September 28, 2002

2002 Laser Master World Championships (Hyannis, USA)

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 so that others might learn something from them.

9-21-02: Watching the open Laser World Championships last week: the course is set about 2 miles southeast of the Hyannis Port harbor entrance. For this distance, the water is surprisingly shallow (15-25 feet) which will make large waves choppy and the tide strong (full moon tomorrow).

When the wind is from the southwest: strong onshore conditions, wind 15-30 with big 4-6 foot choppy waves. The left side of the course seems to pay. When the wind is from the northeast: lighter offshore conditions, wind strength of 5-12. Big shifts, and again the left seems to pay.

Olympic Gold medallist Robert Scheidt won his 6th Laser Worlds by taking advantage of a large starting line sag (there are no good line sights) and blasting off to the middle-left. Tacking back onto port, he crosses the fleet and rounds in the top 10. He then used his downwind speed for a top 5 finish. There were lots of very fast people but none as consistent.

For the Master Worlds, we have a record 83 competitors from 15 countries. Of the many world-class sailors here, the following I believe are the ones to watch:
  • Jack Schlachter (AUS) – fast in all conditions, has almost won the Worlds twice
  • Mark Schroder (AUS) – very fast in all conditions, currently the fastest Aussie
  • Ed Adams (USA) – multiple World Champion, lives and practices locally, has been training very hard and really wants this one – the early favorite to win
  • Mark Bethwaite (AUS) – multiple World Champion, almost unbeatable in heavy air (all the Aussies excel in a breeze)
  • Malcolm Courts (GBR) – very fast, smart, and consistent – finished 5th at the last Worlds
  • Rob Coutts (NZL) – a heavy weather specialist, brother of 2-time Americas Cup winner
It’s hard to imagine, but one of these people will not finish in the top 5.

Getting ready: I trained for 8 months this time and put in over 100 hours of on-the-water practice before arriving and just over 20 hours since arriving. I cannot believe how fast people are and thought I was in good shape, but not relative to many others. This is my 11th Worlds and will undoubtedly be the most physically demanding.

Latest trick: the waves are up to 6’ high and catching them downwind can be a hairy experience. A friend of mine suggested that I sit much further back when surfing which makes the boat go faster but makes it unstable as it’s fastest just before capsizing (I tipped twice yesterday). Lots of people who practice on the ocean can do this much better than I can.

Strategy: Dallas has no open water or wave conditions. Also, the fleets are small, so large starts and fleet strategy are problematic (I’ve never won an event with more than 60 competitors). When it’s lighter: my strengths are boat speed and percentage sailing (worst finish in any Worlds race since 1994 is a 13th). So, I plan to start in the middle taking advantage of the sag and then look for Ed Adams to hit the first shift. I then plan to use a loose cover to watch him and use boat speed. The good news is this is how I beat the unbeatable Keith Wilkins in Chile. The bad news is that Adams spanked me last year at this same location (he won all 4 races to win the North Americans). When it’s windy: it’s going to be a drag race to the first mark and then catching as many big waves as possible without tipping.
Racing starts tomorrow. The forecast: lots of wind

Day 1 – 5-10 from the southwest, small choppy waves,

Race 1: The strong winds did not come and it was a tough day for most of the favorites. The tide was ebbing from left to right, so the fleet went left. I started 10 up from the pin just below Ian Lineberger (USA) but could not hold my lane, so I tacked and took a few sterns. Trying to go left, this repeated a few more times. Played a few minor shifts in the middle left while trying to stay in clean air – there were boats everywhere. Ed Adams (USA) rounded first, I rounded 5th. On the run, went left to not fight the tide. The boats on the right had more pressure and about 10 passed, so I switched sides trying to stay in a clear lane. Got inside at the gate and rounded 9th (the boats near me on the left that did not switch sides rounded in the 30’s). Played the middle left playing some minor shifts and rounded 6th at the top mark just ahead of Alberto Larrea (ARG) and Had Brick (USA). Held them off for the top reach, run, bottom reach, and final beat to finish 6th. The race was won by Adams, who looked very fast. The big surprise was that none of the Aussies finished well. Race duration: 80 minutes.

Race 2: The tide was less strong, so the course was more even. I started about 20 up from the pin in good pressure but could not hold my lane as I got rolled by the boat on top of me. Took sterns, never really got in phase in the middle left, and approached the top mark in about 15th. A long parade of boats from the right lead at the mark with Adams again leading. I rounded about 30th. The rest of the race is a bit or a blur and one that I would rather forget. Part of it was the second windward mark when our fleet (82 boats) rounded right in the middle of the Radials (about 50 boats) in a huge jam. Adams again won and I finished 29th. For many, an appalling race and, hopefully, our drop. Race duration: 80 minutes.

