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Interview with STYC Coach Robby Bisi

All at Sea’s Patricia Burstein talks to international coach Robby Bisi

Roberto (Robby) Bisi, 28, is a sailor and a coach.  He started sailing at the age of seven when his father gave him a plywood Optimist dinghy in his native Buenos Aires, Argentina. Six years later, age 13, Bisi finished 4th in the 1997 Optimist World Championship in Ireland and, in the same regatta, won the Miami Herald Trophy. Later, Bisi studied naval architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, but left without graduating to devote all his time to competitive sailing, and to coaching both junior and Olympic classes.

I caught up with Robby Bisi in late June at the St. Thomas Yacht Club where he was preparing a team from the United States Virgin Islands for two International 420 Class regattas in Europe the following month while, at the same time, training himself for the 470 Olympic class Open European Championship in Finland. A man of many talents, on terra firma Bisi sings in his own rock ‘n roll band Natural Code, a name he believes is very much in sync with his love of the wind and water.

AAS: Why the dual roles of sailing and competing?

RB: They feed each other. As a coach I see the sport from the outside and I can develop the skills, such as maneuvering techniques and fine-tuning the boat, that apply to sailing.

AAS: What is your coaching schedule like here in St. Thomas?

RB: Five days a week for five weeks, six hours a day. Normally I start practice with a warm-up drill, which in most cases is a specific boat handling exercise.  For example, I will blow my whistle and the team will tack or if I blow it twice, they will make a 360 degree turn, which involves both a tack and a gibe.  We do this repeatedly and with intensity for about 20 minutes.  After the first drill, depending on the day’s conditions and the team’s performance, I make a decision about which other drills might follow and the overall direction of the coaching session.

AAS: Do you find computers helpful in sailing and coaching?

RB: Computers are prohibited in one-design and Olympic competitions, which I compete in and coach, to keep the essence of the sport. This is a good thing so you can develop a feel and sensitivity about the wind and the water.

AAS: What are the lessons kids learn from sailing?

RB: A common saying you hear from sailors is “life is like a race,” and I agree.
Sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t. You have to sail both against and with the wind and at all times face the elements, which can change from one minute to the next.  Also, you learn a lot about the nature of survival and responsibility.  There are other things: an understanding of safety; helping other sailors in distress; team spirit and competition.  And, of course, there is no better lesson than your own mistakes.

AAS: Are sailors made or born?

RB: If you’re a natural, fast and agile and instinctively knowing how to work with the wind, it’ll save you time. But champions are made by hard work, discipline— both physical and mental—plus great focus and a hunger and drive to get to the top.
Without those qualities you’re never going to make it no matter who coaches you.

AAS: Are there any school subjects that may be useful in sailing?

 RB: Physics for one; it helps with vectors. Geometry is good for figuring out angles. All the composites, from resin to fiberglass, that go into building or fixing a boat, are covered in Chemistry. Meteorology for sailing conditions.

AAS: What is your favorite sailing locale?

RB: The Caribbean with its year-round warm temperatures; the water color and the marine life. I love the idea that when the wind hits you it’s coming from really faraway places. Here you can count on the wind, reliable and magical.

Patricia Burstein, a journalist and author of eight books, has written about the Caribbean for The New York Times and Newsday. She began her career at the San Juan Star. She currently divides her time between New York City and St. John, USVI

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