March 13, 2019

How the Laser Rigs Work (and and can be improved)

By Julian Bethwaite

For calculating the Righting Movement and counter Righting Movement
99% of new design is from top down. I’m big (95kgs) and when being asked to design for 45-60kgs your first reaction is to scale down.
But I am also lucky in that we tried to do that, with Takao Otani San (PSJ owner) for the 29er and we learned that it did not work. The 29er is not a scaled down 49er, rather it is its own unique design and that’s possibly why 29ers are so much faster than the 49er at the extreme.
To appreciate the design, here are some of the terms we use when designing a rig:
  • CoE is the Centre of Effort, the point on the sail where all the forces are resolved.
  • CLR is the Centre of Lateral Resistance, the point (in the case of a skiff) in the centreboard where the forces are resolved.
  • Lead is when the CoE is in front of the CLR (causes lee helm).
  • Trail is when the CoE is behind the CLR (causes weather helm).
The Laser Rigs
So, when we started to get bogged down with the new C5 rig, Takao suggested that we forget about “Flame rigs” and go right back to first principals. We did an analysis on the Standard Laser Rig, the Radial Rig and the 4.7 Rig. We knew the 4.7 was great in a breeze which is why it has been so successful in Europe, but it’s poor in light air and with that in mind, we looked at hundreds of photos of Laser rigs and also of people sailing them. We also had lots of data from Olympic Gold Medalist Tom Burton from a program called SailEQ which is an analytical program under development.
We used the Standard Rig as a base line, and we determined that a well-sailed Laser was sailed at 6° heel, mostly to keep the skipper’s butt out of the water. We also determined that the Lead was about 130mm. In a boat sailed flat, this would lead to lee-helm but because a Laser is sailed at 6° this results in the well known weather-helm.
What we found with the 4.7 Rig was this Lead was upwards of 300mm so in lower winds with the skipper sitting upright and the boat is less than 6° heel, and without mainsheet tension pulling the CoE aft, you do get lee-helm and that has always felt awkward.
Laser’s have Leads because when the boat is heeled at 6° it wants to round up. A 49er has Trail because it’s sailed flat there is no round up.
The Rudder and Centerboard
The centerboard is designed to resist sideways movement while the rudder is designed to steer the boat. These are very different functions, so it's not smart to load the rudder up completely, but you are dragging it through the water and less than 5% of the time its steering, so you may as well make it do something.
Therefore we load it about half of the side pressure that you would on the centerboard. In a perfect world, you set up the boat to carry about 23-24kgs on the centerboard and about 2.5kgs on the rudder. So a gust hits, it automatically wants to “feather” to head up without putting an excessive load on the rudder (too much steering is like throwing a bucket over the transom, hence a “bucket curve”).
This is close to a Laser’s rudder. Above 2.2° the drag jumps, so the trick is to keep the rudder “in the bucket.”
In a breeze, the kids in Europe are good, they strap their sails down to the deck pulling the CoE aft, and they sail often at heels far greater than 6° that reduces the weather helm.
The next thing we found when we actually measured the area, a 4.7 is not 4.7m² it’s actually a little under 5.1m². In fact, we found all 3 Laser rigs are understated. It all depends on how you measure the area, and to be honest the area is just a number, what’s important is that you use the same system across the whole design spectrum.
Lessons from Other Rigs
Next bit gets interesting because we already knew that if you reduced weight aloft, as in going to a mast like a carbon rig, you have to increase sail area or you will skew the rig to lighter weights. With the 49er we tacked on 170mm of mast height and about 1.5m² onto the total mainsail area of 19m². But with the 49er we also wanted to increase crew weight from fabout 148-152kgs to 165kgs and to date, that’s exactly what’s happened.
We also had the Flame rig data and to a lesser extent information from the 29erC rig.
We knew we had to up the sail area, approx. 10%, so say 0.5m² was about the target, but we decided to hold that down to 0.4m² because the target market was smaller Asians and it also allowed us to reduce the mast height. So even though there was more area, the Arm (distance between CoE & CLR vertically) actually reduced.
To be honest, I don’t know where we ended up, because empirical testing always trumps theoretical but my guess is we are at 5.4 – 5.5m².
Fine Tuning
By this stage, we were committed to a square head at the top of the sail, but the big issue with a square head is how big should the length of the top batten be. If it’s too big/long then you have to use excessive downhaul tension to make it reactive. Too short, and it may as well be a pin-head rig and you lose all the advantages.
The big advantage of a square-head over a pin-head is the mast bend is only half! Long term, this leads to a near indefinite mast life. It also reduces problems with hoisting the main and having overly hooked leaches in light airs.
Ian MacDiarmid and I worked on this along with mast stiffness and position of the bend so that we could end up with reasonable downhaul tensions which allows us a wide range of crew weights and without excessive vang loads. We reduced foot lengths, but the big breakthrough was being able to “splice” (grind) the mast at deck level. This allowed us to drop the whole mast further aft, it allowed us to use a stiffer topmast, and it got the Lead down into the 120-130mm in all wind ranges. All this made the helm feel good.
Later, Takao made some unilateral decisions to reduce the “splice” to reduce the helm when sailed at 6° and Clive Watts (CST owner) was able to deliver us a “kinked” mast at deck level and that reduced weight and cost.
Late last year, Takao and I played with vang lengths which allows us control over lower mast camber. Sure, we threw away some booms that had become Swiss cheese and the lower mast of the now C8, it’s quite hard to believe it’s still standing but we had something really special.
The original C8 mast now has about 40 holes in it from various fitting configurations, what you are
seeing here is three versions ago. Quite amazing the mast is still standing.
In February, I happened to be in Longchi, China, working on the 29erC rigs and I watched two smallish Chinese girls struggling with a 4.7 rig. Everything Takao had talked about was there in front of my eyes. The precise Standard Laser Rig Lead is 136.83mm but would obviously be less than that with the main sheeted hard down. The precise 4.7 Rig Lead is 295.84, more than double. By splicing the mast and going to a square head, we got that back to about the same spot so the boat feels so much better.
We have the splice at 7.5° in this, we ended up less after Takao opted for less weather helm, we also ended up a bit bigger than this shows, with longer cord lengths. I need to re-do those measurements.

