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One of our nine coaches in 2019 was Andy Cross, a former sailing instructor for Offshore Sailing School. Andy is livin’ the dream with his wife and two sons aboard their Grand Soleil 39 named Yahtzee in Alaska. Andy shared this blog post with us and it’s really great.

Coaching an exceptionally rewarding Performance Race Week in 2019

By Andy Cross

I’m happy to report that I’ve been doing a ton of sailing lately, none of which has been on Yahtzee though. As many readers are aware, my passion for sailing isn’t just in cruising with my family. I also love to teach sailors when my schedule allows and I was fortunate enough to recently return as an onboard racing coach at Offshore Sailing School’s Performance Race Week with North U. on Captiva Island, Florida. Boy was it fun!

Teaching from my stern office on the Colgate 26

Teaching from My Stern Office on the Colgate 26

The basic format for Race Week, which is now in its 20th year, is that nine highly-experienced racing coaches get four students each onboard nine Colgate 26s. The boats are setup exceptionally well for one design racing and are easy to learn on. Watch the  prep video here. After a welcome party on Sunday night, we spend eight hours each day Monday through Friday teaching the ins-and-outs of sailboat racing. Sail trim, boat handling, race strategy and tactics, starting, spinnaker work and much more are folded into an action-packed week. Then, the culmination of the event is a Saturday regatta with four races in the morning and four in the afternoon. The sailing instructors switch boats for this final competition and offer little to no assistance, which makes it fun to watch the crews duke it out for the podium — and bragging rights.

Sailing instructors switch boats and watch the crews duke it out

At the beginning of Race Week, I knew what to expect of my coaching tasks because I’d been here before. But I didn’t really know what to expect of my four students. Who were they? Where did they come from? What was their sailing experience?

To my pleasant surprise, I learned at the Sunday night meet-and-greet party that my students were part of a group called Veterans Ocean Adventures (VOA). Based in Miami, the vision of VOA is to create opportunities for disabled veterans to experience open ocean sailing, offshore cruising and scuba diving. They do this by collaborating with community partners including the Miami VA and Miami Vet Center. My guys race together on Harbor 20s and Catalina 27.5s in Miami, and their comfort with one another and sailing was readily apparent.

Weather for the week is always a factor, and it couldn’t have been any better this year, with typical breezes ranging from 7 to 15 knots. Throughout the week I had an absolutely fantastic time working with my guys on each job required of them, sail shape and trim, driving the boat fast upwind and down, and teaching the various approaches to starting a race. Speaking of that, we did 77 starts in six days of racing. You read that right — 77! I also worked with them a lot on reinforcing their individual and team strengths, and on the areas that they could improve and how the team could handle the boat and racecourse during the Saturday regatta.

The fleet dials up for one of the week’s 77 starts

The Fleet Dials Up for One of the Week’s 77 Starts

When race day arrived, I was confident that my guys were ready. They continued to sail better during each session on the water and their teamwork and communication skills were something I thought would set them apart from the rest. Without the same coaches on the boats, the four morning races began as an adjustment for all the teams because they had to make decisions on their own. After tough finishes in the morning’s last two races, I knew my crew would come out after lunch swinging. Did they ever — taking fourth, third, second and first over the final four.

Sailing fast towards the finish on the final upwind leg of the regatta’s closing race, I watched as my students sailed triumphantly across the line in first place. Putting them third overall. From the stern of another boat, I couldn’t contain my excitement. My face was beaming with pride and I gave a fist pump and shout of congratulations to four sailors who had come a long way in one week.

My students sail past en route to a 1st place finish

Proudly Watching On as My Students Sail to a 1st Place Finish in the Final Race

The week, though, was far more than just six days of sailboat racing. Sure, I taught them about racing and sailing, but what these four gentlemen taught me about resiliency and the power of positivity and teamwork was far greater. They showed every single person involved with this year’s race week that life is bigger than us, and certainly bigger than sailing. I couldn’t be prouder to have sailed with this VOA team.

Enrollment is now open for Offshore Sailing School’s 20th Annual Performance Race Week with North U on Fort Myers Beach, Florida in 2020. View details here.