Monday, August 31, 2015

Aquece Rio Olympic Test Event

The Sailing Olympic Test Event was the fifth Aquece test event to be held in Rio de Janeiro after volleyball, rowing, triathlon, and equestrian.  The test events are ongoing through February 2016 as part of both organizers’  and athletes’ preparation for the Olympics Games.  At this event, the focus of organizers and ISAF was to make sure the racing was executed efficiently and smoothly and the recent negative press surrounding the pollution issue in Guanabara Bay was controlled. 

In the two weeks before the sailing test event, the pollution at the Olympic venue again became a hot topic.  Many reporters were on scene after the racing attempting to get quotes from athletes to back up their stories about pollution. The reporters were sometimes quite aggressive in trying to get sailors to say what the press wanted to hear.  Many athletes viewed this as a distraction and instead supplied reporters with quotes about good competition and interesting weather conditions, if they felt like speaking at all.

Guanabara Bay is polluted; all sailors know it to be true.  The physical levels of garbage floating around where we race near the mouth of the bay aren’t as bad as they are made out to be.  However, there is a pipe spouting out raw sewage right into the Olympic harbor at Marina da Gloria, and the level of bacteria and viruses in the water would shut down any of my home beaches on the Chesapeake Bay.  Although water quality is bad, the reality is that none of it will prevent the Olympic sailing event from happening as planned, and it won't impact athletes' focus and training on Guanabara Bay.  A few sailors have contracted infections from the water, but more have gotten sick from non-Guanabara Bay related causes.  Getting sick is a normal occurrence for visitors to a tropical country like Brazil, and it is part of the reality of competing there.  I was sick during a small pre-regatta before the Test Event, which set my training back (I blame the salad).  It’s a very frustrating experience but even if an athlete is in a fully closed team environment, there is no definite way to prevent sickness other than the usual traveler’s precautions.  This year, the Rio de Janeiro government is planning to divert the sewage pipe and continue its efforts to physically pick up trash with “eco-boats.”  The bay will still be quite polluted, but hopefully the direct source of sewage in the marina will be removed.  The sailing events currently seem to be well organized and with ISAF’s eye on the pollution at venue, we should anticipate good racing for the Olympic Games with hopefully no water-related illness.  If sailors get infections from the water at the Olympics, it will be quite an unfortunate legacy for Rio de Janeiro.

An eco-boat in action. Photo: Agencio o Globo/ Pedro Kirilos

On a more positive note, the Olympic venue is very attractive and pleasant.  Half is still under construction with a large building going up for athletes, staff and press.  The boards’ tent is located directly on Flamengo Beach, with plenty of shade and a large rigging area.  A hill near the athletes’ lounge makes for great viewing of racing on the Sugarloaf course, no boat needed.  There are grassy areas and trees, and it’s altogether a pleasant place for boat work, launching, and hanging out. 

View of the inside of the boards' tent
  Rio is a complicated place for racing, and there are a lot of factors at work in the venue.  Current, pressure, topography, and thermal heating all play different roles in this area.  Most teams have been frantically working to try and discover patterns, and boats have been everywhere in the course areas taking data during the pre-event training.  Teams have also been hanging out on top of the Sugarloaf Mountain tourist viewing area, as it offers a fantastic view of all the course areas.  On one day during the event, so many officials were hanging around with their expensive equipment that security decided to put a ban on tripods.  I spent most of my free time at the Test Event studying weather and current, which is an enjoyable pastime for me and I am getting a good understanding of the area.
 US sailor Carson Crain starts underneath the spy platform on Sugarloaf Mountain

Photos: US Sailing Team Sperry
I experienced some setbacks during the event. I’ve been home exactly five days out of the last ten months, and some of those months have been very stressful in terms of funding, logisitcs, and equipment issues.  One skill I’ve developed is the ability to be happy under these stressful circumstances, but I still get a level of burnout and that’s what I experienced during this regatta.  It was an important experience for me, because I’m really used to continually running on the treadmill keeping my campaign going and it’s been my level of “normal” for years.  I need to remember that it’s not what most sailors experience because they have more support or a better balance in their lives. I need to back off, create more rest and planning time in the upcoming months, and let what I’ve learned this year get absorbed.

I’m looking forward to my next training block in France in advance of the RS:X World Championships in Oman.  I have a good schedule planned out and I’m really looking forward to being back in Europe.  After my rest at home, it will be good to be back in action and regaining confidence. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sicily and beyond

The last few weeks of June were quite the grand finale to my four months of training and racing in Europe. In just a few days, I will have been on three different continents in one month, sailed in two regattas with the Olympic Test Event on the horizon, and trained in two different disciplines of windsurfing. 