Day 2 – rain, 12 from the southwest, dying to a northerly, small choppy waves

Race 3: The fleet got away on the second start in a great breeze. The pin was 15 degrees favored to spread the fleet away from the committee boat. Ed Adams (USA) won it with a dangerous but perfectly timed pin start. I started more conservatively in the middle with a good lane. After about 5 minutes going left, Jack Schlachter (AUS) and I had punched out. As we approached the mark, Adams came from the left and crossed us by a few boat lengths. Schlachter and I were in good pressure and continued until the port lay line, where we tacked. From there, we watched as half the fleet came in from the right with more pressure. Adams rounded first, Mark Bethwaite (AUS) was second. Jack and I rounded about 40th. Absolutely unbelievable. The top reach turned out to be a run against the tide and all the boats in front went high, so I went low to stay in clear air. The run was now a reach in the dying breeze, which made catching the boats against the tide more difficult. The beat with the tide was short and the run took forever. I tried to squeeze inside at the mark to gain a few places, which did not work because of the tide, so did my circles. The course was shortened at the end of the bottom reach. Adams won again in very impressive fashion, Bethwaite was disqualified for starting early. I finished 28th. Race duration: 90 minutes. There was no more racing, so we were towed in. I asked Adams why he crossed the fleet instead of covering the lead group and he said that the clouds on the right indicated more pressure. The entire day was overcast, so whatever it was, I missed it. This Worlds is unusual because only one of the people expected to do well is actually in the hunt (Adams). All of the others are struggling,

Day 3 – rain, fog, cold, 15 building to 25 from the north, big waves

The forecast called for a dying breeze (wrong), so the race committee posted an early start on Monday night. When we got to the club in the morning, it was windy, so we headed 3 miles out into the rain and the fog. Before they could start, there was news of lightning in the area so, with 280 competitors to care for, the race committee sent us back in. It was upwind, so it took an hour. After a brief rest and hot chili, we headed back out.

Race 4: The strong tide today was going from right to left. I started mid-line. A shift to the left meant there was a large jam at the pin committee boat and I barely cleared it. Footed off to the left with a boat on top of me that would not tack until near the port lay line. Tacked as soon as I could and was at the left end of an even row of about 5 boats on port heading up the course. The tide took us past the mark so we lost ground to the boats from the right. Fred Schroth (USA) led, I rounded about 10th. We were on the inner-loop today, so the next run was hairy with the waves. Caught a few but was focusing more on not tipping. Spent the rest of the race with Coutts (NZL) who was fast upwind but also had trouble downwind. Finished 10th, series leader Ed Adams (USA) finished 16th. Race duration: 70 minutes.

Race 5: The breeze continued to fill. I started near the committee boat and watched Mark Bethwaite (AUS) punch out near the pin. Played a few minor shifts on the right as most boats went left, which paid. Rounded about 20th. Felt slow on the run trying really hard not to tip as others around went in. Stayed with the leaders and rounded the next windward mark about 14th. The top reach was a screamer, as was the run. Felt slow as others caught me on the bottom reach. On the short final beat, saw and cleared a bunch of weeds on my board and finished 17th after a tactical mistake. The good overseas sailors finally got their act together: Bethwaite had a 4, 1 while Jack Schlachter (AUS) had a 7, 3. Race duration: 75 minutes. We got back to the club at 6:30 as it was getting dark.

As challenging and frustrating as this can be, there is no better bunch of people to be with and no greater challenge that I know of. Today I moved up from 18th to 12th and am just behind Bethwaite. Other USA sailors are doing great and currently hold the top 5 positions - by far our best showing at the Worlds. Wednesday is a rest day. The forecast is for lots more breeze, so there’s lots more to come.

Day 4 – rain, 15 falling to 12 from the east, big waves

Race 6: A strong tide was running from left to right, so the fleet stayed back from the line to prevent starting early. We got away cleanly, sailing the outer loop today. This race summarizes my Worlds to date: got away cleanly with my own lane, missed the first shift, could not get into phase with all the traffic, and rounded in the high teens. Was able to make up a little ground and then got into a brain-dead (my fault) luffing match with Nick Livingson (GBR) on the bottom reach which allowed the pack behind to catch up. Rounded the final mark, went through a huge wave that filled up the cockpit, made a tactical error, and finished 23rd. Ouch. Race duration: 75 minutes.

