In mid-November I was able to head to Australia and bring a long eagerly awaited 5 week training session. I was eager to get sailing again and was physically fit from intense fall training at home. Ready to take advantage of the spectacular Sydney weather, I joined an international group of sailors under coach Brett Beyer. In the following weeks I worked on various skills in the fresh conditions with some sessions topping out at 5 hours in duration. I was able to make great strides in my boat speed across the wind ranges and truly elevate my thoughts while sailing to break down what going ‘fast’ means.
Stretching out in the open ocean
After two weeks of windy training in Sydney harbour I competed in three back to back regattas. Getting to the first regatta meant a 12 hour drive to Melbourne. In the Sail Melbourne warm up regatta (where not everyone participated but it was still great practice) I executed well tactically and finished 1st.
The ISAF Sailing World Cup main event in Melbourne ran December 9-13th and attracted some of the world’s top sailors. We raced in all sorts of conditions from light shifty to windy and wavy but I struggled in parts around the race course. The result was a disappointing 13th place – just out of the medal race. I let many races slip out of my hands with flawed decision making and inconsistent downwind speed.
Going downwind at Sail Melbourne
The final regatta of my Australian trip was Sail Sydney. Back in Sydney, I only had a couple days to rest before the racing began. On one day off we took the coach boat out and watched the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge which is a big boat race usually done by the largest boats competing in the Sydney to Hobart race. Since I would not be around for the start of the distance race, this was an amazing opportunity to see the 100 foot supermaxis in action. I later found during the Sail Sydney racing we would see them again, this time cutting right through our course!
SOLAS Big Boat Challenge – Perpetual Loyal and Ragamuffin 100
I had great speed during the racing but sometimes did not fully commit to the favoured side of the course. This slightly conservative approach means I did not lock away my leads and come back from a deficit as easily as I would like. I ended up 5th place with a lot to take away from the racing, but overall happy. I had done lots of training in Sydney Harbour but the racing was next level hectic. In every race we were dodging motorboats, ferries, 18 ft skiffs, 100 ft supermaxis all while trying to surf their wake upwind. It really made for some interesting racing!
On the way home I spent a wonderful two days visiting family in New Zealand before heading back to Toronto for the holidays. In the New Year I will be heading to Miami to begin preparations for the ISAF Sailing World Cup – Miami regatta.
The Laser North Americans was held in Manteo, NC from July 30 – August 2 this past weekend. It was the first time back in the Laser after 3 weeks off for the Pan Am Games and I finished 3rd overall.
The competition was not nearly as difficult to the World Championships, but it was one of the most challenging events mentally and physically I have ever sailed. All the competitors were battling the strong breeze and 35+ degree temperatures, but I had significant trouble especially the first day with a migraine the evening prior, a bad cough, and severe dehydration without being acclimatized to the heat at all.
These factors all led to the worst muscle cramps I’ve ever had where I could not open my hand to grasp ropes, vomiting between races and seeing stars and blue lights. Good times on the outer banks!
After a long month of competitions, focus is back on fitness over the next few months – aside from racing CORK in Kingston August 15-19.
The Pan Am Games experience ended with a fantastic and windy medal race held in the Toronto Harbour – finishing 3rd in the race and 5th overall (10 countries). The event ran from July 12 – 19, 2015 and featured 148 competitors from 21 nations spread out over 10 classes. All classes competed in an opening series consisting of 5 days of racing, and a final medal race in Toronto Harbour.
My crew Alexandra Damley-Strnad and I began the racing with two 3rd place finishes but were not able to consistently finish near the top for the rest of the races which left us in 5th going into the medal race. The medal race was quite a thrill as there were 50+ RCYC boats and other supporters out watching the race in the harbour. In addition, there were hundreds of supporters lining the official spectating area on Sugar Beach. On top of all the spectators watching, the Snipes did not know racing was over an hour ahead of schedule and all got to the race course right as the start sequence began. The rushed preparations, windy conditions, strong competition and short course made for an exciting medal race!
Hiking at the first windward mark in medal race
All in all, I am very happy with our performance at the Games. Our initial goal was to make the medal race in the very competitive international fleet, and even though our strong start made me hope we could possibly medal we ended up finishing where I expected. In a boat as technical and finicky as the Snipe, I was very happy we were able to make the medal race with the little experience we had. Our main mentor and training partner Augie Diaz has been sailing the boat longer than I have been alive!
