Monday, June 30, 2008

Kiel Week 2008: Day 5

Yesterday finished Kiel Week. The weather decided to give us a break, and although it was cloudy, it didn’t rain. We had one race scheduled in addition to the medal race. As the wind was light, it took almost an hour to sail out to the course. The conditions were approximately similar to the previous days, just one notch lighter. Clouds were coming through and sending gusts down the course.

The wind was so shifty that opposite ends of the line ended up being favored dramatically for each of the men’s starts; the pin end for the gold fleet, and the boat end for the silver fleet. Initially the boat was favored for our start, but it soon became apparent that it was changing to the pin end. At one minute to the start, most of the fleet headed down to that end. I could have started on port tack, but as I thought the left side of the course would be better, I stayed on starboard. I knew I was close to the line and delayed my acceleration and ended up with a mediocre start. However, the highlight of the race was the second upwind. I hit every shift perfectly and was going fast. My approach to the mark was spot on the layline – I passed a lot of competitors that leg. Unfortunately I didn’t learn until later that I had OCS-ed. With only one throwout, this dropped me back 4 places on the results.

Although I dropped down on the results, I was finished mid-fleet and finally got out of the back third of the fleet. For me this is a big accomplishment, and the first step in my quest for excellence. It was accomplished by concentrating on three goals: good starts, having a plan for the race, and keeping focused.

Overall I was very happy with the regatta, especially in this venue, one of the most notoriously difficult on the European circuit.

By improving vital areas of my game, everything else improves too, and the results take care of themselves. The results don’t count for everything. If I have a bad start, I can still sail well for the rest of the race. For example, at the World Championships in New Zealand, I was starting really well but making mistakes sometimes during the first upwind. However, despite my less-than-stellar results, I knew that I made big improvements during that regatta just by focusing on starts. In addition, I am thinking and analyzing during the race and always looking for the next opportunity. By realizing where I make mistakes, I can focus on improving these areas and turning strengths into weaknesses. My approach is holistic and vital for long-term success in being the most well-rounded Olympic boardsailor over the next 4 years.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Kiel Week 2008: Day 4

After the sky cleared yesterday evening, all the competitors were hoping for a day without rain. Unfortunately, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to the sound of rain on my tent. As I was eating breakfast, it really started to pour down. The wind switched directions a few times, and then the rain started to slacken. It was pretty chilly on the beach rigging the gear!

As we sailed out, the offshore wind started to build and soon everyone was planing down to the course. However, the wind was again up and down to give us marginal planing conditions for the racing. On my way down to the course, I did a set of jibes to warm up. On my last one, the camber inducers on my sail didn’t rotate well, and I heard a tell-tale snap. Sure enough, one of my battens had broken. I sailed down to meet my coach, upset. There wasn’t any time to go back in, and the way that the batten had broken made it almost impossible to replace on the water anyway. However, due to the conditons, the batten didn’t slow me down as much as I thought.

Overall, I had one of the better days of my regatta. The course was again interesting and tricky with the shifty winds. The line was port-favored for the first race, and the puffs were coming down course right, making it the favored side. Needless to say, everyone started on port. I almost blew the start as I was too close to the pin and started to get crowded out. I ducked some boards and threw myself into a hole on the line. I was almost too late to get out early, but I ended up with a lucky spot of clear air, and I stayed there and was able to follow my plan to go right. Most everyone went really hard right almost to the corner. Many started planing, but as I like to play it safe in marginal air, I went daggerboard down. The small group I was with caught a lift in the middle of the course, and we rounded the windward mark first. My biggest problem with losing places is the downwind. Somehow I can’t seem to get deep enough in light air and end up losing ground, and that’s what happened to me. On the second upwind, the breeze had started to fill in. I started to plane and crossed some girls sailing with dagger down. I wasn’t sure if the gamble would work, so when I started to approach course left, I tacked back right and put the blade back down. It paid off and I was still holding my own around the second windward mark. I didn’t gain any places downwind, and went to the wrong side trying to stay in the puffs. However, I still finished well.

The second race I had a better start, again on port. The same tactics were favored but this time the wind had started to fill in. By the time most of the girls were almost to the windward mark, it was full planing conditions. I was still dagger down at that point, because I was too low to make a planing layline. I rounded and held my ground downwind. The second upwind was mostly planing, but there were a few light spots where I dropped my daggerboard. However, we started getting gusts of 18 + knots, so I began to plane again. I was fighting for control, partly because the gusts were so strong, I was dealing with the broken batten (which had finally split at the tip, distorting the camber of the sail), and I still have some technique issues. I lost one place due to speed problems. I did manage to hold ground downwind, even though the boat traffic had considerably increased. The tall ships were back to sailing around the outside of our course, and were coming too close, forcing sailors to tack or jibe to avoid them. The chop had once again become psychotic. On the final reach, everything started to get hyper in the gusts and the chop. I was flying but managed to finish strong. The wind had started to really build at that point, and the committee sent us in. While we were sailing in, the gusts became super strong, and for the rest of the afternoon and evening, it was blowing 25+ offshore.

