September 30, 2006

2006 Laser Master World Championships (Jeju Island, Korea)

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 so that others might learn something from them.

Question: where would you find what top US sailor Andrew Campbell called 'blistering gusts' mixed with small patches of very little wind, and shifts up to an unbelievable 180 degrees? Answer: at the 2006 Laser Master World Championships in Jeju Island, Korea. Jeju is off the south coast of Korea and is known for its strong winds (a rough translation of a local island is "windier than shit"). I've just returned from the spectacular opening ceremonies. Competition starts tomorrow (Sunday).
The open worlds concluded 3 days ago and I talked with the Aussie Tom Slingsby who came second out of 128 competitors from about 40 countries. His comments:
  • These dead wind patches are very unusual for open water. Very hard to see with the 6-8 foot waves. Very slow if you get stuck in one.
  • Sailing upwind, he tries to look 2 waves ahead so he can punch through the breaking ones. He never sailed block-to-block and relied on footing really fast. Sailed with more foot than usual.
  • Sailing downwind, he used lots of vang to make things more stable – usually in what he called survival mode. For a sailor of his caliber, this means very difficult conditions. Every single sailor was capsizing.
  • Races are unlikely in less than 15 knots because the wind gets so shifty.
This is nothing like White Rock Lake in Dallas, so this will definitely be on-the-job training. I’m now a Grand Master and everyone seems to have a top ten finish in their resumes. I’ll be competing against some very fast Aussies who love these conditions. Should be fun.


About the scoring: there are several world championships going on at the same time on the same course. My start is for the “full rigs” for Laser Apprentices, Laser Masters, and Laser Grand Masters (my division). Here’s where it get complicated – the score for each race is where you finish in the entire fleet, not just your division (the normal way). There are two more things that add to the complexity – we all sail the same windward-leeward course which we share with the Laser “radials”, so there are boats everywhere. I’m only interested in my position for the Grand Master World Championships and am ignoring opportunities to pass other boats.

Day 1

Race 1: We went out for an 11:00 start as the breeze came from the north at about 5-10k. Then the breeze started to shift. It clocked 360 degrees twice and then settled down with 12k from the southeast. I started 2 up from the pin just below North American Champ Brodie Cobb. Got out from under him with good speed and then the race committee sounded a general recall. Next start was at the committee boat in clear air – and another recall. The third was at the committee boat just above another competitor, but I had to really pinch to keep my lane. Put in 2 quick tacks to get some breathing space and kept going left. A bunch of boats crossed on port as we were headed – could not see a good lane, so kept sailing in the knock for another 30 seconds (costing me about 5 places), then tacked onto port and joined the parade going right. Had good height in the sloppy, confused waves. Rounded 9th (1st Grand Master). Spent the next 2 legs changing places with Rob Lowndes (AUS, former 4th in the worlds) who is fast in these conditions. At the second windward mark, the current had started to pick up and made rounding it very difficult. I could have crossed Mark Bear (USA former 2nd in the worlds) but tacked below him. Dumb move, should have sailed on for a few more seconds to round easily. Instead, I just barely cleared the mark but was yellow-flagged for too much tiller movement. Did my 720. Going downwind, sailing by the lee did not work because of the chop makes the sail to hard to set. Rob and I continued to trade places upwind. On the final run, was able stay ahead of Rob and Mark and pass a Kiwi right on then finish line for an 8th place (1st Grand Master). Not a bad result after a 4 year break, but getting yellow-flagged was unfortunate. Next time will mean disqualification from that race.

Race 2: Same conditions from the southeast. Started at the committee boat and decided to go left inshore to stay out the current that flowing from east to west (towards us). Got to the left side and came back on the port tack lay line in traffic. Horrible choice as the pack came in from the right. Rounded about 18th. With my yellow flag, decided to not work the boat downwind and lost a few places. On the next beat, played the middle left to stay out of the current. Lots of changes in wind speed and direction – must have tacked a dozen times looking for some speed. Ended up on the left lay line again with the leaders well ahead. As my group approached the mark, it was clear that the current was about the same speed as our forward movement. So, we spent several minutes trying get enough momentum to round the mark. Ended up hitting the mark which is legal if I accept a 360 penalty turn, which I was happy to do – I was the only one in my group to round for the next minute, Jack Schlachter (AUS) could not round and finished 10 minutes behind me. This run was ridiculous. The wind dropped completely and then swung around so that we were beating again – another 180 degree shift. Ken Brown (CAN) who rounded 100 yards behind me finished 200 yards ahead of me at the end of the “run” and finish line in the shortened course. The fleet was spread out about a mile. Normally, an international race committee will abandon a race with a 30 degree shift (that was the reason for the second recall in the first race). We had to finish after an 180 degree shift. When the provisional results were posted, got a 15th (3rd Grand Master). This put me in first place for now in the Grand Masters, although the scoring is not yet official. In both races, the right side was better, in spite of the strong current coming at us. Lots more to come – 5 more days on the water.

