Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Solomon’s Goes Off

I had a bit of a rough week with fund raising. I was beginning to lose some hope because it is difficult for potential supporters to want to get involved in a legal fight. It is challenging to discuss why I am continuing to fight the two decisions against me made by US Sailing, instead of giving up and continuing just to train. There is something deeply ingrained into my character that makes me fight to the ultimate finish. Although I would much rather be training and racing, I am deeply compelled to keep pushing forward for two reasons: the injustice of my situation as the winner of the Olympic Trials, and the belief that I am truly the best choice as representative for the 2008 Olympic Games.

On Thursday I reached a bit of an impasse. I had just gotten a verbal slap from someone’s secretary and was feeling like the required money would never happen. There had been a lot of waiting too which was frustrating. My head was a little clearer after a few hours on the water. And, on Friday I learned that our situation would turn around, and although we would have to scrape, we would make it after all. And no matter the outcome of the arbitration, I can still go back to Europe to train. I have a return flight!

After this big week of fund raising, I was ready to go hard on the water. Friday night, however, I did what any nerd would do to decompress: watching the Lord of the Rings movies back-to-back. Then I called up the “Other Team” and convinced them to go sailing. Of course, the boys were a bit disorganized. Eric was sailing in Cape Hatteras, Alan was running around Southern Maryland attending to business, Dave was making fins, and Tom was planning Mother’s Day festivities. I could only convince Tom to come out on Saturday, and we had some good training in super shifty wind at Mayo Beach (south of Annapolis). We had some frontal clouds passing through and chilly temps, but at the end of the day the sun began to shine nicely. The biggest issue of the day was contending with the wake and confused chop generated by the boat traffic, which was constant and fairly heavy. There’s nothing like accidentally buzzing a big sport fisher and launching an RS:X from his wake.

Sunday I headed down to Solomon’s Island (Patuxent River) to meet Eric and Alan. Eric was driving up from Hatteras and arrived only 15 minutes after me. Alan, who lives 10 minutes away, was nowhere to be found. After a phone call to round him up, he said he would arrive in 15 minutes. Eric and I immediately began unpacking his van because the breeze was looking really promising. A dinghy regatta, sailing from the same launch, bailed out because of a small craft advisory and gale warnings. Needless to say, we were thrilled. I wanted to sail Formula with the boys so I rigged Eric’s extra 9.0, and he rigged a 9.8. 45 minutes later, we were still waiting for Alan. However he soon rolled in with a huge plate of eggs, sausage, and toast, to fatten Eric up. Alan rigged up his 11.0 and then he unveiled his master plan for the session.

“We’re gonna sail for the moms!” said Alan, eyes wide. “It’s Mother’s Day. We’re gonna sail in formation up to Solomon’s Pier because all the moms are eating there.” “OK…” I said. “I think we should do something more.” Eric’s 9.0, already filled with Other Team propaganda written with a Sharpie, got a new message: “HI MOM!” We were ready. We got into formation and started sailing upwind. However, when we hit the middle of the river, gusts of 25 + knots flattened us a few times. We tried to make the pier, but after we all fell a few more times, the plan was scrapped in favor of Plan B (always a constant): Go Shortboarding. I’m sure the moms were disappointed.

Since Alan isn’t much of a shortboarder, he took the 9.0 while Eric rigged a 5.6 and I rigged a 5.4 with my 78 liter 1997 Pro-Tech. After a longish slog out of the wind shadow, we set out on the Patuxent. I had the 5.4 downhauled to the max, but Chesapeake gusts and voodoo chop kept me completely lit up and fighting for control. It was hard to make clean jibes but after getting my entry nailed down a little better, I was making them a little nicer, perhaps impressing the moms after all. Then the rain began. The temperature dropped 10 degrees and I was frozen. Eric broke his boom. We sailed in to find Alan huddled in the back of his truck. Although he had demonstrated some impressive high-wind Formula sailing, he was wearing only a shorty wetsuit and had succumbed to the cold. We jumped in the truck, ate all of Eric’s fig newtons, and rallied Alan for another session. By this time the wind was starting to shift to the north and the rain was coming down hard. I was sailing with my windward eye closed as I got pelted in the face by stinging, cold droplets. Finally, on a run to the opposite shore of the Pax, the wind started to drop. This being the Chesapeake, I immediately hailed the warning sign and headed back to the beach. As I got closer to the island, the wind shadow had become so great that I was fighting to just slog as my sinker of a board went deeper and deeper underwater. About 200 meters from the beach, the wind died and in I went. While paddling, I watched another local shortboarder fight to return to the beach. He hadn’t even made it out of the wind shadow!

