Miami Heat
Jan06

Miami Heat

Two zombies stumble into a chain link pen in a rainstorm… On Sunday night, we were those zombies, as we rolled into the Miami Rowing Club after a 50 hour driving marathon across America, greeted by a 30 second rain squall.  After unloading our two boats in tow, and one on the roof, we grabbed a quick dinner, and hit the pillows hard at the home of our incredible hosts, the Lewis family. As soon as we got to the boat park this morning, the racing started, as the first order of business was to try to be rigged in time for practice races at noon. An hour later, we scarfed a few sandwiches, pounded our remaining supply of water, and headed out for our first sail in Miami in the 49er.  In 6-9 knots, practice racing went very well and we’re feeling excited about the gains we’ve made in the last few months, but there is lots more sailing to come, and many more conditions to be tested, so we look forward to a productive month! One of the biggest challenges today was staying hydrated.  With the humidity, and the scorching sun, we were drenched in sweat from the time we stepped out the door in the morning.  By lunch time we had finished all of our water, and ended up cutting our session to two hours.  After putting our boat away, we made a b-line for the sports store, where we bought more reusable water bottles and grabbed some electrolyte supplements.  We’re all set for tomorrow, and looking forward to a nice, full day of training! We’ll be posting periodic updates throughout the month, and we’ll try to update our Facebook page daily, so be sure to follow along with our progress! Best, Willie and...

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The Deep End
Sep24

The Deep End

At 9 am we roll into town and down the waterfront in our rental van chock full of gear. As we enter the city we are immediately surrounded by signs, posters, tents and flags all announcing the imminent start of the Campionato Del Mundo De Vela.  I don’t speak much Spanish, but a glance around at the local cafes and souvenir shops make it incredibly evident that the town is fully geared up for the festivities of the next three weeks.  As we approach the harbor, a massive island of at least 100 brightly colored, yellow, blue, and orange coach boats, visible even from the opposite end of the harbor, indicates that we have arrived.  To our left, event organizers have set up race offices and notice boards on the local college campus, while to the right, a massive, three story sailing complex casts a long shadow over the road.  Inside the floor to ceiling windows, fully rigged sailboats sit undisturbed by the weather outside, waiting for their sailors to arrive for the day.  A large stadium with seating for several hundred, watches over the currently calm bay, while a sea of masts is visible beyond chain link fences, only accessible with proper accreditation.  While I have seen similar regatta sites in the past, I haven’t set foot in a boat park like this one as a competitor in over three years, and suddenly an overwhelming feeling sneaks into the edges of my thoughts.  I take a deep breath, briefly review the mission plan that has been months in the making, and walk away from the parked car, ready to take the plunge into the deep end of Olympic sailing. About twelve months ago, Dane and I stepped into a 49er for the first time and began a quest for mastery.  Our philosophy: that battling the boat or manhandling it around the course as many skiff sailors have implored, is a futile fight.  True mastery of boat handling comes from understanding what the boat wants based on subtle pressures in the tiller and our feet, and maximum boat speed is accomplished through learning to work with the boat instead of against it, to achieve a balance – a oneness between sailors, machine, and the ever shifting racecourse surrounding it all.  In the months since then, we have spent each day focused on the feel of the boat, trying to understand the relationships between techniques, controls lines, rig tuning, and ultimately, various pressures on the boat.  The month of May offered our first check in, where we got to sail against other boats to find out how our training was...

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ISAF Worlds Day 3
Sep18

ISAF Worlds Day 3

As the boat under my feet bounced violently from wave to wave, submerging the bow every few seconds and throwing what seemed like a sea’s worth of water over the open deck, my eyes burned with salt water, and my muscles strained to keep my body on the boat.  A dark patch of ripples erupted on the water in front of the boat, giving a brief moment’s notice before the sails loaded up and lurched the boat forward into the next onslaught of frothy water.  All I could think about was how to keep the boat moving so that we could make it around the next mark as quickly as possible. That was 9 years ago, at my first ever world championship, the 2005 29er Worlds.  At that event, I think that I did more swimming than sailing, and by the end of 6 days of racing, I was exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed with our result. Fast forward to today’s 25 knot race course, and I felt many of the same sensations as we sailed upwind through the washing machine of chop.  Fortunately though, resolve eclipsed exhaustion, curiosity replaced frustration, and I am more determined than ever to perform at the top level. Sailing is a sport of learning to rebound from losses in a way that makes you stronger and better equipped to handle whatever challenges that the wind and the waves throw your way.  In contrast to other sports, where one team wins and one team loses each match, for the single winner of this regatta, there will be 79 losers, and even that eventual winner will probably have lost the majority of the races in which they competed.  A wise student of mine once pointed out that allowing a loss to occur is not a mistake, but allowing that loss to alter your process or change your frame of reference is.  So far at this event, we have made  improvements during every day of racing, and the data that we are collecting will be invaluable in creating our training program leading up to the next event. After the frustration and disappointment of the 2005 29er Worlds had worn off, I remember being left with a new appreciation for the level of competition that I was facing, and in the following season, that understanding fueled my commitment to attain the next level.  Over the course of the 2006 and 2007 seasons, we won almost every US 29er event on the calendar, and wrapped up the year by earning the right to represent the United States at the ISAF Youth Worlds as the top boys team in the country. Today I am confident that our losses at this regatta are going to pay huge dividends during our training this...