Race 7: This race summarizes just about everything going correctly: started mid-fleet as everyone charged off to the left. Could not point, and did not like the “feel”, so took a few sterns and went right on what seemed to be a lift. Played a few shifts on the right with a few others as the main pack came back on port, headed. Rounded first just ahead of Fritz Bus (AHO), had a good reach and run to stay in front of him and Mark Bear (USA) by 5 seconds. On the next beat, the fleet split, so I decided to cover Mark and we played the middle. At different times, the left and right looked better. Rounded with Mark still in first. Worked ahead in the waves and then he caught up at the bottom of the run. Was yellow-flagged (not sure why yet – seemed to be clean) trying to get room. Did my 720 and rounded about 10 seconds behind Mark, which was reduced to 5 seconds by the end of the bottom reach. Rounding the mark, I tacked into the traffic and he covered. When I tacked back onto port, he lee-bowed me but had trouble pointing in the waves. He tacked again to get me on starboard and we were even – I decided to protect the right as we were near the finishing line, so ducked him and sailed to the starboard lay line and tacked. When we met on the finish line, I could clear him, tack below him, or tack on top of him. With the big waves and even line, decided to continue to the pin as he headed for the boat. Won by 2 seconds – a good race. Duration: 85 minutes.

We’re feeling the effects of hurricane Isidore – cold with lots of rain. Four more races to go…

Day 5 – rain, 10 from the east falling to 5, clocking to the north and then west

Race 8: The strong tide was going from left to right, which put 1/2 the fleet over early at the committee boat. Under a black flag, we tried to start again and some of the favorites were nailed (Ed Adams, Mark Bethwaite). After a long delay for the westerly to settle in, we started again under another black flag, this time going into the current. I started in the middle of the line, using the center line of my boat as a line-site. Most were well back, so ended up starting about 30 feet in front of my group. Looked very good for the first minute, then the boats below began to lift, as did the ones above. With the possibility of the wind continuing to go left and the risk of getting trapped to the right of the top mark fighting the current, decided to continue left just above the main pack. The boats that started at the committee boat then got a huge lift with more pressure while the main pack below continued unaffected. Felt that it was time to change plans, so went right to join that smaller pack. At the mark, was in the middle of the right pack and well in front of the left pack in about 20th place. On the run, went right to counter the strong current going left. Staying in clear air and rounded 10th at the bottom gate. The next beat was very long and was spent searching for pressure as we fought the current. Rounded 11th as many of the positions changed. The top reach, run, and bottom reach were close with lots of boats all around. Was able to hang onto 10th on the final beat and finish. Race duration: 90 minutes. It was 3:30 with no more time for a second race and it took another 90 minutes to sail back to the club. The results have not been posted but am probably in 10th place - if this is so, I'm grateful to be in the top ten with such inconsistent results, but this has been true for most competitors.

We have two more races but my gut tells me that the remnants of Isidore (20-30 knots forecast) will give the race officials a good reason to not send 280 boats 5 miles back into the rain and the fog.

Day 6 – 20 building to 30+ from the north, big waves

The rain and fog cleared leaving a bright, windy day. There was a tie for the lead between Ed Adams (USA) and his training partner Mark Bear (USA), with the tie break favoring Adams. Adams loves light conditions but cannot compete against the heavier Bear when it’s windy. The race committee was in a tough position – race in borderline conditions and let Bear win or play it safe and let Adams win. After long delay, they sent us out for a 2:00 start. I had mentioned to the principal race officer Jeff Martin that people take advantage of his good nature by only having a black flag after a recall. Sure enough, the black flag was used on our first start. There was a huge sag in the line – I started mid-line again using the center line of my boat for a line sight and was able to start 30 feet in front of the middle pack. Peter Vessella (USA) was just below and we charged off to the left. After a few minutes, Mark Bethwaite (AUS), Tracy Usher (USA), and Ian Lineberger (USA) also punched out above us. The rest of the beat was interesting as the latter three got ahead but were out of phase so Vessella and I were able to keep up and we all rounded in a tight group with Usher leading. Bear and Adams were nowhere in site. We were sailing the inner loop, so the next leg was a run – another screamer. I played it safe and missed lots of waves that could have been caught and was surprised to still be even with Lineberger and ahead of Bethwaite at we approached the bottom mark. Out of the left came Adams, catching every wave and living very dangerously. He rounded 3rd with Bear 4 positions back. On the next beat, I had major problems with weeds and had problems clearing them. With 10th overall position secure, I decided to watch the race and try a few new things, such as sailing low on the top reach (worked) and by the lee on the next run (did not work). The only way I could clear the weeds on my ruder was by going head-to-wind (not being able to catch waves made everything very unstable). The best part was watching Bear try to run down Adams with conditions gusting over 30. He ran out of time as Adams finished 3rd, 5 places ahead. I talked with Mark Bethwaite afterwards and we agreed that it was a world-class performance. Race duration: 50 minutes.

Five things I would do differently:
  • For the first time, the top Masters have their own coach boats to help them with logistics.
  • Training in Dallas will no longer cut it – need practice on the ocean with big waves, weeds, etc.
  • Need big fleet experience. Adams and Bear sail two times a week with 35 boats. The English get over 100 boats for even small events. There is no way to simulate big fleet conditions.
  • Boat speed will not win worlds – smarts wins worlds.
  • Learn more about the weather. Losing at least 25 positions in race 3 killed any chance of a top-5 result.
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