Thursday, January 28, 2010


Race 7 was about putting together a complete race from start to finish. After two general recalls and our second black flag I decided to start in the middle of the line because there is almost always a mid-line sag. I made sure I had a nice hole to the nearest leeward boat and pulled the trigger early to get my bow out in clean air. After a minute of sailing and concentrating on max boat speed, I saw I was even with the top boats who started at the leeward end and that I could cross all the boats that started at the weather end.

The first mark was 1.5 miles to windward and placed close to the windward shore of Key Biscayne Island. The wind was very unstable with puffs, lulls, and big shifts - very tricky. Today's conditions make the upwind tactics a lot like a rat maze. There are many potential paths to get to the weather mark but nothing is certain until you actually get to it. I decided to stay on starboard because I was going well and had good pressure, also to see if I could sniff out any sort of header. I soon tacked over onto a nice lift with solid pressure. At this point there were three groups of leaders - left side - middle (me) - and right side who were spread out over 1/2 mile of separation. As it turned out, the Dutch sailor Marc de Haas punched the left corner and had a huge lead of 45 seconds at the first mark, while the rest of us squeezed everything out of every shift and puff following the "maze" up the beat. I stayed in pressure and made some good decisions to round in 4th.

I held even downwind and put together another smart beat, while the conditions became more varied. Down the run I lost two boats to finish 6th, bow-to-stern with the 2nd to 5th place boats.

Tomorrow is the final day of racing for all competitors except the top ten who will battle it out in the medal race on Saturday. Tomorrow's forecast is for east winds 9-13 knots, classic Biscayne Bay conditions.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Meat, No Fish

The Italians have a saying "no meat no fish." Translation: you don't have much going for you. The last two days on the Rolex Miami OCR Laser course, you had to be either aggressive and confident or smart and fast to do well. None of these things presently describe my sailing the last two days. I've mainly been reserved at the starts, shying away from either end by starting in the middle. I'm also not fast off the line (hence the "no meat no fish"). Therefore, getting the first couple of shifts correctly is difficult, if not impossible, and without anything special in the speed department taking risks becomes a default mode.

All is not lost because today I actually got two clean starts (an improvement) and my speed is decent at times if not a little inconsistent.

The star of the USA Laser team so far is Kyle Rogachenko, who is sitting in 11th place. Kyle attends Old Dominion University and has been on the US Sailing Youth Development Team since its inception three years ago. Kyle is followed by Rob Crane in 19th and Clay Johnson in 26th. These three among other development team members will be pushing each other in the next few years leading up to the Olympic selection trials. It will be exciting to watch.

Kyle Rogachenko and coach Ron Rosenberg at Rolex Miami OCR

Tomorrow the fleet is split into the Gold and Silver fleets. I'm in the Silver fleet and will try to be more aggressive and continue to work on consistent speed and the ever elusive downwind technique.

I'm thrilled that my performance is much better then it was last year. With the exception of a missing few, these are the best Laser sailors in the world. Every race I am learning new things and relearning old lessons. It is a great adventure.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Laser Starting 101

It's time for me to go back to school on big fleet starting Laser style 2010. Today was all about getting off the line in good position, or in my case, looking for a quick escape from bad starts. The right side of the starting line and the wind shifts both heavily favored the right side of the course all day today. This made the committee boat and windward end of the line overly crowded at every start. If you elected to move down the line to a less crowded area, you would end up outside the big "righty" and not rounding in the top group at the first mark.

In a jam-packed rail to rail start, the objective is to stay parked head to wind for the final minute. It is extremely difficult to do with any sort of wind or chop like we had today. The boat wants to sail backwards at a high rate of speed. The way to counter this is by legal sculling (only to bear off without the tiller crossing the center line of the boat), constant mainsheet trimming and vang to control the bow, and using your body to pressure the center board.

At the golden moment to bear off and accelerate, you must scull like hell (6-8 times) down to a close hauled course, give a few body pumps (just enough not to get flagged by the judges), and hope you did a better job then your mates around you. Sometimes you are so close to the other sailors that your tiller is hitting the windward boat while the guy to leeward is hitting your boat with his tiller. Sounds easy? Miss a beat and you are squirted out the back and left in the dust looking for a quick escape and clear air.

Photo credit - Walter Cooper and US Sailing

This generation of sailors have come up through the Optimist class where I'm sure they have perfected this start technique. It's gonna take me a little more time before I can make this technique automatic. Overall, once I got clear air and a clean lane I was in the bottom half of the fleet scrambling to make something positive happen. I had my moments and happy about my overall speed.

Check out results and pictures here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rolex Miami OCR: A satisfying first day

After spending the past twelve months thinking about this regatta and an intense two months training on the water, today dawned with a lot of anticipation. The forecast was classic South Florida pre-frontal with a strong 20 knot southerly blowing, and unsettled conditions brewing just to the west. My game has come back a lot these past two months but I know that I still lack speed in many conditions, especially in the breeze. Fortunately for me, the committee delayed our start and kept us on shore until 3 p.m. waiting for the front and heavy showers to blow through and for the wind shift to the west.

