clay's blog

Day Four

By clay - Posted on 21 October 2011

After a short postponement ashore to wait for the breeze to fill, we had two more races today in a puffy/shifty 4-10 knots.  In the first race, I had a good start in the middle and played the middle right.  I was looking pretty good, but at the top rounded in 6th.  The good news was that there was a huge gap behind me, but the bad news was that the kid in third was incredibly slow and stubborn.  First and second place took off, and the rest of the guys near my just log-jammed behind third.  We tried to go over the kid and pass him, but he refused to let people by.  So the entire fleet ended up catching up, and just like that we were in a tight race from 3rd to last.  I had an ok run to round in about 6th place and played the middle left.  Some people went out right and got some nice pressure to come across, and at the top, I found myself in 8th or 9th.  On the downwind, I was able to separate and sail low in some pressure to pass the boats back, rounding in 5th and finishing there.

The race committee quickly fired up a second race, and I started one boat up from the pin.  I sailed out a bit and tacked on a nice lift which I rode across the fleet.  At the top, I was able to play the shifts well to be leading at the first mark.  I kept the lead on the reach, but as soon as I rounded the reach mark the breeze died a little bit and the guys from behind began to catch the top group.  The top seven were pretty separated from the back group, but again, the race practically restarted at the reach mark.  I did well early, but lost a bit at the end to round in 4th or 5th.  I headed out to the right and played that side, but two boats went all the way to layline (and then some) and reached in in front of me.  I ended up rounding in 7th and stayed there until the finish.

It was another tricky day out there today.  The shifts are pretty short-lived and hard to see on the water; it makes stringing together the lifts very difficult.  Again, I think I had pretty good speed for the day, but a few breaks at the right time could have meant an awesome day.  The points are still pretty close, but with one more day left, I'm going to need two good races to have a shot at the medal race on Sunday for the top five.


Tricky Day Three

By clay - Posted on 19 October 2011

It feels like Groundhog Day in Mexico!  My routine has been the same for the past three days, so today was no different heading out for two more races at 1 PM.  After a short postponement to let the breeze fill, we got our first race off at about 1:30.  I liked the right side of the course, so I started near the boat and quickly tacked to port.  Most of the fleet tacked over too, but as we sailed across, the left had a little better pressure and people were able to wind up off my hip.  I came back at the top in 8th place.  I stayed there on the reach and was able to piece together a good run to round the bottom mark in 5th.  I was able to play the middle left well and solidify my spot in 5th, but right at the top some pressure came on the right and let two guys pass me.  I had another good downwind to pass one more boat, but could catch no more and ended up 6th in the first race.

The Race Committee quickly fired off our second race of the day, and the breeze remained very light.  I started below the group and played the middle left on the beat.  As we all came together at the top the fleet was incredibly close.  One shift my way, and I could have rounded in the top three.  But I was on the wrong side of the last small shift again and rounded in 7th.  I had some bad fortune in that the reach became a parade and the top four boats were able to pull ahead.  I was stuck behind two guys who were playing defense and slowed the whole pack down.  But once we got to the gybe mark, I finally got some separation and had another good downwind to move up to 5th and close some distance on the leaders.  On the next beat, I played the bottom really well to close some more distance, but at the top I got out of phase and three more boats got in the mix.  This time the left came in at the top, and I was hedged to the right, rounding in 8th.  I was able to pass one boat on the run, but was rounding the last leeward mark when a rogue wave came and pushed the mark into me!  I spun a quick 360, but lost the boat I passed, finishing in 8th.

It was a very tough day on the water.  We never saw breeze over 4-5 knots, and to make matters worse, the breeze was incredibly hard to see on the water.  People seemed to just get "personal" puffs at different times.  The racing was also unbelievably close.  In my two races if I had an extra 50 yards on the fleet I could have won both!  The difference between a top three and an 8th place today was often one small shift or one puff.  So it that regard, it was a frustrating day.  But the good news is that I'm still in 5th overall and the points are all very close. 

Tomorrow is the scheduled lay day, and I'm going to join Cy Thompson and some other US Virgin Island sailors and go to the "Canopy Adventure Park" for some zip lines and other cool stuff.  It should be a nice break from sailing!  Then I'll check out our US Beach Volleyball teams play later in the day.


