An Interview With The Worthy 2012 MC Scow National Champion Jamie Kimball By Eric Hood

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22 October 2012

We are visiting today with our new 2012 MC Scow National Champion Jamie Kimball from Spring Lake, Michigan. First of all on behalf of the entire MC Class we have to say congratulations Jamie on winning big at the National Championship at White Lake, plus winning two other majors and the season class rankings. We have some questions we would love to get your thoughts and insights on about your sailing program that might help the rest of us get better with our sailing programs. So here we go with our first question.

E Hood: Jamie can you give us some basics on how long you have been sailing, how you got started and talk about a few mentors who really made a difference for your enthusiasm and career for sailing?

JamieThanks Eric! I grew up in Grand Rapids, MI so I began sailing on Reeds Lake at the Grand Rapids Yacht Club and later the Spring Lake Yacht Club. The butterfly was the junior boat, which is what I first learned to sail.  Rather than heading to summer camp when I was younger, my parents dropped me off at the yacht club every morning for sailing school and the better part of most days. This is where I developed a passion for the sport and some of my closest friendships that I still have today. I’d encourage anyone and everyone to enlist their children in their local sailing school. Forget camp, and send them to the closest yacht club.

As my brother, Rob, and I got older, we eventually transitioned into MC, C, and E scows at the Spring Lake Yacht Club in MI. Truthfully, and a lot of enthusiasm for the sport came from beating my older brother. I loved how angry he would get- it was awesome! Over the years, we’ve learned to sail together and we’ve had some great success, but I still like to put it to him when I get the chance. If you don’t have an older brother or sister, you might not be able to see where I’m coming from. Even though I typically put it to him, he has been my greatest mentor for sailing and pretty much everything else.

E Hood: What can you share with MC sailors and for that matter sailors from other classes about your regatta preparation? I guess we are really asking three questions today. One, what is your physical prep, two, what is your mental prep and three, how do you prep your boat? A follow-up question to these three questions would be how much does preparation truly play in the total equation?

Jamie: Regatta preparation really comes down to how serious you want to get. During college I always tried to be the most physically fit sailor on the water, since I was never the lightest. This was difficult with all the distractions in Charleston, SC, but I think I did a pretty good job. I needed this advantage to make up for my weight and lack of talent and experience in the FJ and 420. I typically had better results at windier events. In any scow, it helps to be physically fit, so I try to stay in decent shape. I need to lift weights more often, but I still run 4 to 5 miles almost every day. 

With regards to mental preparation, I try not to over think things and basically try to keep “fun” a focus.  I also try to think about the process rather than focus on the results. The process of having good starts, tacks, gybes, boat speed, tactics, and a little bit of good luck leads to good results.  If you focus on executing the process, results will follow. With regards to boat preparation, the last thing you want to be thinking during a race is that your boat is slow or your sail is bad. My goal for every race is to leave the dock with the feeling that I have the fastest boat in the fleet. That might take a pre-regatta waxing, washing, new lines, or maybe even a new sail.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate (aka spoiled) to race with good equipment, so I haven’t had to put too much work into this area and have been able to devote more time on the water. Melges also does a great job of having the boats race-ready when the leave the factory. We’re really fortunate that we don’t have to mess with too much.

E Hood: I know that when sailing in big fleets like this one with 94 boats that I set some goals for starting and the first mark just to survive. I missed my goals in three of seven races and it truly hurt not hitting a good start or being in the top 15 at the first mark no matter what. Give us some thoughts on what your game plan included. Run us through pre-start to start to first beat and beyond. Do you have some non-negotiables in your game plan like not sailing in dirty air, headers (at what point do you pull the trigger and tack). Give us a few examples from the seven races at the Nationals this year.

Jamie: For me it goes back to the process and not focusing on the results. Before the regatta at White Lake ever started, I knew that I was going to be deep and have to battle back throughout the series.  With 94 boats or any large fleet for that matter, you’re bound to run into trouble and find yourself deep in the fleet at some point.  What can lead to a good result or a bad result is the process that follows.       

In the 5th race at the nationals on White Lake, I found myself deep up the first beat. I started just to leeward of the midline boat as I had done in the previous four races.  My start was actually pretty good, but soon after a big left shift came in. Pretty much all 94 boats tacked to port. I still had a nice lane on port tack sailing up the beat, but I was on the wrong side of this persistent shift.  At the windward mark, I was probably mid fleet. I assessed the situation and noticed I was right next to two good boats- Cam McNeil and Justin Hood. At this point you have two choices- panic and give up or focus on the process. 

Fortunately I had been in this situation a time or two before, and knew I could still salvage a good result if I focused on doing the little things right. I didn’t panic and continued on with my process. The winds for this race were in the 8-12 mph range and were pretty shifty. Perfect conditions to pass a lot of boats!  With a big fleet, it can be tough to find clear air, so you need to determine early on what is more important – clear air or sailing the lifted tack. With the shifty conditions, I thought it was more important to be on the lifted tack, and at times sacrificing clear air. 

