Thursday, September 22, 2016

Regatta Report: US Nationals

When we began this campaign we planned our training and competition through September. We divided the summer into two block, West Coast training and East Coast training. The US National Championship, hosted by Oakcliff Sailing Center, was the last event on our summer schedule. Since putting together our schedule in early May, we have looked at Nationals as something of a final assessment of all we learned in over the summer. Regattas are competitions, but they are also one of the few times we go out on the water with the intent of doing everything and "stringing it all together", rather than just practicing isolated skills. They are the final project after a semester of learning. This is how we are thinking about regattas during this phase in our FX sailing career. Rather than focusing on results and evaluating ourselves against other teams we are evaluating ourselves on how well we are able to implement the lessons we have learned together as a team so far. We have had good regattas and bad regattas this summer. At times we excelled on the race course because we were able to successfully connect different aspects of our training; at other times we found ourselves struggling because of a failure to connect different training focuses. This past regatta, the US Nationals, we are happy to say that we were very successful in "stringing it all together". As far as final projects go, Nationals was a great one. 

The three days of racing were in super light to medium light conditions and held in Cold Spring Harbor. The the venue and conditions gave us a lot to think about with regards to connection puffs, playing geographic shifts along three different shorelines, and managing current. The FX fleet was very small, only two boats, so our start was combined with the men's fleet, making for five boats racing at a time. We managed to win all 12 races against the other FX, making us 49erFX national champions. However, we were especially happy to be truly racing against the men's teams as well, despite the difference in our two rigs. Cumulatively, when counting scores from both the men's and women's teams, we finished second, only two points out of first. Not bad for having a mast that's a meter shorter. On the water we felt that one of our strengths was shifting between light air mode and powered up mode. Tactically we also think that we did a good job implementing the skills we learned at North Americans about small fleet management and managed this same sized fleet well. 

Over the course of the regatta and the few days of pre-regatta training in Cold Spring Harbor we were lucky to work with US Sailing Olympic Development Team Coach Willie McBride. It was a wonderfully productive week of training and racing and we are very excited to train with Willie in the future. The next step for us is to go back to the West Coast, first to San Francisco and then to Southern California, where we will continue to work with Willie and push ourselves in a variety of conditions. Going forward we are feeling super motivated to make ourselves the best sailors we can be and can't wait to get back on the water. See you in the Bay! 


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Regatta Report: North Americans

The 2016 North American Championships were held in Newport, RI this year and brought competition from the US and Canada. Though the FX fleet was not as large in Newport as it was in CORK we raced seven races in challenging conditions and learned a lot. We finished fourth, out of only five boats. It was not the position we were hoping for, but points wise we were only one point out of third and two points out of second. Needless to say the racing was close and we were happy to be challenged by our competitors. 
in case you were wondering, there's a rock there.... woops
There seems to be something of pattern in Newport of "windy for training, light for the regatta" and we certainly saw that play out while we were there. We raced three days in light to medium conditions with long, shifty races. Tactically we were not at our best and missed a few key wind shifts upwind. Our down wind legs, on the other hand, were strong and the conditions let us play through a lower range of downwind angles, which by the regatta's end were feeling especially fast. 

Our biggest take away from the 2016 North Americans is the importance of forming friendships and fostering community within the 49er class. The importance of community was underscored at this event in particular as this was the first North American 49er and 49erFX class championship dedication to one of the fleet's dearest friends and most remarkable competitors, Trevor Moore. Trevor represented the US sailing the 49er in the 2012 London Games and remains one of the greatest sportsmen and talents the North American and International 49er fleet has ever had the privilege of racing against. Trevor coached both of us in the Opti and was a pivotal figure in our junior sailing career. He was the first person Caroline sailed a 49er with and fostered countless other sailors in all dozens of classes. He is the best example of the impact an individual can have on a community. Trevor went missing in the waters of Biscayne Bay last June, a loss felt deeply by all those who knew and loved him. Throughout the regatta, displays of the type of friendship Trevor helped build within the fleet kept popping up. One specific example involving us happened on the second day of the regatta when we did serious damage to our center board. We would not have been able to finish the regatta if it weren't for the generosity of Scott Ewing from the men's fleet, who immediately lent us his board on the simple basis that more boats sailing is better for everyone. Thank you Scott for helping us finish the event, and thank you to all of our competitors, without whom this sport and passion would not exist, and thank you to the North American 49er class and Sail Newport for allowing us to honor the memory of a mentor and friend with this regatta. 

Regatta Report: CORK

The Canadian Olympic Regatta, Kingston or "CORK" is a mainstay of the North American skiff sailing circuit. Canada has a thriving skiff community, especially in the 49er and 49erFX, and it seems like they all come out for CORK. This year saw eleven full rigs competing and nine FX's, making for a full starting line for both fleets. The four days of racing saw the full spectrum of conditions, from postponed mornings of drifting to full on heavy air conditions, and everything in between. Additionally, the race committee and regatta organization team ran as professional an event as any. Between these factors, on the water competition, full spectrum conditions, and top tier event management, we were able to put our training to good use and get down to racing. We finished third overall in what was very close racing among the top teams and were very happy to see pieces of training that we had worked on earlier in the summer starting to fall into place.
some awkward faces at the top mark....

We approached this summer's racing, CORK included, with the mentality that a regatta and a finishing position are only as valuable as the insight they give you into your next training block. In other words, scores don't matter as much as lessons learned, so with that in mind here are the top three lessons we learned in Canada.
1) Be ready to make that shift.
~With extremely variable wind conditions we were changing the rig tune and settings between almost every race. With only around 10 minutes between our finish and the next start we had to discipline ourselves to cross the finish line, take down the kite, and then turn up wind to check our rig setting and make the appropriate changes. There is no rest for the well tuned skiff team. While we were mostly successful in dialing in the rig tune the other shift that is just as if not more important to make when sailing in varying wind conditions is the mental shift, and that is something we are still working on and will keep in mind while training. Setting up your mind to sail in 18 knots, even though it just finished a race in 10, takes just as much deliberate effort as setting up your boat.
2) Race from the start.
cursing along with the green kite
~Getting from stopped to full speed is a tricky business in the skiff; mostly because as a boat they don't like to stand still. However, the conventions of racing necessitate that we do stop and then get to full speed and much of our training in San Francisco focused on the nuances of that acceleration process. We saw that training definitely paying off on the starting line at CORK and we felt as though we had more agency in our down speed maneuvering than many other teams. However, one thing we were naive to before starting against other boats our own speed was the boat on boat dynamic of the start. If you want to win, winning the start is a good first step. This means not passively crossing the line at go (which in and of itself is easier said than done) but positioning yourself to race others off the starting line. It means getting aggressive, getting close, and getting bow out. As we move forward we will be reminding ourselves that every starting line, whether its in practice or a race, is an opportunity to hone these skills and we will not be taking the easy way across.
3) Take care of what gets you there.
~You cannot compete in a regatta if you and your equipment cannot make it to the regatta. To that end, check your tire pressure and get an oil change. Our trusty (actually not so trust, at this point) regatta-mobile for the East Coast, a Honda CRV with 230,000 miles on it, strongly objected to the concept of towing a two boat trailer from New York to Ontario and back. Just over the Canadian boarder she completely ran out of oil and we saw our competition prospects flash before our eyes. The car, lovingly referred to as the Millennium Falcon, made it and is now officially retired from all towing, but the incident was a reminder that even if the vehicle is not a racing machine, like our boats, it still requires love, attention, and routine maintenance.

There are many more regattas and many more lessons to come for us so stay tuned!