August 26, 2012

Are Real Laser Sailors Dumber than Dirt?

by Pam

So, here’s the deal. I’m just 29 (plus 20) and Doug is already in his 60s. So, I’m a bit like a new mother who constantly checks to see if her baby is still breathing. Ok, I do sometimes shake Doug when he’s asleep with his mouth hanging open but I’m actually talking about being concerned with how scatterbrained he is. One minute, he’s brilliant and the next, yep, dumber than dirt. He assures me his brain has operated in this odd fashion since he was in his 20s but, nonetheless, since I didn’t know him then and he wouldn’t know if he was beginning to lose his mind, I decided to get a base line and sent him for an MRI of his brain as well as full blown neurological testing. The results were very telling and absolutely fascinated the doctor but it got me to wondering if he had the typical brain of a real Laser sailor. You see, what I took for scatterbrained and dumb was just an unchallenged and thoroughly bored brain.
The cognitive portion of the tests took all day long. Doug was off the charts and excelled at spatial concepts all across the board but when it came to other cognitive tests, he began as inefficient and below average. However, as the tests sped up and got harder and more intense, Doug’s brain became markedly more efficient and he was then above average. The doctor said he comes across this type of brain about once every two years. Essentially, at the lower end of testing, Doug’s brain is so unchallenged that it just can’t function well but as the pressure mounts and it becomes more challenging, his brain soars with excitement and fully engages. The doctor said most people start out doing well on the tests and then their performance falls as it gets harder and faster. The line on the chart goes down instead of up.
I’ve frequently noticed with Doug’s sailing that he makes all sorts of really stupid mistakes when it’s just a local event and there isn’t any pressure. However, as the event becomes more significant and the competition of a higher caliber, his sailing goes from average to fairly impressive. A nice leisurely sail or race just won’t do for him. He wants it to hurt and be uncomfortable and wants his competition to be ruthless. He lives for that crap. He is most definitely a real Laser sailor. I am the exact opposite. I fall flat on my face and get tangled in lines, spin, tip, crash or fall out of the boat when the pressure is on. Just watching Doug compete at the Master Worlds, I was so nervous my stomach hurt and he had to calm me down. I am most definitely not a real Laser sailor.
So, it begs the question. Has Doug’s brain always worked this way or has it developed over time until it thrives on challenge, pressure, and competition? Meaning, could I, with experience and repeated exposure, actually change my brain to a point where I too come fully alive when challenged? And then, of course, whether the brain can or can’t be changed, doesn’t it make sense for sailors wanting to compete at the highest levels to know whether their brains get high on competition or turn them into deer in the headlights. Not to dwell on the US Olympic results, but did the sailors’ training include a neurological profile that shows whether they will rise or fall under pressure?
Doug believes that his brain has changed and evolved over time in response to his sailing experience. Countless times, I’ve heard him predict the mental crash and burn of a sailor who is in first place on the last day of an important regatta. If they haven’t been in that position before, he’ll take a bet any day of the week that they’ll take themselves out of the competition. Likewise, he’ll always bet on the comeback of a seasoned sailor who is hanging on by a thread. He has just missed winning the Master Worlds many more times than he’s won. Years ago, he held himself fully responsible for the losses. Now, when he’s beat, he knows that other guy(s) were just flat out better sailors and he considers it a privilege to have had the chance to compete with them at that level. That subtle shift, from I lost to he won, would be indicative of an evolution wouldn’t it? Maybe there’s hope for me after all.

August 23, 2012

Here's Your Sign

by Pam

Green Fleet (Radial Apprentice) at the 2012 Masters Worlds
Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to a Laser regatta and realized you were sailing with folks that were way out of your league. One of my first Laser regattas was in Austin, Texas. There were bunches of really good sailors and the wind was up. After practice the day before the regatta, I came screaming into my landing area with lots of folks suddenly scrambling to catch me and I ended up doing a quick circle, tipped and dropped the rig on Doug. The regatta itself didn’t get any better and left me too intimidated to sail in Austin again for two years. I was 120 pounds sailing a full rig and not only completely overpowered and out of control, but I was still struggling to figure out the rules. At best, I was a speed bump and at worst, a kamikaze.

Many years before, Doug met his very good friend, Brad, at that same infamous Laser regatta in Austin when it was Brad’s first time to sail and race a Laser. Doug saw Brad rigging and noticed the tangle of lines and the clueless expression on Brad’s face.  Doug stopped to help him sort out the rigging and then Brad spent the day swimming. Brad was so far back in one race that the race committee didn’t even realize he was racing and they started the next race without him. As he was coming into the finish line, the guys starting were screaming at him to clear the line.