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to sail the Melges 20 with Chris Rast and Michael Kiss, two really good sailors, and we often set up to practice sailing in dirty air (not while we are actually racing). Chris and Michael think it’s important to be able to sail well in bad air. If you can sail your boat fast in bad air, you should be all right. In this fifth race at the nationals, I committed to sailing the lifted tack and doing the little things right, all along sailing in dirtier air than I normally would have liked. In the end, it seemed to pay off and I was able to crawl all the way up to 12th.  Although my “result” was the lowest of my series, I thought it was my best race. 

E Hood: So a big group was from Western Michigan. Heck, I grew up there.  You sail there a lot with the likes of Cam McNeil, John McNeil, Ben McNeil, Doug McNeil and so many others who have a ton of hours on White Lake.  Then we all had the curve ball thrown at us and we sailed in a part of the lake that has not been used in about 10,000 years. We had some great racing there but it was really tricky.   Looking at the scores for everyone really just you , maybe Bill Colburn and Andy Burdick who tied for second came even close to surviving all the races on this course.  In my mind the top of the course the last 200 yards in was a game changer for most of us.  Give us your viewpoint of the tough spots on this course.  Did you see anything race after race that most everyone was missing (it is okay to share now)? 

Jamie: You are spot on! The last 200 yards into the windward mark were crucial (especially the first windward mark).  Often there were 15 boats from the left and 15 boats from the right converging at the first windward mark in just a few seconds.  The left was a little more favored than the right. It was easier to cross starboard tack boats, and more leaders came from the left.  On average, there were 2-3 shifts in the last 200 yards, so it did not pay to get to a layline early. 

Trying to avoid the layline too early, I did my best to sail the shifts between the leaders on both sides, all along keeping an eye on the starboard train coming to the windward mark. Luckily, I never had to duck too many starboard boats entering the 3 boat length circle on port tack.  Ducking the starboard train can be a race killer!   A great passing opportunity for me was to lee bow and tack below boats on the starboard tack layline knowing that a left shift would occur sometime in the last 200 yards. The left shift would allow me to tack and cross boats that were ahead of me.

We had the same wind direction and course setup for the first 2 days of the regatta. Generally, I thought the left side of the course was favored, so I always went left if I was ever in doubt. With that said, I still started every race somewhere in the middle of the starting line. I thought it was important for me to stay out of trouble and keep my options open. On average, I thought there were 10 shifts per beat, so you typically did not have to bang a corner. Having decent air and sailing the shifts usually got me to the windward mark in the top group, which is really half the battle. If you can make it around the first mark in the top group, it usually gets easier from there.  Hopefully, anyway!     

E Hood: What would be your best advice to anyone new to the class or somebody who has been in for a while but really wants to improve their game. For example I got some great advice from a good friend of mine Bill Hybels a couple of years ago and he said just get 5-10% better each year. Ever since I heard that I am always looking at things differently. Five yards at a time or one boat length at a time.  Anything special you can share with new sailors?

Jamie: Best advice? That is tough. I have learned a lot by watching other sailors sail their boat. The next time you are at a regatta, tune up with the regatta leader before the race, or watch them during the race.  Ask yourself the following.  How is their body positioned in the boat? How hard are they hiking?  How hard are they trimming their main? How much boomvang, Cunningham, and outhaul do they have on?  For instance, Andy Burdick rounded a leeward mark right behind me at the Nationals.  I looked back and noticed he had more boomvang on, wasn’t hiking as hard, wasn’t trimming his main as hard, and had his traveler higher. I adjusted my settings and tried to replicate his setup. The result…unfortunately Andy passed me! But you get my point. If you are able to sail your boat exactly like the leaders in the fleet, you will improve your results. 

E Hood: Okay we so appreciate your thoughts on the questions and ideas above.  As National Champion the floor is yours. Anything you want to share with the MC sailors and other sailors about the regatta, our sport please do so.

Jamie: Eric, thanks again for giving me the opportunity. I’d like to give some praise to Cam McNeil, a close friend and great competitor, who chaired the MC Nationals this year. I think everyone would agree that he did an incredible job and deserves all the credit. With a 94 boat fleet, housing was made available to everyone who requested it. This is a true testament to the class and character of the White Lake Yacht Club members and families. A great deal of gratitude is owed to Cam and his team.

To my knowledge there were 9 junior skippers at this event. Encouraging youth participation should be a primary goal of the MC Class Association.  You mentioned this in your speech at the Saturday dinner.  We need to teach the younger sailors and expose the next generation to our great sport. It should be our focus going forward to maintain the health and growth of our great class! The 2013 MC Nationals will be held in Clear Lake, IA next June.  As a class, we should promote, set a goal, and create an initiative to get as many juniors to this event as possible.            

E Hood: Again, Jamie for all of us in the class at the factory and in the sport of sailing want to congratulate you on a fantastic season with great wins!!!

Thank you sharing your thoughts with all of us. You are a great sport and asset to the sport of sailing.