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.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chesapeake Bay Laser Masters Championships - the Highlight of the Year


mugging for the camera in front of the beautiful Fishing Bay Yacht Club house

What is becoming a home away from home for me, the Fishing Bay Yacht Club, hosted another spectacular Master's event, the Chesapeake Bay Masters Championships. This regatta was the highlight of the year for me (and I had a big year). It had the perfect combination of organization, venue, facilities, conditions, and most importantly the sailors who attend. It hit all the notes perfectly.

Tidewater Virginia

Fishing Bay Yacht Club is located in Tidewater Virginia, rural, flat lower Chesapeake country. In this quiet Chesapeake country the changing of the seasons are evident. The air is not cold yet, but the leaves are turning and the frontal winds are beginning. There is a feeling of the transition into full autumn, but it can be still quite warm and sunny. The farms that populate the whole southern Chesapeake area are filled with old dried-out corn stalks or maturing soybeans that create a carpet of golden brown. Nature abounds with migratory birds passing through and groups of deer foraging along the field edges.

The Fall is the absolute best time for racing on the Chesapeake Bay. You don't have to deal with the cold water temperatures of the spring or the summer doldrums and summer storms. The fall is when the frontal winds reappear mixing with the warm water to provide shifty and challenging racing.

25-32 knots first race - 2010

Jon Deutsch, photographer and regatta organizer extraordinaire. I used his photos for this blog.

The regatta is superbly run by Jon Deutsch and a small group of volunteers. It is a low-key affair but Jon's attention to detail is greatly appreciated. One of the highlights of the two day regatta is Saturday's dinner cooked by Laser Masters sailor and French gourmet chef Alain Vincey (who doesn't sail so he can prepare the dinner). The clubhouse is a modern structure with the the dominant features of the ground floor being a sitting area in front of a fire place and a well-appointed kitchen capable of catering large events and a large covered porch for dining. The second story is a beautiful "trophy" room and bar area with high ceilings. About half the competitors camp on the club grounds and others stay at bed and breakfasts.

gourmet chef Alain Vincey surrounded by his four sous chefs - 2010

sunset dinner with the Solomon's Island team - 2010

preparing for a big night around the fire - 2010

The majority of the sailors who attend are from the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding area; there are always a small band of sailors who come down from Newport, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Delaware. As with all Masters regattas it is a true reunion and celebration. What was particularly special was seeing a group of nine sailors who came from Solomon's Island, Maryland. This is a newly formed laser fleet that is well organized and focused on growing. They had apprentice sailors all the way up to grand masters with varying ranges of abilities and experience. Their enthusiasm and spirit was what this regatta is all about. I hope this is a trend that catches on in other areas around the country and others realize how much fun it can be getting wet in a dinghy.

the inside course, notice the big breeze past the point! - 2010

After running the first race in "epic" 25-32 knots conditions (with a lot of resulting carnage), the race committee decided to move the course in near the club and close to shore. It was really shifty, puffy, short course intercollegiate-style racing. The following situation happened at one of the windward marks that perfectly defines Master's sailing. I rounded the weather mark ahead of the second and third place boats who were neck and neck. As I past them on their approach to the mark, they were having a full-blown, animated discussion about the shifts on the leg and how they played the windward leg. I'm sure it went on even after they rounded the mark. This is something you see a lot in Master's sailing and for that matter in junior sailing. It's all about the joy of racing.

Race report

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brenner's Response

It's obvious that Dean Brenner has a selective memory...or Luke and I do. Luke and his family are now reaching out to US Sailing and I hope to be able to report a positive outcome. Stay tuned.

Chairman Dean Brenner (photo credit Walter Cooper)

Dean's response, published in Scuttlebutt:

"In Scuttlebutt issue 3196, the lead story was an excerpted blog post with some opinions and statements about the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics, some of our athletes and the new culture we have instituted. While each of us is entitled to our own opinion, we are not entitled to our own facts. And, quite simply, there were several factual inaccuracies that should be corrected.

Luke Lawrence is a member of the 2010 US Sailing Development Team. Period. And, as far as we are concerned, he’ll be on the team for the remainder of the year unless he chooses to step aside. We think Luke is a great talent, and we hope he’ll apply again for the team in 2011. We’ve never kicked him off the team, we’ve never asked him to resign, and we’ve never excluded him from any team meetings, barbecues, or training sessions. The blog post in question made lots of statements about his removal and exclusion from the Team. I was surprised to read that, it was news to me, and I maintain a complete open door policy to chat with any sailor at any time about anything that concerns them.

Our Development Team is intended to be a path for young sailors to learn to compete as Olympic athletes… something that Olympic sailing in the USA has been in desperate need of for a long time, and that we are proud to have created. We give them coaching and lots of other kinds of support, and we give them opportunities to train alongside and learn from our top athletes, like Finn Silver Medalist Zach Railey. We look for developing athletes who have the skills and the commitment to be a part of this team, and if they want to take advantage of the opportunity, we welcome them with open arms. If they would rather go their own way, then that’s fine also. We’ll cheer just as loudly for any athlete who would prefer to follow their own path and who finds a way to win an Olympic medal on their own. If Luke chooses his own path, then that is great. On the other hand, if he wants to take advantage of the opportunities on our Development Team, then that’s great also. Either way, we will cheer his success.

We believe strongly in the system and culture that we are building on our Development Team and on the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. We believe that shared training and a collaborative culture is better for everyone. We believe it helps stretch our resources further. We believe it creates a better environment for our sailors. And we believe it creates something that sponsors, donors and fans can embrace.

