Tuesday, September 09, 2014

ISA Downwind Clinic - the Inside Scoop

Back in July I wrote a post fantasizing about the perfect way to do Laser Downwind Training and wondering if the Downwind Clinic at the International Sailing Academy in Mexico might be that perfect solution.

Then last month, Canadian Laser Master sailor David Elliot emailed me asking for help in planning the 2015 East Coast Road Trip for the RCMST (Real Canadian Masters Sailing Team) and in a subsequent email conversation he mentioned that he had been to the ISA downwind clinic last year and he agreed to give me an email interview for this blog about it.

Let me first of all explain why some of my questions might seem a little negative. It was only because I am already sold on all the benefits of this clinic, how much I would learn, how much fun the downwind sailing every day would be. I wanted to probe with David some of the things that might not be so obvious.

How was the upwind tow? How long was it and were you sitting in your Lasers all the way? That sounds like the most uncomfortable part of the whole process — although I guess it's better than sailing all the way. 

You have identified the downside of the downwind clinic. The tow was approx 50 minutes each day in our lasers, most often bum on the cockpit floor. There were 5 lasers towed by each motorboat as I recall. Mostly it was fine but sometimes uncomfortable. 

On the positive side, it is a beautful location and attractive shoreline. Significant amount of sea life. We stopped to watch whales on several occasions during tows.

Was it basically the same format every day or did you have different drills or work on different techniques each day? 

Generally the format started with a basic approach to carved turns and built each day on what had been taught, if not learned or perfected, the day before. Different drills were used but there was certainly some repetition. The repitition was offset by the variety of wind and wave conditions. What seemed pretty easy in 5knots was not so easy in 10knots.

What were the winds like? The website seems to promise light winds at the start of the run and building as you go, which sounds ideal. But did you get that every day? What were the maximum wind speed and wave heights? 

The wind was pretty much as promised. We started the tow around 10.30 though that depended a bit on the weather forecast I think it was light — a couple of knots or less — every time we started downwind. The wind built during the time we took to get back. Typically it was blowing 15 to 18 knots, with occasional higher gusts, by the time we finished. 

The wave heights varied. There is not the same kind of swell as there is in Cabarete. The waves are shorter but still very surfable. Height was flat to a foot to three or four feet or so. Sometimes the current would cause some choppy areas. 

There may have been one or two days when the wind was late, and I think one day when the wind was lighter, but it was surprisingly consistent — which is not always the case there. I have been to ISA several times, mostly earlier (late February), but from what I have been told and experienced, the wind gets more consistent and stronger in April and May.

How long were you on the water each day?

About 50 minutes to go upwind and then we spent over 3 hours sailing downwind, with stops for coaching, water, and to collect those trying too hard and who had mishaps - as we all did. But the water was warm! About 4 hours in total, I think. 

Was there a lot of individual feedback? On the water as well as video? 

Yes. Vaughn is pretty even handed with attention — recognizing that there may be 10 to 12 sailors. He is the only coach. A lot of video and good briefing and debriefing. He also has a stack of video of national team guys for comparison or teaching. Vaughn is an excellent Laser sailor in his own right and he is not afraid to get in the boat and demo a point. 

And, although it is only Mexican beer and it is in a bottle, the first one coming off the water to the eating place, offered with an ice cold flannel is, well, delicious, as is the food that quickly follows. 

Temperatures were in the high 20s or low 30s. A thin rash guard top and minimal bottoms were sufficient on virtually every day. 

I never thought I would be able to sail downwind with "knees up" but I do now.


Sounds like this is something to add to my bucket list.

Thanks to Dave for the interview.


R1 said...

50mins towing? Ouch. Why not do windward-leeward course all day? Is it really worth it?

Being towed is something I have always tried to avoid at all costs. It feels like being out of control.

Tillerman said...

Well I guess that's the dilemma, R1. That's why I was asking Dave what the tow was really like.

The downside of sailing windward leeward courses all day as a way to practice downwind sailing is that you would probably spend about twice as long sailing upwind as sailing downwind.

The other choice of course is for someone to ferry trailers and vehicles from the launch site to the take-out site at the end of the downwind. But sometimes that's not practical because of geography or logistical issues.

LaserMax said...

I did the downwind clinic at International Sailing Academy in May this year, my third visit to them in the last three years. The upwind tow isn't too bad - the tow boat usually zig zags upwind so that you are on a beat on one tack or another to make it more comfortable and also stop the sail from otherwise flogging. Downwind the conditions gradually build in wind and sea state so that you can practice new techniques in a range of conditions. I am also now "knee up" in all but the lightest of conditions and much faster. Vaughn is an excellent coach who knows his stuff and La Cruz is a great place to both sail and stay. Needless to say I will be going back again!

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