Thursday, December 9, 2010

Long Road to Miami

After bouncing around Florida for a few weeks, I've finally found an apartment and am settled in Miami for training. This winter (blame it on the economy), short-term housing has been really difficult to find. Most places are either extremely expensive, unfurnished, or in the "hood." In Coconut Grove, which contains most of Miami's sailing scene, wealthy neighborhoods border lower-income areas by the width of a city back yard....and I've looked at housing in both. I've lived at various friends' places in Miami, Stuart, and St Petersburg, while keeping the car packed and training at the same time. The past month has been a familiar, wearisome adventure that has lasted a bit longer than I wanted it to.

The hassle of finding housing in Miami is a familiar one to many sailors, and our main concern is getting our belongings out of the car and into a safe place. Although we have a free place to store gear and train at the US Sailing Center here, the parking lot has been targeted by thieves for many years. It's tempting to leave your life locked in the car, but the car is the most unsafe place for computers, wallets, and sailing gear. On Sunday, before I moved into my new place, thieves broke two windows of my van and stole a gym bag with wallet, cash, toiletries and clothes. It cost $750 to replace the windows, four hours to clean all the glass out of the car and door interiors, and as a result, my life was disrupted for an additional few days. The money is almost easier to sacrifice then the time lost and stress.

Although my car was the target (along with two other vehicles) this week, my feelings were validated by some experiences related to me by one of the women's 470 teams, who had their vehicles broken into three times. In one incident, their entire car was stolen, dragged away with their tools and a brand-new set of sails inside. The theft was a devastating setback to their campaign. The team has also experienced some difficulties finding housing, and one sailor is cycling daily from Miami Beach, 10 miles away. Miami is a difficult place for everyone, and removing theft and crime, locals and visitors still have to deal with frustrating traffic and angry drivers, poor urban planning and ugly, soulless sprawl, sky-high taxes, and the general insanity created by people of every desperate race and culture crushed together in too small a space. From the outside, Miami is an incredibly beautiful place to live, but on the inside, it is glaringly ugly and superficial, identities crushed together to breed a war for money and materialism. The city is a true paradise wasted, and one of the most troubled, confused, chaotic places I've ever traveled to.

Although the city in general disgusts me, the water is entirely another world. On Biscayne Bay or the ocean, sailors can escape the demented crush of humanity and re-orient to their true purpose for being here. Miami is a fantastic place to sail, and there is plenty of sailing to do. Training so far is going well. Over Thanksgiving, I did a US Sailing Development Team (USSDT) clinic with Britt Viehman's youth team. It is great to see how well all the sailors are progressing. The girls in particular are taking windsurfing very seriously, and are learning new things very quickly. For me it was a good chance to revisit the basic things I never learned as a pointing upwind. I made some big strides forward with Britt's help (and some video) and now have a few techniques to work on daily.

I must be describing something in Britt's video

It is great to see the windsurfers included in the USSDT camp, although it was not without a fight that they were able to get in. Britt's persuasion was a major influence, and windsurfing has an inside advocate, Leandro Spina, a salaried US Sailing Team skiff coach who also trains some Bic Techno sailors at the Miami Yacht Club. Leandro has been pushing hard for windsurfing's inclusion, which is something sorely needed inside US Sailing. If not for Britt and Leandro, windsurfing would never have a chance for success under the current US Sailing Team leadership.

The beginning of the winter sailing season has brought lots to fight for. It's a good thing I have an endless reserve of determination and the ability to fight, both on the water and on dry land.

Thanks again to my sponsor, Compass Marketing, and for so much community support of my Olympic campaign.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fund Raiser Dinner a Success

Planning a fund raiser is a big job, and my mom and I had three weeks in which to do it. We pulled together a great silent auction, raffle prizes, advertising, decoration, and the best spaghetti we could possibly make. We held the event at the Cape St. Claire Clubhouse, near the Magothy River.

The Cape Clubhouse
My mom's buffet setup

Guests came from all over Annapolis and surrounding counties, including members of the Severn Sailing Association, Baltimore Area Boardsailing Association, and community members from Cape St. Claire. Altogether, about 50 guests attended. Many families showed up, and kids had fun running around the clubhouse and making shadow puppets in front of the slide show. After guests were seated and eating dinner, I presented some pictures and information about my campaign, youth windsurfing, how to get started in windsurfing, and a video about the history of the Sopot Sailing Club in Poland, where I train in the summer. After dinner, my mom announced the raffle and silent auction prizes. We had a lot of incredible donations from many local businesses, including lots of restaurant gift certificates, choice retail items, and a car care package with Navy football tickets from Annapolis Jaguar, a supporter of many local sailing events.

Contributors included:

Compass Marketing
Jaguar of Annapolis
USNA Athletic Department
Alan's Factory Outlet
Zachary's Jewelry
East of Maui
Delmarva BoardSport Adventures
Harley Davidson Annapolis
Hudson & Fouquet
Eastern Mountain Sports
Helly Hansen
Bow Tie Cinemas
Brios Restaurant
Mills Fine Wine and Spirits
Cadillac Ranch Restaurant
Hell Point Restaurant
McCormick and Schmick's Seafood Restaurant
Red, Hot, and Blue Restaurant
Austin Grill
Best Buy Annapolis
Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen
Stoney River Steakhouse
Starbucks City Dock
Bertucci's Italian Restaurant
Bay Ridge Wine and Liquors
Carrol's Creek Cafe
Breeze Restaurant at Loews Hotel
Chevy's Fresh Mex
Fados Irish Pub
Bin 201 Wine Sellers

Guests check out the silent auction

A good time was had by all guests, and the fund raiser was a success. We raised over $3,500, which will be used for new equipment and coaching this winter. This particular winter season is a critical time for me, as I will be building a training base for the Olympic qualifying series this summer. It is great to know that I will be able to accomplish my goals for the winter, and the proceeds from this fund raiser is playing a significant role in that. I really appreciate all the help I've been given from the community! I feel very lucky to have so much support, and I'm ready to make some big strides forward this season.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fund raiser - I need your help!