March 06, 2019

The New Laser Rigs Explained

The Laser class is now more than 50 years old and some are trying to cash in on the inevitable improvements that the class will take. The best candidates by far IMHO are the rigs being developed in Sydney under the leadership of Julian Bethwaite. I’ve know Julian for more than 45 years and we’re pleased to share the development process that will help keep the Lasers class relevant. The C-Rigs are the new family of rigs, and the process started with the C5 for people currently using the Laser Radial…

2016 drawing and turning point for understanding the 4.7 problem
By Julian Bethwaite
It’s been about 4 months since Eric Faust (ILCA Executive Secretary) showed the C5 video at Sarasota, which was then shown on Sailing Anarchy, Scuttlebutt and other social media platforms. Some suggested that I should not add facts to spoil a good conspiracy theory.
It’s time to just set the record straight so the conversation can be re-centred. C-Rigs, as they have become known, spun out of a far more comprehensive rig development project that Up Marine started in 2012. In chronological order:
  • Up Marine is a disruptive Hong Kong company that decided to use the Laser because of its vast success and its simplicity.
  • In 2014, Chris Caldecott (GM, PSA) learned about the project and asked if we could ‘screw’ the development to generate a new carbon rig for the Laser. MoU’s were generated and we altered focus a little. At the November ILCA conference, Chris showed photos and reported on the development.
  • In 2015, an International Patent was filed by Up Marine and has been subsequently granted as a unique and novel invention. The ILCA conference in October reviewed the larger C8 rig, liked it, and the focus changed from the C8 to the smaller C5 and the issues of the lighter Asians. At the time, 4.7 rig was hugely successful in Europe but not elsewhere. Hugh Leicester (VP ILCA), Chris Caldecott and I met in Sydney and the C5 progress was called exciting. The development process to date included 28 masts, and 4 sails, with testing by sailors that included Tom Burton, Gerard West, Brett Perry and many others. At this point, the project was nicknamed Flame Rig.

  • In 2016, Tracy Usher (ILCA President) flew to Sydney for one day to sail the C8. Subsequent meeting Tracy, Hugh, Chris and myself started to map out a process but at this stage, the Asian issue and the lack of traction of the 4.7 started to come to the fore. Mid-year, lead builder started to move from PSA to PSJ, mostly due to the physical stature of the principals. Chris is 95kgs, whereas Takao Otani San (PSJ owner) is significantly lighter.

    Takao and I had met in Montreal in 1978 under the watchful eye of the late and great Ian Bruce and we had become lifelong friends. Takao was pivotal in the 49er and 29er programs being a founding partner. The 29er just would not have happened without Takao, so there was considerable history between the two of us.

    By late 2016 a complete re-thinking of the smaller rig had started and we tested various breakthroughs, the biggest one was the spliced mast which allowed us to get the Centre of Effort in the right place WRT the CLR (centre of lateral resistance) which in turn leads to weather helm (or in this case lack of it) without ridiculous mast bend, which leads to longevity and ease of pulling the mainsail up.
  • In 2017, the C5 was being sailed at Sydney’s RSYS by their junior program and a continuous development program led to fitting development evolved at a rapid pace. There’s nothing quite like arms length testing. There were various meetings between Tracy, Eric, the late Jeff Martin, Takao and myself, mostly at World Sailing conferences.
  • In 2018, Takao tested the new C5 rig in Sydney in windy conditions. Takao had not seen the larger C8 so I sailed it. Videos were sent back to Tracy and the ILCA. In March, Up Marine and PSJ entered into a contractual arrangement for the C-Rigs. Midyear, Tracy and Eric traveled to Sydney to see the C5 and the “talking head clips” that you see in the video were done then.

    A C5 rig was flown to Japan for Takao to test in the local market. That lead to some subtle but significant modifications. There was also a meeting at the Sarasota World Sailing Conference between Takao, Tracy, Chris, Jeff, Eric and myself about introducing the C5. Late in the year, the ILCA/ALCA decided to test the C5 nationally in Australia. Ken Hurling (ALCA President, ILCA VP) fully supported the project.

