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Twins get Olympic dream

Ferguson duo return to Canada after learning to race in Brazil

These twin brothers want to sail themselves back to Brazil and participate for Canada in the next Olympics in the country where they first picked up competitive sailing.

Arthur Ferguson and his brother, John, who are aged 20, were born on the east coast of Canada and spent about three years learning how to race in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the family moved after their father took a job with the Michelin tire firm in that country.

They moved from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, where the twins were born, to Rio de Janeiro, a sprawling, coastal city of 6.3 million people and the host city for the next summer Olympic Games in 2016.

The move was a lot to take in, especially for a couple of wide-eyed teenagers.

“Rio is really a big city. It was quite a change from the little town in Nova Scotia. It was a bit of a culture shock at first,” said Arthur.

The boys knew they liked sailing before they moved to Brazil, and had some success racing in Canada. While living in that South American country, they enjoyed racing throughout the year. Winter months there don’t slow sailors down.

“We were doing well in the local circuits (in Canada) so when we moved to Brazil it was a bit of a shock. The level was quite a bit higher but at the same time it accelerated our learning curve,” said Arthur. They did well racing the fast International 420 dinghy.

But when it was time to go to university, the twins headed back to Canada.

The decision was made easier because they were considered foreign nationals in Brazil and would have had to pay higher amounts than the local citizens to go to university there. While in Brazil, they attended an American-based high school and are fluent in Portuguese, the native language of that country.

Arthur, who is older than his identical, twin brother by only four minutes, settled in Toronto, where he goes to the University of Toronto and is in his second year studying political science. John attends the University of Calgary, where he is also in his second of a four-year program in earth sciences.

They took up the physically demanding 49er – the fastest of the Olympic class sailboats – when they arrived in Canada in the summer of 2011. They are based at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) in Toronto, where they keep their boat and can get some good coaching and excellent competition with other sailors.

“We both wanted to sail so we said ‘let’s sail together,’” said Arthur, in an interview prior to final exams and the start of the new sailing season. They grew up sailing Optimist sailboats and Lasers after an older brother, who is 26 and works as a naval architect in Vancouver, got into the sport and passed along his passion. They also have an older sister who is studying journalism in London, England.

“It was my brother’s passion and it grew from there,” said Arthur. He said his older sibling went on to coaching sailing, and taught them when they were younger.

The twins have both taken some time away from university to sail – they headed to Miami in January for the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta (OCR), and John will bolt to Toronto from Calgary soon after school is out in spring for training, leading up to a series of important races this summer in Europe and back in North America in late summer.

The idea of an Olympic campaign first came to the twins when the duo were competing in the International 420 at the world championships held in Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires in 2010. They were in awe of the level of competition at the world-class event, and were bitten by a competitive bug.

“We didn’t do well but it really opened our eyes to what we could do,” said Arthur. The boys placed 53rd out of a large fleet of 75 sailors, with the best in the world showing up to race in that particular sailboat at the event.

“This was a huge international fleet. It was pretty crazy. It was awesome,” he added.

When they arrived back in Canada, they took up sailing in the 49er, with John helming because he is a little smaller than his brother. It’s better for bigger Arthur to trapeze more often off the side of the boat to help centre the vessel and make it go faster.

“The 49er is what makes it so fun,” said John. ‘It’s the fastest Olympic boat.”

The 49er is a 16 ft., two-handed skiff with a double trapeze that can hit incredible speeds. The helmsman does the steering while the crew does most of the sail control while both are hiked off the side of the boat. The 49er is a bigger cousin of the 29er and made its debut on the international stage at the Sydney Olympics in Australia in 2000.

The Ferguson twins have been training and racing in that boat for the past few summers. They’ve been working up the fleet. They raced in the national circuit in Canada, taking in the Canadian Olympic Classes Regatta (CORK) in Kingston in late summer and last September, they made the trip to Italy to take part in the European world championships.

They were pleased with their results, although the competition was very stiff. The duo placed 53rd out of 63 boats in Italy, besting other Canadian teams. They knew then that they should take a run at an Olympic campaign, and work their way back to Rio, where their parents still work and live, not far from the future Olympic venue.

“We kind of decided to set up a campaign to represent Canada at the Olympics,” said Arthur. “John and I were really happy with that event. “It gave us the momentum to push forward.”

They took that inertia into the Miami OCR event in Florida in January, which was a qualifying event to make the Canadian sailing team and qualify for some funding and coaching. But disaster struck.

About halfway through the event, the high-tech, carbon-fibre mast on their boat snapped during one of the races. They were racing a day after a heavy-weather day, when all of a sudden they found themselves thrown into the water.