Just a couple of years ago, I was at another regatta. The local Laser fleet, for some inexplicable (or maybe not so inexplicable) reason had all but disappeared from circuit racing. Attendance was down and at this particular regatta, there weren’t enough Lasers signed up to make a fleet so the few diehard Laser sailors switched to Sunfish which had 30+ boats. So there I was, still directionally and rules challenged, and I was coming into a mark as Eric Faust (our current ILCA General Manager) was leaving the mark. Eric knew I’d sailed Butterflys with his father in Dallas and that I was married to Doug and it appeared he made the natural assumption that I had a clue what I was doing. But as I was headed straight for him still trying to figure out what tack he was on, the light went on for him and he said “starboard’. So, then my brain was trying to figure out if I was starboard too and whether I was windward or leeward. The distance was closing fast and one of us was obviously going to have to avoid the other but I hadn’t a clue who. Well, with almost no time to react, Eric began a rapid fire “starboard leeward, starboard leeward, starboard leeward” with each repetition getting louder. I started trying to avoid him but those dang Fish booms are pretty long and I clinked him with the end of my boom as we passed. Crap! So I rounded the mark and started doing my circles but with every turn I fouled yet another boat and just kept spinning. When I was finally done, I was head to wind and rapidly sailing backwards into the mark. It was at that regatta that I decided I needed some type of warning sign for others.

This past April at that ever so popular Easter Laser Regatta, I was back racing in Austin. Scott Young, a friend who is almost always favored to win the event, did something that was interesting. I’ve been the marshmallow (or is it cream puff?) that folks find along the start line and get below and then screw up my start while they have a nice little lane. That usually happens about once at a regatta where Doug is sailing with me and then at the next start Doug lets that person know how it feels to have their start ruined. Well, Scott started just below me several times. At first, I was just sure, friends or not, he was going to mess up my start, but he didn’t. See, Scott knows I’m not that great of a sailor and could easily bet that getting off the line with speed isn’t something I’ve mastered. It seemed like he perfectly matched his skill and mine so that he powered up and took off with a nice gap above him, and with him out of the way, I had room to foot a little and get speed off the line which I rarely have.

It has been my experience that newbies fresh sailors are not even a remote threat to an experienced sailor so long as the experienced sailor can identify the newbie inexperienced one. And even a newbie an unseasoned sailor coming across another newbie unsalty sailor, can benefit from knowing that they are about to encounter someone with as little experience as themselves and start talking alot sooner to avoid the inevitable disaster. I didn’t do the whole junior sailing scene with the Opti green fleet, etc. I started as an adult and I’m pretty sure I should still have some type of “Learner’s Permit” warning indicator when I’m on certain boats and in certain conditions. At the Masters Worlds, the various fleets all had colors on their masts to identify which fleet they were in. The competitors could easily identify their competition versus those they didn’t need to worry about. So, if the juniors do it and the Masters do it, why can’t the rest of us do it? Is there a down side to clearly identifying the masts of challenged sailors so people know who could use a little extra room, encouragement and advice? I know the Laser fleet is known for being ultra aggressive but, the number of sailors racing in our district circuit keep going down. Would that change if the newer sailors felt a little more supported and were given an opportunity to get their feet wet without a trial by fire episode every time they raced?  

August 21, 2012

Olympic Musings - What Can You Do?

by Pam
During the Olympics Doug was like a man without a country. One minute he was American, the next he was a Canuck and then suddenly he was an Aussie. Given the sailing success of Oz, Doug is now walking around saying things like “g’di mite’ and “g’don ya mite” Thank goodness he never lived in Ireland or he might be talking about getting twatted by a fookin sail.

Many people are pondering the US Olympic sailing medal shut out.  I’ve read lots of theories and ideas. Interestingly, many of the solutions are about what others should do to improve things. There are certainly some organizational and structural changes that need to take place but what can we, as individual sailors, actually do to change things?

Since, I know of at least two sailors in my area with Olympic ambitions who sail in fleets that I sail in, the question for me becomes, how do I help those individuals? I’m sort of a crappy sailor but I have my moments of brilliance and luck as well as obstruction and nuisance. It is always a surprise to me of which I’ll be, but thankfully, neither is usually sustained for any length of time. I figure that an Olympic hopeful has made arrangements for their training and coaching but an important variable that they can’t control is the number of sailors that show up at the local events where they sail. That’s where I come in. Regardless of my skill level, whether sailing with me or around me, a talented sailor will still benefit from me being on the course. I’m a number that he or she needs to consistently show up and race in order to add more numbers which will hopefully add talent, competitiveness and fun.

