August 21, 1998

1998 World Master Games (Portland, USA)

by Doug
These are my Worlds race journals.  I send daily updates home to friends during the events and often receive good advice each day but I also find them to be a useful analysis tool when preparing for the next event.  I’m making them public in the event others might learn something from them.

The setting:
The Gorge, said to be one of the windiest places on earth.

Anticipated conditions:
Very strong winds. When I talked to a friend about the location of the series, he said “You’re sailing in the Gorge? Wow!”

Initial impressions from training
8-8: The day we arrived, the Melges 24’s had a race and were ‘blown off the water’. Only 3e boats finished. Broken keels and masts. One of the locals said ‘it has been blowing a bit more than usual.’

8-9: High winds (30) with sudden shifts, 2 foot choppy waves building from Cascade Locks 2 miles upstream. The local windsurfers said it was a ‘top 5’ day (assumed this meant windy). Borrowed a Laser to go for a 2 hour sail with Mike, and got beaten rather badly by him. He was pointing much higher than me and told me when we came in that my vang was too loose. I also had trouble seeing the waves in starboard tack going downwind, which made catching them and jibing guesswork. Tipping is extra tough because the boat drifts downwind and you have to flip it to get the rig downwind to get going again. Good news: the water is not nearly as cold as expected. Went into Portland watching the opening ceremonies of the Games with 12,000 other athletes.

8-10: High winds (25-30). Went 20 miles upstream to Hood River to sail my charter boat. Passed a place called Swell City, where I watched about 100 windsurfers jumping 6’ waves. Some were doing 360 degree flips (horizontal and vertical) while others just tore across the river at about 30 knots. Insane. I sailed nearby in waves going straight upstream against a 4 knot current. Wore regular glasses instead of sunglasses and could see the waves much better. Felt very good after 2 hours of training.

8-11: A rest day. Figure that the key to winning this event is going to be (1) in a breeze, great upwind speed and not tipping at the jibe mark and (2) in less breeze, great downwind speed into the current. Have a feeling that there is going to be a lot of really good heavy-weather speed in this series. I’m at a 20-year high 185 pounds and will need every bit of it.

8-12: After a day of running around to get my charter boat ready, sailed in the late afternoon in a gentle 8-15 knot breeze. With the current going against the wind, there are what appear to be standing wave sets, like those you see in rapids. These are easy to catch downwind but don’t really move you forward. My practice boat must weigh 160 pounds and feels like one of the Colombian River barges you see in the windsurfing videos. Hope my Laser arrives from Dallas soon. After a total of 6 hours of on-the-water practice, am surprised that no one else has shown up yet.

8-13: Winds from 10-20. My Kiwi boat arrived, went out with a very old sail and tuned with Eric Faust and Fred Schroth from Austin. Upwind speed was mediocre and had trouble pointing. Speed difference between the boats was minimal. Downwind speed was good on the run, mainly by going around waves instead of trying to climb over them. Measuring the current and wind lanes was inconclusive - the north shore appears to be faster but erratic. Did not take out a compass and was unable to work the 10-20 degree shifts. Conditioning was good after another 2.5 hours on the water.

8-14: Winds from 20-30. Went for a 2 hour sail with former NA Champ Peter Branning. Had problems with the rudder stalling when at high-speed. Upwind speed was good as was my conditioning.

8-15: Winds 15-20 for a practice regatta using a windward/leeward course.

Race 1:
65 boats entered. Felt unfamiliar on the starting line and realized that this was my first actual race in 8 weeks. Started at the boat and had to tack under several boats that had started at the pin and tacked. Crummy start. Pointing was still a problem (still using my old sail), and footed on port tack with very good speed. The lead boat was Coutts of NZ who missed the offset mark and then quit. Was in the lead and got good separation on the run. Coasted to a 30-second victory.

Race 2:
Mid-line start without much speed, had to tack just before getting rolled. Followed Joe Van Rossem on port and then tacked as he was pointing higher. Played the middle right and missed the shifts on the right. Rounded 6th. Went behind and then below the leaders who had bunched up. Robin Coutts of NZ shot off sailing by the lee and looked vary fast. Was caught at the bottom mark. Sailed for most of the next leg with him with good speed. Would have rounded 2nd at the next windward mark, but felt that 3 hours was enough for the day.