We have a system, and it is an entirely new culture. But it’s not for everyone. It would be impossible to create a structured system that also caters to every specific need of every athlete. And with about 100 hyper-competitive, goal-oriented athletes on our teams, it’s also unrealistic to expect that all of them will love everything that we do. But we do believe that a system is necessary, and if someone wants to work outside the system, at the end of the day, the sailors on the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Teams are still representing the USA and we’ll be there alongside them, cheering and supporting.

One of the key issues with our system, however, is the role of the private coach. We work hard to hire staff and per diem coaches who believe in our new culture and can have a positive effect on both their athlete(s) and the entire team at the Olympics. In the lead-up to the Games, the role of the private coach is an issue when staff coaching is present at the same event. We understand full well that some athletes will want or need some additional, personal support. Those private coaches are welcomed into our training and our meetings, with a few specific requirements. The coach has to be trustworthy, has to be a team player, and we won’t hesitate to respectfully exclude someone whom we determine, in consultation with other athletes on our team, would have a negative impact in any way on our culture, training and effectiveness.

Finally, I want to applaud our Finn results over the last two years. The record speaks for itself and we have a world-class Finn program in the USA for the first time in a long time. That’s a credit first and foremost to our sailors, but also to our coaches and our friends in the Finn class who have worked so hard to make USA success in the Finn a reality.


Dean Brenner


US Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Program"

Monday, October 11, 2010

The US Sailing Team - Does One Size Fit All?

Sarah Lihan's got game and a great sense of style!

The cover story for this month's Sailing World Magazine, "Stress Test," highlights the changes within the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics for this Olympic cycle. It is an insider's look by reporter Stuart Streuli, who spent time with the team at a physical training camp at the US Olympic training center in Colorado Springs last March, and at the Kiel Week regatta in June. Streuli gives a glowing review of the new direction and philosophy that Olympic Sailing Director, Dean Brenner, and head coach, Kenneth Andreasen, are taking. Stressing team unity and overall fitness are cornerstones of their approach. However, I was dismayed to read that certain sailors on the team were singled out for not being team players, allegedly hurting the US team's chances for medals at the 2012 Olympic Games. The sailors singled out included the very talented young sailor I have been coaching in the Finn, Luke Lawrence. In Luke's case, nothing could be further from the truth. Why would the "Brass" at the Olympic Sailing Committee go public with such an allegation? I believe this sentiment revolves around a management philosophy and mindset akin to the infamous statement "you are either with us, or against us." I believe it highlights a glaring weakness in understanding, and also a lack of desire to understand how to effectively develop an individual's potential within a team environment. In others words, does one size fit all?

Streuli writes that:

"Not everything that Andreasen and Brenner touch turns to gold - literally or figuratively..... A big part of the USSTAG's new culture is intra-squad training; all the U.S. sailors within a specific class working together under a common coach for a large part of the Olympic cycle..... Erin Maxwell and 2004 Olympian Isabelle Kingsolving won the 2008 Women's 470 World Championship. Amanda Clark and Sarah Chin finished 12th in the 2008 Olympics. Together they could form a potent training duo. However to date they haven't trained together. USSTAG officials imply this is due to a personality conflict...."

"The same can be said of Luke Lawrence, a confident Floridian who won the Laser silver medal at the 2008 ISAF Volvo Youth World Championships. In his first Finn regatta, the 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, he finished in the top half of the 37-boat fleet. But, unhappy with the attention he received from Andreasen at the first two European regattas of the 2010 season, he hired 1984 silver medalist John Bertrand as his personal coach, isolating himself from the rest of the U.S. team. It appears to have benefited Lawrence, who won the Finn Junior World Championship in San Francisco in August, in the short term. But will it hurt the U.S. team's medal hopes (and those of Lawrence) in 2012 and further down the road?"

just moments after winning the Finn Junior World Championship
Luke is proud to have represented the United States

The situation that Streuli refers to in the article is Luke Lawrence hiring me to coach him in the European World Cup regattas. Luke, who is the 2009 ISAF Youth Worlds Silver medalist in the Laser class, made his debut in the Finn earlier this year at the Miami Rolex OCR. He is also a member of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 US Sailing Youth Development Teams (USSDT). As a current member of the USSDT, he was offered free shipping of his Finn to Europe, coaching support from the Finn (and head) coach, Kenneth Andreasen, at the World Cup events, and the opportunity to attend team training camps. The USSDT, according to the US Sailing website, is "designed to provide an elite environment designed specifically to prepare the young sailor for the highly competitive world of Olympic Sailing, with knowledge-transfer and experience-sharing that can only come with (their) Olympic coaching staff and athletes." The website also states that the USSDT "is designed for the developing sailor who is highly interested in becoming an Olympic-caliber athlete and who has shown the skills and commitment to such a goal. It is designed for the sailor who is willing to learn to make decisions on his or her own." In this instance, Luke showed initiative and drive by hiring a private coach, myself, to further his development as a sailor, become more competitive, learn the game faster, and get the coaching resources he was lacking from the team.

Luke was not satisfied with his results after his first two World Cup regattas. Luke, being the newbie in the four-boat team, was frustrated with the lack of on-the-water support he was receiving and how he was being treated by the coach. At times he was hard pressed to get access to the coach boat to get food and water, let alone access to Andreasen for post-race observations, because the priority was Zach Railey and Brian Boyd, the number one and two US team sailors. Luke, as a committed, motivated sailor, needed Andreasen's knowledge and experience, but simply wasn't getting it. With the prospect of no coaching support at the upcoming Finn European Championships, which Zach Railey and Andreasen were not attending, he decided to hired me to coach him. We spilt the cost of the coach boat with Brian Boyd, and I provided the on-the-water support for all three US Finn sailors at the regatta.

