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One for the Rest of Us »

September 28, 2011

The winner of the Melges 32 Worlds must have deceased youth sailing coaches turning over in their graves.  Top level physical fitness, sailing in top of the line sailing gear, getting plenty rest and having a healthy diet are the staples to winning any major event like a World Championship.  Dougie Douglass proved last week that sticking to your routine, whatever it is, is the best recipe for success, even if it means sailing in the Spanish version of a moo-moo and woven sun-hat with a 12 inch wide brim and hosting nightly regatta parties with a live DJ and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. (Picture of Dougie and his outfit at the bottom right corner here)

Dougie and his team on Goombay Smash are no group of slouches with multiple World Champ Chris Larson on tactics, Andy Escourt trimming, Marco Constant on the main along with a talented group up front, and they are never missed on the race course with their vibrant team gear, or off the water when a cleaned out bin full of Goombay Smash is often the après sailing drink of choice at team headquarters.  Each morning during the postponement, Dougie would march around the premises of the Real Club Nautico Palma beating a huge bongo drum, adorned in his Spanish moo-moo, sunhat and hippie beads.  It turns out his stroll would be more of warning to the leaders of the regatta that he was getting primed for a comeback, and the beats of his drum were like footsteps approaching from behind.  This was all in good fun at the time, but it turned out to be a real mental game for some of the other boats near him in the standings.

The conditions at the worlds were some of the craziest I have witnessed in terms of consistency of the breeze, and it was a comforting feeling for any sailor who has struggled tactically to watch the worlds best tacticians find themselves in the back of the pack at times and scratching their heads.  Goombay started the event off with a 28th place and after using their throwout in the first race of a 10 race series, it looked like they could be crossed of the list of potential champs.  After readjusting their game plan, getting of the starting line clean and getting to the sides of the course as opposed to the middle, Goombay was able to find themselves within striking distance with four races reaming.  With the exception of Samba who held the lead for the first three days, the leader board looked like a chart of the stock market over the past month with most teams compiling a single digit finishes together with some in the high 20s.

Day 4 would prove tough for the group on Samba that had looked unbeatable up to this point.  Goombay would continue their charge, and at the end of the day, with only two races reamaining, Goombay grabbed a one point lead after Samba posted a 28, 10.   As the teams out of the running began to plan their evenings in Palma, we were all a bit surprised to find that the Goombay house would be hosting yet another party.  Wouldn’t they want to get some rest?  Shouldn’t they be lights out at 10pm?  Not Goombay.  When a few of us left the party that evening around midnight, the last vision was of Dougie busting a move with no inclination of getting to bed any time soon.

The final day of racing broke the mold of 80 degrees, sunny and a slow filling sea breeze that we had seen the previous 5 days as we awoke to rain, and calm winds off the waters of Palma.   After a 4-5 hour delay and with the 330pm deadline to get the final race started looming, the RC decided to send the fleet out in a rapidly shifting, slight N breeze.  A starting line was set and it looked like at least one race would take place, than shortly before the cut off time, the PRO came over the radio and announced there would be no more racing.  The cheers could be heard from the team on Goombay as the rest of us applauded and watched the celebration with a bit of envy.  I can only imagine the celebrations that took place later that evening.

For our team, we finished pretty much dead middle of the pack.  After starting out the event well, we struggled the final few days.  We certainly could have done some things better, but the take-way from this event was the Melges 32 fleet was very deep and there were no slouches whether you were fighting for first or 20th.   Thanks to Geoff Perini for a great time off the water.

Up next is the Grade 1 Chicago Match Cup off of Navy Pier in Chicago which begins on Wednesday.   I will be sailing with a new team on Don Wilson’s boat with experienced Match Racers, Laurie Jury and Mal Parker.  With 12 of the top match racing teams in the world in attendance, we will have our handsful trying to qualify for the top 6 and the overall purse of $65,000.  Check out live racing and some very entertaining commentary at www.chicagomatchrace.com

Free Fallin’ »

September 24, 2011

Three boats are separated by just one point for the world title, and it is safe to say that we are not one of those boats.  In the trickiest, most shifty conditions we have seen yet, we again struggled to get off the starting line and found ourselves just the slightest step behind trying to play shifts in a very tough fleet.  It has been hard to be staring at the majority of the fleet in front of us both upwind and down, but we are always encouraged by the fact that if we can sail clean, we have as good a shot as anyone to have a good race. There are 2 remaining, and our best hope is that we can stop our free fall in the standings and put together a decent day.