    The C5 rig then went to Tasmania so Sarah Kenny (Chair of WS Events) to be sailed by as many kids as possible, and then more testing and refinements with the C6 by Takao, Ian MacDiarmid.
The last four months has been chaotic. We knew that if you are going to have a family of rigs, then you need to have plans for all of them. For example:
  • We decided that a rigs should be small enough to fly on commercial flights. The C5 and C6 are relatively easy but the larger C8 was more complicated because it involves three pieces.
  • CST owner Clive Watts has developed a new technique to “kink” the mandrel in the winding process, so it comes off the machine finished.
  • ILCA wanted the C5 rig with a full specification “suitable for the LCM" (Laser Construction Manual) so they engaged Clive Humphries (ILCS tech officer) to generate the whole spec. Clive traveled to China with Ian to oversee the whole sailmaking process, he also liaised with Clive Watts about the mast making process, and has a full set of drawings/3D files.
  • Two days ago, Chris, Ian, Clive Watts and I put every rig in a Laser and checked the whole process and then sent the C5, C6 and C8 rigs to Valencia, Italy as an insurance policy.
  • The plan is to produce 100 C5 rigs for Australia over the next 4 months and scatter them across the country with a few leaking into Asia and no doubt to other parts to test the whole process that we have gone through to ensure that these rigs are ready for the market. Specifics about how PSA will do this can be read at the ALCA Annual General Meeting.
Arms-length testing is critical, we have learnt that time and time again, nothing beats it. From my point of view, the C5 is near perfect as a final product.
Takao and I have sail the C6 but I have not seen a young 60kg girl or boy sail it. The C6 has been sailed extensively with glowing reports, but we need more testing to be sure. The plan is to make five C6 rigs for testing this year.
I’ve sailed the larger C8 in everything from 5 – 30 knots, have tried to break it, and have tested it capsizing. We’re not done with the “checked luggage” solution yet, but the rig looks good. Chris believes it’s “fit for purpose!” The plan is again to make five C8 rigs for testing this year.
The feedback from Ken, the analysis of the feedback coming from social media, particularly the interest coming from Asia in particular for the smaller C5 tell me that Tracy and the ILCA/ALCA have hit the nail right on the head. This has all been a clever, think outside the box, structured plan.
There will always be change, and change is always painful. But if done well, it will always leads to significant up-side. For example, the Radial rig and the Carbon rig on the 49er/FX both have led to significant growth in their respective classes. It will be a busy year.
Julian Bethwaite
Sydney, Australia

February 09, 2019

New Laser Carbon Rigs - and Update

By Doug
This year, the Laser is 50 years old. It's truly amazing how well Bruce Kirby's design and Ian Bruce's production techniques have stood the test of time. But change is inevitable and the Mark II sail was an attempt to extend the life of Bruce's original design.

This year we'll see the introduction of brand new carbon rigs that will extend the life of the class. There are several firms working on different designs, the following are by far the best we have seen. Watch this space for pricing and availability.

October 29, 2018

2018 Laser Master World Championships (Dublin, Ireland)

By Doug

On a rare day that was not windy.

At the 2018 Laser Master Worlds, we met again to do battle. My GGM fleet is one of the smallest with just 16 competitors but between them they have won 22 world championships in 4 different classes.

I trained hard for this Worlds, spending a total of 157 hours on the water and more than 7 hours on my hiking bench. The best part of my training was attending Brett Beyer’s downwind clinic at the ISA, and that part paid big dividends.

But most of the other training was on my own on a small Dallas lake, and this is no longer a winning combination. The best in my fleet were race-hardened, had better upwind speed, and either lived in the conditions that we sailed in or were basically full-time sailors. In my opinion, that’s what it will take to win a Master Worlds from now on.

The decision to attend Brett’s pre-worlds clinic was a good one as it helped get a feeling for practicing with other good sailors, but the conditions for the actual Worlds were very different.

Day 1: The forecast was 15-25, but it maxed out over 30. Like all of the days that followed, the temperatures rarely got to 60F (15C).

Race 1: Pam was on the finishing boat and when she was leaving the harbor it was gusting up to 25. Once on the course, the race committee apparently considered sending us in. The GGMs were the last to start and I missed the shift and was at the wrong boat end and not the pin. Ouch. Tried to play shifts to catch up but left paid. Wolfgang Gerz (GER) was leading at the first mark but could not quite round it (current?) and stalled out, losing several places. Mark Bethwaite (AUS) took the lead while I rounded 8th. We’re sailing the inner trapezoid and are close to shore, so it was playing survival vs. playing the small waves. I chose the former. The positions did not change until the second run when the gusts started to hit 30. At the bottom of the second run I jibed, lost control and flipped. Finished 8th. Mark has been training for several months in Europe and won in his usual impressive style.

