I’m happy to report that I’ve been doing a ton of sailing lately, none of which has been on Yahtzee though. As many readers are aware, my passion for sailing isn’t just in cruising with my family. I also love to teach sailors when my schedule allows and I was fortunate enough to recently return as an onboard racing coach at NorthU and Offshore Sailing School’s Performance Race Week on Captiva Island, Florida. Boy was it fun!
The basic format for Race Week, which is now in its 20th year, is that nine highly experienced racing coaches get four students each onboard nine Colgate 26s. The boats are setup exceptionally well for one design racing and are easy to learn on. After a welcome party on Sunday night, we spend eight hours per day Monday through Friday teaching the ins-and-outs of sailboat racing. Sail trim, boat handling, race strategy and tactics, starting, spinnaker work and much more are folded into an action packed week. Then, the culmination of the event is a Saturday regatta with four races in the morning and four in the afternoon. The instructors switch boats for this final competition and offer little to no assistance, which makes it fun to watch the crews duke it out for the podium — and bragging rights.
At the beginning of race week, I knew what to expect of my coaching tasks because I’d been here before. But I didn’t really know what to expect of my four students. Who were they? Where did they come from? What was their sailing experience?
To my pleasant surprise, I learned at the Sunday night meet-and-greet that my students were part of a group called Veterans Ocean Adventures (VOA). Based in Miami, the vision of VOA is to create opportunities for disabled veterans to experience open ocean sailing, offshore cruising and scuba diving. They do this by collaborating with community partners including the Miami VA and Miami Vet Center. Turns out, my new students race together on Harbor 20s and Catalina 27.5s in Miami, and their comfort with one another and sailing was readily apparent.
Weather for the week is always a factor, and it couldn’t have been any better this year, with typical breezes ranging from 7 to 15 knots. Throughout the week I had an absolutely fantastic time working with my guys on each job required of them, sail shape and trim, driving the boat fast upwind and down, and teaching the various approaches to starting a race. Speaking of, we did 77 starts in six days of racing. You read that right — 77! I also worked with them on reinforcing individual and team strengths, and on the areas where they could improve, and how the team could handle the boat and race course during the Saturday regatta.
When race day arrived, I was confident that my guys were ready. They continued to sail better during each session on the water and their teamwork and communication skills were something I thought would set them apart. Without the same coaches on the boats, the four morning races began as an adjustment for all the teams because they had to make decisions without a boat whisperer in their ear. After tough finishes in the morning’s last two races, I knew my crew would come out after lunch swinging. Did they ever — taking fourth, third, second and first over the final four.
Sailing fast towards the finish on the final upwind leg of the regatta’s closing race, I watched as my students sailed triumphantly across the line in first place. Putting them third overall. From the stern of another boat, I couldn’t contain my excitement. My face was beaming with pride and I gave a fist pump and shout of congratulations to four sailors who had come along way in one week.
The week, though, was far more than just six days of sailboat racing. Sure, I taught them about racing and sailing, but what these four gentlemen taught me about resiliency and the power of positivity and teamwork was far greater. They showed every single person involved with this year’s race week that life event like these are bigger than us, and certainly bigger than sailing. I couldn’t be more proud to have sailed with them.