Interview With The Champ — 2014 MC Midwinter Champion Ron Baerwitz

Related topics:

29 April 2014

EHood: Well from all of us in the MC Class and at Lake Eustis Sailing Club we want to first congratulate you Ron on the three race wins, Masters Division win and Overall win at the 2014 Midwinter Championship. I know you are new to the class and can you tell the MC group a little more about your sailing. Where you started, how long you have been sailing and some highlights of your sailing career?

Ron: Eric, thanks so much to you and the class for the kind words and heart-warming support. I have certainly found a home in the MC. So, a little about me? Well, I was born a poor Hebrew child in the ghettos of upper-middle-class San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles California. It was a rough life but I managed to get out unscathed. Okay I seriously have a problem talking about myself but I'll give it my best shot. I did not come up through traditional juniors programs or college sailing. My dad bought a 30’ sloop and we took sailing lessons in Marina Del Rey, CA when I was 13. I began racing about a year later with the Sea Explorers (aka Sea Scouts). I was hooked after my first race. I won their national title 4 times which still may be a record. There wasn’t a big OD scene back then so I raced cats and a lot of keel boats. In my 20s I worked for Catalina yachts and Sobstad sailmakers. There was a decent MORC fleet in the 80's which was the closest thing to OD racing then. In ’84 our team won the Olson 30 Nationals beating out this small time sailor-- ummm, oh yeah, John Kostecki! On the rare occasion we cross paths I remind him of that. In the mid-80s I partnered with Tom Pollack for a Flying Dutchman Olympic campaign. We spent 3 1/2 years racing all over Europe, South America, and the US. We finished 17th out of 76 at our first worlds, my first experience in a fleet 70+. We won the Italian National Championships in 1988 with 70+ boats. The ’88 Olympic trials were won by another little known fellow from Texas, Paul Forester, an amazing sailor and now multiple Olympic medalist. I had the good fortune to sail a variety of boats from 20’ to 84’ back then. Since then I’ve been part of teams that won the Melges 24 class at SORC, M242 Nationals, and spent time in a very competitive J105 class. I also was part of Team Outlier, a 3 time winner (2 with me and one with the original Curmudgeon) of the Shock 35 Nationals with the most influential sailor in my adult career, Dick Schmidt. Dick is a great sailor with an IQ off the charts. Even when we won he made me analyze every tactical move so we clearly understood the reasoning. Nothing was seat of the pants with Dick. It must be the professor in him. That process has helped me tremendously over my sailing and professional careers. 

When I moved to FL 6 years ago I bought a Flying Scot which I had hoped to enjoy with my kids. They didn't take to it so I sold it. All that has led me to the MC SCOW. 

EHood: How were you introduced to the MC Scow . I know as we try to grow the class it is important to know how great sailors like you find their way to our class. Follow up question to that would be what do you love about the MC Scow and what do you find challenging about the MC Scow? 

Ron: After I sold my Scot I was boatless for a few years. I had, and still have, a teenage son who is a high level ice hockey goalie. Yeah, ice hockey in Florida, I’ve heard it all! But that’s just the point-- we had to travel out of state almost every weekend from August through April which left little time for sailing. So last year he announced he was done with hockey. After realizing how much money I’d save I decided to buy another boat. LESC has two primary fleets; the Scot and MC. The Scot is comfortable (no hiking – WHOOT!) but the fleet is less active. The MC has an active and very competitive fleet but the boat has only one sail. WHAT!? I’m a spinnaker loving kind of sailor. And if I can’t yell at a crew who would I yell at? Myself? Then my good friend, Mark Schneider from NJ bought one and talked me into trying it. Mike Baldacchino lent me his boat for a club weekend which went well and then he made me a deal I could not refuse. Suddenly I was a boat owner again. By the way, it turns out my son did not quit hockey and, in fact, ended up playing for a team in Nashville this year. Kids! 

The strength of this class is what ultimately drew me in. Fleet 4 has not only great sailors but a wonderful group of people that are welcoming and supportive. David Mooring and Scott Tillema top that list. They have been supportive and encouraging since day one. Those gents as well as the rest of the fleet have helped me get up to speed quickly. I can’t thank them enough for that sportsmanship and friendship.

Admittedly I HATED sitting on the leeward side in light air. It hurt(s)! But I have figured out how to do it and now severely dislike it as opposed to hating it. I did find sailing a dinghy healed over 20+ degrees required a different mindset. But one day I decided to sail it like a 45’ keelboat and it worked out. In addition to the fleet members, I love that this boat is comfortable for a man of my size. I wanted simple but a Laser is too small for me. The MC is a big boy’s Laser with a few more gadgets to play with. Not too many, not too few – Juuuuuuust right!

Since I do have the floor at this forum what I REALLY dislike is the crew situation. I understand allowing a crew to be brought on or off a boat between races helps lighter and less physically capable members to compete. But I think that should be declared before a regatta starts with that configuration be held throughout the regatta, particularly the majors such as Midwinters and Nationals. As someone who wants to compete at the National level but doesn’t have someone willing to travel and sit around just in case they may go sailing, I find this rule a deterrent which may have led me down a different path had I realized it before I purchased my boat. ‘nough said.

