Senet and Clay Bischoff Place 4th in 2014 Etchells World Championship

The Spyglass column in LYC’s Mainsheet interviews and profiles Club members who have done special things for the Club or had major accomplishments. This special Digital Spyglass looks at three members who accomplished a great deal at a recent international regatta.
There are really only two one-design world championship regattas for which the yachting world will stop, sit-up, and pay attention. One is the Star World Championship, the other is the Etchells World Championship. The 2014 Etchells Worlds were held from June 21-28 at New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court in Newport, RI. With four years of anticipation leading-up to the event in America’s yachting capital, all the big guns trained hard to participate at their highest levels.
Consider this—in the 95-boat fleet there were:
  • 20 America’s Cup veterans, including John Bertrand (helmed Australia II to take the cup from the US in 1983), Brad Butterworth OBE (won 16 cup races in a row from 1995-2007), and Grant Simmer (general manager of Oracle Team USA in 2014),
  • More than 25 Olympians, including numerous medalists such as Ian Walker, Steve Benjamin, Jeff Madrigali, and Zach Railey,
  • Numerous Rolex Yachtsmen and Yachtswomen of the Year (Bill Hardesty, Chris Larson, Jud Smith, Eric Doyle, and Lynn Jewell),
  • Volvo Ocean Race winners galore,
  • Too many Etchells/Melges 24/Melges 20/Soiling/Finn/Match Racing World Champions to count, and
  • 45 former college All-Americans.
Oh, yes, there were the two former college Sailor-of-the-Year brothers, Senet and Clay Bischoff from LYC/NYYC, sailing with Senet’s boat partner, Ben Kinney.
The regatta was nothing short of amazing, the caliber of talent, the number of boats, the venue, and the stories revealed in the results. With the exclusion of the very top boats, all the sailors were up and down in their results—another sign of the talent pool.

When the racing was over, twice Etchells World Champion Bill Hardesty from San Diego was on top. His crew? Just the one of the top march racers in the world, Taylor Canfield, a top women’s match racer, Stephanie Roble, and Marcus Eagan, a superlative sail trimmer.

Bischoff and his boat KGB ended-up in fourth place overall and was the top all-amateur crew. Their performance also included winning Race 5 with a second in Race 7. Now, many would say that fourth isn’t a “podium position,” but in this regatta anything in the top 10, heck the top 20 would be a relished position. To finish fourth against this fleet of pro sailors was clearly a superlative achievement. No trophy perhaps, but the respect and admiration of fellow sailors can sometimes be just as meaningful. LYC extends its congratulations to the crew of KGB.

Not to be overlooked is the second LYC boat that sailed in the Etchells Worlds. Chris and Tom Marx sailed their boat, Marx Bros., with veteran LYC sailor Dan Ronan as crew. MarxBros. finished in 38th place and had some solid races including a 4th in Race 4.

Comments from both Bischoff brothers and Chris Marx follow in special Digital Spyglass (SG) interviews:


SG: You have had the 2014 Etchells Worlds in your sights for a while now, but how far back did you seriously start to focus on this regatta?
SB: Ben (my co-owner) and I knew we wanted to dial things up once the 2014 Worlds was scheduled for New York Yacht Club 4 years ago. We had a great Worlds in 2011 in San Diego (14th overall and 5th all-amateur “Corinthian” team), but with the event at NYYC (Ben and I are both members) we really wanted to improve on that result this year. To accomplish that we did all five of the winter events in Miami each of the last few years, as well as five events in Newport and Larchmont in 2013 (with as many boats as we could rally up for participation). And this winter / spring, we added some practice days in Miami and then spent five weekends practicing and testing several different Doyle jibs in Newport immediately prior to the Worlds.
Absolutely no way we could have done this without the support of our wives (Christina Bischoff and Megan Kinney) and kids and Clay’s fiancĂ©. Between work and this effort, since December we were away a LOT, and dealing with that required a big sacrifice from our families. So now the boat goes into storage for a few months and we get pool duty! Christina, the tennis courts are open!!!

SG: You had some pretty amazing races in this world-class fleet. What one on-the-water situation stands-out as your breakthrough? 
SB: We were able to learn a great deal from our mistakes in prior events (greatly assisted by our fantastic coach Jay Kehoe, additional coaches we worked with (Stan Schreyer and Elizabeth Kratzig Burnham), our awesome tuning partners, and friends who sailed with us this winter and spring. We focused on taking the time to breakdown our successes and mistakes, and learn from both. For example, we worked hard to make sure we got the boat up-to-speed as early as possible before the starting gun, which was crucial to getting off the (very, very long) starting line well.

SG: You and Ben have been sailing together for a long time and are partners in the boat. How did you determine who “sat where?” 
SB: Ben’s a ridiculously good sail trimmer and I’ve spent most of my sailing career sitting in the back of the boat, so that fell into place easily. Ben has sometimes trimmed main and sometimes jib, but when my brother Clay joined the team we knew we wanted to take advantage of his athleticism and balance (he did all that modern dance cross-training back in college) and put him on the bow. Ben slid back and trimmed main. Clay also ran our starts and sitting up front seemed to help give him a great perspective of where we sat on the line and how we could best take advantage of the line sag on the >1/2 mile long starting line.

