One of several articles coming out soon.
It’s All Fun and Games
Cats at the Pan Am Games and the Olympics
The most common thread that keeps Hobie 16 sailing at the top of the ‘largest one-design’ list is the camaraderie. This is exemplified by both Greg Thomas and John Williams, whose placement in the Hobie 16 North American Championships held at Lake Mohave, NV last week qualifies them to represent the U.S. in the Pan Am Games that will be held in Guadalajara Mexico next year. Thomas and JDub are both known for sailing F18s. Dub is a multiple time Alter Cup winner and Thomas has his name on the plaque too, but something drove them to sail the relatively simple H16. They’re not alone either; there were several Olympic level sailors at the H16 NAs, including Thomas who campaigned to represent the U.S. in the 2000 Olympics in the Tornado class. What is this magic formula that keeps some of the worlds top catamaran sailors coming back to a boat with only 3 strings to pull?
If you talk to a typical sailor at virtually every yacht club about Hobie Cats, chances are they’ve sailed one before. Oftentimes, other sailors within earshot will pipe up and interject something like, “I used to race those things in the 80s.” It’s pretty amazing how many people have actually sailed a 16, they’re the Volkswagen Bug of the sailing world. Hobie had a vision back in the ‘60s, and it brought sailing to the masses. The boats are fast, affordable, and the quality of racing is second to none; these are just a few factors that make Hobie Cat sailing what it is, a fun, family oriented way to hit the water and have a good time. The fleet will oftentimes campout together, share meals, share stories and just have a good time and some of them have been doing it for over 30 years…in essence, ‘The Hobie Way of Life’.
I was trying to search for a way to describe the cliché and Thomas answered, “ It’s family.” Jdub followed up, “It’s definitely is family. You want to do well, you want to take your skills and exhibit them, but you don’t want to win by everyone else doing poorly. The rising tide lifts all boats.” It’s more than just a hobby, it really is a way of life. JDub expanded, “That’s what drew me in to my first serious event was in 1993. I was sailing this old yellow Hobie 16 and we were on the beach, clearly out of our depth, and these two dudes walk up and start helping us rig. As they were walking away I asked someone who they were and it turned out to be the guys that won the event. They saw a couple of people struggling, they stopped to help us out. The parties were great, and here we are how many years later, the same exact thing is going on. I think people leave with that warmth.”
Thomas has been sailing for quite some time and gave me a little perspective of his career, “I started campaigning Tornados in 1994 for the Olympics in Athens in 1996. I sailed with Nigel Pitt, who pretty much everybody in the Multihull community knows. We sailed for 2 years, did great at the trials, and it was a huge learning experience. Then I was asked to campaign for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and sail with a guy named Jim McCarthy. I’ve been very fortunate to have experiences on a lot of different boats with a lot of different skippers, and at one point I just decided to go to a new position and start skippering.” That’s some outstanding sailing experience that really adds some perspective on the racecourse.
Thomas and JDub ended up in 6th overall, the top US team, which will take them all the way to the Pan American Games. The Games, held every four years one year before the Olympics, is a multidiscipline, multinational event for every country in the Americas. The Hobie 16 has a class, and though they don’t have much time on the boat, Thomas and Dub will be there in force!
They have only sailed the Hobie 16 together 3 times, proving what excellent, intuitive sailors they both are. Both have been invited to the Puerto Rican H16 Nationals and for the past two years, so they chartered a Hobie 16 and placed well.
JDub, a seasoned sailor, summed up his excitement, “It has been a goal of mine for a very, very long time, there are three classifications of sailors within US Sailing and I always wanted to be a level A sailor.” In order to become a level A sailor, you have to either represent the USA in the Pan Ams or the Olympics, so this placement at the Hobie 16 NAs enabled Dub to realize his dream.
Dub is a funny, articulate dude that will crack a joke every second, and Thomas is equally articulate yet more mellow and quiet, characteristics that make them an outstanding team. Dub explains Greg’s strengths, “Greg’s a great skipper, he has so much experience across so many platforms in both the skipper and crew positions it gives him a unique perspective, both what’s going on on the race course, he handles positioning exceptionally, and in boat handling. He drives the boat very well and he knows what he needs from the crew position, and if things aren’t going right he knows how to ask for it. Greg’s got a really open mind and a really good touch on the tiller.” Thomas spent the first 20 of his 30 years of sailing crewing for some of the top skippers in the Hobie 18, Hobie 20, and Tornado classes, and now regularly skippers his own F18 with Jacques Bernier crewing.
