Sailing was drudgery for Anna Tunnicliffe when she was a girl growing up in England.
She would not venture out willingly, “so my parents shoved the boat away from the dock, waved goodbye and said they would see me at dinnertime,” Tunnicliffe recalled.
Besides, it was cold and gray, and she was the worst, slowest sailor on her junior club team.
She wanted to quit, which would have been a shame, because today Tunnicliffe is the best, fastest yachtswoman in the world, soon on her way to her second Summer Olympics where she will contend for her second gold medal as a member of the U.S. sailing team.
Tunnicliffe lives in Plantation and trains in Fort Lauderdale and Miami — when she’s not roaming the world competing in races. Among the South Florida athletes who have qualified for the July 27-Aug. 12 London Olympics, Tunnicliffe is the most dominant in her sport.
She’s happiest when she is on the water, in a boat, reading the wind with the same interpretive mastery as a translator of Homer.
“Every time I go out it’s different,” she said. “No two waves are identical. No two puffs of wind are identical. I feel free, not constricted by society. It’s just me and Mother Nature.”
Always on the go
Tunnicliffe, once a reluctant sailor, is married to a sailor, Brad Funk, who narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympic team. Her dearest friends are sailors. Her life is a constant search for better breezes.
“I don’t like being in one place for too long,” she said. “When I’m home, after a week I get restless.”
She and Funk measure their wanderlust by the health of their one house plant.
“The plant is usually dead by the time we get back home, and we revive it,” she said. “If we can keep the plant alive, maybe we can get a pet.”
Tunnicliffe, 29, moved from Doncaster, England, at age 12 when her father, who worked for a limestone quarrying company, was transferred to Ohio. She sailed on Lake Erie, and as her skills improved in the summer sunshine she grew passionate about the sport. She graduated from Perrysburg High, where she was an accomplished middle distance runner, and won collegiate titles at Old Dominion University.
Tunnicliffe is a world champion, two-time World Sailor of the Year and four-time U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.
She still speaks with a slight British accent but as a U.S. citizen considers herself a Yank through and through.
“I’m psyched to be going to England, but I’m not going home,” she said. “My home is America. I’m a Floridian.
“I want to bring a gold home to America.”
At the sailing venue in Weymouth, skipper Tunnicliffe and her crew, Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi, will compete in match racing, an event being staged for women for the first time at the Olympics.
Tunnicliffe won Olympic gold at the 2008 Beijing Games in the speedy single-handed Laser Radial class.
A new challenge
Then she decided to try match racing, which is head-to-head competition in three-man Elliott 6-meter boats provided at the venue. First one to win six races wins, unlike the typical regatta format where the skipper with the best combination of finishes against the fleet is the victor.
“Second place is no good in match racing,” Tunnicliffe said. “I love the pressure of it. Way more pressure than Laser. It’s also a lot easier for fans to understand.