Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Puck, Poland: Where it all begins again

For the past 10 days the team and I have been training in Puck, Poland. Puck is my favorite venue in Poland because it is small, scenic, relaxing, and a great launch. It was the first place I ever trained with the team, so every time I go back, I can see how my sailing is progressing. I always expect great things from myself in this place, and this camp was no exception.

This camp is one of the last for the season, and you could really sense that the kids knew that. With the start of the school season upon them, they were on their most mischievous and enthusiastic behavior. However, that didn’t stop them from working their hardest. It is really refreshing to see the way they are focused on bettering their own sailing while having fun at the same time, whether they are aged 15 or 22. They have all improved a lot over this season and it is great to see that I have improved along with them.

I can honestly say that I did some of my best sailing during this training camp. We had all kinds of conditions, from no wind to 30 knots. We had two sessions a day with a tactical lecture every morning (in Polish of course). We did races in which everyone was floating and pumping in glassy conditions, to races where puffs were flattening the entire fleet. With some running thrown in every day, it was enough to be really exhausting! I actually was really sick the last two days from exhaustion, although I didn’t back down because we had a regatta series every day, and I wanted to see how well I could place. I ended up 5th out of 15 kids in the 8.5 fleet, with only the two top girls there placing better than I. It was good for my confidence to see how well I was sailing, even though conditions on and off the water were really tough.

Last season it was a little challenging mentally for me to sail with the Polish kids. The Polish youth development program is so advanced that all the kids are fantastic sailors and very competitive on a world level. It was a little tough to initially get beaten by 16 year olds, but at the same time those 16 year olds had at least 5 more years racing experience than I did, and at a very high level. The kids start when they are 8-12 years old, and anyone older than 15 is actually considered "too old" to start in their youth program. They start on the Bic Techno, or previously, the Alpha sailboard class, and those regattas are extremely competitive, similar to a big Optimist regatta in the United States. I ended up thinking of myself as a Polish kid, and worked on up from there. This season, it’s paid off. Not only am I keeping up with them, I’ve developed a good working relationship with their team and can see how they develop their young sailors through a focus on hard training balanced with normal academic life.

This camp was a very important one for everyone as the Polish Championships are coming up in a week. All the Polish teams attended, with the exception of a few members of the Olympic team, and the Warsaw team, who had a top-secret training camp in an undisclosed location. Warsaw and Sopot are the two most competitive clubs in Poland, and they are always trying to win against each other in every local event. The Warsaw sailors are really tough. They come from the biggest Polish city and they work hard under a very tough and no-nonsense coach. He is really old-school Polish, doesn’t speak much English, and makes sure his team is disciplined. (He’s even gone so far as to discipline me (!) which actually made me feel more like one of them.) As a result his sailors have an intense focus and confidence. Zofia Klepacka, the 2008 Olympic representative, comes from this team. As a a sailor with the Sopot team I feel pretty competitive with the Warsaw team and always like to see how I measure up with their girl sailors. We’re all looking forward to the Polish Championships.

This will be my second Polish Championships, my first being in 2006. I had to miss last year’s regatta for the Olympic Trials. The regatta is almost comparable to a Grade 1 ISAF event with the level of the sailing and the numbers of sailors in attendance. I’m excited to see how I’ll stack up against the Polish sailors this year!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It’s Over: Racing Draws to a Close for the RS:X in Qingdao

“Windsurfing” has drawn to a close in Qingdao with yesterday’s Race 10, followed by the Medal Race taking place early this morning, Central European time. The normal light wind is back and wind readings were around 6-8 knots for all races. I was lucky enough to catch the women’s medal race on Polish TV, and it actually looked like the wind was closer to 4 knots. In a few places I saw girls going upwind doing more of a “row pump” rather than the normal upwind pump, which means the wind was excessively light.

With a majority of light wind races, the women had to really fight in the medal round. In these conditions it proved virtually impossible to displace Jian Yin (CHN) from winning the gold. She placed third in the medal race and ended up with a one-point lead over Alessandra Sensini of Italy, who, like the champion she is, won the medal race and took the silver. Going into the slalom finish, Yin was in fourth (ok at least to my eye, not according to the article) and fought her way up one place ahead of Marina Alabau (ESP), who had a small port-starboard situation with Bryony (GBR) at the leeward mark. By then the places had been more or less determined for the race. If there had been just one more board between Sensini and Yin, Sensini would have taken gold. She did all she could do by winning the medal race and had a very close and dramatic regatta! Bryony Shaw of Great Britain took second in the medal race to take the bronze overall. It was a great comeback and fight for her the whole way. Zofia (POL) ended up 7th overall, still with a good top 10 finish. The top 10 were in fact filled with a lot of famous names! Unfortunately the Athens gold medalist, Faustine Merret (FRA), who won the Qingdao regatta in 2006, didn’t make it to the medal round and finished 11th. This remains a testament to the tough conditions in Qingdao and the difficulties faced by all the sailors.

The men’s race saw almost even more dramatic results. Winning the medal race was King Yin Chan of Hong Kong, but his points were still not low enough to bring him into medal contention. Powerhouse Tom Ashley of New Zealand scored a third in the medal race, putting him in the gold position. Light-wind specialist Shahar Zubari fought to a second, putting him back in third position for a bronze medal. This displaced Nick Dempsey of Great Britain by only two points, who scored a seventh in the medal race. Very disappointing for Nick, I’m sure, and a dramatic upset! Julien Bontemps of France place fourth in the medal round to take the silver medal. Another mishap was had by Nikos Kaklamanakis of Greece, who had an OCS in the medal race to take him out of the running completely, but good enough that he still placed eighth.

