Thursday, July 23, 2015

Perfect Formula for a Blown-Out Regatta

A weather alert forecasting over 20 knots of winds and 5 to 7 foot seas wasn’t good news for Kathy Allyn, Chairwoman of the USA Junior Olympic Festival at the Mentor Harbor Yachting Club (MHYC) on Lake Erie in June. With 126 participants, aged 7 to 18 arriving for the event with their parents, she had to think fast.

So, Kathy flipped her plans for the US Sailing Skill Builder Clinic scheduled during the Festival. Normally, the clinic is structured with Day 1 to include both classroom and on-the-water instruction. Days 2 and 3 offer on-the-water coaching during the race. But mother nature had other plans, so Kathy worked with the clinic coaches to adapt to the situation. Day 1 was spent racing (prior to the inclement weather) followed by two-days, either in the classroom or on-the-water, in small groups. Coaching young sailors to manage small boats in tough conditions proved to be an important learning experience for everyone.

The kids had a great time, and went home with confidence in their ability to manage waves, wind, and gusty conditions – the kind of conditions they are usually told to avoid.

US Sailing is providing nationally recognized sailing coaches at many of the 27 Junior Olympic Festivals held around the country this year.

The top notch coaches interact with everyone involved, from volunteers to coaches, as well as instructional staff and race officers. These clinics build the collective skill set and raise the level of expertise for all.

The MHYC event welcomed top coaches from George Washington University, Stanford University, and the College of Charleston.

“The lead coaches bring national and international experience to the local level and help to mentor the next generation of coaches,” said John Pearce, Head Coach at George Washington University.

It’s always a relief when bad luck is transformed into good. “It ended up being more of a sailing conference for kids,” said Kathy, who plans all the MHYC junior activities. It’s likely that Kathy’s quick thinking, rather than luck, resulted in this unexpected success. Great job, Kathy.

Science at the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover

What do science, technology, engineering, math and ocean conservation have to do with the Volvo Ocean Race? Well, just about everything!

Sail Newport, Sailors for the Sea, and 11th Hour Racing worked together to host the Exploration Zone at the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover in May. The US Sailing Reach program teaches STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education through sailing, and what better place to spotlight the connection than the Volvo Stopover?

Harken generously partnered with US Sailing for this event providing an interactive display where kids explore mechanical advantage through various purchase systems. The kids were then challenged to scour the stopover village on a simple machine scavenger hunt. One of their favorites is the 75mm winch on the Volvo 65s, a great example of a wheel and axle.

Class field trips, organized by schools from four states, sent a total of 2,780 students. Parents from across the country brought their kids to the stopover and the Exploration Zone. Nearly 10,000 youth explored 22 interactive exhibits. The Exploration Zone inspired visitors of all ages to learn more about the sport of sailing, the ocean, and to discover continents and cultures around the world through the lens of this amazing ocean race.

Thanks to Harken, Sail Newport, and Sailors for the Sea for all of their efforts in coordinating the Exploration Zone and to 11th Hour Racing and SCA for their sponsorship. The kids had a blast!

A Generational Perspective on “Youth Champs”

“There was a time I got to play at this level, and it was really fun,” said Ed Baird. “It’s great to be here watching my kids race and enjoy the sailing the way I did and still do today.”

Perched on top of the new Roger Williams University Sailing Center’s viewing deck, Ed Baird peered through his binoculars at the Laser Radial fleet in action on Mount Hope Bay. He couldn’t help being nostalgic as he watched his two sons, Nic and Ty, race at the U.S. Youth Sailing Championships.

The former Laser and J/24 World Champion, and two-time winner of the America’s Cup (one as helm, one as coach) has an interesting take on the state of youth racing in the U.S.

“It’s impressive to see how the overall skill level has changed from when I sailed here. The sailors at this level today are so far beyond where we were at this age. They’ve become so talented through great coaching and support.”

Beyond his role as a supportive dad, Ed was also focused on the racing from a coach’s perspective.

“As a coach, you assume everyone at this level is going to perform the maneuvers well. What you want to determine is - do they know how to decide if the maneuver or the boat speed is what they need in that situation? Can they recognize things like cloud formations and changes in currents for the next race or leg? You see a lot of these kids developing that type of maturity, and they experience the value of those decisions here at Youth Champs.”

Ed’s son Nic (pictured) is big fan of championships that include multiple classes and sailors from around the country. Fresh off his come-from-behind win at Youth Champs, Nic discussed what this event means to him.

“I had some very beneficial talks with some of the I-420 coaches and sailors about split tacks,” said Nic. “Just to be able to talk to other sailors and learn from their strategies is a great experience. Sailing different types of boats, in different kinds of racing, is really good for us as sailors. First of all, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s also really cool to see how other sailors approach these situations. I try to learn from that.”

Ed’s circle of sailing friends goes back decades, when he was a young promising sailor racing at championships like this event.

For coverage from the 2015 U.S. Youth Sailing Championships, visit the event website.

*Photo credit to Matt Cohen