Dee Smith: On The Right Track

Published on December 7th, 2015

American Dee Smith continues his ascent in the singlehanded Paralympic event. Having first stepped into the 2.4mR boat in February, Dee just finished sixth at the 2015 Para World Sailing Championships in Melbourne, Australia. As the world championship for Paralympic events, this was just another step for Dee in his hopeful journey toward the podium at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil. Here is his debrief from the event:

We mostly had smooth water at the Worlds, and it was in those conditions that my speed was good. But on the first day, I felt I sailed the course well but did not have enough speed upwind in the sea breeze of around 15 knots.

There was a chop, and when I looked around at the other boats, it seemed the biggest difference was my lack of mast rake. The next morning I added about 3 inches and that day my speed improved. However, I had to sort out my sail trim, as I really have not sailed in big seas before. Again, I looked around and with the rig back, I could twist the main more and keep the balance, which resulted in the boat going better.

My starts, were generally okay, but I did get stuck in one or two races in the 50 boat fleet. I started to use one of my old techniques I have used in big boats and it worked very well. After the second day, I was able to get any start I really wanted. In the last one, I wanted to control the boat ahead of me in the standings and it was done, and I got a very good fleet start too.

I felt comfortable in that size fleet, but the Paralympics will only have 17 boats, so it will be different. This week I will be racing in the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Melbourne, which currently has that many entrants.

The race course at the Worlds was not easy to read. I was okay at best over the series. I think I know it now, but of course when you go to a new area, it takes a while. It was a very interesting place, with current always flowing out of the river on the west side of the course, and wind from almost every direction. On my best day when I had a first and third, I read it very well, but on some of the other days I had to claw my way back from the wrong side. I think I have a handle on what is happening now, which I will be able to test this week.

Assessment of top competitors at Worlds:
1st Damien Seguin (FRA): In a class of his own. Fast in every condition. Sailed very well. He went for a side of the course and learn quickly from mistakes. He goes for it. And has the speed to claw back if he guesses wrong.

2nd Heiko Kroeger (GER): Great speed. Sailed a very different regatta than Damian. Raced the series conservative, never in the corners. Always came back by chipping away with his great boat speed. Always will be in the hunt. These two are the best when it is windy.

3rd Matt Bugg (AUS): Also very strong in a breeze. Very fast in downwind. He sailed by me a few times. I stopped working hard once just to watch on one leg. Hopefully I picked up something. Will find out this week.

4th Helena Lucas (GBR): She found more speed in the breeze. She has done some work on her rig and sails. I have done some of the same work on my boat at home, so I think I am going the right direction. She sails very smart. Works the shifts well.

5th Megan Pascoe (GBR): Sails well and fast. Was 1 point behind me going into the last race and took a second in that last race to jump from 7th to 5th. Unfortunately, Helena was selected as the Brit for the Paralympics, so Megan will not be in Rio.

7th Bjoernar Erikstad (NOR): He was the first Para at the Finland 2.4 Open World’s in August. Incredibly fast in light air, very smart. He was one point ahead of me going into the last race. I pushed him to the wrong side of the starting line on the last start, and he took his throwout in the race; he and Megan traded spots.

These are the players, the potential medal winners that I consider to have a chance in Rio. They all sail extremely well. They are all pros, paid to sail by their countries and supporters. They have been in the class for 15+ years and know their boats and the fleets inside and out. For me, finishing 6th this time around has given me the confidence that I am on the right track and moving up the ladder. I finished with 63 points, 17 points off the podium. Less than 2 points per race. Damian won averaging 2.7 points.

I have sailed myself onto the US Sailing Team with this regatta. This is not the trials, which are in Miami in January and Hyeres in April. But there are some good benefits being the #1 ranking US 2.4 sailor.

The plan going forward is to sail against the top sailors as much as possible. After this week, the training will focus on the Sailing World Cup event in Miami, and then in the spring I will send my boat to Europe for at least four events (Palma, Hyeres, Lake Garda, and Medemblik). Hopefully then I will see what I can do to train in Rio.

Dee Smith

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