Problem #1: Was beaten in each race by a faster boat. Hope it’s the sail.
Problem #2: Was playing the shifts by feel and not the compass. Need to get this working!

8-16:  Winds 12-15
Practice race 1:
Port approach and tacked at the pin for a perfect start. Forced out to the left with 2 others as the fleet went right. Rounded 5th. Went low and then high to pass 3 and rounded 2nd at the jibe mark. Held off Olympic Gold medalist Gaston Brun from Brazil and started the 2nd beat a close 2nd. First 3 had a good lead and we stayed close. Rounded 1st as the other 2 below tacked below and then behind me as I was carried by the current to the mark. Got good separation on the run and then lost track of Brazil - he was directly to windward. Carved but he pulled even. Tried to stay to windward, but he lead by 2 seconds at the bottom mark. Tried to catch him upwind but he stretched to 5 seconds, then I caught a shift at the end and finished 2 seconds behind him.

Expected competition
Unlike the Worlds where the very best of the best show up, this event will be made up lots of people with great speed and nothing to loose. 65 boats entered, one start for everyone.

The practice races have had a pin-favored start, and the boats at the pin immediately tack onto port to go to the presumed starboard-favored side of the course. I need a clean start near the pin but, more importantly, room to tack. I then need my port-tack speed to stay with the leaders and get a top 5 position at the first mark. Downwind speed and endurance will then be needed to get a top-3 finish. The person to cover in a breeze is Rob Coutts. The person to cover for the series is Brun from Brazil.

The strategy I used in Chile will not work (where I covered 6-time World Champion Keith Wilkins). The key will be staying with the fleet and waiting for others to make mistakes. I expect the first beat to be very close. The fleet may not spread out as usual on the downwind legs because we will be going against the strong current, so breaking free will be harder. Should be very interesting…

Why the detailed notes?
The only advantage really experienced sailors have is what they learn from previous events. To overcome this disadvantage, I record and study the few international races I go to. These are my notes that I am e-mailing back to friends in the US each day.

Day 1 (Aug 17) strong wind (20-30 knots), 3 foot waves.

Race 1
Started 5 from the committee boat, was in the final stage of rolling Brun when there was a general recall. Started two up from the pin (Brun at the pin) but lost track of the time and was in the second row. He punched out and was able to tack after 2 minutes, I had to go further left than preferred. Missed a nice lift on the right. When we converged at the first mark, was in 5th place. Did not power-up on the reaches - felt a little intimidated by the wind strength. On the final beat, went left and got a huge lift to move into 2nd by the finish. Brun won easily. Race duration: 70 minutes.

Race 2
Started at the boat but drifted down, permitting Fred Schroth to slip in. At 210 pounds, he rolled me as I was being pinched off by the boat to lee. Tacked to go right which had paid in the first race and was very surprised to see most of the fleet going left. When they tacked, they were on a long port-tack lift. Came in on a big header. Rounded 13th. Passed 2 on the reaches and a few more on the next beat. Tacking onto the lay line, got stuck below the boom and tipped. Lost about 30 seconds and another 2 places. On the run, seemed to be in a fog (and hole) as my group got away. On the final beat, played the shifts to the left-side of the course and caught a few boats. Finished 6th. Horrible race. Duration: 70 minutes.

Mistakes made:

  • Two bad starts, both because I misjudged the time.
  • In the second race, did not go with the fleet to the left - should have had more confidence in my speed.
  • Not aggressive on the runs, did not look for holes.
  • Rudder bolt loosened, had to keep tightening it by hand in the second race.
What worked:
  • Good speed when not sailing in a fog.
  • Very fortunate with the shifts on the final beats.
  • The compass worked well, but missed being on the proper side of the course.

Day 2 (Aug 18) strong wind (15-20 knots), 2 foot waves.

