Monday, August 15, 2011

Weymouth Pre-Olympic Regatta 2011

This week we had a first glimpse of what is in store for sailors competing in the 2012 Olympic Games. The Weymouth Pre-Olympic Regatta is a test event designed to replicate the Olympics exactly to familiarize sailors to procedures during the Games. Participating countries select one sailor per class to compete, making the regatta much smaller than its World Cup counterpart, Sail for Gold. As the Olympics draw closer, the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is a familiar venue to most seriously campaigning Olympic-class sailors. However, the Olympic test event had a few surprises in store for competitors.

The Olympic Test Event is also a practice run for the 2012 London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) . Having these guys in charge is like having "Big Brother" watching over you. Whenever anything out of the ordinary happened, the standard answer given was "We're doing it this way because LOCOG ordered it." Two weeks before the regatta, there was a lockdown period for the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, the Olympic sailing venue. This lockdown occurred at the usual time when sailors get in their most productive last minute preparations - throwing a major complication into training. However, the Sailing Academy gave the sailors access to a launching ramp and gravel parking lot outside their gated campus, so normal preparations could continue. After three days, without notice, we were informed the ramp was now closed. The reason was, "LOCOG ordered it." It didn't stop the sailors from getting on the water, only now they invaded local, expensive, sailing clubs, or launched off the rocky public beach. Some windsurfers kept their boards and equipment inside their coach boats. The windsurfers were able to find the most creative solutions, but did have a few problems. The Dutch men's Gold Medalist had a real scare when his equipment was stolen from his temporary beachside launching area. It was after making a public appeal that his board showed up in the bushes a week later, just in time for the regatta.

Another surprise was that the organizers switched courses between classes daily. Unlike Sail for Gold and other World Cup events where the classes are confined to one course for the whole event, we rotated around the five course areas. On some days, classes even raced one race on one course, then switched to another course for the second race. This was accomplished by moving with the whole race committee, marks and all, to an entirely different course. The course changes significantly impacted sailors because conditions on each course are widely different. For example, the harbor course inside the breakwater (referred to by some as the "kiddie pool") has relatively flat water and a confined space with no current. In contrast, the east course sees big chop on top of big swells and the greatest current flow. The west course is tucked in the bay near Weymouth beach with high cliffs and big valleys bending the winds every which way, which makes the course very gusty. The south course is in the middle of the bay, and can be as big as the east course in strong winds or as flukey as the west course, because the wind bends around the high cliffs of Portland. And finally, there is the Nothe Course, also known as the Medal Race course. It is tucked way up under the Nothe fort, which sits high atop a steep hill and butts up to the massive Portland harbor break wall. This is the "stadium course" where the medals will be decided in short sprint races. After the shock of this new decision, and having prepared for the last three years to race on a specific course, the sailors took it in stride. From my perspective, this actually made the competition much more interesting and a bigger challenge. I don't think it changed the overall results because to win at the Olympic level, you need to be strong in all conditions.

Finn Racing on the Nothe Course

The other major difference was the staggered schedule over the two weeks of racing. The Finn and Star classes started five days after the Women's match racing. The schedule was a little unsettling to some, and almost anticlimactic. Normally there is a certain buzz on the first day of racing at World Cup events, as everyone suits up and has to deal with the day's competition and conditions. But here, we experienced teammates and team coaches who were fully into their regatta, good or bad, and we were still chilling out waiting to start. On the other end of the event, when the Finn and Star classes were going into our two last days of racing, the rest of the fleet was packing gear and leaving. Before the Finn Medal race, the venue felt like a ghost town with all but a few boats left on campus.

On the Finn course it was business as usual. Ben Ainslie continued his dominance over the fleet. However, the competition for the lesser medals is heating up. Pieter Jan Postma from the Netherlands posted three 1st and two 2nd places on his way to the bronze medal. An 8th in the double-points medal race, by virtue of Ainslie match racing him at the start, dropped him out of the Silver medal putting him behind Frenchman Jonathan Lobert.

The Netherlands and Australia were the only two countries with double gold medal performances. The Netherlands added two more medals, a silver and bronze, to Australia's one silver medal. Great Britain topped the medal haul with five medals, adding two silver and two bronze to Ben's gold. Other gold medals were won by France, Poland, Finland, and Japan. Spain won two silver medals, and Belgium and Russia took one silver each. The United States won two bronze medals, one in the women's match racing and a gutsy performance by Paige Railey in the Laser Radial after a slow start, winning the last two races to secure her medal.