The biggest surprise of the day was that I managed to have some of my best finishes with a broken batten! Check out the results here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kiel Week 2008: Day 3

Today we finally saw the weather that Kiel is famous for. This morning I woke up to the sound of rain hitting the roof of my tent and some chilly temps in the low 50s. The forecast was for 20+ knots again offshore, so I went into the day fully expecting it to blow like stink. However, the expected wind never showed up. Since the boards have one of the farthest courses offshore (it’s gotta be about 2 or more miles from the beach) it took about 45 minutes to pump our way out there. I was layered up with 2 thermal shirts, a long wetsuit, a life jacket, and a foul weather jacket over it all. It rained constantly throughout the racing.

The wind, being offshore, was continually shifty and gusty. During the first men’s start, at 15 seconds to the gun, a puff of at least 20 came through and made them fight. That was the only time the wind would pick up, however. During the girls’ start, the wind dropped again to non-planing. I had a solid start in the middle of the line. It was hard to determine what side of the course would be favored, but I decided on left. Unfortunately I was under some fast girls and started to get rolled and was forced to tack. I did manage to hold my position to the windward mark and also on the reach, by starting to plane. I ended up in a hole in the corner before the mark, and had to drop the daggerboard. I was overstood for daggerboard sailing and was forced to go low to try to get speed and make up ground. However, the wind filled back in and I was able to finish planing to the mark. The downwind was very marginal and tricky. I was fighting to stay on a plane the whole time and lost a few boards. On the second upwind, I tacked over to to starboard and got a good lift and made up a few boards. I found some good puffs on the downwind and managed to plane the whole way. The finish was set a little far upwind and it wasn’t possible to plane all the way there, but I managed to stay on a plane until the last minute when I dropped the blade down.

The second race didn’t go so well for me. My start was OK, but my acceleration wasn’t where it should have been. I got rolled and had to tack over to course right, where I wanted to be anyway. It was hard to see what side of the course would be favored during this race, and I made the wrong decision. I continued right in clear air with a group of boards. However, the right didn’t pay and we all lost everything on that first beat. Downwind was very challenging as the wind had dropped off even more. The light girls were planing, along with me (but a LOT of pumping!). In retrospect, I should have just gone nonplaning downwind as my angles were too high to get to the leeward mark fast. I lost a lot of ground here, once again. On the second upwind, I went left. Again, I couldn’t tell which side of the course was favored, but there was some pressure coming from that side and I decided to go there. Of course, it didn’t work out once again…and now, frustrated, I made a stupid mistake. I tried to cross on port one of the Polish girls on my team, and fouled her. I dropped my sail in the water (got a jellyfish on the boom too!). I pulled it up and completed a somewhat gimpy penalty turn. She let a few choice words fly in Polish, and off we both went. After rounding the mark and pumping downwind, she was about 50 meters ahead of me on the final reach to the finish. I pumped my butt off and caught her, and she headed me up. She had her daggerboard down, and I didn’t, so I slid into her a little. She stuck her foot out and kicked my board away!! We crossed the line and both went to our coach yelling at him, each other, and pointing fingers. Fortunately we both cooled down and apologized. You know you’re a part of the team when…..!

Today was a good day for lessons, especially about decision-making. During a race, you are constantly making decisions. They can be rational and analytical, intuitive, or (not so good) emotional. To attempt cross and foul someone on port was a decision made out of frustration, an emotional decision. That emotional kind of decision includes kicking someone’s board out of the way! Clearly, it doesn’t pay to get emotionally involved with your perceived finish, or place in the particular race. 95% of this game is indeed mental.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kiel Week 2008: Day 2

Kiel is famous for difficult conditions, and today they showed up. We started the day with offshore breeze gusting to 25 knots and 3 races on the schedule. Our course is far away from the beach, and near a point of land that makes offshore conditions very interesting as wind comes from both sides. The right side was lifted, making it the favored side. As we had planing conditions the goal was to get as far right as possible before tacking. This was more difficult than it sounds because there were lots of shifts, holes, and punishing gusts. Also, the Laser course was close to ours, so sometimes we were sailing with fleets of boats! There is a LOT of boat traffic here…that wasn’t the least we had to deal with. We are also sailing with a lot of tall ships that like to hang out around the windward side of our course…not good for when you have to make a layline on a plane!

