Terry McLaughlin’s teaching style is all about exposure.
Before his son Evert turned four, the pair had taken an Ideal 18 boat out in Toronto Harbour for a Royal Canadian Yacht Club race. A decorated sailor, Terry wanted all three of his sons out racing before they turned four.
“Two would be difficult,” he said.
“At age three-and-a-half they may not know they’re racing,” he added. But at least they knew what a spinnaker was.
The tactic paid off.
In May, Evert and teammate Alexandra Damley-Strnad qualified for the Pan Am Games in a Snipe.
Evert, 25, only decided to try his hand in a Snipe after placing second in the trials in his regular boat, a Laser, in February.
He and Damley-Strnad qualified comfortably.
“That happened to be one of our best races, (it) was nice to finish a race where we won by quite a bit,” Evert said.
They were so sure of their position that he had time to look back and check in on his dad, who was helming a J24 with a three-person crew.
“I was steering all over the place and luffing the sails a bit, just to have a good look,” he said.
Terry, 58, and his crew, David Jarvis, Sandy Andrews, and David Ogden, snagged a spot on the team too despite facing a heavily-favoured crew lead by Rossi Milev.
Terry’s J24 crew started coming together in January for a run at the hometown competition.
“If we wanted to go in the Pan Am Games, it was the only class for us,” he said. The boat offered the best chance, he said, despite his limited experience in it.
“They didn’t get me based on my J24 record, they got me based on my sailing record,” he said.
It’s the first time for either McLaughlin at the Pan Am Games, but it is far from the family’s first foray into competitive sailing.
At 10, Terry went to the Canadian Yachting Association’s under-13 championships in Manitoba.
“Our parents took us down to Union Station, put us on the train, and said, ‘Don’t get off until you get to Winnipeg.’ People don’t let their kids walk to school today,” he said.
In those days parents weren’t expected to go to regattas, unlike the countless weekends Terry and his wife Mickey spent driving their boys to races.
Terry went on to win a silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics racing a Flying Dutchman with Evert Bastet. (Evert is named in part after his dad’s Olympic teammate, whom the family has dubbed “Big Evert.”)
His brother Frank won bronze in the Flying Dutchman at the Seoul Games in 1988.
And their father, Paul McLaughlin, sailed in the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games.
Evert is hoping to follow the family tradition into the Rio 2016 Olympics in a Laser.
But he’s still learning from his dad.
After that first race, it’s rare for father and son, both helmsmen, to be on the same crew. On the chance it does happen, Evert soaks up the experience.
“I try and suck any information I can out of what he’s doing, what he knows,” he said.
Some elements of the sport, like proper tacking or gybing techniques, are learned through practice and repetition, he says. But no two days on the water are ever the same.
Having his dad around to train him in the more nuanced aspects of the sport has been invaluable.
“There’s no hard and fast rules to do anything. It’s intuition you have to learn over time. It helps to have someone guide you through that. It’s quite complex,” Evert said.
Even in Toronto Harbour, where both have sailed their entire lives, the conditions change constantly.
“It’s an ever-changing sports field,” Terry said.
It’s part of what makes sailing such a complicated and cerebral sport, he adds.
Both father and son would like to win a medal at the Games.
“It won’t be easy because South American countries are quite strong in the Snipe, the Brazilians especially,” Evert said. “I just have to perform well and hopefully I can take advantage of my knowledge of the conditions here.”
But don’t expect them to bunk together in the athletes’ village.
“I think it’s completely ridiculous to stay in the village if you live in Toronto,” Terry said, preferring to be at home where he can focus and keep to his routine.
Evert is still undecided.
The Pan Am sailing competition runs from July 12 to 19.