Congratulations to all the RS:X sailors, who all fought really hard in challenging conditions this Olympics. What does a gold medal mean for a sailor? Obviously, there is the potential for endorsements and sponsorship money. However, more importantly, results often decide where is distributed the financial support from respective sailing federations. I’m not sure what this means for the Polish, who have been well-prepared for Qingdao and have fought hard this regatta, but have had less than stellar results. Certainly it means that they will not receive as much money as they could for their windsurfing program, but the program will still remain healthy. For the United States, it could means more of the status quo, but luckily we are having some enthusiastic grass-roots youth development just beginning and this is sure to produce better windsurfers in the next 8-10 years.

In a separate story, Anna Tunnicliffe, the USA representative in Laser Radial, won gold yesterday after a dramatic medal race in which she was forced to restart due to a perceived OCS. Clawing her way back into the front she managed to finish second in the race. Congratulations Anna!

Other links:

ISAF results



Sailing Anarchy

Monday, August 18, 2008

Qingdao Gets Windy; Raceboard Europeans Get Cold and Windy

I’m a little behind on updating because I’ve been way too tired to focus on writing. Yesterday I slept almost 18 hours! The raceboard regatta is over and we’ve had two good days of racing in Qingdao. We’ll begin with the Qingdao report.

On Saturday, no racing was held at all in Qingdao. The wind never materialized and the RS:X fleet remained on the beach. However, races were rescheduled for Sunday and Monday. Good thing, because the wind showed up in full force! Qingdao is strange in that the predominant conditions are light, but it seems that once every two weeks or so, it can really nuke, and that’s exactly what it did on Sunday, with wind readings of approximately 15 and 20+ knots. Monday also had windy conditions, but less so. Readings were about 15-18 knots. To have mixed conditions in a regatta turn it into “real” sailing as sailors dominant in a particular condition are each given their day to shine. Finally the results are changing.

In the women’s fleet, Jian Yin has been knocked out of the first place position. Her worst finish was a 13th in race #6, which was actually the less windy of the two races. Windsurfing legend Alessandra Sensini of Italy has now moved into first, but only leads by two points. Marina Alabau of Spain regained her third spot, while Bryony Shaw (GBR) finished strong in races 8 and 9 to move up to fourth. Our Polish sailor, Zofia Klepacka, really had her day and has almost saved her regatta, moving up to 6th place and pulling ahead of Barbara Kendall of New Zealand. Zofia has two bullets in the windier races, and also a second, and a third. With four windier races, the favorites are pulling ahead, and with only one race to go before the medal round, the regatta is turning quite dramatic.

In the men’s fleet, the more experienced sailors are pulling ahead of Shahar Zubari of Israel. He has fallen to fourth place with two disastrous 19ths in races 7 and 8. Now in first is Tom Ashley of New Zealand, followed by Nick Dempsey (GBR) and Julien Bontemps (FRA). Also moving up the ranks and showing his strength in the breeze is 2006 World Champion Casper Bouman of the Netherlands. Pont also has been climbing the ranks and now sits in 15th place. It is most likely too late for him to make the medal race, but his comeback shows great strength.

As of now, Race 10 has been postponed and moved to tomorrow, and the medal round will follow on Wednesday.

On another interesting side note, the Danish 49er team has had a very dramatic medal race. Their mast broke on the way out to the course, and they were forced to go back in. With the hopes of still being able to race, they borrowed a boat from the Croatians, who were not participating in the medal round. In a race with big wind and wild “survival” conditions, they placed 7th, good enough for the gold. However, they were protested by the race committee for changing boats. Did they win the protest? Find out here.

More links:

ISAF results



US Sailing Report

Although the Olympic regatta hasn’t gone as planned for the Polish, their team still had a big victory yesterday at the Raceboard Europeans. Using borrowed equipment with unfortunate mishaps, and sailing in probably the toughest conditions Sopot has delivered, Max has won the Raceboard Europeans. Although he has maintained throughout the entire regatta that he’s only sailing for fun, he’s certainly taken the racing seriously enough to win. The regatta has been really long, six days without a break, and Max has suffered through a broken daggerboard and a huge hole in his old 9.5 raceboard sail. Max had a particularly heroic final race on the last day. Sopot decided to give us all the cold, wind, and rain a North European summer could possibly throw at us, and conditions were particularly challenging on the last day with 20 knot gusts, big waves breaking on the beach, and cold, wet sailing. A few minutes before the start, Max dropped his sail in the water and when he pulled it up, a huge rip about a foot long had started in the leech about 2/3 of the way to the top of the sail. He sailed by me planing and the sail sounded just like a helicopter in the breeze with the rip expanding and entirely destroying one outer panel of the sail. It was a particularly gory tear as a triangular chunk of the sail was actually hanging down from the rip and flapping in the breeze. Max let the race committee know what had happened, but apparently they were not so forgiving because he started the race. Despite all odds, as I was making my way upwind on the last leg, I saw Max coming downwind in first place to go on and win the race!

I also had some equipment problems during the regatta as a batten broke during the break between races, and my adjustable downhaul tore a big hole in my luff sleeve. I sailed with the broken batten during the last race, but it affected my pumping downwind a good bit. There were also a lot of weeds in the water and the hybrid boards with long fins suffered a lot as it was almost impossible to avoid fouling your fin. Despite all the problems I did manage to place 3rd for the women in our fleet, so I got a medal, my first ever in Europe!

The raceboard regatta really was fantastic. Even though I was really tired and wasn’t sailing my best, the organized race committee and variety of conditions made the sailing almost perfect. I am very glad to have participated in this regatta! In a few days, the team and I will begin another training camp in Puck, my favorite venue in Poland. I’m resting up now for it, and am looking forward to working hard to make some new breakthroughs in my sailing.