Huge gusts of wind were coming through at the start of the first race. Port tack was favored along with the pin end of the line, so most of the fleet started on port. I was no exception. I had some difficulty getting off the line with the strong wind and everyone fighting for control. I ended up with a decent start towards the middle of the fleet. However I lost control in a gust and fell in (that water is cold!). I quickly waterstarted and was on my way again, but lost ground because my speed isn’t where it should be in those conditions. Also I was fighting with my fin again. Even though I had changed it, it still is not perfect. It is a little better than yesterday’s fin, but the angle of rake is just a tiny bit different. As we finished up the race, the wind started to get lighter.

For the second race, starboard tack was favored on the line. However the right side of the course was still favored. I had a clean start in the middle of the line, and went right a few hundred meters and tacked over. Unfortunately there is a lot of boat traffic on the course, and a huge police boat, I mean huge, was sitting right in the middle of the line to windward, doing something to a small pleasure craft that was also invading the course. During the start with one minute left to go, it had rolled right by and given us some gigantic wake! A few girls got too close and got knocked in the water by the wind gusts coming off of it.

While on port, I got a good lift and made some progress, and was in a good position around the windward mark. The reach was interesting as the wind dropped off a lot. The windward mark on the outer trapezoid was directly below this point of land, so the wind was really fluky right around it. If one sailed to the outside of the trapezoid (and the point) downwind, there was a big header. However the wind was lighter out there and it paid to go back to the favored right side of the course. When we reached the windward reach mark, everyone had to start pumping as the wind died. I lost a few boards here, unfortunately. When we got to the leeward mark, the wind dropped off and we were forced to sail daggerboard down. A few girls and I went hard right and again it paid.

During the last start, the wind was back again. We had a planing start and the pin end of the line / port tack was again favored. Everyone started on port again. I had the best start of my regatta so far in this race. I started on the leeward side of the fleet but got out early from under them with good speed. I maintained the speed for the most part, but again I was having trouble pointing in the crazy chop. The wind started to have more dramatic lulls and gusts and again, the right was favored. I had a fairly good race, only losing ground on one downwind when I went course right.

Overall it was a pretty good day, and I made up for my OCS yesterday. You can view the results here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kiel Week, Germany

I realize I haven’t updated in a while and indeed life has been totally crazy. After doing a local regatta in Sopot, Poland (will write about my insane first week in Poland later), I and the team made our way to Kiel, Germany. Because of the timing of the Sopot regatta, we drove all night long to Kiel and arrived the day before racing. As usual, I wasn’t prepared for the lodging…we are camping on a big field next to the venue. It was a little stressful trying to find a tent to borrow, but I finally got set up. We are possibly the biggest group at the campground.

After the logistics craziness, I turned my focus to the racing. After a great regatta in Sopot, I naturally had high expectations. We had two races in wind of about 10-15 knots, marginal planing for one race and full planing for another. The weather in north Europe is cold and changeable, and the water is also chilly. There are normally lots of clouds, and rain can come at any time. We are wearing life jackets during this regatta, which isn’t so great for movement, but at least they keep you warmer.

Although I came in with great expectations, my first day on the water wasn’t so great. I botched a start on my first race with an OCS. The start was planing with most of the fleet starting on port tack, at the favored pin end of the line. I thought the left side of the course would be favored, so I decided to start on starboard, go for the pin, and go left for a couple hundred meters. Unfortunately, even though I had a pretty clear situation on the line, I decided at the last second to not follow the plan and go with the fleet. Unfortunately when I tried to tack I wound up on the pin and OCS-ed. Sometimes I’m not sure why stupidity overcomes my good sense. Needless to say I was quite behind, however I did make up some ground going left on the second upwind (it wasn’t so favored at that point, but it put me in clear air with good speed).

The second race I decided to start on port with the rest of the fleet. I got off the line OK, but since the wind was shifty and the pin wasn’t quite as dramatically favored as the last race, I had to wait for a few boards to cross me. I dropped my daggerboard and headed high, then as the next puff came down, I started to plane to the right, which had become the favored side. I was having some trouble staying high, and was spinning out (cavitating the fin) a lot. Because of this, I lost some ground. I also went fairly high to the right, to hit the corner. Unfortunately, the wind, which had been about 13-15 at the start, dropped, and everyone stopped planing. I was too far to the right, and lost more ground. On the second upwind, the wind began to shift more. After being forced to tack into clear air after rounding the leeward mark, I was able to play the shifts fairly well and pass a few boats. However, it wasn’t enough to get out of the back third of the fleet.

Overall it was a disappointing day, one in which I felt like I was going backwards instead of forwards. However, I did manage to achieve one of my goals: maintain focus. I didn’t get frustrated and was constantly thinking through my race no matter where I was. At the end of the day, I felt that I was still in the game. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and to progress, step by step.