Guatemala and Laser Midwinters East 2015

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After the Sailing World Cup Miami, I took a few days off and then flew down to Guatemala for a week of training hosted by Juan Maegli along with a group of other international sailors. Just like last year, we had a great competitive environment both on and off the water in a variety of wind conditions. The hospitality was awesome once again and Lago de Atitlan is still one of my favorite places to both sail and visit. On the water we mixed in a variety of speed, boat handing, and racing drills, with a large focus on starting, which was a great benefit for me. When not sailing, the competitive and active vibe was still vibrant with stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, cliff jumping, ping-pong, gym work, and FIFA video games. It was hard to go a day without winning or losing at least once.

I then returned to Florida on February 12th and immediately went to Jensen Beach, FL to coach some up and coming sailors from my hometown at the Club 420 Midwinters, in my mind the toughest youth double-handed event in the country as it brings the best sailors from all the youth classes. Patrick Shannon and Davis Hanscom showed great improvement throughout the event and were able to scratch their way into gold fleet. Campbell and Briggs D’Eliscu showed top speed and composure throughout the event and were consistently at the top of the leaderboard. Unfortunately a tough last race cost them the victory, but still finished an extremely impressive 2nd place. It was a pleasure to coach boat teams as we represented the Newport Harbor Yacht Club burgee well.

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I then hustled over to Clearwater, FL to begin preparation for the Laser Midwinters East. I took one day to put together my new Laser purchased this winter shipped from Australia. I then took one day of practice on Wednesday before the regatta started Thursday.

Day 1 brought big winds all night and into the morning, reaching as high as 40 knots from the Northwest and dropping into the 20’s by mid-day. However, with the combination of strong winds, large waves that built overnight, and cooling temperatures, the race committee deemed it unsafe for the majority of competitors and the day was cancelled.

Day 2 brought back memories of chilly, spring mornings at college sailing weekend regattas. We sailed out in temperatures in the mid-30’s that barely broke into the 50’s as we hit the dock that afternoon. The wind was light from the north at 5-10 knots and very unstable in the beginning but stabled out as the day went on. The first race I had a poor start at the pin end and got bounced around the middle of the course to round the first mark in 20th, while I couldn’t feel my hands in the frigid temperatures. Unfortunately, very little passing lanes presented themselves, and was only able to come back to a 13th place finish. Despite the chilly temperatures, the thermal effect began to set in, the breeze shifted left, and the breeze stabilized for races 2 and 3. In race 2 I had a great start at the pin end and locked myself into the new left pressure coming from offshore and opened up a small lead at the windward mark, that continued to grow throughout the race finishing with a bullet. In the final race of the day, the breeze showed oscillating characteristics, but the majority of the new pressure still coming from the left. I opted to move up the line towards the boat as it was quite favored, a more conservative start, and utilized the shifts to work my way up the course to round in 3rd. Unfortunately on the second beat, I got too greedy and tried to dig into the left to find more pressure, but lost sight of the big picture and lost two boats to a right shift, and finished 5th in the race.

Day 3 brought warmer temperatures into the 60s, and stronger, shifty winds of 10-15 knots from the offshore Easterly wind direction, with a persistent right hand shift forecasted in the afternoon. Speed was obviously a great weapon, but having clean starts and the ability to sail the shift you wanted was the key to success for the day. The first race I opted to start in the middle of the line in order to leave my options open. As I moved up the beat, I felt more gains to be had on the left side of the course. One greedy move kept me from rounding in 2nd, and instead rounded in 8th. I was able to pick off a couple boats, but still missed some opportunities, finishing in 6th. Race 2, I sensed signs of the persistent right shift coming and opted to start at the boat and work the right side of the racecourse. My instincts proved correctly and the breeze made a significant shift up the first beat, immediately putting me in the top pack. I rounded the top mark in 2nd and battled for the lead the entire race. However, with the persistent right shift clear to both the leader and I, a passing lane was hard to come by, and finished the race in 2nd. In the final race, I looked for the same strategy, and executed it with accuracy once again. However, this time, the breezed died off and became very fluky at the top, allowing a few boats from the left to sneak in, and I rounded in 8th. On the downwind, I showed good boat speed and moved into the top 4 and looked to make my pass on the second beat. I saw the opportunity to hitch up to new pressure from the left to move into 2nd, and then shift back to the right as the main shift would soon settle back in. This put me into the lead, holding on to the finish for another bullet.