U.S. sailing puts together a budget so that our qualifying sailing teams can have the opportunity to attend events like the Pan Am games, so Thomas and Dub will be fine tuning their skills on the Hobie 16, a completely different focus than their norm. Both guys are known for their activities in the F18 class, and Thomas was one of the first pioneers to sail and campaign the F18 in the early 2000s here in North America. This win at the H16 NAs has put a slight kink in their F18 plans, Greg explains, “ Before this, I was focused on the F18 Worlds that will be held in Long Beach in 2012, and so next year was going to be a big year trying to qualify for the F18 Worlds. I was going to be focusing on the new boat (Wild Cat), and so now this is going to be taking some time away from that. I’ve been to the Pan Am Games in a working atmosphere before and I know it’s a pretty big deal, so I feel that my time has to be spent preparing for that event and try to represent our country. I think that next year, my time is going to be very focused on the Hobie 16.” Sounds like it’s going to be a busy year for the duo, who luckily both live relatively close to one another in Southern California.
On the Boat
Communication and a positive attitude on a boat that moves so fast through the water is a critical aspect of winning on the 16, and these guys have it dialed, Greg describes JDub’s performance, “He is very informative on the boat. He knows what’s going on on the course at all times. I can ask him a question and he can, within seconds, give me the information that I need to know. You have to keep things positive on the boat and Jdub’s really good at that. You can’t be down, you have to keep things lively. That’s kind of my motto, no matter what happens out there you have to keep a smile on your face and keep having a good time. I mean, we could all be back at work, behind out desks, looking at our computers, and we’re out here, it’s beautiful here. At this event, we’re on a lake out in the desert, it’s all for fun. Why so serious.”
The mechanics of going fast on a Hobie 16 requires both physical agility and an intimate knowledge of how sailboats work. With the 16, which is a very nuanced boat, there’s an intimate connection between the rudders and the main sail, and it’s slightly different than the F18. Dub explains, “We tried a couple of different configurations and tried to figure it out. On the F18 the crew sheets the main all the time. We haven’t sailed together long enough on the 16 to be able to do that. Because the main is so connected to the rudders, I was sheeting and feeling the boat through my feet; Greg’s got the tiller in his hand and he could tell, OK that’s bad, that’s bad, that’s not working, so handing back the main sheet was different for me taking it back was different for Greg.” These two have some learning and fine tuneing to do, but given their commitment of focusing on the 16 for the next year it should be fruitful.
The fleet shares information openly, and Thomas took advantage of having several Olympic class sailors, a handful of World Champions, and multiple national champions on the beach at Lake Mohave. Greg explains, “I just sail the boat every so often, so I don’t have a ton of time on the Hobie 16. We talked to a lot of the top teams about tuning, and that’s one of the greatest things about the class, everyone’s so open with sharing knowledge and you don’t get that with a lot of classes. I’ve sailed in a lot of classes and a most of the time the only information you get is from a training partner. Here, the fleet is so open, John was going around in the morning having coffee with everybody and getting little tips on how to fly the jib. I was getting tips from Enrique (Figureoa: Olympian, Multi-time NA winner, 4 time Gold metal winner in the Central American Games) on how tight the rig should be, so the open sharing of knowledge in this class is unbelievable.” This information should prove valuable when Thomas and Dub meet head to head at the Pan Am Games in about a year with several of these very teams they are asking for rigging advice.
Multihull fever and the Olympics
The Tornado Catamaran was an Olympic Class from 1976 until 2008 when it was discontinued and there’s been a void in the hearts of multihull sailors for a couple of years now. Dub and Thomas are both very active in multihull sailing here in NA, and Dub was appointed by US sailing to be the delegate to the multihull commission. This commission was set up just after the Tornado was taken out of the Olympics to advise the commission on all matters multihull. Even better than that, JDub is the current chair of the multihull council, who is stepping down almost 3 years after his term limit. Needless to say, Dub’s done his time for the sport, and there isn’t a person on this planet with more breadth of knowledge in regards to multihull sailing in the U.S. He’s a grass roots guy with his finger on the pulse of both the political and the pulse of the boat gliding through the water. It’s been a big year in JDubs sailing career and not all of it happened on the water. Dub is excited explain his role in U.S. Sailing in regards to reclaiming a multihull medal in the 2016 Olympics, he explains, “Coming up in a few weeks I think we’ll be able to announce that there will be an Olympic multihull in the games in Rio in 2016. It’s been a lot of people all over the world working behind the scenes to try to create the circumstances under which a multihull would be perceived as an essential event to Olympic sailing. I think we’ve gotten there, and I think we’ll find out in about 3 weeks when we go to Athens that the rest of the world agrees.”
