Friday, October 31, 2003

2004 Olympic Trials

First day of the Olympic Trails today with 9 men competing for one spot on the Olympic Sailing team. Today's conditions were very challenging - light and shifty winds. This is not my best condition as I am the heaviest sailor here at 170 lbs. The course was set just south of the sailing center near the least shore of the river to accommodate the east winds. By the time the one o'clock start rolled around the winds were up to 6 or 7 knots max, and even less in the lulls. My pre race strategy was to go right as there looked to be more wind there as I was sailing the course before the start, but with 20 minutes to go, the puffs starting coming in stronger from the left side. My start was not so good and I was forced to tack over and go right immediately. The rest of the fleet was playing the left middle as I banged the right corner. It looked like I might come out well but as I got to the starboard layline and got another left shift - exact what I didn't need and rounded the top mark in 7th. Downwind it really got light and I didn't make any progress on the guys in front of me. On the 2nd upwind, most of the fleet went to the left side again and all I could do was follow. The light guys ahead were starting to gain as I was hoping just to maintain my position in this race and use it as my throw out later in the regatta. Not much changed the rest of the race as I struggled to keep railing upwind but made some gains downwind with some powerful pumping technique. Not the best way to start the series with a 7th place!
We had a 30-minute break in between races and I got mentally prepared for another tough battle, as the wind was just as light. Luckily later in the race it did pick up some but no more than 10 -12 knots. I managed a better start near the pin end just under the crowd and worked my way to the left side and got to the top mark just behind the top group in 8th - but within striking distance. Downwind the wind again was going left and it was almost a one-gybe run. Back upwind I played the middle left but didn't really gain on anyone. Actually I felt pretty slow as I must have had weeds on my fin. It was only on the last downwind by catching the puff from behind that I caught up over the 2 guys just in front of me. I was pumping as hard as I ever have and thought they would head me up as I passed them to windward but I had much better speed that I just rolled them and was gaining on the guy Alf in 5th place but too little, too late as 2 minutes later I crossed the finish line in 6th. A better effort but still not where I need to be. After the first day of racing I am in 7th place - just 3 points out of 5th and a few more out of 4th. Peter Wells is in 1st; Kevin Jewitt; 2, Dan Kerkoff, 3; Ben Barger, 4; Alf Imperato, 5; Phil Meuller, 6; and myself 7th. Tomorrow's forecast is 10-20 knots so a better day is expected for me.
Day 2 of the trials was somewhat better for me. I was able to sail in the game more and was in the front of the fleet but failed to finish the same way I was sailing. I made some small mistakes that defiantly set me back but did take advantage of the breeze and sailed smart. We had a decent breeze today from 16-18 knots directly from the north down the river. The course was set to the east of the inter-coastal waterway, near the east shore of the river so it was impossible to really take advantage of the right side. Luckily that wasn't the favored side, as the left was looking better as I sailed the course before the race. Actually I observed 2 other guys sailing the course (one up the right side, one up the left side) before the race and noted that the left side was indeed favored.
Again my start was pretty bad. I was lined with a nice hole to leeward and pumped off the line well but fought to get into my harness and lost the distance the leeward and the Dan popped out in front of me. All I could do was sail in his bad air to get to the left side of the course. A few other sailors peeled off and there were 3 of us headed to the left corner. As we tacked back on the port layline we looked good headed in the leeward mark. I rounded the top mark in 6th and was closing in on the guy in front of me on the top reach but never really got him the rest of the race as I held my position sailing somewhat conservatively. I didn't feel like I had as much advantage downwind in the breeze as I did yesterday going track forward with the powerful pumps. Once back upwind though I was able to really sail higher and really closed the distance on Peter going upwind on starboard. Unfortunately the legs were quite short and I wasn't able to capitalize on it long enough to really make a difference. Back downwind, the fleet all continued off the windward mark on starboard to the middle of the inter-coastal and gybed directly onto the layline. I thought I might catch up some here, as I was pumping pretty hard. Overall I finished 6th. I just need to get a better start and I will be in the game more.
Race 2: breeze holding out at 6-18. Left side favored. I went for a start just above Peter and below Phil but didn't pull the trigger soon enough and immediately had to go below Peter and start to foot. This wasn't the best way to start but I was going in the right direction at least. I sailed to the left side again and rounded the top mark in 5th, really close to the 2 guys just in front of me. On the top reach we all held our places and got somewhat more spread out on the downwind leg. USA 111 was just in front of me within reaching distance. All I needed to do was really be aggressive on the downwind with my pumps and sail smart upwind and I could catch him. USA 68 was far enough behind me that I wasn't really worried about covering. We rounded the bottom mark and again the fleet was playing the left middle up the beat. I felt I was gaining somewhat upwind but again the legs were pretty short to really take advantage of it. I was kind of settling into my position thinking I wasn't going to get the guy in front of me but them down wind, one of the leaders fell on a gybe and another opportunity presented itself to catch up. Less than a few minutes to go in the race and I was pumping hard to catch the guy in front of me. Not enough time for me to really make my move and I finished in 5th - getting better, one position at a time. Overall I felt I had a better day today and sailed smarted but just didn't nail the start to really get up there and take control. Tomorrow's forecast is for the same wind so expect a better flight from me. After 2 days of racing I am in 6th place- looking to move up to 4th by tomorrow!