In the practice days leading up to the Europeans, Luke, Brian and Caleb Paine (the third US Finn sailor at the regatta) trained together. I took video of these practice sessions, which I shared daily with all the US sailors, giving everyone as much insight and help as I could provide. Luke really benefitted from these sessions and I saw tremendous improvement is a very short period of time. He ended up being the top placed US sailor at the Europeans and won a Silver medal as the second-highest scoring youth sailor. Because of his rapid improvement, Luke decided to keep me on as his coach for his next regatta, the Delta Lloyd regatta in Holland.

We were given a shock when Andreasen arrived in Holland and promptly told Luke in a private, two-minute meeting at the boat park that he was not allowed to tune up with the team or attend any of the team's briefings. In fact, Andreasen told Luke he needed to resign from the USSDT. The following day we stressed to Andreasen that we would share any information with him and the team, including photographs and video like we did at the Europeans, and we would also actively participate in the team's scheduled tuning sessions and daily debriefs. However, Andreasen didn't change his position. He said it was not fair to the other sailors that Luke would enjoy the benefits of having a private coach. I was perplexed by his position, given the team's stated emphasis on inter-squad training, openness and sharing of knowledge, and that we would be adding another set of eyes and experience that could be utilized by the entire Finn team. This attitude is not present in other classes. Over the winter, I trained with the US Laser team in a number of US Sailing training camps that included as many as 15 international sailors and as many as five international coaches all working together in daily sailing sessions and video debriefs. It was amazing to see the level of cooperation and willingness of the sailors and coaches to work closely together sharing their observations each day. It is unfortunate that the Finn team could not utilize all the benefits of having another coach on board, a free one at that, not even using the limited US Sailing Team resources.

Effectively, Luke was banned from the team, and he and the two top women's 470 teams are being held out as examples for not being team supporters, supposedly hurting the team's chances for medals at the 2012 Olympics. In Luke's case, he is actively being shunned by OSC Chairman Dean Brenner and head coach Kenneth Andreasen. During Kiel Week, Brenner never approached Luke, and he was excluded from the team barbecue, unlike all the other USSDT members. Is the leadership of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics correct to force Luke to resign from the team? Could Luke have just accepted the limitations the Finn team provided and waited until the following year to improve his situation? Does Luke deserve this type of treatment from the leaders of the team?

When considering the current crop of the world's top Olympic sailors who, like Luke, are singlehanded-trained sailors, you find the likes of Ben Ainslie (GBR), Paul Goodison (GBR), Tom Slingsby (AUS), Robert Scheidt (BRA), Ian Percy (GBR) and Ed Wright (GBR). Are any of these Gold medalist and world champions entirely products of their national teams, or did they benefit from focused individual support? In the case of the dominant GBR sailors, the answer is that they are not entirely products of their national teams. They may have risen through a system, but they each put together their own programs and have individual coaches giving them full support and pushing their limits. Most top-level sailors, regardless of class, benefit from individual coaching. They may also benefit from significant financial support from their sailing federations. Would Ben Ainslie or Paul Goodison accept a situation they knew limited their opportunity to be the best? I don't think so.

The notion that the best chances for the US to medal in 2012 by strictly adhering to the "new deal" is very limited. Exclusively working within the limited resources of the team, including only working with team coaches, works for some classes, but in other classes it is obviously not working. For example, under Dave Perry's leadership the women's match racing teams are making great progress by working together. However, in the Finn class, I see the opposite happening. After his hard-earned 2008 Silver medal performance, Zach Railey should have had a breakout year. However, as Streuli's article points out, Zach is dissatisfied with his finishes in 2010 and likely the net negative effect it has on his 2011 funding. The Finn team is in tatters with the number two sailor Brian Boyd retiring, and the coach's self-inflicted drama surrounding Luke. It is likely that Zach's performance is suffering from this turmoil and a lack of focused coaching. If you consider that Zach was working singularly with Andreasen as his personal coach in his rise through the Finn ranks and his surprise performance at the Olympics, it would be easy to conclude his struggles this year could be due to the change in his coaching situation as Andreasen's attention is divided.

In US Sailing's pursuit of their agenda, it appears to me they are willing to make an example out of certain sailors who want to supplement their programs to get better quicker. Wouldn't it be better to have the flexibility to focus on the individual needs of the sailors? In other words, instead of focusing so much on what a sailor is doing to support the team, they would be better off looking at how the team can better support the individual sailor so that each can make progress in the best way possible within the team, together making the team better. I believe this attitude is coming from the top.

Based on my recent experience with the team, I believe their "one size fits all" approach is hurting the team's prospects in the short term and is creating a long term problem that may take years to recover from. There may be a feel-good aspect to what they are doing, but I fear that it will limit the development of our future stars, who tend to be "different" and creative, and who are naturally driven and impatient. By trying to totally control the environment and support only their favorites, the USSDT will discourage the new blood, and this may lead to a drought of good sailors for future Olympics to come. A very strict and controlled system is only successful if resources are available to allow intense competition from a group of many sailors.

Team GBR can take a more strict approach than US Sailing, because they can financially afford to bring in large numbers of sailors to see who rises to the top under their strict system. These sailors are provided with almost everything and can just focus on sailing. The US on the other hand is attempting to adopt the British model, but only a very few top sailors can get along without supplementing their campaigns with their own money. Only the very diehard, stubborn, and / or well-off sailors can commit to the 4, 8, or 12 years it takes to reach the top level of funding under the current system. If a sailor on the USSDT has drive, talent, and funding, US Sailing needs to take advantage of it for the benefit of the team. The current lack of resources can be remedied by an open-minded attitude, willingness to accept help no matter where it comes from, acceptance of limitations, openness of communication, and inclusiveness.