Race 2: Pin favored and a good start there and surprisingly I rolled Mark as we went left. It was close at the first mark with Wolfgang again leading. Rounded 3rd. On the run, we were hit by a monster puff and I dared not bear off but just tried to stay upright. Ended 200 meters off the rhumb line which cost several places as others were better at managing the hard, cold breeze. At the bottom mark, Wolfgang had a good lead going left and I again tried to play the shifts to move up. On one tack my boat stalled because of really tight vang and I went into irons. I jumped into the water to swim the boat around onto port but it slowly tipped on top of me. Lost more places (note to self – in irons, let the vang off). On the top reach and run things for me were survival conditions, and several of the leaders tipped on the run (Mark once and Wolfgang four times). Pam was watching from the finish boat taking videos and lots of people were tipping just trying cross the line. I finished a poor 9th just behind Mark. On the way in getting to the ramp was challenging with the offshore breeze and I tipped two more times in the harbor. It was cold and Mark said that he was close to being hypothermic. Many seasoned sailors commented that this was the toughest conditions they had sailed in. And there was lots more wind in the forecast.

Day 2: The temperature remained in the 50’s and the wind built from the forecasted 15 to one gust that was recorded at 35. My GGM fleet was on the water for 5 hours.

Race 3: Being close to shore, there were some pretty big shifts and the wind went right just before the start, so I squeezed between Mark and the committee boat to get away cleanly. Played a few shifts but had problems tacking with the really tight vang (note to  self, let the vang off before tacking in a gust). The GMs were on the same course and we had to thread through the 62 boats coming down the run and many were out of control, so it was crazy. My speed was about the same as Mark with him footing and me pointing a little higher in the waves. Rounded in 5th with Wolfgang again leading. The positions were unchanged until the bottom of the second run. Where we rounded in a hard gust and I did not have time to get set up with tighter controls for the bottom reach. It was a screamer and being way over powered allowed John Dawson-Edwards (CAN) and Alan Keen (RSA) to pass below me, so I finished 7th just behind Mark, John and Alan. Being better prepared could have saved me 3 points.

Race 4: It was now very pin favored so I started 3 up with Wolfgang and Mark below. There was no line sight because the open North Sea and clouds were all gray, so it was one of those hope-I-was-not-over starts. We went left until Wolfgang below said “let’s tack” so the three of us led the fleet on a long port tack to the mark where Mark, Wolfgang, and I rounded in a tight group. On the run, Wolfgang caught a few more waves and rounded in the lead. The wind was still left so it was a long port tack to the second windward mark. Our positions were unchanged. The top reach was another screamer and I buried to bow to fill up the cockpit which allowed Michael Hicks (GBR) to catch up. On the run, he was still gaining and went left so, trying something different, I jibed to sail by the lee. Our speed was very similar and he got me on mark room at the bottom of the run. I tried to pass but he defended well, so it was Wolfgang, Mark, Michael, and then me at the finish.

Day 3: Groundhog day with the same conditions – temperatures trying to reach 60F (15C), gusts in the 30’s, and Wolfgang wining 2 more races

Race 5: The leaders chose to start at the boat but I was sure that the pin was favored so I headed there. It was strange to start so far away from the best sailors in our fleet. Started at the pin and waited for the 2 on my hip to tack before tacking onto a big lift. Saw the rest of the fleet in the window of my sail… life is good so far. We weaved through the other fleet coming down on a run and I rounded a close second behind Charles Campion (GBR). Using the technique I learned at Brett’s downwind clinic, I passed him to take the lead, but the series leader Wolfgang pulled even with me (he too was at the downwind clinic). He took the right gate and I took the left. Playing the shifts, I crossed Wolfgang and he tracked to cover me on starboard. His speed was better and at the mark, Wolfgang, Charles, and Michael Hicks (GBR) were ahead at the top of the second beat. We stayed even on the top reach and I used Brett’s downwind techniques on the final run to pass Michael to finish 3rd, my best race of the event.

Race 6: Pin favored this time with the entire fleet, started 5 up with Mark and Wolfgang at the pin. I seemed to be out of phase compared with others and rounded 7th. On the run, had really good speed and passed both Alan and Mark. At the bottom of the run with big waves, people were taking the right gate to avoid jibing. Mark was close behind and inside, so I called “you have room” and prepared to round quite wide. But there was no Mark, just a loud sailing term that starts with the letter “f” (later learned that he buried the bow, filled with water, and had an unplanned jibe). On the long starboard tack to the left, I tried something that Brett suggested – hard vang and footing through the waves but for me it did not work and I could not point. At the top mark, was even with Alan and he led at the end of the top reach. Still in 6th. On the second run, things got hairy – in one gust, a wave hit me and I was knocked out of the boat. With my toes still in the hiking strap, I was dragged in the water trying to get back into the boat. Neither bearing off to get speed nor pulling in the mainsheet to head up gave me enough pressure on the centerboard to get in. After several gulps of sea water and what seemed like about a minute, I was able to get going again. Exhausted and in second to last, I took it easy to the finish. Still in 8th place overall, dragging my butt cost me 3 points and 2 places in the standings.

Day 4: A little sunnier and the top gust was just 30.

Race 7: With two minutes to go, I pulled really hard on the downhaul and… it broke. It took 5 minutes to fix so I got to watch this race.

