February 20, 2004  


Tracy Usher, Laser Sailor

By Linda DuShane White

Tracy Usher (EA) has the best of both worlds. He loves being at SLAC, where he is currently working on GLAST. And he loves sailing his Laser, a 14-foot fiberglass open single-handed dinghy, one of the 9 sailing classes in the Olympics.

Tracy Usher sails his 14-foot Laser in the San Francisco Bay. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Usher)

The Laser is a relatively cheap boat and itís in a very strict one-design class. That means that you can go anywhere in the world and rent one identical to the one you have at home.

The world of small boat sailing and racing is quite different from that of large boats.

"[In a laser] this is the sailor against the sailor, whereas in larger boats itís boat against boat," said Usher. "At the Olympic level (which Iím nowhere near) the differences can be measured in inchesói.e., if a guy gets an advantage of just a few inches it can put him into the lead."

Usher races locally in the SF Bay, and up and down the West Coast, as well as nationally and internationally.

Usher got his start sailing as a child growing up in Monterey. "My Mom wanted to learn how to sail so I went along as a really little kid. It was in high school that I actually started to race. I had a Laser then. In college I spent a lot of time sailing in larger boats. That was fun, because in larger boats a lot of the races are long distance, so I participated in races from Southern California to Mexico and to Hawaii. Around 1997, a few years after coming to SLAC and moving back to the Bay Area, I got involved in sailing Lasers again. Thatís pretty much what I do now."

Usher concentrates on racing at the Masterís level, for age 35 and over. "Iíve been to the Open Worldís once. Since you are sailing against sailors training full time for the Olympics, itís nearly impossible to qualify. Once there the level of competition is quite high. Out of 160 entries I was 110, and I was really proud of that. Now I try to stick to my age group!

"Sailing is really an interesting game, youíre trying hard to outguess everyone else. In the end, luck plays a big part but you want to make sure that when luck strikes youíre in the right place. Thereís a lot to be said for experience.

"With this kind of racing everything happens much faster. Youíre so close to the water itís harder to see. Youíre not really going very fast, maybe 4 or 5 miles an hour, the maximum speed is about 12 mph but when youíre that close to the water it feels like youíre going very fast."

Usher is the Vice Chairman of the International Laser Class Association, North American Region and he also sits on the World Council of the International Laser Association.

Usherís enthusiasm for both his sport and for this part of the world is contagious. "I have the best of everything. San Francisco is one of the best places in the world for sailing because of the strong winds, the strong tides. If you can sail in San Francisco you can sail anywhere."

Interested in learning more about Laser sailing? Usher advises, "A good way to get introduced is to go to Shoreline Lake in Mountain View on Wednesday nights during the Spring and Summer. The races are really short, 10 or 15 minutes, so you donít get discouraged."

For more information see: http://www-user.slac.stanford.edu/usher/index.html


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Last update Tuesday February 17, 2004 by Emily Ball