I ended the European tour with the RS:X European Championships in Sicily.  At this event, I was subjected to about every kind of pressure possible.  I’m happy to say I came out on top. 

Forces converged on me during the week of the Europeans. I experienced, to put it universally, birth, death, the end of a significant relationship, physical accidents, and mechanical breakdowns - all during a major competition.  However, these pressures proved to be a blessing.  I had to work harder to find focus and flow during both racing and spending time at the venue, and I did this very well.  I succeeded in putting myself in the “zone” each time I willed it to happen, something I have been working on for years but never quite perfecting the task like I did at the Europeans. 

 I was happy with a number of other things during the competition.  First, my preparation was good - I had a good setup with my equipment and top-level speed.  95% of my starts were good and so were all my mark roundings.  I feel that my board handling is within the level of the top 10 in the fleet.  The competition also pointed out another detail to work on:  intuitive sailing.  Although I have a lot of strategic and tactical knowledge, I sometimes don’t execute well because I am thinking too much!  Getting my responses to fleet and strategy on a more automatic level is a major goal for my next two events in Rio de Janeiro, where I begin next week.

I am currently in San Francisco for ABK windsurfing clinics, where I am consistently improving my sailing and teaching skills.  My time here is short, and next week I fly from San Francisco to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the Olympic Test Event and the pre-regatta Rio International Sailing Week.  The event will be an important test before the Games next year, as many sailors will be at a peak level.  I will be working with my Spanish training partner and coach in the period between the regattas. I am really looking forward to being in Rio again and to further make gains in my racing.

I do need to voice my disappointment about the organization of the RS:X Europeans; the next paragraph is a complaint to the organizers of this event and if you're skimming this blog quickly, you're excused from reading it.  We experienced too much waiting time during this event.  Waiting on shore isn't rest time - sailors may go out at any moment and must be prepared and focused on the job by staying physically and mentally ready.  Although every regatta contains a component of waiting, the incompetence of the RS:X women's race committee was a little shocking.  With seven fleets to race daily on two courses, the committee had a big job to begin with.  However, on the first day they passed up opportunities to race the women's fleets although conditions were ideal. The 60-some women there, most whose countries used the event as an Olympic qualifier, were sitting in the blazing heat all day without racing.  The committee also held us at the venue each day much longer than needed, and on the water, starts were postponed too long until the wind wasn't ideal and we were sent in - where we waited for hours only to be canceled again in the evening.  This caused scheduling delays and the women had to use the scheduled rest day to race.  Communication was also poor and although course areas were available to race, the committee held us on shore.  In one case, they wanted to send us home, but since they did not communicate well with the shore committee, we were held hours longer than was necessary because they forgot to take our flag down.  In addition, the committee was too lazy to prepare a medal race schedule on the last day, so the fleets were forced to wait onshore morning until evening to race. This caused a massive rush in a small area to pull coach boats out late and pack equipment for the night's ferry off the island.  With better organization, more races could have been held with much less waiting time - a shame because we did have some nice conditions in an attractive venue.

Mondello Beach - mountains, sun, sand, blue water

I believe sometimes racers can be too accepting of poor organization.  Elite athletes will accept what happens during an event to stay positive and focused (in this case, not sitting on shore angry and losing energy).  Then, in the rush to get packed up and long journeys back home, athletes are tired and not interested in speaking out.  However, at this caliber of event, especially with high-stakes national qualifiers in play close to the Olympic year, RS:X class organizers need to be more critical in the selection of venues and race committees, and have a greater understanding of the needs of the athletes. Hopefully we won't experience this microcosm of racing at a higher level during the Olympic Test Event. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

May and June Training

After finishing the French Olympic Week in April, I needed a training block to focus on improving certain technical and tactical aspects of my sailing.  I decided not to compete in May’s Eurosaf events in order to have the maximum water time possible and give me space to focus away from hectic regatta logistics.  The past month’s training has been critical technical preparation for the Rio Olympic Test Event in August and the RS:X Worlds in Oman this October.

I completed training camps in three different venues over the past month and a half, including Cadiz, Brest, and Palermo.  Cadiz, in southern Spain, is a windy venue that allowed me to test my speed and improve technique in planing, choppy conditions with fast training partners.  In Cadiz, I also sorted out equipment in preparation for the more important events later this year.  Small details such as these must be done well ahead of time; the weeks before important events must be focused on racing and rest rather than physical and technical preparation.

