LONG BEACH — What began in January of 2015 as Long Beach Yacht Club’s Match Racing Academy as an entry-level introduction to match racing for experienced sailors, finished one year later on Jan. 30 with Lisa Meier of Long Beach YC winning the ISAF Grade 5 Match Racing Academy Grad School match race.
“We came to race after a few days of practice,” said Meier. “There was not one skipper or crewperson that did not come to race their ‘A’ game. The competition was fierce, and we had skippers and crew who have raced in tons of events around the world.”
Meier also recognized the dedication and hard work of her crewmembers Blair Carty and Wally Gordon.
“We’ve been committed to spending time together,” said Meier, “taking what we learned in the Match Racing Academy and then taking it to the practice course.”
The idea and inspiration for the project came from Long Beach YC’s Race Management Chair Cindy Bambam.
“The Match Racing Academy,” said Bambam, “was born after considering ways to give those interested in learning match racing a place to do just that. We were noticing the same group of competitors at our events and recognized that there were no avenues available for those interested in learning the sport.
“This homegrown program is very loosely programmed, adjusting the lectures and racing to the skill and knowledge of the participants. The key is having highly skilled lecturers and coaches (we are very fortunate to have several who graciously volunteer their time) who can adjust their presentation to the needs of the group.”
With just two 27-foot Solings, one umpire boat and one mark boat, the race committee ran the regatta from the dock next to the club on a cool winter day with moderate breezes of 6-8 knots.
Skippers and crew, waiting for their turn to get on the boats for their match in the single round-robin format, helped out the race committee on the dock or rode along with the umpires to broaden their match racing knowledge base.
The format is pretty simple; three weekends (consecutive if possible) with Friday evening chalk talks from match racing experts followed by on-the-water training Saturday for the first two weekends with the Grade 5 regatta on the last Saturday.
Long Beach YC was fortunate to have US Sailing Regional Principal Race Officer Sharon Bernd, ISAF International Judge and Umpire Kirk Brown and Liz Baylis, president of the Women’s International Match Racing Association training, coaching and officiating during the program.
Brown ran the first and third weekend of chalk talks and on-the-water drills, where he coached each team on do’s and do-not’s as they practiced starting sequences and worked on tactics in (what is known in match racing as) the playground or pre-start area.
“Long Beach YC has a culture of match racing,” said Brown, “going back more than 50 years. The Match Racing Academy is the entry level to bigger and better things. It’s a training program for sailors, race committee and umpires, so that they can take the next step up the ladder, which is the Butler Cup which forms a direct path to the [Grade 1] Congressional Cup.
“Match racing is simply fun, and our club members enjoy it. This allows women, men and youth to play at an easily accessible level. It requires only limited assets. Race committee work is done off of the dock and one boat serves as both the umpire boat and the mark set boat, which makes this an inexpensive regatta to run. The focus is on fun and learning. The Match Racing Academy has a waiting list, which shows it is working.
“This can be done with any two race boats and one support boat, which leaves no excuse not to go match racing.”
Baylis — 2002 Women’s Match Racing World Champion, 2003 and 2007 U.S. Women’s Match Racing Champion and 2002 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year — ran the second weekend’s chalk talks and on-the-water drills.
“When I run a match racing training seminar,” said Baylis. “I want the participants to come away feeling like they’ve learned something and feeling like they can’t wait to go out and try it on the race course. My goals are always to share my passion for the sport while giving the sailors the tools to get better. It’s not about giving the sailors the answers, but giving them the tools and skills to figure out the right thing to do in a situation. One of the great things about match racing is that every situation is different, so you need to be able to apply your knowledge and figure out new situations.
“Yacht clubs are often looking for ways to keep sailors active in their clubs when they outgrow the youth programs and often before they are in a situation to own their own boats.
“A match racing program is a great way to keep sailors actively sailing at the club and produce a great pool of sailors to be involved in both intra-club and inter-club events. These activities are fun and a great way to build camaraderie within the membership. Since match racing only uses two boats, it’s usually easy to find a couple of matched boats to borrow or have donated to start a program.
“Sometimes, all it takes to build or grow a match racing program in a club is one or two energetic people with a passion to organize a few low-key events and a few keen sailors and it grows from there.”
Bambam adds, “It is fun to look back to last year at the first couple of novice academy sessions where we covered the same rules over and over again. Now, a year later at the advanced academy, this same group is working on complicated strategy and tactics!”