It is a tough dilemma for US Sailing, and they all, including Brenner and Andreasen, genuinely want to improve the system. However, while they struggle to figure it out, I would expect them to treat every sailor who is making a commitment fairly, respectfully, and evenhandedly. Politics, personal fears, and selectivity should take a backseat to openness and inclusiveness.

two of the most naturally gifted and creative sailors I have ever met who are not currently on the US Sailing Team
Luke Lawrence and Brad Funk

Luke touching base with his sailing roots - catamaran sailing

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2011 Laser Masters Worlds Wrap Up - Getting better, and the lessons learned along the way

For me, the 2010 Laser Masters World Championships was more about seeing how much I could improve in the year after the 2009 Masters Worlds, than about whether or not I won another Laser title. I was a last minute entry in the 2009 championships, having only sailed in a couple regattas since coming back into the class after a 30 year hiatus. I ended up finishing 10th overall in the 2009 worlds which was surprisingly good given that I couldn't hike very long in the windy conditions, which meant I wasn't particularly fast. Nor was I very smooth or fluid in the boat. But I knew that the opportunity to challenge and test myself both mentally and physically over the next year would have far-reaching benefits beyond Laser sailing, but Lasers gave me a focused goal to work towards.

My plan was pretty simple. Shift the workout plan from general fitness to focus on increasing my sailing fitness. Do more on-the-water training to improve boat handling, starting, boat speed, and fluidity. And finally, do more racing to increase confidence and re-learn big fleet championship tactics and strategy.

Chris Herrera works on strengthening my shoulder

For my fitness program I contacted Chris Herrera, who is the trainer for the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics and co-owner of Bow Down Training and Jaguar PT. Chris is very hands-on and creates sailing-specific workouts based on the latest scientific training principles, that also employ a balanced full body workout. One of the benefits of his program is that it changes every 4-6 weeks and the programs are delivered online with video descriptions of each lift or workout movement. Chris's program enabled me to reach a really high level of fitness and as it turned out, be able to hop back into the Laser after a six month layoff and still be effective.

the Swedish KSS national team was one of many international teams that I trained with in Florida last winter

I was fortunate to train with some of the world's top Laser sailors with coaching over a couple of months last winter. This included Clay Johnson (USA), Rob Crane (USA), Nick Thompson (GBR), David Wright (CAN), and many more international sailors and their individual coaches. They were preseason training in Florida for the first 2010 Sailing World Cup event, the Miami Rolex OCR, and I was able to join in. At first, it was quite humbling trying to keep pace and not get in the way. Even though I coached Brad Funk on the international circuit, it was good to experience the core fundamentals firsthand and see the subtle differences in techniques of the top laser sailors.

competing in the 2010 Miami Rolex OCR in the open division

Although my plan was to maintain a full schedule of regattas leading up to the Worlds, the reality was that my coaching schedule virtually eliminated any of my own racing or on-the-water training for most of the year. I was able to do the Rolex OCR (January), Laser Midwinters East (February), and Midwinters West (March). Prior to a few practice days before the worlds, I got in a few hours of sailing with a few San Francisco masters in July.

Even though I registered for the 2010 Masters Worlds at the first opportunity, I was still undecided about whether I was going until a few weeks before. I would have liked to had more boat time and racing, and I was considering joining a team for the Melges 32 Worlds which conflicted with the event. However, I felt strongly that I could still do well and would regret missing the opportunity and the experience.

The Masters Worlds is real championship racing in every sense and is not just some watered down regatta. The competition is top flight and every finishing position and overall placing is hard fought. The atmosphere on the shore is friendly and light hearted, but at the same time there is the sense of purpose that is unmistakable. On the water, the racing is just as intense as any world class fleet regardless of age.

Hayling Bay gave us a good variation of conditions challenging our heavy, moderate and light air speed over 10 races. The first and final days of the championships tested our fitness and heavy air sailing in ocean like conditions. Clean starts, good upwind speed and being fast and upright downwind ruled the day. Keeping inside the laylines given the upwind currents was another key factor in having a good result. The middle three days in the moderate to light winds was all about getting a quick start off the heavily favored start lines and staying out of the "black holes." This really tested our patience and ability to recover from picking the wrong side or randomly being dumped on.

pre-worlds training partner and two-time Grand Master Champion Wolfgang Gertz

A few key factors led to my success at the regatta, which included an early arrival for training, good starts, downwind speed, and overall physical fitness. Even though I didn't have much practice before coming to the regatta, it was important to get there early to get used to the conditions, especially the tides. Every day of training I got faster and let my body get over the shock of sailing after such a long layoff.

mid-line start just in front of the visible gap

Starting well is imperative to having a good series. The strong current could either help by holding you back from the line or hurt by pushing you over early. Always knowing what the current was doing and analyzing tide charts was critical. The other technique that I relied on was to constantly check both ends of the line before the start by sailing close hauled at each end and visually looking to see which end was favored. I also would check the wind direction constantly to determine the phasing of the shifts. I started mostly in the middle of the line, like overall winner Scott Ferguson. On the windy day, there weren't big shifts and clear air and speed was king, and on the lighter days the shifts were so big that the thought of being on the wrong side of a 20 degree shift was untenable. Being aggressive to the line is another key. I slipped a few starts and held back thinking my group was over early. Sure enough, they weren't, and I was stuck in bad air leading to a bad race.

You can't win or score well unless you have great downwind speed. When you see someone like Gold medalist Paul Goodison dominate the World Cup regattas, it's because he can round the first mark in the thirties and finish in the top five. His secret is that he is damn fast downwind. Fortunately, I am getting the hang of the new technique and was quite quick downwind.

being alert and fresh everyday is a big plus

Finally, fitness was what held it all together. As I tell the sailors I coach, it is a freebie. You don't need to spend hours on the water learning a new technique, testing new equipment, or going to regattas to improve your tactics, but you can work out anywhere and there is always time in every day to do some sort of workout. Being fit improves concentration on the race course and recovery in between race days.

