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Get to know 49er FX athlete Helena Scutt

by Dana Paxton on 16 Mar 2013
Scutt and Henken in Miami US Sailing © http://www.ussailing.org
Learn more about 49er FX sailor Helena Scutt, who reports in from Miami and the US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider training camp. She discusses boat speed, team work and sharks in this exclusive report.

Thanks to the US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider and US Sailing Development Team’s first training camp of 2013, Miami Yacht Club is oozing high performance as 49ers, 49er FXs, Nacra 17s, F16s, and 470s crowd the beach.

This weekend I crewed for US Sailing Development Team member Paris Henken in the 49er FX. We have each come a long way since we last sailed together – exactly three years ago in a 29er at Miami Yacht Club, in fact. Growing up competing against each other in the 29er (Paris as a skipper and me as a crew), our extensive 29er experience has made for a natural transition into the 49erFX.

Miami Beach dealt very diverse conditions in just the first three days.

For example, Saturday started as light as four knots with ocean swell but eventually picked up to over 15 knots. The shifty condition lent itself to technique work rather than speed tuning. On Sunday we stayed inside the harbor area and did lots of short course racing (theater-style) in very puffy and shifty conditions with completely flat water. Paris and I had tons of fun as evidenced by our big smiles and laughter all day.

With so many starts and mark roundings it was evident that boathandling was a strength for Paris and I, thanks to our time in the 29er. We were especially motivated to avoid capsizing after we saw a shark below our boat! Paris and Helena in the photo below.

Throughout the camp, I felt extremely fortunate to have such high-level coaches sharing their knowledge and accelerating our development as Olympic class sailors. The camp’s technical focus was clear right away when it began with Technical Director Grant Spanhake teaching aspects of sail shape. The days were packed with information and practice. For example, no time was wasted as we raced on our way out to the ocean. Competitive drive immediately flowed and focused all the teams for the long session that day.

Alongside class-specific debriefs, some talks brought the whole camp together on topics such as downwind tactics or communication by High Performance Director Charlie McKee.

One of my major takeaways was the importance of instantly switching mental focus between tactical decisions and boat speed. The focus on boat speed is especially crucial in fast boats such as the 49er FX because a small difference in percentage of maximum boat speed translates quickly to distance around the racecourse.

Another reason why Charlie’s communication talk resonated with me is that I am currently balancing college sailing and 49er FX sailing, two very different types of sailing. Ultimately there are more similarities than differences. Whether you are hiking or trapezing, playing the jib or the spinnaker: communication, teamwork, and focus are keys across classes.

Finally, I’d like to thank Charlie McKee and Senior Olympic Coach Luther Carpenter for giving me the big picture but also pointing out all the small things that I didn’t think they could see or would have noticed from the coach boat. They caught it all! But that is exactly what we need, because as Charlie says, winning medals for the USA is not going to be about doing one big thing better, but rather, about improving on hundreds of little things.

http://sailingteams.ussailing.org/

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