Interview with 2014 MC National Champion Kenny Wolfe By Eric Hood
14 October 2014
2014 MC National Champions Kenny Wolfe and Virginia Hannan
©2014 Jennifer Annis
Article courtesy of Eric Hood – Over the years I have had the honor of interviewing lots of great champions in our sport. This is my second interview with Kenny Wolfe who now has won the MC National Championship two years in a row. Only three other sailors can claim that incredible accomplishment. One thing I enjoy about Kenny is his incredible love for the sport, his intensity to be all that he can possibly be both on and off the water plus his care for all others in our sport. You can be a champion but a true champion is one who looks back to 65th place and cares about how that skipper in 65th is doing too. Kenny is that kind of champion and our class is better off BIG-TIME for his presence and all that comes with his presence.
My personal observations from our recently held National Championship is that it was an extremely well run event. We had a fantastic venue, very challenging but extremely fair racing with very good starting lines and courses for the weather we were presented with for the week. A very deep field of competitors. Go look at the results on www.mcscow.org and you can see three sailors really, really sailed well with another 7 behind them doing very well then big names further back from there. It was a tough group. Sailing for the most part was extremely clean with just a few folks misbehaving at marks (65 boats this will happen and the group policed it as well as possible). Social was great with two great dinners. Hats off to Regatta Chairman Jeff Annis and his team of 75+ volunteers at the Augusta Sailing Club. A+ to both Chip Mann, his crew and Bob Harkrider with his big on the water ASC RC team – well done!!!
Thought I would change things up a little with Kenny have some fun in this interview so please enjoy. After reading I would encourage anyone who has questions for Kenny or Team Melges (Andy Burdick, Jim Gluek, Ted Keller, Justin Hood or myself) to write. All of us have our first names with an @melges.com extension and we would be happy to forward along notes to Kenny (who has a crazy work schedule so we will filter emails to help him)
EH - What was the most surprising thing about Augusta on or off the water this past week?
KW -Wow, tough question right out of the box…..I would say that I was very surprised at how consistently inconsistent the wind was. No matter how hard I tried to find a pattern, I never did. But at the same time the breeze was out of the same basic direction for nearly 5 days straight. I know Chip and his team were having the same problem….kudos to Chip and the RC for getting us quality National Championship caliber races in such challenging conditions.
EH - Can you share a fun moment off the water at Augusta that just got you laughing?
KW - This one had me rolling for a bit…..Virginia and I were hanging around the boats catching up with Megan Morgan Weathers—at the time we were on the topic of venues. Virginia and I have had many conversations always agreeing on one of the things we love about the MC Fleet---the fact that sailing an MC takes us to so many places in the country where we have never sailed, and each of them are great in their own very distinct way. Clear Lake—beautiful fun town, lots of history, and plenty to do off the water. Pewaukee-great venue, fantastic fun people, pretty landscaping, etc. We then landed on Augusta, and Megan Morgan Weathers states “it’s like sailing in the middle of a forest!”…..my reply was “It’s LIKE sailing in the middle of a forest??”. I guess you had to be there, but it kept us entertained for quite some time. And yes, not unlike the others, Augusta was new to us and just as unique and beautiful as the other sites, just this time we WERE sailing in the middle of a forest.
EH - Did you help any sailors off the water who really needed some help ( I know this answer)?
KW - Yes you do! I guess the interpretation of whether I helped anyone really needs to come from the person receiving it. I can’t say I feel like I did anything extraordinary---I did do small things that I hope we would all do as second nature……when I see someone in need of help, I do my best to provide it whether it be rolling a sail, catching a boat coming in to the dock too “hot”, or sharing tuning experiences. One thing I do know, in both my professional career and sailing life I get personal satisfaction out of seeing others do better and improving, so I try to do what I can to share the knowledge I do have…..btw: there are many times I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, so take any advice I might give with a grain of salt!
EH – Just a note here. I had a huge mental block going on my whole program after having a great Inland Championship finish with the 81 boats at Pewaukee and a great Masters Championship finish. Had good practice sessions with Kenny and also Chuck Norris where I felt fast then just got crushed on day 1 at the Nationals. I knew I had my rig messed up and while Kenny could have been practicing/sailing but he came over knowing I was really bummed about my day 1 performance. He not only helped me discover a big tuning issue I had with my sail and adjustable spreaders but also helped bring me to some common sense “keep it simple” thinking about the basics. Something I had preached to him about a month before when the shoe was on the other foot. He would have done that for anyone that day I just happened to be parked two boats away and he saw my trauma/drama. My encouragement to all reading today is always, always ask for help from those who are sailing up in front when you want to know something, learn something or just get a confirmation that you are doing something correctly. Back to Kenny now.
EH - Can you give us some distinct words that are descriptors of the National Championship experience you had
KW -Breath Taking -for the reasons mentioned above.
- Nerve Racking
- Fun Albeit after stress levels and heart rate reduced to a manageable level.
- Reinforcing -I felt like this event reinforced the need to stick to the basics from a tactical perspective. You could easily over
think and second guess yourself.
- Energizing-It was great to see new people joining the class, and be surrounded by such a large group of positive personalities.
- Humbling -It really hit me when our regatta organizers, specifically Jeff Annis, made it a point to have a moment of silence
for Scott (Chuck) Norris’s Grandmother, and asking to keep Chuck (while he traveled straight home to RI) in our prayers.
Sailing in many other fleets has become so business-like that it it’s lost the personal touch and comradery that’s important in
sailing and in life. I’m humbled and proud of the fact that the MC fleet still recognizes what is important.
EH - Is there one thing you wish you had done differently preparing for this past week regardless of your great outcome.