Now Doug can do more than I can. He has enough skill, flexible time, international experience and adaptability to be an occasional training partner of the local Olympic hopefuls. I have to wonder if they know that a phone call is all it would take to get him to come out and do a little practicing. Perhaps the local sailors that are on the more advanced end should make themselves more available to our local young sailors with Olympic aspirations. We have quite a bit of deep talent in our dinghy district circuits but participation has been down in many fleets the last few years and that is completely within our control.

So if we aren’t happy with the US being shut out of the Olympics in sailing, then it’s up to each of us to step up and take personal responsibility and be part of the solution.

August 19, 2012

Aussie Success - Another Perspective

By Doug
Korean Master Worlds - Aussie debrief beverages
Having lived in both Australia and the US, I have a pretty good feeling for what makes Aussie sailors so competitive. Where do I begin? How can a country with less people than southern California produce so many great sailors?

A major factor is the passion that the Aussies have for all sports. They play Aussie rules football and in Melbourne alone there are ten teams that play each other. Imagine an NFL city playing five games at the same time!  Here are some examples of the Aussie sailing passion that come to mind.

Aussie sailors have many classes to choose from. If you're a speed junkie, you can sail a skiff with more than 1,000 square feet of sail. If you like to tinker, you can design and make your own hull and sails and compete with other NS-14 sailors. If you're a competition junkie, there is nothing as pure as the Aussie Lasers.

In the mid-70's I was fortunate to be a part of the Balmoral Beach Laser fleet in Sydney. It was amazing and had some of the best sailing of my life. There were no facilities and no dues - it was just a beach where everyone met. Heck, you were lucky if you could even find a nearby parking place. But the sailing was world-class, and the sailors in that fleet went on to win more than a dozen world champions in multiple classes. The format was simple - show up, sail, and then talk about it over a few beers. 

The Aussies know how to work hard (at sailing) and play hard (after sailing). They take their sailing very seriously, but they know when to kick back and enjoy. Consider yourself lucky if they invite you to join them after a hard day on the water. At one Master Worlds, the hosts had trouble hooking up the beer keg. After waiting patiently for 30 minutes, the Aussies left and the party was over.

They encourage and welcome competition. Before the Master Worlds in Terrigal I wanted to practice on Sydney Harbor with friends and was supplied with a really good Laser. After several days of hard practice, I was charged the "mate rate" charter fee - a bottle of wine. I made sure that it was a good one.

While Aussie mateship is strong, they expect everyone to know the rules and they do not cut any slack when on the water. I remember one Master Worlds race where we were sailing the outer trapezoid course. At the bottom of the run, an Aussie was in first, jibed, and went screaming off on the lower reach... instead of heading back upwind again. No one called him back. They expect everyone to know the rules.

For the recent Master Worlds in Brisbane, I arrived early to get used to the conditions that were sure to be different than the little biddy waves we get in Dallas. I was there for nearly three weeks and every single day a lone 470 went out to practice. It was Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page. Some days it was windy and lots of fun, and other days it was very light and boring. But out they went on their own every day to practice. And they won Olympic gold.

So, it's really simple: have a passion, work hard, know the rules, love competition, and practice, practice, practice. The best example of this I have seen here in the US is Paul Foerster preparing for the Athens Olympics. And yes, he too won Olympic gold.

August 15, 2012

Brett Beyer (AUS) on Performance Based Coaching

Speculation about US Sailing woes and its subsequent ‘recovery plan’ often suggests possible solutions such as: to increase funding, restructure Management, re-evaluate College sailing/racing, change junior classes of boats etc etc.

But here is a thought: Provide each class with top level coaches and give them full autonomy of that program within a budget. If they can’t produce progressive results or improvements in ISAF rankings within a defined probationary period of time, then they are out. A confident Coach would accept this and see it as a small risk. A reward may be to provide performance bonuses for Coaches that achieve the targets set. The Coaches role is to improve the sailors performance and this should be the sailors and the Federations expectations as well. For some reason, this is not always the case.

An example of what is possible: Spend US$50k for 5 months prior to Olympics. This includes all coaching, travelling, entry, car hire, coach boat charter etc. ISAF ranking improves from 62 to 19 within this period and achieve a result of = 15th at Olympics. This is possible with any sailor from any country with the appropriate commitment.

In other words, a coach driven system that designs a performance based program that is not compromised in any way. Attracting the right Coach that could manage such a program would be the first step to improvement.

Do this for each class and have full Federation support, both financially and strategically. This is deceptively simple and will yield excellent results with the right people involved.