I'm putting together a fund raiser on Friday, November 5 to support my 2012 Olympic campaign. I am trying to make it community-centric, so it will be held in Cape St. Claire, the Annapolis community where I grew up (and still live). If you're interested in attending and learning more about Olympic and youth windsurfing, read on.

The fund raiser will be held at the Cape St. Claire community clubhouse at 1223 River Bay Rd, Annapolis, MD 21409. It will be a spaghetti dinner with a silent auction, raffle, and presentation. We are also going to have lots of cool stuff in the silent auction, with a couple big prizes for the raffle. My presentation will focus on shedding light on Olympic windsurfing, adventures on the campaign trail, and youth windsurfing in the USA.

Donations are tax-deductible and go to support campaign expenditures, with a focus on my coaching program to bring it up to par with the fully-funded programs of my international competitors. Good, consistent coaching is critical for success in the highly competitive international arena.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Colorado Springs Training Camp

Over the weekend, the US Sailing Team was in Colorado Springs at the US Olympic Training Center. It was a little funny to have a training camp where there is nowhere to sail, but the focus was on our physical training programs. The team had a demanding plan for us, and we went through some rigorous testing to determine where we are physically. Chris Herrera, the team's trainer, took all the data and also gave us some workouts. On top of the testing and workouts, our team leader divided us into groups and designed some competitions to facilitate "team building." It was a physically demanding weekend with a really packed schedule.

Finishing up a pull-up test

For me, the most important part of the weekend was meeting with Chris to discuss my program. We set a few peak regattas and built a new training program around that. Because it's the end of the season, I am a bit too thin, tired, and my strength isn't at its maximum. For the next few weeks my program will significantly reduce cardio and focus on building strength and adding weight with complete exercises in the gym. Chris and his partner, Lee, also did some presentations for us, which were really motivational. I'm really looking forward to getting back in the gym, and back to the grind, which I love.

Genny Tulloch (women's match racing) and Alice Manard help teammate Jen Chamberlain through a weighted isometric hold test while Chris looks on

The best change to the US Sailing Team is its team-based fitness program, managed by Chris Herrera. However, the real program, which has been highly publicized and touted, is still about "the rich getting richer." There is little interest in developmental funding or in classes which currently have low medal potential. Most of team budget that isn't US Olympic Committee money goes towards paying management, logistics, and team dinners and functions. In addition, developmental classes like windsurfing are ignored or left behind. In short, changes to the US Sailing Team program are surface-level only.

Although I am part of a new team structure, I still feel very much on the outside. At this camp, I was able to show that I am very fit, work hard, and can form friendships with teammates. However, there is little understanding, and no attempt to understand, what a developmental and completely self-funded sailor like me must go through in order to make a real campaign, let alone a result for the USA. There is little interest in windsurfing, and little interest in me on a personal level, from our team management. Sailors must comply with specific rules and stay in the "team system," even though they receive no support, whether it is financial or simply kindness. As a result, I must rely completely on my own drive, ability to work hard, and self-motivation, which are my only real talents. Without getting great results internationally, it is extremely difficult to feel rewarded for my efforts without the support of team leaders, or being taken seriously by them. The rewards of my own Olympic campaign are the experiences of travel, high-level competition, my work with the Polish team, and the friendships and alliances formed along the way. It is difficult to comply with, or care about, a political, surface-based system that excludes sailors because it is deliberately blind to their value.

This is not to say that I don't appreciate what the team's leadership is trying to do with the overall Olympic program. I believe they genuinely want to make the team better, and I want very much to be a part of a team system. However, old attitudes need to be removed and the team built from a development level, from the bottom up rather than the top down. If not, there is little chance for the program to show real success, and it will always be surface-based.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

RS:X Worlds: Qualifying series concludes

Racing in Monday's breeze: mixing it up through the leeward gate

Yesterday two races were held for the women in light, shifty offshore northwest wind, a direction we've seen most here in Kerteminde. I learned a few valuable lessons about transitions from pointing and pumping conditions to daggerboard down railing conditions in the shifty breeze. The wind was mainly light but bigger puffs were coming through, and when the wind was lighter it was a better tactic to sail up the center of the course and play the shifts. However, when it the breeze came up, it was better to pick a side of the course and keep blasting as fast as possible with the blade down. It's hard to keep this board moving due to its weight and size, so in railing conditions it pays off to stay in the most pressure you can find and keep the board moving as fast as possible.

My first race was one of the better races of my career. I hit all the shifts correctly and worked extremely hard pumping. The committee shortened the course, as the wind dropped significantly, and we finished on the reach. During the second race, the wind picked up. Unfortunately I tried the same tactics, which put me pretty deep in the fleet, but definitely taught me a new skill. Today is our rest day and the end of the qualifying series, after which the two fleets are split into gold and blue according to finish. I'm in the blue fleet, which will be the easier fleet, which means good racing and education too.

In the top 10 women, the first place sailor is my Polish teammate, Maja Dziarnowska. This is her first full year on the Polish National Team, and she has learned to work very hard with excellent coaching, and has improved by leaps and bounds. This is her best result by far at a Worlds, and very promising for her career especially since she is only 20 years old. The next Polish sailor is 2007 World Champion Zofia Klepacka, in 8th place. The Chinese are also having a notable event, with 2 sailors so far in the top 10 (3rd and 4th) and a huge team of 16 sailors here. Veterans Alessandra Sensini (ITA) and Jessica Crisp (AUS) are in 5th and 7th places respectively. All the teams have been working extremely hard, and the windy conditions backed with yesterday's shifty breeze means that the leaderboard is a good representative of the fleet's talent.

Tomorrow we begin the final round. The forecast is showing marginal to light wind for the remainder of the event, which should mix up the results!