Great Second Day in Mexico

By clay - Posted on 18 October 2011

Today was the second day of the Pan Am Games, and once again we headed out for two more races at 1 PM.  In the first race, the breeze started out at a light 4 knots but built to about 6 knots.  I had a good start below the fleet and headed to the left for more pressure.  I was able to tack and sail on top of the fleet out towards the right.  At the first mark, I rounded in 2nd behind the Columbian guy, but Cy Thompson (ISV), Julio Alsogaray (ARG), and Bruno Fontes (BRA) were right behind me.  I stayed in 2nd on the reach, and on the run, I was able to get around the Columbian guy.  Julio just edged in front of me at the leeward mark.  I rounded in 2nd and headed back to the left for more pressure.  Most of the fleet started heading to the right, so Julio tacked over and went with them.  I saw a little more breeze just past him, so I sailed about 10 more boat lengths and tacked in some nice pressure.  The breeze kept going left and I was able to lift off of Julio and into the lead.  We road all the way across the course and then I tacked in front of him on the way back to extend my lead.  Raul Aguayo (DOM) was pretty deep and went all the way to the left corner by himself and was able to sneak in front of Julio at the weather mark.  I had a good lead and maintained it to the finish!

After the first race, we all expected the breeze to continue to build.  But right before our second race it died to almost nothing.  We actually started a second race, but the breeze was so light that the RC quickly abandoned.  We sat around for a bit, and 20 minutes later a stronger breeze came from hard right.  The race committee reset the course, and we quickly got our second race going.  I had a good start four down from the committee boat and quickly tacked to port, heading to the right side of the course.  The breeze was pretty shifty, but I liked the right because I saw pressure and good angle on the other course further upwind.  Once over there, Matias del Solar (CHI) and Bruno were punched in the middle.  Julio came out of the left, and Dave Wright (CAN) and I came out of the right!  The last shift was a righty, and I rounded in 5th right behind those guys.  I stayed the same on the reach, and then on the downwind I went low.  There was a bit more pressure on the high road, and those four pulled ahead of me and three more boats caught up to pass me.  I rounded the leeward gate in about 8th and headed back to the right.  Once out there, I was able to play some nice shifts and catch all the way up to 4th at the top mark with a bit of a lead.  Since the last pressure and shift that allowed me to pass everyone was on the right, I went low again, hoping for more of that.  But I was wrong again and the high road had better breeze.  Bruno Fontes went high and passed me back, and I held on to 5th at the finish.

So overall it was a good day.  The racing was very tricky today with big pressure differences and shifts.  It was not easy sailing out there!  With a 1-5, I moved up to 2nd overall, but the points are incredibly close.  I'm in 2nd with 18 points and 6th place has 20 points!  There's a lot of racing left, and a drop race once we've had six, so expect things to move around a bit.


Day One of the Pan Ams

By clay - Posted on 17 October 2011

Today was the first day of the Pan American Championship in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  I arrived at the club at 10:30 AM for a 1 PM first race.  It was an interesting morning at the club when we arrived to a notice on the notice board saying that ALL forms of "propaganda, commercial or otherwise" can be on our clothing, boats, etc. It was pretty ridiculous to see this anti-advertising notice, and no one knew how seriously to take it.  People were turning clothes inside out, duct taping over labels on their sailing gear, etc.  It was pretty comical.

So after I duct taped over my gear, I headed out on the water at about noon.  It was really hot out, with temperatures in the 90s and very sunny; staying cool and hydrated was a big part of the day.  After a quick tow out to the course, we sat around for 45 minutes waiting for the breeze to fill and stabilize.  We finally got our first race off at 1:45 in a pretty light breeze.  The pin was pretty favored, and I had a good start 2nd up from the end.  I played the bottom left, but a lot of the fleet quickly tacked to the right and got more pressure.  Instantly the fleet became pretty separated and the guys on the right punched out to a big lead.  I ended up rounding the weather mark in 11th and was able to pick off a few boats on each leg to get 7th in the race.  It was a good comeback considering how far spread out the fleet was, but not an ideal way to start!

Before the second race the breeze began to build to about 12-14 knots.  In the second race, I started in the middle and played the middle on the beat.  Both sides came in a little at the top, and I ended up rounding in 9th.  The top three were able to separate themselves well, but everyone from 4th to the back of the fleet was very close.  I had a good downwind and moved up to 6th at the bottom.  Then I played the right on the second beat and was able to close a lot of distance to 4th and 5th.  On the downwind, I passed two boats, but Dave Wright from Canada got around me.  I reached into the finish in 5th place.