Race 3
Started at the committee boat, tacked along the right shore, got a nice lift but boats from the left got to the mark first. Rounded 4th. The 3 in front went high in a tight group, so I went low. Caught one, but was passed by Coutts. On the next broad reach, went high into the passing lane to move into 1st by playing the waves. Had really powered up to play the waves (something I had not done on day 1). Mark Bear followed, then Coutts. Put a loose cover as we went right. By the end of the beat, was still in 1st with Coutts 5 seconds back. He carved all over the place while I focused on accelerating straight down the waves more. Still led by 5 seconds at the bottom mark. The right gate was really favored, so we both took it and went left. Applied a tight cover. Rob is a heavy-weather specialist (won both heavy air races at the Worlds in Chile) and has the exact opposite movement to mine in the waves. Going over a crest, he pushes the boat down by moving forward. I jerk back to enable a soft landing. Boat speed surprisingly similar for two completely different styles. Won by 5 seconds. Race duration: 60 minutes.

Rage 4
Started at the committee boat again with Fred Schroth just below. We sailed off to the left, him footing and me pointing higher. Coming in on port, we were on a big header and then lift - had overshot the mark by 100 yards. Rounded 3rd just behind Brun. At the jibe mark, he tipped and I moved up to Mark to share the lead. Mark caught a few big waves and moved ahead by the bottom mark. Rounded 2nd ahead of Brun, who I covered as we went right. He was obviously covering me from behind and studying me. After a few tacks decided to apply a tight cover on port tack. He footed free and moved up, tacked, and got me on starboard. No one at the Worlds in Chile was able to do that. Very, very fast. Does not move around much in the waves, but is very fast. At the top mark, he rounded 3 seconds ahead of me. He had trouble bearing off, and I passed him. On the run, he passed me again, I tried to blanket but he moved to the left and then right to stay in clear air. Very well done. He was 5 seconds ahead at the bottom gate and rounded to go left. I decided to go the other way to get some clear air. Left paid. When we converged, he was 100’ in front. With one more race, a safe 3rd place, and with my shoulder starting to affect my performance, decided to relax for the rest of the race. Was surprised how not hiking did not affect my boat speed very much. Brun powered his way into 1st place ahead of Mark. I regret not splitting tacks to see if I could have beaten both of them. Brun sailed a fine race and deserved his 1st place. Race duration: 60 minutes.

Race 5
Line biased and started at the committee boat. Lucky to get away cleanly from a bunch of boats battling the waves and current. General recall. Pin was moved forward and wind shifted, making the pin favored. Moved down the line and then way past the pin to hide from the fleet. With 20 seconds to go, approached on port with another boat and sailed through a huge hole. The other boat was 3 boat lengths in front (and one boat length over). Crossed the fleet, most of it by 100’. On a long port tack, watched Brun on the right shore ahead. He crossed me as I continued to go right. Overshot the mark (current), Brun nailed the lay line and we converged, him getting room at the mark. Rounded 4th. Like the previous race, he rounded wide and I moved inside. Again, he worked the waves better to move ahead. He rounded and went middle left, I went right. Brun on port seemed to be headed, I did not look at the other side of the course to check things out. When we converged, I was 2 boat lengths ahead. However, 4 boats were way on the left shore so far ahead I thought they were on the previous lap (they later described a huge port-tack lift that lasted most of the beat - one even said he felt sorry for us sailing in the wrong direction not seeing it). Held on to beat Brun by 5 seconds despite a cramp in my calf for the last minute. Brun slipped from 3rd to 6th. I salvaged a 5th. Race duration: 55 minutes.

Mistakes made

  • Missed a huge shift in the last beat of the middle race. After the race, Rob Coutts told me several signs that made it obvious to him which way to go, including a late downwind shift, wind patterns on the water, etc. I missed all of them.
  • For the first time in a long time, am being beaten upwind on boat speed alone.
  • Still seem to be in react mode for playing the shifts - have no game-plan that I can rely on.
What worked

