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Letting the Smoke Clear

Max Bulger heads back to school for finals and reflects on Act 2 of the Extreme Sailing Series.

April 27, 2012
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Act 2 in Qingdao was a whirlwind, by any competitor’s account. In Oman, most teams (including all of us on Oman Air) had a week or two to get settled on the boat, overcome jetlag, and let our bodies adjust to the new atmosphere. We had more than enough time to establish a daily rhythm. China was a whole different ballgame. Due to league rules, no program had access to their boats until two days before the event. This gave everyone 48 hours to empty their containers, set up shop, and build their boats. After all that was done, it was straight into the water for a practice session that felt more like cramming for one of my final exams than a traditional training. We didn’t have time for an entire semester of lessons; we had to get through the textbook from cover to cover in a day.

The view out the window on my flight from Shanghai to Chicago. In the last 7 days, I’ve been to 6 airports: Qingdao, Shanghai, Chicago, Boston, Charlotte and West Palm). Photo: Max Bulger

One advantage we had, though, was anticipation. We knew how much of a rush things would be. We were ready for the hectic pace of preparation, and we were organized enough that things were relaxed on the morning of the first race day. The boat was tuned and tidy, and the team was ready to go to work. However, as I recapped previously, the first day didn’t go as well as we had hoped. The second day was a comparative glamor: we had some great starts, found more good edges than bad ones, and practiced effective fleet management. I’ve harped on how tight the fleet is, and this was no different. Occasionally a team will execute perfectly, get an early break, and enjoy a comfortable race. However, most times, being in the top three means that you have the chance to fight just hard enough to keep your head above water for most of the legs. For third place and back, it’s usually a constant battle. Round the wrong gate in second place, and a minute later you’re at the next turn in second to last.

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Team Oman Air. Photo: Lloyd Images

That’s the nature of the game, and unfortunately we couldn’t quite rise to the occasion on days three and four. We didn’t sail poorly and still had a chance at second place entering the medal race. We weren’t in the lead pack off the line and never found our shift. It was a frustrating way to end a challenging event, but life goes on. We are all focused and eager to get out on the water in Istanbul. In Oman, as the new guys, we were largely counted out. We showed our competitors that was a foolish assumption. In China, our relative inexperience showed in a new way: we had enough skill to race the boat well, but were not used to bouncing back from bad races in the rushed format of the Series. In Oman, our bad finishes were far apart (and, honestly, pretty infrequent). We had more trouble establishing an effective pattern in Qingdao, and experienced some difficulty breaking out of ineffective routines on the starting line and on beats. The bottom line is that the conditions were incredibly challenging, and some of our competitors did a better job of connecting the dots.

The good news is the Team Oman Air attitude is, as ever, unshakeable. We were talking about Istanbul within seconds of the last finish of Act 2. Everyone is embracing the kaizen and stoked to do everything we can to show up ready to take that top podium spot back in Turkey. Nasser, Morgan and Will are getting a couple days back home with their loved ones, and Charlie and I are down here in West Palm Beach, Fl., duking it out in the Melges 32 fleet. I’m on the bow of the Delta, and Charlie is trimming main on Mojo. Weather looks gorgeous for the weekend (a good 15-20 degrees Celsius hotter than China), and we’ve got 16 boats. Not to mention there’s a great gym at the sailing center to give me a place to go and think about Istanbul. Great to be reunited with some old friends and make some new ones on board Delta. And I can’t wait to leave Charlie in the dust. You’re going down!

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The O’Hare version of an EZ Pass. Photo: Max Bulger

After this event ends, it’s back to school to finish up my last couple of final papers and transition towards the summer. Hopefully I’ll be able to work some Vanguard 15 team racing, kiteboarding and SUP-ing in between a new job in Boston, the X40s and the run up to the Melges Worlds. Oh, and it’s my 22nd birthday today. Tough life.

Debriefing our training day at Delta/Volpe HQ in Palm Beach. Photo: Max Bulger via Instagram

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