Day 3 of the trials got windier. We stated out with 18-20 knots but by the second race the puffs were defiantly in the mid to upper 20's. A lot of my success came with capitalizing on other people's shortcoming. A few people got slammed upwind and including myself for a brief dunking upwind after the start of the second race. I was hoping to get better starts today but only really had one half way decent start in the second race. Both finishes were extremely close and I narrowly missed getting a 3rd and a 4th and had to settle for a 4th and a 5th. This put me a few points closer into 5th but the real star was Ben who got 2 bullets (1st places) today. I have to really give him credit as he really got ahead and beat the rest of us by at least 30 seconds. I started just above him the first race and he continued pumping off the line and really popped out in front of the fleet. I had a bit better angle than him and was starting to climb but he had much better speed going up the first leg. Dan was right to windward of me and I managed to pinch him off so I could tack and get over to the right side. The 3 guys who went right earlier got a nice lift over on the right side and crossed in front of me on the starboard layline. I got to the windward mark in 5th and started to gain downwind with some pretty powerful pumps in the puffs. I rounded the bottom gate and went to the left middle again and was a bit closer to Kevin who just crossed be on starboard on the layline. Downwind we held our places but I think he slowed down on the mark rounding and I was able to cross him upwind. At the top mark he was in front of me as he capitalized on the right shift but I powered over him on the top reach and was ahead going downwind. It felt like I was gaining but just at the leeward mark he gybed and got the inside mark rounding and I had to give him room. In hindsight I should have gone a little bit deeper and slower to prevent him from getting in there. We pumped to the finish line but he was able to hold on and I finished a close 5th.
Race 2 was windier and the puffs stronger. I got off the line cleanly with Ben just to leeward and slightly ahead and Kevin above - between the 2 I was getting sandwiched. Kevin couldn't hold my angle but I didn't have room to get any speed with Ben right below and ahead. I held out for as long as I could but decided to tack away to get clear air. A few seconds later I got slammed to windward but water started out of it and lost maybe 10 seconds. In retrospect I should have had my booms a bit longer to make my sail flatter. Around the top mark I was in 4th behind Ben, Peter, and Alf. I held this position all the way downwind and went up the right side with Peter as the other 2 went left. It was an even split as we rounded the top mark in the same order and distance. Meanwhile I noticed a several dark clouds approaching from the right side and decided to go right again upwind. It paid off and Peter and I both rounded closer to Alf in second. Downwind he continued off on starboard but we both gybed off and headed towards the clouds. Peter got to the wind first but we bit gained a lot on Alf who sailed towards the other side. When we came to the leeward mark Peter crossed in front of Alf and I was close behind. Alf stumbled on his gybe and I was closing in but rounded inside me at the mark and had the upper hand to the finish - another close race but I finished 4th.
Overall it was a better day but I just have to start doing better on the starts so I am not playing catch up the entire race. I had much better angle than most of the guys, as I was able to pinch off a few and really gain a lot when I was in clear air and a long tack. Tomorrow's forecast is for 15-20. Another chance to move up!
It was another tough day on the water today - 5 days of sailing are taking their toll. We had 10-12 knots from the north in the first race today with shifty conditions. The second race slowed way down to 6-8 knots and many lulls below 5 knots. I did manage to get off the line cleanly in both races today but still not sail a good first beat. During the hour before the race things looked decent on the right side, as there was a shift off the land but more wind on the left. The key would be to stay in the breeze. In race 1, I got off the line smoothly in mid line and sailed towards the breeze to the left. At the same time most of the fleet went right as there was a decent puff coming down the shore. I had to tack a long header back to the right side and duck several transoms along the way. I arrived I at the windward mark in 8th and caught one board downwind and with Peter processed up the left side again towards the breeze. This would be the ticket as I passed 2 more boards and was working on 4th place. Down wind I again tied to stay in the breeze gibing and pumping the whole way down the course. I was just trying to cover the 3 boats behind me up the next beat and preceded the play the shifts conservatively up the middle. Once I got around the top mark again I really took off in a puff on the top reach and was catching up to Alf in front of me. I split gybes with him downwind and was much closer at the leeward mark but just not enough time to pass him on the last leg. Finishing in 5th puts me now in 1 point out of 5th place 11 out of 4th.
Race 2: Things really lightened up for the second race today. We were still sailing the double inner loop course and it took 47 minutes of pumping to finish. I really didn't feel in the game as my light air speed wasn't there and I fell back to 7th and stayed there the whole race. It was disappointing but I knew I couldn't stop pumping as things might change as they always do in these light and shifty races. You can never count your self out but after 3 laps I wasn't going to catch up with the guy in front of me and just covered the 2 guys behind me for the remainder of the race. Finishing 7th put me back a point again from 5th and am now in the same spot as where I began the day today - 2 points behind Dan. Tomorrow's forecast is for stronger winds 15-20 knots and I am looking forward to some track back conditions where I can use my weight to its best advantage.
From bad to worse. I had one of those days today where nothing seemed to go right - even the forecast for 15-20 was off today, way off! It was 5-10 knots on the course today. Both starts I failed to get off the line and struggled right from the beginning. I couldn't seem to get any off the shifts today and even in the puffs my board speed was just not there. I tried clearing my blades several times through out the race in case I had weeds but to no prevail. It was only after the race ended that I flipped over my board and found a 6 foot long piece of plastic wrapped around my centerboard. I tried to forget about it but race 2 went even worse. It was light, very light and the puffs avoided me like the plague. I managed to catch up some downwind with powerful pumps but lost it again upwind in the light stuff. My finishes of 6 and 7 today put me back 4 points behind Dan and with 4 races left in the series, I will have to beat him every race to beat him overall.