So it was a mediocre day on the water.  I don't think I sailed very well, but the good news is that I was able to "salvage" some decent races.  The laser fleet is so close and competitive that anyone can have a good race or bad, so I'm just going to keep plugging away and hopefully turn in some better scores tomorrow.

Two more races scheduled tomorrow, and the breeze should be pretty similar.


Pan American Games Start Tomorrow!

By clay - Posted on 16 October 2011

Tomorrow is the first day of the Pan American Games, and I've spent the last few days on my final preparations.  Each day I've been trying to get into a routine for the event.  I usually wake up at about 8 AM and head to breakfast downstairs.  After breakfast, I come back upstairs and try to use the pathetically slow internet for a bit, before gathering my gear and taking care of any last minute details for the day.  Then I grab the 10 AM bus (still escorted by armed police officers) and head to the yacht club.  Once at the club, I check the notice board, rig up, and head out on the water at about 12:30.  We're racing at 1 PM here, so I'm trying to spend some time between 1-4 PM in the racing area.  After sailing I head back, have dinner, and relax a bit before heading to bed.  This will be the rough plan for the event over the next week.

So the regatta starts tomorrow and there are 13 Laser sailors who have qualified to compete.  While the fleet is very small, it is VERY deep with everyone here sailing the World Cup circuit.  Here is who's sailing:

Argentina- Julio Alsogaray

Brazil- Bruno Fontes

Canada- David Wright

Chile- Matias del Solar

Columbia- Andrey Quintero

Dominican Republic- Raul Aguayo

Guatemala- Juan Maegli

US Virgin Islands- Cy Thompson

Mexico- Ricardo Montemayor

Trinidad & Tobago- Andrew Lewis

Venezuela- Jose Miguel Ruiz

Uruguay- Alejandro Foglia

USA- Clay Johnson


The format of the event is for ten races over five days of sailing.  We'll have three days of racing, a lay day (to be used if we haven't had six races yet), then two more days of racing.  After that, the top five will qualify for the medal race next Sunday.  The breeze is forecasted to be between 5-10 knots for the whole week, which is pretty normal for this time of year.  It's also VERY hot here with temperatures in the 90s.  I am literally drinking 20+ bottles of water every day just to stay hydrated.

Last night, the US team took a picture on the beach before heading to a team dinner at a local restaurant in downtown Puerto Vallarta.  While it's been nice to live at the "village" and eat with everyone, it was fun to get away for a meal and chat with our US sailing teammates to see how they're preparing for the event.

Team USA, Pan American Championship 2011.  Photo Credit: John Martin, USOC

Today was the practice race for all fleets, but most of the Laser class took the day off to relax and do final boat prep.  I went down to the club early in the day to clean my boat and go over everything for tomorrow.  There was a small opening ceremonies at the yacht club that I attended before heading back to the hotel to hang in the pool and rest up.  At 4:30 I went over to the beach volleyball arena to watch our US Womens team beat Chile in their opening round game.  It's pretty cool to see all of the other athletes and to go to their competitions to root them for them.  There's a tremendous sense of pride in competing for the USA, and it's fun to get to know the other athletes.

So everything is ready to go here.  The whole thing is starting to feel "real" with accreditation now needed to go practically anywhere, metal detectors at every entrance to the yacht club and our hotel, and even spectators/fans asking for autographs and pictures.  It's pretty overwhelming!

I'm not 100% sure on a good website to follow results.  I've been told that should have all of the sailing results, but my internet connection is so bad that I haven't even been able to get the page to load for me yet!  Hopefully I'll have some more information tomorrow.

Pan Am Update

By clay - Posted on 13 October 2011

I'm currently in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the Pan American Championship and thought I'd update everyone on what I've done the past couple of days.

On Tuesday morning I took a flight from Newark to Houston.  At the Houston airport, I was greeted by Pan Am volunteers who put me on a bus to the Hilton hotel that was a few minutes away.  Once at the hotel, I was given a set of keys for my room and went upstairs for a bit.  At 4:30, the US Pan American sailors had "processing."  We walked to one of the large conference rooms where we lined up and gave someone our name.  One of the workers went into a back room and pulled out a giant duffle bag with tons of team gear in it.  Then we tried everything on to make sure it fit, and if something needed to be exchanged, the person assigned to us went and swapped it out for us.  In the bag were Pan Am t-shirts, shorts, sweatshirts, khaki pants, a track suit, polos, sneakers, socks, flip flops, hats, a backpack, pins (for trading with other countries), and a whole lot more.  It was like Christmas morning! 

