Interview with Some Top Boats at 2004 Nationals

Bruce Golison, Chris Winnard, Andrew Kerr, Phillip Infelise, Payson Infelise

By Andrew Kerr

 

This year’s Nationals at Alamitos Bay Yacht Club was a highly competitive event for the class. Going in to the last race - 4 boats had a legitimate shot at winning the championship!

 

At the end of the Regatta Bruce Golison’s team of Steve Washburn & Stevie Washburn on Mini Me edged out second place finisher Chris Winnard’s team of Andrew Kerr & Bill Ramacciotti on Disaster Area and third place finisher Willem van Way’s team of Travis Wilson and Peter van Waay on Head First by 2 points. Payson Infelise‘s team of Phillip Infelise and Nathaniel Campbell on Altitude Sickness had been close to the top all Regatta and ended up a highly competitive 4th. 

 

Andrew Kerr caught up with three of these teams and found out what their approach to the event was and how they sailed the regatta tactically and strategically as it progressed.

 

AK:   What was your mind set coming in to the Nationals and how did you get prepared?

 

BG: For Steve, Stevie and myself, our goals at every regatta are to have fun and to be in the hunt. With our family obligations, our time on the water is fairly limited, so we take that into account when preparing for each regatta that we do. In most conditions we are reasonably fast  so at this year’s national championship, it would be a matter of keeping mistakes to a minimum and sailing smart to be successful. As for getting prepared, we upgraded a few things on the boat which should have been done a long time ago and then we went sailing on a couple of afternoons to shake out the cobwebs formed by not sailing since the first of March. We were now ready to go.

  

Chris/ Andrew: Every year we approach the Nationals the same way  to do our very best, enjoy the racing and the camaraderie of a great group of people. Like any series we try to focus on one race at a time and try to make high percentage decisions on the race course.

We based a lot of our preparation on the Golison / North sails race week regatta which was also the Western regional championships for the class. This top notch event was instrumental to our on the water practice and R & D and also very helpful in terms of logistics as were able to situate the boat at ABYC and get oriented to the area.

 

Our schedule prior to The North sails race week/ Western regionals included Eugene Yacht club’s 26 boat Memorial Day regatta which provided excellent

 Bigger fleet racing and Seattle YC’s SOCKS regatta which was another very good regatta to get time in the boat.

We also used our experience gained in sailing in the Golison/ North sails race weeks in the past and tried to consolidate these experiences and how they could be applied to the race course and the championships.  

As regards the boat we changed very little.  Some new Genoa sheets and a new Mainsail, Genoa & Spinnaker halyard were added. Once the boat was set up well, we focused on our sailing as a team and developing our awareness and observational skills.

 

 

Phillip: Coming out of Golison / North Sails, we knew that our boat speed and boat handling was solid and, with Payson away sailing and coaching much of the summer, we knew that actual practice time would be limited.  Consequently, we focused on boat preparation and mind set.  Spending a lot of time in Long Beach working on Regatta organization, also allowed us time to get to those 20 little chores that had been ignored for years.  It was also therapeutic, allowing heads to clear and get ready for the competition.  The boat was flawlessly prepared and nothing left to chance. I did spend a lot of time in the Crow’s nest at ABYC, watching wind and wave patterns throughout the day in the weeks leading up to the Regatta and that, coupled with our local knowledge, set us up to understand the race course geometry well.  Along with Bruce, pretending that doing well in the Regatta was the last thing on our minds, contributed to the light-hearted head games we played with each other.

 

Payson:  My mind set going into Nationals was that we personally knew that we were fairly fast and at times could use speed to our advantage.  We really had to bank on that since, because of busy schedules we couldn’t practice.  Knowing that we could work out of almost any situation, I could really focus on just driving and let my Dad and Nate look up the course and figure out were to go.

 

 

 

   

AK: How did you get off the starting line cleanly and also weigh the favored end of the line with the perceived favored side of the course?

  

BG: Our goal in getting off the starting line is to have good speed at the start and a nice lane to sail in for a few minutes until things sort them selves out and we would decide how to play the first half of the beat.  To do this, we look for a nice hole to tack into and to be aware of who the boats are who we are starting next to. It is always best to start next to someone who you have confidence in that you are faster than, or can point higher than, or can point higher than to keep your lane clear after the start.