Day 2

Race 3: In spite of a nice breeze from the south, we stayed on shore for several hours waiting for the shifts to settle down. We did not hit the water until about 2 in the afternoon. The oscillations of the 12-15 knot easterly continued and Jeff Martin finally got us started at about 3. The line was good and I started midline in clean air. General recall (damn). A leftie came in, so I started a little closer to the pin just below Mark Bear (USA) – boy, is he fast in these lumpy conditions. As he rolled me, tacked for clean air, worked the left side, and followed defending apprentice world champ Brett Bayer (AUS) on the port tack lay line. Looks a lot like Olympic gold medalist Robert Scheidt (BRA) in the boat – tall, smooth, and just more speed. Beautiful to watch. Brett rounded 2nd and went on to win by 100 yards. I rounded 9th. On the run, the waves were pretty easy to catch and there were some good rides. It’s easy to see who sails in these conditions because they get better, longer rides and can make up a lot of ground. One of these is Rob Lowndes (AUS) who called for room at the bottom mark but I was able to stay just ahead of him. Rob is really fast in all of the conditions so far and will be my main competition in the Grand Masters. On the next beat, the breeze picked up and I put a loose cover on him. On the next run, was in 6th, with a tight pack of 5 boats including Rob about 10 seconds back. The left gate was drifting so we all took the right and went on starboard. The plan was to go as far as possible to keep everyone together because a lead boat tacking tends to fragment the pack. Only Tracey Usher (USA) went right. Just before the port lay line, I tacked and the rest immediately followed. Was right on top of Rob in good shape until I noticed that he was footing much more than me. Realized that the current at the mark was going west to east and I would be over standing the mark by about 50 yards (vision issues). That permitted Brodie Cobb (USA), Tracy coming in from the right, Rob, and a very fast Derek Breitenstein (FIN) to round ahead. A very expensive mistake. Was able to hold on to 10th place in the finish on the run. It was too late for another race, so we headed in.

A clarification from yesterday – in the second race, I described hitting the mark and then doing a 360. It was never my intent to intentionally hit a mark, especially right in front of a judge, but the current forced me and many other frustrated people into it. To the best of my knowledge, everyone did their 360’s, and there was not objection from the judge.

Current standings: we will soon be able to discard our worst race. Taking this into consideration, I’m just 2 points in front of Rob and figure that overstanding the mark cost me 4 points. A very expensive lesson. We have 4 more days to go.

Beautiful scenery, great people, tight completion. This has got to be the best way anyone can spend their vacation.

Day 3

Looked like a carbon-copy of yesterday. We waited 2 hours on shore for the southerly to settle down and headed out a noon. The light breeze, fairly severe chop, and constant wind shifts prevented us from starting our next race. I practiced by lining up with several people and just could not keep up with them. Mark Bear (USA) suggested that I had too much vang, which works well on Dallas lakes but does not work on open water with the extra wave movement. Made the adjustment and my speed improved. The conditions did not and Jeff Martin sent us back to the beach at 3:00. Tomorrow is a lay day so there will be no racing until Thursday, with the forecast for more light conditions. Am still in 1st place in the Grand Masters just ahead of Rob Lowndes (AUS) and am looking forward to getting back on the water. Here's a picture of how the Aussies train when there is not enough wind.

