Sunday, March 25, 2012

Big Day on the Road to the Olympics

"Fire Hose Sailing"
photo by Dale Thompson

The last day of the qualifying series at the RS:X Worlds here in Cadiz was a big day for me on every level. I had a shaky start to my series, and I found myself right in the middle of the fight for the seven open spots to qualify for a place in the Olympics. After a day off due to 40-knot "Levante" wind, yesterday, our scheduled lay day, ended up being a one-race day that would determine the Gold and Silver fleets for the rest of the World Championships. If I could get in the Gold fleet then I would be virtual Olympic place holder. I needed a flawless performance to guarantee my spot in the Gold fleet.

Getting ready to launch at the start
photo by Dale Thompson

I have been working really hard since November to lift all areas of my game, and strong wind was a high priority. Unbelievably, over the past five months, and specifically here in Cadiz, I've only had a handful of heavy air training days. With everything on the line, I went for it at the start and started clear of the field at full speed. I had a clear lane to the favored left side. I sailed the best I ever have in those strong winds and maintained good speed and pointing. At the top mark I was with the lead group rounding fifth. For the rest of the race it was back and forth with Vicki Chan from Hong Kong and Charline Picon from France. In the final slalom, I was trailing HKG, and missed a jibe. Bryony Shaw from GBR and Charline snuck past me one jibe away from the finish, leaving me in 7th place.

Perfectly timed start at the favored leeward end
photo by Dale Thompson

I did it! I ended up having one of the best races of my life at a Worlds, and finished 7th. Everything just came together perfectly. I'm now positioned in the front half of the fleet out of our qualifying round, which means I'm racing in the Gold fleet for the rest of the event and also means I qualified for a spot at the Olympics! I am relieved to have accomplished this with a breakout performance and I'm inspired to see how far I can go in the Gold fleet.

I want to thank my sponsors Compass Marketing, St. Francis Yacht Club, Annapolis Yacht Club, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, and the Southport Sailing Foundation for making my preparation for this event as good as it gets. I'm looking forward to representing you at the Olympic Games.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Trip to Naval Station Rota - a great experience!

On Friday I was honored to have the chance to visit the US Naval Station at Rota, Spain. Rota is a strategically located base and is considered the "Gateway to the Mediterranean." It is a short eight-hour flight from the USA, and is often a stopping point for supplies on their way to other destinations. 4,000 Americans are associated with the base, and its facilities include a port and an airfield. I was really interested in meeting our servicemen stationed at Rota, and seeing first-hand what they do. I also wanted to find a way to give back something to their community and express my appreciation for the service of our military. I had a whirlwind tour lined up: a meet-and-greet at the galley, a tour of the Seabees' facility, a speech to the National Junior Honor Society, and a radio interview - all in one afternoon!

What struck me as I first drove through the naval station was how American it looked despite being in the middle of Spain. A new friend said the area reminded him of 1950s SoCal, and I could see the resemblance, especially on base. The base was clean and well cared for, with wide streets open space, official buildings, and homes reminiscent of a Florida neighborhood.

After lunch in the galley, I was escorted to the facilities of the Seabees, the US Navy's Construction Battalion. The Seabees are engineers who design, plan, and execute all kinds of construction projects from recreational and base maintenance to actually constructing bases, airstrips, housing, and other necessities for our military. They are known for their good attitude, humor, and teamwork. Their motto is, appropriately, "Can Do!"

I was pretty impressed with the size of the machinery there and a couple bad-ass looking sheet metal garages that were probably constructed in the 1950s. What was equally impressive was how much planning goes into their projects, and the lots with organized rows of heavy machinery. I was pretty excited when they said I could drive one of the tractors. They showed me how to use a little bobcat (I probably would have done some damage in a big one) and at the end of a few minutes, I figured out the different speeds, how to spin around, and how to move some dirt! Since both arms and legs had different controls, I felt like I was operating some machine out of Star Wars. I can only imagine what driving a big front loader or backhoe would feel like.
Cool. (Photo: Dale Thompson)

After the Seabees visit, I was shuttled to the next stop, which was a speaking opportunity at David Glasgow Farragut MHS, the military school at Rota. High-achieving students were being inducted into the National Junior Honor Society, and I was honored to have the chance to speak to the students and parents about how the values of the NJHS, including academics, scholarship, leadership, character, and service, apply to real life. I felt refreshed being in the academic environment and talking to the students, and I enjoyed watching the induction ceremony. It was reassuringly American, and it was a treat to get away from the daily routine and visit such a nice community. I also got to autograph a lot of different objects including bark, a soda can, a fork, and a yo-yo. If anyone sees these items on E-Bay, let me know!

Another really new experience for me was a radio interview. I spoke with radio DJ Josiah Wilson from AFN Rota and toured the studio, which was in an old naval control building next to the port. The studio is one of the oldest buildings on the base, and it was really interesting to check out all the equipment and CD library!

Finally......I got to meet the high school softball team, who were just finishing up their tryouts. It was cool to see the athletes cheering each other on and feel the familiar energy of high school sports, which is, after all, where I started out!

I really appreciate the opportunity to see into the lives of our servicemen and their families stationed at Rota! I was really impressed with the attractive base and how close the community is, and I hope I have another chance to see everyone again.

Check out this video of my trip.

Inside a C-5...lucky me!! (Dale Thompson)

I'd like to thank my sponsors, including Compass Marketing, the St. Francis Yacht Club Foundation, the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, and the Southport Sailing Association, for giving me the opportunity to make a great showing for the USA at the Carnaval Regatta, and giving me the best of chances to qualify the USA for an Olympic slot at the RS:X World Championships.