  • Sailed a good first race - was great to feel in control.
  • Good starts. Even at the committee boat, people seem to be giving me room - holding back and starting in the second row. No one has challenged me. There are negatives to being the world champion (extra pressure), but I’ll gratefully accept this new-found respect.
  • Good reaching speed, getting beaten by Brun on the runs.
  • Got through all 3 races with a really sore shoulder, despite having trouble holding onto the sheet.
Current standings
Brun now has 1,2,6,1,(6) and one point ahead of my 2,(6),1,3,5 with Rob Coutts 2 points back. Brun is very good and will be tough to beat. Upwind in a breeze, I might be able to stay with him. I’m faster on the reaches, he gets me on the runs. I cannot depend on playing shifts as no firm game plan has worked so far. After the sailing, Rob told me that he feels I’ll win this if no major mistakes are made. Not sure how I’ll do this. There’s a way, but have not figured it out yet. Someone told me Brun been training really hard and is using this event as a warm-up for the Worlds in Melbourne, so we’ve both got a lot to learn from each other. I’ve never considered myself to have top speed in a breeze, so being in contention in these conditions is a big plus. If we get to sail in my “zone” (8-12 knots), I’ll kill him.

Day 3 (Aug 20) medium building to strong winds (10-20 knots), 2 foot waves.

Race 6
Good start mid-line in a good hole and played the shifts in the middle. Good speed and height. Rounded first just in front of Ken Brown (CAN). Set up with maximum foot and slight vang, got 30 seconds separation on the reach, and then 1 minute on the bottom reach. Went right and then played the shifts as the fleet followed me. Still way ahead at the top mark. Had good pressure and played the waves well and led by 1 minute 53 seconds at the end of the run. Brun moved into 2nd, so covered him on the final beat. Won by 1 minute, 35 seconds. Race duration: 1 hour.

Race 7
Good start near the pin with Brun at the pin, he tacked to cross and then tacked above me. With the wind picking up, he footed over me and I tacked and took a few sterns. At the mark, Dennis Clark led with Brun second, me third. In a hard gust, had trouble letting off my vang (was jammed) and was passed by the Aussie. 4th at the jibe mark. On the bottom reach, moved back into 3rd. Positions unchanged by the next windward mark as the first 3 stayed close together. On the run, Brun went left to sail by the lee and head inshore and out of the current. I stayed on the right of Clark and led by the bottom mark with Brun coming in third. I went right and Brun took the gate left. Stayed in close contact. When we crossed, I tacked to put on a close cover. He footed out, came up even, and tacked to get me on starboard. Rather than lee-bow him and risk being rolled, I ducked him to protect the right as we neared the finish line. We crossed again, both tacked, and on port, I would have had trouble clearing him. Decided to lee-bow him - a big mistake. Should have given up the 2 boat lengths to protect the right again and put the onus on him to clear me. On starboard, he rolled me, we had a brief tacking duel in big waves which he discontinued, and we headed for the finish line. Brun won by 5 seconds and pounded his deck with joy - something that surprised me. Race duration: 65 minutes.

Race 8
Start at the committee boat but was forced right. Left paid. Waited for a shift to get me back in the middle, but it never came. Was crossed by tons of boats and felt I was mid-fleet. Rounded in the high-teens. Caught a few on the run as I watched Brun in front. At the bottom of the run, had a very slow approach to the mark from being blanketed and rounded slowly. Should have gone for the left gate. By now, the fleet had really stretched out and was able to make up a few more places on each leg. Finished 8th. Race duration: 60 minutes.


  • Still being beaten in pure grinding upwind conditions. Brun weighs 195 pounds and is quick.
  • Had trouble with my vang - should have loosened it before the top mark.
  • Seemed to be in a fog for the third race and got separated from the pack, and paid dearly.
What worked

  • Outstanding speed in the 8-12 knot breeze - wish we had more of it. Lots of foot on the reaches in similar conditions as Chile and really worked here as well. Was good to send a message to Brun about boat speed in conditions under 15 knots.
Current standings
With a 1,2,8, I drop my 8 and use my 6. Brun’s 2,1,1 put him 6 points in front with 2 more races to go. If the conditions are below 15, I know I can win.

Day 4 (Aug 21) strong winds (15-20 knots), 2 foot waves.