The Weymouth Pre-Olympic regatta accomplished what it set out to do. The race committee work was flawless and the event staff were friendly and efficient. Each country and sailor has a better understanding what it will be like at the Olympics, and most importantly, what improvements are needed to be better prepared to win medals.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

San Francisco Laser Masters Clinic - Local Knowledge Can Be Deadly

After winning the One Ton Cup as tactician years ago in San Francisco, I wrote an article for a national sailing magazine titled "Local Knowledge Can Be Deadly." The title was a play on the commonly heard comments from local sailors after big championship regattas, such as, "Its never like this here." Even though I was a "local" Bay sailor having grown up with the Bay tides and breezes, I prepared for the One Ton Cup with a fresh approach. I also used this strategy when I coached Luke Lawrence to his Finn Junior World title last September. The same approach was again effective this past week, when I ran a clinic for 14 local and non-local Laser Masters sailors that focused on mastering the tides, and addressed the areas that have the greatest effect in securing a top result.

To really understand the currents in San Francisco Bay, you have to go further than what the tide book says and what is available online. The nuances are what make the biggest difference. Having the confidence that comes from knowing what the tide is doing means you can concentrate on the windshifts and tactics, and not find yourself doing things that the top locals would never do.

Organized by the International Sailing Academy (ISA) and hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club, Vaughn Harrison and I ran the five-day clinic. Instead of organizing the clinic in the normal way with lots of boat handling drills, I decided we needed to change things up. We spent 90% of the time racing or practicing starts on what will be the two course areas for the World Championship. This enabled us to quickly get to the core issue of playing the tides, learning the wind shifts, working on starting well and choosing the proper laylines in the strong currents.

Besides getting familiar with the currents and course, I gave my students the tools to go beyond what the tide book says. It required increased observations while practicing and being diligent at checking the various government buoys that litter the course area. The students learned how to calibrate the timing of the tide and how best to use that knowledge.

There are two Worlds courses: the city front course and the Alcatraz island course. Both require different tactics. The city front course brings into play the land effect of the wind shifts and current flow. There may be times when the fleet will want to hug the shoreline to get current relief and/or a favorable windshift. Making the break for the rounding marks is a tough decision; going early means fighting an adverse current to make the mark. Hit it right and the payoff can be big. The Alcatraz course is more definitive about which way is favored, because it splits the two major shipping channels. This puts a premium on starting well at one end or the other in the outgoing tide. During the incoming tide, playing the middle is the best strategy for the most current relief.

To illustrate the fact that the tide book isn't always exact, for the five days we sailed, the flood tide was an hour early on the city front but was right on schedule at in the middle of the bay at Alcatraz. If we solely relied on the tide book we would have missed a major change on the city front course. It is critical to observe first hand what is happening the week before the regatta to really be prepared.

Another unique approach I took with this clinic was to split the group when we practiced starts. One group would run through a practice start and the other would observe. This allowed the sailors to really see how the current was affecting the fleet's starting. It also lead to a breakthrough moment for one the the Grand Masters: he confided in me that he finally realized he need to be more aggressive at the starts. He was able to successfully apply this during the week, getting consistently great starts! Another comment from a Southern California student who had sailed on the bay numerous times before, was how he always felt like he was always missing something. Now he has command of the tides, and most importantly knows what to look for so he can sail with confidence.

San Francisco Bay is unique given the high volume of water that flows through the relatively small gap of the Golden Gate Bridge. Coupled with the windshifts caused by the city front and the ever present fog, it makes for a very different and challenging race venue. The sailors who participated at the clinic now have a good idea of what the Bay has in store for them, and are entering the Laser Masters World Championships confidently.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to compete at the Masters Worlds. It's disappointing not to race on my home waters, but my Olympic coaching job takes precedence. I will be coaching the Australian Sailing Team's Finn sailor at a major event, the Pre-Olympic regatta in Weymouth, UK, which is at the same time. However, I'm glad I could be involved in the event in a small way by helping solve the San Francisco tide puzzle for a few competitors and giving them confidence going into the racing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Strong Rise to the Top: Ainslie Dominates the Sail for Gold Regatta

For the past few weeks, I've been coaching the Australian Finn sailor, Brendan Casey, in Weymouth for the Sail for Gold Regatta. Last week, Weymouth lived up to its billing as a heavy weather venue. With the exception of day one, the cold wind blew hard for the entire event. Sail for Gold is used by many countries as qualifying for the pre-Olympics in August and as is the case with the US team, as a qualifier for Olympic team selection.