Bob and Ben on the coach boat with Gebi

Monday, August 30, 2010

Three races for women on Day 2 of RS:X Worlds

Conditions sprang to life on the second day of the RS:X World Championships. The wind filled in from the northeast to 20+ knots, the sun came out, and the women were scheduled for 3 races.

The women started at 11 am, and we knocked out two races quickly. I am working on starts and speed in the choppy conditions. Racing wasn't too complicated today in the planing conditions. It was "Nascar" racing - all speed, starts are everything, round and round the course racing. I've been having some good moments even though I'm not making results. I had one of the best starts in the fleet during the third race, and my board handling is getting better.

Meanwhile, my mom is here living the good life as a registered photographer for the event. She has her big camera and has been going out on the media boat. She's making some new friends, is enjoying watching the racing, and having hot coffee and lemon cheesecake on the boat. She also made us dinner tonight!

More tomorrow with some of Mom's pictures!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

RS:X Worlds: No action for women on Day 1

The day started promising for sailors on the first day of the RS:X Worlds in Kerteminde, Denmark. The offshore wind was light but gusts were coming through as clouds passed overhead. However, as rain cells cycled through, the wind became too unstable to race, and the men's fleets were sent back to the beach and held.

Men leave the beach

The women's start was scheduled for 1 pm, but was pushed back. We hung out in the competitors' tents all day, until the men were sent back out. The wind had clocked around to the opposite direction, and filled in but remained very light. After a period of waiting, the men finally got their races in, but it was too late for us.

Women's boards ready on the beach

The forecast for tomorrow shows breezy conditions with the ever present rain, so we should be able to get in three races.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kerteminde, Denmark

Peaceful Danish environment

Last week many sailors landed in Kerteminde, Denmark, where the 2010 RS:X World Championships will begin on August 29. Kerteminde is a small town east of Copenhagen, on the next peninsula across a long bridge. I drove in from the airport with Bob Willis, and we were shocked at the price of the bridge toll: 225 Danish kroner, which is $40. Sometimes it's nice to get a reminder that the price of US highway infrastructure is minimal compared to what Europeans have to pay!

Kerteminde is situated on an inlet in the Baltic Sea. We are surrounded by farmland and water, which is great for cycling and getting away from the scene at the Kerteminde Sailing Club. It is a relaxed atmosphere which definitely agrees with me. The weather been cloudy the entire week and extremely rainy. After coming from the UK, I'm quite anxious to see the sun again. Despite the rain, we have had excellent windy days and in general great sailing conditions.

A break in the clouds: light wind training

Training leading up to the event has been going really well. Although the Americans don't have coaching until the regatta starts, I'm refining my planing technique by tuning with other girls. I have noticed an improvement in speed, and upwind pointing is coming along. The international coaches run daily races, which most sailors take part in. I'm also working on breaking in a new sail and mast. I have the mast strung up in some marina storage racks with pressure on it so it is bent similar to how it will load up rigged. I will keep it there for four or five days until it is broken down a little more, then I'll rig it again and see if there is some change. For now I'm using my most ancient mast, which is a good mast but I'm a little concerned that it might not last through the regatta.

Mast bending system

Apart from sailing, the weather has allowed me to get some grant writing done and get organized in general. My mom is coming to visit me during the regatta, and we're looking forward to a little sightseeing, something I almost never do by myself! I'm also reunited with my minivan, which the Polish team drove to Denmark from Sopot. I will feel more at home here with both my van and my mom!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Racing ended for us yesterday with two crazy, shifty, funny races. The girls were supposed to race last after the two men's fleets. However, the constantly changing weather prevented the men's gold fleet from efficiently getting their races off, and the blue fleet's racing was cancelled in order to get our races in at the very end of the day. Rain cells moved through the course areas constantly, and every time a dark cloud passed, the wind shifted to move with it. The wind oscillated left and right, and big gusts and lulls anywhere from 5-17 knots touched down on the course. We raced starting around 4 pm, and made it back to the beach around 6:45.

I tried a few things that were different in order to break myself out of my usual race mode. The first was to try planing starts before the other girls went daggerboard up. I also started on port once (near the boat) and footed underneath the entire fleet. I was going really fast and got out into open air, but the wind shifted at that moment and I committed myself to the wrong side of the course! My plan was to hit that side because it looked better, but I ended up quite surprised. I learned a lot of lessons during this regatta, and now have a long list of new things to work on. It was great being able to identify weaknesses and try new things during this regatta, all made possible by our coach Mike Gebhardt.

The US Sailing Team overall had a good regatta and all logistics and coaching efforts were well worth it. Read the press release for more details.

I'm moving on to Kerteminde, Denmark to compete in the World Championships. I will get to be a tourist for a few days as the regatta doesn't start until the 29th. Thanks to the Polish windsurfing team who drove my minivan over from Sopot. Also a big thanks to my sponsor, Compass Marketing, for making all my Olympic efforts possible.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Weymouth, Days 3 and 4

Scheduling for racing is a bit tight. Since there are two courses in the harbor, the race committee is running a windward - leeward slalom course rather than the usual trapezoid. This means that the fleets of boards are raced individually and called out one at a time.

We raced last yesterday, and started after 3 pm. Conditions yesterday were classic sea breeze, and the sun made an appearance. I worked on getting good starts, which I accomplished, and marginal planing daggerboard-down technique. The wind died before the start of the second race, and the committee shortened the course. Pumping in light wind was not a bad change after the 25 knots of the previous day.

Today, the wind was from an unusual direction, northerly right from the Weymouth land mass. Clouds formed over the land, and the wind went right throughout the morning. Because of the shifting wind, we had several general recalls and the committee reset the course once. The key tactic of the day was to hit the right side of the course and then play the shifts up the remainder of the beat. The gusts and lulls were very significant and often we had to switch gears from planing to daggerboard down. I am getting a lot better at switching gears, and one of the best aspects of my racing today was making independent decisions about when to switch. I also had several good starts and was one of the first girls to attempt planing starts in the gusts. In my best race I rounded the top mark in 15th after the start.