Day 4 was a huge shake up in the overall standings with Samba having a tough day and Goombay Smash making a huge charge and taking the lead by 1 pt.  A few other teams are slightly in reach, but it will be a grudge match on the water for the title.  At least if we don’t have a good race going, we can watch some teams duke it out.  The owner of Goombay, Dougie Douglass is one of the more interesting characters in the fleet and has been sailing in various outfits throughout the week, and hosting parties on several nights with a full DJ at his sprawling crew house.  It will be interesting to see which outfit he wears on the racecourse today, and if he can hold a slim lead on Samba and Fantastica.

Day 4 highlights.

Nowhere to Hide »

September 23, 2011

Besides needing to have meticulous boat preparation, fresh sails with current designs and a hungry, physical team, the main challenge at a World Championship is trying to execute the proper game plan and get off the favored end of the starting line when every other team is thinking the same thing.  Everyone knows what the right thing to do is, and the tough part is being the part of the small percent that can execute it.  On day 3, we continued our unimpressive trend of having a keeper first race, then following it up with a starting error in the 2nd and having to watch the race unfold from the back instead of being part of it.

Our problem in the 2nd race was that our luck of not being OCS with the boats around us had run out.  In a few of the races so far, we have managed to be just bow back while the boats around us were hailed over early, but in the afternoon race we were late to our approach at the boat end, were exposed early when we tacked onto our final approach and did our best to stay hidden, but had our bow numbers called after what looked like an awesome start.  The boat again fell quiet as we headed back to the line as we knew we were in for a long one.

The first lap is usually pretty uneventful as we do our best to dig back, but as the fleet compresses at the bottom mark the next upwind offers some hope as we get back into the mix and try to pick off some boats. We did a nice job of catching up to the back third of the fleet and having a shot at the top 15, but missed out on one last shift at the bottom end of the course and watched as a few of the boats we caught passed us back.  The good news is even when we are deep, the team continues to work hard and fight for every point.  We have mixed feelings of knowing we are sailing well enough to be in the top 5, but have had 2 unforced errors that have cost us a lot of points.

Every team has struggled at some point and with a decent, single digit finish still attainable, we really need to get mean and execute on the starting line for two solid races today.   The conditions are pretty much on repeat with a delay in the morning lasting until about 12pm and a light seabreeze filling around 1pm.  Some good on-board highlights from a few of the teams on day 3 showing how taxing the racing can be on the tacticians. Results.

Change of Plan »

September 22, 2011

Shade was at a premium at Real Club Nautico Palma as the RC delayed the 12:30 starting time to allow for the breeze to fill.  When we did finally head to the race course, we had 6-8 kts of wind out of the SSW and that was the most we would see all the day.  In the first race, we established ourselves in the front group and seem to have good wheels when we have clear air and go where we want.  We were slowly able to grind down a few of the boats around us and take an 8th place after shooting the line at the finish with 4-5 other boats, including a hard charging Samba team that found themselves mid-fleet after putting all their money on the left side that did not pay on the first beat.

Samba must have known that the left was eventually going to pay as by the time the 2nd race started, the pin end of the starting line was heavily favored, and it looked like there were some big port angles on the left side of the course.  The decision was made on our boat to go left, but we decided to go “all-in” around 2 minutes until the start and try to win the pin. The time had arrived where we abandoned our philosophy of just staying in the hunt and sailing clean, to mixing it up with all the top teams and trying to go for it all.  The result was either going to be us getting off the pin end clean and most likely leading at the top mark, or getting worked and relegated to the back half of the fleet. Once the starting gun went, we found ourselves basically head to wind and not moving with Argo directly to leeward blasting off and taking the race lead.

