LONDON – It began when Dave Hughes was a student at Yarmouth Middle School and attended a career day at Maine Sailing Partners in Freeport.

“Dave started with us,” said Ken Petersen, production manager at the sailmaking company. “I think we afflicted him with the sailing bug.”

Now Hughes is trying to convert that bug into gold as coach of Team USA sailors Erik Storck and Trevor Moore in the 49er class at the Olympics.

Hughes, in London, resorted to a golf analogy to describe his role as coach.

“Get it on the green,”‘ said Hughes, who grew up in Yarmouth and graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1999. “For the first three days, it’s just get it on the green and let other people make mistakes.

“They don’t have to have anything spectacular for the first few days … They don’t have to win races; they have to have solid races.”

The 49er is a flat-bottomed skiff. The two sailors wear a wire harness that allows them to lean outside the boat with only their toes touching.

Hughes, 34, and his team are ninth overall in a 20-boat event that continues at Weymouth and Portland through Aug. 8.

Through four races, Australia and New Zealand rank 1-2, followed by Denmark, the 2008 gold-medal winner. The Americans are one spot behind Spain, a silver medalist in Beijing.

“They’re right in the hunt,” said Hughes.

HOOKED ON SAILING

As Hughes tries to guide his team to the podium, he also remembers where he got his start. Although he lives in San Diego, his sailing career launched in Maine. He comes back at least once a year to visit his mother in Yarmouth.

“I’m proud of my roots with Maine sailing, and I’m fond of learning how to sail in the South Freeport area,” he said. “And I’m just excited about this Olympics. We’ve got a long regatta ahead of us, and looking to stand on the podium at the end.”

Hughes said he grew to love the sport through a youth sailing program with the Harraseeket Yacht Club in South Freeport. He was hooked on the sport even before reaching high school and continued through his days at USM.

Hughes raced at Harraseeket and SailMaine in Portland, and later was director of SailMaine, which runs the high school sailing league in the spring and fall. The competition includes boats from around New England. He was a member of the sailing team at USM as a co-captain with Jeff Cumming, the current executive director of SailMaine

“He was the Yarmouth Clipper and I was from Wiscasset,” said Cumming. “We had fun exchanging sailing stories and still do. Dave is the best sailor I’ve had the pleasure of knowing well. He was born to the sport.”

PASSING ON KNOWLEDGE

Before coaching, Hughes enjoyed a successful career racing all over the world in the 470 class. He and a teammate won the 2005 Kiel Week in Kiel, Germany, billed as the largest event in the world. In 2009, Hughes finished second in the J-24 worlds in Annapolis, Md.

His career blossomed on the national, then international level, and now he’s advising a new generation.

“Dave is attending his third Olympics,” said Cumming. “He was a runner-up to being a representative in the 470 racing class at the Athens and Beijing Olympics.”

In London, Hughes will be there for every wave, up and down.

He spoke after Monday’s first two fleet races, in which Storck and Moore placed sixth and 10th. On Tuesday, the U.S. team struggled to finish 16th in the third test but won the next time out.

“I work with the boys prior to the race and after the race. Of course, during the race they are on their own. I’m not allowed to speak with them,” said Hughes, who observes from a motorboat. “Prior to the race, we do a lot of tuning and preparation and decision-making on what the wind might do.

“In between races, it’s a bit of debrief as to what happened in the prior race and what we need to look for in the next race. Post-racing, we discern what we have learned and … look at sails and so forth.”

And chart a course to gold.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: TomChardPPH

 


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