Damian Berther (12) is one of the best young sailors in Switzerland. He’s now aiming for a World Cup participation.
It is a beautiful November day with a crystal clear view of the mountains. Damian Berther has made use of the opportunity to lower his 2.30 metre long, 1.13 metre wide and only 45 kilograms heavy Optimist dinghy, with a draught of only 65 centimetres, into the water at the harbour in Sisikon and to do a few circuits on Lake Uri (Urnersee). He thereby makes some lightning-fast, spectacular turning manoeuvres, in which his small boat occasionally banks to some breathtaking angles. He literally dives under the 3.5 m2 sail in order to complete the gybes and tacks as quickly as possible.
"It's not ideal for sailing at the moment. There’s not enough wind," explains 12-year-old from Cham-Hagendorn, who sails for the Dirt Regatta Club Sisikon.
And he knows what he is talking about, because, despite his young age, he is already an expert in his field. At the Optimist European Championship, held at the end of October in Portoroz on the Slovenian Adriatic, he won an excellent 8th place in the final regatta, and was the best Swiss sailor from among 269 participants from 34 nations. This even resulted in the third place for Switzerland in the team rankings – mainly thanks to his top performance.
Training mainly on Lake Uri
He could thereby celebrated the greatest success of his career to date. "The European Championship was a great experience for me, even if the last final day had to be cancelled due to the corona pandemic. The event was very well organised, and there was a great atmosphere," says the youngster, adding: "I’d actually set myself the target of obtaining a top 30 position, and I was able to surpass that objective by far. I’m very happy with my result."
Photo 1: Damian Berther on his 45 kilogram Optimist dinghy.
Photo 2: Lightning-fast manoeuvres
Photo 3: He is one of the best young sailors in Switzerland.
Berther started sailing at the age of eight. He was motivated and inspired by his brother Samuel, who was two years older and had been "infected" with the sailing virus a little earlier. The parents of the Berther brothers, with roots in the Surselva in Graubünden/Grisons, had had nothing to do with sailing before, and there was no sailing tradition in the family. "What I find fascinating in this sport in the confrontation and the struggle with the natural elements. This is a major challenge. In addition, you have to be physically fit, and tactics also play a big role," reveals the graduate of a sports class in Cham.
In order to continuously improve, Damian Berther invests a lot of time and energy in training. "I’m normally on the water almost every weekend from March to September, either at regattas or for training. There are also training camps abroad in winter from time to time," he explains, adding: "I do a lot of strength training, and regularly go jogging and cycling." The young sailor does most of the sailing training on Lake Uri, and only occasionally on Lake Zug. His reasoning: "There is almost always good wind on Lake Uri. I also like the impressive surroundings of the mountain world very much." The young sailor can also often be found in the canton of Uri in his free time. He and his family often go skiing in the Oberland In winter, one of his favourite hobbies in addition to sailing.
This year, however, Berther had to reduce his racing and training program due to the corona pandemic. He was only able to compete in three races during the season, because many events were cancelled.
Advantages of being a flyweight in light winds
The young man from Cham-Hagendorn weighs only 36 kilograms and is 1.55 metres tall. This has advantages and disadvantages, as he explains:
"Light winds are very good for me and also medium wind strengths are still quite good. But with strong winds, it's difficult for me to keep pace with heavier competitors because I lack their weight and strength."
After his sensational performance at the European Championships, Berther is already aiming for his next big goal. He reveals: "I want to qualify for the Optimist World Championships in Riva del Garda next year. This is likely to be a difficult undertaking, however, as only five sailors are allowed to start for Switzerland. The internal competition is very strong, and it’s therefore very difficult to win a place in the team."
The Optimist is a small and light beginner’s dinghy for children and adolescents up to about 15 years of age. So Damian has time to make the most of his opportunities in this class. After that, he is expected to switch to the 420 sailing dinghy. The fact that Damian Berther made it this far at a young age is not the least due to his immediate environment. "My parents promote and support us as much as they can. We’re very grateful to them for that. In addition, we have very good trainers in the sailing club and also at Swiss Sailing, who take us forward," says the talented Zug youngster.