When I heard the Games were coming to Toronto I knew compete in them however possible. This incredible journey led me to sail double handed for the first time, learn a brand new boat, meet some amazing lifelong friends, and have the superb opportunity to represent Canada in my home city and at my home yacht club.
Father and son discussing weather and winds between races
I would like to thank first and foremost my crew Alexandra Damley-Strnad for making the decision 7 months ago to sail with me in our first regatta, and for committing herself completely to the campaign trail right up until the end of the medal race. To all the family and friends of both Alexandra and I, thank you for the help and support you have given us along the road to the Games. For all the sponsors – Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Port Credit Yacht Club, University of Miami, Quantum Crossfit, Elevate Me – thank you!
Finally, congratulations to the Canadian medal winners! Silver – Terry McLaughlin (J24). Silver – Luke Ramsay (Sunfish). Bronze – Lee Parkhill (Laser).
Pan Am Sailing Info
Twenty-two teams from 7 countries attended the 77th Snipe Midwinter Championships, hosted by Clearwater Yacht Club on March 15-17 in Clearwater, FL. As four teams present had already qualified for the Pan American Games the regatta was a great opportunity to get a feel for the competition.
Over 3 days we got nine races in 5-13 knots of breeze, providing great conditions for racing. Having not sailed the boat recently, my crew Alexandra Damley-Strnad and I began the first day with speed and starting issues but were able to constantly make positive adjustments to our technique and sail trim throughout the regatta. These improvements led to consistent finishes with all but three races outside the top 5.
The regatta highlights were holding off two multiple Snipe Midwinters past champions Augie Diaz and Ernesto Rodriguez in Race 4 to win it, and coming back from 13th place in Race 9 to finish 3rd.
Canada was well represented with 6 boats led by coach Thomas Fogh. We sailed well enough to finish top Canadian – giving us some momentum we hope to carry to the Snipe Pan American Trials at the Toronto Sailing and Canoe Club in May.
We were happy with our 5th overall finish given the high level of competition. Congratulations to Snipe legend and mentors Augie Diaz and Kathleen Tocke for winning the Championships. The fleet now heads on to Miami for the Don Q regatta but I am heading to Palma de Mallorca, Spain to prepare for my first European Laser regatta.
The 2015 edition of Laser Midwinter’s East was especially important because it was the Canadian National Sailing Team Qualifier, and the 2015 Pan Am Games Trials. Five or six of the top Canadian boats will make the Canadian Sailing Team, but only the top male athlete would represent Canada at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. The event was held in the waters off Clearwater, FL on February 19-22.
The first day of racing called for 20-30 knots with big waves, and forecast definitely delivered. We started the day postponed on shore, and although the wind was set to decrease throughout the day, the race committee decided to send everyone home at midday.
On day 2, we began the first race in an offshore north east breeze which proved to be the most fickle winds of the regatta. It was also one of the coldest mornings I have ever rigged a Laser in – about 5 degrees Celsius. I started poorly, being forced out right but was able to catch up quickly taking advantage of shifts from both sides to round in about 10th. After a heads up downwind, I was able to soak some light breezes towards the mark and round in 6th where I would finish. I was leading the second race but a mistake at the windward mark caused me to lose the lead. I sailed a final conservative final race to finish the day with a 6, 2, 3.
Day 3 brought stronger offshore winds from the east of 10-14 knots. I had my worst race of the regatta in the first race. The race committee mistimed the fleet starts and we ended up going upwind with the radials who were on their second lap. Between the lasers and radials, I sailed in a lot of bad air on the first beat, and made some poor decisions trying to catch up finishing only 11th. I bounced back well in the second race, creating a strong lead on the first reach which I would hold throughout to the finish. I had a good last race to finish the day 11, 1, 4.
