Helena Lucas chats to Sue Pelling about her recent Yngling success and reveals her Olympic plans 26/9/06

Stepping in the shoes of Shirley Robertson at the helm of a Yngling at the Olympic test event in Beijing is probably one of the most difficult situations to be faced with, particularly if you’d never sailed a Yngling before.

Imagine competing in the gold-medal-winning team’s boat and the pressure you may have to face through not quite living up to expectations on the racecourse? It was a tough call and a situation that few would have coped with. Choosing the right person for the job was a tough call too, but there was no doubt that the RYA in making decision for a substitute for Robertson, who was at time still on maternity leave, made the right choice.

Paralympic sailor Helena Lucas who is more usually seen a the helm of a 2.4m, not only agreed to step in at the last minute despite never having sailed a Yngling before but together with her super-hot team of Annie Lush and Lucy Macgregor managed to notch up a series of top results which culminated in a silver medal.

Thirty-one-year-old Lucas – who was born with no thumbs – usually races a 2.4m at international level within the paralympic fleet coped amiably with the situation in Beijing and now sees herself as a possible contender for a Yngling Olympic campaign, possibly 2012.

Lucas talking to yachtingworld.com about her future Olympic plans confirmed that although she would now consider a Yngling campaign her commitment currently remains firmly within the 2.4m class. “I would seriously consider it for 2012 but at the moment I’m still pretty new to the 2.4m. I’ve only been sailing it for a couple of years and there’s an awful lot of development work to do? So to embark on a Yngling campaign from scratch would be too much but what I would be tempted by would be 2012. But I have to say it was something I’d never even considered before China but after the result in I now think it is possible.”

Chatting about her goal and her achievement in Beijing Lucas said: “When I found out I was going to Beijing I though it would be more a matter of familiarization, getting to know the place and learning to sail the boat. The girls [Lush and Macgregor] were feeling the same. Then, day one, we were third overall. So we thought okay, good start, that’s okay, and then I think we just took one day at a time and each race as it came because knowing what the venue was like with the light winds, there was such a chance that after the first day we might not get any more races in. In some ways maybe that helped us because every day we almost treated it as though it was the last day we get out there so we never really thought too far ahead and just dealt with what we had out there at the time and just got on with it, and never dropped out the top three for the whole regatta.”

Praising her Yngling crew Lucas added: “They were brilliant. For me it was a case of jumping in the boat and learning how to sail a three-person boat which is fairly alien to me. But it was interesting because we just seemed to get faster and faster as the regatta went on. There were a couple of races where Annie and I looked at each other as we rounded the top mark in the lead and said: ‘How did we get here?’

“It was funny though I stepped in the boat and thought great, there’s a kite and a lot of similar things to the 470 which I started to implement into the Yngling, little jobs that I thought I could do, but Annie said: ‘no, no, you don’t need to do that.’ There was one time when Annie said: ‘Shall we go for a drop?’ and tried to grab the spinnaker sheet; I soon got told off for that!”

Although Lucas is a full-time professional sailor within the RYA Skandia Team GBR Performance Squad she keen to ensure she retains an interest within previous profession in naval architecture and says is a good reality check. “After I’d graduated and before I started sailing full-time I worked in the design office at Bowman Yachts and I’ve managed to keep one contact going. Sometimes I feel I need it to bring me back down to earth again. It’s a reality check to make me realise just how privileged I am with all the support and funding. It’s easy to get a bit complacent.”

Lucas’s next major event is the inaugural Sail for Gold Regatta which will take place at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA from 13-15 October. Here she will be racing her 2.4m. Log on to yachtingworld.com for daily news reports from the regatta.