Wait. What did you say, JDub? He explains further, “The ISAF submissions are in, and its clear that they want to go ahead and move up the decision about events to either this meeting or the Spring meeting. If they wait until the spring meeting I think you’ll find that they’re ready to start talking about equipment.” Alright! With multihull fever sweeping the world after AC 33, people are realizing that the sailing population would rather see something fast and exciting blasting across the water.
The real pissing match will start when we start talking about equipment, but the majority of sailors that I’ve talked to would like to see a single manufacturer F18 of some type, where there’s some sort of qualifying every four years. Perhaps using an F18 Worlds early in the Olympic quadrennium to determine the equipment? That would put some pressure on the manufacturers and probably yield some pretty neat results as far as innovation, but I’m getting ahead of the game(s) here. Jdub explains the process, “It’s difficult to have the event discussion without talking about the equipment, but in ISAFs eyes they’re very, very different things, and I feel that once we have the event the bickering’s going to start and that’s when we’ll see the cracks in the multihull community as a whole, but I think once we get out the other side of that, we’ll probably have an evaluation event in late 2011 and they’ll look at different boats. There are several manufacturers that are positioning themselves to have submissions, and at this point, as the US delegate to the ISAF delegation, I can’t say what it’s going to be. It could be something that we haven’t seen yet.”
The F18 would end the ‘arms race’ and bring the cost of campaigning for the Olympics down to a more attainable level compared to the Tornado and would open up the field to more racers. Thomas, gives his opinion, “ My personal feeling is that it should be a one-design class, built by a single manufacturer, and id doesn’t matter who, but at the Olympic level it needs to be one manufacturer, all factory supplied boats. I think it should be an F18, I think that formula is working. The boat is a great boat to sail, it fits a lot of people’s weights, so some current F18.”
The battle’s just begun and JDub explains that some classes don’t want to be Olympic, “The Hobie 16 has been proposed as an Olympic boat many, many times before and the international classes have resisted. The International F18 class made a submission this year saying that they don’t support the selection of any individual existing F18 design. They put the word ‘existing’ in there on purpose to leave that door open. The International F18 lives in cooperation with the manufacturers, and certainly understand that they can’t control what the manufacturers submit to the ISAF. The hope is that there isn’t the selection of a single F18 design that would then impact the F18 class as a whole.” The selection of an existing F18 for example, could potentially kill other designs, which would damage the ‘formula’ that the F18 has been so successful in building. It’s a tricky scenario.
Jdub personally feels that having an Olympic Multihull Class may not be that important. For me, from a spectator’s perspective, I’d rather watch an F18 hauling the mail any day, but we’ll have to wait and see. Dub expands, “My feeling is that having an Olympic Multihull isn’t that big of deal, look at what’s happened recently to multihull sailing, we’ve got the extreme 40 series. Awesome! We’re in the America’s Cup for the third time, and this time it’s not in a deed of gift match. There are going to be these really cool two different classes of multihulls out there to establish who’s going to compete. The qualifying rounds are going to be on multihulls now. It’s the first time. We’ve got some spectacular things happening in multi sailing. We don’t need a multihull, the Olympics needs a multihull, but it was a massive majority of the U.S. constituency who feel that we need this pinnacle. People feel we need this to establish youth training programs. It was clear what U.S. sailors wanted, so that’s what we’ve been working on ever since.” It definitely seems that multihull sailing and general multi-awareness is increasing, despite the lack of one of the ten Olympic Sailing medals being set aside for multis.
No matter what happens with regards to equipment type, Jdub has a never ending positive outlook on the topic of the Olympics, and of Cat sailing in general. JDub let’s his thoughts fly, “When it comes down to it we’re all multihull sailors, and that kind of shines through at Formula events and A Cat events in particular because you have so many brands represented. That’s the sort of thing where I see the ‘Hobie Way of Life’ extend out to multihull sailing in general. It was Hobie that pioneered that on Poche Beach 40 years ago and we’ve been living on the concentric waves that have spread from there.”
Congratulations Greg Thomas and John Williams!