Thursday, April 25, 2013

College Sailing's Chalk Talk - April 25, 2013

It's Semifinals Week in college sailing! This weekend marks the beginning of the post season as 36 teams are headed to Hampton, Va. to compete for 18 spots at Nationals. In this week's Chalk Talk, we break down the contenders and who to watch for. Chris Love will be streaming live from the regatta with the help of ODU Sports at

US Sailing has some job openings that college sailors might be interested in. Looking for a great summer sailing job? Check out the the West Coast Roadshow Coordinator position.

Chalk Talk is presented by US Sailing, who reminds you that US Sailing offers a special college membership for a fraction of the cost of a full adult membership. Go to for details.

Other important links:
Christopher Williford Regatta signup
Harken bag contest
Silly Facebook poll

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

REACH and SailBot Share Passion for Sailing as Education Platform

US Sailing’s REACH program has made a unique connection with the SailBot 2013 International Robotic Sailing Regatta. These two innovative programs have a lot in common.

SailBot is a robotic sailing competition historically held in North America in which teams of students from colleges and high schools compete. The goal of the event is to create an unmanned sailboat that navigates through a variety of challenges with limited, if any, human control. Students are able to use this friendly competition between schools to apply their engineering knowledge in a multi-disciplinary task that requires mechanical, electrical, and software skill to deal with this highly variable environment.

The Reach program utilizes sailing as an educational platform, challenging youth to embrace education, establish a love of learning and explore productive Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) based careers.

US Sailing had the opportunity to discuss the educational benefits of the SailBot competition with event organizer Andrew Bennett:

US Sailing: What concepts are students learning by engaging in a project like this?
Andrew Bennett: There are several important concepts that students will learn during this project, including mechanical design, electronics, naval architecture, robotics, programming and systems integration. It will also put their sailing skills to the test as they will have to translate their own sailing abilities into something that can be programmed into the robot so it can try to sail as well as they do!

The contest is designed to let teams focus on any or all of these aspects of the problem. A “kit” will be made available, complete with a shopping list of parts and downloadable software, which will let students get a running start on the project. From there, students can focus on any aspect of the problem that interests them the most.

US Sailing: How does this competition prepare students for 21st century careers?

Andrew Bennett: Robots are rapidly becoming the widespread throughout the world:  in agriculture, medicine, logistics, mining, entertainment, safety and anyplace where the task is “dirty, dull or dangerous.” The RoboSail project will teach design, programming and fabrication skills which will give students an edge in this growing industry. 

Outside of robotics, the design, fabrication, programming and problem solving skills that students develop will be useful in many fields such as engineering, software design and naval architecture, to name just a few.

US Sailing: What are a few of the challenges for students at the high school level compared to those at the college level?
Andrew Bennett: As a starting point, I would suggest that high school students focus on the areas of integration (making everything work together) and reliability (especially making a robot that will survive in a salt water environment). These skills will be extremely useful later in college. With that done, the teams can then focus on making a smart, fast boat. As many college teams have learned, sailing is a sport that is “easy to learn and hard to master.” 

As I like to tell my students:  1) Make it work. 2) Make it work reliably. 3) Make it better.

The college level teams traditionally spend time perfecting hull and keel design. Some teams will go as far as multihull and wing-sail designs as well. Others will spend all their time on software and autonomy and try to make a “smarter boat.”

US Sailing: What role does sailing play in a complex engineering competition like this?

Andrew Bennett:
Sailing skills are vital to the success of a winning team. As several colleges have learned in the past, making a boat that is capable of sailing is not the same thing as making a boat sail well! Even the best boat can be defeated when it’s not used to its full potential.

Areas where sailing skills play an important role are in rigging, trimming, handling and tactics. Even simple acts, such as tacking and jibing, need to be programmed into the robot and then verified so that they do the right thing at the right time.

US Sailing: Do most of the students have a background in sailing? If not, what concepts do you focus on?

Andrew Bennett: In the current SailBot competition the teams vary widely from all roboticists and programmers to all naval architects. In 2012, the first place boat was designed by a team of sailors and naval architects, but it was not the most reliable boat in the race and suffered breakdowns during the race. The second place boat was designed by roboticists and was very reliable, but it did not sail well and did not move nearly as fast as it might have if it had more experienced sailors on the team.

The ideal team should have a mix of everything: sailing skills, programming skills, electrical skills and mechanical skills. That being said, past races at the college level show that teams that emphasize one skill over the other are still quite competitive.

US Sailing: How do people get involved? (sponsorship, volunteers, spectators, competitors)
Andrew Bennett: The 2013 race will be held in Gloucester Harbor (Mass.), right at Pavilion Beach. The “pit” area where teams set up and repair their robots will be hosted at Maritime Gloucester, nearby ( Everyone is welcome to come and watch the races!