August 11, 2012

Brett Beyer (AUS) on Olympic Success

We asked Brett Beyer about the Aussie Olympic sailing success.  Brett is an Australian international sailing coach and multi-world champion sailor.  Frank Bethwaite's new book to be released in February has a section on Laser sailing that is written by Brett.  If Frank defers to Brett for his expertise, we should all listen.
by Brett Beyer
To analyse why one sailor or one country does particularly well at Olympic level can be complicated. In the case of Australia, a system I am very familiar with, it should be noted that they are already top level International or World Championship quality competitors and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised with Olympic success. Nonetheless, it is still worth pondering why these successes are more prevalent in one country and can these be duplicated and transferred in some way to some other countries program.

The 3 most influential factors for success are:
1. The Sailor
2. The Coach
3. The Federation

To place a percentage on these would be difficult and depend very much on the quality of them. For example, a sailor with not the most talent would have to rely more heavily on the skills of the Coach and the funding and structure of the Federation. I have coached Nathan Wilmot (2008 470 helm Gold), Nathan Outteridge (2012 49’er Gold) and Tom Slingsby (2012 Laser Gold) when they were very young in the junior classes in Australia and all 3 of these sailors had exceptional boat handling skills as younger sailors. This doesn’t mean they were always winning races, but I believe it is one of the indicators for future success. In their case, they were not reliant on the Coach or Federation to improve their sailing. These were the guys first to the club in the morning, first on the water and often last back onshore. You can see an intrinsic love of the sport. Sailing for enjoyment of sailing and nothing much more complicated than that. Of course, there comes a time where more lofty goals require more structure and guidance and the role of the Coach and the Federation become increasingly important.

The Australian system is now modelled off RYA when it comes to Instructor/Coach qualifications, Youth Development and funding structure. But this is only more recent so we cannot say this is the reason for Australian success nowadays. Winning an Olympic medal takes times. The average age of the Laser sailor medallists over the last few Olympics is just over 30 years old. So, having those talented youth sailors still may not be enough. You have to have Sailor retention. Keep them in the sport and this is not always easy. Of course this takes money, parent/spouse support, program opportunities and even society acceptance.

I have worked with several different Sailing Federations over the last few Olympic cycles and can appreciate the vast impact they can have on sailors performance, both positively and negatively. Their role is of course to support the sport of Sailing at all levels and to provide funding and opportunity at an elite level. Ironically, some Federations, can restrict or compromise a sailors program to the point where achieving success becomes harder, not easier. For the sailor that receives their funding via the Federation and the Coach who is often employed by the Federation, these restrictions are often difficult to address and even harder to overcome.

So finding the right balance of talented sailors, keeping them in the sport, providing them with a top Coach, having a supportive Federation and well funded program is the basis for Olympic success.  If just one of these areas are below par, then International or Olympic success is near impossible.

August 10, 2012

Aussie Olympic Sailing

By Doug
Another reason to use the Aussies as sailing role models. In the women's match racing semifinals the conditions were light, so only one race was used to determine the winner who advances to the final. Australia was up against the current world champion Finland who led for the entire race. We pick them up on the final run close to the finish:

FIN ahead:

 On the line, FIN (with the blue bow) still ahead, but its spinnaker collapses:

AUS's spinnaker beats FIN's bow:

I'm reminded of the Thomas Jefferson quotation, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

August 09, 2012

Olympic Shutout - Where To Start?

By Doug
Olympic sailing was closely judged.
Something happened a few years ago that really disturbed me. I was at a Laser event in Colorado sailing in a light-wind race. We were on a run and I was leading about 100' in front of a college sailor. He did one of those really violent jibes that gained him about 30 feet. And then he did it again. I thought, not cool. When he did it a third time I said "One more time and I'll take you to the room." The only thing in sailing I hate more than having to protest someone is cheating.

This young and very talented sailor immediately jibed again and shot past me. I told him, "OK pal, we're going to the room." On the finish line, I informed the race committee and filed the protest thinking this is not how I want to spend my vacation time, but this has to be done. To my horror, my protest was thrown out on a technicality. You see, I did not say the words "I protest you." Two things disturbed me: that this guy was unafraid of openly cheating, and that he was coached so well that he knew the rules better than me.

There was another incident before this when I was copied on messages between two friends - a top Master sailor and a well-known college coach. Here's part of the dialogue:

Master sailor: watched the top 3 guys roll gybe their way downwind. Completely illegally. I protested one kid, he responds with "F-You" and many other expletives... The kids are smart, but they are completely unmannered and to me have crossed the line of what I consider sportsman like... We should have some sort of National Level Laser Kinetics panel, come up with guidelines and stick to them. Force judges to enforce rules and remove them from judging if they can't... What are the college coaches teaching the college level sailors? Win at all cost, even cheat?