“I just heard this cracking and I was in the water,” said John. “I heard this cracking and I yelled “the mast is gone.’ ” He added: “It was a pretty rough trip.” They were back and forth from Miami twice for training, prior to the regatta.

“On the one day it was really windy but the next day, it wasn’t that windy. We weren’t even fully out on the trapeze” when the mast snapped, said Arthur. He surmises that the break was near where a vang meets the mast, and was probably a manufacturing fault.

Ironically, the same thing happened to a U.S. sailing team the day before during a race right in front of them on the course. That team’s mast also broke at about the same spot on the spar as the Ferguson twins.

They got five races in before the mast failure, and garnered some 11th place finishes in the top part of the fleet. “We were looking fine,” even though we were experiencing some minor equipment problems, said John.

The twins knew immediately after the mast failure that the regatta was over for them, and that they would not qualify for the Canadian sailing team for this year. But the pair took the mishap in stride.

“Our goal this year was to make the Canadian National Sailing Team but we couldn’t reach our was a bit of a heart-break but things happen for a reason,” chimed in Arthur. He said the additional funding would have been nice but not making the sailing team this year “makes it a little tougher, but it’s not a significant amount.

“John and I are confident that we are one of the top three boats in Canada. We can definitely be number two…our goal for this year is to improve in the fleet and gain as much experience as we can.”

They sail and train at RCYC against another 49er sailing team of Dave Mori and Justin Barnes. The team to beat in Canada is Jon Ladha and Daniel Inkpen, who are usually at the top of the leaderboard for Canadians at international events. They were 4th in Miami.

The Ferguson’s have university commitments this year and will miss some International Sailing Federation (ISAF) World Cup events, mostly European-based regattas which draw the best sailors in the various Olympic classes, including the speedy 49er.

This year is not as important as next year and 2015 is the lead up to the 2016 Games. It’s the start of the qualifying for coveted 2016 Olympic spots by various countries, with about half the spots for the 49er determined by results at the 2014 world championships.

The other spots will be determined at the 2015 North American championships, with the top Canadian team getting the Olympic nod.

Canadian sailors in a particular sailboat class must do well at world events to first gain the country a spot on the Olympic starting line. Once the country is qualified, it is the top Canadian team at a designated regatta who gets to represent the country in Rio de Janeiro.

The Ferguson team wants to be there, and know the waters in Brazil, having lived in the country and sailed in the same bay for three years. While in Brazil, they sailed at the Yacht Club of Rio de Janeiro, across the bay from the future Olympic sailing venue.

“We know the sailing locations. We know the winds and the waves,” said Arthur. “We would be pretty excited to represent Canada there.”

After training this spring, they have a few major regattas circled on the calendar for the summer, including an ISAF event in Kiel, Germany in June, the 49er European championships to be held this July in Denmark, and the worlds in France.

They also plan to attend the Skandia Sail for Gold ISAF event, which will also be held in June at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy in the U.K., which was the sailing venue used during the 2012 London Olympic Games. Later in the summer there are the Canadian nationals in Kingston and U.S. nationals in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

“The goal for this year is to improve in the fleet by gaining as much experience as we can,” said Arthur. The two would like to move up to about 35th place in international fleets this year, and make more improvements for next season.

Bouncing back and forth from Europe to compete is difficult for racers, who usually keep one sailboat in North American and another in Europe to save money on shipping fees.

The twins have launched a unique fundraising campaign to raise $60,000, with about half of that total needed to purchase a new 49er to keep in Europe for the various racing events and training. It’s too costly to ship a yacht in a container back and forth from Europe.

They have registered to be part of a new website started by former Canadian Olympic kayaker Julia Rivard of Nova Scotia, who competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

She started the fundraising website after running out of funds that she needed to keep training, and now wants to help other athletes reach their goals, said Arthur.

“It’s a fundraising website and a way of connecting fans with athletes,” he explained. ‘It’s a way of sharing and giving back and showing our appreciation.”

The new website, called “Pursu-it” or pursuit, launched in November, allows people to donate as much or as little as they like, from $25 to $300 or more, and to receive a token of the athlete’s appreciation back.

For instance, athletes can do a “shout out” on the social media website Facebook for a $25 donation, or send along a signed photograph for a $75 donation. The twins had to apply to become part of the website by submitting a video and written proposal.

So far, they are the only sailing athletes registered on the website and they have only two months in which to raise the $15,000 that they have set as a goal from the website before their time expires. They hope to raise the remainder of the $60,000 by approaching companies and others on their own.

“It’s really taking off. We are the first sailors and one of the first athletes from Ontario on the site,” said Arthur. He said there’s a lot of winter athletes registered because the winter Olympics are coming up next year in Sochi, Russia.

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