Tomorrow will be my last day of racing and after that one training day, the day of the medal race.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weymouth shows racers its classic conditions on Day 2 of Sail for Gold Regatta

Weymouth showed its true colors yesterday with the rough conditions it is well-known for. After an hour's delay for very light wind, misty clouds moved in, rain began to fall, the temperature dropped, and the breeze picked up.

The women had the first start, and we left the beach in very marginal conditions. After a few minutes, the wind built to planing conditions, and we had one general recall before the first race. I didn't have a very good race because although I have decent board speed and tactical skills, I had a second-row start, and once the fleet is ahead, it is impossible to catch up. Starts are difficult here as the line is fairly short and the fleet is very aggressive.

After the first race, the wind shifted right significantly and picked up to 20-25 knots, and rain squalls cycled through. The committee had to move the course and experienced a lot of difficulty with keeping the marks and the boat anchored. The process took about two hours and in the meantime, we were all freezing, wet, and getting tired sailing around in big breeze. Not only were the girls out, but the mens' fleets were called out too early as well. They waited with us as the course was reset.

The second race I pulled off a better start, and sailed better overall. I went course right, while most of the fleet went left. Even though this can be a dangerous tactic, I wanted to try it because the water on the right side was much flatter than the left, which was crazy from boat traffic, wind, and seawall backwash. It ended up working out, and I had a 2/3 fleet finish, which is more normal for me.

This is a difficult regatta for me as it is a peak regatta for the entire fleet, along with the RS:X Worlds in a couple of weeks. All the younger sailors on European teams have improved a lot this season with full time coaching and training camps, and the experienced sailors are extremely tuned up. However, I am making some improvements and learning a lot with Mike Gebhardt coaching me, and results will come in the future. The US Sailing Team is making steady improvement with its support of the sailors, and we will have more help in the next two seasons.

Team USA dinner - we have a big group here!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Back to Weymouth

For the past week the US Sailing Team Alphagraphics has been training in Weymouth, UK, sailing venue of the 2012 Olympic Games. An impressive number of USST members are here, including sailors on the boat development teams. Our team leader, Kenneth Andreasen, is doing a great job of organizing meetings and bringing us together in our team "compound," a big storage facility a quarter mile from the Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy.

The US team hired Mike Gebhardt to coach Ben Barger and I, which was the deciding factor in my attendance at this regatta. It is really expensive because I have to charter equipment, but equipment is less than the cost of good coaching. We have had four days of coaching in wind anywhere from 8-25 knots in mostly chilly, rainy, and cloudy conditions. We are focusing on tuning and technique, and I have been developing my speed and pointing in breeze, and we have created different strategies for various conditions. We are continuing this focus through the regatta, and using the racing for further tuning and working on tactics.

Today was our first day of racing, and in addition to the tuning, we worked on developing tactics specific to Weymouth. In the breeze, tactics aren't excessively complicated. The left side of the course is usually favored and speed and a good start are imperative for getting to the left side right from the starting line. Although I didn't make any glaring tactical errors, I am having trouble pointing and I'm basically getting creamed by the fleet for that reason. A major factor impacting my pointing ability is my charter equipment, which is new and very stiff. It is great to be on new gear, but it still needs to be broken in and I have been keeping my sail fully rigged in a main hall to break it down faster. It doesn't look like I'll have a fantastic result at this regatta, but I'm making a lot of progress with technique and learning a lot more about the equipment. Mike Gebhardt is really pushing my ability and effort, and it will pay off at future regattas.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lessons Learned: Life and sport come together at the RS:X European Championships

Sometimes, I think windsurfing has made me grow up a lot faster than any of the other years of my life. The sport has forced me to learn a lot about discipline, organization, culture, and has compelled me to tame emotional issues and accept my person and life as I create it. Of course, there are always life lessons to be taken from windsurfing competition. The first is to truly be happy even when your racing is awful and it’s too easy to judge yourself by your results. The second is that racing is dangerous, and following the rules is extremely important. In the end, it’s only sport, and sport comes second to lives at stake.

The Europeans didn’t go very well for me. Not only did I struggle in the light wind, on the windier fourth and fifth days I wasn't able to race well. On the fourth day of racing, I crashed on the starting line with Agata Brygola, one of the top Polish women sailors, who was unable to finish well in the race. The collision was three-way with a board in the middle heading me up, and when I was unable to get my equipment stable enough to do so, catching a mast on my clew to take all of us out. In this situation I was in the wrong, the fall was an accident, and I took a penalty turn. The result of the collision was a redress hearing, something I’m quite familiar with! Agata was awarded redress of average points for the affected race in a competent hearing. This was great news for Agata and being in front of the jury was a good experience for her. Although I initially felt bad about the incident, accidents in sport happen often and I felt good about my conduct at the hearing. I finished the day still feeling positive. The next incident, however, didn’t have such a good conclusion.

Lots of boards coming off the line

On the fifth day of racing, the breeze filled in to Sopot’s best conditions. 13-15 knots out of the northwest means clean wind, nice swell, and planing conditions. I was looking forward to racing as the conditions favored me, and for the first race of the day had a clean start (OCS as I would later find out) and went daggerboard down until I was on top of the fleet. I finished the first upwind planing and planed quickly downwind to the leeward mark. I dropped the daggerboard again as it was quite crowded and I wanted to get up into cleaner air. As I was rounding the mark, a competitor from Israel, Lee Korzits, who races really well and is fast in the breeze, rounded inside of me, a legal maneuver. I had left enough space around the mark, so we both completed the rounding. However, Lee was planing quickly and didn’t have a good angle yet, so she came to the inside of me quite close, couldn’t sail up higher, and it was difficult for me to bear off with my daggerboard down. Lee would have passed me unscathed, but her boom caught on my jersey and ripped it, catapulting her off her board and bringing both sets of equipment down on top of her. Lee tried to swim to the surface underneath the two sets of equipment and couldn’t escape. She panicked and screamed underneath the tangle of boards and sails. I jumped off and tried to separate the gear, but a quick-thinking French windsurfing coach sped up to the collision and dragged Lee out of the water. By then Lee had swallowed water and passed out, and they dragged her over the side of the boat as dead weight. The French coach revived her and brought her to shore with her equipment.