After getting our gear, we walked into another room to take our picture and to receive any medical help.  We quickly put our new stuff back in our rooms and had a team dinner at the hotel.  After dinner we had our first team meeting where we talked about the plan for the traveling to Puerto Vallarta and answered some questions.

The next morning we had an early wake up call.  After grabbing a quick breakfast, we hopped on a 6:15 AM bus to the airport.  Once there, we were ushered to separate check in line where members of Continental just grabbed our bags, checked us in, and we were off.  Some people had windsurfing gear, oversized bags, etc, but none of it mattered and went through smoothly!  At 10 AM we flew from Houston to Puerto Vallarta (I got bumped up to 1st class!) and made it down in just over two hours.  Once we landed, we were met by the USOC and some other Pan Am volunteers.  We were given our accreditation and got on a large bus that took us to the resort/athlete village where we are staying.  We checked in and had a look around, had another team meeting at 8 PM with some more members of the USOC and our coaching staff, and had dinner.

This morning I got up and had breakfast and made it on the 8 AM bus to the Vallarta Yacht Club.  The bus ride to the club is interesting.  There are busses that leave every hour from the village and they are escorted by two police trucks.  Each truck has a handful of policemen on the back with machine guns making sure our trip goes smoothly!  It's pretty crazy.  When I got to the club, I first walked by the little zoo area they had set up!  They had a couple of tigers and some exotic birds for the tourists to check out.  I've never seen tigers at a yacht club before!  After pulling myself away from the tigers, I found my laser and worked on setting that up for a bit.  I had lunch at the club and went for an afternoon sail with 8 of the other 12 competitors here.  The sailing was nice, but it was very light air with some big residual swell from Hurricane Jova that passed through the other day.  It was pretty challenging conditions.  I came ashore and grabbed a bus back to the village where I am right now.

So far my experience has been great.  The team is incredibly friendly and helpful; it's cool to see everyone working together and enjoying this experience.  All of the team uniforms and gear that we've gotten is awesome and makes representing the USA even better.  Finally, we've had the first class treatment the whole time.  The whole team gets all expenses paid so we can have all the food and drink we want, in addition to our rooms, airfare, transportation, etc.  The process has been very easy!

So that's my update.  We have three more days of practice, registration, measurement, etc before the regatta starts on Monday.  I'm having a great time so far!

Colorado Springs Recap, Off to the Pan Am Games!

By clay - Posted on 10 October 2011

I've just returned home from another four day boot camp in Colorado Springs.  Once again, we were pushed very hard in the gym by our trainers Chris Herrera and Lee Fiocchi, and I left Colorado exhausted and with a new fitness plan.  While there, I wrote two blog entries for the US Sailing Team Alphagraphics blog site that recap my time.  This site is also a good place to find updates on the whole team and reports from regattas.

I'm home for one day to do some laundry and repack before heading to Houston tomorrow morning.  Tomorrow the US Pan American Team will go through processing where we will have team meetings and get all of our Pan Am gear!  Then on Wednesday we fly from Houston to Puerto Vallarta to start training for the event.

The big issue right now is that there are TWO hurricanes that are forecasted to go right through Puerto Vallarta this week!  Jova should be making it's way through any day now, and Irwin is following right behind.  I'm hopeful that we can get out and settle in before the hurricane hits, otherwise we may be delayed in Houston for a bit!  I'm even more hopeful that the hurricanes don't influence the event! 

Racing starts on Monday the 17th, so stay tuned for more updates on the hurricane and the event!

Update from Colorado Springs

By clay - Posted on 08 October 2011

Check out my blog report on the US Sailing Team Alphagraphics blog from day two of our Colorado Springs camp:

US Sailing Team Alphagraphics Blog

Highlights from Kingston and San Francisco

By clay - Posted on 25 September 2011

Check out some highlights from my training camps this summer/fall in Kingston, Ontario, and San Francisco, CA.


