When I heard George Szabo was coming east (again) to do a clinic at Cottage Park Yacht Club (host for the 2021 Western Hemisphere and Orient Championship, and only 2 hours from home), I signed up right away—even though I’d sailed a George clinic only two months ago, in Annapolis. Because when George is in charge, there are two guarantees: Serious Sailing, and Serious Fun.
As a Quantum Sails pro, George’s eye for sail shape and knowledge of what might make a boat go a tenth of a knot faster is legendary. If you’ve thought about trying a different setting on one of your many Snipe sail shape controls, he’s probably already tried it. (Peter Commette, you’re the exception.)
But knowledge is useless without a willingness to share—and the communication skills to do so. Fortunately, George can talk about sail shape and tuning all day long (and right on through beer-thirty too), turning the endlessly fascinating but not always focused discussions of tiny tweaks into a constant climb up the learning curve. Though his delivery can be a little over-caffeinated, he is always willing to repeat himself until we can actually absorb what he’s telling us.
John Macrae, a Mystic Lake fleet member who finished second at the 2005 North Americans, spent the weekend settling into a new Jibetech. Like me, he’s done several clinics with George, because “I always feel like I come out with another gear. The opportunity to set up and get coached, not at a regatta, is invaluable.”
In 2000, I was privileged to ride in the front of George’s Snipe for his fourth consecutive Nationals win, so I already know his basic philosophy by heart—if you’re slow, try something different. But over the years, the visual aids he’s collected to back that up have improved drastically. Carefully culled video and photos, combined with Quantum’s graphical analysis of what happens to main or jib with each control adjustment, allow everyone to “see” an off-the-boat perspective—while reducing the variables to just one at a time. That makes even rainy clinic days into a learning opportunity, because there’s enough time and attention span for an in-depth discussion of sail trim philosophy.
Second generation Snipe sailor and Junior/Women’s National champion crew Lexi Pline sailed with Alec Stewart, and she calls George a wealth of info. “It’s so nice to have a professional sailmaker showing you each change. It’s easy to hear what an adjustment does, but it doesn’t matter until you see it. He’s been doing it for so long and has so many photos—there’s so much to look at.”
All that information wouldn’t be nearly as easy to absorb without the infectious laughter of a group having a really good time, which makes George’s sunny SoCal attitude the most important piece of his clinics. Organizer Kevin Hetherington-Young put it best: “George is a professional, but he still acts like he just wants to hang out with all of us. It’s not just about sailing faster, it’s about having more fun.”
Laura Johnson, crew for Simon Strauss, had her very first (and second) day in a Snipe over the weekend. “After day one, I was exhausted and ready to come in. Day two was much better, and I wanted to stay out longer.” Asked why you should always come to a George clinic, she added, “You learn a lot, and quickly!”
Serious Sailing, Serious Fun is not just a lip-serviced class motto; it spells out a philosophy that balances the best of learning with the best of attitude. Thanks, George, for bringing both education and entertainment to the east coast once again. I can’t wait for your next clinic.