Olympics Day: on How Many Boats Did I Play?

Our Director reminisces about Olympic sailing class boats he’s raced, and how it helps teach you how to sail and learn to sail better.

Laser dinghy, stand-up style! On Lake Garda, Italy: from Gregorio Moreschi’s Instagram.

I’ve been at this for awhile. I started sailing as a small boy aboard whatever my parents were on, and sometimes boats that just my Dad and I were aboard. We were both relative latecomers to one thing: sailing dinghies. He started WAYYY late, and I started somewhat late (at 15). Some of my fondest memories are of the two of us on separate Dyer Dhows in the Mamaroneck Frostbiting Association winter series. I sailed ‘Dyer Straits;’ he joined the next season on ‘Apocalypse Dhow.’ We had mixed race records, with a modest rate of success (i.e, staying in A Division and taking home some plaques and platter) But we hands-down had the best punny names for our Dyers.

But, I digress. Apparently, yesterday was Olympics Day! I figured it out on my Insta feed. I’ve followed Olympic sailing to some degree for decades. While I never competed at the national or world level, I did compete to one degree or another in three different Olympic classes:

  • Laser
  • Soling
  • Star

Sadly, I can’t find a single photo of me in any of those boats. There’s a great shot of me sitting on the rail of my capsized Laser in between races off City Island one day. In between races, one could sail by the committee boat and ask for a can of Coke. I flipped my boat so I could just relax with my feet on the daggerboard sipping my soda while others wasted energy sailing around for no reason. I won the regatta that day. I lost the photo. But, temporarily; it’s somewhere in family photo records.

Late 1970’s; a Soling converted for sailing instruction. This was when our family owned and operated New York Sailing School. We installed custom bench seats on two of the boats to make instruction and day sailing a little easier. Harsh boat otherwise, but oh, boy – did it sail! Almost all schools eventually switched to more student-friendly designs that were more effective for instruction. Almost. (We ditched them in the early 80’s for this purpose and never looked back.)

The Soling came first, as it was the teaching boat used at our family’s first sailing school (NYSS, or New York Sailing School). Dad sold that school in the winter of 86/87, and I started mine in the fall of 1997 with classes underway in the spring of ’98.

The Soling is a truly elegant, pedigree little yacht. 27 feet of purity and grace and zero creature comforts. It’s a racing machine, straight up. Yet, it’s fun to day sail and a surprisingly good teaching boat. However, the lack of seating, lifelines, etc and the wet nature of the boat really interfered with instruction and learning. So, when Dad found a better alternative, he took that tack away from the fleet of other schools.

I mostly raced Solings at the school. We had a Tuesday night series in the summer. No, not really very competitive – but still, super instructive as it was repetitive short-course racing with tight starting lines and put a premium on tactics and boat handling. And, we used spinnakers. My favorite was a solid black chute with a stark white steer skull in the middle.

Relatively recent action on a Soling: only the skipper stays on or in the boat on a windy day! Not just a venerable Olympic class, the Soling was heavily used by adult sailing school programs across the country if not the world.

The highest level I raced a Soling? The East Coast Championships one fall out of Stamford Connecticut. I was crewing, not skippering. Perennial class champ Hans Fogh of Canada was the skipper to beat that time. We didn’t. Windy couple of days; I spent much of it hiked out over the side in the manner shown in the photo above.

The Soling was an Olympic class for quite awhile. Two veteran American racers who did well in Solings were Dave Perry and John Kostecki; Perry also excelled in the Laser. One of the best sailboat racers in history, Robert Scheidt of Brasil, won 5 Olympic medals combined in the Laser and the Star: 2 gold, 2 silver, and a bronze. Only man to win Olympic medals in both dinghy and keelboat classes. Hmmmmm….

1972 Olympic Gold Medalists: Australian style! Star Class.

Then came the Star. The Stuyvesant Yacht Club on City Island, which was around from the late 1800’s, had a nice fleet of these sloops stored on trailers which they dry sailed by lowering and hoisting on a dedicated lift. I was invited to crew on a couple of occasions for Sunday afternoon racing. We had light winds, so it wasn’t too exciting – but it was fun and tactical. No spinnaker, so easier to shift gears on shifting winds in an instant and focus the whole time and tactics and strategy.

Star white room; typical recent scene for this low-riding, wet and athletic class that has seriously withstood the test of time.

The Star was in the Olympics for some time. It was the 2-person keelboat. One crew hikes over the side when needed; both sailors need to be decently sized to hold that boat down. It’s work. While no longer in the Olympics, the boat is still super competitive and used in series including the Bacardi Cup in Miami and the Star Sailors League Invitational regatta. Dennis Conner of America’s Cup fame was a world champion in the Star before he got involved in the Cup.

Next: the Laser, which came later to the Olympics but was already one of the world’s most widely sailed boats and is now the most. It’s a singlehanded performance dinghy with one sail (cat boat or uni rig), with three choices of sail size.