As so often has happened in the past, it was Eric to the rescue. He paddled a Formula board out to me, took the sail, and I swam the shortboard in. It took a while to de-rig as Eric had ALL of his gear set up. Alan bailed and went home to his hot tub, and a half hour later we followed to get showers and dry off for the first time in 6 hours. After stuffing ourselves at the local Chinese restaurant, home I went in the driving rain and wind. I’m now beginning another crazy week of prepping for the arbitration.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Starboard Formula One-Design: Olympic Class of 2012?

It’s about time someone came up with the concept of Formula one-design. Not only is Formula currently the most fun and popular form of windsurfing course racing, it’s fast and exciting as a spectator sport. To create a one-design fleet would make it more accessible for those on a more limited budget and make Formula less of an equipment arms-race, which is in my opinion the biggest barrier to developing the fleet. Not to mention, it will stop sailors blaming their gear for their bad regatta results!

Is the concept of Formula one-design racing appropriate for Olympic sailing? On the surface, it certainly seems very promising. Svein Rasmussen, the founder of Starboard, has put together a very convincing proposal on the Starboard website. On many fronts, I agree with him. The most important issue is the potential to develop windsurfing further as a sport, especially in the Olympics. Formula racing does represent “windsurfing” in a very straightforward way. The concept is so attractive that if it were to become the Olympic class, it will be sure to bring in many new sailors and increase the opportunities for training and racing in North America, where the windsurfing scene is unfortunately much less competitive than in Europe. The media appeal is also undeniable.

However, does the concept meet with Olympic-level standards of sailing competition? Formula-style sailing eliminates almost entirely the tactical and physical aspects of light-wind sailing. Planing sailing focuses almost solely on speed. When an RS:X begins to plane fully and is powered up, the racing becomes focused on speed as almost the sole tactic. I believe the light-wind daggerboard-down aspect of sailing is extremely important, because this represents sailing in its purest form. While planing sailing is windsurfing in its purest form, light-wind sailing is all about knowing how to race well. Non-planing racing is the only chance to bring together the three aspects of racing that every Olympic-class boardsailor knows well: technique and board handling, good tactical choices, and of course physical stress. To lose this aspect would be departing entirely from the concept of Olympic sailing and move towards only the windsurfing aspect of the sport.

Olympic windsurfing has long been known as a challenging sport because of the light-wind factor. What’s so great about exhaustively pumping a sail for 45 minutes nonstop? The Olympic-class boardsailor is an anomaly in the world of windsurfing. Why would anyone willingly suffer physical pain when one could be planing? I believe the true dividing line between the Olympic-class sailor and the semi-serious Formula sailor is that of mental toughness and physical fitness, qualities of athletes. To be successful in Olympic windsurfing, a sailor must train as if he or she were an endurance athlete as well as getting plenty of time on the water. Should the athletic factor of Olympic windsurfing be compromised by eliminating the current form of light-wind racing?

This moves us on to the sailors themselves. Olympic boardsailors are definitely a physical “type.” Light, tall, and very fit sailors usually rule the day. While these sailors can definitely make a transition to Formula and do well, heavier sailors will begin to take over. While this is not altogether a bad thing, the current sailors have carved out a niche for themselves in the windsurfing world because of their sailing expertise. The top-level sailors have intensively trained and raced for 12+ years as sailors and athletes. I believe that this intense level of racing will be to some extent lost if Formula were adapted as the Olympic class.

The offering of the Starboard Formula One-Design as an Olympic class board for 2012 is well worth consideration. Starboard is a progressive, innovative company and in the past, their ideas and designs have done great things for the sport of windsurfing (without their wide-board revolution, where would we be now?). However, the real issue at stake is the machinations two worlds of Olympic boardsailing: windsurfing, and sailing. We are a sport that stands between two different places. Should we take Olympic-class windsurfing away from the sailing roots from which it came? How will this affect the sport politically in the sailing world (especially ISAF)? Will a Formula class detract from windsurfing as a sailing sport? Or should Olympic-class boardsailing simply integrate and adapt itself to the contemporary trends of windsurfing?