As we tacked to port and searched for a clean lane, the boat fell quiet as we knew we were in for a long race and that we would be utilizing our throwout earlier than we would have liked.  After not being able to find a clean lane until half way up the first beat on the wrong side of the course, we rounded the first mark in DFL and had a good look at 28 spinnakers in front of us.  In conditions that are not favorable for mounting comebacks, we did a good job of staying mentally tough and picking off some good teams to take a 20th.   Currently we sit in 9th place overall with the top 5 still being in reach, and we now have to keep clean and have good races from here on to grab a spot on the podium. Samba is looking tough after taking another race win and they have some good speed around the race course.

Despite the tough 2nd race, we are having fun as a team and the apres’ racing scene at yacht club is great with all of the teams getting together for coldies and food. The Camper Volvo team is here prepping for the start of their race in a month or so, and tonight is the Camper party which the Melges 32 fleet is invited to.  There will be a lot of teams that will have switched over into party mode after racing today…hopefully we are not one of them.

Video wrap of day one and day two.  Results here.


Melges 32 Worlds – Solid First Day »

September 21, 2011

The saying goes that you cannot win a regatta in the first day, but you can lose it.  Keeping this on the forefront of our game plan for day 1 of the Melges 32 Worlds, we tried to keep our sailing as clean as possible and let our speed do the work both up and downwind.  After fighting hard for a 12th in a first race, and having an easier time with our 4th in second race, we currently sit fifth overall and 10 pts off the lead.  If we can say we are still in the hunt headed into the last day, we should be in good shape.

One odd feature about this event is the on the water umpiring system that implemented by ISAF.  Not only is it very confusing and took about an hour to explain at the competitors briefing, but the umps have a ton of control of what is happening on the race course compared to what we are used to.  Normally they will serve an ancillary role and witness an event so they can better make a decision in the protest room, but at this event they been given the power to penalize on the spot and really change the outcome of the race with whistle and a red flag.   If someone fouls you, instead of simply protesting them you now have to first fly a yellow flag and appeal to the umpires and wait for a call on their part.  It is a lot like the umpiring system in match racing, with the main difference being that the umps have to watch 29 teams sailing within inches of each other instead of just two.

In the 2nd race we found ourselves hearing whistles and a red flag pointed at us when we got too close on a gybe just outside the finish and went from a very good chance at 2nd place to a 4th.  It was a mistake on our part when we didn’t leave enough room as we gybed from port to starboard, but we also had an umpire following us the entire downwind leg seeming very eager to make a call.  With the entire protest process being out of the competitors hands, it will be important for us recognize where the umpires are and step off the gas and sail clean when they are around.

Samba was tough on day 1, and in the 2nd race they shot out to a huge lead by taking advantage of the right side that paid huge.  There is still a ton of racing racing left and with the difference from the front of the fleet to the back being so close, it will not be hard for a team to have a great day, followed by a tough one.  We are looking to battle hard again and keep in the hunt after day 2. Forecast is for lighter breeze than day one. Results here.


Melges 32 Worlds Begin »

September 20, 2011

The last two days in Palma have seen unusual breeze with a weak Mistral making itself felt with a NW breeze at 20-25.  Knowing that this is not the condition we will be seeing during the actual event, most teams decided to keep their races sails intact and focus on boat preparation at the dock.  As I sit looking out at the racing area for Day 1, the strong NW breeze has died and the forecast is for the normal SW seabreeze at 10-14.  29 teams have made the trek to this event and with no pushovers, it is going to be a serious battle for the title.

Our plan on Shakedown was to get 3 solid days of training, but with the strong breeze gusting to the high 20s both Sunday and Monday, we decided that our time would be better spent making sure all of our equipment was in top form.  And to make sure we were staying in shape, a few games of half court water polo have been the norm prior to dinner at our crew house.  We are eager to get on the race course and return back to the house this evening with 2 single digit finishes.

Team New Zealand on the Volvo 70 Camper was seen ripping around the bay on their entry to Palma

Beavis and Butthead help re-launch the boat after we tickled the bottom with some wax.