The incident terrified me. I dropped out of the race, sailed in to make sure Lee was all right, and wasn’t able to sail the rest of the day. In all sports, incidents such as this happen frequently, and remind us of the importance of the rules, but also of being conscientious and respectful of other competitors no matter your position, because human lives are precious. In the first incident, I was in the wrong and realized it but was unable to do anything about it, thus resulting in a collision and a penalty turn. In the collision with Lee, she was theoretically in the wrong, but because of the differing angles of planing and non-planing boards, was unable to sail higher. More conscientiousness on everyone’s part may have prevented both incidents, and the racing rules are made to create conscientiousness at any sailing event.

On our racecourse, with a large, extremely competitive fleet, a short starting line, and a tight slalom finish, infractions of the rules were happening left and right. Often girls were taking penalty turns, but just as often, they weren’t. At this regatta in general, it was difficult for the girls to respect space and minimize contact between boards, making it extremely dangerous racing. In the future, to reduce the danger at important regattas, regatta juries need to watch the racing closely and disqualify more boards. Also, the female competitors overall need to take initiative and protest people who foul them without taking a penalty turn. I saw this happen at least three or four times during the regatta, and each time the fouled board didn’t make sure the offender completed a turn. By letting boards get away with ridiculous fouls without a protest hearing, bad habits and unsafe situations are created throughout the entire fleet! Respect of other boards should be made a priority in windsurf racing.

A port-starboard incident about to happen just after the start

Lee was unhurt and thankful to be alive. At the awards ceremony, she presented the French coach with a gift thanking him for his quick and heroic action. The story had a happy ending, but the impact of the lesson was severe for me: awareness and respect are critical in racing. Without it, human lives are endangered. I am able to remain optimistic about my progress in windsurfing, and the incidents at this regatta will make me a better and more conscientious racer in the future.

Monday, July 5, 2010

RS:X European Championships: Day 3

Racing began on time today as the wind filled to about 6-7 knots in from the northeast, a usually very steady direction for Sopot. The committee had no problem setting a course and quickly getting us on the water.

I had a pretty bad first race, but the wind built a little for the second, and I had a better finish. During the first race, I was passed in the slalom by a number of boards because I missed a mark once and fell another time. The media boat conveniently caught the plunge into the water on camera. My starts are still good, but I just feel really awkward pumping on the board and can't find the "feel" in the very light wind. I believe it will come, but it will be a lot of effort and time.

Fatal plunge

RS:X European Championships: Day 2

Once again, the weather is proving most excellent for the tourists, rather than the sailors. After another shorter wait, the wind filled in about 2 knots more than the first day of racing. The committee is quick to race us, having learned these conditions over the past week and a half.

I am unfortunately still struggling and as long as the light wind conditions persist, won't have a chance to do well at this regatta. However it is a good lesson in patience, perseverance, and focus on technique. I am still doing well on the starts, although the race committee isn't extremely strict about calling sailors over early, so it is funny to watch most of the fleet jump the gun to be OCS by one or two seconds. Of course I am doing this too, as being late ensures a poor finish.

Battling it out downwind

Rory Ramsden, class secretary from the UK, summarized yesterday in classic and dramatic style:

"We had a quiet Sunday morning lingering over our coffees and taking
it easy. Just as you may have been doing at home. However, the wind
gods decided to answer our prayers a little earlier than yesterday
so the men were called to the starting area at 1345hrs with the first
race of the day for the yellow group being launched onto the course
at 1415hrs.

Shahar Zubari [ISR] carried on where he left off yesterday posting
a bullet in the first race but he slipped in the second. That is if
you consider a 4th a slip. It was good enough to hold his position
at the top of the leader board but he now has to share the top step
with Piotr Myszka [POL] who posted a 1st and a 2nd . The other guy
who was firing on all cylinders was Byron Kokkalanis [GRE] who
posted a 2 and a 1.

There is a three way fight therefore for the lead. Then a another
struggle for supremacy 8 points back with 6 or 7 boards in contention.
The remarkable news though is that all four men's starts went off
first time with just 3 boards called OCS.

Whereas over in the women's fleet something very unusual was being
played out. Their first start of the day was 'generalled' and
launched again under a black flag with one sailor being 'BFDed' -
disqualified for being over the start line early - Then the second
race was black flagged with no fewer than 7 being disqualified.

For the technical experts among you, the women's fleet is one third
bigger than each of the two men's groups and was started on the same
line - no change in length.

Normally the women are very well behaved and start first time under
a 'P' flag so black flags on successive starts is almost unheard of.
So far it's the men who are behaving well. Call me old fashioned,
but this is not normal

Anyway, back to the racing...

Eugenie Ricard [FRA] must have been upset by all the shenanigans in
the starting area. She posted a 9th in the first race but regained
her composure to take first place in the second. She now sits in
second place because of the 'poor' result in the first just two
points behind Malgorzata Bialecka [POL]. These two light wind
specialists have been handed an amazing 14 point advantage after
just two days racing!

No doubt the discard that comes into play tomorrow will shuffle the
pack but before I go, I have one more remarkable fact to reveal and
it's this

Alessandra Sensini [ITA] who has won four medals in consecutive
Olympic Games went out and snatched first place in the race of the
day and please note that was done in the light air. We are still two
years away from the Games in London so a lot could still happen but
this surely is a warning to anyone who dares suggest that she cannot
medal again in Weymouth.