In Brest (north France), I worked with a coach on board handling, technique in marginal conditions, downwinds, and strategy in a variety of the tricky and cold conditions the venue is well known for.  A number of competitive French youth girls and boys also attended the sessions.  I was very happy with how I trained at this venue, and I am in the process of developing an automatic feel for being detail-oriented on a complicated racecourse.  Brest isn’t exactly a sunny vacation destination, so it was also a good chance to get caught up on equipment repair and organization, taking care of repairs to the van and boat, and the endless budgeting.

Vacation destinations definitely include Mondello Beach, just outside the city of Palermo in Sicily, where the RS:X Europeans are being held the last week of June.  This event will serve as a test for the skills I will need to improve before the Test Event and the Worlds.  After the 15 hour drive and 20 hour ferry, I’ve had an excellent training block here already with Spanish, Polish, and Italian sailors,and there is plenty of sunshine for all.  Racing here will definitely be interesting, because there are very strong coast effects that create a very one-sided course…except when the wind gets gusty and then it’s a directional free for all.  I’m happy to report that my speed is quite good and I’m stacking up well against the others.  The fleet is going to be very strong here and the girls I’ve been training with are all very quick, smart, and prepared.  There are already 60 girls registered in the senior fleet.  Many of the international teams are using the event as their first Olympic qualifier, so the atmosphere could be a little serious!  In the next few days I’ll be trying to sort out repairs and rest up before my coach arrives for another small training block before the regatta.  I’m looking forward to this event as a stepping stone to my peak events later this year.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Brest is the Best

For the past few weeks I've been training in Brest, France.  This Atlantic coastal town is located just about as far west as you can travel in northern France, and it's one place where I spend a lot of time training.  The best thing about Brest is it's a really interesting place to race and train.  It can be extremely windy or very marginal and shifty, and there is usually a ripping current going through the bay.  There is also a great group of enthusiastic and skilled young sailors to train with.

The countryside is also really lovely - dotted with small towns, harbors, and there are many farms that grow delicious strawberries.

However, a lot of the time Brest looks like this:

Is that really France? Let's compare to south France for a moment:

I guess living in Brest builds character.  The food is great though.

Here I am working on technique and strategy in a group.  Since the conditions are so diverse, there is a good amount of thinking that needs to happen during each stage of an exercise.  All the thinking happening now is actually helping to create automatic responses to different events during a race.  It is great preparation for the RS:X Europeans coming up in Sicily.

Last month I also trained in Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain, which is one of my favorite venues.  Here I worked on technique and equipment with a fast group. Both sessions have been productive and not too bad on the budget.

 Being on a budget means your $50 wetsuit from Decathlon is also 6 years old. Anyone want to sponsor a new sailing wardrobe?
I'm looking forward to training and racing in Sicily.  The event isn't "important," as it's not a qualifier for either the team or the country, but it will be very competitive and therefore a good test of the skills I've been practicing this month.  It will also be a performance benchmark before the Worlds, and will serve to delineate the most important things to improve before entering the major events of the fall and winter.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Hyeres World Cup

I recently competed in the Hyeres Olympic Week, the first ISAF World Cup event using their new format.  This event was limited to the top 40 girls in the world, and as such it was highly competitive. There was no room for mistakes in any race, and the technical level of the fleet was similar.

I spent the lead-in time before the World Cup regatta doing some training sessions with the Polish windsurfing team, who are ranked among the top sailors in the world. It was great to see my speed in training was equal to the very best.  With world-class speed, my focus for the event was to improve tactics and strategy.

Photo: Will Ricketson

Although I knew that this preparation was good, I felt a little out of sync during the regatta.  Given the high caliber and small fleet, there was no room for mistakes in any race. Everyone was sailing fast and good results were based on making few mistakes and having solid tactics and proper strategy for the given day. As such, the racing was very tight.  Normally, I was well placed during the first half of the races, however, I made one or two small mistakes that lead to poor finishes.  Because my speed was quite good, it was easy to register these tactical or strategic errors during the regatta.  My results in this regatta do not reflect my improvement over the past year.  However, given the new racing format and my experience from this regatta, I now know that I need to improve my race day process and my mental approach. I have discuss this with my coach and we are ready to address it as well as continue to improve my speed.

Photo: Will Ricketson
My next event is the European Championships in Sicily next month, and after that, the Rio Olympic Test Event.  Prior to that, I have three training camps with two top coaches in Spain and France focusing on what we learned in Hyeres. I’m looking forward to this training and believe it will be very productive.