Tactians and helmsman gather for one of the longest, most boring competitor briefings of all time.

Flipper's son Bear is the offical team mascot.

Check out up to date results, photos and video here. Crew lists here.

E Scow Nats; UP NEXT – Melges 32 Worlds »

September 16, 2011

Frost warnings have been issued in Minnesota, the leaves are turning color and my 2.5 yr old daughter Lily is talking about sledding and Santa Claus.  Wtf. Where did summer go?  Did it even happen?  I remember something about a few brats and cold beers on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, but the inside of airplanes, hotels and marinas seem to be a lot more prevalent.  Fall is usually time to put a wrap on the sailing season, catch your breath and start planning for the following year, but with a few more regattas drifting later into the calendar, the time to kick back and watch some football on Sundays will have to wait a few more weeks.

Our E Scow team just returned from the E Scow Nationals in Torch Lake, MI where we scratched and clawed our way to a tough 6th place.  From the first start, we felt like a Packer Fan at an institution of higher learning; frustrated that we could not keep up with everyone around us, and wondering if 11am was too early for our first beer.  We were too aggressive on the starting line when we shouldn’t have been, and not aggressive enough around the race course when needed.  To me, a lot of this comes down to spending quality time in the boat and having good boat speed.  Yes, sailing a lot is good, but quality sailing in the boats you race is most important.  And going for an extra speed edge with untested rig settings can sometimes be a good thing, but in a one design class where the settings are pretty much universally known and used, straying from that model is not the best idea unless you know for certain it will work.  Set it, forget it, and go sailing.  Watching Chris Jewett and his team get the inches they needed, work out of tight spots and basically do no wrong was a sign of a team that was relaxed, having fun and not worrying about a turn or two on their shrouds.  Overall, it was a very fun event and sailing on Torch Lake is an experience I will never forget, and the size of our bonfires will be hard to match.  Making smores with a 20 ft stick is harder than it seems.

After venturing back through the Upper Peninsula and over the top of Lake Michigan back to Minnesota, it was home for a few a days and back to the airport to depart for Palma.  The Melges 32 Worlds begin on the 20th, and it is time to hit the reset button and get mentally focused for another grueling event.  Two days of Pre-Worlds and 5 days of racing are scheduled at the Worlds, and with the World’s best teams prepping for this event since last year, it is going to be a full street fight at every start and mark rounding.

Our team on Shakedown (Sick Trix) is hoping to build on our 4th place finish at the Copa del Rey which took place in Palma in early August.  We are still a relatively new team, and when compared to some of the other 32 programs we are kind of the Bad News Bears when it comes to our preparation and amenities.  Teams like Samba, Bliksem, B-Lin, Argo, and several others have arrived early, some by private jet, to get ample speed testing and allow for last minute sail selection that will be optimized for the forecast.  On our team, we have a few guerrillas up front that can get the kite up and down, we have stock Quantum sails, and when we head to the Pre-Worlds starting line on Saturday, we are going to do our best to take down the Yankees of the 32 fleet.  At the very least, we will make our presence known.

Stay tuned for reports from Palma.

UP NEXT: Melges 20 Nationals and Hurrican Irene »

August 26, 2011

Thirty three Melges 20s have gathered in Newport, RI to compete for the title of 2011 National Champion.  Teams have been practicing in perfect conditions the past 2 days, masts have been tuned, bottoms have been waxed and new sails will be broken out to ensure that is no stone left unturned to create a winning formula. The only problem for each of the teams dreaming of championship glory…Hurricane Irene.

The town of Newport has not reached full panic yet, but there was a bit of an erie feeling on Wednesday when we were busy launching and prepping our Melges 20’s, while at the same time the legendary Newport Shipyard was working at a furious pace hauling out large vessel one after the other in preparation for 60-120 mph winds and a storm surge that could reach the bars of Thames Street.  Irene has several projected paths and categories, but when Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel has been stationed in Providence for the past 2 days, you know with certainty the storm is headed this direction and it could be serious…Jim Cantore doesn’t go where storms aren’t.