Day 4, the warm Florida temperatures finally returned. Breeze was from the East-southeast, starting very light at 5 knots, but picking up throughout the day to 10 knots, with another persistent right shift forecasted for the day to the South. In my prestart research, I initially sensed a traditional oscillating breeze, making me want to have a conservative game plan to play the middle, even favoring towards the left side of the course. However, with a few minutes to go, a wave of stronger pressure suddenly came through with the farthest right shift yet, confirming to me that the persistent shift was already happening. I then switched my game plan to start near the boat and work the right side of the course. My strategy worked and rounded the top mark in 1st in the fickle breeze. Unfortunately things unraveled on the downwind as new pressure came unexpectedly from the left side of the course, opposite of what I had anticipated, and in less than a minute, I was suddenly in 6th, but was able to hold onto that for the remainder of the race. The breeze then settled in nicely from the south with small, slow oscillations at 8-10 knots. In race 2 of the day, I felt there was going to be compression along the shore on the left side of the course. With that strategy and the pin end of the line slightly farther upwind, it was clear to me the left side was the place to be. Early on, I felt I had the lead, but a new pressure from the right confirmed that the breeze was oscillating, and I rounded the top mark in 6th. With some waves to surf, I found a nice groove and moved into 4th at the bottom mark, picked off another on the second beat, and one more on the final reach to finish the race in 2nd. This felt great as I fought for every point, putting me in a strong position to win the regatta with one race to go.

The situation was that I had secured 2nd overall, and I was two points behind leader Canadian Lee Parkhill. I needed to finish 4th or better in the final race as well as put one boat in between him and I to at least tie him on points, and win the tiebreaker as I had more firsts in the event thus far. To me it was clear that I could not afford to be too aggressive in trying to hurt Lee early in the race, as I needed to ensure that I was in the front of the fleet to finish at least 4th. However, if the opportunity presented itself, I would try and force him into situations where he would be forced into packs and go slow. Off the line, we both started near the boat end, as it was farther upwind, and raced out the right side of the course, him being to leeward as we were on port tack. We had our first convergence as he tacked back to starboard slightly bow forward of me, and I opted to tack to leeward. Unfortunately, my lane got closed up as other boats tacked to leeward of me and Lee moved farther forward. However, a pack of boats above him would prevent him from tacking, but I was far enough back where it was an easy duck and escape to the right side where I would likely find the next band of pressure. This proved to be true and when Lee came back on port, he tacked just below me on starboard near layline, bow even. At this point, I knew I had to keep a strong lane to hold all the way to the mark and it was essential for me to keep my height. Additionally, any boats that would have to tack would have to tack right below Lee first, affecting his speed much more than mine. Eventually, the situation I had envisioned turned real as his lane disappeared as boats tacked to leeward, and I worked hard to get height and keep my lane open and eventually roll over the top. However, the race was far from over as I rounded in 6th, still needing to pass a couple boats to get the win, while Lee was stuck in a pack in 12th. I worked hard to close the gap on the reach, then went to work on the downwind, letting my speed flourish, passing three boats on the run to round in 3rd. With Lee still a ways back in 10th, I switched from aggressive, attacking mode, to defense to ensure that I would finish 4th or better. I matched every move of the 4th and 5th place boats around the rest of the course, finishing the race in 3rd, Lee finishing in 6th, enough to secure me a one point victory.

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It was a great feeling to come across the line after coming through in the last race after a very challenging regatta in a variety of conditions. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little emotional with a few fist pounds on the deck. I was frustrated with how I performed in Miami, and to come back, put lots of hard work over last couple weeks, and sail true to my potential felt great.

However the celebration was short lived as it was quickly to packing up the boat and the car as I will be very international for next couple months. I flew out Monday night to Rio and was back at work with coach Littlejohn, sailing some radials with Paige Railey for last few days. Now we start a 10-day training camp with the American contingent along with Robert Scheidt, Nick Thompson, and Jean Baptiste-Bernaz, all top 10 Laser sailors in the world. Thank you for all the support and can’t wait to make the final push before heading to Europe in a few weeks!

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