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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TGS Winter Update: Australia Part 1

-       Arrival to Australia
-       Bronze medal at Sail Melbourne—First World Cup event of 2012
-       Team holiday on Great Ocean Road, arrival to Perth
-       Pre-Worlds training in Perth
-       Reflections on our development as a team from Sail For Gold to now
-       Ready to race at the Worlds—follow along at and regatta site

Dear Supporters,

After months and months of dreaming about and working towards this event, we have finally arrived—TGS is here in Perth, ready to finish the job.  We write today from a café along the cappuccino strip in Fremantle, the seaside town that is hosting the Worlds.   It’s pouring rain and all fleets racing in the first half of the event are being held ashore to avoid the thunder and lightning—a first for hot, sunny Perth!  We’ve been in Australia for nearly five weeks now, arriving to Melbourne November 1, and we’ll be here another two weeks to complete the event and consequently the US Olympic Team selections.  A long trip for sure, pretty much as far away as we could be from friends and family, but we are glad for the time we’ve spent here, as it has given us the proper amount of time to acclimate and prepare for the main event.  We’re chomping at the bit, ready to sail, but we must remain patient until the 470 Men finish their event—we begin racing after them, one week from today, December 12th.

Our Worlds preparations began in earnest in Melbourne, where we raced for the first time since our Europeans in Helsinki last July. We competed in Sail Melbourne, the first ISAF World Cup event for the 2012 season.  After a fall’s worth of training with a private coach working within the USSTAG framework, we purposefully did the regatta without coaching support, wanting to focus on building our communication within the boat.  Though the fleet was smaller than that of most World Cups, it was of the highest quality, with half the boats competing ranked top ten in the world as well as several gold medalists.  Because there were so few boats, we were raced all together, men and women on the same line with the scores being separated out on land.  This provided an excellent, if unforgiving, fleet, and a great segue back into racing after such a long break. Port Philip Bay dished out a range of conditions, with everything from glassed off no wind to AP over A go-home-racing-abandoned windy!

Our first time in the ISAF World Cup leader pinnies as a team!
We sailed a solid series, sporting the red third place pinnies every day but one.  We are particularly pleased with the improvements we’ve made in the 5-8 knot marginal trapeezing conditions, which is an area that had previously been one of our greatest weaknesses.  In keeping with our mantra of improving our weaknesses without losing our strengths, we demonstrated excellent speed both up and downwind in the bigger breeze, an area in which we’ve historically been quite strong.  We took a second overall—first women’s team by over a minute—in the one windy race that was completed (the other was abandoned mid-race).  At the end of the event, we faced a medal race scenario in which we had a small enough point margin to be under pressure from the German boat in fourth place—essentially we needed to stay ahead of them but still finish in the top five in the race.   This meant that we had to balance sailing the race with match racing the one boat, a tricky task at best.  Unfortunately, we jumped the gun at the start and were over early and had to restart to avoid a disqualification.  Once up and racing, we were forced to split from the fleet on the upwind, but were able to put together smart beats and blazing fast downwinds to catch up to the pack.  In a nail-biter last run, we surged past Japan and Ukraine to cross the line in third, which was enough to secure the bronze.  It was a pivotal moment for us, our first medal as a team, and a great confidence boost leading in to the Worlds.  Looking out over the crowd from the podium… well, let’s just say it’s an experience we’ll be looking to repeat.

Bronze Medal at Sail Melbourne
After packing up the boats to go to Perth via container train, TGS took a few days’ holiday along the Great Ocean Road, a windy coastal road through the mountains and cliffs of southern Victoria.  We spent three days hiking along the dunes and beaches, exploring waterfalls, and checking out other various natural attractions along the way.  At the end of the road, we enjoyed a stunning sunset over the Twelve Apostles, a series of sea stacks worn away from the mainland cliffs by the powerful, ceaseless waves of the Indian Ocean.  All in all, one of the most incredible trips— if you ever make it to Australia, it’s a must-do!   The vacation gave us a nice opportunity to unwind and not think about sailing for a few days, which is just as important a preparation as any leading up to a peak event.  Finally, before ending our report from the east side of Australia, we would like to thank our host family Caroline and Guido, for welcoming us and making us feel at home during our stay.

TGS takes some time to see the sights

We flew directly to Perth after our Great Ocean Road adventure, where we have set up camp for a month leading up to the Worlds.  After unpacking the boats we went straight into a coaches regatta for five days of combined men’s and women’s racing, this time with a slightly larger and even more talented fleet.  We used this event as an information-gathering opportunity, to learn about the venue and the breeze.  We saw two days of the infamous ‘Doctor’, the local seabreeze Perth/Fremantle is so well-known for, but the rest of the event saw a variety of different breeze directions.  All of these different conditions provided an excellent training ground for what we could have here, outside of the expected pumping seabreeze.  Following an intense month of racing, we returned to more of a boat-handling, speed-tuning mode of training, which was a nice change of pace.  We continued our pattern of training with the USSTAG men’s teams, this time with the addition of our own USSTAG coach, Zack Leonard, who we will work with through the event.  We’re going wicked fast and our communication and teamwork is better than ever before—we feel more than ready to race.
On-board camera, catching some of our training in Perth
It’s been a crazy road since we teamed up this past February—a long journey for sure, but one we feel we’ve put a lot of soul into.  Going into the first half of the Olympic Trials back in early June, our goal was to keep it close, to maintain enough of a point margin as to have enough time to properly train.  We met that goal—the difference is a mere three points between us and the other American boat—and we are now reaping the benefits of another six months’ training.  We have grown so much as a program, and what’s really incredible is that we still feel, each day, that our learning curve is still so steep.  Which is not to say that we haven’t learnt enough, but rather a testament more to the fact that we are strong.  Strong enough to win, strong enough to bring a medal home next summer.  We have beaten our competition at every event since the first half of the trials, and we are ready to put that difference on paper where it matters most—here, next week, at the Worlds.  Follow along with us as we complete this part of our dream, it’s going to be great.

Sail fast!

Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan

Enjoying the parade at the Opening Ceremonies at the Worlds

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Team GO SAIL would like to thank the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics and all of the USSTAG sponsors: Title Sponsor AlphaGraphics, Gold level partners Rolex Watch USA and Atlantis WeatherGear, Silver partners Sperry Top-Sider LaserPerformance, Harken, Team McLube and Trinity Yachts, and Bronze partners New England Ropes, Group Experiential Learning, and Bow Down Training.
Team GO SAIL is also supported by The Shelter Island Yacht Club, The New York Yacht Club, The Sailing Foundation of New York and the Southport Sailing Foundation's Clever Pig Sailing Team.

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