More light wind tomorrow. Then 15knots is predicted for he lay day.
Nothing unusual in having a nice breeze on the rest day whilst we
are confined to the shore but it does not make it any easier for
the racers to bare (sic)...


It is interesting to see the performance of the light wind specialists as they take the early lead. However, a few sailors with great all-around performance are also near the top, most notably top Polish sailor Piotr Myszka in the men's fleet. The third day's racing should bring some additional surprises. The weather is looking a bit different, so hopefully we will see some pressure early.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

RS:X European Championships Begin in Sopot, Poland

This year, the Sopot Sailing Club in Poland is the host of both the RS:X Open European Championships and the RS:X Youth European Championships. The events are a big happening in this summer resort town, and are adding a little excitement to the normal happenings like classical concerts, rock and pop music festivals, and crazy parties.

The Sopot Sailing Club is packed with sailors. Club staff brought in rows of board racks for competitors' storage; tons of gear is stacked everywhere and sailors both young and experienced are here. I have been looking forward to the Europeans all summer as Sopot is my home venue after training here for a few years.

Although there has been a lot of fuss, the wind hasn't been cooperative. On one hand, the weather is unusually warm and sunny and has been for almost 1.5 weeks, great for all the Polish vacationers. However, for us, it means a lot of waiting and extremely light conditions of 3-5 knots with oscillating shifts.

Committee boats wait for wind near the Sopot beach

These conditions are my nemesis (and it seems like all the World Cup and other regattas have been plagued with these conditions all spring and summer) and I must have a perfect race tactically in order to place 2/3 of the way back in the fleet. I have a lot of trouble with pumping technique, and to make matters worse I have big circulation problems in my arms owing to tight shoulder and pectoral muscles (often a symptom of swimmers - a sport which I have been doing most of my life). It is almost impossible for my arms to recover well after a big day of pumping and I lack strength to really work the rig, which is ironic since I am surely one of the fittest sailors in the fleet. All I can do in these conditions is hang on, get good starts, and try to learn more about the technique.

Under Polish coach Roman Budziniski, I am getting help this regatta with a few of my Polish teammates. Yesterday after waiting for about five hours, we finally sailed two races in about 3-5 knots of wind. I had one 2/3 finish and another rear fleet finish after an OCS. In the second race, the start basically killed me (not counting the OCS) as I was on the wrong side of the line to where I wanted to go. However I am working hard on the pumping and trying to figure out the best way for me to recover, and this regatta, which isn't like I hoped it would be, will simply be a good opportunity to train, learn, and get better.

Top Polish sailor Przemek "Pont" Miarczynski gets an interview

Waiting for breeze in the hangars

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Home of the Week: For local athlete, home sweet home is a minivan

By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital

Published 06/26/10

"Home is where the heart is," according to the classic aphorism ascribed to Pliny the Elder, the ancient Roman philosopher. If Pliny is correct, Farrah Hall's home is anywhere the water and wind are in perfect alignment.


Joshua McKerrow — The Capital

For several years, Farrah Hall’s physical “home” has been a spruce green 1997 Plymouth Voyager minivan. Farrah is the No. 1 female windsurfer in the United States, according to US Sailing rankings.

For several years, Farrah's physical "home" has been a spruce green 1997 Plymouth Voyager minivan. In early May, when Farrah and her home were photographed for The Capital, she and the van had just traveled up Interstate 95 from St. Petersburg, Fla., to her parents' Cape St. Claire home.

A day later, the Voyager was driven to the Port of Baltimore and loaded on an oceangoing "roll-on, roll-off" ferry. Two weeks later, when the Voyager rolled off the ferry in Amsterdam, Farrah was waiting on the pier to resume their next adventure together.

"It costs $1,200 and I had to prepare a lot of paperwork to ship it this way, but, in the end, it's worth it to have my van in Europe," Farrah said. "I can keep everything in it and sleep in it."

The 28-year-old doesn't spend every night in the van. The windsurfing community is a tight-knit group, so she is often a guest in other athletes' homes. When her travels bring her back to Maryland, Farrah usually stays with her parents, William and Linda Hall.

Farrah, a 1999 graduate of Broadneck High School, is the No. 1 female windsurfer in the United States, according to US Sailing rankings. The past seven years, Farrah has been on a sometimes lonely odyssey to represent the United States in the Olympics - the pinnacle for any athlete.

She was on track to represent the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. However, during the windsurfing Olympic trials in the fall of 2007, racing officials gave the spot to a competitor after deciding that windsurfer's race was adversely affected by a tear in her sail. The flawed ruling was eventually overturned - after the Olympics had ended.

It was a bittersweet victory for Farrah, who decided to continue her training for a chance to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics in Great Britain. The games will be held in London and the sailing events are planned for Weymouth, situated on a sheltered bay 109 miles away.

"Ever since I started windsurfing in earnest, all my friends had camper vans outfitted for surfing," Farrah said. "I lived in St. Petersburg and had a station wagon. When I decided to pursue windsurfing full time, I immediately had to pick up a van."

The Plymouth Voyager, manufactured from 1984 to 2000, was once one of America's best-selling vehicles. The Voyager was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best List for 1996 and 1997, when it retailed for $17,225 to $20,750. Farrah purchased hers in 2005, five years after the last Voyager rolled off the assembly line. It has nearly 180,000 miles on its odometer.

The vehicle has roughly 168.5 cubic feet of space inside, about as much as a small powder room.

Immediately after she purchased the minivan, her father, a retired Westinghouse electronics engineer, pulled out his tools.

"Dad is good with van repairs," Farrah bragged. "He does 90 percent of my maintenance. He did a brake job on the minivan and replaced its radiator. He also replaced the cloth headliner inside. It had gotten old and was sagging."

"This American minivan is fuel-efficient," Farrah added. "Because there are so many of them, I can park it in most places and it is inconspicuous. It houses my equipment and is a place for me to sleep."