College coach: I was shocked that the judges and coaches watched and allowed it. Severe kinetics are taught, and these skills are encouraged if the “others” are doing it. This is not good, and like you, I don’t appreciate it; I dislike it. I teach my people how to roll tack and jibe, but tell them there must be a strategic purpose for the tack or jibe; they cannot be repeated for the sole purpose of accelerating. I have heard that many European events penalize sailors for their tacks and jibes if they come out faster than they went in.

Rewind the tape another few years when I was competing at the O’Day's, a US Sailing event that was held in very light conditions. One of the judges publicly stated that there was no such thing as an illegal roll tack “because it requires skill.” You can imagine what that event was like!

Rewind the tape a few more years, and I posted this on the Laser forum: "There is another reason to stop cheating. If North Americans are going to do well at the Open Worlds or Olympics, they will need to sail by the same rules here as they will have to sail by elsewhere. None of our Open hopefuls are going to have a chance at judged events if they have to sail here with people who cheat." An ISAF International Judge added, "It seems as if USA is well behind the rest of Europe at least, if not other parts of the world... Time to catch up guys?"

Rewind the tape one more time to 1997 right after the after the Master Worlds in Chile. An Aussie multiple world champion sent me a letter about the "totally fair and professional fashion in which you contested the series, resulting in your win being universally popular within the fleet." Translation: You're from North America and you did not cheat. While this letter means a lot to me, it was sad to be considered an anomaly.

Fast forward to 2012. Traditionally, the Aussies have been fast in breezy conditions and North American sailors have been fast in lighter conditions. But we have lost this advantage because the Aussies have recently become extremely competitive in lighter conditions. After the latest Laser Worlds Tom Slingsby said, "This is my fifth Laser world title but it's my first in light conditions which is really satisfying.” I also noted the Aussies and Kiwis improved light air speed at the Brisbane Master Worlds, so getting competitive just got a lot harder.

It's especially important to fix this cheating in the Laser class because of the many talented sailors who go on to sail other Olympic classes. US Sailing is now promising "an extensive review of why the Americans were so uncompetitive in an Olympics." I'd say that copying the Aussies ethical way of sailing would be a great place to start. I lived in Australia for 8 years and know that they would never put up with the crap that we have in North America

Their three gold and one silver to our zero should be a great incentive.

August 06, 2012

Olympic Sailing - Day 9 - Video Observations

By Doug
For those who were unable to watch this video, there were 2 very tactical Laser races. The women were in a virtual 4-way tie for the gold and XU Lijia (CHN) made a great move that helped her win. With the men, Tom Slingsby (AUS) was well ahead of Pavlos Kontides (CYP) going into the final race and made sure Pavlos was never in close to the front of the fleet.

Laser Radial Gold Medal Race: Pin favored, clean start:

Like Ben Ainslie yesterday, CHN did not have the best start and ducked a few boats to go right close to shore, and then came back in first place:

 CHN led on the run:

 But was flagged and dropped back to third:

 Near the bottom of the run, CHN catches up and then luffs suddenly:

And takes the lead - great move!

CHN leading tacks and again chooses to go right. Gutsy move:

Things looked pretty even on the second beat:

But again the right paid:

And with the lead XU Lijia goes on to win the gold medal:

So from what I saw in the video, CHN picked the correct side on both beats, got aggressive at just the right moment, and had good speed. Well done!

Laser Gold Medal Race: CYP had to beat AUS by 7 boats in the 10-boat fleet to win gold, so Tom Slingsby's job was to hold CYP back. AUS stayed close to CYP before the start well back from the line:

AUS went below:

The start was clean:

CYP took sterns to go right, AUS followed:

When they converged, they were even. AUS lee-bowed CYP:

Going right again, AUS got a slight inside lift. This was to me a key moment in the race:

AUS now clear ahead and the fun begins:

Lots more tacking:

Approaching the first mark, CYP foots to get clear air, so AUS also foots to cover:

AUS and CYP were well back at the first mark:

Not sure what CYP was doing, the commentator said this was to get separation from AUS:

CYP and AUS way off to the side on the run:

At the bottom of the run, AUS still leads:

CYP tacks to goes right, AUS keeps the tight cover:

AUS has managed to keep CYP in last place:

CYP footing to get clear air, AUS following:

View of AUS from above:

AUS still covering:

CYP well back on the final run:

The bronze medal may have been determined here - CRO was flagged and does its 360:

Pavlos Kontides of Cyprus wins silver, its first Olympic medal. Well done!

Tom Slingsby wins gold. Well done!!

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