At 22:00, we pull out of the Airport Marriott parking lot… Finally on the way to Pwllheli with ten sailors, two drivers, and four sail tubes crammed into ten seats! After a quick stop to grab food, I follow Annie Merson’s car down the freeway for about an hour until her GPS directs us to exit and we begin to follow a series of winding side streets to get to the hotel for our first night in Wales.
Fifteen minutes pass, and the road gets narrower and windier. Thirty minutes; no sign of the hotel. An hour passes, and we figure out how to use the GPS in our car, which tells us we’re only half way there! Max, who is sitting in a foot well in the second row begins to feel sick from the winding road and the smell of traveling sailors…
Finally, as Max is getting ready to roll down the window and lose his dinner, we come around a curve in the road, and see the hotel! Success!
After checking into our rooms, the kids go to get settled while I pay, and the receptionist realizes that we’re not supposed to be in one of the rooms. Kids re-locate into new rooms.
2:30am… I make one last round to check on everyone and make sure all of the sailors have a bed to sleep in. California kids are rooming with Florida kids. Ten sailors are crammed into six small beds. Everyone is smiling and joking about the situation, and spirits are high. After a grueling day of travel, I can’t believe what a positive attitude the whole team has.
Over the last two weeks in Wales, there have been almost two hundred teams on the water each day with identical looking sails, identical hulls, and many talented athletes among them, but every morning as I motored out to meet the team, I could spot my group from a mile away. They were the six boats clustered tightly together, speed testing on starboard first, then on port, then in groups of three splitting to each side of the course to test the pressure difference. They were always among the first boats on the course, and supported each other both on and off of the water. The team’s relaxed and supportive attitude on the first wild evening of countryside driving and “musical-hotel-rooms” set the tone for the remainder of the adventure in Wales, and really exemplified the strength of this team that gave them an edge on the international stage.
Reflecting on the lead up to the event this summer, I think that we did a lot of things right, and the results reflected this. The sapling, US Sailing Olympic Development Program brought together and provided coaching for an awesome group of top talent in the correct venues to hone heavy air boat speed tuning and techniques. These camps were complimented by windy regattas in the Gorge and San Francisco with teams from the East Coast, West Coast, and Canada. In Wales, the heavy air preparation paid off in the qualifying series, which saw two days of big breeze and massive waves. In the final series, Chris and Wade finished 1st and 2nd in the two windy races of the series, with the rest of the team not far behind. The ODP group training approach really pushed the bar high for all of the teams who were involved in the windy training camps, unfortunately our lead up wasn’t quite long enough.
This is the first year that the US Sailing Olympic Development Program has existed, and as such, the national effort to bring together the top talent did not begin in earnest until the June ODP Camp at Saint Francis Yacht Club, leaving only two months to prepare for the start of the 29er Worlds. While teams had all been working separately for some time, the combination of top teams and consistent coaching immediately sent the learning curve skyrocketing. With the time constraints of working to peak at the worlds, the windy venues made for ideal training grounds, because we knew that the venue would have a lot of breeze for much of the regatta, but as a team, the lack of time together in light air was evident when the breeze dropped for the first two days of the final series at the Worlds. The team approach to pre-race research kept our teams afloat through those light air days by keeping our scorelines more consistent than most of our competitors’, but ultimately, our lack of time in light air was a major detriment to our overall results. With a calendar full of ODP events throughout the next year, and training across the full spectrum of conditions, I think that the outlook for the team is extremely positive at the Worlds in Medemblick next year!
The story of the regatta is a podium finish, with three teams in the top fifteen, and five in gold fleet. It’s a story about a US team who demonstrated that they can compete head to head with the Aussie and Kiwi skiff squads across a wide range of conditions. Ultimately thought, I think that the biggest story is one that the results don’t show; the story of twelve talented sailors coming together in a few short months to push each other, support each other, and build a body of knowledge worthy of a podium finish. Among the skills that we had time to practice, I think that our guys proved that they are the very best in the world. Chris and Wade led the charge with their third place finish, but without the support of Nic and Ian, Max and Andrew, Sam and Michael, Jacob, Rhodes and Evan, and Shane and Pere, the scoreboard would have told a different story. I am thoroughly impressed by the team effort that all of these sailors put in to make this happen, and I can’t wait to where it takes us as a national squad.