Farrah flipped up the back door of the Voyager. Its contents were inelegant but efficiently organized.

Showing off her bed, she said, "This was made by a windsurfing friend, Kent Heighton of Hood River, Ore. He made it from scrap lumber." The sturdy bed, essentially a long box with open ends, had a bed pad, blanket and pillow on top. The box itself is a storage area for the sails, masts and booms of Farrah's two windsurfing boards. One is her RS-X Olympic-class regulation board, which measures 9 feet 3 inches in length. Next to it lay a Formula windsurfing board.

The sails, removed from their cloth tube and unrolled, are longer and wider than the Voyager. Unlike the solid canvas materials of just a few years ago, the sail for Farrah's RS-X board is made of a tough, clear monofilm produced by KA Sails of Australia. Out on the water, it looks like the shimmering wing of a giant dragonfly.

"This is Olympic equipment," she explained. "Everyone has the same equipment. Yet, there are some variations. The top sailors test new equipment to find out what works the best."

The logo of Compass Marketing, an Eastport firm, is printed on the sail. "They're a generous corporate sponsor," Farrah said. "I'm probably the only windsurfer in the world that has a corporate sponsor. Usually windsurfers are sponsored by the sailing industry or local efforts."

Windsurfer Scott Steele, a 1984 Olympic silver medalist and Annapolis resident, coaches Farrah when their schedules align.

A typical week entails 12 to 36 hours on the water and 20 hours of aerobic exercise. She'll also network to raise funds for her quest, since training does not allow her to work full time.


With a flick of her wrist, Farrah slid open the rear right passenger door. Stacked neatly inside were covered boxes containing her collection of wet suits, tools and additional equipment.

A clothesline dangled overhead. Hanging on it were several visors, hangers and a roll of paper towels.

Smaller items were stashed inside the car's console.

"The more organized I keep the van, the better chance I have to avoid losing things," she said with a laugh.

The van will remain in Europe for two years, though Farrah will shuttle between Europe and the United States several times.

While the van served as her home on this side of the Atlantic, Farrah developed a routine. "Basically, I have gym memberships with two national chains, Gold's and 24 Hour Fitness. I go online to see which one is nearby when I'm on the road. I stop, shower and get some rest. National Parks also have nice shower facilities.

"I've driven straight through for four days without showering. I do not feel as well when I arrive in that condition," she noted wryly.

During the next two years, she plans to travel to six to eight annual international windsurfing regattas on the Olympic Class circuit in Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

She also will participate in Formula Class races on the continent, plus myriad other regattas to continue building her skills.

"I started windsurfing using a boyfriend's equipment when I was 15," she recalled, standing on the community beach in Cape St. Claire. "I windsurfed on the Magothy River. I had so much fun with his stuff I asked my dad for equipment. For a long time, I did it recreationally here in this park."

Eventually, the interview completed, the photographer and I headed to our cars to leave. It was a perfect day. As we looked back, Farrah was on her board, skimming over the waves on the Magothy. The sail glinted in the sun as Farrah dipped it up and down over the water.

She looked entirely at home.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kiel Week 2010: Short and sweet

Kiel Week is finally over and during the past few days, North Germany has been giving us some incredibly pleasant weather. Unfortunately, when the weather is beautiful, there usually isn't much wind!

The third day of racing turned into a lay day as the wind changed directions multiple times. We were called out to wait on the course for a couple hours, but the wind never reached a race-able strength.

Getting a ride in with Solvig Sayre and John Bertrand; Bob Willis gets a tow surf!

Cowabunga dudes!!!

Conditions were fairly similar for the fourth and last day of racing. Offshore drainage in the morning turned into a very weak sea breeze in the afternoon. Clouds hung over the land, suppressing the thermal effect of the breeze. As everyone was quite impatient to race after so much delay from light wind, the committee started the men immediately. However, after the men's starts, the wind dropped again and the women were delayed. The wind shifted 30 degrees a few times, and finally a round of sailable pressure came in. As I'm still working on technique in the ultra-light stuff, I sailed a tactically solid race but just didn't have speed to escape into clean air.

The second start was delayed again, and after waiting an hour and one general recall, the committee started the women after the last fleet of youth. The decision to start us last was met with catcalls and boos from the women sailors, as we had less races completed than the men and it seemed we were low priority. We raced in the last dying gasps of the sea breeze, and it was one of those events where you just hope you won't spin in circles trying to get upwind. It took almost an hour to get around the course pumping the entire time.

I feel pretty good about this regatta as the conditions were difficult every day we sailed. We raced mainly in conditions that aren't my forte and in which my technique is still very developmental. The pumping technique is getting better, however, and it was good to see I could manage a couple of 15th places on the last day. Without consistent coaching, it is difficult to make rapid improvements in technique. Although I can always watch and mimic fast sailors, without analysis minute but important details are hard to discover on my own. It is a testament to fitness and now 4 years of trial-and-error hard work, plus a few sessions of coaching last year, that I can hang with the fleet.

My next regatta will be the European Championships at my home venue of Sopot, Poland. I'm very much looking forward to racing a big event in Poland.

Results here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kiel Week 2010: Day 2

First, apologies to all who want to see some pictures: without a boat, it's almost impossible for me to take pictures of the racing, and the organizers don't have any shots up yet.

Racing got interesting today as the wind backed off a lot from yesterday's conditions. It takes almost an hour to sail out to the course when the wind is light, and a number of us got there just a few minutes before the first start. The wind was extremely shifty and light, and clouds covered all horizons, leaving an open window of sunlight above all the race courses. The girls only completed one race today, while both fleets of men completed two.