KW - As you all are very well aware, as you mature in life you start to recognize what you need to do to be successful. I’m no different-there are many people who can just throw a program together at the last minute and win an event……I’ve learned that I’m not that guy. For me to be successful, I have to ensure all of the “noise” or loose ends are tied up so all I have to do each morning is go through my daily routine and focus on the task at hand and my strategy. Virginia and I setup our travel plans so we didn’t have to rush to the event, but we also allowed ourselves enough time to go sailing two days prior to the event. I felt like, due to a number of variables, including the weather, we didn’t maximize our pre-regatta time on the water. One thing that is critical for me to point out here--for the teams that have a crew, whether it be your wife,husband, child, or friend, it’s important to keep them involved and ensure they understand how important they are to the success of the team, even if they don’t get to sail too much. Virginia is my mental security blanket, and she helps me stay focused--there’s no doubt in my mind that without her we wouldn’t have won this National Championship even though she only sailed in one race.
EH – As is our tradition. You are the champ and you have the floor - is there anything else you would like to share with our class that is really important to you and should be important to us.
KW - Okay, that would be the sailing piece regarding Augusta. If you’re trying to have any take-aways to help improve your sailing from reading this, I suggest two things 1) Focus and 2) Sticking to the basics.
1) Focus- Not unlike anything you want to be successful at in life, you need to determine what you require to be successful, then apply the required amount of focus to ensure you don’t get sidetracked. Prior to arriving at Augusta I ensured our boat was waxed and ready, so I didn’t have to worry about this and I knew the boat, sails, and tuning would not be the cause of me losing. I have a saying, and my wife loves it (she really doesn’t), “I will never let equipment be an excuse for me not sailing well”. Once we arrived to Augusta we arrived early enough that we could take our time rigging the boat and do some socializing without having to rush around. We then used the practice days and the practice race as opportunities to get to know the racing area and focusing on identifying trends (or recognizing there weren’t any). My point is, we had very specific things we were focusing on during our time on the water, and it included “test sailing” in all areas we felt like the race committee might sail us. For race day I definitely focused on the need to put together a high level strategy. Having spent a lot of time on the water pre-race we knew it was going to be very shifty. Shifty conditions require conservative sailing, as the law of attrition will be in play……my high level strategy was to never try to “win the start” by being at an end, and not to take big risks. If in the hunt, taking a conservative top 5 finish is way better than trying to win the race by taking an unnecessary risk which could backfire and send you outside the top 10. (note from EH– Kenny never won a race)
2) Sticking to the basics- Remember this “You can’t win a regatta in the first race, but you can certainly lose a regatta in the first race”. This year’s Nationals was very challenging from a tactical perspective—everyone’s success and/or failures, whether recognized or not, had very little to do with boat speed. Success, or failure, was solely how the multitude of wind shifts and velocity changes were handled. After sailing the day before the event and the practice race I determined, for the life of me, I could not figure out what the wind shifts were going to do. What I did figure out was that when the wind did shift, it shifted big. Sticking with the idea that I didn’t want to lose the regatta in the first race (or the second), my goal was solely set at being close to the lead group with my bow in clear air. In shifty conditions, the only way to guarantee this is to start at or near the middle of the line, then stay in phase with the shifts. If you gamble and pick the wrong end of the line, or roll the dice and bang a corner, you are going to be battling from mid-fleet (at best), and you will be forced to allow others to dictate what you do on the racecourse. There were multiple occasions where I was tempted to try and win one end of the line or another, but combining the risk of being on the wrong side of a shift, with the fact that there’s typically a lot of chaos at the favored end, I stuck to the basics of being somewhere on the line where I felt comfortable I could get a good start and have the room to tack on the first shift. This approach never allowed Virginia and I to win a race, but most importantly it prevented us from having a race outside the top ten.
Here’s one other tactical approach to consider in shifty (oscillating) conditions…..if you are sailing along, let’s say on Starboard tack and you recognize a number of boats crossing you on port tack--tack to leeward and ahead of them (lead them back to the other side of the course). Two things are at play here. If there are multiple boats on the other tack, it is very likely that they’ve tacked due to a wind shift which means if you don’t tack to leeward of them, you will have to eat a header as you cross behind them until there is a lane for you to tack on to port. On the contrary, if you tacked to leeward and ahead, you would be on the lifted tack immediately, but more importantly, because the wind is oscillating it is going to shift back. When the wind does shift back, you will tack back on Starboard, but you will now have leverage and be in a controlling position as the inside boat on a Starboard tack lift. As long as I didn’t lose sight on the two details above, I really think that this tactical approach in shifty conditions was how we were able to be successful in Augusta. It’s called this “The Power of Leading Back”.
EH – Wow, some great GOLD NUGGETS of sailing wisdom from our champion Kenny Wolfe!!!! I count about 10. So MC sailors add this to your list of improvements to consider for your next sailing season. If you get 5-10% better with each serious moment of sailing you have this next season just think where you could be by seasons end. 2015 is a huge year for the MC Scow as we have the perfect storm of racing at 5 great venues for the big championships. Put them on your calendar now. A couple are serious destination spots beside the great sailing. We have the Midwinters at Lake Eustis, the National Championship at Pewaukee (that will be 100+ boats), the big Inland Championships at the new Buddy Melges Sailing Center on Lake Geneva, the Masters at Chattanooga Privateer and then the Westerns at Torch Lake in upper Michigan. If we have ever had a great calendar year it is the 2015 season. Get your boat and sails ready now. If you need to freshen up call Melges today for ideas and timing of new gear for the 2015 season.
Thank you Kenny and thank you to Virginia too for being great representatives of the class. Congratulations from all of us at Team Melges and the class for a rock solid victory this year!!!!