I am pleased with how I performed in the championship finishing 3rd only one point shy of 2nd. It would be easy to look back at a capsize in the first race that cost me 3 places or the broken downhaul on the last day that cost me 5 spots, but I'm more than satisfied with 3rd, knowing that there is still more work to be done before the next Laser Masters Worlds, which are being held in my home waters in San Francisco in eleven months. There is no time to lose!

The greatest benefit of the Masters events is meeting friends from the past. (This is Dr. Alberto Larrea from Argentina, who competed with me in Takapuna, New Zealand, at the 1980 Finn Gold Cup.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Bronze Medal (Laser Cube) Finish

on the way to the race course for the final day

The final day of the Laser Masters Worlds was filled with drama including broken gear, a capsize, and a penalty turn in a three-way battle for the silver and bronze medals in very physical and challenging conditions. The ebb tide produced very big, choppy waves that compounded the challenge in the 17-20 knot winds. The tide also created an adverse effect at the starts by pushing the fleet towards the starting line, dramatically increasing the risk being over early and possibly getting black flagged for the race. Scott Ferguson had a big enough lead that after finishing 3rd in the first race and didn't sail in the final race. So the day would turn into a three way fight for the last two podium spots.

My day started locked in a battle for the bronze with Christian Pedersen from Denmark. It was going to come down to who beat who in the two windy races. With conditions similar to the first day of the championships where Christian posted a 3-4 finish to my 7-9 placing, I knew he was going to be hard to beat. I also knew it would be physically taxing pushing my fitness to its extreme. I relished this opportunity to justify all the training in the gym over the past year.

I started the first race just above Tracy Usher from San Francisco who is big and fast in the big breeze and waves. Normally he would grind me into the dust in no time but I was going well enough to ride his quarter wave for quite some time. In essence he was "towing" me upwind faster then I would go being on my own. After about three minutes he hit a nasty set of waves and I actually rolled him. This was a huge bonus because he was starting to spit me off the tow. Christian sailing fast came out of the right to round the mark just a head of me.

On the run I let it fly and quickly over took Christian and moved into 4th place approaching the leeward gate. As I pulled on my downhall to the maximum setting, it broke with a big bang! Laser sailors know the significant performance difference between a super tight downhaul, and maximum tight is only a few millimeters difference in pulling the tack of the sail up tight against the boom. My tack was now 4 inches above the boom and I've never seen a sail look so ugly. I limped upwind as best I could and overtook some boats on the final run to salvage an 8th. More importantly only one place behind Christian. The other thing that happened that race was Arnoud Hummel, who was second going into the day, capsized on the run and posted a big score. Now the final race would determine who would finish second.

with a broken downhaul the you can see the wrinkle cut through the sail numbers - very slow!

The final race I again got a quick start in the middle of the line and was able to sail free and clear the whole beat. Half way up the beat on port tack I ducked behind Christian letting him go left electing to minimize my tacks in the huge waves. It worked out he gained a couple of boat lengths and got two boats in between us, but I was still very close. Arnoud was a few boats behind both of us and the race was now on. We overtook Christian downwind and I move forward in the lead pack to rounded the gate in 3rd. Unfortunately it was right behind Tracy Usher, the heavy air speedster who proceeded to drop me like a cheap date. Arnoud soon passed as well, being faster upwind. Christian was threatening to pass until he fouled a starboard tack boat and ended up doing penalty turns. On the final run I closed up to round the final mark on Arnoud's transom and that is how we finished.

Arnoud Hummel finished 2nd overall, one point ahead of me in 3rd place. I finished one point ahead of Christian Pedersen.

a coveted Laser Cube

I will do a wrap-up blog soon about my overall impression of these Laser Masters Worlds.

final results worlds website

Sunday, September 19, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds Day Six: The final podium spot to be decided tomorrow

Michael McIntyre (Star Gold medalist), Wolfgang Gertz and I study the tides

Today Scott Ferguson put a lock on another Masters Worlds title. There is a three way battle for the final podium spot to be decided on the last day between myself, Christian Pedersen, (Denmark), and Al Clark (Canada).

Today was another day of fickle winds and building tides on the Hayling Bay. After a two hour delay and one abandon race, we were able to get in a race in a 5-6 knot westerly breeze. Al Clark was the runaway winner showing exceptional speed in the light wind.

Unlike the shore breeze from the previous two days, the wind for the second race was from the sea breeze direction. The days are getting colder and not warm enough for the seabreeze to fully develop. Being late in the day, it soon deteriorated into psychotic patterns. One minute we were fully hiking; the next virtually becalmed. Added to that mix was the Grand Masters fleet which the race committee in their ultimate wisdom started just as we approached the first leeward gate. It was frustrating to say the least having twice the number of boats (100) all drifting around with the tide, seeming to be going nowhere. I don't know why this race was not abandoned.

Last leeward mark rounding I past these three boat at the finish to preserve a 4th place

Tomorrow's forecast is for 15-18 knots from the southwest, similar to the first day of the regatta. It will be full-on in every sense of the word and really exciting racing.

Friday, September 17, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day Five

The forecast for shifty tricky northwesterly winds lived up to its billing. The story today was of two winds - 20 degrees left and 20 degrees right. There wasn't an in-between. The pressure was up and down as well, full hiking or sitting in. I handled the 8-12 knots and tricky shifts well and posted a 4th and a 1st in the two races.

