Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kiel Week: The Conclusion

Yesterday was my first medal race in a Grade 1 World Cup event. My results from the previous day just squeaked me into 10th place overall, earning me a spot in the race.

I had a small amount of practice when I participated in the medal race in Puck, Poland back in May, but this was on a bit of a different scale. The course was windward-leeward with three laps and a slalom finish with two jibe marks. Medal race courses are usually quite close to shore to allow for spectators, and ours was near the seawall in the Kiel Olympiazentrum harbor. There was a lot of boat traffic both above and below the course, with coach boats, spectator sailboats, and also cruising sailboats hanging around. The weather was again spectacular, with a light, gusty breeze and clear, sunny skies.

I was all set to win the medal race, but as it went I didn't have such a spectacular performance. It all began at the start, when both Carolina and I got rolled by a fast girl. We had to tack out which slowed us down. My strength right now lies not so much with boardspeed, but with tactics in shifty breeze. However, our short course called for one tactic: go left to the better pressure, and go fast. I was keeping up well but made the next mistake on the leeward gate, going to the wrong side. After that I was a bit behind but was still holding the speed, when I unfortunately fouled another girl and had to do a circle. At any rate, it was a good experience for learning what not to do, and it was an honor to be in the race.

Afterwards, I packed up the gear. I delivered my board to some British sailors going to Weymouth, and loaded the quiver in the Polish trailer. My Polish coach, Romek, was having a frustrating afternoon. One kid's complete set of equipment was stolen in all the confusion of packing. Then, a strap broke and hit him in the eye, cutting his eyebrow (now he is walking around with a black eye as well). However, after about an extra hour and a half of waiting (and getting pizza with the guys) we were finally able to take off with the motorboat. I was riding in the van with four other guys, and pretty soon they were all playing video games, harassing each other, or snoring. The van smelled like stinky feet, but it was nice to be with them. I am now back in Sopot waiting to go home tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Medal Race!

Today we finally made it out on the water to have three races in light wind. The weather is abnormally sunny and warm here, almost like a normal summer day instead of the perpetual wet and cold. The Kiel race committee likes to set long courses, and we had three 45-minute races that were almost back-to-back. I like when we can get the racing done quickly because I don't have time to get anxious during the wait between them.

The technique I've been learning has finally started to sink in and my speed was better today in the nonplaning conditions. I stayed with the faster girls on downwinds and also sailed a few solid tactical upwind legs. The wind was much more stable today and the shifts weren't so big. The chop was pretty steep and short, and we had to be focused on maintaining boardspeed on the upwinds. I had moments on the downwinds when I was quite fast, but I couldn't maintain it for long periods of time. In the end, I sailed a few good races and managed a 9th and 8th which put me into the medal race. There are only 16 boards here and I'm 10 / 16, but it is a good small victory nonetheless and I'm really excited about racing tomorrow. The committee is giving us GPS receivers for live tracking of the medal race, which you can see on the website . Our race is at 13:50 Central Europe time, which is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the USA.

Beached Again in Kiel

The most beautiful weather in North Europe always coincides with the least amount of wind. Today we had sun all day long, and temperatures in the high 60s Fahrenheit (around 20 degrees C). However, the wind failed to materialize and we spent all day waiting. We were all ready to sail, but the wind never became stronger than around 4 knots. At around 5:45 p.m., the committee called off the racing.

The Americans had a team dinner tonight, and there were almost 70 sailors in attendance! It was really fantastic to see such a big turnout.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

No Wind in Kiel

Today happened to be one of those unfortunate days where there just isn't enough wind to race. We had rain showers on and off, and Kiel just seemed to be in the middle of the washing machine as rain clouds brought about three different wind directions.

The race committee here in Kiel is very organized, and updates to the postponement were made throughout the day. We were released around 2:30 p.m. when it was apparent that the wind would not make a showing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kiel Week, Day 1

A wind forecast is normally just a guideline. The wind will always do what you least expect it to, and today's conditions weren't exactly as predicted. We had rain in the morning, which killed most of the breeze, and from then on the wind was pretty squirrely. Several lines of clouds came through, and a small storm. The committee was trying hard to get three races in today, so we could be ahead of schedule for the forecasted light wind for tomorrow.

We had two races in offshore wind of about 5-10 knots. It was very gusty and as we are near a point of land, we saw some really big shifts. In general, the left side was favored only because the pressure was slightly better. If the right side had pressure, it sometimes was better but only for short periods of time. Bands of wind were coming from the point, and it paid off to stay in these and pay attention to the pattern of shifts. We didn't see much planing today, except in a few gusts downwind.

My first race went pretty well, as I hit the left side early. We had a big shift at the start which made the pin end favored. Luckily I reacted pretty quickly and was in the front of the fleet at the upwind mark. I was having trouble reading the shifts that close to the shore, and unfortunately lost out a bit there. I'm still working on my old nemesis, downwinds, and am focusing on pumping technique. The second race I went right, which worked on the first upwind leg. However, it fooled me during the second upwind as the pressure seemed better, but actually wasn't...tell me how that works, but ok. I lost the pattern of shifts and every time I tacked it seemed like I would get headed 20 seconds later. Needless to say I lost some ground during that leg and it was a bit frustrating.