The Finns and Stars shared the same race course which is the furthest laid course from the harbor. It is a 45 minute tow downwind, and the return trip takes close to an hour. In addition, the multiple one hour and twenty minute races meant that we spent up to eight hours on the water for most of the event. Throw in the bone-chilling cold and you can really appreciate the strength and mental fortitude these sailors have.

The on-course conditions made it difficult to read the wind shifts and currents. The long starting lines and long legs meant the fleet spread over a half mile from left to right on the first leg. Picking the proper side on the first beat was critical to a top result. From a coach's perspective, it was important to get a feel for the shift trends and current. Weymouth is one of those venues where the more time you spend racing and training the better. It is important to develop a "sixth sense" about the shifts.

A lot of competitors struggled to master the conditions. We've seen races with big breeze this season, but haven't seen the immense waves and chop that persisted during the week. It required a different setup with the mast and precise steering to keep the boat moving at top speed. The decision where to start strongly determined tactics on the first beat. The three main factors tactically on the beats were current, wind shifts and pressure. It was never obvious which factor would play out the best and made the decision where to start nerve racking. A number of times, the current would be more favorable on one side but the forecasted shift was to the opposite side. The one thing that was consistent throughout the week was that it was never favorable to sail the middle of the course.

Competitors also had a tough time mentally and physically when facing the difficult conditions. The strongest sailors have a good mental game, which is the most important preparation a competitor can make. Having a good mental game supplements physical preparation. It's important to go out with a positive attitude, a few clear goals, and realistic expectations.

On the Finn course it continues to be the Ben Ainslie show. He again dominated the fleet winning by 14 points. Early on it looked like Dan Slater from New Zealand would make a run at Ben by winning the first two races, but Slater fell back to earth on day three with more typical results. Not surprisingly, the British team enjoyed great success winning the medal count in the Olympic class with two Gold Medals, three Silver medals, and two Bronze medals. The Australian team was second with two Gold Medals, and one Silver medal. Next was New Zealand with a Gold and Silver, followed by France, Netherlands and the USA with one Gold and Bronze each.

Next month Brendan and I are planning on training in Weymouth for two weeks prior to the Pre-Olympic Regatta. In the meantime, I'm headed to San Francisco to run a Laser Master's clinic in early July as a tune up for the Master's Worlds in August. The Worlds happen to fall on the same dates as the Weymouth event, so I will unfortunately miss out on challenging for a world title in my home waters. It's disappointing not to race, but I'm really excited about helping Laser sailors perform well in the difficult conditions found on San Francisco Bay.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Back on the Circuit

I am back on the Olympic circuit once again. This time around I’m coaching. I’ve been hired by the Australian Sailing Team to Coach their Olympic Finn hopeful, Brendan Casey.

Australian Finn sailor Brendan Casey training in Miami

Although I have been coaching at a number of the individual World Cup events over the past few years for a few of the Laser and Finn sailors, being back on the Finn circuit doing another lap is a challenge I am relishing. My job started at the Sail for Melbourne regatta last December and includes all the 2011 & 2012 World Cup events, the pre-Olympics, ISAF Combined World Championship in Perth in December, and ultimately, the Olympics, if we meet the Australian qualifying criteria.

Reconnecting with the Finn class started last year while coaching Luke Lawrence leading up to his Finn Youth World Champion title in my hometown San Francisco. The Finn and its equipment, along with the sailing techniques, have evolved over the years since I last sailed the boat. The hulls have evolved to the point where they can be customized to certain body type and hiking style. For example, you can get a hull that is softer in the bow and deck that “twists” in heavy air and flexes to absorb energy of the waves, making it easier to hike if you are smaller or less powerful. The carbon masts have also improved the boat’s performance by reducing the tip weight and precisely controlling the bend characteristics. “Dialing in” the hull/mast/sail combination is a lot easier then in the past and is still the goal each sailor and coach is striving for. It’s crucial to have a good sail-mast combination that works over a wide range of conditions. However, the underlying fundamentals to succeed are still the same: fitness rules supreme, and you’d better be tactically sound and fast downwind.

