March 2017 – Ian Elliot

CBSC Head Coach – Ian Elliot


Tell us about your first sailing experience and how you got started.

I first started sailing with my father on a Laser II on a big lake in Alberta called Pigeon Lake where we had a cabin.  When I was11 years old I tried double-handing full rig Laser with a friend at our local bring-your-own-boat sailing school hosted out of a neighbour’s cabin.  Because of the experience I had crewing for my Dad in our local Sunday morning races, I caught on quickly and returned to the program for the next three years.  When I was in Bronze Sail 4 my instructors said that I had promising skills and they told me that sailing was an Olympic sport.  They told me about how the Alberta Sailing Team travels across the country to all sorts lakes (and even the coast!) and how the team becomes good friends.  That fall, I attended the 1998 Alberta Provincial Regatta at Lake Wabamun in my blue disco sail Laser full rig with two wraps of the sail around the mast to reduce sail area.  It was well over 15 knots and the other junior sailors eventually went in.  By the end of the regatta I was awarded a prize for capsizing the most times but always getting up.  I was hooked!

What boats have you sailed and what are your favourites?

When I was very little I sailed Laser II and then sailed with my father for several years in a Sea Spray catamaran.  The year after my capsizing award I had become very excited about sailing and was lucky enough to get my own lightly used Byte.  At the time Bytes were very popular and in 2001 there were 82 bytes on the start line at our Youth National Championships in Charlottetown, PEI.  I sailed the Byte for three years, then, having grown bigger, went back to the Laser which I compete in and love until the present day, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Through coaching and through friends in other classes, I have had a bunch of exposure to

A Thunderbird
San Juans
Cal 20

I spent some time learning to windsurf too.
My preference has always been for smaller boats with big fleets.  For this reason I love the Opti and am very sad that I didn’t get to start out in it.

What gets you excited about sailing?

I like the sensation of sailing and being out on the water, I really like the friendships that have developed around sailing, but the thing that most excites me is the puzzle of a sailboat race.  There is a fascinating mix of strategy and randomness, of helpful and misleading clues, technical detail and abstract feel. Racing sailboats is a varied physical and mental challenge in a social context.  It’s the perfect mix for me!  Because it has so many facets, it is also a great place for me to park my love for learning.  I keep on training and training and getting better and better and still I am nowhere near mastering it.

What skills have you developed for life that you learned through sailing?

For me I think it is the mental game that stands out the most.  Sailboat racing is often a crazy emotional roller coaster.  You can feel like you could take on the world and you could be in tears on the same day.  Figuring out your best mental state, building the emotional maturity to recognize when you are not in a helpful emotional state and then developing strategies to change that mental state has probably been the most profound skill that I have learnt through sailing, although it is still very much a work in progress!

Any competitions that are memorable for you?

When I have made it out to the Sail World Cup regattas in Miami it had been an amazing feeling to get to sail alongside incredibly skilled sailors that you read about in magazines (until they pull away!).  I got to meet a top ten sailor from Tunisia and I got to cross tacks with Robert Scheidt.  Often ‘open’ regattas allow brand new or relatively inexperienced sailors to participate alongside regional champions or the very best in the world.   But lately even more than the biggest regattas that I have attended, I have enjoyed the Laser Midwinters West Championships because it is right at the level where I am in the mix.  In 2014 I came off the water beaming after a sunny, windy day of incredibly tight back and forth racing at Richmond Yacht Club in Berkley Bay.  I thought that I had finished about 6th which was very good for me, but as I looked up the result sheet, I had done even better:

6th place had 32pts
5th place had 31pts
4th place had 30pts

…and there I was in 3rd place with 30pts winning the tie breaker.  Tight racing is so much fun and this regatta stands out to me because there were two points separating four sailors at the top of the fleet after 7 races!

Where around the world have you sailed and where is your favourite?