There was light wind today on the course and the race committee kept us onshore until 2:30. Once we went on the water, the wind never got above 5 or 6 knots and racing was cancelled for the day at 3:30. The first start will be at 12 tomorrow and they will try to get in 3 races if possible. I am still 4 points out of 5th so I will make a big push tomorrow for some strong races.

We started today at noon in a 8-10 knot breeze with an incoming tide with the plan to do 3 races if possible. That's what I needed to get a head of Dan but it turns out he was the better sailor in the light breeze and he ended up 4 points ahead of me at the end of the regatta. We had quite a battle the regatta back and forth for 5th place- defiantly out of the top battle between Ben and Peter but that's what makes regatta so fun- the competition through out the fleet - over an 8 day regatta you really get to know the sailors who are most near you, their strengths and weaknesses as well as yours!
Overall, Peter was the best sailor among us all and will be representing the U.S. in next years Olympics in Athens. Ben was next, then Kevin, Alf, Dan, myself, Phil, Mark and Fenn.
The first race I failed to get off the line I the front row and struggled up the first beat. Once behind I just should have taken some risk and separated from the fleet but the right side just looked more favorable. That's one of the biggest lessons I learned here: you have to take risk to get ahead, but once there its really important to cover the fleet. The saftest place in osellating winds are up the middle of the course and that's where I failed to go and lost out to Dan, Phil and Alf who were just infront of me during the race. I finished in 7th right behind Dan.
In the next race, I got off the line and immediately tacked over to go to the right side, Both Kevin and I got over there and were up to the top mark in 4th and 5th. If I could hold out to the end of the race and Dan was 7th I would be one point behind him and only needed 1 more race to beat him. Downwind I kept the pace but failed to consilidate on the upwind leg and let the other 2 get too far to the right and pick up the next shift. I was able to get Dan at the end but the RC didn't want to do a 3rd race for the day so that's was the end of the regatta. So overall it was 6th place for me- not bad considering 6 out of the 8 days it was marginal track back conditions. The 2 days we did have wind, I was in the hunt.
Regatta post mortem
1,) Starts: overall my starts went good at all. I wasn't able to get off the line with speed. Then I would fall back into dirty air and be catching up from the first beat on. The few good starts I did have in the breeze, I got off the line, found my lane and went off with the same speed or better angle. Once you start to get bad air its generally better to tack off and find a clear lane rather to fall behind right away in the game.
2.) Pre starting: check the line, wait at the pin end on port to someone on starboard at the boat comes across close-hauled. Arrange to test line with partner.
3. Sail the first beat with someone and one board goes one way for 2 min, the other to the other side, tack back at same time. This should tell you what side of the course is favored at that time. If you can't find a partner, watch to see if other people are doing this, especially sailors who tune up with each other.
4. Get a sight on the line wherever possible. With this you will have confidence to jump out in a mid line sag.
5.Sail all out, all the time. You never know what will happed to the guy just in front of you, if he will fall or make mistake.
6. Never give up. No matter how far out of the race you think you are, things happen, holes appear, shifts happen on one side of the course and not the other. You can never count your self out
.7. When you can shut the door on your opponent, do it. Take advantage of their weaknesses. Exploit their faults. , If they can't point for instance, squeeze them out early.
8. Cover when you ahead.
9 Most likely you wont beat someone by following him or her to one side of the course. Split tacks if necessary when behind but don't obviously do the wrong thing just because the rest of the fleet is doing the opposite.