EHood: Can you share some tips about how you survived the very challenging conditions at this past Midwinters Championship. I know even for myself a class veteran I was pulling my hair out sometimes with the big shifts and velocity swings. Maybe give us your top three to five “high values” that carried you through with the 1-26-1-1 finishes you had for the event.

Ron: Well, race 4 shortened my life span by about 10 years I’m sure. A 1Ž4 mile from the finish I went from winning to what looked like the 20’s only to squeak it out at the very end. I was lucky. Mother Nature could have ended it 74 different ways. Other than race 4, the wind was oscillating most of the weekend. So that meant always sailing the lifted tack and never pinching. Also, I NEVER got too far off to one side. I was very conservative, even when I had a bad start in race 2 (70th at first mark!). I sailed the lifted tack and was bow down to keep my speed up. There were even times I raised my board a few inches for more speed and less emphasis on pointing. Also, when a major wind shift came that allowed me to point above the mark I just raised my board and reached directly to the mark. Geography 101 – shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The one and only thing I remember from that class. 

So, to summarize my long winded answer:
1. Get a clean start
2. Get on the lifted tack right away
3. Sail fast as opposed to high in oscillating conditions
4. Sail directly to the mark when you can
5. Good clean living to keep Mother Nature in favor!
— 4 out of 5 ain’t bad!

EHood: If you were teaching or mentoring a brand new sailor in the class what would be some of your first priorities for this new sailor. We know the most important group in our class are not the first 20 boats but the last 20 boats. Where would you guide new sailors on their development path. I know this is a big question but it is really important for all to know so we can continue class growth and attract new sailors plus retain existing sailors.

Ron: Eric, it’s a great question and I agree that growing the entire class is critical to survival. I can’t say enough about practice practice practice, especially if you are a less experienced sailor or racer.  Trying to learn to operate this boat under the pressure of a race is tough. Get out there and sail on your own – figure out best practices for maneuvers. Learn how to change gears meaning how the controls affect sail shape and power. Get comfortable hiking upwind and downwind. Do that half a dozen times (or more) in various conditions and the mechanics become second nature allowing you to focus outside the boat.  I didn’t do that and as a result it took me a long time to choreograph my mechanics. Those two boards still get me sometimes. Two boards!? WTH!

The beauty of OD sailing is you’re always racing no matter what position you are in. Go to “war” knowing the tools that you have and with realistic expectations. Focus on beating the boat or few boats around you by being smarter and faster. If you’re set on moving from 30th to 10th in one swoop then you are not learning anything but you are probably getting frustrated!

EHood: A follow up question to the previous question about mentoring and coaching new sailors. How do you see our sport in general right now and how are we as a class? If you could wave a magic wand either for the sport or the class what would you do?

Ron: That’s a question way bigger than me but here’s my 2 cents. The class is terrific and still growing. Take a look at what they are doing in San Diego. Those folks are so excited about the class. That is happening due to strong leadership. And it does take strong leadership from the fleet level to the national level to build and grow a class.

As mentioned before, I grew up in sailing in a non-traditional way. But I did have means. This is still largely a sport of privilege. Without inviting those without means to learn and enjoy our sport I don’t see how sailing is sustainable in the long run. How to do that is above my brain’s pay scale. But I do believe it is true. Speaking specifically of our class, mirroring what the Lightning Class is doing may be a great way to bring new members into the class. Every year they loan boats to youth sailors to compete in class events. I don’t know all the details but I admire what they have done. What if, for example, the MC Scow class maintained 5-10 boats that they loaned to under 21yo sailors to compete in major events? Kind of like McDonalds, if you get them hooked young they keep coming back, even if it’s 20 years later. Also, what about a Youth Nationals? You honor us old farts with our own Nationals. What about the kids? I’d loan my boat for that purpose. Youth sailors go from Opti’s to Lasers to ???.  Can the MC Scow be the next step in their sailing evolution? Just sayin’…

EHood: Okay you are the new champion and a tradition we have at the end of these interviews is to let the champ have the floor. Any final thoughts on the regatta, the class or sailing in general you would like to share?

Ron: I have competed in many classes over the years and most of them have guys at the top that are unpleasant to be around (putting it nicely). Not this class. From top to bottom the folks that I have met are simply awesome human beings. This competition is for fun (although Mom Nature may not understand that) and at the end of the day we all still have to go to work, kids or whatever. I’ve always been competitive but no one, not even me, expected this result. The support is overwhelming and deeply appreciated. Thank you again for that!!!!

Can I stop talking now? I have to go pick up the dog poop!

EHood: Again, congratulations Ron from all of us in the class – Way To Go on the victory!!! I know all of us look forward to having you at our future championships including the upcoming Masters at Rush Creek Yacht Club on Lake Ray Hubbard just outside Dallas. Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with all the MC Scow sailors of our great class.