Race 8: Was pin favored with Mark, Wolfgang, and me starting there. After a few minutes, Jorge Abreu (DOM) started to roll me, so I tacked. The long port tack took us close to the mark and the boats that went left rounded ahead, so I as in 7th. On the run, I pulled even with Mark who took the left gate while I took the right. Half way up the second beat, he would have crossed me but instead tacked onto port in front. We were slamming into the waves and Mark, according to Brett, is one of the best at steering through them. So I watched as he pulled about 8 boat lengths ahead. At the starboard tack layline, he tacked and I followed. And then something happened that neither of us could later figure out – I out pointed him so that he had to put in two additional tacks to round just behind me. We stayed even on the top reach and then he tried to pass on the run by going to windward of me and then carving back to the right. Using some of the techniques learned from Brett, I was able to hold him off on the run and then bottom reach. Finished 5th but back on shore learned that I was over the line at the start and was scored UFD. Normally I’d be disappointed with a DNC and UFD for the day, but I’m not in the running and am pleased with my new downwind speed that Brett taught me.

Day 5: Rain and then clearing, top gust 28

Race 9: Started close to the pin, went left, and hit the first shift. As with most races, the fleet stayed together. I played some shifts and took the lead on the port tack layline with a tight group rounding just behind. On the run, Wolfgang pulled even and was heading straight for the downwind gate. Looking upwind, there was pressure on the left and the tight group was going to miss it, so I moved downwind of the pressure and Mark followed. But as we learned several times, some of the pressure never comes and we both lost 7 places!! Note to self – stay with the leaders! We tried to catch them but they had too much speed in these conditions.

Race 10: Started again close to the pin and started to get rolled, so tacked. Worked the middle of the course and got even with the front row. But being tired with the really tight vang, my life jacket caught on the boom and I tipped again. Once up again, was 50 meters behind the front row that had good speed and stayed in phase, so was unable to catch them. Finished 10.

Day 6: Very light conditions from the south and not offshore. Lots of current.

Race 11: The fleet started at the committee boat, tacked, and went right. I footed under Mark to take the lead and then he tacked onto starboard. The fleet followed and Mark had a huge lead as we fought the current in a dying breeze before the race was abandoned.

There was a long delay and the current was taking us from the race area back to the harbor where we would have to de-rig, return our charger boats, have them inspected, and then prepare for the closing ceremonies. As the 3:00 deadline approached, there was one more fleet before us and it got away a few minutes before the deadline, so most of us decided to keep heading back to the harbor. We later learned that our fleet had in fact started after 3:00 with just 5 boats on the line. Mark, Wolfgang, and I were not one of them.

With a breakdown, UFD, and DNS, this was not one of my best Worlds, but there was lots to learn from. What worked:
  • Attending Brett’s downwind and pre-worlds clinics really helped with downwind speed and race planning.
  • Pam had been well-prepared for the cold weather.
  • The equipment, help launching, and event management were all excellent.
  • My conditioning was good, that was not the problem.
Areas for improvement:
  • Practicing a few hours each week on Dallas lakes will no longer work. This may sound obvious, but the best practice is in the conditions of the event. Those that did had the best finishes in our fleet.
  • My upwind speed use to be good, but needs a lot more work.
  • Relying on the compass rather than sticking with the fleet was a mistake. I also think that it’s time to switch to one of the new digital compasses.

October 05, 2018

Laser Master Worlds de-brief

Brett Beyer just won his 13th Laser Master Worlds and would like to share how he did it and what he learned. For those who saw how dominant Brett was, the following from Brett will be of interest...

I am looking at doing the Skype de-brief next Tuesday 9th October, 6am Sydney time. Cost will be A$120pp and last approx 2 hours.

If you cannot make this time, please indicate a future preference time and if there’s enough interest in Europe and USA then we can align with these times and do a separate session.

The skype format will largely be Q&A based with some supporting material that I will distribute to the group.

Just send email to confirm attendance.

October 04, 2018

Bill Symes: Radial Great Grand Masters World Champion 2018

Bill Symes had a great regatta at the recent Laser Master Worlds in Ireland. The International Sailing Academy’s Colin Gowland interviewed with Bill on how we won, as you’ll see below.

Colin and the ISA’s Vaughn Harrison are working on a podcast with topics that include going faster in waves upwind, what's it like at the Olympics on the first day, how to break through sticking points/progression barriers, mental game aspects, etc. These guys can help everyone improve so watch for them on Facebook and Instagram.