latest modern Finn with see-through decks

There is one country and one sailor in particular who continues to dominate the class. The British have always been strong in the Finn class and in recent history have won the Gold Medal in the past three Olympics. However, this Olympic quad, the British squad has three sailors who are legitimate Gold Medal contenders, including the current World Champion Ed Wright, Giles Scott, and 2008 Gold Medalist Ben Ainslie. These three have dominated the top spots in the Finn class over the past year. However, Ben has recently been head and shoulders and shoulders over the rest. Not only has he won three of the past four World Cup events, but he dominated the fleet in Palma and Hyeres. In a number of races, he would finish a minute or more ahead of the next boat. It is truly inspiring to see him perform at the top of his game.

British Finn team dominates the first four World Cup events

Ben Ainslie
Olympics Gold 2004, 2008
Finn Gold Cup 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008
Europeans 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008

The British Finn trials are a selection process that has not been publicized. From the outside it looks to be subjective with no given deadline. However, the upcoming Sail for Gold World Cup regatta will be used by a number of countries, including Great Britain, to select the sole sailor in each class to compete in the Pre-Olympic regatta in August. The word around the boat park is that the British Finn sailor who medals at the pre-Olympics will be selected for the Olympics. If that is true then Sail for Gold should be well worth following the Finn action to see who gets the pre-Olympic berth.

Giles Scott, the only sailor to beat Anslie in a World Cup, and coach Matt Howard confer before the World Cup medal race in Palma, Spain

We are currently in Weymouth this week training with the British sailors before heading to the next World Cup event, the Delta Lloyd regatta in Holland. We then drive right back to Weymouth to prepare for Sail for Gold. I'm looking forward to doing my best to help my athlete succeed, and to seeing the outcome of this season's peak event.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Turning Masters into Athletes - International Sailing Academy Laser Masters Racing Clinic

I just finished heading up the ISA Laser Masters Racing Clinic in PuertoVallarta, Mexico. Fourteen Masters sailors from the U.S. and Canada came to the “camp” to improve their skills and speed. Most, if not all, look forward to competing well in the upcoming Masters world championship this August in windy San Francisco Bay.

I was really excited with the format for the week of four days of training followed by the three day Mexican Laser Masters Championship. It provided an opportunity to do something that I’ve always wanted to do: hold a clinic during an actual regatta. After doing a number of Masters events where I spent time discussing what I did (or didn’t do) during the races that day with an inquisitive and eager group of sailors, I felt this was a perfect opportunity for sailors to get the knowledge and experience they desired reinforced by good coaching.

My philosophy was to run the camp just like the international Olympic sailors do when they have a seven-day training block. Namely, focus on boat handling with numerous drills, speed work, extensive videotaping and review, and short course racing. I wanted to emphasize those areas that would make the biggest difference to their performance around the course.

I shared coaching duties with ISA part owner and clinic organizer Vaughn Harrison. He went all out for the Masters by expanding the camp to accommodate a larger group. The ISA trademark is its all-inclusive package. ISA provides the boats, coaches, on the water support, housing, and meals. And it is all top of the line. The boats are in great shape, the housing is roomy, located on the beach right outside the world class marina, and a short five minute walk to the boats and meal service. The food deserves a special mention. It is prepared and served by Leah Holsten-Danielson, former cook on mega yachts and caterer extraordinaire. The food is served at her home overlooking the marina and Banderas bay. After sailing and quickly unrigging, the sailors (and coaches) walk to her home and are treated to ice cold face towels as they sit down to a delicious snack followed immediately by a healthy gourmet dinner.

An added benefit was that a local and highly world-ranked sailor, Tanya Elias Calles, trained with us for the week. During the regatta, top local Laser sailor Pablo Rabigo, and a group of juniors who traveled five hours to compete joined in. They were scored separately.

The first two days we focused on tacking, jibing, and mark rounding. The wind was not the classic strong sea breeze, but this worked to our advantage. Were able to fully develop technical skills in calmer conditions without the worry of fatigue. I felt it is important to mimic the same technique that the international sailors employ and not “dumb it down” for the master sailors. Here is an example of how to properly roll tack in light winds.

