Geoff Becker: Finishing Strong to win the Worlds

Published on September 3rd, 2015

When assessing regatta performance, it is how you finish, not necessarily where you finish. But if you can finish strong, and win, say, the Lightning World Championship, that’s about as good as it gets. Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checks in with Geoff Becker on what it took to come from behind and win the 2015 title…

Describe your preparation going into the Worlds.

My preparation for the 2015 Lightning Worlds began in February when I sailed my current boat for the first time. With my goal being the Worlds, and the limited time I had to focus on the Lightning, each regatta I sailed in the boat was a chance for improvement.

I had six events on the schedule before the worlds, and at each of them I saw improvement in our setup and boatspeed. The final training event was the Lake Erie Districts in June, and our boatspeed there was excellent which was very encouraging as the worlds approached.

The Lightning, like many one-design classes, boatspeed is paramount to success. There are so many good sailors in the class, if you are not on pace with the front group, you will not be in the front group. Knowing that, my primary focus leading up to the worlds was to get my boat up to speed and be as comfortable as I could with the settings for the mast and sail trim. Fortunately, the boat setup well and we had good speed leading up to and during the event.

The last puzzle piece leading up to the Worlds was our team. I had sailed a lot with Laura Beigel, on other boats like the J/70, so I knew what she brought to our team and that she and I worked well together on the water. Jimmy Barnash was a later addition, but having sailed with and against him in the past, I knew he would bring talent and experience to our team.

With only a short time together sailing as a team, our biggest hurdle was each taking ownership of our roles. Since the Lightning is a high maintenance boat to drive fast, our performance relies heavily on the crew for the boathandling and the tactics. In the end, we got the boat sailing fast, Laura managed the boathandling and Jimmy kept us in positions on the course to do well when we were ahead and found us clear lanes when we fell behind.

You had a 26th in the first race… was that part of your plan?
No, a 26th in the first race was not in our pre-regatta plan. That said, we were more than happy with our finish in that race since we were OCS at the start and after returning to re-start we rounded the first mark ahead of only a handful of boats. By the end of that first race we were able to work our way back above mid fleet to finish 26th.

Even though this was our worst race of the event, we ended the race feeling our boatspeed and boat setup was good, which allowed us to confidently move forward to the next race and the rest of the regatta. By using the positives from an otherwise difficult beginning, we began to build momentum toward our consistency for the remainder of the regatta.

We have all been to regattas where a single boat walks away with victory by winning all the races and crushing the fleet. While that may happen from time to time, most regattas are won with consistency over the entire regatta. That thought process during the week long regatta helped our crew recover from the first race as well as maintain our focus by smoothing out any highs or lows over the entire event.

Did you have a coach during the event?
No, we didn’t have any coaching during the event. During major events, the Lighting Class doesn’t allow any on-the-water interaction with outside coach boats or spectators. Any coaching in the Lighting Class would need to be done before an event and you really don’t see it much at all in this class.

To what degree has the Lightning class been impacted by professional crew and coaches?
The Lightning has a long history with some of the best sailors competing in the class. There are professionals who sail regularly in the class and others who only compete from time to time.

On the whole, the impact of the professionals is much less in the Lightning Class because there are so many very talented amateurs too. Some of the sailors you will compete against in the Lighting have been sailing the boat for decades and many families have been in this class for generations. That level of talent depth is surely not found in every one-design class.

Some sailors and families only compete in the Lighting and as a result are some of the best Lightning sailors you will see on the racecourse. I also think that the Lightning is a fun boat to sail, but because of the talent already in the class, it is a difficult boat to just step in and win, even for a professional team.

You work for North Sails. How do you balance that responsibility at events while managing your own program?
At North Sails we have the motto, “Customers First.” That idea is easy to understand from a business perspective, but is certainly tested when in the heat of competition.

To be honest, my coaching background helps me in balancing the business and competition because I always appreciate when a boat or team sails well. Whenever possible, I try to acknowledge boats or sailors I know that have good races, days, or regattas. If I see a good performance from someone I don’t know personally, I try to use that as an opportunity to meet someone new in the class.

On the water, I am never one to create conflict where there is no tactical advantage. On the last beat of a race, tacking on a boat to secure your position is tactically correct and should be expected. In fact, I have had competitors apologize for covering me for tactical reasons and I normally let them know that there is no reason for me to expect any different.

On shore, of course, part of my role is to help others in the class and improve their performance. While new sails is one way to do that, many one-design sailors want other help as well. I have always been willing to share what I know, or what I have learned with anyone who asks. I never feel it is a burden to help sailors improve and that mindset seems to work well for me helping my customers.

Editor’s note: After finishing the first day with 26-3, Becker’s team slowly climbed the ranking to take the lead on day four, and confirmed the victory by posting a fourth on the only race held on the fifth and final day. Results.

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