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.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Luke Lawrence Grabs the Finn Youth World Championships by Winning the Silver Cup Regatta

The ninth and final race of the Silver Cup was a nail biter. Going into the final and deciding race, Luke Lawrence held only a one point lead over the two-time youth Finn European Champion Ioannis Mitakis, and a two-point lead over his US teammate Caleb Paine.

After a three hour delay onshore, the fleet was called to the start area a half hour before the 3:30pm cutoff time. The normally reliable strong seabreeze was muted to a soft, hot, unstable 8 knot westerly caused by a rare heatwave that had arrived in San Francisco overnight. The strong ebb tide that was running against the wind added a few tactical considerations for the competitors. Namely, it would want to push the fleet over the start line early, and make the windward legs relatively short with tight laylines. The foul tide made the downwind legs much longer and more tactically important.

Luke's game plan was simple. Don't be over early at the start, because restarting would be a big penalty against the tide. Knowing the fleet would compress at the windward mark meant the regatta was likely going to be won on the downwind legs and there would be opportunities to make up any deficit at the first windward mark. Luke explained, "For the start I made sure I was set up behind the entire fleet to eliminate the threat of being forced over early and I would use the current on my final approach. My conservative start and upwind tactic of shadowing my main rivals meant I just missed out on a big left hand puff that launched Caleb and the bulk of the fleet. I made sure I didn't overstand with the current and was able to overtake Ioannis but I still rounded in 11th just on the tail end of the tightly packed fleet."

The bulk of the fleet gybed at the weather mark looking for stronger wind in the middle of the bay while four boats which included Luke and Ioannis Mitakis headed for the shore and relief from the current. For a short time it looked like the lead pack was gaining, but faced with having to cross the main shipping channel twice with the underdeveloped seabreeze, Luke and the other three competitors slowly and consistently overtook the fleet halfway down the run.

Luke said, "When I saw Caleb jibe at the mark and Ioannis was 8 boat lengths behind me, I knew I was in great shape to take the title. The only wild card was that the wind was much lighter on the shore so I couldn't risk getting stuck in another hole, so I hung offshore in a little more current to make sure I didn't stall out." Luke rounded the bottom mark in second place and with the ebb tide quickly carrying him to the windward mark, he opened up a commanding lead over his Silver Cup rivals.

The best part for me was seeing Luke cross the line and then moments later witnessing the very emotional embrace between he and his mother Gloria Lawrence. I can attest to the fact that Luke was slightly nervous during the final few days of the event while he was wearing the leader's "yellow jersey." But unlike the US Sailing's youth championships, or the ISAF youth world championships where he finished second, he came home the champion. Did I mention that Luke has only been sailing the Finn for eight months? Impressive.

St. Francis Luncheon Presentation

On Wednesday, I made a luncheon presentation at St. Francis Yacht Club. In conjunction with the Finn Gold and Silver Cup regattas, the presentation detailed the full circle of my beginnings at St. Francis to its present, dedicated level of Olympic support. I also spoke about my coaching efforts with Luke Lawrence, and about the strengths and weaknesses of the current US Sailing Olympic program. After the talk, reporter and blogger Kimball Livingston interviewed me and wrote a nice article on his Blue Planet Times, which I wanted to share.

More on Luke at the Finn Silver Cup tomorrow!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Luke Lawrence in the Finn Silver Cup

Luke Lawrence and I are entering the third day of the Finn Silver Cup regatta, held at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. I grew up here and have a lot of local knowledge to impart to Luke, and we are taking a tactical focus for the regatta. I have been making my own tide charts daily and briefing him every morning before racing.

Yesterday the International Finn Association published a press release about Luke's regatta, which I wanted to share below. You can see more about the regatta at

Apart from coaching Luke, I have been keeping busy. Last month I was tactician on Scout, a Sydney 41, competing in the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. I've also been doing some Laser training in preparation for the Laser Master's World Championships, held at Hayling Island, UK. This includes physical training, and last week I did my first ever century bike ride, the Marin Century Ride. I've got a lot to say about all of this, and I will be writing a couple more blogs to make up for my absence.

International Finn Association Press Release

Perfect day for Luke Lawrence!

After two victories in the second day of racing, Miami sailor Luke Lawrence takes the lead of the Finn Silver Cup. Josip Olujic (CRO) conserves his second place while Australian sailor Oliver Tweddell gains two places to third overall.

Despite saying on the first day to prefer light conditions, Luke Lawrence mastered the increasing breeze and the current to win both races today. "I had a good start from the pin end and managed to have a clear path to the left of the course with more current to lift me tothe top mark. I am not fast upwind but could keep good position on the course." With 93 kg (205 lb) Lawrence is one of the fleet's lightest. The breeze increasing from 13 knots in the first race to 20 in the second provided for athletic sailing. "I was fast on the run but often just in control!" Oliver Twiddell (AUS) and Jorge Zarif (BRA) finished in second and third place.

With increasing wind, the triangle course was set for the second race. Yesterday leader Caleb Paine (USA) rounded the top mark in top position after racing up the right side with Ioannis Mitakis (GRE). Coming from the left side, Josip Olujic (CRO) rounded in third.

Luke Lawrence (USA) was not in good shape to win his second race after a bad start and in seventh place at the top mark. "My first beat was not good. I was undecided and stayed too long in the middle where the island of Alcatraz stopped the current from pushing me towards the top mark. I had to make a decision and pick a side! Fortunately, I was able to gain some ground and a couple of places on the run." Lawrence won the race in front of Josip Olujic and Ioannis Mitakis.

At the end of the second day, Olujic is only three points from the lead. "I have very regular results. Before coming, Bambi (Ivan Gaspic, European champion and world #1) told me the key was to be consistent!" On the first race today I took a very good start but I got a penalty for rocking upwind and lost lots of places. I am fast downwind so I managed to pass a couple of boats on each run. Fourth is not bad for a race with a penalty!"

Regatta leader Luke Lawrence admitted that having John Bertrand's (USA) help was a real advantage. "John has sailed here all his life and knows the Bay like the back of his hand! It does help me build my confidence when I make a tactical choice on the water. He has a good perspective of my sailing and helps me go fast. We have worked together since May and already thanks to his help I was top three junior at the Finn Europeans." With Olympic selection in his mind, Lawrence knows he has to keep working hard. "There are good Finn sailors in the US. Zach Railey of course, but also Brian Boyd and Caleb Paine. Hopefully we will push each other to the top!"

Racing will continue on Sunday with races 5 and 6. The forecast is for building winds reaching 25 knots and stronger current which will provide for interesting racing.

For more information, contact Corrinne Mckenzie:
Results, videos, and more pictures on: www.