Olympic medalist Anna Tunnicliffe, from Steven Lippman’s shoot in ESPN’s In the Buff series. Note the cuts; this is an athletic boat to sail competitively.

I started sailing these in the early 1980’s and raced them for a few years in the NYC/Long Island district of the Laser Class Association. I also qualified for the Empire State Games once and drove my Laser atop my Pontiac Ventura Hatchback up to Syracuse. I was only about 118 pounds soaking wet, and raced a full rig – but as we’re in a light wind region here, I got away with it. The one time I actually won a regatta saw 15-20 with some higher gusts, but some of the better racers in that district didn’t attend. But, I sailed hard and beat larger sailors. First race: chose not to jibe on the screaming reach to the jibe mark. I did a ‘chicken jibe:’ I lowered the board, spun around in a tack, and continued. The guy I was basically fighting the whole day for 1st place? He kept it real and jibed. He flipped. I won the regatta by a hair and his capsize spelled the difference.

Medals in the Laser Class, District 8 (NYC/Long Island). From back in the day when our Director actively raced the world’s most popular sailboat. It’s still in the Olympics despite recent challenges by upstart imitator classes.

So, sailing on some Olympic classes paid off. First, it made me a better sailor. Second, it made me better understand how boats relate to teaching beginners and intermediates. Our family started teaching on the Olympic Soling in 1968. Since then, we’ve used three more designs for teaching beginners, in this order:

  • J/24, in late 70’s (immediately abandoned and returned to Solings)
  • Sonar in 1980 or thereabouts, continuing until NYSS sold;
  • Beneteau First 21 with my new school in 1998

I could have gone out and bought a fleet of Solings, Sonars, or especially J/24’s to make a cheap fleet. You get what you pay for. Spare parts for our Beneteau First 21 sloops typically exceed the purchase price of a cheap used J/24 and often that of a Sonar. I leave that for the multitudes of other schools that don’t know or don’t care.

Our Beneteau First 21 sloops have an enviable distinction: they’re the only sailboat design ever endorsed by a national sailing school organization such as ASA or US Sailing. The First 21 is the same boat as the Beneteau 22 and the ASA First 22. What’s the only difference between them? The ASA First 22 had a longer cockpit and smaller cabin. It’s the same exact hull, keel, twin rudders, mast, etc. The only real difference is the cockpit to cabin ratio. The Beneteau models have plenty of room already, so no problem there. Guess we got it right in 1998!

Here’s a couple sailing one back to our moorings on a windy day. This couple has a fair amount of experience: both raced J/24’s in NY Harbor; both sailed J/105’s. He did a Transatlantic! Also grew up cruising Maine. She did two levels of ASA courses in NY Harbor as well as an offshore delivery from Florida to New York.

Guess which Club they belong to now, and what their current favorite boat is? It’s ours – what many European sailors call the Baby Ben…

“At NY Sailing Center, we know a thing or two because we’ve sailed scores of boats, not just a few… including 3 Olympic classes.”

Captain Stephen Glenn Card, Director and HBIC (Head Bozo in Charge).

Olympics: Bronze for USA, plus the Couple Who Sails Apart…

Caleb Paine was in fourth place going into the medal race in the Finn dinghy class on Tuesday.  He led at every mark and took the race – and took the Bronze medal in the process.

caleb bronze
Sailing equivalent of a victory lap. Caleb Paine celebrating after securing Bronze.

The Finn is a large singlehanded dinghy, used as the ‘heavyweight’ men’s singlehanded class.  It’s had a very long reign in Olympic sailing – uninterrupted since the 1952 Games. It’s arguably the hardest boat to sail well in the world.  It’s certainly the most brutal.

This was Paine’s first Olympic appearance.  He skipped college to pursue competitive sailing, and apparently it paid off.  Congratulations!


Two other Olympians who wound up with significant fourth place stats in their classes have a lot in common…

  • Sail the same boat (Laser)
  • Live in the same country (Italy)
  • Share blood relatives

Who are they?

Gintaré and Robert Scheidt…

scheidette 2012
Yes, her boat says 2012 – but she was indeed in the current 2016 Games too. This pic syncs well with the next one…

scheidt

So, they sail they same boat, although Gintaré’s rig is the Radial (smaller sail and bottom half of mast).  They represent different countries (Gintaré is originally from Lithuania).  They are married with children, and live together in Italy.  Gintaré was fourth in the medal race (7th overall), and Robert won the medal race which brought him to 4th overall. He won one of the earlier races but also had some poor outings.

Had he Bronzed, he would have won his 6th Olympic sailing medal in two classes – the Laser and the Star class doublehanded keelboat, which are as far apart as actual boats get in the Olympics.  Only the sailboard class (RS:X) is further removed from the Star.  Two Golds, two Silvers, and a Bronze – in two very different boats.  This writer can’t think of a better Olympic sailing record.  Elvström won 4 golds in two dinghies, the Firefly and the Finn, but I think Scheidt’s record is even more impressive.


