When did you start sailing?

A family friend introduced my family to the sport, my sister first joined it as a CCA in CHIJ Katong Primary and I decided to try it out as well!

 

What were the early regattas like?

I don’t know why I remember this, but when I was 9 years old, in the first race of my first ever regatta, I rounded the first mark 1st because there was no wind! I was probably 20kg back then. I was so excited and nervous!  

 

What is it like training overseas?

Training overseas is usually fun and productive, away from the stressful life in SG, away from distractions and people. It usually involves road trips, lots of cooking and grocery shopping!

But training in Singapore can be nice as well. A shout out to the Operations Crew at NSC that makes the sailing centre a happier place and for smiling at us every day!!!

 

Where have you trained?

Perth (AUS), Wellington, Napier (NZL), Pattaya (THA), Langkawi (MAS), Jakarta (INA) Haikou, Shanwei (CHN), Enoshima, Karatsu, Okinawa (JPN), Trincomalee (SRI), Incheon (KOR), Thessaloniki (GRE), Limassol (CYP), Monaco, La Rochelle, Marseille (FRA), Canary Islands, Barcelona, Mallorca (ESP), Sicily (ITA), Kiel, Travemunde (GER), Tavira (POR), Workum (NED), Dominican Republic, Rio (Brazil)

How do you cope with school and competitive training?

I managed to juggle studies and sailing pretty well throughout primary/secondary school. However, I struggled a lot in JC because the amount of content for A levels is just insane. I was training and travelling so much that my teachers advised me to defer my studies.

I insisted that I carry on with my sailing plans, along with school.

I was lucky to have very encouraging and supportive classmates who made special notes with encouraging words on my school work that helps to keep me going. My school teachers also had to have a lot of patience and had to give me lots of one-to-one consultations.

Needless to say, many thought I was crazy. Some even gave up on me, and I don’t blame them. I believed i could do it (with a lot of praying). In the end, I’m lucky things worked out.

 

What do you do in your free time?

Weekends are mostly reserved for training. I don’t feel that i’m missing out with my peers. I’m doing something I enjoy, so I wouldn’t call it a sacrifice. What I wish I did have, was more time to spend with my family.

 

How is Sailing a mental game?

Sailing, for me, is summed up in this quote. “Waves are not measured in feet or inches, they are measured in increments of fear.”

 

What does Sailing teach you about teamwork?

My favourite crew once said, “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.”

 

Describe a time when you wanted to give up

The feeling comes often, after a bad day of training, while freezing in 6 degrees celsius in the rain, in 30 knots and 3 metre waves. I always ask myself, why I am still in this? Why am I torturing myself? What I am hoping to get out of it?

The moment when I wanted to give up finally came when I attempted for Rio Olympics trials. Not because I did not qualify; if anything, that event was the first time I was racing against Olympians and it was inspiring. I was tired of unstable partnerships and uncertainties, sailing with people who weren’t willing to commit. It was mentally draining, and I’ve had enough. I decided to chase my other passion; caring for the environment.

I become an active NParks volunteer at Pulau Ubin, met many great people with lots of wisdom and experience to share. I went there up to 4 times a week, for about 5 months. Even though the lifestyle and intensity was very different from sailing, I was enjoying it.

One morning, while making my way to Ubin, I bumped into Uncle Dola, one of the Operation’s crew uncle from the sailing centre, at the bus stop near my house. He asked me where I’ve been, why I haven’t been at NSC etc. I tried to keep the story short, I told him that things in sailing didn’t work out, that I was doing animal surveys and plucking weed in Ubin. He listened carefully. I still remember the look he gave me. That kind of look that said, you’re not the type that runs away from your problems, you’re the type that faces them head on. He finally replied, with a disappointing tone, something along the lines of, ‘You’re spending your days plucking grass instead of sailing?! When that’s your passion, when that’s what you’re good at?!’ (Mind you, Uncle Dola is a man of few words)

When he put it that way, I realised, he had a point. This wise man had known me, for at least 10 years, since I started sailing. He was like a grandfather figure to me. He spoke the truth I have tried so hard to avoid.

No amount of hours in Ubin could fill the void that sailing had left me in. Before I could reply, he looked straight into my eyes and simply said, with that usual warmth in his voice, ‘Yuki, come back to NSC.’

About a week later, I texted Cheryl.

What does it mean to you to qualify for the Asian Games?

It’s my first Asian Games after 3 attempts. The last 2 Asian Games Trials, I lost by a close margin and I was a sparring partner. It took me a while to recover from those, having come so close. It’s like being able to breathe, to finally qualify and represent Singapore at the Asian Games.

 

When were the last two times?

In 2010 and 2014. I didn’t qualify because I kept choking under pressure. I lost both of them on the last day of trials, and both ended up with a close very scoreline.

I felt like I was robbed of my dream.

But as much as the Asian Games is very important, it is just a stepping stone. My goal is to go to the Olympics. Losing those trials didn’t make me a bad sailor. It just made me re-evaluate some things.

 

With 3 SEA Games Gold Medals under your belt, how do you feel about your chances & likely performance?

Asian Games is a huge league above SEA Games. My SEA Games medals mean nothing in an international playing field. Japan and China are huge powerhouses in the 470, they’re both top 10 in the world, nearly twice our age and sailed the 470 for at least 2 Olympic Campaigns. We’ve had a great and rare opportunity to train with the Chinese National Team in Haikou last November and the Japanese National Team in Okinawa in February. Cheryl and I have been working very hard, on and off the water,  and our progress is clearly evident in the events we’ve participated in this year. We know what we have to do to reach our goal and we’re enjoying the journey so far! We might be younger and smaller, but we are driven, eager and ready to take on this challenge and embrace this experience!

 

What does success mean to you?

Honestly, it means ending each day with a genuine smile on my face.

 

What is one change you want to see in the world

I want people to be kind to one another. Just because they want to be, not because they want good karma or they need a favour in return. Whether it’s a stranger, a friend or a family member. I want to see more kindness in this world.

 

Read more about Yukie!

12-year-old Singaporeans win fourth medal in a row for nation at Optimist World Sailing Championship in Brazil – Red Sports, 13 Aug 2009
S’porean teen clinches world sailing championship – Yahoo News, 10 Jan 2012
Sailor Yukie Yokoyama of RGS wins 2012 Overall Best School Girl Award – Red Sports, 26 Sept 2012
Elisa Yukie Yokoyama/Samantha Annabelle Neubronner win Singapore Festive Season Regatta– 420 Sailing, 15 Dec 2014
Two more golds from Singapore sailors at East Coast – The New Paper, 14 Jun 2015
SEA Games sailing: 2 gold for Team Singapore – Channel News Asia, 14 Jun 2015
Rookie sailing pair quit school for shot at Olympics– Today Online, 17 Jun 2017
SEA Games: Women’s 470 pair stage comeback to win sailing gold – Today Online, 27 Aug 2017
SEA Games: 470 duo beat odds for unlikely gold – Straits Times, 28 Aug 2017
Team Singapore at the Games – The New Paper, 28 Aug 2017
Sailing: Where small details matter – Straits Times, 30 Sept 2017
Sailors Yokoyama, Teo determined to clear obstacles to realise dreams– The New Paper, 23 Jan 2018


Deborah Kay

Deborah Kay is the Head of Digital Transformation at the Singapore Sailing Federation. She looks for new ways to realign marketing, sponsorships and business processes with technology for SSF to be more effective in digital economy.

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