December 31, 1994

1994 Laser Master World Championships (Wakayama, Japan)

by Doug

I did not start my Worlds race journals until 1997. These are my recollections from notes I took at the time. Much of what I have learned over the years came from my Worlds experiences. I’m making my recollections public so that others might learn something from them.

Worlds Adventures - Wakayama, JAP (1994) - 1
Worlds Adventures - Wakayama, JAP (1994) - 2

Local training: the race facilities were closed until our boat allocation, so I arrived early and chartered a Laser in Kyoto which has an inland lake. My training partner Norio Akiyama was fast and went on to win the Apprentice Worlds that started the following week. Kyoto was famous for its sake which was not surprising because the water coming out of a tap actually tasted sweet.

Worlds Location: Wakayama Marina City, on the coast about 100km south of Osaka. This was held as a part of Japan's World Expo, and the Lasers were actually one of the exhibits. Thousands of people walked by every day.

Entries: a total of 150 from 15 countries, with my Apprentice fleet being the largest with 65 competitors. Japan fielded the strongest team with many excellent sailors.

Courses: we sailed the new Olympic format of 12 races over 6 days, with the new trapezoid course. It was generally disliked, with two top competitors being knocked out of contention because they sailed the wrong way.

Conditions: were a real surprise. I had trained for the 6-12 knots expected, but a record heat wave dominated the country for most of the summer and this created unusually strong sea breezes. The bay in which we sailed was surrounded by a 12 foot typhoon and sea walls, and the resulting back-wash effect created very lumpy, irregular waves.

First 4 days: two typhoons in the area gave us winds of 20-35k and waves of 4-6 feet. Very difficult conditions. It was one of the few times sailors (including myself) were frightened sailing downwind. After 8 races, I was in 7th place.

On Day 2: For me, the main reason why sailing downwind was so scary was because of the waves that went upwind. The typhoon and sea walls at the bottom of the course caused some of the larger waves to go back upwind. Sailing downwind, you could sometimes see them coming straight at you and what made them scary was they'd combine with or cancel the waves going downwind. This meant that you could be on a screaming run and, without warning, slam into a wall of water.

A competitor from Taiwan ran into difficulty and his Laser was found drifting without him. One of the judge boats searched, found him unconscious, and had him rushed to the hospital. We were all worried but were assured that he was "resting peacefully."

My son and I were staying with a fantastic couple, and the wife happened to work at the same hospital where the sailor was taken. She kept asking me "Why won't they let them go?" and I kept saying "Because he's OK." Clearly, this was a misunderstanding between my total lack of Japanese and my host's improving but still limited English.

The next day, I asked one of the Japanese officials about the status of our friend and was told that "he was resting comfortably." That evening, my host was insistent that he was "gone" and she just could not understand why others in need were not using the life-saving equipment.

On the fourth day, all I could get from the official was "he's not in any pain." I shared this with friends and we had this hollow feeling that my host was right and that the World's officials did not want the bad publicity of a competitor dying during the competition at Japan's World Expo.

Final 2 days: lighter winds with my finishes of 12, 4 and 2 which moved me up to 5th place. The final race was abandoned because of a strong storm that hit the coast (would have loved another race as I was 7 points out of 3rd place). The final Apprentice standings were:

1Norio AkiyamaJPN25 points
2Nick HarrisonGBR37 points
3Nelson Hornilha BRA57 points
4Naoki NagastuJPN58 points
5Doug PeckoverUSA64 points
6Koichiro NaitoJPN65 points
7Colin Dibbs AUS83 points
8Brian WatsonAUS96 points 

Closing ceremonies: This was in a large reception hall with lots of food, drink, pomp, and ceremony. But with one of our competitors missing and still no official explanation from the officials, there was a somber undertone. All we could learn was his family was "on their way to Wakayama." We all knew that it could have been any one of us in that situation and began to take up a collection for the sailor and his family but the officials did put a stop to this effort.

After arriving home: I kept in touch with our hosts and, sure enough, our friend's body was sent home the day after the closing ceremony. To my knowledge, the ILCA has never described or even acknowledged the accident. It would have been nice to have some sort of award in the sailor's honor. 

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