Race 9
Wanted to start at the committee boat, but several others were below me and were drifting upstream, making barging a possibility. Bailed and sailed below these boats, got in the first row, just down from the boat. With 10 seconds to go, Brun pulled the trigger and started early to round the committee boat. Was carried close to the line, so bore off and accelerated up with the gun. Had good speed and height going off to the left. Played the shifts on the left and rounded first just ahead of Dennis Clark. Positions unchanged on the reaches and was unable to stretch my slim lead as hoped. The race committee had the two marks for the gate set at the end of the bottom reach, and I was very confused about which to round (or should I sail between the two?). Decided to round both, Clark behind me rounded the left mark only. On the second beat, put a loose cover on Clark, but he caught up to me on a few shifts. Rounded the top mark just ahead. On the run, he played a lane just to the right of me and passed me. Was surprised - he’s heavier and this should not have happened. Felt that I was sailing uphill more than downhill. Clark took the right gate mark to go left, I did the opposite, then tacked onto port. He appeared to be well ahead. Worked hard to catch up - did not work. Finished 10 seconds behind him. Race duration: 60 minutes.

Was concerned about two things: was I over early in the current and had I rounded the bottom mark correctly? Went to the committee boat and was very disappointed to learn that I had in fact started too early. Had to count my 6 instead of my 2, Brun had to count his 6. Still 3 points back with one race to go. Brun sailed an unusually poor race by his standards. Another competitor said that he was obviously saving energy for the final race.

Race 10
Pin favored, started 10 up from the pin with Brun very close to the pin. He and I jumped out, him footing and me pointing higher. After a few minutes, he tacked but could not cross me, so ducked me and then tacked under a few boats to windward. He later tacked, I waited for a slight knock, then tacked onto a long port tack. At the first mark, Mike French rounded first, Brun crossed me on starboard, and I rounded 3rd. French and Brun sailed high and approached the jibe mark at a bad angle in the current. I sailed lower and got room on both. On the next reach, sailed high to protect the passing lane. Brun followed and we fought it out 150 yards above the other boats. I eventually broke free by surfing directly downwind in a hole but with good waves. At the mark, had inside room on French and Dennis Clark who had caught up and rounded just ahead. The race committee had left in the second gate mark and Brun apparently took the right mark and rounded it. After about10 seconds, realizing his mistake, he returned and rounded the correct mark (I saw him coming back) - lost 5 places in the process. Put on a loose cover on Clark (wanted him to get well ahead of Brun) and kept slightly ahead (see note below about the setup). Rounded 10 seconds in front. On the run, stayed close to Clark and was able to keep in front. Coutts played the right and worked his way into 2nd. Took the right gate with Coutts right behind me. Clark and Brun took the left gate to go inside. Worked to the middle left and then played to shifts. Won by 40 seconds with Coutts second. The right shore did not work, Clark finished 6 and Brun 7. To win the event, I needed one more master to finish 3rd, 4th, or 5th. Unfortunately, they were all apprentices, so I only gained 2 points on Brun. Race duration: 70 minutes.

Mistakes made:

  • They say that if you do not OCS once in a while, you’re not aggressive enough at the starts. However, this OCS was totally avoidable. I misjudged the current.
  • Dennis Clark is very fast upwind in a breeze. However, him passing me downwind was unacceptable. I seemed to be sailing uphill the entire leg.
What worked:

  •  In the second race, had a very rare feeling that I also felt in Chile. Sailing on starboard, wearing boots (normally I sail barefoot), with my feet under the straps a certain way, with the pads of my hiking pants in the right place, with lots of cunningham and vang, fairly tight foot (more than usual), pinching slightly, and healing the boat a little more than normal, got into a “groove” that made the boat feel perfectly balanced, light, and comfortable. Hard to describe, but it’s extremely fast in a breeze with very little effort. Almost like sailing another boat with a remote control. After the race, continued to sail the 1.5 miles upwind to the beach the same way with little effort.
  •  Felt really good after 2 hard races.
Final standings:
Brun won, I finished 2nd one point back. The OCS in race 9 cost me the series. Also, at the closing ceremonies, Peter Branning, who was over early in the last race, said that Brun was also over early, but the committee did not get his number. While disappointed to be beaten by such a narrow margin, was satisfied with the results because (1) I never considered myself highly competitive in a breeze and (2) Brun was definitely faster for most of the series.

One final observation: the fleet usually has different starts by age category. For the first time in years, we sailed a major regatta together. In the physically demanding conditions, I would have expected the younger apprentices to dominate. The only apprentice to finish in the top 5 was Rob Coutts, who finished 3rd. All else were masters.
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