ON THE PODIUM—WITH YOUR BROTHERS OR YOUR SISTERS OR YOUR PARENTS!
Families practicing togetherness at the front
By Bill Goggins, CEO
It’s my favorite time of the year in Pewaukee. Many of our local kids, including my own, are in sailing class. They will have some regattas in the coming days. Although the COVID-19 virus is far from understood or under control, it seems that a careful balance between complete lockdown and complete carelessness has been reached—at least where it relates to sailing here. Although most of our traditional adult regattas have been postponed for this season, there is limited adult racing in Pewaukee. Lots of us have discovered that sailing can be a simple, easy and inexpensive family activity. It feels really nice to get out and use boats that might have been overlooked in ‘normal’ times.
Full stop here for a moment. I do not want to paint an idyllic picture that all the family sailing being done is contented, low-stress, just enjoy-one-another’s-company stuff. That would be to ignore something that was happening before the beginning of 2020 but would seem even more of an advantage these days. I’m going to call it The Rise of the Grand Prix Family Team. Imagine going sailing today with someone you grew up eating breakfast with—or sharing bunk beds with —only, the sailing you’re doing today is the medal race at a world championship! Or maybe you’re going racing with your dad, who just happens to have a couple of TP52 Med Cup Championships under his belt. What do people in this league talk about on the way to the grocery store?
This month’s At The Front spends time with members of these grand prix family teams—hiking and trimming together at world championship or Olympic levels. Our kids aren’t there—yet. But it sounds like the best of all possible worlds doesn’t it? Let’s find out! Hope you enjoy the August issue.
THE SERTL FAMILY
Cory Sertl is the President of US Sailing—a position she will hold until the Fall of 2021. Many also remember Cory for her extended career first as a top-level sailor in the Olympic 470, including a runner-up finish in the 1988 Olympic Trials and a member of the 1988 Olympic Team as an alternate and training partner for the gold medalist team. She then competed in and won the Rolex Women’s Keelboat Championship. Cory’s willingness to give back to the sport in leadership as a sailor-athlete, within US Sailing and internationally, is unmatched. Fewer may know that Cory’s husband Mark is a former professional sailmaker and their twenty-something kids, Katja and Nick, both competed and won at the collegiate level and continue sailing competitively post-college. The Sertls compete together and against one another. There are a lot of different dynamics!
We caught up with Cory for the Families Sailing At The Front issue of the At The Front newsletter, August 2020.
Within your family’s current ‘adult era,’ what was the most fun you ever had as a family racing? The most successful result? Are they the same?
The most fun was the 2016 Lightning North Americans; Mark, Katja, and I teamed up to win a very competitive Masters NAs. Katja had just finished up four years of College Sailing at Boston College, and it was great to have her positivity in the front of the boat along with her solid mechanics.
Last summer we got involved in the New York Yacht Club IC37 charter program to sail together as a family on Narragansett Bay where we have a home in Jamestown, RI and where Katja and Nick like to spend time with us. Everything about this project was a steep learning curve for us: Katja and Nick had spent very little time on “big boats,” so there were many new skills for them to learn, and all of us were learning how to get around the racecourse with maneuvers as well as keeping the boat going fast. They both had limited vacation time, so we had to make the best of the time we did have. We were all pleased to finish 5th in the Melges IC37 National Championship at the end of the summer with a few races at the top of the fleet.
As a family, you sail in two boats at Lightning events: parents vs. kids. Sometimes the lineup is Mark, Cory, and Katja in one boat and Nick with a team in another. When is the family dynamic most competitive?
The last time we were all together sailing Lightnings was the Worlds in Ecuador which was a great family adventure, traveling and racing in another country. Nick and his team sailed really well in that event, and we were super proud of him. Mark always jokes that despite Nick having the old boat and the second-best sails, he still beat us! (Editor notes: Nick & team finished 2nd and Mark, Cory, and Katja finished 7th.)
You were very involved in the first season of the IC37 last summer. Did all four of you sail together? What is the dynamic like when the four of you comprise a subset of a larger team?
On the IC37 (which has a crew of 9 or 10), all four of us were onboard together most of the time. We divided up the roles: Mark is really good at making the boat go fast and usually does the main but is also focused on helping the trimmers with settings. Katja was on jib and spinnaker trim and kept everyone thinking positively with her always-upbeat attitude. Nick and I had perhaps the most interesting and challenging dynamic; he was the tactician and I steered. I was often told to just steer and stop being the tactician, and Nick had a steep learning curve about where to position the boat in tactical situations. A dinghy background is great but knowing what’s achievable on a 37’ boat is another set of skills. I got better each day at making the boat go fast, and Nick got better at anticipating situations and articulating what the next moves were.
All 4 of you are excellent sailors. You can all drive. How do you decide who does what? Do you draw straws? Do you take turns by regatta? How does it work?
Interesting question. Mark and I met racing Lightnings when I was crewing at a Southern Circuit, and he was racing his own boat. It naturally evolved that I would crew for him whenever we raced Lightnings, and he would crew for me in J-22s, J-24s, and bigger boats. Katja gravitated to crewing in college so it was natural for her to trim. On bigger boats like the IC37, it makes the most sense for me to steer and have the strongest people on the main and runners. Sometimes we change it up, but those are the roles we are most comfortable with.
This summer we have a Farr 30 on a mooring in Jamestown. The boat is modified with a sprit and came with 21 sails! We’ve been having fun checking out the various sail/rig configurations and racing in local PHRF round government mark races. I have had the fun of steering the boat. Nick has been learning how to do the bow, and Mark is doing what he likes to do best (fiddling with lead positions, instruments, sails, etc.). Katja has been with us a few times, and we hope to race together in a few events later this summer.
