Lasers as he sailed to an emphatic 10-point victory over Henry Wetherell, who finished second, and Andrew Green rounding off his regatta in third.
One of the biggest regattas that Michael has taken part in was at Nieupoort, in Belgium, where there were over 200 participants and so they were divided into three fleets, with the top 70 in the Gold Fleet. Things started really well and he found some real speed to climb as high as seventh, before eventually slipping into a 13th place that was commendable but not what Michael wanted.
“I just ran out of steam after a tough summer and was disappointed but in hindsight I realise it was a good result, and one that I can build on because it was another valuable experience to sail with so many boats involved.”
His next trip abroad is to Parma in February for winter training administered by British Sailing. Ask Michael about his goals for 2014 and he shows how focussed he is.
“My aim for this year is to become the Under 21 World & European Champion, learning from this year’s experiences.”
Straight and direct, which is how Michael Beckett sails his Laser Radial - and it would be a brave man who bets against him.
We plan to watch this modest young sailor continue his quest and we wish him every further success in flying the Pembrokeshire Sailing Flag with such distinction.