Overall my coach is happy with the improvements I'm making. We are doing video again and it's nice to sit down and discuss everything that happened during the day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kiel Week

Training has never been more exciting for me than it is now. A few days ago, I arrived in Kiel, Germany in preparation for Kiel Week, a major ISAF Grade 1 regatta on the World Cup circuit. Attendance is a bit low because of a conflict with the RS:X European Championships in Israel, but competition is at a high a level as always. The full Polish youth fleet will be in attendance, and several other international sailors are here already training.

I am working with Christoph Sieber again and we are having some intensive sessions on the water with two other sailors, Carolina from Brazil, and Arne from Belgium. Our sessions have been technique-oriented and Christoph is taking video. After training, we debrief and discuss the video. We are focusing on cleaning up tacks, jibes, and pumping. We are also working on upwind speed and technique in breeze and big chop. Our racecourse is on the outside of the Kiel Ford, and the conditions out there are usually quite different than on the inside. Kiel is known for crazy chop and waves, and lots of boat traffic. On the outside, the waves are big and steep, and the wind is very gusty. We have been sailing there a good bit, and I'm happy to say that my technique in those conditions is coming along quite well. I am enjoying the training very much.

The weather has been cold and cloudy as is typical of north Europe. However, the last two days have been sunny and warm enough to make all the video shots look really beautiful. It's like the Caribbean in Germany with clear blue water, lush green shorelines, and huge aggregations of Aurelia-type jellyfish.

"Tropical" Kiel, Germany

Other than the training, logistics have been entertaining. I took the ferry here from Gdynia so I could bring my equipment with me with minimum hassle. The ferry is a new overnight line from Gdynia to Travemunde, and the company, Finnlines, was promoting it. The trip was pretty deluxe: private cabin, jacuzzi, sauna, restaurant, gym...just like a mini-cruise. It made me start to come back to life after a stressful living situation in Sopot. The wind was about 35-30 knots and it rained the entire trip, so we were late to port. Arne picked me up and took me to the venue.

Trucks and my equipment wait to exit the ferry.

I am staying with the other American boardsailors, which is a new experience. Our house is about 5 km from the venue, and we are using bikes and buses to get around. After a night, we were joined by Carolina, who was waiting for her boyfriend to arrive and was scared of staying alone in her house with the ghosts. She abruptly decided that it was a great idea to cut my hair. I gave her free rein to do what she wanted (scary), and off came about eight inches of hair! My head feels a lot lighter and everyone likes the new look, although I sorta think I look like my mom now.

Carolina in action: our official RS:X beauty consultant

"Studio shot" of Carolina's masterpiece

Tomorrow is the practice race, which takes place in the evening. We'll get registered and I will finish some board repair in the morning.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Day 5 Medemblik, and home again

A single race was on the schedule for today. The wind was very light heading out to the course, but shifted left and built to about 12 knots, just barely planing. The girls all started daggerboard down and headed over to the left side, which again saw some land effects. I was working on my speed, and overall saw some good bursts of sailing fast and railing hard. My start was great, but after a minute or so I lost my position because I was having trouble with boardspeed. The speed comes and goes, but when everything is fast it feels effortless. However, in between it is a lot of fighting with the board and rig.

The second upwind was planing and I was again having trouble with pointing, not to mention I went to the middle which is a bit of a bad idea in planing conditions. On the downwind I dialed in a few jibes, which I was happy about.

At the beginning of a start sequence

Overall, I and the Polish guys came to the regatta overly tired. We all had a hard time adjusting after the rough drive, and could have used a few days to get tuned into Medemblik conditions. It was a good experience to remember.

After the racing, we packed up the equipment and hustled back to the bungalow to pack our bags. We were hungry but didn't have much food left, and the boys decided to cook everything we had. They ended up with a huge spaghetti dinner with a variety of sauces, from beef curry-something to kielbasa with marinara. There were at least 3 lbs of pasta, which they devoured. We then loaded the car with everything on the left side, including one of the guys who laid on top of the bags, and drove to the venue. We put the bags into the Polish Olympic team's van, and loaded the equipment. Then we were off.

Our domek ("small house" in Polish)

We passed the two Polish cars hauling trailers twice during the beginning of the drive. In the beginning, there was an interesting grinding noise and smell coming from the front brakes and we stopped and looked at them for a few minutes. We decided to ignore the problem, and kept driving. Then we got lost for a bit. Everything was fine for most of the night, and I pulled the really late shift. At about 3:30 a.m., all the boys were sleeping soundly when the car coughed, bucked a few times, and glided to a stop. We had been running on gasoline when it should have been LPG, and we were out. It should have been a simple matter to start the car with LPG, but it wasn't. We ended up running a kilometer downhill behind the car, pushing it when it slowed down and then sprinting to catch up with it. It was a nice wakeup call, and nobody really slept after that. The sky was light anyway.

We made it home ok and now I'm staying at the Sopot sailing club for a few days. This weekend is a small regatta and some training, and after that I go to Kiel.