Taking off too-warm gear and surveying the course

Both starts today favored a quick tack off the line (20 degrees left). About half way up the first leg the pressure would fade as the wind became unstable. The early leaders who started well (who tacked onto port early) and were now covering the center of the course while the not so good starters were pushed off to either the left or the right sides of the leg. It turned out being in the center was the black hole and one or the other side was going to be hugely favored.

In the first race I was with the two regatta leaders, Scott Ferguson and Arnoud Hummel when the middle started to fade. Scott tacked out early heading left while Arnoud and I continued on the favored tack to the mark. I remember thinking that was the last we were going to see him when the 20 degrees right shift came in. Well… good plan but we lost pressure and were sitting in while the left hand boats were fully hiked! Arnoud and I redeemed ourselves on the second beat while the fleet hit the left hard we went hard right and bingo, we met up with our 20 degrees right wind.

Race two was a carbon copy of race one except it was the right that paid off this time. I was positioned well to go to either side again and remembering what Scott did the first race, I was tempted to tack left when the wind faded. Ultimately I decided to gut it out and head right by letting a group of boats cross in front of me while I sailed the on the header. New pressure and more shift meant I and a few other boats were launched and I went on to an easy victory.

Rounding the leeward mark before the finish

I'm now sitting in 3rd place overall but 11 points back from first. The two leaders are Arnoud and Scott and are separated by only one point.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day Four

After two days of canceled racing, we finally got a break from the gale force winds to sail two races in an moderate 8-12 knot shifty, northwesterly wind. Today also marked the end of of the qualifying series for the Master division, which split the sailors into the Gold and Silver fleets. All the standard fleet leaders (Apprentice, Masters and Grand Masters) maintained their respective top spots, but none have more than a 3-point cushion at this point.

I had a very good day posting a 2-5, which jumped me ten places to take over 5th place. The on-course conditions were challenging from two perspectives. The wind pressure was up and down with big leftover chop from the past two stormy days, so maintaining boat speed (and keeping the cockpit from filling up) was a full-time job. There were massive wind shifts that could either make your day or make you wish you could have a do-over.

A quick fast start led to a second place finish in the first race today

Ari Barshi, a sailor from the Dominican Republic who owns and operates the Laser Center in Cabarete, and I were around each other most of the day. In the first race we both had awesome starts and were launched by the first windward mark which turned into a two boat battle for the win (Ari won). The second race saw us together again but this time deep in the fleet, in the high teens, after being on the wrong side of a 20 degree shift at the start. I was able to get a couple of critical boat lengths on him at the leeward gate, rounded inside a tightly bunched pack of boats, and was able to get away unencumbered on the lifted tack. I finished up 5th and he unfortunately found himself in rush hour traffic and posted a 20th. It was just one of those crazy days out there where being in the right place at the right time was a make or break proposition.

Tomorrow the stakes are raised with the top Master competitors all racing together in the Gold fleet, so it should be challenging and fun. The winds are forecast to be more of the same as today but a couple knots lighter. Saturday looks like it could be really light and the final day, Sunday, is predicted to be back to the Southwesterly sea breeze like we had on the first day of the championships.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day Three (Groundhog Day)

As predicted in yesterdays blog (sound familiar), today's racing was (again) canceled due to high winds and rough seas. Although not as severe as yesterday's conditions, the race committee determined after a two hour delay that it was too risky to send the fleet out in the prevailing 20-25 knots breeze and massive waves. Certainly a big consideration for them is the vast number of competitors (350) they have to manage and the wide variation of ability and fitness of the Masters competitors. While some outside the class may question why we didn't sail today, you won't find many here who don't think it was the right decision.

Another layday is another opportunity for my body to recover. I did get in a light gym workout and finished a very inspiring book that I recommend to anyone - "Born To Run," by Christopher McDougall.

Born To Run is self described as "full of incredible charters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and most of all, pure inspiration." The author, Christopher McDougall, sets out on a massive quest to answer one simple question: "Why does my foot hurt?" McDougall, who is six feet four inches tall and weighed 230 pounds, stopped playing pickup basketball and decided to turn himself into a marathoner. Turning 40, in five years of running he ripped his hamstring twice, strained his Achilles tendons repeatedly, sprained ankles, suffered aching arches and had to walk down stairs backwards because his heels were so sore.

What is intriguing about Born to Run is that it exposes the modern approach to running and high-tech shoes as the major culprits of most running injuries. McDougall states that 80% of all runners sustain injuries that are related to the stress induced by modern shoes and ignorance of natural, child-like running technique. He also gives an insiders look into the ultra running scene (50-100 miles races in mountain courses) and conveys the passion and dedication of these self-made athletes. Finally, the takeaway message is that our bodies are built as running machines and we need to get back to how we ran as children and to experience the same joy.

McDougall's message really resonated with my effort of getting back into shape to effectively sail the Laser, which has thus far been a two year journey. It involves working out regularly, on-the-water training with the top Laser sailors in the world, and improving my nutrition and overall health. My philosophy was to start out slow and my mantra at first was "less is more." It included walking on a treadmill and a basic weight routine. I had suffered an aggravated Achilles tendon over the past 20 years and was unable to do one of my most favorite exercises, running. I like running because of the physical benefits but more because of the mental boost it provides. Pounding out 3-5 miles thinking about racing to great victories used to be one of my favorite workouts, but I thought those days were long gone. I was very wrong.

My workouts are quite robust now and include lifting 4 days a week plus 6 days of cardio, either running or cycling and a lot of times both. With this increased intensity comes the inevitable injuries, soreness and pain. I have learned that those issues come with the territory given the intensity of my regimen and my "life experience" (i.e. age). It is frustrating being sidelined by a nagging injury and the thought that I can be hitting the road again in earnest is exciting.