On the final day, I was sitting in 3rd place – 1 point behind Chris Barnard (USA) and 2 points behind Lee Parkhill (CAN) for both the regatta championship and the lone Canadian Pan Am spot. The forecast was light with quite a bit of movement throughout the day, so I knew there was a good chance we would get only two, maybe one race in before the 2pm cut off. Instead of getting into a fight right away with Lee, I decided to start at the boat end, where I thought the advantage was. My goal was to get enough ahead of Lee so that I could slow him down substantially before the first windward. I had a great start, but unfortunately fell out of my lane soon after the start and had to do a couple extra tacks to get back on track. I was still able to cross a couple boat lengths in front of Lee, and I protected the favoured right side, making small gains towards the starboard layline. I covered his air again on the layline forcing him to tack past the layline and sail extra distance. Things were looking pretty good! With such a strong current running right to left, I miscalculated the layline and had to do extra tacks at the mark with Lee closing the gap on me. I was still able to round in 3rd place with Lee in 8th place but not too far behind. On the first beat and reach, as forecasted, the breeze had swung right making the first downwind skewed. The top three boats including myself sailed low on the long starboard gybe by the lee towards the leeward mark. Lee, knowing he needed to catch me, continued reaching going high on the downwind to create some separation. About half way down, a strong puff filled in on the opposite side of the downwind, while I was sitting in very light wind. Lee and the others sailed right around us and towards the mark. I lost a lot of distance to the top group, and couldn’t catch up past 7th to finish the race. Lee capitalized on the extra wind and ended up winning the race. The reversal on the downwind – from 4 boats ahead of Lee to 6 boats behind was quite devastating and made the next race quite a challenge. I needed to have 8 boats between Lee and I by the finish.
In the second race, I took advantage of the favoured right side to round in 3rd place but with Lee and others close behind. At the bottom of the downwind, I tried to separate and make gains but picked the wrong shifts. Lee got ahead of me and was able to cover me to the starboard layline. Unfortunately for both of us, we sailed each other to the unfavoured right hand side of the course and got out of touch with the fleet. He finished just ahead of me in 6th, with myself in 7th. There was time for another race, but without a good second race it was statistically impossible to beat Lee and secure the Pan Am Games Laser entry. For the first time, I turned my focus to the other competitors and tried to beat Juan Maegli and Rob Davis in the overall standings. I had an OK race finishing in 4th place – good enough to finish 4th overall (lost a tie break for 3rd).
Although not securing a berth for the Pan Am Games in the Laser is a disappointment, I was very happy with my boat speed, consistency, starting and tactics. I learned invaluable experience in a trials scenario, and showed great improvement from the previous year’s edition. Congratulations to Lee Parkhill for securing the Pan Am berth – he sailed very well over the three days of racing. I am looking to carry this momentum through to my next major regatta in Palma de Mallorca, Spain from March 30 – April 4.
The first World Cup event of the year was held in Miami from January 26 to 31. As usual in the year prior to the Olympics, nearly all of the top sailors in the world were present, including world #1 Tom Burton (Australia) and nine time World Champion Robert Sheidt (Brazil).
While everyone was expecting little wind (like the previous year), the event started out with a very windy day and the breeze continued for the first 3 days. When the front was first coming through in the first race, I started at the boat and tacked out right towards the dark clouds. After a couple minutes we got big right shift and a huge puff. I don’t usually complain that a puff I get is too big, but I was almost capsizing reaching into the windward mark! I rounded in a great position, but unfortunately the race was called off due to the size of wind shift. In the breezy qualifying races, which lasted the first two days, I sailed fairly consistently but could not crack the top 10 in any of the races. I was just off the pace in the windy conditions upwind, and missed some big shifts which I had to climb back from. I ended up making Gold fleet (top half) but only by a couple spots.
Fleet sailing into top mark in windy conditions
Entering the qualifying races the good news was – I could only move up! Unfortunately I couldn’t put together all the pieces of a great race. I had races where I rounded the first mark in 4th place and went the wrong way on the second beat to finish 32nd, and I had races where I rounded in 50th and finished 27th. I was going very fast at times, but made too many mistakes in general. On the last day, as the wind died we only got a single light air race, in which I again recovered from a difficult start to finish 32nd. In the 5 Gold fleet races, I moved from 53rd to 48th and gained some valuable experience racing against the best sailors in the world.
Rounding the leeward mark towards the finish
I am now home until February 9th, where I fly to Clearwater, FL to prepare for the Laser Midwinter’s East, where I will be trying to qualifying for the Canadian Sailing Team and to be the Canadian representative for the Pan Am Games.