Image: Marblehead, Massachusetts
© Rowland Williams
For Rick Doerr, 47, skipper on the Sonar for the Paralympic team, Marblehead Mass., is "one of these historic sailing places—just a beautiful atmosphere."
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updated 3/28/2008 10:57:32 AM ET 2008-03-28T14:57:32

When dreaming of the ideal sailing trip, the Caribbean’s crystal clear waters come to mind. Or maybe it’s the picturesque sights that dot northern Italy’s famous lakes. Or the pure adrenaline and bracing winds of the high seas around southern Australia. Chances are, you don’t immediately think of the Yellow Sea off the Chinese industrial portside city of Quingdao—but that’s where some of the world’s best sailors will be this year, for the Beijing Olympics.

The sailors on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams are among the best in the world. Forbes Traveler spoke to some of these extraordinary sportsmen and women who are training hard before heading to China.

What makes a perfect sailing destination? All of our sailors say good weather and consistent wind are the most important factors. A lively yacht club scene and beautiful surroundings are a welcome bonus, but not always necessary.

“No matter where we go on the Olympic circuit,” says Andrew Campbell, “the sailing is both very hard work as well as a lot of fun.” Campbell, 24, sails the Laser, a single-handed boat, for the Olympic team. “Some places are terrible weather-wise or lack character by most people's standards, but could be phenomenal places to race and train. Likewise, the opposite can sometimes be true: Places people perceive to be beautiful and fun to be around can be mediocre from the racing and sailing standpoint.”

While many of our crewmembers have trouble putting aside competition for pleasure, some of them can occasionally forego the adrenaline rush for a quiet cruise among scenes of natural beauty. Or, they find time for some casual racing on waters where a key race was won, or where a childhood was spent learning the ropes.

Sarah Mergenthaler, 28, sails the 470 on the women’s Olympic team, favors the warm waters off Florida for a relaxed sail. “Sailing on Biscayne Bay in Miami is pretty much the perfect venue for a dinner cruise,” she says. “The water is warm and inviting and a great aqua blue color. I picture sailing off into a sunset in 12 knots!”

Florida was actually our sailors’ number-one choice. Many cited the great sailing scene off Miami, as well as Cocoa Beach and Clearwater, near Tampa, both rating a mention. Southern California came a close second, with Santa Cruz, Long Beach, San Diego and Newport all rating a mention.

“My favorite place to have a relaxed sail would have to be either San Diego or Long Beach,” says Graham Biel, 21, who races the men’s 470 for the Olympic team. “San Diego of course because it is home, and Long Beach because I will never forget my Olympic Trials there.”

Chris Rast, 35, sails the 49er for the Olympic team. He picks Sydney as his top racing choice—for its great weather and hidden coves (perfect for dropping anchor and taking a swim), as well as its lovely scenery and fine restaurants. “Sydney Harbour on a Saturday afternoon can be like a battlefield with multiple race courses held overlapping each other,” he says. “You’re trying to dodge 18-foot skiffs going at mach speed and the Manly ferries, which have made it a sport to shoot down small dinghies … If Sydney Harbour won't make your adrenaline levels rise, nothing will.”

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