10. In shifty conditions, sail the middle of the course.
11. Make sure you are prepared for everything. Look at the weakest thing in your entire program and try to fix it. Have spare equipment ready. Replace lines, hardware or anything that can break.
12. Be aware of current around the course. Before the race measure the effects of the current at different places on the course. At the start, the windward mark, both sides of the course. When and where does it change? How will affect you by going to one side of the course or another. 0 usually upwind you will have to foot or can pinch if the current is one side of your nose.
13. Sail you own race. Don't be worried about any individual sailor in the fleet. The pecking order is established early. Don't subscribe to the idea that one sailor is always better than another sailor. Sailors make choices in races that affect their outcome. Any sailor is capable of winning a race if they are prepared with the right equipment, mind set and information about the wind, current and knowledge of what the wind will do.
14. Read the sailing instructions. Know them in and out.

15. Draw course diagrams on your sail if there are many
16. Get sticker of international flags and codes on sail.
17. Have enough water on the course as well as power snacks.

18. Always have clear air.

19. If you are close to an opponent in points for a series, know what you have to do to beat him. Determine the number of sailors you need to out between your self and him.

20. Details count. Racing is all about one little thing after another, whether it be making fast transitions, to sanding your board, having minimal drag, maintaining the right form.

21. Eat a good breakfast before the race. Make sure you have enough energy for the races.
22. Stay positive. A bad attitude will lead to poor decision-making.
23. Keep it simple. Don't have extra stuff on your board, rig, sails and body that slow you down and can be replaced with some more efficient.
24. Keep in mind that you're doing this for fun. Sailing competitions are a game. You should leave their outcome on the course and not get worry about their results back on shore. Don't associate your results with who you are.
25.Try to think about what will happen 2 steps ahead of the next move. Think ahead and pro-act rather than react.
26. No matter what you do, do it with your full effort, don't just give a half ass effort to make the gesture - this applied to everything in life from littlest detail to overall broad plan.

27. On your way out to the course, as well as while your presailing the course keep your eyes of the boat. The other boats may tell you or reconfirm things you already know or need to confirm. Which side of the course is favored?28. Avoid the big bummers. Don't take risk you can't afford. Avoid catastrophe at all cost.29. Always are prepared to change things. If you are going slow, find out why. Right before regatta, I found sail range to be much smaller than I actually thought and sailed my sail much flatter than I did the previous weeks before. The same thing with the harness lines in Cadiz.

30. Change gears when ever conditions change.

31. Learn to be flexible with your plans. Things change and you should be capable of changing your plan once things change

32. Keep your eyes out of the boat and on the course and competitors. Keep an eye out and know where everyone is - before and after the start as well as upwind and downwind.
33. learn to keep pressure on the foils, especially the fin. You need to tell the foils what to do, i.e. by railing the board you want stall out as easily in the lulls and the pressure will remain on the foils.