I am looking forward to trying some of his concepts this fall and winter to see for myself if I can experience pain free running again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day Two

As I predicted in yesterday's blog, today was a blow out with racing canceled. Gale force winds and big waves made conditions dangerous (especially for a bunch of old guys in little boats) and the race committee has been very cautious about safety. The waves were an impressive sight even in the early morning, breaking across the channel over the bar. As we arrived at the sailing club the Ap over A was already flying. It was not a hard decision to cancel because the winds were expected to increase throughout the day. Wednesday looks like there will be less wind but conditions may potentially be too strong and rough to sail.

I spent the day at the Southampton Boat Show and ran into many of the Masters competitors at the Rooster Sailing booth stocking up on some warm gear. Rooster Sailing was started and owned by Steve Cockerill, who won both Radial races yesterday, and is widely known as "the boat whisperer" the name of his world famous (in Laser circles) DVD. Although Rooster Sailing is not well known in the USA, the UK based clothing and equipment company caters primary to dinghy sailors and reflects Steve's British sailing roots in a creative way. This is especially seen in the innovation and quality of their cold-weather gear!

A article on Steve described his business style perfectly: "Steve projects an individual style and has worked to develop and market fittings and clothing that improve on or fill a gap in the existing ranges available." What's even more impressive is that at this regatta, Steve is absolutely everywhere talking to people, making the rounds, is inundated with attention, and is still so focused that he is winning the Radial Masters Class.

Apart from hanging out at Rooster's boat show tent (where all the coolest old guys hang out), today was a much-needed day for recovery. I (and I think most of the fleet too) took a beating in the high wind and waves of yesterday's competition. I woke up in the middle of the night with the muscles of my left arm frozen. Although I did a serious cool down at the gym and stretched, it wasn't enough and I spent a chunk of the night icing it down. To top it off I got a cold too. Although I'm injured and sick, I'm definitely going to keep racing, because I am the toughest guy in the fleet. My best friend now is the "other blue pill," sales of which went up all over the island last night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day One

I'm currently competing in the Laser Masters Worlds, which are being held in the UK at the Hayling Island Yacht Club at the eastern end of the Solent. It is an amazing place to sail with a huge dinghy club, exceptional organization and race committee, and world class sailing conditions. I've been here for the better part of a week training with a couple of former training partners from my Finn campaign, Wolfgang Gertz and Michael Nissen, both from Germany.

The most amazing thing about this area is the tide, which is enormous, and the powerful current. There are treacherous shelves and bars underneath the high water, all of which are exposed when the water rushes out. Cruising sailboats and powerboats are moored all along the sides of the channels, and most are laying on the hard, totally stranded and dry in the thick mud, when the water leaves. Locals here are extremely cautious about navigating the harbor, and very respectful of the tide! Most of our training was based on when we could go out with the tide and return in the coming ebb. This meant most days we couldn't/didn't sail until late in the day, usually returning at sunset. The tide was also accentuated by the new moon a few days ago. The tides this week are not as big as last week, so we can get to the course and back in reasonably favorable current.

high tide: no bars exposed

low tide (that's me down by the water's edge)

Today was on the windy side with the breeze starting out strong and increasing during the two races. The building ebb tide made for powerful, full ocean-like conditions. Upwind was full on power hiking with cockpit-filling square waves. The runs were epic with many options on how to: 1) best surf the monster waves; 2) avoid becoming a submariner at the bottom of the bigger sets; 3) stay upright. The best approach on a day like today is to "go for it" on the runs. Having the confidence to do it is a big factor. Otherwise backing off means over trimming to prevent a death roll, meaning you will likely end up "chicken winged" and at some point, either spinning out or capsizing to leeward and/or burying the bow and filling the cockpit, which compounds all of the above.

Epic conditions and confusion around the leeward gate

I was happy with my speed today but suffered from being rusty from not being in the Laser over the past six months. The first race I was fighting it out with Scott Ferguson, last year's Masters world champion, for third place, when I capsized at the jibe mark and lost three places to finish seventh. My second race start was really bad and sailing throughout the fleet to finish inside the top ten was a good result.

Arnoud Hummel from the Netherlands busted out two bullets today to take the early lead over Scott Ferguson. see results.

Tomorrow forecast is for 20-30 knots and if it holds racing may be postponed due to the massive seas that will likely accompany the high winds.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Kinball Livingston's Interview

The Torture Rack of Glory

It’s not just a full circle, it’s a rich full circle to see John Bertrand on San Francisco Bay, returning as a coach to the waters where, as a youth, he separated himself from the pack and then went on to win back-to-back Laser world championships, the Finn Gold Cup and an Olympic silver medal. One day after his protégé, Luke Lawrence, won the Finn junior world championship—and looking toward the Finn Gold Cup racing that opened Monday on the Berkeley Circle—we sat down to talk about the art and science of coaching, his decision to return to the Laser in masters competition, what an Olympic class should be, and his love affair with a certain “torture rack” also known as a Finn class dinghy.

Here is John Bertrand in coaching mode, with Gloria Lawrence (aka Luke’s mom) filming a start of the junior worlds . . .

Photo KL

So we begin.

I’m curious about your top picks for a 96-boat fleet in the 2010 Gold Cup, but first, what makes a winner in the Finn class today?

What I’ve learned over the last year, in the Laser and Finn both, is that world championships are being won downwind. You cannot be slow off the breeze. The Berkeley Circle is a well-known track. For this regatta you’re anticipating big wind and big waves, and I don’t expect any surprises on where you need to go. You need to start well, and the top guys are going to pop out. Upwind, they’ll all be competitive, and then it opens up going downwind.

And just what is it that “opens up?”

