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Darien’s Crane aims his Laser at London Olympic Games

‘This might be my only attempt — but sailing will always be a part of my life’

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Rob Crane on a practice run off the coast of Weymouth in the UK recently. (Photo courtesy of Leandro Spina)

SAILING

For Darien’s Rob Crane, the pressure rises like the sea on a spring tide, the moment he launches his Laser craft at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

“The sailing event is a bit of a longer event, so in the beginning it’s important to not make mistakes,” said Crane, 26, and competing in the Laser sailing event for the USA Sailing squad at the London Games, beginning with the opening ceremony July 27. “You can’t win within the first couple of days, but you can lose it with a couple of bad races.”

And the long-time Noroton Yacht Club member will be off to those races of the XXX Olympiad at a pace.

The format is made up of an 11-race event that will take place over eight days starting July 30. On the schedule are two races a day taking place on six days in all, ending up with the final medal runs.

“So in the beginning it’s very important to be a bit more conservative,” he added. “Not that you don’t want to do well in the beginning, but you want to avoid big mistakes.”

Caution.

It’s not necessarily what rules the philosophy that placed him into the sole Laser seat — each country sends one boat of this class — out of all the similar sailors in the nation.

“I wouldn’t say that’s the reason I got where I am,” Crane said. “That’s a general thought about the whole game. Obviously it’s a big stage, and everybody is going to be going for it.

“So, you don’t want to hold back too much.”

Holding back is not what got him to London, or to Weymouth to be accurate, off the shores of which the sailing races will take place.

“I just got back from 11 days of training in Weymouth, trying to get more time in the venue and learning as much as we can about the sailing conditions,” he said. “Every place we are sailing is different; current, wind and waves.”

And if the meteorological pattern over Britain persists, winning sailors could be eyeing a victory lap over what, was, dry land, with much of the UK in the grips of record rains and widespread flooding since May.

“If you let it bother you, you are not doing your job,” Crane said of sailing in a heavy downpour, should that continue to be the case. “You just have to dress properly and deal with it.”

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“It’s a very tactical and strategic game more than anything else.”

The temperature in between the raindrops was more on his mind and getting under his skin.

“They say it’s summer, but it’s 58 and 60 degrees,” said Crane.

A race’s circuit time is an hour over a buoyed course. The length of the course can very, dependent upon the wind strength.

“If it’s windy the boats go faster so they have to set a longer course,” Crane said. “It’s roughly an hour; sometimes they overestimate it and it’s over an hour, or sometimes they underestimate it and it ends up being a little bit shorter.”

Cutting the time down, to the shortest sort of hour in the race, is as much in the head of the sailor, as it is dependent upon the air whipping the sea.

“The way sailing works, is, you can’t sail directly into the wind,” Crane explained. “You have to sail at angles to it.”

The wind as a rule, for the hour, will be consistent, following a roughly single course.

But the wind likes to break the rules.

“While it generally blows from the same direction, there’s variations,” Crane said. “There are shifts, and pressure differences. And sometimes on the course there is more current or less current than other areas.

“The waves change across the course.”

Lots to cope with — like having to constantly keep retying your cleats or sneakers laces, while in the middle of playing a team sport, and while still not missing a beat — but, riding out the elements is only part of it.

“Then there’s the boat itself,” said Crane. “In the boat itself you’ve got a lot of different controls — to change the shape of the sail, and then your body to control the pitch, and movement through the waves.

“So basically, sailing is a game of understanding the huge number of variables, in the weather and the wind and the waves, the current.”

And it goes on, with needing to adjust too to how they set the course.

But all the variables boil down to the single simple challenge, borne by no one but the sailor, unshared with teammates, and not tinkered with by a coach.

“There’s your boat, and how you sail your boat to make it go fast,” said Crane. “It’s something that’s in flux all the time.”

Those that adjust to the flux the best tend to be the ones you need to catch and beat.

And still, it is much more than doing judo moves on the elements, to shift nature’s energy to go the sailor’s way.

There’s all that expert and eager competition in the flotilla of craft lining up along side you on the starting line.

“Mentioning all of the variables, there’s also all the boats in the race — you obviously have to take those into account too,” he said. “You’re in a race, and there are 48 other boats in the same race at the starting line.

“And you start.

“And if you are going up-wind and you’re behind another boat, they take the strength of the breeze from you. So you go slower.”

Forget the aeronautic advantage of sneaking into a slipstream like in NASCAR or throttling slingshot-fashion around the track at the Indy.

“It’s very important, you can’t follow another guy,” Crane said. “You have to be in a clear lane, with clear breeze.”

Finding yourself in a clear lane has its complexities too.

“If you get all your good competitors going one way, and you’re going another way, you’ve got to ask yourself: if five or 10 other good guys are going one way, and I think I’m going the other way, well, what do they see that I don’t?

“It’s very much more than you against the elements. It’s a very tactical and strategic game more than anything else.”

The single-sail Laser is 14-feet long.

Crane began sailing at 13-years old on the sister-craft Laser Radial.

“It is the same hull (as the Laser) but a smaller sail,” Crane said. “And then when I got bigger I switched to the regular laser.”

Crane grew up in Darien and went to boarding school at Holderness in New Hampshire. He is a Hobart graduate.

Beginning sailing at seven, Crane was ship shape in short order with his family possessing a long history on the water.

He is the only sailor from the state at this year’s Olympics, with many from the other side of The Sound, and a former teammate at Hobart hailing from Vermont, the closest to home.

There are 16 sailors, of the various classes of boat — 10 disciplines in all — on the US team, seven women, nine men.

Some boats have two, some three, sailors on board.

One person per country races Lasers, 48 countries in the mix.

Crane made the Laser cut of one by performing best in two events. The first in June of last year, in Weymouth, England at the Sail for Gold Regatta, and the second the World Championships in Perth, Australia, also last year.

The combined score in both events determined who would be sitting in the Laser seat for the USA.

Training out-of-the-water includes weight lifting, cross-training, bike riding, running and pulling at the rowing machine.

Crane was a part of the US National Team before joining with the US Olympic Sailing Team, and from there, bundled into the 2012 Team USA, hitting the Olympics in each sport this month.

Sailing medals are won individually.

Crane flies back into England July 15 and competition starts July 30, leaving time to tune-up back on the Weymouth coast.

Last year he sailed the Laser well over 200 days, all training.

“Pretty much the only time I sail the Laser now is if I’m training or racing,” he said. “Which is, a lot.

“If I get a day off, I’m not going to go to work. I’m going to go to something else.”

Days off are not uppermost on Crane’s agenda, even after the Olympics of 2012. For the rest of his many days and decades on earth and sea Crane expects to keep right on sailing competitively.

“I don’t know that I’ll be making a journey back to the games again, this might be my only attempt,” he added. “But sailing will always be a part of my life.”

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Darien Times Sports Editor since 2000

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