Day 4

Another light, shifty breeze kept us on shore until about 2:00 when Jeff Martin sent us out into a 4-6 knot easterly. Had a good start in clear air near the pin with defending apprentice world champ Brett Beyer (AUS) on my hip. Wanted to go right but decided to stay with Brett because he has three bullets so far in the series. We tacked short of the lay line and went right into the current on a long header. Not looking good. Things collapsed as boats came in from both sides at the first mark. Rounded 18th with John Bentley (USA) to start the run into the current. Most of those in front went left where there is more current, so I decided to go a little right towards the shore to try to catch up. This worked as the right had more pressure and clearer air. Rounded 7th at the right gate in traffic between the 2 Finns. The boats going left were pinching, so I decided to play the middle left and a little defense with the people I need to beat. Positioned myself to be even with David Edmiston (AUS who is 13 points back), one boat behind Ken Brown (CAN who is 10 points back) and about 10 boats ahead of Rob Lowndes (AUS who is 2 points back). Everything was under control until the race committee abandoned the race for lack of wind. Most people I talked with (except Rob) would have preferred a shortened course. So, we have completed just 3 races in 4 days and have just 2 days more days to go. The forecast is for more light wind – a real surprise because it was so windy last week. This could well come down to the last race, if we can get one off.

Day 5

Yet another light, shifty breeze from all points on the compass. We did not even hit the water today. One more day to go – the sailing instructions have been changed so that we do not need another race to complete the championship but I hope that we can get at least another in. If we do race, I cannot let Rob Lowndes (AUS) beat me by more than one place. If it’s light and shifty again, then things could get really tricky. They key will be a clean start and mistake-free defensive sailing.
Waiting for the breeze to fill in
Day 6

The final day: we arrived early at the beach and PRO Jeff Martin sent us out in a very light easterly. Went out with my light-air mainsheet and took my regular one just in case. By the time we got to the starting area, it had built to 15 knots and this increased to 25. With the help of the Swiss coach, changed back to my regular mainsheet.

Race 4: Had a good start in the middle of the line. Tried to stay near Rob and rounded about 16th after a long beat. The waves were building from the southeast so it paid on the run to sail by the lee on starboard as they passed under the boat left to right. Living dangerously but fast. By the bottom gate, had caught Tim Landt (USA). I made the huge mistake of thinking that the mark was the right gate (wanted to go left to avoid the current) when it was actually the left gate (vision issues). Had to wait for 6 boats to round before undoing my mistake and re-rounding. A waste of good boat speed. Worked really hard to stay with the group and was able to pass a few by the top mark, including Rob. Held on for the rest of the race, repeating “don’t tip” 100 times on each run. Tactically ignored all but the Grand Masters and finished 16 (3rd GM). Rob was well back at 23rd so this was his discard, as he used his 18th from race 2. The Finn had a really good race to finished 10th, which put him in second 3 points back with Rob just 1 more point back.

Race 5: The next race was started immediately. Had a fair start but could not keep up with the Kiwi just below me. He was managing the large waves much better (they sail in these conditions all the time). Rob, my main competition, was below the Kiwi and tacked off to the right looking for clear air. I put a loose cover on him for the rest of the beat and rounded just behind the Finn. On the run, there were some screaming rides and the Finn capsized just in front of me. Sailed conservatively but fast enough to stay ahead of Rob. Finished 11th (1st GM) with Rob 14th. To show how tight the competition was, the Finn finished 21st from that one mistake. Was 7 points ahead of Rob and dog tired after the 2 long races in the big seas. Jeff Martin kept us on the course and we prepared for a third race for the day.

Race 6: Had a good start in clear air in the middle of the line with good speed and height. Everyone went left and inshore to get out of the current that was coming down the course. Was determined to keep Rob and the Finn close. On the second beat, Rob was just ahead of me and the Finn as we again went left. Everything seemed to be under control until the bottom of the second run. Rob took the left gate that meant I had to jibe onto port. Then something happened for the first time in my 30 years of Laser sailing – my mainsheet got jammed in the clue boom block. Not wrapped about the boom or twisted but jammed beside the pulley. I tried everything so I could sheet in but it would not budge. So, I went to the back of the boat and wrestled with the bloody thing in 25 knots. By the time everything was sorted out, I was in about 18th, with Rob leading my former group. How quickly things change. Was able to hold on to 16th on the run in the now huge waves by Dallas standards (don’t tip, don’t tip, don’t tip). Rob sailed really well and seemed to finish 5 or 6 boats ahead, but I could not really tell.

Final results: was cautiously optimistic but unsure of the final standings until they were posted. Won by 2 points over Rob – a really good sailor from Sydney and a very classy person both on the water and off:
·         Doug Peckover, USA (61 points)
·         Rob Lowndes, AUS (63 points)
·         Derek Breitenstein, FIN (71 points)
·         Bob Blakey, NZL (78 points)
·         Ken Brown, CAN (79 points)
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