Apart from the strange era we’re in now, who gets on the phone and asks the others to sail? Who’s your critical family sailing Nexus?
For this season, we decided that Katja would play that role - in exchange for never having to make the sandwiches (for some silly reason that was a source of conflict last summer). She was all set with communicating with our team for all the upcoming regattas, and then March hit and everything changed. We feel really fortunate that Mark decided to buy the Farr 30 in April and brought it to RI in June so we have a “family boat” to go sailing on. We have done more sailing without racing this year than we ever have. Nick is living at our house this summer, and he is organizing the Tuesday evening racing crew.
What is the most significant thing sailing together has taught you about your kids that you might not have otherwise learned?
It’s watching them take on sailing as part of their lives - and including their set of friends who enjoy sailing and racing sailboats.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to other parents about keeping up your own sailing while raising kids—who you also manage to keep in the sport?
To me, being a competent racing sailor is a skillset that was non-negotiable in our family. This is what our family does, and the emphasis was on the need to master the skills. Racing is a really good way to develop skills, and it is important to keep this fun and not focus on results. Sailing is so much about the friends you make both on and off the water, so teaching your kids the skills to be part of this awesome activity opens doors for them to be part of a community of great people.
THE COWLES TWINS
Happy 20th birthday to twins Emma and Carmen Cowles! These Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year Winners and two-time World Sailing Youth World Champions have their eyes set on representing the USA in the 470 class in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. US Athlete Selection will unfold at the 2021 Worlds in Portugal in March. Right now, three teams are neck-and-neck vying for the spot; only three points separate Barnes/Dallman-Weis, the Brugman sister team, and the Cowles twins in the Olympic Trials.
We caught up with the twins for the Family issue of the At The Front newsletter.
Harken: Recently you’ve been training in Massachusetts alongside Stu McNay and Dave Hughes, the US Men’s 470 team. What does your campaign and your training look like these days?
Carmen: Our training these days looks a lot like our regular training. We get to the boat park in the morning with time allotted for any boatwork we may have as well as time for checking our settings and going over our plan for the day with our coach, Steve Keen. Once we’re on the water, we focus on improving our maneuvers as well as sailing faster and smarter. At the end of the day, we review our key learning lessons and prepare for the following day.
Harken: You’ve now been sailing for 11 years. How has your family support system changed and evolved over the years?
Emma: From the beginning, our parents have been a huge part of our support system. The whole family would travel to every event. Eventually, it changed when my younger sister, Margaux (16), started to sail. From then on, we often split with one parent accompanying us and the other parent with Margaux. To this day, we always have a parent traveling with us and supporting us. Their presence helps us create and maintain a “bubble” during training and competition. They cook, they shop, they give the occasional pep talk, or a much-needed hug. They eliminate the distractions so we can stay focused on our sailing.
Harken: You’re both very accomplished sailors in your own right. How did you decide who would skipper the Olympic campaign?
Carmen: When we both aged out of the Optimist class at 15 and transitioned into the I-420, our parents made it clear they would only buy one boat; we would have to sail together. As we were light for the boat, the tallest and heaviest of the two of us would crew. Emma was ten pounds heavier and one inch taller than I so it was only natural for her to crew and me to skipper (she still is ;). We sailed in the I-420 for three years, so when we transitioned into the 470 and began our campaign, it was a given that we would keep the same positions.
Harken: What does teamwork look like on your campaign? Do you have specific roles? Do you think this is similar or different to other non-sibling Olympic teams?
Emma: We cannot speak for other non-sibling Olympic teams; however, we don’t think that our method to teamwork is specific to sibling teams. Our work ethics and aptitudes are very similar so therefore we don’t have defined specific roles. Our approach is to make a list of the tasks which we work through together. If we were to each have a designated task, Carmen is the master at putting on the bow stickers at regattas while I always wash the boat. We are both very meticulous so we know that any job we do will be completed to our personal standards. I think teams with more specific roles are partners that have very different personalities or family demands.
Harken: Who is the more technical one of the two of you? Who is most competitive? Who is most emotional?
Carmen: The reason Emma and I love the 470 is because of how technical it is. We love tinkering. We’re both very competitive, not as much towards our competitors, but more so regarding our own progress. Since we were little, our focus has always been on being the best we could be. Who is more emotional? No big difference there either. We each have our moments; however, we manage them very differently. For example, after a tough race, Emma likes a quiet boat to “reset” whereas I like to talk it out to move on. We have learned to incorporate both of our needs.
Harken: What do you think of the 470 overall? Do you find you respect it more, the more you sail it?
Emma: We loved the minute details and the technical part of the I-420, so the 470 seemed like a natural progression. Little did we know how much there was to learn. This extra year before the Olympics has given us the time and opportunity to further explore the boat.
Harken: What is the most important thing sailing together has taught you about your sister?
Emma: Sailing together is just an extension of the two of us sharing most of our life experiences; no discovery there. Most people tend to point to our similarities, whereas I have always focused more on the little differences between the two of us. However, I had the chance to sail with my younger sister, Margaux, and it gave me perspective on how the three of us approach competition. It struck me how Carmen and I are so much alike.
THE BAIRD FAMILY
Two-time America's Cup champion and Hall of Famer Ed Baird is has countless success stories on the water. He's a legend in the sport. But when asked, his biggest success story isn't even sailing related. It's his family.
Enjoy the video, courtesy of US Sailing, where Ed and his sons Nic and Ty discuss the importance of family in sailing and how it has helped shaped their careers in the sailing industry.