Friday, April 30, 2010

International Sailing Academy Training Camp

I just finished a week of training at the International Sailing Academy in La Cruz, Mexico with some of our top North American Laser sailors. It was an incredible experience and the most productive training camp I've ever attended. The same sentiment was voiced by all the participants.

The camp was thrown together at the last minute by Clay Johnson, Rob Crane and Chris Dold after the flight disruptions to Europe caused all of us to miss the French Olympic Week in Hyeres. Clay sent out an email to the group that said "why don't we get together in Mexico for training as an alternative to Hyeres." Less than 24 hours later, everyone confirmed to meet in Mexico in two days!

The plan was irresistible. It involved a group of highly motivated top Laser sailors, one of the world's best Laser coaches, Luther Carpenter, and an all-inclusive price including boat, lodging, food, and coaching. Not to mention, the promise of spectacular sailing conditions.

The International Sailing Academy is owned and operated by a couple of top Canadian Laser sailors, Chris Dold and Vaughn Harrison. The facilities and venue are world class and offer a unique experience. It is based out of the newly built Riviera Nayarita Marina in the town of La Cruz, that just hosted two major regattas, 2010 Mexorc and Regata Copa de Mexico. It is a twenty five minute cab ride from the Puerto Vallarta international airport with easy and affordable service from all major North American airports. They have 10 new Lasers that we ramp launched from the marina, and from there it is a quick two-minute sail into the Banderas Bay.

One of the best features is the consistent wind. Early in the morning the winds are light and from the south. By eleven o'clock it starts to build as it swings to the west, and in the afternoon we saw a steady 15-18 knots. It was easy to tailor our training program based on this consistent wind pattern.

Another great feature was the food. Our meals were prepared by Leah Danielson and served at her home, which also houses the North Sails loft and overlooks the Marina and Bay. She has worked in the catering business both on yachts and in restaurants and is a fantastic cook. The food was fresh, local, healthy and delicious. She catered to our individuals needs and requests. It was convenient and really nice not having the hassle of eating out every night. The option to eat at the local restaurants is also quite easy, because the town is just on the other side of the marina.

Leah Danielson's meals are fresh, healthy and delicious

Because this was an elite group of Laser sailors, we would launch at 12:30 to take advantage of the building sea breeze to work on fitness and speed testing. To get the blood flowing, we would begin the day doing laps around a very short windward-leeward course for a half hour. Afterwards we would do up to 2 hours of upwind "speed sprints" followed by a series of speed runs back to outer harbor. We would finish the day with a series of short sprint races. One day we launched early to tow up the coast and spent four hours just working on downwind technique and drills. After quickly unrigging in the protected harbor, we went up to the the house/sail loft for a quick stretch and filling meal. The video debrief was held the following morning at the villa before breakfast.

Radial sailor Tania Elisa leads the group home after a long day of training

I continue to be impressed by the current group of aspiring Olympic sailors. They are smart, clever, motivated, and focused. Instead of accepting the setback of missing a major international regatta, they found a way to turn it into a huge positive. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that we were all quietly pleased that the French regatta was a virtual washout with little to no breeze.

highlight reel

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Canadian Laser Sailor David Wright Finds and Rescues Lost Kiteboarder in the Middle of the Night

Miracle Rescue in Mexico

David Wright, a top Canadian Laser sailor, who is training at the International Sailing Academy in La Cruz, Mexico, rescued a downed kiteboarder at 2:30 am today after a three and a half hour water search in Academy's coach boat. The kiteboarder had been in the water for seven hours when David found him.

Like all of us, David is only here in Mexico this week because the of the air travel shambles resulting from Iceland’s runaway Eyjafjallajokull volcano. He’s part of a group of top North American competitors who couldn't get flights to the French Olympic Regatta in Hyeres

David Wright Canadian Laser Olympic hopeful

Those of us who know David know he is one of the most determined and focused individuals you will ever meet. He just never gives up. Whether it's during an upwind heavy air grind and he is tight on your hip, or if it is a sail back to the harbor after a long day on the water, he will always be sailing his hardest. After training with him on and off for the last five months, I found out he purposely puts himself in the most disadvantage position in our speed tests and drills just to test his abilities to their fullest. It's that tenacity and his Merchant Marine training that combined to save a life last night.

At 10:30 pm yesterday, David along with Rob Crane and Clay Johnson, were awakened by frantic knocking on the door of their villa. A man wearing a kiteboarding harness, board shorts and a rash guard excitedly told David that his friend was lost out in the bay. He knew there was a powerboat at the villa. Could they help go search for him. The man had been kiteboarding with his friend after the wind died in Banderas Bay. He lost sight of his friend and decided to swim for shore. The guys jumped to action. While David tried to ascertain exactly what the situation was, Rob immediately went to the other villa to get the keys to the coach boat. Within minutes David and the kiteboarder were headed out in the 25-hp 14' RIB to search for the lost sailor.

Dave recounts the events of the rescue: "I didn't know what to make of this guy pounding on the door so late at night. Once I determined there was a legitimate emergency we immediately acted." The kiteboarder who had made a swim for it was picked up by local fisherman. They ignored his plea to go search for his buddy and was brought to the Riviera Nayarit Marina. The guy had passed out from exhaustion and shock after being picked up by the fisherman but had recovered enough by the time they docked to go find help for his friend.

Dave was formulating a plan on how to find the lost sailor from the get-go. His training as a graduate from Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy and as a 3rd Class Merchant Marine officer was put to good use. Dave goes on: "The first thing we needed was the key to the boat and to get an idea what the current was doing over the past three to four hours this guy was in the water." Dave was in the inflatable within minutes with the exhausted kiteboarder heading out into Banderas Bay, the second largest bay in North America, on a search and rescue mission.

Dave continued: "We first motored fives miles up the beach to where they launched, to make sure their car was still there. I brought him (the kiteboarder who was rescued by the fisherman) in close and he waded ashore to check the car. He flagged down a police officer and gave him a report on his missing friend. After that we motored to the last spot he saw his friend out in the bay. That's the spot where I started to run a search grid."

Because the 3/4 moon provided better visibility looking back into shore and based on the prevailing winds, Dave motored southwest offshore for another five miles and started his grid search first heading southeast. This was based on his best estimate of current and drift of the stricken sailor. As it turns out it was a smart move. "I motored as far out as I felt comfortable for my own safety in such a small boat and then started the grid pattern. I planned on running a five-mile square grid. I motored for two minutes at a time and then turned off the engine to listen and look. We had a big flashlight and it was amazing how much marine life was out there. I saw dolphins and all sorts of fish and you could hear the whales spouting. I didn't see any sharks but you know they were somewhere out there."

It was on his second pass that Dave found the lost sailor. "He was laying on his sail which has an inflatable section that kept him afloat, but he was mostly submerged." "We got him and his board and sail in the boat and put a jacket on him. He was pretty cold at that point." Dave arrived safely back at the marina at 3:00 am with the two kiteboarders.

On reflection Dave had this to say: "It was neat how all my Merchant Marine training was so naturally retrieved. There was good visibility because of the clear skies and good moonlight, and relatively smooth seas. I was supposed to be in France this week racing but because of the volcano, I ended up in Mexico instead."

I happen to agree with his next statement. "I think the guy is extremely lucky."

Dave training a few hours after rescuing a kiteboarder