The class has wisely decided to cancel racing on Sunday as the storm is scheduled to hit sometime that morning.  The question now is will there be any racing on Saturday, and if I had my way, we would do 1 day of racing on Friday, call it a regatta and get the hell out of town. The conditions on Saturday are forecast to be beautiful, but if you don’t catch a flight or get in the car on Saturday evening, best case scenario is you are most likely stuck here until Tuesday with the airport most likely being shutdown, as well as the Newport Bridge and most major highways.  The plan at the skippers meeting on Thurs night was to get as much racing in on Friday with a 930 am warning and make a call from there.

We are not taking any chances on M and M racing and we have secured a rental truck with a trailer hitch and plan to get the boat out of the water and start hauling it West as soon as racing is done.  It seems a little bit crazy that we are still here as I am typing this, but racing is still scheduled and we are here to do our best.  All I know is I would like to do well, and make it home to take my family to the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday morning.  Getting stuck in Newport with no power, water and in a state-of-emergency while missing out on seeing an 600 lb pig and eating mini-donuts would be a disappointment to say the least.

A new Melges 20 Champion may be crowned as early as Friday afternoon.  Stay tuned for a report from the front lines of Hurricane Irene.

Big Inland Bred »

August 23, 2011

Scow sailing within the Inland Lakes Yachting Association sometimes gets the reputation from outsiders of being “in-bred”, and it is not hard to figure out why when the people you compete against are the same as when you were 8 years old and a large number of the sailors are from the same families that have been doing it for generations.  Maybe it is wrong to be proud of having this connation, but when it comes to racing scows in the ILYA, it truly is a big family and the annual Big Inland is our reunion, the only difference from a normal family is we have 500 crazy uncles instead of a few.   Throw in some of the fastest one-design boats on the planet, extremely talented sailors all vying for beautiful trophies dating back to the late 1800s, and it makes for the greatest regatta of the year which just concluded with 4 champions being crowned in 4 different classes over 10 days of racing.  I never thought being in-bred would be so much fun.

Being hosted on our home waters of Lake Minnetonka, I was able to witness the massive volunteer effort that took place to make this one of the more memorable “Big Inland” regattas in a long time.  Regatta co-chairs Tony Jewett and Rick Kotovic enlisted their friends, families, in-laws and long lost cousins to ensure that everything from housing, social activities, and even helping to retrieve halyards was taken care of so every competitor could make it to the racecourse without a hassle.  Phone calls were made over our long winter helping to provide each fleet with their highest numbers in years; 26 A Scows, 58 E Scows, 54 C Scows, 50 MC Scows.  Out of all the sailors in these fleets, 30% were 25 or younger.  The final Saturday night party on MYC’s Lighthouse Island saw over 400 guests and would have made the Pillsbury’s proud, and the entire event could serve as an effective rebuttal to Saving Sailing.

I had the opportunity to compete in the A and E Scow classes and had not-so friendly reminder that if you are hoping to be an ILYA Champion, you better be in championship form.  During the A Scow portion of the event, we had two great days of southerly breezes in the 15-18 range where 26 of the big 38 footers weighing only 1800 lbs were able to stretch their legs and fly around the race track.  Broken masts, capsizes and a few bruised egos resulted from the smallest mistake being made on these boats.  On Joel Ronning’s Catapult, we fought hard for a 6th place and managed to take home the legendary Valentine Trophy, but we and the rest of the fleet were no match for Andy Burdick and his team who took the title.  Petey Crawford was on hand to shoot some awesome footage from Day 2 of the event.

For the E Scows, our goal for the weekend was to do our best to defend out title from last year, knowing it would not be easy with a deep field including the most decorated E Scow helmsman of all time, Harry Melges.  After posting a 19th in the first race and not having a throwout to utilize, it did not take long to figure out that our chances of repeating were basically zero.  The remaining races on the first day would be a struggle for our team, and we would have to watch as many of our close friends established themselves at the front of the pack.  In the end, Augie Barkow and his team put their numerous 2nd place finishes in previous ILYA Champs to rest and took home the big one.  They sailed great, and even battled back from a broken traveler in race 2 to help secure the win.  The good news for our team is the  85 boat E Scow National Championship on Torch Lake is just a few short weeks away for a shot at redemption.

