Sail1Design is again elated to announce our 2018 McLaughlin Optimist Sailor of the Year winner, Stephan Baker. Stephan is an Optimist team race World Champion, our current US National Champion, a top-five finisher at this year’s IODA World Championship, and there’s a lot more. This S1D Editor has some Opti-watching experience this year, so I speak from first-hand experience, and I must say that I’ve seen few sailors do what Stephan did this year in a one-design class. Focus, hard work, and talent came together this year for Stephan and in my mind, he’s also a candidate for the Rolex.
I believe that his Worlds finish is the best of a US Sailor, ever. As we read his nomination letter, we were even more impressed with his work ethic and character. Whatever Stephan does in the future, we are confident it will be done well. Congratulations.
WHAT STEPHAN WINS
Thanks to McLaughlin, Stephan will get 3 great awards in addition to the honor of winning:
1. A beautiful, framed & engraved painting to keep forever.
2. What’s more, and in keeping with the philosophy of both Sail1Design & McLaughlin, Stephan will have the opportunity to give “the gift of giving”, or give back to sailing, and choose, on his own, an “up-and-coming” Optimist sailor to receive a FREE charter of a McLaughlin Optimist at a major US Optimist event on McLaughlin’s schedule! Sail1Design will help work out details of when and where this great gift is made.
3. Finally, Stephan will ALSO receive his own free charter at a major event as well!
While this year’s nominations were all incredibly impressive, we must admit that Stephan’s nomination really stood out. As mentioned earlier, this S1D editor had the pleasure to watch Stephan win every race at the US Nationals, in a shifty, challenging venue. This achievement alone was, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. For Stephan, as it turns out, it was business as usual. The S1D panel was certainly impressed with Stephan’s race record; who wouldn’t be. We were equally impressed with his team racing ability, work ethic, sportsmanship, and the fact that he is admired and respected by his peers and competitors. This is a great recipe for long term success, in any endeavor, and we are very proud to have Stephan win this award!! Read below excerpts from two separate nomination letters, to learn a bit more about Stephan:
Im writing to nominate Stephan Baker for S1D 2017 Opti Sailor of the Year. I didn’t see the initial request for nominations go out – Pilo just contacted me today. Hope its not too late as he obviously deserves to win!
Stephan Baker just finished probably the best Opti Year ever by an American. I know I wrote this last year in Justin’s nomination, but getting to work with these two sailors back to back has been a little bit like the Bird/Magic or Montana/Young succession in other major sports! If you look at the USA’s performance in International Regattas, we are in the midst of a Golden era, and these 2 sailors have been the heart of it. This year Stephan took the mantle of best US Opti sailor and ran with it!
2017 Overall Results:
- 1st Team Race Midwinters
- 5th Mar De Plata
- 1st Lake Garda Optimist Meeting, Italy
- 1st Spring Fling
- 1st Team Trails
- 1st Marco Rizzotti Team Race, Italy
- 3rd St Thomas International Opti Regatta
- 1st USVI Team Race
- 1st IODA North Americans, Canada (2 in a row).
- 4th IODA Worlds
- 1st Nations Cup Team, IODA Worlds
- 1st Worlds Team Racing
- 1st US Team Race Nationals
- 1st US Fleet Race Nationals (2 in a row, all 1st place finishes)
- 1st Spring Team Qualifier (all 1st place finishes)
- 1st Opti Team Cup, Berlin (*Team Captain)
- 1st SE Dinghy Champs
- 1st SE Junior Olympics (all 1st place finishes)
- 1st Orange Bowl (2 in a row).
As you can see, the results are pretty staggering – 2x Orange Bowl, National, and North American Champion. 3 major regattas with all bullets (Stephan always sails the last race even when he doesn’t have to, so he was discarding a 1st at each event!) and 4th at Opti Worlds is tops for an American in the modern era. He also has a calendar sweep in the international team races, with the Rizzoti and Opti Team Cup wins to go with Worlds. Stephan has great instincts on the Team Race course and this year he really learned to play off his teammates, communicate with and lead them – he was team captain as LYC pulled off a surprise OTC victory. Stephan’s dominance in the fleet racing was such that it was a surprise when he didn’t win, and this only happened 5 times all year – 2 basically practice events (USVI and LYC Team Race), Mar- de Plata (Teammate Mitchell Callahan won), 1 at Jensen Beach by protest, and Opti Worlds! Match that against 16 events won by my count! Winning over 75% of 200+ boat regattas (he won Garda against ~750) is pretty formidable!
At Orange Bowl, Mauricio Galarce who used to coach Stephan in Greenfleet said something to the effect of “the other kids think Stephan is a robot; they don’t know how hard he works!” and I agree wholeheartedly. Stephan has great habits – he is meticulous about his equipment and tuning. After racing he will stay an extra hour just to put his sail away dry. Before practice the luff ties must be perfect and it is routine to see him standing at the mast fine tuning the sail ties on the water. He did some team practices but also a lot of solo sailing leading up to Orange Bowl – working on the chop and his feel for the boat. He competes super hard in every drill but is happy when a teammate beats him to the top mark- that means better competition and a bigger challenge. There is no magic to Stephan’s progression in the Opti – he simply works hard on his boatspeed and learns from every single boat-to boat situation. He opined to me a few weeks ago that “the Opti is all about tactics” and can tell you how all the other top sailors point relative to him – what their strengths and weaknesses are. Its a level of recall I didn’t learn until College, and pretty cool to see in an Opti sailor!
Nobody feeds off of adversity like Stephan – he was in unsuccessful redress hearings until 8pm the night before the last day of the Orange Bowl Regatta and still showed the most mental toughness and had the most left in the tank to comeback and win on the last race the next day! I have personally observed him to be a good teammate and corinthian – helping our White fleeters with rigging and tips. He competes hard with his peers, but speaks well to his lesser teammates. At Orange Bowl he dropped from 3rd to 15th on a beat where the race committee ran 2 fleets together and caused a 40 boat pile up at the windward mark. When Stephan was forced into that mark, I watched him do a spin despite no one protesting and even though he was in jeopardy of loosing the regatta. I though that showed great composure and sportsmanship.