At this time the race is still looking for sponsors. It is our hope that we can subsidize the teams’ meal costs to keep expenses down. Our current sponsors have already been invaluable in allowing us to host an awards banquet for our competitors so they have an opportunity to meet exchange information and make friends. We are still looking for sponsors to help with a kickoff BBQ and with costs such as chase boat fuel, tents to protect the boats at the race site, etc.

If anyone wishes to help as a volunteer or participate as a competitor, you can learn more at

Thursday, April 18, 2013

College Sailing's Chalk Talk: April 18, 2013

This week's episode of Chalk Talk features a look at the new LaserPerformance College 420 prototype at St. Mary's, with insight from head coach Adam Werblow. The hosts also look at all the championship regattas and try to keep track of the constantly shifting entries to the postseason.

Chalk Talk is presented by US Sailing, who reminds you that US Sailing offers a special college membership for a fraction of the cost of a full adult membership. Go to for details.

Chris Love is broadcasting ICSA Semifinals live! Tune in to on April 27-28 to catch all the action from Hampton, VA.

This week, Zeke asks the question, who is the best looking college sailing coach? Voice your opinion at

Thursday, April 11, 2013

College Sailing's Chalk Talk - April 11, 2013

This week's episode features a look at sailing after college with US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider members Anne Haeger and Briana Provancha, 2012 Olympian Sarah Lihan and Navy Coach & J/70 sailor Brendan Healy. We also recap eight regattas and give our predictions on the upcoming championship weekend.

Chalk Talk is made possible by US Sailing and the US Sailing College Membership program. Check it out at

The latest rankings by Sail1Design.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

College Sailing's Chalk Talk - April 4, 2013

In our weekend review, we'll look at all the Ludicrous regatta scores, a petting zoo, Zeke avoids getting skunked, a visit from our rankings guru, a whole lot of insight from umpires... and from coaches talking about umpires.

Chalk Talk is made possible by US Sailing and the US Sailing College Membership program. Check it out at

Sailing World's Latest College Rankings - April 3, 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Reflections from the President

A Q&A with Tom Hubbell, President of US Sailing

US Sailing: How are some ways one-design classes can overcome challenges in introducing newcomers to their boats?

Picture me about five years ago getting acquainted with a J/22.  Step one, how do you get up there to rig the thing as it sits on the hard? (Need a ladder.)  Step two, how do you safely get the thing into the water? (One big strap up to the hoist.) And so on… Step 10, how does the helmsman get across the boat and around the mainsheet-traveler complex without making a scene or hitting another boat? (Very carefully!)

Here are my keys to onboarding the new kids:
•    Get a mentor and get the videos to learn the basics. 
The Eibers were my mentors and I bought the J/22 video. I needed more help on steering a narrow lane upwind but that’s another story.  The proven strategy for introducing and keeping newcomers is very supportive, tireless, insightful mentoring. 
•    Limit failure. 
Adult learners don’t like failure any better than kids do so we need to anticipate pitfalls and coach them.  And we need to be quick to pick them up when they do fall. We also want to avoid throwing them into the pool over their heads until they’re ready. Going out in a big breeze in an unfamiliar boat probably is not wise. As I learned, sailing a major regatta in a still-unfamiliar boat is the formula for big disappointment, a good slice of humble pie.
•    Connect socially. 
Sailors are the only people who have any idea what we’re talking about when we talk sailing, duh! We need and naturally seek like-minded people to talk to. The new kids need to be pulled into the group and made to feel welcome. And please, use name tags!

US Sailing: Talk about the importance of mentorship programs at yacht clubs and how they keep newcomers to the sport or class engaged… How do these programs typically work?

Hubbell: It’s no secret that small boat sailing grew because of a few dozen charming people who not only promoted the sport but continued to support and encourage their recruits. It is a simple as service after the sale. My take is that people will enjoy and stay engaged in sailing as long as they are learning – and as long as their sailing social network is active.

The Thistle Class made seminars and coaching part of the routine many years ago. The format was a day or half-day of talk and some drills on the water just before a regatta. This is still happening at many Thistle regattas.

Since 1997, we have a seven-day coaching program mixed right in with the Midwinters East Regatta in St. Pete. Every boat that enrolls gets a coach assigned. Some coaches are sailmaker reps and most are top tier sailors in the fleet. They talk every day and the coach gets aboard for an hour sometime during the week. That’s in addition to 1½ to 2½ hours of talk, presentation, race review, or video review every day. We squeeze it in before racing and after racing, and whenever we’re postponed ashore. An intended secondary benefit is that newer sailors find that they are part of the social fabric that includes everyone at the regatta. The coaches often find that they also learn as they teach. 

A spinoff is what one Thistle fleet calls, CrewU. Several Saturday mornings or Wednesday nights they hold training sessions for newer sailors.

It has become routine for sailors to share their skills and knowledge with anyone who is interested.  That is very good for the class and the sport.