One unmistakable trademark of any Big Inland always comes during the trophy presentation where the majority of the award winners get a bit choked up thanking their crews for a great week of sailing, and saying good-bye to their host families that will soon be guests.  Just like a final Thanksgiving toast that shifts the action to a different family venue the following year, the ILYA Champs will take place in Madison, Wisconsin for 2012 and it the members of the Mendota Yacht Club will have the duty of rolling out the red carpet for the out of towners.  And of course, the door is always open for any newcomers to experience this in-bred style of sailing…it’s the best.

Results, Photos and Interviews


Ending on a High Note »

August 14, 2011

Our experience this past weekend at the Grade 2 Chicago Cup was filled with some frustrating moments mainly due to simple mental errors, but we were able to pull it together in the final 2 races and finish with some respectability.  While we did not make it into the semis or the finals which sent us to the airport earlier than we were planning, the racing on Sunday was full breeze-on conditions and we showed that we can sail well when we are all clicking on the same page.

When the 2nd round robin started on Saturday, we still had a shot to make the semis but would need to sail close to perfect as we only compiled 3 wins in the previous round.  Sharp, dialed, focused, in-the-zone were just a few of the words or phrases that we needed to be on Saturday, but ended up more like confused, frustrated and wtf.  Sure, we lost some races to some good match racing teams, but after going to the wrong windward mark in 2 consecutive races, being off on a starting sequence, having sub-par boathandling and racking up half a dozen silly penalties, we knew our losses were not from the other teams, but from inside our boat.  The one race we did have in control and looked to win against eventual overall champ Bill Hardesty, was abandoned a minute from the finish due to thunderstorms which was a perfect fit for a bad day.  Our big Saturday ended up 0-5, and I the one certain feeling I had was similar to what it must be like playing for the Detroit Lions; the Super Bowl is not an option mid-season and there are still more games remaining.

Sunday brought huge northerly breeze and with the call to reef the mains on all the Tom 28’s by the Organizing Authority, we pushed off hoping to erase our poor sailing on the previous day.  Our first two matches we quickly got behind to Hardesty and Buckley and could not catch up as we struggled with our speed in the first race, and got another foul in second.  To our credit, we kept plugging away and in the pre-start of the next race against the Danish team with Nicolai Sehested, we did a nice of controlling from behind as we sailed away on port tack in 20-25 kts of wind.  As we fish tailed trying to keep our bow free of the Danes, they did a good job of slowing and as Don tried to head down and swing behind their transom, contact was made which was hard enough to send their skipper head over heals into the water.  Once safe back on board, the umps put up 2 yellow flags which would mean once the race started, we would need to complete 2 270’s one of which needs to be done immediately.

The bad feelings started to creep back in, but the hillarity of the situation at least made this one palatable.  We managed a good start, cleared one of the penalties just after the start and near the windward mark, Sehested and his team had a bad tack and we were able to prevent them from tacking and sneak inside at the windward mark.  Now ahead with a penalty to kill, we were able to hook them downwind, sail them to the right side far enough where once they broke the overlap, we could tack and gybe back around, clear ourselves and still stay ahead.  Once across the line, we all had smiles and a few chuckles as we could not believe we what took place in the pre-start and that we were able to clear ourselves of a double penalty and get a W.  The next race against highly ranked Taylor Canfield, we were able to just plain sail well as we hit the line on-time, at full speed and kept it together with a few challenges from Taylor.  Sure, we would liked to have sailed better during the entire event, but finishing off with 2 solid races was proof that when we sail well and stay focused we can be a very tough opponent.

The earlier flight was nice as I was able to get home for a family dinner and prepare for a full week of A and E Scow racing on the home turf of Lake Minnetonka.  With 26 A Scows lining up at 11am on Monday, it will be some serious streetball conditions. My hope is to get some reports off, but it may not happen with rum squalls coming hot and heavy during ILYA Champs.  Stay tuned.