At this year’s Nationals, we started in the leeward third of the starting line every race, mostly due to the fact that the leeward end was always favored and that the right side of the race course was never really favored so much (which can be the case in Long Beach) that you would trade off getting to right for giving away some of the starting line bias.

   

Chris/ Andrew:  With the pin end of the line being favored on a decent size line we decided to start in that third of the line but with a bail out plan to tack to port for clear air if necessary.  Generally our strategy is to go for the biggest space on the line with clear air so we can go fast for as long as possible before we tack on the first major wind shift to consolidate with the fleet. Because of the fairly long line and the pin end being favored by between 10 and (at times) 15 degrees this, along with the left side of the course being favored more often than not -  provided a compelling tactical scenario.

 

Sometimes we came off the start reasonably well and other times we were forced to tack and duck transoms to get to a clear lane. Fortunately these bail out‘s were done early (sometimes before the gun as the group jammed up at the pin) so we would get out to clear air quickly and be able to work on our boat speed.

 

 

One thing a team should always have is the flexibility to see the scenario developing (a log jam of boats for instance) and to get away from it (Tack & duck) before it ruins your start. When you sail in big fleets a lot one learns that this is an essential ingredient in your repertoire. Too many teams wait until the situation becomes dire and there fate is almost sealed at the gun with the lanes of clear air closing on both tacks. A quick tack to port and a few smooth ducks can breath life back into your team!

The pin end area of the line was sometimes very costly place for teams to be.  It caused a scoring penalty for Altitude sickness, a 720 for Mini Me and over-earlies for all of the leading boats at one time or another.  Like many tactical decisions that a team makes it was a risk/ reward formula that we found ourselves weighing up as the series progressed.

The scenario at the pin end was almost becoming relatively predictable from race to race with generally the same group of boat’s battling in that area.  

 

The race committee was excellent at communicating with the fleet by VHF radio and keeping the fleet informed of the course, their overall intentions and calling back boats that were OCS on the radio.

 

 

 

 

 

   

Phillip:  We assumed that Mark would set up a leeward favored line and that we (and our close friends on Mini, DA and head First) would only go boat end if there was breeze on the water on the right side in the final minute to the start.  For these three days, we rarely saw a strong enough righty before the start to overcome the line bias  quite unlike the assumed Long Beach conventional wisdom.  Our great forward crew Nathaniel Campbell  kept us constantly informed of where the pressure was on the course above the line with simple communications like low left is strong, mid right is filling in about 300 yards up the course, nothing low right at the start.  Getting off the line and holding a solid lane would make or break the regatta.  We never thought we desperately needed to have the pin (since Willem and Travis have a love affair with it) but the lower 25% of the line was key.  Payson’s ability to stall and accelerate in tight conditions in the final minute to the gun (the result of many long flights to international match-racing regattas) really showed up in this Regatta.  Critical was picking when to leave the favor of the left and dig right back into the middle of the course and we picked that spot correctly most of the time.

 

Payson:  The discussion on our boat about what was happening with the breeze never stopped.  Always as soon as we finished a race and got our boat squared away, we would go straight into a wind shot to check our numbers.  Our talking never stopped until we all agreed on what the breeze was doing and what it was doing next.  Nate and I really focused on looking up the course for puffs and shifts’, trying to anticipate what was going to happen.  As for getting off the line we would just try to find a hole close to the favored end of the line and just come out of it cleanly.  If we didn’t like our position on the line we were able recognize quickly enough that it wasn’t going to work and would go somewhere else.

 

 

 

 

AK: The races featured a variety of conditions both smooth and very choppy water with light air how did you adapt and shift gears to these conditions?

 

Phillip:  We never saw conditions vary so radically that we would consider changing rig settings, but everything else was in constant play.  Given that our Ullman main demands precise control to get the most out of it, we carry a heavier main sheet and much more aft lower than most boats (even in the lighter conditions) and the interplay between backstay and aft lowers is constant.  Jib halyard fine tune was on and off along with Genoa sheet with each passing wave or change in wind strength.  Fore and aft and in/out weight trim was constantly directed by Payson with an uncanny feel for what is fast.