For our race, it was obvious that the right would be favored. I managed to tack out in some clear air to get over there. The wind continually dropped before the start and during the race, and it was tough pumping conditions the entire race, and sometimes an effort just not to spin in circles. The wind kept clocking right, and soon our downwind leg turned into a reach, and the reach to the finish line turned into an extra upwind leg. However, the committee didn't call off the race. I'm working hard on my pumping and I don't quite have the technique a lot of the girls do, but I sometimes can make up ground just by sheer effort. This can be frustrating as it seems like I am working harder than anyone around me but not going faster. I managed to stick with the fleet and finish 16th. We actually have 23 boards in the fleet, not 17 (I was a little confused with the numbering on the results yesterday).

After sitting around while the committee reset the course, the boys raced again and the committee tried to start us, but the wind died during the start. The boys finished their racing in almost glassy conditions. There are a few fights going on between both my American and Polish teammates. On the American side, Bob and Ben are having at it. Bob sailed really well yesterday in the breeze, gaining a lead on Ben. Bob is also holding his own today, but Ben is quick in light air and is closing the gap. The Polish have three sailors solidly in the top 10. There are quite a few guys this year vying for a place on the Polish Olympic team, and a huge fight is taking place with two guys always finishing within a point of each other and a third winning all the races in the light air, his favored condition, to win points back from yesterday.

Tomorrow may be light again, but we won't know for sure until we arrive at the venue tomorrow morning. As we are one race down, most likely the girls will start first tomorrow. Check out results here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Kiel Week 2010

Kiel Week is truly an epic event. It combines the best of all sailing into week-long demonstrations and regattas, and in downtown Kiel there is dry-land festival that can get pretty rowdy. On the water, in addition to all the Olympic-class action, tall ships cruise the harbor, cargo ships motor in and out, the occasional military boat comes through, pleasure boats abound, and the star of the show is a giant hydrofoil trimaran called L’Hydroptere, which was created by a bunch of crazy Frenchmen and recently broke the sailing speed record (51 knots). It’s pretty eye-opening when the massive trimaran accelerates, lifts up, and speeds through all the harbor traffic. There has been plenty of action in the harbor all week, and the first day of racing was fast and furious.

Today, for the start of Kiel Week, we were hit with the most classic weather this venue is famous for. Clouds and rain showers rolled through most of the day and the offshore wind started around 12-15 knots in the morning and built to 20 knots by the end of the day. The boards have a challenging course 2 miles from the venue, which is near a point of land that causes massive wind shifts. In the middle of the course, which is the closest to the point, the wind can be light and fluky with the occasional big puff coming down, and big shifts. Puffs can drop in full strength or can just barely come down to the surface, meaning the pressure is really inconsistent and I’m constantly adjusting technique and trim to stay on a plane or to work a big gust. The most challenging aspect of the venue, however, is the crazy chop that has no pattern whatsoever. The chop is largely a function of the boat traffic on the course, with a smaller current / wind influence. Huge wooden ships cruise right through the middle of the course; spectator, press, and coach boats are also an influence. It is tough to maintain speed in these conditions. It is also very cold: today the high was in the low 50s and rainy.

After about an hour and a half delay (waiting in the chilly rain) the committee called us out to the course. The efficient committee ran four fleets of boards on one course and we knocked out three races with no further delay. I was a little jittery coming into the day, and had some issues with where to put my backpack as the wind and chop made it really difficult to hand anything to the race committee (Sailors without coaches must put water and food in a backpack and bring it out to the course). However, I settled in and raced the best I could, and ended the day with three 11th places in the 17-boat fleet. I have some difficulty with speed when there is crazy chop, which is something I am working on.

My teammates Ben Barger, Bob Willis, and Solvig Sayre are also racing, so it makes four Americans at one regatta…unusual! It will be a good experience for all of us. Check out results here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Delta Lloyd Regatta: Late Nights on the Ijsselmeer

I’ve been without internet for a few weeks so I haven’t updated, but plenty is happening. After leaving Hyeres, I drove back to Barcelona and flew from there to Amsterdam for the Delta Lloyd regatta in Medemblik, Netherlands.

Medemblik is a small town situated on the Ijsselmeer, a fresh water lake artificially created by the numerous dikes surrounding the area. A dike about 20 km in length keeps out the sea. The water is very cold, as is the weather generally, with clouds, rain and frontal wind.

Although the weather isn’t perfect, the Netherlands is probably the most civilized country I’ve ever visited. There is an order to everything, and citizens abide by that order. The historic houses are all in perfect, almost new-seeming condition. Cars cruise slowly down smooth roads and stop for pedestrians and bicycles in the crosswalk (note: in Holland, everyone rides the same kind of bicycle). In the green parks, pens of rabbits, goats, donkeys, and sheep are there for kids to enjoy. In the springtime, flotillas of young waterfowl paddle around the canals. Riverboats also cruise up and down the canal network, picnicking families aboard. To add to the picturesque scene, young children are often seen fishing from the canalsides. This small-town euro-Rockwellian paradise was what we walked through every day on the way to the regatta center. Stepping into the venue and racing was quite a departure from the idyllic scenery.

Tiny and cute town!

As the last two World Cup regattas had no wind, all the competitors were hoping for some breeze for Delta Lloyd. We ended up with a few days of wind and a few days of waiting until the last minute for wind. The boards raced on the same course as the 49ers, and sharing the course meant that we were pushed back late in the day. Oftentimes we got off the water around 8 pm, making for some rushed nights. Overall, I sailed quite well. I am rediscovering my strength in the breeze, and had some successful front-third of the fleet finishes, and 2/3 fleet finishes in light wind. It was a great start to the season and overall probably the best conditions this year at a World Cup regatta.

Windmills close to the course

A start in breezy conditions

After the regatta, I took the train to Amsterdam to collect my minivan, which arrived in the port during the regatta. It was suspiciously easy to retrieve it from the port and drive it away. Immediately we loaded it with gear and people, and off we went on an overnight drive to Poland, where I’m currently training with the youth team at an academic / sport facility in Gdansk.

Reunited with my best friend in Amsterdam