When I got on a plane late this past March in Boston, I had very little idea of what lay ahead for me. I knew I was flying to London, to begin a three month trip to sail five 49er sailing events on the ISAF World Cup circuit and that if I performed well enough I could go to the Olympics. However, aside from that I knew nothing. I didn’t know what our car looked like, or where exactly our housing was, or how exactly we were going get there. Somehow I just figured it was all going to work out.
We arrived in London around 7:30 am. Thomas and I flew on the same flight, and were met immediately at the exit of customs by our training partner, Zach Brown. That was the abrupt end of the easy travel. Fred Strammer, Zach’s skipper, slipped past us and made his way to another terminal in iPod inspired ignorant bliss. So, for the next 2 hours our mission was to find Fred.
Even once we had located Fred there were big challenges facing us. We had to get a trailer hitch put on our car, and we had to pick up 2 boats and our trailer in different locations. Of course the guy that was supposed to install our hitch flaked out, and the roof rack that we were supposed to use was constructed of thin sheet metal. The fixing of these two factors set us back a day while we installed wooden roof racks, and found another towbar installer. We spent that night in an expensive hotel in suburban England, crammed into a tiny room and sleeping on the floor. In the process of connecting our light bar to the car we also had blown out a few fuses, but without a car manual in English and a ferry to catch in Palma we had no time to waste. To summarize, one day behind and already over budget.
Once we collected our boats, we made our way to the ferry to cross the English channel and happily passed out. We made our way to Barcelona and caught our ferry to Palma and arrived with a few hours to spare.
In Palma we were able to find our housing relatively easily, and set our boats up in the 49er boat park. The boat park in Palma is actually just a section of the beach that has been sectioned off with fencing and some porto-potties. It’s absolutely beautiful, and the launching situation is really convenient.
We were able to train in Palma for a few days in light air before the event. This was the first time Thomas and I had sailed together at a World Cup event, and it was truly eye opening. The level of competition is spectacular, particularly on the starting line. With everyone constantly double tacking and backing down to gain positioning on the line, you have to be completely heads up at all times in order to A. avoid the hacks that will snap off your tiller extensions and B. get off the line in half decent shape. We had problems with both issues at first, but thankfully Jon Ladha had a few spare tillers and we learned how to get off the line occasionally.
Palma is also a pretty tough place to sail due to the chop that seems to develop almost regardless of wind direction. Going upwind in 6-8 kts in a 49er with steep chop is trying for both skipper and crew, and when you add constantly shifting breezes the situation becomes very stressful. However this was a great venue for us to work on our communication in the boat, and to practice making sure that Thomas and I were constantly on the same page with our sailing modes and boat handling.
After Palma we had planned on practicing for another week, but unfortunately I began to have pretty severe back pain. The beds we had in Palma were nearly hammocks, and although I was able to find some physiotherapy on the island I was unable to train for that week and some weeks to come.
Fighting through my back pain, we hopped a ferry to Barcelona where we took a daylong tour of the city with an old friend. It was a nice change of pace, and doing some walking proved to be a good thing for my back. We took off the next day with spirits high, and happy to be making our way to Hyeres where our housing was rumored to be superb. However, it was not meant to be.
Shortly after pulling onto the road Fred and I, driving the US Sailing 49er trailer and van, were stopped by the Barcelona police. We were informed that our masts were sticking too far off the back of the trailer and that we could not continue because our drivers licenses were not internationally recognized. After about 2 hours of talking and moving masts we paid the “fine” in cash and were on our way. Again, unforeseen delays and expenses.
The rest of the drive to Hyeres went very smoothly, and we arrived in the early evening at our housing on the water. My back was still giving me a great deal of trouble, and I ended up not being able to sail the event. Luckily I was able to find some great help from the US Sailing team physiotherapist, and although I did not heal in time for Hyeres I was finally headed in the right direction.
It was really frustrating to have to watch everyone else go sailing, when we had paid all the expenses already and were stuck on shore. However, the World Championships were coming up soon and I knew that I had to make sure I could sail that event. So, unhappily, I stayed at home and lied down all day, stretching periodically.
We knew there were two routes to Croatia. The first one was a drive down the Italian coast, then a ferry over to Zadar. This was the easy, slightly more expensive route.
However, we had not reserved a space on the ferry, and were thus forced to drive through Italy and Slovenia and down the coast of the Adriatic Sea. This should have been easy, but shortly after entering Italy the highway we were on was shut down. We tried for hours to find where the highway opened and it seems that it had been shut down for hundreds of kilometers. Unforeseen delays and expenses! We drove at a snails pace through small towns and villages all night, and eventually found where the highway opened again many hours later. I only caught the tail end of our early morning arrival to the Croatian mountains, but the region is truly spectacular. The sun rising over the mountains was reminiscent of a scene in the Lord of the Rings.
Over the next few days I managed to reduce my back pain enough that I was able to sail the event. It was incredible to get out on the water with such a talented group of sailors, and we learned an unbelievable amount about sailing 49ers that week. Simply being on the starting line with all the best boats in the world is enough to make sailing the event worthwhile, let alone the rest of the racing! Thomas and I managed 4th in Bronze fleet, and given that we hadn’t practiced in a month and that I was in pretty serious pain the entire time we were reasonably pleased.
The long, long road North
In order for me to catch my early flight out of Zagreb we had to leave very early the day after the medal race. So, at 3:30 am we all piled into the car and began our journey north. Everything was going well for about at hour, but soon it started to get windy. We had heard some reports that there would be a lot of wind heading north, but no one had advised against driving… and they should have. The wind was gusting into the 60 kt range, and shortly after we had decided to pull over we all heard a loud bang. Looking out the back window revealed immediately that our trailer had been blown over with Zach and Freds boat still on top.
After we got the trailer detached and the boat off of the road we managed to get our car pointed into the wind and hunkered down for a few hours. The wind finally died a bit and we went into a nearby town, where we were lucky enough to find some guys with a flatbed truck that could pick up our trailer and do the necessary repairs to it. At 10:30 pm we finally got back on the road. Needless to say, I missed my flight; unforeseen delays and expenses!
We drove nonstop to Medemblik, where we found a place to store our boat and spent the night in cheap hotel. The next day Thomas and I delivered Zach and Freds boat to a repair shop, and flew back to the US.
Lessons taken Home
This trip, done on a minimal budget, taught us all how important it is to be prepared for anything. When traveling with so little time and so much equipment, you will inevitably run into problems. This year we had to make our own roof racks on the fly, fix our trailer lights, find numerous physiotherapists in 2 different foreign countries, and flip over and fix a trailer. Who knows what will happen in the future!
We will be more prepared for the trip in future years though, and by seeing how all the best guys in the world run their programs we can tailor our practices and our budgets to target our goals more effectively. We will be throwing ourselves at starting this year, and searching our settings for more boat speed. I will be in the gym building more core strength so I will never have another back injury like this one, and working harder so the kite will come up faster. Every year we need to show up more prepared, stronger, higher, and faster, because that is what Olympic class sailing requires.
See you at the St. Thomas HPDO this fall!