I have been lucky enough to sail in Bermuda, in Terrigal, Australia, in La Cruz, Mexico and in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. In the US I have sailed in many venues, for example: Clearwater Fl, Flathead Lake, Montana, Long Beach, Ca, Manteo, North Carolina, Monterray, Ca, San Francisco, Ca, Seattle, Wa, Cascade Locks, Oregon.
In Canada places that stand out for me are St, Margret’s Bay, NS, Kingston, On, Gimli Manitoba, Redberry Lake, Sk, Waterton National Park, AB, Squamish, BC.

My top international pick:
Cabarete: Gigantic warm aquamarine swells, reliable building wind through the day, interesting culture, tropical, picturesque

My top American pick:
Cascade Locks, aka ‘The Gorge’: 4 knots of warm (not as warm as Cabarete!) upwind current flowing against a strong thermal wind funneling through the Colombia Gorge.  Nice atmosphere, lots of things to do outside of sailing there too and also quite beautiful.
I’m sure my top Canadian pick will be Comox once I have had the chance to really get to know it out on the water!  But I would like to draw attention to Lake Waterton which is not a well known venue for Sailing.  Lake Waterton is on the border between Alberta and Montana and a thermal forms in between the frozen glaciers in Glacier National Park in the US and the hot plains of the summer prairie.  The water is pristine, actually used as the benchmark for measuring water quality, but it is bitterly cold because it is fed by glaciers and it is also unfortunately deep for setting marks.  As you sail along the lake, valleys open up and you can see dramatic snow-capped peaks, because it is usually windy you have to hike out hard on your boat.  This gives a different meaning to ‘hiking’ in the mountains. The national park itself has some of the richest biodiversity around and with the waterfalls, cliffs and views of endless ocean-like prairie, I could go on and on…

Describe a perfect day of sailing.

It would be at a funky venue with good coffee shops.  The wind would be thermal so there would be no sense in getting up at the crack of dawn.  I would get up later, eat a big breakfast and then digest and have some coffee.  I would rig while I finish my coffee and it would be a major regatta full of my best sailing friends and interesting people who are open and friendly.  It would be 24 degrees or so but not so sunny that I burn in between sunscreen applications.  It would be 18 gusting 22 knots with big rolling swell.  Tactically the race course would be complicated, let’s say puffs, shifts and current, but they would vary predictably enough that we could figure it all out.  We would get off the water at the end of the day physically exhausted, but telling anyone and everyone who would listen of the crazy thrills and spills and the clever or ridiculous racing situations we got into on the race course.  The race area and venue would be breathtakingly beautiful, everyone would have a regatta dinner together, there would be no boat-work to be done, I would remember to stretch, hydrate and all the other good habits and then I would collapse into a deep sleep even though it was still pretty early in the evening.

What brought you to the Comox Valley?

Even thought coaching at the Comox Bay Sailing Club brought me to the Comox Valley, I have been longing to explore this part of the world for some time.  I have skied since before I can remember and I really like Mt. Washington, but I am also interested in all the other amazing outdoor activities there are around here.  I also like the culture of the Comox Valley, there seems to be an easygoing adventurousness that really resonates with me.

What are you looking forward to with your new job as head coach of the Comox Bay sailing club?

I am eager to connect with Comox sailors and to be a part of some awesome learning.  The feeling of developing a new skill or refining one that you have been working on for years and then suddenly having it click, those moments are a big part of what keeps me coming back to sailing personally, and being a part of that when it happens in my athletes is what makes me passionate about coaching.  Everything I have seen points to Comox Bay Sailing Club being an exciting young club full of people who want to have those experiences and to drink in this sport.  I am really excited about Comox as a community and I am pumped to continue the development of the sport that I love in such a cool place.

Any words for families who are considering getting their children involved in the club?

Sailing has so much to offer!  I have seen sailing introduce academically inclined children to physical literacy and a love of fitness, and I have seen children who love sports but who don’t love academics learn eagerly about angles and vectors to help their sailing.  A sailing club like Comox Bay Sailing Club offers a small, safe community of youth and adults where children can experience successes and setbacks and thrills together as a group.  I hope any family who is considering it joins the club and gets to see their young ones develop self-confidence and responsibility in the unique and engaging sport of sailing.