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ISAF Worlds Day 2
Sep18

ISAF Worlds Day 2

With 5 races complete, our qualification round at the ISAF Worlds is over, and with Bronze fleet racing starting for us tomorrow, we are working hard to document the lessons and take-aways from these last two days.  There is no sugar coating our results so far, but when we signed up for the World Championship as our first ever 49er event, we knew that we were jumping into the deep end, and we are confident that our hard knocks now will be one of the key factors in our success moving forward. This morning’s conditions were a far cry from the beautiful, 10-15 knot conditions that we have spent the last month training in, here in Santander, and with 25 knots running against a flooding tide, the sea state made racing impossible on the inside course, and made for some epic photos on the 49er course outside of the harbor. We were the second group to start, and after waiting for the wind to die a little bit, the race committee sent us out in 15-20 knots, which quickly became 10-18 blowing over the shore, causing huge pressure and angle differences across the course.  While speed and boat handling have definitely been a major strength, the shifty, puffy conditions have served to exaggerate our deficiencies in race process, as they demand constant heads-up attention to the changes across the course.  Two rough starts today meant that we were battling from behind in both races, though as we have gotten more comfortable with our racing process, we have been able to use our speed and boat handling to pick off more boats. This fall, we will be working on sorting out the roles and responsibilities of each person on the boat, and we will be developing the right communication process to ensure that we can support each other effectively in our separate roles.  We will be working on starting drills and playbook execution surrounding starting line escapes.  We will continue to push the limits of our boat handling to be faster, and more reliable in tight situations. The last two days have shown us for the first time without a doubt where the bar is, and have made us more determined than ever to reach the top.  We are excited to take advantage of the last few days of final-series racing here in Spain to continue refining our understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, before we get back to the grind in Santa Barbara! Thank you to everyone for the outpouring of support and encouragement over the last year, and to everyone who has made this trip possible.  This is our first step towards the 2016 Olympic games, and without your support, we would not...

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Santander Prebrief
Aug27

Santander Prebrief

1200 hours on August 11th, we hit the dock for day one of our final, four day block of training before heading to Europe for the ISAF World Championship in Santander, Spain.  As soon as we got the sails up, and pulled our first gybe off of Ledbetter Beach, I began to feel the rush of excitement, accompanying an imminent breakthrough that has been so frequent over the last 11 months of sailing the 49er.  As I pulled the kite across the boat, I made a new connection between the driving force gybe and the light air gybes that we had practiced the week earlier, which suddenly brought a torrent of past advice from mentors and coaches flooding into my head.  “Fast hands make consistent gybes,” and ” sneak the kite through the forward triangle” were among the renewed adages, and suddenly I could feel that a breakthrough in our gybing technique was close. Ever since we began putting in a full time effort about 6 months ago, this has become the predominant rhythm of our training cycles.  Intense focus on seemingly minor details set in motion big picture lessons, which draw from many of our past experiences to refine our overall technique in the boat.  So far, our progress has been very rapid, and as we head into this next adventure in Spain, our learning curve shows no sign of slowing. The plan for the next month is to maintain this routine of improvement, in Santander.  While for many Olympic hopefuls, the ISAF Worlds will be a peak event for the year, we hope to use the opportunity to spur growth in a new branch of our training program, which we will be able to bring back to Santa Barbara to develop over the winter.  As such, we will be pushing our minds, bodies and boat hard in the next three weeks to soak up as much information as possible.  While we are very confident in the tools that we have been working on, this event will be a huge opportunity to test many variations of techniques in racing situations to build a clear pathway to focus on as we prepare for the Olympic trial process to start next year. With the boat all packed up, we officially have 441 hours in the book.  We have completed 3363 tacks, 2577 gybes, and we have gone swimming on 44 occasions.  I’m headed out to Newport, RI now to make a pit-stop before meeting Dane in Spain, but we’ll be back on the water sailing in the Bay of Biscay in no time!  Stay tuned for more travel blog updates soon! Photo Credit: John...

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A Pilgrimage to the Gorge
Aug20

A Pilgrimage to the Gorge

In June, we spent five days adventuring in the outdoor Mecca known as the Columbia River Gorge. A sailing, kiting, windsurfing, hiking, outdoor playground unlike any other. This was the locale for the 29er Gorge Speedfest, a clinic and regatta that Dane and I were lucky enough to be coaching. We squeezed in 49er practice time and a little kiting, hiking and even were able to make a few new friends in Hood River, holy ground for the kiting community worldwide. To support the Mcbride.Wilson campaign, please consider making a donation by visiting...

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