I used to finesse my way downwind, but with the new unlimited-pumping rule [in winds above 12 knots], it’s all power-based. It’s about technique, and it’s about how strong you are, and how hard you can rock and how long you can keep it up. These guys are standing up downwind. They’ll heel the boat to windward and go by the lee, then stand on the leeward side and pump, then lean on the weather side again. You can’t physically pump the whole leg, so the guys who pump longer do better. I’ve never seen Ben Ainslie sail [the triple Olympic gold and silver medalist is not entered in the 2010 Gold Cup], but my understanding is that he can do that and not lose his technique. He must have taken it to the next level.

So who are your picks for the Gold Cup?

Ed Wright is a powerful sailor. He’s due. He came out here and won the North Americans, but there are a number of other players. Rafa [Rafael Trujillo of Madrid, Spain, ESP 100] is physically the biggest. He should be competitive. Ivan from Croatia [Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic, CRO 524] is another. I’ve been impressed by how well he sails; he makes very few mistakes. And Zach Railey [USA 4] has it all. Upwind speed, power, and he’s very fast downwind. I’ve seen him pass tons of boats.

I confess, honorable reader, yr humble servant neglected to ask about the defending Gold Cup champion from Denmark, Jonas Hoegh-Christense. Instead we moved on to – John, what was it like, as a back-to-back Laser world champion, to transfer to the Finn?

The Finn is a very physical boat. It puts different stresses on the body. Once I got over that shock, it was in some ways easy because we were introducing Laser techniques to a class where they weren’t in use yet. The other John Bertrand, the Australian one, along with Peter Barrett and some other North Sails guys, got together with the Harken brothers and made the Vanguard Finn, which was a huge leap forward. It was so nice coming to a new thing, not saddled with a need to solve equipment issues. And it took a long time for the Europeans to catch on. They still had wood decks and the like. I don’t know if that was pride, or what, but it wasn’t until about 1984 that everybody switched over.

For your masters sailing, you’ve chosen the Laser.

The Laser is a more enjoyable boat. The Finn is hard work. It’s a job. The last time I actually set foot in a Finn was the final race of the 1984 Olympics. I viewed it as a kind of torture rack.

It was in the Finn class that Paul Elvstrom introduced the concept of the sailor as athlete.

Frankly, that’s the reason I got into the Finn. I’m not built for it, but I was able to wear water jackets and bring my weight up by 44 pounds. I could make the weight I needed. But I always assumed that the class builds mental toughness, and it’s tactically good. On technique and equipment you need to be really good, so it addressed all the things I wanted to accomplish. And the Finn has a macho caché, even more so now. I have no illusions that I could be competitive in a Finn today. A good friend of mine who’s won the masters worlds twice dropped out of the class when they disallowed weight jackets, and he’s bigger than I am.

How does Olympic status affect the class?

You could flip that and ask, What would the Olympics be without the Finn? To me, Olympic sailing is the Finn. It embodies everything Olympian. It’s our marathon, our triathlon. Olympic competition is about the effort that goes into it. The athleticism, the competitiveness, the nationalism. The Finn is even more fitting with the class so vital and thriving and the youth side growing.

In your youth you had a powerful, longterm relationship with your coach, Bill Monte. How does that inform your work as a coach now?

It’s huge. Everything I learned I’m trying to pass on. First and foremost it’s about trust, and what I try to impart—with Luke, with the Olympians [including Anna Tunnicliffe] that I coached for 2008, was confidence. The belief that you can succeed. The next step is to give them some ways to succeed; set them on a path. Coming full circle, Bill Monte mapped out my route; I just executed the plan. We would meet once a year for eight hours and map out the whole year to come. We’d determine which regattas I was going to, and there would be a different set of objectives for each. Sometimes it had to do with results. At other times it was not about results, it was about performance, getting good starts, nailing the tactics, something.

Congratulations are in order, too. I figure you share some part of Luke Lawrence’s win in the Silver Cup, the junior Finn worlds. That’s one somebody who will never forget was he was doing on his twentieth birthday, as in placing third in the final race, which is exactly what he had to do to take the title. So what’s involved in your next step, taking our no-longer-quite-a-teenager from the 15-boat junior fleet to the 96-boat Gold Cup fleet starting Monday?

Luke is actually very capable in large fleets, and a small fleet is sometimes harder. His goal was the Silver Cup, and he accomplished that. Now I’m anxious to meet with him to set objectives for each race next week. We’ll adjust if we need to, but it’s more about performance than scoring. We’re trying to build a foundation. You have to go through the whole alphabet before you can spell. I’m sure his mast/sail combination is not what it ought to be, but it’s good enough. He’s only been in the Finn since January, so at a technical level he still needs to learn how to sail the boat. It can be exciting to think about his potential, because he wasn’t the fastest out there in the Silver Cup.

In September you’re off to the Laser masters worlds in the UK. What’s your mindset on that kind of competition? It can’t be the same as chasing an Olympic medal.

I’m a little anxious about going to the worlds and not being where I want to be—I would have liked more practice, instead I’ve been coaching—but maybe that’s what masters sailing is all about. It’s a great scene. It was one of my fears, having been so competitive as a youth, with such high expectations, that getting back into the Laser I’d feel like a failure, but it’s not like that. I’m probably as fit as when I was younger, just not as flexible. Laser sailors today are more physical, and they’re faster. I’m kind of at the same level as when I was a youth, but the standard has moved up, in masters sailing too, so the challenge is still there.

So you wouldn’t mind winning, but that’s not the reason to go.

Correct. Otherwise I would have approached it a lot differently. Next year may be another story.

The St. Francis Yacht Club is running the 2010 Gold Cup for the Finn Class. Racing will be in the East Bay, with shoreside staging out of Marina Bay, Richmond, so that weary sailors are spared a five mile beat back to the St. Francis docks. The competition runs Monday through Saturday. Feel the burn.