How to Hook a World Champion

By Pam
Okay, it’s like this. I started out crewing on keel boats and learned a little here and there and even though I raced competitively in various keel boat fleets, I had huge holes in my sailing knowledge.

Everyone said to go sail a dinghy and I'd learn to sail. So, I started sailing dinghies and I was a little ahead of the curve but soon reached a point where I began gradually working my way to the back of the fleet. Frustrating! I asked for and received help from a couple of Laser sailors but they soon had other things to do and I began to wonder if the subtle message they were giving me was that I was un-trainable and hopeless. More frustration!

Now, I happen to be a very lucky person, and as my luck would have it, I crossed paths one day with a two time Laser world champion that showed up each week to sail in a fleet that simply wasn’t showing up. Doug was bored and frustrated and looking for a challenge. Well, I’m nothing, if not a challenge. I’m completely impatient, always looking for the quick and easy route, and despite any evidence to the contrary, I’m always certain that I can do anything I set my mind to. We struck a deal. He would train me but I had to put in the time and practice and reach beyond my comfort zone and at least try to sail in conditions where I didn’t feel comfortable. Here’s what happened.

First step ... video analysis ... oh, it’s ugly!

Weaknesses: Poor boat handling, no feel for the boat, inability to get my head out of the boat, impatience, no tactical ability, difficulty applying the rules, easily intimidated, poor starting ability, and physical limitations.

Strengths: Lightweight, tenacious, some natural raw talent I wasn’t aware of, and one very patient, positive, creative, non-pampering coach.

Yeah, this was going be a piece of cake. NOT!

Second step ... night sailing to get a feel of the boat and improve boat handling and get my head out of the boat. Tacks and gybes a plenty with lots of swimming. I’d lay odds that the Wednesday night I learned to roll tack and roll gybe, I was the only person in the Dallas metroplex that was wet, cold, and shivering in the middle of August and praying that the wind would shut off so that I could go home and take a nice hot shower.

Third step ... reach way beyond my comfort zone ... regatta at Grand Lake in Colorado. Snowing the weekend prior to arrival, water temps in the low 50s, wind and weather conditions that go from zero and sunny to windy and rainy to howling and hailing (all in the same day!). Yep. I reached. Wanted to throw up sometimes, especially after mounting a guy, running my bow right up his stearn and into the cockpit when he stopped and backed up during a starting drill. Insult to injury, he was in his practice boat and I was in his racing boat when I hit him and my momentum also rammed him into the committee boat. Ouch! And yes, I went for a swim in the 50 degree water when it was howling. Three boat collision at a mark that took us all over. Double ouch!! But I reached way beyond my comfort zone and I raced and I tried, and as my luck would have it, according to the results posted online, I took 2nd place. Gotta love typos. I printed that puppy out and saved it!

Now, in brief, here’s what I learned:

  1. The sage old advice of ‘time in the boat’ is poo. Spending lots of time perfecting a bad habit makes you really good at being a bad sailor. Time in the boat with a good coach and learning proper muscle memory is priceless.

  2. The Laser is a very finicky and unforgiving boat and therefore an excellent boat for training. What separates a world class sailor from a good sailor is their ability to watch, learn and adapt (in seconds!).

  3. Sail like a girl. Doug quickly figured out that, at 120 lbs., I can’t sail a boat like a guy or I’d be constantly fighting the boat. Instead, the techniques I learned give me advantages that few can duplicate. In fact, in training, he repeatedly had to ask me to put my foot in the water to slow down so he could catch up and keep coaching me.

  4. As embarrassing as it is, reaching way beyond your comfort zone and falling flat on your face in public, is, in a backwards sort of way, a tremendous confidence builder. After Grand Lake, White Rock is a walk in the park.

I’m now in the logging time in the boat and gaining experience stage and Doug will continue to lightly coach me but he is now hooked on training and ready to take on a new challenge. Good luck Amber! I look forward to seeing your videos and hearing your story.

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