San Fran Training Recap

By clay - Posted on 19 September 2011

I've just returned home after three fantastic weeks of training in San Francisco.  The camp was a huge success, and I can't emphasize enough how smoothly everything ran.  I owe a huge thanks to our coach, Mike Kalin, for working with us everyday.  Not only was it convenient to work with Mike--he lives about 100 yards from the yacht club, we had debriefs at his house everyday, and he had access to a coach boat and other resources in the area--but he is also the USSTAG Laser coach.  He always gives thoughtful insight, provides us with great video and photos, and works hard to make sure our day is productive; any amount of time I can spend with Mike is worth it.

A second 'thank you' has to go to the Richmond Yacht Club.  They welcomed our eight person Laser team (as well as three Radial sailors and a handful of 49ers) with open arms.  We were able to keep our boats right on the dock next to the ramp, have access to the shower and locker room facilities, and make use of classrooms, tide maps, and their parking lot.  We couldn't have had as successful of a trip as we did without their generous support, and Richmond Yacht Club was the perfect venue for training in the Berkeley Circle everyday.

Sailing through the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Mike Kalin

The purpose of this trip to San Francisco was to get in as much heavy air sailing this month as possible in preparation for the World Championship in Perth, Australia, in December.  While there, I trained for 13 out of 16 days in breeze that ranged from 15-25 knots.  By the end of the camp, 15 knots now seems like a light air day!  We were able to take advantage of the long reach out to the course by splitting it up into three lengthy segments.  With three reaches out and three reaches back in everyday, my reaching skills certainly improved.  We also did plenty of upwind grinding, long downwinds (including two downwind runs where we towed outside of the Golden Gate bridge before turning around and sailing downwind back in a strong ebb tide!), and plenty of boathandling drills.

While out there, I was also able to meet up with Tracy Usher, the President of the North American Laser Class Association.  For those who don't know, the Laser class is currently in the process of coming out with a new sail and composite top section.  Tracy had prototypes of both at his disposal and allowed us to try them out for a few days.

Sailing Upwind with the new Laser sail.  Photo Credit: Mike Kalin

In my opinion, both the sail and the new top section are "no brainers" for the long-term success of the Laser.  The sail is made from 4.5 ounce cloth (an upgrade from the 3.8 ounce cloth that we currently have) and is radial cut.  It has a bigger window at the bottom to make vision on the course easier.  It's also much more aesthetically pleasing.  (ie there are no ugly wrinkles between the joint of the top/bottom section and the end of the boom.)  We tested two sails while out there:  one new one and one that had over 150 days of sailing on it!  It was incredible to see that the new sail and the old one both looked and performed similarly.  Most importantly, though, I think the sail was very comparable speed wise to the old one.  It'd be interesting to try it more in a variety of conditions, but in general it was pretty even in the conditions we were training in.

Reaching Drill with the new Laser sail.  Click on the photo for a larger view and to see the radial cut in more detail. Photo Credit: Mike Kalin

The top section is amazing.  It weighs the same as a current top section and has the same bend characteristics, but is made of carbon fiber instead of aluminum.  Everything is the same except that it does not bend at the end of the day!  When this top section becomes approved, you will no longer see people trying to straighten their mast after a windy day, people won't have to twist their spars precisely to line up the rivets (there are no rivets with the carbon fiber spar because the collar is epoxied on), and you won't have to purchase a new top section every other regatta!  During our training, we rotated the spar around to a few different sailors to try out, and they all said that they didn't notice any difference in performance.  More importantly, our coach said that he couldn't even tell who had the spar and who didn't when looking at our rigs on the water.  This thing is LEGIT! 

It was really cool to be a part of the testing period for both the sail and the top section.  I'm not sure what the time frame for either is (the dispute between Laser Performance and Global Sailing needs to be resolved first), but for sure neither will be released for use on the international circuit before the Olympics.  Look for them to come out right after the Olympics or in 2013.  I'm excited though!

Overall, the camp was a huge success.  I definitely think my heavy air sailing improved, and I'm hoping that I can bring some of these skills to Perth with me this December.  In the meantime, I'm home for a couple of weeks for some downtime.  Next weekend I head up to Newport, RI, for my brother's wedding which should be exciting.  Then I head to another four-day boot camp in Colorado Springs before going to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the Pan American Games!  It should be an exciting fall.

Stay tuned for some video highlights from my training the last two months!

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