Here’s hoping that the US women’s 470 team converts their 2nd place in overall standings into a podium finish.  To be continued…

Want to watch live and also get some replays?  Here are links to NBC’s streaming page for sailing.  Most prior days’ coverage are available but the last two weren’t last time we checked.

http://www.nbcolympics.com/sailing   (Main sailing page with news and schedules for streaming)

http://stream.nbcolympics.com/sailing-day-3  (First day of replays that are actually available on demand.  Edit the number to try the day you want.  Was working up through day 8 last time we checked and tech difficulties for days 1 & 2.)

Olympic Sailing Update

August 15, 2016 (edited on the 16th)

US Sailing, our country’s organization for sailboat racing, announced yesterday that things were looking good for Team US on the Olympic sailing front.  “Five sailors are in the top 10.”

That’s lame!  Guess we suck at sailing this time…

Well, it’s lame for us in the historical scheme of things.  We have tended to be the country to beat.  But the rest of the world is getting more competitive in the sport, which is a good thing.

There are numerous sailing classes for both men and women in the Olympics.  They range from the RS:X sailboard (‘windsurfer’) to the Star class double handed keelboat.  Most boats are boardboats.  Right now only the Star class has a keel.

( – aside: there was a Star fleet at the Stuyvesant Yacht Club on City Island for decades.  They dry-sailed them.  This writer got on one for a few races a long time ago when a skipper needed a crew.  That’s some hard-core boat!  But like many pedigree platforms, it can be sailed on a more casual than Olympic basis and still be enjoyable.)

So; who’s good from the good ‘ol USA..

Womens 470: Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha, currently in second place!..

470 women

Finn: Caleb Paine, 4th place, 5 points out of Bronze so could medal…

finn cp

Kudos to Great Britain’s Giles Scott, who has already clinched the gold.  The medal race is on Tuesday, limited to the top 10 contenders, so this is definitely worth watching.  Easier to follow than the whole fleet.  Cheer Caleb Paine on to Bronze!

Brazilian hometown favorite Robert Scheidt was doing very well in the Laser class.  He was second for awhile in the standings, but disappointing finishes in later races dropped him down.  Scheidt is one of the winningest sailors in Olympic history, with 5 Olympic Medals in the sport.  He’s taken two gold, two silver, and a bronze, and these are spread out over two totally different classes: the singlehanded Laser dinghy, and the doublehanded Star keelboat.  That’s very impressive in my log book.  In fact, I can’t think of a better Olympic sailing record.  Super kudos!

And then there’s his wife! Gintarė Scheidt (Gintarė Volungevičiūtė-Scheidt) represents Lithuania in sailing.  The two met at a training event and later got married.  Gintaré was Lithuania’s standard bearer for the opening ceremonies.  The two live with their children in Italy.


So… if we’re not exactly the standard setters this time, which countries are sailing more consistently?

Britain, and France.  They’re solidly in the top ten in almost every event.  As mentioned, Giles Scott had the Finn Gold wrapped up before the final race.  France medaled in both mens and women’s RS:X sailboard events, so that’s impressive.


Want to watch replays and be ready to stream live when racing resumes (probably on midday, Tuesday August 16)?  Here you go…

http://stream.nbcolympics.com/sailing-day-8

(update: NBC’s replay links are currently just saying “Coverage has concluded” for days 10 and 11.  Lame.  But maybe that’ll sort itself out.)

This is the link for racing on Sunday.  Monday saw poor conditions with a lot of cancellations, and the replay seems to not be available for anything they did air.  But you can edit the number “8” in your browser and substitute anything smaller, and you’ll get the replays for that day’s racing.  Very hard to find otherwise.  Footage is excellent.  It’s mostly real video, with occasional graphic race course overlays.  Sometimes they give real-time graphic renditions of the fleet instead.

You’ll probably have to sign in with your cable provider the first time but then be good to go.


Want results and schedules?

https://www.rio2016.com/en/sailing-schedule-and-results

Shortly after it says Schedule and Results in bold, you’ll see a list of all the sailing classes for men, women, and the one mixed class – the Nacra catamaran.  There you can choose the class whose standings you want to see.  Or, further down, you can browse by calendar date for individual race results or to see what’s coming up when starting Tuesday the 16th.

https://www.olympic.org/sailing

The Olympics home page for sailing, in case you like that better.  Variety & options…

Watch Live Feeds of Olympic Sailing in Rio

Live footage begins today on NBC…

http://www.nbcolympics.com/live-stream-schedule/sailing

Today, at noon, we have Laser racing.  Awesome little boat that is one of the most important classes in the history of the sport.  Well worth checking this out, and also sailing one yourself at some point.  Most America’s Cup skippers in recent history were winners in Lasers at some point.

The Dockmaster's collection of Laser racing awards
The Dockmaster’s collection of Laser racing awards

The medals above are NOT from the Olympics.  They are from the local/regional level in Long Island Sound/NYC.  But they are so kewl.  That’s the boat as profiled on each medallion.  Check out the live coverage or recaps as the Rio Olympiad rolls along and you’ll see why this boat rules.

Thanks, Bruce Kirby, for designing it.