On day three, the wind kicked in and the group enjoyed some speed sailing. Day four was a long downwinder. We towed the group up the coast for over an hour before the sea breeze filled in, and spent the rest of the day chasing a free floating leeward mark working on downwind technique followed by three sprint races before heading in. The group was ready for the regatta to start and must have been feeling a little fatigued from all the drills and short course work of the four prior days.

The regatta was organized by the International Sailing Academy & Marina Riviera Nayarit, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit, Mexico. The committee work was exceptional. Many of the race officers will be running race courses for the upcoming Pan Am Games this October just a few miles down the coast in Puerto Vallarta. Not all the action was reserved for racing, however. Friday night, the Yacht Club hosted a Salsa party for the sailors that included salsa lessons, and a bonfire barbeque on the beach Saturday night.

I decided to race and not coach for the regatta. It was great to mix it up with the students at the start and around the track. Having both Standard and Radials meant that the fleet split into two groups after starting together. But with more breeze, the Radials were able to push the full rigs up the first beat.

Tracy Usher, who had a definite edge in the breeze, won the regatta as a Master. I missed the last two races, which started late, to catch an early flight out to Europe. But given the last two races were sailed in 20 knots, I was probably not going to beat him any way! First Grand Master was Richard Quinlan in from Canada and the first Apprentice was Kurt Wessells.

It was a great week all-around. For a week, the group experienced what it is like to train like the top sailors in the world. We enjoyed a five-star treatment on the shore and the nightly debriefs and video were insightful and productive.

We're making plans for a series of Masters clinics before this year's Laser Masters Worlds in San Francisco. The clinic will address the concerns of starting and racing in current, and heavy-weather maneuvers - critical for mastering San Francisco Bay! Details will be forthcoming shortly.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Florida Laser Masters Week is Heating Up and Attracting International Sailors

Davis Island Yacht Club, Tampa, Florida

The Florida Laser Masters Week is rapidly becoming great winter training for international sailors. Three regattas with seven days of racing over a nine day period, sunny, warm weather, and two great tourist destinations provide superb conditions for sailing and relaxing. Not to mention, regattas are held at accommodating and welcoming host clubs, boat charters are affordable, and an international airport is located in every city. Essentially, international Masters sailors are learning fast that the third week of February is providing a well-organized structure for a solid block of training and racing, adding valuable time on the water to their winter plans. This is proving to be a winning formula for many sailors.

Competition is heating up with an influx of sailors from Denmark, Germany, Mexico, Chile, Canada, and the Dominican Republic added to the usual crowd of Americans traveling from all parts of the country. Hot Apprentice Masters are also joining the fleet, including a few Olympic contenders. Most notable was Matias Del Solar from Chile, who is one of the best Laser sailors in the world and ranked 9th in the ISAF world rankings. Eric Oetgen from Savanna, Georgia, is a three-time Finn Olympic contender; Mark Mendelblatt is another notable newbie who didn’t attend this year but sailed the Masters Atlantic Coast Championship last year; and Ernesto Rodriguez, the winner of the Florida Masters regatta.

Matais Del Solar Masters Midwinters first place overall

Florida Masters Week consists of three regattas, the Florida Masters, Midweek Madness, and the Masters Midwinters East regattas. There is an overall winner to the week, but the major prizes are awarded for winning the Florida Masters and the Midwinters. Like a few of the competitors who decided to skip the Midweek Madness, I needed to be in Clearwater to do some coaching and only competed in the weekend events.

My schedule this winter has been really hectic with a new coaching job that took me to Australia for a month and kept me busy during January for the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, and I wasn't able to get in the on-the-water training that I wanted. I've still been hitting the gym hard, and have been feeling quite good about my level of fitness. Basically, fitness is what held together my week, and although I was sore from the change in routine and return to the boat, I managed to have decent regattas.

