Skip Dieball learned to sail before he could read or write, but he didn't get serious about the sport until he won the Interlake Junior Nationals in 1990.
Since then, he has captured the Interlake Class Nationals four times, twice as skipper and twice as crew. He has also won the Lightning and Flying Scot national championships, as well as numerous regional and local regattas.
Today, sailing is his life and it keeps him busy every waking minute. This year, for example, he married a sailor, bought the Greiner Sails loft and launched a campaign for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
It all adds up to a lot of new responsibilities and lifestyle changes for Dieball, 30, but he remains focused on one thing.
“My main goal,” he says, “is being named the U.S. Finn class representative.”
Dieball is preparing for the International Lightning Class World Championship in Marsala, Italy, July 24-29. He will be racing under the Canadian flag with skipper Larry MacDonald of Toronto and Jody Swanson, the 1989 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.
MacDonald and Swanson won the Worlds in 1997. Dieball has been sailing with them for about two years.
Together, they dominated the three-regatta Lightning southern circuit in 2000, with victories at Savannah and Miami. This year they won the Miami Regatta again and placed second in the series.
Also competing in the Worlds is former Toledoan Bill Mauk Jr. Mauk, who grew up in Ottawa Hills, is now a consultant in Miami. He will sail in the Masters division, July 19-22.
Dieball and his bride, Laurie, left for Italy last night.
“We were married in April and will take a delayed honeymoon trip that includes Rome, Florence and Venice. It's about time,” he said.
The couple met at the Carson Cup championships in Toledo. She was coaching the Grosse Ile team and he was coaching the Jolly Roger Sailing Club team.
Being a sailor, Laurie is familiar with the sacrifices involved in top-level competition.
The Olympics is no ordinary regatta. Each country is allowed only one boat per class, so competition is fierce. To be successful, sailors must continually push the boundaries of mental and physical limitations as they grind their way up the long road to selection trials in November and December, 2003.
“It's absolutely amazing how close the hull speed (of the competing boats) is,” Dieball said. “In the end, it all comes down to boat handling. If you have a string of luck, with everything else falling into place, you can win.”
The 15-foot Finn is a single-hander and the Olympics' only dinghy for heavyweight males. The optimal weight for the skipper is between 210 and 230 pounds. A very physical boat, it requires not only tactics, but also strength and endurance.
“I've endured plenty of pain to get here, but it hasn't diminished my enthusiasm,” Dieball said. “In the last Olympic trials, we sailed three races a day for 14 days. Walking afterwards was a little difficult.
“The Finn is like a Laser on steroids. It's similar to a Laser in setup, but is bigger and there's more power.
“There are no limits on materials, so everyone is using an incredibly light Kevlar sail and a carbon-fiber mast.”
The sail is enormous - about 125 square feet.
Dieball plans to race in 10 regattas this year in the U.S. and Europe.
“Ten doesn't seem like a lot,” he said, “but my goal is to train three to four days a week, each time for five or six hours, until the trials.”
He raced in the last Olympic trials in April 2000 and placed 10th.
“Afterwards, I identified three areas where I needed improvement. They were equipment, coaching and time in the gym,” he said. “I've been working towards improvement in those areas ever since.”
He now has a brand-new Finn with upgraded equipment. He also has begun working with a part-time coach, Greg Fisher of Columbus.
“Greg is a North American and World championship sailor and he has helped me a lot,” he said.
In the gym, Dieball has been focusing mainly on building his upper body and legs.
Campaigning for the Olympics takes such a big chunk of time out of his life, you might wonder why he does it.
“The intensity and competitiveness is beyond anything recreational at that level,” he says.
“Also, it's a different element - one that's not always physically enjoyable, but is a lot of fun. If the end result is successful, it's worth it.
“I'm hoping to represent my country. If I do well, the Olympics is a launching ramp to professional sailing - or anything else.”
Two Hobie 33 skippers are trailering their boats west to compete in Chicago Yacht Club's 103rd Mackinac Race, a 333-mile race up Lake Michigan to Mackinac Island.
Steve Attard's Leaving Las Vegas and Holy Toledo, co-skippered by Tom Andrews and Clif Vaughan, will race in the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) division, Section Six.
Another Toledo area boat, Jonathon Hansen's 41-foot Aeolus, will sail in Section Nine.
The race will feature the new Americap handicap system, introduced by U.S. Sailing to bridge the gap between the complex International Measurement system and PHRF. If the system proves successful, it may be adopted permanently for the race.
Elements include a wind-velocity |prediction program and a simplified scoring system that allows skippers to calculate corrected-time positions while on the race course.
Attard will compete under both PHRF and Americap.
"Leaving Las Vegas will have two chances to win," his wife Connie said. "Flags will be awarded for both systems, but Steve really wants to see how his boat will score with a PHRF rating, compared to the Americap rating."
In 2000, the Inter-Lake Yachting Association's Junior Sail Regatta at Put-in-Bay drew the top junior sailors from 18 Lake Erie yacht clubs. This year, organizers expect even more clubs to be represented.
The popular event will include four days of competition, Monday-Thursday, as well as seminars, parties and entertainment, July 15-20.
But ILYA's really big news is the first Junior Bay Alumni Regatta, scheduled at the Bay on July 22.
Co-chair Kate Loper said the idea of bringing former participants back to race against each other and see old friends has been brewing for a couple of years.
"It had a lot of support, but the timing wasn't right," she said.
Until now, that is. Since they announced the event, she and co-chair Charles Vanderhorst have heard from many former Bay competitors who plan to attend.
The rules are few and simple.
``The skipper, but only the skipper, must be a past Junior Bay competitor,'' she said. "But anyone - including friends and spouses - can crew.''
The races will be held in Lasers, Interlakes, Flying Juniors and Thistles.
``We've been spreading the news by e-mail and asking people to tell friends who've raced here about the regatta,'' Loper said. Her grandfather, John Backus, was Junior Bay Week chairman in 1966.
So far, the event is shaping up to be as much a family affair as a reunion. Loper, for example, is planning to race with her aunt, Susan Backus Starr, and Susan's daughter, Liz Potter.
Her mother, Gretchen Backus Loper, will be racing with two of Gretchen's sisters - Heidi Riddle, who lives in Vermilion, and Amy Backus, the women's basketball coach at Yale.
The regatta also will be a reunion for Carol Robinson of Florida and two of her children. Her son Bob, the 1991 Smythe winner, and his wife Jill are coming to the Bay from Hawaii, and daughter Penny has already arrived from Boston.
``What's really cool so far,'' Loper said, is the nice range of ages. Some participants are young people and others haven't been in a boat for a long time.''
Shirley Levy is a Blade columnist.