Colin: Hi, Bill.
Bill:  Hey, Colin. How are you doing?
Colin: I’m doing great. How are you? You had a good trip/regatta?
Bill:  Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was great. The Worlds Regatta was great and then we spent a week touring around. We went to Northern Ireland and stayed at this cool little pub called The Brown Trout. Just did a little bit of rest and recovery for three or four days. And then we came back down to Dublin and spent the last three days in Dublin, just rocking out with the crowds. That place is party central.
Colin: Really?
Bill:  Unbelievable. Yeah.
Colin: That’s phenomenal. I went there on a rugby tour in my youth. Was a great experience on and off the field.
Bill:  Oh, yeah. It’s a fun town.
Colin: Bill, what are you, a great grand master now?
Bill:  Yeah. I’m half way through my great grand masterhood. 71-years-old, loving every minute of it.
Colin: Was it a challenge to keep the body holding together during all that sailing?
Bill:  Amazingly enough I felt really good throughout the whole thing. It was a really windy regatta. The first three days especially it averaged around 20 with puffs around 30 and very shifty, puffy, challenging conditions. I don’t know why but I felt really good. My energy level was high, my strength held up, and I just put it down to the fact that I trained more than 20 days in the gorge this summer, a lot of it was with Andrew Holdsworth. He moved to Seattle in August so he was coming down here every weekend and we were sailing two or three days out in the Gorge in almost the exact same condition that we had in Dublin. He’s younger, very fit and very fast in a breeze. (Andrew finished 4th in the Radial Masters Division at Worlds) It was windy, shifty, puffy. The sea state was very similar, big, short, chop. I think that by the end of August I had a pretty good comfort level in those conditions.
Colin: What was your game plan? Did you have a speed advantage out there? It looked like you had some pretty dominant results. To me, just looking at that score card that’s what I would think right away. Did you feel like you had an advantage in boat speed? Or did you have the strategy wired? Or did you just sail consistently? What was your secret to success or was it a mix of everything?
Bill:  I did have a bit of a boat speed advantage. You know what they say about how boat speed makes you look smart. It made it easy for me to execute everything I needed to do. I was always able to get off the line clear. I was usually able to get on to the lifted tack right away and that was my game plan.
It was basically to try and get clear starts, get onto the right tack, and then just cover the fleet. In most races that’s what happened. I was able to kind of jump out if not into the lead at least into the first group and stay there to the weather mark. I had a pretty big speed advantage down wind so if I wasn’t first at the weather mark I was usually first at the leeward mark. I think that, especially in the Great Grandmasters fleet, the top guys are pretty fast but a lot of guys are just in survival mode. I mean, it was blowing pretty hard and the downwinds were pretty crazy, but I was used to that from my training in the Gorge. I mean, that’s the conditions we sail in so I felt very comfortable. I was still racing, doing my turns and going for more and more speed downwind. I think that made a lot of difference.
Colin: You live in Portland so your home venue really is the Gorge. That’s got to be a massive advantage given all the training you did this summer… and over past years.
Bill:  It certainly was for this venue because the conditions in Dublin turned out to be very, very similar to what I sail in here.
Colin: Usually when you look at successful sailors in big breeze, they are typically either the biggest or the fittest or both. You don’t do much traditional fitness outside of sailing, right? You just go sail in big breeze and that’s sort of your formula?
Bill:  Pretty much. I’m not real big on going to the gym or doing any kind of fitness specific exercise. I’ll ride the bike as much as I can, try to work on some aerobic fitness, but mostly I just sail.
Colin: Right. Do you put together sort of an annual plan about how your sailings going to go for the whole year with the World’s as a goal, or is it just something you start thinking about a few months before?
Bill: I have a goal and a rough game plan which, as you know, it’s to spend two or three weeks in Mexico in the spring to jump start my training program. Then, I have a goal of doing 80 days on the water which I reached – just. (sailed my 80th day the day before Worlds!)
Colin: 80 days, how did you come up with that number?
Bill:  That’s just a rule of thumb that I’ve developed over the years that if I can sail that much especially in challenging conditions I will definitely… well maybe not definitely… but I will generally have reached the level of hiking fitness and sailing confidence that I need going into Worlds. I mean, it’s worked for me over the last few years and so that’s kind of the recipe I follow.
Colin: Yeah. And then, you said you did some training in the spring. What about November, December, January, and February?
Bill:  I don’t do much. Between now and the new year I probably won’t sail too much. Maybe here in Portland. We have a Sunday race with our local fleet, Sunday series. I’ll do that stuff just for fun but I won’t do any serious training until spring. That usually starts with March or April in Mexico.
Colin: It’s interesting. I mean, I think since probably you were young you’ve probably been getting good results in sailing but my observation over the last four years, is that you’re still getting better. I don’t know if you feel like you are or not. You mentioned in a past interview that the learning is something that keeps you coming back and having fun with it. Can you just speak to that and if you feel like you’re still making progress at 71 years old, knowing all that you know already?