Payson:  Like my Dad I love our sails, and when they are trimmed exactly how they are supposed to, with the way they are cut, I feel very fast.   But it does require constantly changing everything for it to work.  From there, if we ever felt slow we would discuss what we could change and try to make it look right.

  

BG: Changing gears in S20 racing is one of the critical components to being successful  and this is true whether you are racing in the ocean or on a lake. As the conditions change, you must change the way your boat is trimmed. Going upwind, when the wind lightened or we sailed into choppy water, the Genoa sheet and mainsheet were eased, the backstay was eased, the traveler was pulled to weather some and the crew weight was shifted to the middle of the boat.  All these changes were done to give our boat more power. As the wind got stronger or the water got mother, we simply reversed these things.  Going downwind we always wanted to sail as low as the pressure on our spinnaker would allow. This meant heading up in the lulls and and chop and sailing lower in the puffs and smooth water.  All of these changes were going on as we sailed up and down the race course and the conditions changed.

 

 

 

   

Chris/ Andrew: In order to get the max performance in changing conditions the team has to be working consistently and smoothly together and communicating effectively. We constantly scan the water for velocity, smooth water and chop and make adjustments that the other teams have noted above.

 

Bill ( on the bow) talks about waves, puffs and light spots and also keeps us updated on our performance against other boats and whether it is a net gain / net even or net loss in what we are doing. Obviously everyone would like to hear higher & faster being reported! What we pay the most attention to is when we are not going well, so that we can make critical trim adjustments. Bill does a great job of this and is very good at keeping us apprised of changing conditions.

 

One of the advantages of Chris and I sailing together for so long is that we don’t have to say a word the adjustment is made automatically. We try to be smooth with our adjustments at all times; an example of this is when Chris pulls on the backstay and then re-tensions the mainsheet he does it with the helm absolutely steady. 

Working on your boat speed is a full time thing and takes a lot of concentration from the team through out the race  especially in chop.  For the most part boat speed wins regattas as it creates advantageous tactical opportunities. Mindful of this we focus on it as much as we possibly can.  

 

  

AK: What geographic influences were you considering? On day two the Island to the left seemed to give a geographic lift with possibly more breeze  what was your thinking on this and other geographical considerations?

 

 

Chris/ Andrew: What we observed at the Golison/ North sails race week regatta was the geographical influences that the Islands provided.  For me, the most poignant observation was made by Phillip after day one of the Championship when he noted that they were observing the ships that were anchored off to the right of the weather mark as they swung on their moorings that were a good indicator of which way the wind was shifting at the top of the leg.

 

At the Golison / North sails race week  we entered a lot of the tactical observations into our on board wet notes book , this information proved useful to us as a resource to back up our observations and tactical  initial assumptions.

As Bruce noted I talk to local sailors and also sail the course and see what the local geography is doing to the shifts, this can get you up to speed much quicker if you are an out of town boat in an unfamiliar area. 

 
 

 

 Phillip:  Mark’s course alignment on day two intended to keep options open should the breeze move right or left between the tanker flotilla make for some interesting decisions.  Definitely  there was an advantage to heading left toward the island for both lift and velocity and then digging back just before the advantage began to fade, as we spotted stronger right breeze in the middle of the course just prior to banging off the island. Likewise, the alignment to the Long Beach entrance and the Island and moored barge on the right side, offered some interesting possibilities on the right. With the top mark set essentially in the middle of the Cone, you never wanted to short tack the middle but needed to cross from one side to the other in longer tacks. As I recall, we only thought there was a strong right advantage in 1.5 of the 8 races, again putting a dent in the old righty is always right myth in Long Beach.

