Guanabara Bay, June 2016: I had finally arrived back in Rio, to begin my 2.4 M Paralympic training schedule and to compete in The International Training Paralympic Sailing Regatta. Rio is a very tricky place to sail and has produced some very good international sailors. I believe if you can compete in Rio, you can compete anywhere. The tides and winds are constantly changing. Even in a day, no 2 hours of sailing are alike. As you can imagine, it puts added pressure on the sailors to make make the most gains out of these dynamic conditions and there are many.
Even so, there were standard areas to sail each leg on each course. During this regatta, we raced on the Naval Course toward the middle of Guanabara Bay, and the Pao course off Flamingo Beach, which will also be the medal course used during the Olympics. Each course though side by side has to be navigated differently.
Out of the the 6 boats racing this event, I believe 5 have a chance to medal in September. Heiko, (GER) who has an excellent chance to medal was not racing. The 6th 2.4M was the local Brazilian Antonio Nuno who had recently started in the class and was improving steadily throughout the racing.
This regatta was going to be a good indicator of what I could expect in September. I have had some earlier sailing experience, many years ago racing in these waters on much larger boats. I hope this will help make a difference in my performance on Kanaloa. Somehow I don’t think the state of the polluted water will be as challenging as the competitors, and most importantly the courses sailed. My time training in Rio now is paramount to making the right decisions in September.
The regatta had 2 distinct parts. The 1st half was sailed in Ebb tides. (Note to self: much more garbage in the water on the Ebb tide) This made for short beats and longer runs. The course was much more freer on the beats. Boats arrived at the top mark together and there were more chances to pass down wind. It was opposite for the 2nd half of the racing. Flood tides made for longer beats and shorter runs. The area of the course to sail the beats was much smaller, if one ventured out in the wrong tide, you lost a lot. If there was a lead at the top mark then the runs were much easier as the lead would expand downwind with little chance to pass.
My main objective here was to study the course and it’s conditions, as well as to do well in the races. Course management and positioning against the others were key. I was excited to be working again with the USA Local Team Coach, and my personal coach, Brazilian Maru Urban. We studied the tides and winds for each race and decided how it was best to sail the course. We were off to a good start, but I have so much more to learn in not a lot of time.
On the 1st day of the regatta, we sailed in an ebb tide, and Damien (FR) and Matt (AUS) came out on fire. They both had the speed and used it on the course to get ahead and protect their positions. I ended up 3rd after a couple of rookie mistakes. I had been training for the last weeks on Ted Green’s 2.4, so I needed to get my groove back sailing on Kanaloa which had finally arrived back from Holland 36 hrs before the first race.
Day 2: Very tricky. Light air with the windward mark just under Sugar Loaf. The bad news, I took another 2 thirds behind Matt and Damien. The good news, I was 1st to the top mark in both races, only to be passed downwind. I did not play the runs well at all.
Day 3: Only 1 late race. Again another 3rd behind Matt and Damien. I was starting to get tired of this 3rd stuff. The tides were starting to change toward more incoming and it was about to get interesting. Again my downwind speed needed work.
Day 4: 1st Race: I started better and finished with a 2nd to Damien, while Matt slipped to a 5th place finish. 2nd race: I slipped back to a 4th (still averaging third). Not sure if I would ever get out of third…
Day 5: My turn around. I won the 1st race! In the 2nd race Helena (GBR) won, Bjornar (NOR) 2nd, and I was third, but we were all within 2 seconds of each other. The whole race was so close. Matt had a 3,4 and Damian had a 4,5. The competition was on! I felt I was getting a good grip on the course and how to play it with the tides changing.
Day 6: Racing in a southwesterly was to be my best day. I played the course well and led start to finish in the 1st race. I think my 2nd race was my personal best so far even though it did not start out that way. I thought there would be space to start on port, at the pin. All the other boats ended up there and I had to take their transoms, now in last. I worked the course, using a new Quantum AP jib, sailed around the boats to win the race. Matt had a 2,4 and Damian had a 5,2. Damien still had a 4 point lead and I moved in to tie with Matt for 2nd.
Unfortunately, Damien decided not to race the last day of the regatta and flew back to France. The series was left in Matt and my hands. In similar flood tide conditions, I was able to win the final 2 races. Matt had a 5,4. This win felt hollow, as Damien deserved 1st place and myself 2nd. Helena (GBR) the current gold medalist came back to finish in 4th place.
By no means competing in the Para Games in September will be like this. You add Heiko and 9 other boats to the mix and the fleet becomes way more dynamic. However, I was very happy to finally train in Guanabara Bay, have my little 2.4 back with me, and be more competitive than I was in Holland.
While I am on break at home in Annapolis, Kanaloa, her new body bits parts finally arrived from Charger in Finland, they cleared customs and is currently being repaired by US Team boat wright Donnie Brennan.
I am very much looking forward to getting back down to Rio to do another 3 weeks training in July. My old friend Jeff Madrigali is coming for for the first 10 days as coach and turn up partner. Jeff coached Tom Brown to Silver in Athens in the 2.4m. We will work more on my downwind speed and becoming smoother throughout the wind ranges. My goals are very much in sight.