The first regatta of the series, the Florida Masters Regatta, proved to be challenging for me because of the windy conditions. I'm still slightly too small to be really fast upwind in the breeze, but I had some great races nonetheless. Racing in the ocean in 25 knot winds and huge seas really shook the cobwebs out. The first race along with many others, I misjudged the current and a last minute left hand shift meant a few of us started on port tack late ducking the fleet. Within a minute I tacked back to starboard on a huge right shift. I was in phase and the fleet was out of phase, and just like that I had a commanding lead and went on to an easy victory. The rest of the series was not so easy. My main competition are some of the younger Apprentice guys who are proving to be really fast. Ernesto Rodriquez was really quick in the breeze upwind but I could still take him on the downinds. But when the race committee wisely decided to race the second day inside in the choppy and more confined tidal Inter Costal waterway, there was no hiding from the more powerful sailors upwind, and the runs were shortened with the swift moving current. One race Ernesto misread the course and finished after one lap instead of doing the second circuit and he still beat me. I ended up second overall and first Master. I was really pleased to receive a print of a watercolor by Michelle Davis, an enthusiastic Masters sailor and ornithologist from Miami. The print depicted a Laser surfing a wave, with very meticulously painted Florida fish and birds surrounding the boat (no sharks!).

an awesome and treasured trophy

Davis Island Yacht Club in Tampa hosted the Masters Midwinters East. DIYC is a modern and attractive club located on a hook enclosing an old seaplane basin, with a large percentage of membership very active in racing. I was looking forward to sailing here, and to the lighter wind forecasted for the weekend. The forecast did not disappoint but surprisingly, and kudos to the race committee, we only sailed one non-hiking race. The race committee waited out the doldrums and we sailed late as the afternoon breeze pumped in, watching the sunset as we dragged our boats up the short beach.

Many of us have gone to a three-day regatta that turned into a two-day event because of weather. How many have showed up for a two-day regatta that was actually three days long? I did just that. I showed up a day late and still won the Masters division and placed third overall!

first place Midwinters Master division

There is no excuse that I can give about showing up on the wrong day that doesn’t begin with dumb and ends with ____ (you can add any ending you want). I skipped the midweek regatta, and had it in my head that the racing was on Wednesday and Thursday with Friday as a travel day for the Masters Midwinters East. I was wrong. The only thing I can say is that it was a good thing I decided to drop my boat off Friday afternoon at 3:30pm for what I thought was a Saturday start.

It had been a windless day anyway, so I decided not to practice before the regatta and instead get a few housekeeping chores done before Sunday’s drive north after the regatta. I got my van washed and detailed, took it to get the oil changed, and was booking flights for coaching in Europe this spring. I had a nice leisurely lunch. It was really quite a relaxing day. And now I was going to drop my boat off and be ready for the regatta the next day. As I turned the corner and saw a few boats out on the water, I didn’t think much anything of it. I saw Davis Island Yacht Club and didn’t notice any boats on the beach. I look back and see a lot of boats on the water AND they were all bunched around an anchored sailboat. Oops!

I have always wanted to show up to a regatta, quickly rig, and just make it to the start line as the gun went off - just to see what it was like, and just because it would be “cool.” As I drove in I assessed the situation. No one was still on the club beach except one guy who was a random member. The wind must have just filled in because the committee looked like they hadn’t set the course, so they must not have raced the first race yet. I asked the guy and he confirmed my analysis. But the wind was good enough to get something going soon. Could I, should I, do I try and make it? Hell yes!

The boat was on top of my van in full covers, but fortunately I raced last week and it was ready to plug and play. I drove up onto the lawn, undid the quick straps, rotated the boat off the racks and down onto the lawn. Covers off, put the mast sections together, boom, mainsheet, sail, centerboard, rudder, tiller and tiller extension, lines, and life jacket. It all went together very quickly. I asked myself next if I should get dressed or sail in my shorts and t-shirt? I looked out and saw the fleet in a starting sequence, in the last minute, all lined up. Maybe they would have a second race but it was 4pm already. I decided to throw on my hikers and grab my boots and hope for the second race, with this being my throw out. I looked up - It must have been a general recall, because they were sailing back to the boat. I grabbed someone’s trolley and launched. I pushed off the beach and looked up – no battens, shit! I pulled them out but was too rushed and forgot to load them. I was only ten meters off the beach but I can’t race without battens and headed, back, another 3 minutes wasted.

The wind was building and I semi-planed to the course. I put my boots on without losing the plane. It was a balancing act. I didn’t see any flags, and the boats were milling around so it looked good, but it was still is about a half mile to the boat. The race was on. I closed on the line where the boats were lining up, but where were they in the sequence? As I arrived at the committee boat, the one-minute horn sounded. I lined up in the middle, although the leeward end looked favored but I couldn’t get there in time. Gun fired and we were off. I got a good start but my speed was off. After a minute I noticed my traveler was not pulled tight and was suspended a foot in the air. I pulled it on while others were tacking and going right. I had no idea which way to go, so I decided to keep going. My motto is if you don’t know the shift, keep going. It worked and I ended up left, got into the lead group and rounded in 3rd. Matais was launched; his older brother, “JP” was equally launched in second (and they were taunting each other around the course, it was very funny). I was in a tight pack and finished 5th after dropping two boats at the final leeward mark before the short reach to the finish. It felt like a win nonetheless.