  

BG: On day one, we were in the middle of the harbor and generally there was only a slight bias to the wind bending to the right as seen in southern California. On a westerly breeze, this right bias is system caused rather than caused by surrounding land mass. With wind coming from the 210 to 220 degrees direction, the right was favored, but not heavily( we in fact lost a race on this day by going hard right after the gate while the second place boat went left for a bit then came across on a nice left shift). On day two, the race course was moved to leeward a half mile due to a tanker being anchored in the upper harbor. This new location made for some additional tactical considerations due to the influence of a large rock oil island located on the left edge of the race course. We found that there were some nice port tack lifts about half way between the starting line / gate and the oil island. To take advantage of this shift, we started in the leeward end of the starting line and then rounded the right gate mark each time. On day three’s morning race, with a southerly wind blowing (from a 160 direction) we and the other race leaders all went left knowing that when a southerly is blowing, the left side is favored.

The lesson here is, for an out of town sailor to gain this knowledge; they should ask some of the local sailors what the local knowledge is when they arrive at the yacht club prior to the racing.

 

 

 

 

   

AK: The Championships were up for grabs in the final race. What was your thought process on how to play the start of the race through to its final conclusion?

 

BG: Although the scores had been very close, we had led the series after each of the first two days, so we had confidence in our boat speed. In the first race on the final day, we had a poor start and had the aft lowers on too tight and ended up 5th while team Head first (van Waay/ Wilson/ van Waay) won the race putting them a point ahead (although with a throw out factored in, there were a number of different scenarios which could of played out and had to be considered). With our confidence in our boat speed, we decided not to engage Team Head First in a match race before the start. We wanted to get a clean start and let it play out from there. The team on Disaster Area (Winnard/ Kerr/ Ramacciotti) needed both team Head First and us to have very bad races in addition to their winning the race to beat us, so this consideration played into our decision to forget team Head First at the start and to get a nice clean start.

 

Well, so much for best made plans. All three of us (Mini Me, Head First and Disaster Area) were over early at the start. When it all shook out, Team Head first was 4 boat lengths to weather of us and overlapped with us. Disaster Area was 2 boat lengths straight in front of us. This is where our confidence in our boat speed came in. Rather than panic and tack to the unfavored side of the course, we were able to sail up to team Head first‘s line and force them to tack away. We then stayed headed to the favored side of the course. We arrived at the weather mark in 3rd place (behind Disaster Area and race leader Altitude sickness) and had a nice lead on Head First with a number of boats between us. The balance of the race was simply a loose cover on Team Head First and staying out of trouble.

 

 

Chris/ Andrew: Our approach was to do as best as we could and let the chips fall. The other teams who were in contention are excellent sailors so we knew we just had to try and take care of our own business and see what happened. We were 2nd going into the last day and 2nd at the end of the regatta so not a lot changed. Bruce, Steve and Stevie on Mini Me made fewer mistakes than we did and deservedly won the regatta.

 

 

 

  

Phillip: We honestly thought that we were almost locked into fourth as we expected that none of our close competitors would make any serious mistakes (like we did along with DA in Race Seven deciding to go right inside of one minute) so we just wanted to go out, have fun and sail our own race.  Altitude Sickness came out of a sticky starting situation in clear air, bow out on everyone, so the opportunity to truly sail our own race was there for the taking.  With good boat speed in those conditions we were able to place a loose cover on our competition and they cooperated by not splitting on us. With consistent conditions up wind and down and no major wind shafts in either corner, we were able maintain control throughout the race.

 

Post Script 1.  One of the most amazing things about sailing in this Class is the way in which the top groups of boats are best of friends off the water and such tenacious competitors on the water.  The pre-race tuning and sharing of information on height, speed, weight distribution, sheet tension, et al, is incredible considering that once the gun goes, we go right after one another.  More importantly, the remainder of the Class benefits from this, as everyone is willing to share their boat speed tips. That’s the strength and the challenge of sailing in this talented group.

 

Post Script 2:  Can’t say enough about the contribution that Nathaniel has brought to our team this year. A true pleasure to sail with.  That old Phillip/Payson thing is really Payson/Phillip/Nathaniel and we really jelled this season.  In these boats, there is no denying that each of the three Team Members have to contribute equally to win races and I know that all of the top teams will agree,

 

 

AK: Thank you gentlemen, it was a terrific regatta for the class. Congratulations to Bruce, Steve & Stevie on winning a great championship and a big thank you to Alamitos Bay Yacht club , the race committee and  all the volunteers and organizers for all of  their hard work.