Greg Wilkinson is currently the coach of the Boston College sailing team, one of the top-ranked college sailing teams in the United States. In late 2008 he joined the Eastern Yacht Club in a newly created position - year-round Sailing Director/Sailing Professional. Greg Wilkinson has a bold set of goals -- working with the Sailing Committee, the Flags and the membership, his job will be to elevate sailing participation, and sailing achievement at the Eastern Yacht Club.
Welcome to the Eastern Yacht Club, Greg... It's a busy time of year for you - the spring college sailing season is in full swing - how is your team doing?
Wilkinson: Thank you, it's great to be here. And thanks for asking about the BC team. We're currently ranked #1 in Coed and #3 in Women's. Over the next four weeks, we hope to defend our New England Conference Championship titles in Coed, Women's and Team Racing. Our National Championships are in San Francisco in late May/early June - so there's lots of work left to do.
What are your first impressions of the Eastern Yacht Club?
Wilkinson: Most of my exposure to the Club so far has been in Committee work. I've been impressed by not only the number of members serving on Club Committees, but especially by the amount of time and effort these committees are putting into running the Eastern. I believe that member service/involvement is an excellent indication of the strength of any yacht club and I'm excited to be working at a club that is so well supported by the members.
Last weekend, I got to work with the Jackson Cup team on the water. It was great to work with such a strong group of sailors and I'm looking forward to more on the water work with EYC members.
You've spent the winter working with Club leadership planning the program for 2009. What should members expect to see in 2009 that is new?
Wilkinson: First of all, members should also expect to see expanded access to coaching, briefings, and training. In terms of specific programs and activities, we plan to offer weather/sailing conditions briefings on each Saturday race day; on-the-water coaching and post-race debriefs for each of the one-design fleet on designated race days throughout the summer; similar coaching for PHRF racers on scheduled Sundays; Monday evening racing clinics; an expanded Tuesday night Laser Series schedule, and the continuation of the successful Harbor Challenge Team Race Series between EYC, CYC and BYC.
And, members should expect to see some new faces! The new Junior Sailing Membership category is bringing younger members to the Club and these new members will be very active in any and all sailing opportunities at the Eastern.
How do you anticipate you will interact with the sailors at the Club?
Wilkinson: I hope to be a resource for all sailors at the Club. I'll be coaching on race days, but I'll also be at the Club six days a week. I hope much of that time will be spent with the members, whether it's discussing the new rules, looking over a deck layout, or re-hashing a recent race - having a 'third party' to offer a different perspective on your boats' program should be helpful for everyone.
Monday Night Racing Clinics will give our members access to top-quality race coaching every week of the season. How do you see the Monday night clinics operating?
Wilkinson: I'm thinking of Monday nights as practice sessions. When was the last time you were able to go out and do 10 starts for practice? Or 20 tacks and gybes? How often does your crew get to practice gybe sets without the pressure of the boat that's half a boat length behind you in the race? Covering an opponent? Attacking and defending downwind? On Monday nights, members will have a chance to participate in coached sailing drills that will really hone their skills. They will be will be coached sessions with both on-the-water critique and on-shore teaching. The format will be casual, inclusive, and fun.
You recently had your first on the water practice with Eastern Yacht Club sailors, preparing for the Jackson Cup. How did that go?
Wilkinson: Practice was great. We had a great group of EYC and BYC sailors on the water and although it was a bit breezy for an ideal team racing practice, everyone seemed to get quite a bit out of the 90-minute session. We discussed a few key ideas before sailing, got onto the water and spend about 90 minutes doing racing drills that emphasized the key ideas, and the sat down together and reviewed the video tape of what we had done.
The highlight of the practice for me came in the debrief when one sailor suggested that EYC, BYC and CYC needed to do more of this type of cooperative training so that the rivalry between the clubs can be used to both clubs' advantage as a way to improve the overall quality of team racing.
I suppose it's hard for me not to see parallels to college sailing - but I think there's a relevant one here. In college sailing, Boston teams have a distinct advantage in that when we work together, we can put more talent on the water training together than any individual team could ever hope to have train together. Marblehead has that same advantage - it's already present in the fleet racing program, through all the area clubs participating in MRA series and events. By creating a more cooperative approach to team racing we will quickly strengthen the team racing programs at each of the clubs.
Besides the Jackson Cup, what kind of team racing program do you envision for the club?
The EYC hosts the Harbor Challenge team race series on Thursday nights throughout the summer. Last year about twenty club members participated in the event, and this year I hope many more members and their children will take advantage of this program this season. Harbor Challenge nights will feature a short pre-race briefing, the match, and then a debriefing at the club featuring video shot during that evening's races. They will be a lot of fun, and they will be much more informal than an event like the Jackson Cup.
In time, I would like to see adult team racing expand regionally to other Boston area and North Shore sailing and yacht clubs. And for our most accomplished team racers, I look forward to helping the EYC field teams at other major team racing events, including our own Commodore's Cup, the Hinman, the Hinman Masters, and other events. There is a real team racing circuit that has developed among the top yacht clubs in North America. There is no reason the Eastern Yacht Club shouldn't be competing there.
Team racing also offers a great forum for race officers and umpires - it would be great if some of EYC's certified judges could get more involved with team race umpiring, too. Just as it does for sailors, team racing is a great place for judges and umpires to really take their knowledge to the next level.
As a college sailing coach, you've watched literally thousands of sailing races. Based on the races you've seen this year - how have the new rules changed the game?
We've actually seen very few game changing rules situations, especially on the team racing side of things. In fleet racing, the biggest change - the 'zone' growing from two lengths to three and the buoy room rule turning on at a moment in time, rather than when boats are 'about to round' - seems to be an improvement. Mark rounding 'room' issues seem to be getting sorted out earlier in the approaches to the marks. One interesting effect has been the increased size of leeward gates. The larger 'zone' requires RC's to set wider gates - so in shifty venues or on a shifty day, chosing the correct gate has become even more important.
Overall, I think rules re-writes are always good for sailing. Regardless of the new content, a new version of the rules forces sailors to study hard and learn the new rules. The game is always better when the players have been studying up on the rules!
This year the Club has created a new membership category - the Junior Sailing Member. What kind of sailor does the club hope to attract as Junior Sailing Members? Have any members joined the Club through the Junior Sailing Member process?
The Jr Sailing Membership category will attract high level sailors between the ages of 20 and 30 to the Club. If we're successful, and I think we're already on the right track, juniors and seniors in college will be thinking about joining the Eastern as graduation approaches if they plan to be in the Boston area. Three new Jr Sailing Members are in the process of applying for membership now. They fit our desired profile perfectly - they are top racing sailors from collegiate programs here in the Boston area. Each of these prospective members sails year-round, each has competed successfully on the national level, and each will make sailing a huge part of their adult life. In the past, these sailors may not have considered Eastern when thinking about the 'next step' in their sailing careers - but now we are able to attract them to the EYC.
How do you anticipate the Junior Sailing Members will impact the sailing program?
Most importantly, I hope that an influx of young sailors will make the 'sailing scene' at the Eastern even more fun. These new members will bring a younger perspective - not to mention energy - to the sailing. Initially, I think the biggest impact will be seen in the area of team racing as each of these sailors has a lot to offer in team racing. In addition, I'm confident that these sailors will increase EYC's visibility to the sport by flying the EYC burgee at national and international regattas - possibly even the Olympics.
Thanks for your time Greg, it's great to have you on board!
Thank you, I'm really excited to be here, and I can't wait for the season to begin.