After numerous recalled starts from the "blue" Laser fleet it was past 5 P.M. by the time our "yellow" fleet got going. By then, the wind dropped to 12 knots! After a good midline start I was able to sail up the middle of the track on a port tack lift. The left hand boats got an early jump on the fleet. The top half of the beat saw boats starting to consolidate left but I continued to head right sailing a big lift. As I hit the right layline the wind went back right and all of a sudden I was looking at only a handful of boats who could cross. As I approached the mark I could have rounded 6th but decided not to push it and tacked and ducked a group of five boats that had overstood. I was thrilled to be in the top group but I couldn't relax because it was only one leg down and one lucky(?) shift. To my surprise and relief I held my own down wind. After trading tacks with Brad Funk, I only slid back a couple of boats up the second beat. The highlight of the race was the final run, where I gained 100 yards on my closest competitors and closed on the leaders. I finished a solid 13th in the fleet, and am happy with the result. I'm excited that I met my performance goals for the day. Tomorrow the committee will try for three races to make up for the missed race today. The forecast is for marginal wind from the northwest.

Check out results at the Miami OCR regatta website.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Returning to my Roots

Twelve months ago, I raced at the Rolex Miami OCR in the 14-foot Laser class after a 30-year hiatus from top-level Laser competition. I did it as a reward to myself for getting back to my “Laser weight”, which is the equivalent of one’s “high school wrestling weight.” This is the weight you can brag you once were, even if it was only for a day. For me that meant being just under 180 lbs (81.5 kgs). The only problem was that I had only about an hour’s worth of practice to get reacquainted with the boat before the first day of the regatta.

Needless to say, the 2009 OCR regatta was a humbling experience but one that I wouldn’t trade. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though losing weight by going to the gym and eating right for six months does not make one fit enough to effectively sail a Laser by any stretch. However, it was good enough to allow me to show up every day sore but not broken. More than once people commented on my ear-to-ear smile between races or post-racing. It was thrilling to be competing again instead of occupying my normal position perched on the coach boat.

As a person who passed the half-century mark a few years ago, what compelled me to put myself back in a young man's class? I was inspired by two people in particular. Also, a specific circumstance conspired to push me in this direction.

Brad Funk, who I coached to a second place finish at the 2008 Olympic Trials in the Laser, and to a top ten finish in almost every ISAF Grade One event he entered, always said there is no reason why I couldn't or shouldn't be racing a Laser. Brad is one of the most talented natural sailors I have come across and is a free spirit. His enthusiasm is contagious (one of the reasons he is universally liked) and it motivated me to get back in the boat.

In 2008 I raced on Scout, an IMS 41 owned by Dorsey Ruley, who hails from Chicago. We won our division in the 100th anniversary Chicago to Mackinac Race, which for any racer, is a major achievement. Being a Chicago native and winning the 100th Chi-Mac is indescribable, a life's dream come true. The most inspiring thing about Dorsey is not only has he competed in the race many times, he is also a quadriplegic. He was paralyzed from the neck down at a very young age and hasn’t let his disability slow him down in any way. He is in charge of the boat and involved in all tactical, navigational and sail decisions. When I was lacking motivation to hit the gym or in life I thought about his daily routine and would quickly snap out of any thought of slacking off.

The last reason I’m back in the Laser is that the economy has put the pinch of the number of pro sailing jobs available these days. This is an opportunity to refine my tactical skills during the slump we are experiencing.

Now, after a year, I am back at the Rolex Miami OCR looking for redemption. Over the past year I continued to work out. I’m still 180 lbs but more fit. I can hike hard for more than a minute at a time without resting. I sailed in four regattas with no or little practice, including the Laser Master's World Championship (placing 10th). In the past two months I have been training in Florida with some of the top sailors in the world. It has been a time of discovery and revelation about modern top-level Laser sailing, and about my own sailing.

Firstly, these sailors are in their 20s and incredibly fit (and most are tall). Upwind in a breeze not much has changed. It's all about power sailing and hiking hard. In light winds the roll tacks, roll jibes, and mark roundings (inter-collegiate style) play a bigger role in getting to the top of the fleet than they used to. These things I can relate to, and are automatic, stored in my muscle memory. However, the new downwind technique is completely foreign to me. Because of advances in the line systems, it is very easy to adjust the outhaul and vang to power up the sail. Therefore, downwind Laser sailing has dramatically changed. Sailing by the lee is the primary “powered up” mode and is easy in smooth water. It gets complicated when you throw in waves, especially in marginal planing conditions where the mode is all about “legal rocking” and surfing. Sailors will head up and bear off while trimming and easing the sheet, and a whole fleet will sail the run heading every which way doing their own thing. Try and sail a steady straight course and your hair will blow forward as the fleet flies past you.

As a second-time beginner to Laser sailing, I have to establish my own expectations. Like I tell the sailors I coach, I'm looking for performance and not results. I will expect to make good tactical decisions, look for opportunities to execute and gain from boat handling, positive speed line ups, and a positive starting ratio.

Did I mention there are 106 boats entered?

I'll attempt to write a nightly update to give you insight about how my day of racing went, and also give some news about U.S. and international sailors.

For information about the Rolex Miami OCR go to