Before competing in the Sunfish Midwinter U.S. Nationals from March 12 to 15 at the St. Andrews Bay Yacht Club in Panama City, Florida, Remsenburg resident Brian McGinnis hadn’t been in a sailboat since the fall. But that didn’t stop him from scoring impressive finishes in both the individual and team events at the regatta. McGinnis finished 11th overall out of 40 boats in the individual competition and was also one of four members of the first place team.?McGinnis, who will turn 35 this month, has been sailing on and off for 30 years and tried out for the 1996 Olympics, although he failed to qualify. After missing out on the Olympics, McGinnis stepped back from competitive sailing for a few years but got back into the boat in 2003 and since then, has steadily improved. He competed in the nationals the last two years, and was on the runner-up team in both 2007 and 2006 and for the past three years, McGinnis has been a first-round qualifier for the Sunfish Worlds. He finished 19th in that event last year and also took seventh in the Pan American Games trials. ?McGinnis says he considers the nationals to be a “spring training event.”?”It’s tough to go down and compete for nationals in the beginning of March,” he said last week. “I hadn’t sailed since November 3.”?Despite the winter layoff, McGinnis said he’s been happy with his progress since returning to competitive sailing five years ago.?”This is the best nationals I’ve had since I’ve been back in the boat,” he said. “My speed is much better than it was when I first got back into it.”?In the team competition, McGinnis raced with Lee Montes of Islip, Chip Clifton of West Palm Beach, Florida, and Peter Wuescher of New Orleans. McGinnis and Montes are familiar with each other as foes, as they do battle in several races throughout the summer in Westhampton Beach and on the North Fork, but this marked the first event in which they competed on the same team.?”It was really exciting because we’ve been sailing against each other for a few years, and this time, we teamed up and did well,” Montes said. “We’re very friendly but we’re very competitive on the race course.”?Clifton, whom McGinnis called the “rock star” of the team, led the quartet to the first-place finish and also took fifth place in the individual competition. There is a considerable amount of strategy involved in the team racing, according to McGinnis. Sailors are awarded points according to where they finish, with first place receiving one point and so on; therefore, the goal is to finish with the lowest score.?”The mentality is different than individual racing because your goal is not necessarily to go out and win the races,” he said. “You have a speed person that you’re telling to do that, but you want to be the team with the least amount of points in the end.”?McGinnis added that aside from Clifton—who was gunning for first place—the rest of his team employed strategies to make sure other boats didn’t finish higher.?Montes said that coming up with a solid plan of action for the race is what enabled the team to get the win.?”We didn’t necessarily have the fastest boats, but we had very good communication and teamwork,” he said. “Everyone had a role and executed it very well.”?McGinnis does all his training on his own, without the help of a coach, and travels to the Wet Pants Sailing Association in Sayville for most of his sailing. McGinnis works full-time as the webmaster for Westhampton Beach Village Hall and uses his time off to travel to various competitions throughout the country during the sailing season. McGinnis said he takes anywhere from 10 to 12 major road trips each year and is in his sunfish at least four days per week in the summer. He’s hoping that the hard work continues to pay off this summer, particularly when he travels to Buffalo from August 23 to 29 to compete in the Sunfish Worlds on Lake Erie. He finished 19th in that event last year.?”My goal for worlds is to do better than I did last year,” McGinnis said. “Ultimately, my goal is to crack the top 10 at these regattas. I’ve been knocking on the door for awhile, and I’ve put a lot of time into it.”?Montes said that McGinnis’s commitment to competition is impressive and also rare to see.?”Brian is very committed to sailing,” he said. “He travels more than 99 percent of the people that compete and he’s shown that in the last few years he’s really increased his performances.”?After the positive experience of competing at the nationals, McGinnis said he is hopeful he’ll have one of his best summers yet.?”I was psyched,” he said. “It’s the best I’ve done since I’ve been there. If that was the starting point for the year, I’m going to be in pretty good shape by the worlds.”?