Bill:  Definitely. I think I’m sailing better now than I probably have in my life. Of course, the problem you have as you get older, is it’s like walking up the down escalator. You have to run faster and faster just to stay even. Yeah, I just wish I had known what I know now back when I had the body of a 20-year-old. Aside from just being competitive, I find it enjoyable again because I am making gains in my sailing speed, especially downwind. I think in the last couple of years the coaching that I’ve gotten from Vaughn and from Brett and yourself has just made a huge difference in the way I sail downwind, and I’ve practiced those techniques a lot – I’ve spent a lot of time in the Gorge just working on that. It has definitely made a difference. Plus it’s fun. it’s made Laser sailing more fun because I’m more comfortable in the boat in more conditions and I just really enjoy sailing it that way.
Colin: You’ve been around the Master’s fleets at your home club and internationally and seen a lot of guys train down here. If you were their coach and they were the average master sailor, let’s just say, what kind of advice would you give them in terms of should they do to be successful? Replicate more or less your plan like training 80 days at minimum? How should they do go about it? Do they identify weaknesses, they get coaching, do they just go race? What do you think is the best strategy for them?
Bill:  I don’t really know any other way to do it than the way I do it, and so I would recommend that. The base of my program is lots of sailing; not just sailing, but training in good breeze and just logging the hours. I don’t race that much. I used to try and hit all the big regattas, I don’t do that anymore. This year I just hit a couple. I did a couple of winter regattas down in California, I did the Master’s North Americans in San Francisco and I did the Laser PCC’s in the gorge and just a couple of other local regattas in the Northwest. I don’t travel that much, not as much as I used to.
Bill:  This is not to say that it isn’t important to sail in big competitions, because it is. But I don’t think that has helped me as much as just the training I do with a couple of fast training partners. I’ve been lucky to have Andrew living in Seattle now, and also Rob Hodson and Dave Jursik, a couple of other local guys who were also training for Worlds in the Gorge.
We just go out and beat each other up out there and that has, I think, helped me more than traveling around to all the big regattas. You know, you’ll find a lot of guys that take sort of the opposite track and try to hit all the big regattas. I’m sure there’s a lot of value to that, especially for improving starting skills, because that’s the only way to really practice starting.
Bill:  But you know, I think I’m a pretty strong starter anyway. I don’t feel like that’s a huge weakness, but certainly going to the big regattas helps that part of your game.
Colin: Yeah.
Bill:  I mostly focus, my focus the last few years has just been on boat speed. I figure if I’m confident in my boat speed, that pretty much takes care of all the other issues.
Colin: Right, yeah. Yeah, it is a race after all.
Bill:  Yeah, [laughs].
Colin: I guess when you say, maybe you don’t do so many regattas, but you do training, and you said focusing on boat speed with good training partners, but, what do you do? What do you guys … When you go out to train let’s say, what do you do out there?
Bill:  We do focus drills, kind of like you do at ISA. We will do lineups, upwind lineups. This summer, Andrew and I did a lot of reaching because we both felt that was an area we needed to strengthen. We did a lot of heavy air reaching, and I definitely improved in that area as a result. We worked on trim and sail controls. We practiced different vang tensions, different downhaul and outhaul tensions, different trims, different ways of steering through the waves.
Colin: Yea that deliberate practice is something we really promote here. What else?
Bill:  We just banged away at it. We’d reach across the river, we’d stop, and regroup, and reach across the river again. We’d do this nine or ten times in a practice. Like I say, we do the upwind lineups, we do short racing, we do lots of long downwinds. We do like five mile downwinds going through the different wave conditions in the Gorge. You’ve got short mostly flat water at the top of the run, and then as you get down – actually upriver, but downwind – you get into much bigger, almost oceanic waves. We had a range of conditions, a range of wind speeds. The training went up and down, and up and down. We did a little bit of starting practice, focusing on acceleration and holding a lane, we pretty much try to practice all the fundamentals.
Colin: Yeah, it sounds like pretty productive session. I think what a lot of guys tend to do is go out once every couple weeks in the spring/summer/fall, probably that’s being generous, and then they go out and just race on Sunday, and do six, seven races, whatever it is, and come back in. You look at those fleets, and who’s at the top, and who’s at the bottom, and who’s in the middle, and it’s very rare to see much of a mix up over a period of years with that kind of approach. I think this is because mostly everyone is sailing the exact same way they have in the past focusing on “strategy/tactics” when there is still so much boatspeed and boathandling available for them to learn.
Bill:  Yeah, I think you nailed it with that analysis. It’s common to see that mentality in Laser fleets.
Colin: I understand you have a new winter residence now?
Bill:  Yeah!
Colin: That’s great. Why did you decide to set that up?
Bill:  Well, as you know, we’ve been coming down there for the last three or four years and training at ISA. I just find the clinics enormously helpful and enormously fun. My wife, Laura-Lee, has fallen in love with the town of La Cruz. It’s just a nice environment. It’s a beautiful site, right on the north shore of Banderas Bay. I don’t know, we’ve always sort of had it in the back of our mind, that it would be nice to have a winter getaway spot, because in Portland, Oregon in January and February can be pretty bleak.
That just seemed like the perfect spot. It’s warm, it’s beautiful, it’s close to great Laser sailing. The quality of the sailing is fantastic. It’s affordable.
It’s certainly easier to buy a beach front residence in La Cruz than it is in Oregon or California.
Colin: No kidding. We’re really happy that you made that decision and that we’ll get to see more of you down here, and do a bunch more training together and whatnot. It’s really awesome, congratulations. I’d expect to see more dedicated sailors making similar investments as the years go on.
Bill:  Yeah, we’re looking forward to it.
Colin: How many clinics did you sail last year at ISA to prep for Worlds?