As it turned out, the Masters Midwinters East was a two-day regatta. On Sunday, the wind didn’t show, and the race committee wisely let us pack up at noon, and fired up the barbeque.

The Masters racing is heating up with more international sailors attending and world-class talent using the regattas as part of their Olympic training. Having said that, the fun factor is still high, especially when the “water” boat gives you the option of an ice cold Bud or Bud Light.

Join us next week at the Laser Masters Clinic in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Private Coaching - The Challenge and Rewards

coaching a one day Laser clinic at the Martin County US Sailing Center

I've had the opportunity to train with the best Laser sailors in the world over the past year, and I've learned new tricks and reinforced old ones. Now I'm ready to pass on what I know through private Laser coaching and a selective few Laser clinics this year.

I really enjoy coaching and teaching. I love the process of imparting knowledge to a wide range of people with vastly different skill sets. From the very beginner (no matter what age), to the most seasoned Olympic caliber sailor. I love to see someone improve, learn something new, and reach a goal. It requires an individual and personal approach.

We all learn differently, and there is no one approach that can be applied to everyone. To maximize the experience and overall benefit, it is critically important to determine how an individual processes information to make sure it is delivered and received properly. Finding the right learning channels and packaging the message properly is key. In other words, you've got to speak the language of the student.

The three major learning channels are sensory, auditory, and visual. If someone is a visual learner, you can talk until you're blue in the face, and chances are the message won't get through. If someone's strength is auditory processing, then demonstrating something is not gonna do it. The sensory learner needs to feel it or experience it before they can grasp a new technique. And the challenging part is it could be different channels depending on what is being taught or given different external circumstances. So knowing all that, the best starting point is to deliver the information or lesson in all three channels and be observant to which channels your individual students are picking up.

Annapolis Master sailor, Jeff Caruso and I having a private lesson

I recently had the pleasure of giving private lessons to a local Annapolis Master sailor, Jeff Caruso. It was really enjoyable because of Jeff's enthusiasm and his ability to apply new concepts very quickly. I saw a great improvement in his sailing in only a couple of sessions working with him. The first session was the day before the Chesapeake Masters regatta. He reported seeing a drastic improvement during the regatta from his normal competitiveness. It helped that our first practice the day before the regatta was in similar conditions (extreme) to the first day of racing. A few simple tips kept him on his feet and more comfortable and less energy spent in those conditions. On the second day in calmer conditions, he was able to work focus on applying some new principles and rig settings. It is very satisfying as a coach to hear a report like Jeff's; that at most mark roundings where he normally gets passed by boats, he was passing them instead. Also, after a rather tangled start in one race that put him near last at the first mark, he reported passing seventeen boats during the course of the race.

My analysis of Jeff is that he is able to pick up new techniques and theory very quickly. I think Jeff has at least two channels working, and maybe all three. My first impression of Jeff is that his auditory processing is dominant and well developed. From almost the first moment we met, he asked me to explain what it was we were going to work on for that lesson. And he was very focused on what I was saying and asked quite a few questions to make sure he fully understood the particular concept or subject.

Once on the water it was too windy to effectively talk (and I lost my voice in the process of shouting over the howling wind), so I demonstrated what I wanted him to do. I made him follow behind me and imitate what I was doing. This took a little longer for him to pick it up but he did after a very short time. We were working on sailing the boat super flat. Instead of using the mainsheet, I had him ease the mainsheet beyond the normal heavy air upwind setting and had him sit on the deck (not hiking) and only use the tiller to keep the boat flat. I wanted him to see and feel how the boat was when sailed flat. The other main lesson was the proper body position in the boat. This enabled him to expend less energy and he was able to "relax", even in the high winds. Just a few simple pointers gave him the ability to conserve his energy and increase his overall confidence.

Knowing the right communication channels greatly increases the information uptake and leads to a more productive and meaningful experience for the sailor.