Mentoring the next wave of sailors

Published on March 26th, 2018

by John Papadopoulos, US 29er Class President
The 29er Midwinters West regatta attracted 29 teams for the 12-race series on March 23-25 in Coronado, CA. Posting all top four scores Neil Marcellini/Jack Joslin (USA) held off a late charge from Ryan Eastwood/ Sam Merson (USA) for the win. Ryan and Grant Janov (USA) finished third. Full results.

The regatta is a very important event to both the US and Canadian 29er Classes – it serves as the first “away” regatta for most teams on the West Coast and often brings in teams from the East Coast and beyond. The very active 29er squad in British Columbia especially enjoy coming to Coronado early to get in some warm weather training prior to the regatta.

The 29er is a high-performance boat, both in actual speed on the water and in the caliber of the skills needed to master it and the sport of skiff sailing. This year the class is celebrating its 20th birthday having been introduced in 1998.

When first launched, it was easily the fastest boat available on a family-sized budget and it attracted a fan base that included a surprisingly large number of parent/child teams. Over the ensuing 20 years, the average age of the 29er enthusiast has steadily gotten smaller; it’s now fairly uncommon to have a sailor older than 25 and increasingly common for 12 and 13 year-olds to be on the race course.

This very youthful enthusiasm for the boat presents one particularly difficult challenge: how to teach them, in the relatively short period of time available to a youth sailor, the very complex details of boat handling, apparent wind sailing, teamwork – topics that are largely ignored in contemporary youth sailing programs.

This is an especially tall order to fill given the absolute scarcity of sailors and/or coaches that understand these details well too. Contributing at the 29er Midwinters West were Neil Marcellini and Quinn Wilson, both who are nominally retired from the 29er but were mentoring/partnering with younger 29er sailors.

Long ago, the 29er sailors and class responded to this problem by promoting several not-so-ordinary solutions: open and collaborative training and onboard mentoring. This model is based on the 505 “Team Tuesday” program led by 505 World Champion Howard Hamlin in Long Beach, CA.

A key element of their model is daily debriefing amongst all the teams to identify the successful (and perhaps not so successful) techniques, setting, and strategies used to win that day. Onboard mentoring involves bringing an experienced sailor onto the boat for an entire regatta to provide real time training in a competitive environment.

Our original role model for on board mentoring was Paris Henken, the US 49erFX skipper at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, who, many years ago as a very youthful 29er sailor, briefly teamed up with an experienced 49er sailor to accelerate her 29er training program. And then last year, we saw Paris return to the class for the 2017 World Championship. Must keep passing it on.

Additional 29er details: http://www.29ernorthamerican.org

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