Bill:  I think I did two in Mexico.
Bill:  And one in the Gorge, or most of one in the Gorge. I also had that little half session in the summer with you and Jonathan Sherretz.
Colin: Yeah, that’s right.
Bill:  Which, you know, it was a really good year for me in terms of sailing in Mexico. We just had a lot of opportunity to get down there and conditions were great. Even the last one in June we had good conditions.
Colin: That was nice, people don’t know necessarily that our wind can stay really nice here all the way through July.
Bill:  That was great. I really look forward to more of that in the future.
Colin: What do you think beyond what you do just training on your own, what do you think what is the value in the clinics that you attend here?
Bill:  I think it has pushed me to think about Laser sailing in new ways, think about Laser sailing in new ways. You know, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and I’ve been doing this off and on since the ’70s. It’s (attending clinics) forced me to take a much deeper dive into how to sail a Laser, and what are the factors that you need to be considering to make it go faster.
I learned a lot from Vaughn, who really sort of brought home how important apparent wind is. I always, I think most competitive sailors understand apparent wind, and think about it when they’re sailing, but he has really helped me understand how important it is, and how you can use it in the way you think about sail trim, and angle, and all that.
Colin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bill:  I think that was a big breakthrough for me. And clearly the downwind stuff, Vaughn’s technique varies a little bit from Brett Beyers, but I think both of them have helped me to develop a better understanding of how to sail the boat downwind. Vaughn’s emphasis on creating the energy through turning, and Brett’s just a little more nuanced I think, just pressuring up the rig, and then using that pressure to take it down to the wave angle. Those are techniques that have really changed my whole sailing style, and in many ways forced me to break the old mold and learn a new one.
Colin: Yeah it’s nice to have different coaches giving perspectives on technique. You mentioned the conditions here which are obviously a nice thing. What about the other people training and sort of a camaraderie of it? Do you enjoy that part, or are you more just down to put your nose to the grindstone and get your training in? What’s your perspective on that aspect?
Bill:  Definitely I value the friendships and the relationships that I get through Laser sailing. Really, that’s what keeps me coming back to Laser Master Worlds, more than anything, is just that I’ve gotten to be so close to that group of guys that I would hate to miss it. It’s like our annual party. Most of these guys I only see once a year, and this is our opportunity to get together, socialize, eat and drink together, and just have a great time. It’s wonderful.
Colin: It seems like those friendships, really, they go pretty deep. It seems like a really important aspect particularly in Master sailing, but you see it in all types of sailing.
Bill:  Oh yeah, yeah, you see it in all different classes, and different kinds of competition, in Masters and open competition. The Laser Masters, is in particular, is really just an extraordinary group of people. These are guys, most of whom have been sailing all their lives in one boat or another. Many of them have achieved very high success in the Olympics or World Championships. The level of competition is still very high, but competition isn’t the only reason they’re there. We hang out together after the races. We’re able to have a beer and enjoy ourselves…
which is a little different than it was when we were sailing in the open fleet – there wasn’t so much of that aprés sailing fun going on.
Colin: Aprés sailing fun you say. Any funny anecdotes from the worlds? Anything notable that happened that you wish to tell?
Bill:  Funny, tragic maybe. In the third race and the 10th race, I don’t see very well and when I’m sailing in those conditions I can’t wear glasses, because it they get too messed up with the spray. So I have trouble seeing the marks. In the 4th race, I had a pretty good lead coming around the leeward mark, and going up to the second weather mark, I couldn’t find it. I sailed a little far off to the left, and the next thing you know I rounding a mark, but it turned out I was on the outer loop of the trapezoid course when I was supposed to be on the inner loop.
Colin: Good strategy. [laughs]
Bill:  Weather mark when I should have been going to the inner. I turned a first into a 29th in that race. I thought, “Oh, okay, I’ve burned my throw out, I’ve made my big mistake, I won’t make that mistake again.” Then in the 10th race, I had another situation where I was leading after the second beat, I took off on a screaming, fire-hose-in-the-face reach, but again I couldn’t see the marks, didn’t know where I was going, and wound up heading for the leeward mark instead of the reach mark. By the time I got back in the boat race, I was 20th(which I had to keep in my score). With two more races to go, I was pretty sure I’d snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. That was not a happy night.
This is what happens when you get old and feeble. Your faculties start deserting you. Boat speed was great, but the brain power was a little bit impaired.
Colin: I’m not sure what kind of training we can do for that one Bill. Maybe some compass work! I wonder if it was too much Guinness the night before? Any wild antics from the streets of Dublin, or are those all sworn to secrecy?
Bill:  Well, some of that’s classified, but all I can say is a very good time was had by all. We usually gather together in informal mobs and go out on the town and eat and drink until the wee hours. We did not skimp on the social side of things. It was a lot of fun.
Colin: Sounds like these masters sailors know how to do it right! It’s a great community, and we’re always happy to have our masters sailors training hard and having fun here at ISA too. All right Bill, thanks for taking the time. I think we covered some good ground here. I look forward to seeing you soon down in Mexico for some training and relaxing in the near future!
Bill:  Yeah, thanks Colin, we’ll see you soon.
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