1) Jeff, you grew up as part of the 90s Opti group that put Toms River on the map. Tell me how junior sailing was in the late 90s and how it compares to what you see today.
Sailor Spotlight: Jeff Bonanni
Jeff Bonanni is one of the best sailors on Barnegat Bay. Jeff followed up a successful Opti career by winning a Laser Radial National Championship and 3 (count them, THREE) Laser Radial North American Championships! He attended Boston College where he was an All-American skipper and A-division sailor for the Eagles. In his post-college sailing career, Jeff has become one of the best E-Scow sailors in the US. Lately, Jeff has been coaching a group of Club 420 sailors in the spring and fall, in addition to the Rumson-Fair Haven HS sailing team. Jeff is known for his attention to detail and preparation before events, which he is trying to pass down to the next generation of BBYRA sailors.
Name: Jeff Bonanni
School attended: Boston College
Yacht Clubs: Toms River Yacht Club, New York Yacht Club
The 90s was definitely the transitional period from the yacht club run programs to the regional teams that you see today. With that came better coaching and the quality of the fleet as a whole rising. On the world stage, U.S. Opti sailors are performing a little better at the top end, but it's the middle of the U.S. fleet that is much more competitive today. For example, I think there are probably 25-35 sailors at a large national event that can win a race, which had not been the case until recently.
At Toms River in the 90s, we were lucky to have a group of parents and a yacht club who were very supportive. Our two primary fall/spring coaches, Erik Johnson and Terry Kempton, were also parents, which is unthinkable today. Ultimately the success of the Toms River program was due to the fact that it was a no egos environment; we shared information, trained hard and competed to win.
2) Lately you've been coaching club 420s in the spring and fall. What are some things that our junior 420 sailors do well and what do they need to continue working on?
The top 420 teams in the area all have crews who happen to be very good skippers, which results in better decision making and better boatspeed. When the crew is in tune to how the boat feels, they can make a small adjustment in weight or jibsheet without the skipper having to call for it.
We're continuing to work on the technical aspects of the sport, the biggest of which is classifying the conditions on the water, such as wind harshness and wave height, and translating that to how we tune the boat. The Club 420 has many more variables than the Laser or Opti, so even if the wind might be 12 knots in a westerly and 12 knots in a seabreeze, the rig tune could be completely different.
The other is improving physical fitness, particularly strength-endurance. The mainsheet and jibsheet loads on a Club 420 are very high, so being able to quickly and effectively trim the sails is incredibly important. For the skipper in big breeze, the mainsheet should never stop moving. If you want to climb up the standings quickly, improving physical fitness will get you there.
3) This weekend is the Club 420 Midwinters in Jensen Beach, FL. You're traveling down to coach four top boats from the Barnegat Bay area. As a coach, what do you do to prepare your sailors and what should your sailors do before a big regatta?
First and foremost, I like to work with each team before the event to review strengths and weaknesses and set realistic goals. I view every regatta as a learning experience until we hit a peak event (for Opti sailors this would be Team Trials, for C420 and Laser sailors this would be North Americans). For the sailors, they should make sure their equipment is 100% race ready and feel relaxed knowing that all the hard work and training will serve them well. Regatta performance is just an expression of the skills honed in practice.
4) You are one of the most cerebral, meticulous sailors out there. There's no doubt that you put a lot of time into preparing your boat, tuning, and making sure everything works well. Tell me about those characteristics and why you think they are so important.
With regards to boat preparation and tuning, there isn't one single thing you can do to make your boat faster than the fleet, no "silver bullet" so to speak. However, if you add up all the little things, such as polishing your hull, wet-sanding your foils and using low stretch lines, then you might gain a small advantage. Knowing that your boat is the best it can possibly be--and eliminating excuses--is a serious mental edge.
5) You are one of the best E-Scow sailors in the country, and you had arguably the most dominating performance at an E-Scow Nationals ever at Little Egg Harbor YC in 2015. [Jeff had a 1-1-1-1-2-5]. What do you attribute this win to?
Leading up to the event, I was very confident in my boatspeed, crew-work, and familiarity with the venue. After losing the 2014 Nationals by only two points, we wanted to make sure that we were super conservative through the first half of the event. That being said, my focus was to start consistently in low density areas and make sound fleet management decisions, such as putting large packs in the bank when I could, or leading to the starboard layline of the windward mark. The two things that we really excelled at were seeking large open lanes to sail in, and just sailing the boat at top speed 100% of the time. We rounded every first windward mark safely in the top 10, and chipped away every leg. Great boatspeed makes you look like a genius most of the time.