Lessons Learned from a J24 North American Champion

By Erica Beck Spencer

Mike Ingham and his team just won the J24 North American 2018 Championship. Mike is one of our mentors and we couldn’t be more proud of his team. In our 3.5 year tenure as an all-women’s team he has stood out as someone who always takes the time to lend advice and answer our many questions. For example, on day one of my first world championship as the skipper for a team at the 2017 Worlds in Toronto Canada, I questioned if I belonged at this event. I felt serious butterflies. He was the mentor I wanted to talk to. After I found him he took time out of his pre-worlds’-morning routine to ask me just the right questions and to evaluate my nervousness. He convinced me that everyone is feeling some level of nerves and that the expert athlete needs to figure out how to compete at the highest level with those nervous feelings. Sometimes that means talking to teammates about how you’re feeling and to ask for what you need from them, sometimes that means just getting comfortable with that jittery feeling, breathing through it, and knowing what it is like to compete with them.

At every event we’re both at we find him and ask him questions. Inevitably paper and pens come out and we draw things and describe what we’d see on the water or boat in order to really learn—he doesn’t just answer our questions, he makes sure we understand the answers to our questions. My notebook has many “Mike Ingham Originals” as he often grabs it and draws sails, local conditions, or tactical situations. At NAs, Mike met with us for ten minutes as his team waited to leave for dinner, to talk about local knowledge. Local conditions were heavily influenced by currents coming through the race course from three different outlets—he reviewed all of this. After a thorough local knowledge talk, he challenged us with a question and didn’t give us the answer. In fact he said, “Don’t answer now, walk away, think about it, and text me later.”

The question was a starting line situation. He asked, if the line is square to the wind, and the wind is equal across the line, but the current is coming across the line from the boat end to the pin end, which end of the line is favored? I’m not going to answer the question which we eventually got to, but I will say that we walked away thinking about it, talked to friends, and around 10pm we texted him our best answer. He responded with another question when we got it wrong. (In Mike Ingham fashion, I ask you to put your answers to the question on the Facebook post in the comments and we’ll see what happens. Have fun!

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My point in sharing all of this is to say that people like Mike are so good at this sport, that they can teach you everything they know and still beat you the majority of the time on the race course. Perhaps karma played into his victory, I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s got a lot of it. But to watch a mentor win the whole darn thing and to still have made time to share his expertise throughout the event—well that just is the true definition of sportsmanship.

Congrats to you and your team Mike! Job well done! Thanks for being someone to emulate.

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Stay tuned to this blog. As requested, this self-proclaimed (and competitor confirmed) regatta nerd and blogger will be digging into her notebook to share some of our biggest takeaways from our fellow competitors as well as from the Quantum and North dock talks.