SG: What one memory will you take away from the event that encapsulates the entire experience for you?
SB: Winning Race #5 was pretty amazing. A cold front rolled through at the beginning of the race, bringing periods of torrential rain, several 20+ degree shifts, and wind velocity between 5 and 20 knots. But the crucial pass from second into first relied on pure boat speed on one 15-minute straight line path…with a lot of straight-leg hiking. The three of us yelling at ourselves to hike harder and harder (“OK, break over, time to hike” “What break?” “Sorry, you missed it…now hike harder!”) and laughing at ourselves all the while with big grins on our faces. Yah, that’s one memory I will never forget.

SG: You didn’t win...but you did finish 4th in a fleet of 95 boats. How did that make you feel? Disappointed? Elated? Surprised?
SB: Elated. Bordering on shell-shocked. We wanted to try and crack the top-10 and see if we could be top all-amateur (“Corinthian”) team, but to be in the top five and top Corinthian team…WOW. This was definitely my biggest sailing success ever. We thought we might have a chance to get into that range after we won the 70 boat Midwinters in Miami this winter…but going from 70 boats on a 1.25 mile beat in flat water in Miami to 95 boats and a 2.5 mile beat and waves in Newport did change the game a bunch. We had former Etchells World Champions finishing in the 30s and 40s and only one other Corinthian boat in the top 10 (and they had a former Olympian and Finn World Champion on board)! 

SG: What did it mean to you to sail this well with your brother onboard? 
SB: It was all the sweeter. Clay’s ridiculously good (2 team racing world titles, and an even better college sailing record than mine), so it was a lot of fun to learn from him and share this experience together. We never sailed in the same boat growing-up…but we fell into place together really well and he brushed off all the “older brother” advice from the (stable) back of the boat (“Clay, don’t fall off”) amazingly well.


SG: As the younger brother, how often have you crewed for Senet over the years?
CB: I started sailing with Senet a couple of years ago and we've done two winter Jaguar series together. Until then, we'd done sailing against each other or on the same team but not on the same boat.

SG: What one strategic decision did you, Ben, and Senet make that you believe put you into the top echelon of the fleet?
CB: Collectively realizing that we were one of the best starting boats out there was the breakthrough. At the outset, we had some nice starts with big line sags, exploiting the middle of the line, but that got us into trouble in the middle of the regatta. I then realized that with Senet on the tiller and Ben on main, we'd be able to out-start people in tight spaces, so I pushed us to get closer to the favored ends.

SG: What other sailors at the Worlds impressed you as being a notch above others?
CB: Bill Hardesty's team was unbelievably good—they seemed to be both conservative and aggressive at the same time and probably caught boats every single leg, which is really hard to do when you're in the top 10 a lot. They've sailed together for less than 6 months, which makes it even more impressive. We were really impressed with several others (it is a long list of Olympic champs) and several amateur boats, including Blaine Pedlow and Scott Kaufman.

SG: What did it mean to you (and your parents) that you sailed this amazing regatta with your brother?
CB: We didn't win, but I still consider it a perfect scenario—being able to peak at the Worlds and having my parents there to see it all. The fact that we struggled at times this spring and worked tirelessly to turn things around (there were several 4am drives up to Newport this year) is very satisfying. Fourth in the Worlds is a great accomplishment...particularly for a few office job stiffs.


SG: What did you do in preparation for the Worlds?
CM: Our race preparation for the Worlds centered on the first two pre-regattas in Newport. We were not able to sail our boat in Miami this past winter; instead we focused on having the boat in Newport early and getting used to the venue. We also added Dan Ronan as our middle and since the three of us have not sailed together on the Etchells before we focused our efforts on experimenting with tuning, trim and communication. Results didn’t matter to us for the tune-up events, we wanted to make sure we were ready for the main event at the end of June.
SG: How special was sailing the Worlds with your brother Tom?
CM: I have sailed with Tom for 15+ years on Sonars and Etchells. He’s awesome on the boat, is a great front guy and helps out in all aspects. Plus there is the added benefit of him being my brother so I take the liberty to give him a hard time whenever I can! Every boat needs someone who is the brunt of most jokes.
SG: 39th in a World Class fleet like this is pretty impressive with scores going up and down throughout the fleet; however, were you satisfied with your regatta?
CM: In the end we were very pleased with our regatta. It was a very tough event with an unbelievably impressive list of participants and a challenging race course. In general, we were happy with our boat speed and course management and, with the exception of the last race, we stayed out of trouble the entire series. The best part was out team coming together at the right time and collectively putting in a solid effort when it mattered.
SG: What one memory will you take away from this Championship?
CM: Lots of great memories including the weather and venue being awesome, the fleet being was a Who’s Who of America’s Cup, Olympic and Volvo Ocean Race sailors, getting a top 5 finish and fighting in the top group for several more races. In addition, we got to know John Bertrand from Australia--who we hosted for dinner in NYC--before the Worlds and we were able to learn a lot from him. But my one lingering memory will be a team that worked incredibly well together, on and off the water, and gelled at the right time. It was a real pleasure racing with Tom and Dan.