I am confident my hard work is paying off and will benefit the US Olympic windsurfing program for Rio and beyond. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Trofeo Princesa Sofia 2015

I recently started the European portion of the year with the Eurosaf regatta in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.  This event will be used as the second of two regattas in the US Olympic Team qualifying series, starting in Miami 2016.  Palma is an interesting event and usually one of the largest Eurosaf competitions.  Because of the recent limitations on ISAF World Cup entries to the top 30-ranked sailors and the approaching Olympic year, Palma had a fleet of 70 RS:X women, one of the largest I’ve seen. 

Conditions here are usually very tricky.  Because the island is mountainous and we sail in a C-shaped bay, wind is extremely gusty and shifty.  On our first day of racing, there was 25- 30 knots of wind on the other side of the mountains; the racing was still postponed due to 60-90 degree shifts, holes of no wind and 25 knot gusts - this isn’t an exaggeration!  With big waves and a long wait time on the water, it was a very challenging day.  However, Palma also has great sunny sea breeze days.  This week was a nice combination of both conditions.

Rounding the windward mark during race 2.  Photo by Pedro Martinez

With mostly planing conditions during the event, my focus was to raise the level of my tactics and strategy in a large fleet.  Things happen fast while sailing fast, and it’s easy to make positioning mistakes when one bad tack can cause you to lose a third of the Gold fleet.  Strategically, we had three different kinds of planing conditions.  Being able to work on executing tactics and positioning in these conditions with a coach was a huge opportunity for me, and although my racing was a little on the experimental side during this event, I made major gains to my understanding in this area.  My goal this spring is to pass this next step in my racing.  With the good speed and board handling I currently have, mastering positioning in planing conditions will give me my next jump up in the results. 

I’m also happy to say I qualified for the Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janeiro.  The Test Event will be a good preview of what the fleet at the Olympic Games will be like, and will determine the steps I need to take to achieve my best result at the Games.

Next up on my agenda is the Hyeres World Cup, starting in two weeks. This is one of my favorite events of the European season and will be the seventh time I’ve competed in this regatta.  I’m looking forward to being at this professional venue.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Winter's long gone

 It's been a long while since my last post, but I am wrestling with financing a website update and getting my social media organized.  As a very introverted introvert, social media isn't my forte, but I promise to venture into the modern world shortly.

I am currently in Rio de Janeiro, where I just finished a small regatta, the Rio de Janeiro Cup. Although the event was small, the fleet was made up of the world's best international sailors.  Summer's thermal wind in Rio is a little different each day as it comes in over the steep mountains, and combined with the strong current, makes strategy challenging and enjoyable.  It's hot here, and although the days are super sunny and sweaty, it's great to ditch the wetsuit for once!  With few distractions here, it was an opportunity to improve positioning and strategy.  In another day, my training group will travel to Buzios to work on high wind sailing. We will train in Buzios for a week and return to Rio for another five days of training with focus on racing. I am enjoying my time here and am looking forward to acquiring new knowledge.

 Rio de Janeiro Cup: Photo by Fred Hoffmann
Backing up, I spent most of February organizing logistics, fund raising, and training alone in Miami. Last week, I went to Bonaire for a freestyle clinic, which was an overwhelming experience. Bonaire, part of the Dutch Caribbean, is a small, dry island, but it's one of the world's top freestyle windsurfing destinations. Most of the best professionals hail from the island.  I've been dying to go there for many years now, and I finally got the gap in my schedule, cheap enough ticket/housing (and good-enough excuse) that I needed.  I am still improving rapidly in the discipline of freestyle and am happy to announce I just landed a team rider deal with JP boards and Neil Pryde sails. 

In January, I raced well in two smaller regattas, taking away a 3rd place in the RS:X Midwinters at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club. However, I didn't perform well at the Miami OCR. From this event I learned that I need to improve positioning and fleet strategy. I analyzed these aspects of racing during the Rio de Janeiro Cup and immediately found areas to improve upon. My racing progressively improved during the event.

 Miami OCR:  Photo by US Sailing Team
Looking forward, I will be competing in the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma de Mallorca at the beginning of April. I plan on traveling to Spain immediately after the Brazil training.  This event is particularly important, as it is part of the Olympic Team qualifier in 2016; therefore, I am organizing a training camp in order to better assess the challenges of this venue. After Palma, I will immediately compete in the Hyeres World Cup, which is a familiar venue for me and will be a good test for the application of knowledge gained this winter.