September 05, 2009

2009 Laser Master World Championships (Halifax, Canada)

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.

Fred Schroth and my boat on their way to the Worlds
Today we're hunkered down riding out the hurricane. So far not all that exciting. It’s raining really hard but winds here are in the 20-30 range and we still have internet. It looks like the meat of the hurricane is well to the east of us.

Yesterday saw another day of winds from the "right" direction, though a bit more left than "normal", at 180. We sailed way over to towards the west side of the bay, near the shoreline, in general the winds as you get to the shore will be lighter and a bit right shifted. We sailed out through 15-18 to arrive at the start area in 12-15, or less and, from the racing. I'd say that the general trend is fairly accurate. In my races (blue fleet, inner trapezoid), the first beat was a big win for the boats on the right since they held pressure. However, the second beat saw the left win because it got soft on the right. I went left the first beat, right the second so did it exactly backwards. With the top 20-30 boats a "bit" faster on the runs there is no coming back from mistakes like that.

For the second race the fog started to come back in and the right stayed in a lighter phase. I went left on first beat and was actually doing really well, maybe even my best race when I misinterpreted Tim Pitt's "NO" as a "GO" and fouled him pretty badly. Two circles later and that race was in the history books. Anyway, left paid both beats with more pressure.

General impression was that the outer loop had more pressure the whole day, cannot say which side was favored on their beats but on our runs I did note a number of boats sailing upwind on what would be the right side.

After the hurricane the wind will get pretty screwy for the rest of the series, with Monday predicted to be northwest (our homeowner says that will be very puffy and shifty), Tuesday potentially nothing and Wednesday with breeze again. Then the general weather pattern should start re-establishing itself in time for the masters, though I think the daily highs are plummeting rapidly.

It looks like I missed the silver fleet by about 15 points which was just moving up into the low thirties in the races yesterday.

Masters are beginning to arrive, expect to start to see lots of boats sailing starting Monday. But I don't think they are going to get anything out of it with the wind in the wrong direction.

Here’s my game plan:
  • Focus on starts by managing the box and bumping the hip
  • Be mindful of Gerz and Bethwaite
  • Focus on new starboard tack speed
  • Be in the top 5 at the first mark
  • Use weight to steer and keep surfing downwind
  • Hold position downwind
  • Avoid a throw-out for first 2 days, then reassess
We have another hurricane on the way – due on Sunday!!!

A total of 8 hours on the water – windy, pissy starts, slow upwind, fast downwind.

Day 1

Race 1: We waited awhile for the sea breeze to kick in, 14-20 from the southeast, waves building to 3 feet, on the inner trapezoid. Short line, boat favored, started 1/3 of the way down above Mark. No speed off the line, got rolled by a Canadian, looked for and found another lane two above. Everyone went left. Got into a groove and rounded 4th behind Mark, Bill Symes (USA), Jack Schlachter (AUS, same club as Slingsby), and just ahead of Gerz (GER). A good recovery, OK so far. On the long run, was able to catch Jack at the bottom mark to round 3rd. Gerz still 5th and was surprised he did not catch us. Upwind we all went left and then Mark and Bill went right and I followed, Gerz continued left. At the mark, Gerz came in 50 yards ahead to take the lead. Jack out-ground me putting me in 5th. Speed is good on the reach and run. Caught Jack and Bill at the end of the bottom reach to round 3rd. The group, still tight, split and I went left with Jack who was faster in the breeze. Finished 5th just behind Alan Keen (RSA) and Jack, although Jack has been marked DNS which is a mistake. Race duration: 80 minutes.

Race 2: Wind and waves still building, started at about 5 PM with the same line. Started 1/3 down below JAP who I cannot find in the standings and was sure he was over early. Got rolled by JAP!!! Could not see a lane for about 3 minutes, then put in two tacks to get some breathing space. Shitty start, in the teens already. Could not read the compass or play the shifts, so was not sure why people were tacking. Played the left near Mark. Approached the windward mark in 3rd but could not clear a group of boats, so tacked below them. Could not make the mark so jibed abound to round 10th. Damn!! Passed 2 on the run and to go left again. Gerz ahead and then the pack with Mark in the middle. Felt OK in the breeze but really had no game plan except protecting the left. Heard the ripping sound and immediately knew that Pam’s warning to me was right. Another damn!! My clue tie down strap gave, so I had no control of the foot or leach. Blowing about 18-20, so had to pinch with the flat sail and no leach tension. Rounded the weather mark about 8th. Good speed on the reach, run, and then reach. Worked the boat really hard on the final beat with Gerz punched out chased by Mark. Approached the finish line on port in 3rd but could not quite clear a very fast Regis (FRA) who had a pack on his hip. Tacked below and then realized that the pin was way-unfavored. Lost 5 boats on the finish line. Crap! Another 80 minute race.

So, we were on the water for 8 hours, the racing was windy, and I’m in 6th place.

The good news: Pam’s boat is beautiful, but I’ve got to change the lines because the vang, downhaul, and shock chord are all black and make a great knot. So-so speed upwind in the breeze and good wind downwind.

The bad news: bad starts, not race-hardened. I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard at a previous worlds. One person was really mad at himself saying that he never makes these mistakes at his club. And his friend said, at your club, those were not mistakes.

I know I can move up, but lighter wind would help.

Turns out that Jack Schlachter (AUS) was scored incorrectly, so I’m bumped down to 7th. And the person who rolled me in the first race was Ken Brown (CAN) and in fact was over early.

A total of 8 hours on the water – less wind, good starts, great upwind, fast downwind.

Day 2

Race 3: 6-10 from the South. Started mid-line with a good lane. Punched out with excellent starboard tack speed – one of my weaknesses I’ve been working on. Doing something I’ve never done before – cleating the main and focusing on steering. The fleet went to the predicted left. Tacked at the lay line and the fleet followed. Led by 20 seconds at the first mark. Was the only one to try sailing by the lee on the run and doubled my lead by the bottom mark. So far, so good. Went left again and the fleet followed. Then, the unexpected – part of the lead pack including Mark and Gerz tacked on a shift. I thought crap, gotta go with them. So took a header to foot across to them, remembering Steve Bourdow’s ‘a lead is not for saving but for spending.’ Got on top of Gerz for a long port tack time. Could not roll him – very fast! He tacked near the starboard tack lay line and I lee bowed him. We traded tacks and he crossed me near the mark. Damn! I protected the right, got a little more pressure, and crossed him and tacked onto port. He “suggested”I tack on the lay line which I ignored. Tacked 10 seconds later and he followed. I barely cleared the mark (tide) and he had to put in 2 more tacks. While all this was happening Rob Lowndes (AUS) came in from the left and rounded in first. So it was Rob, me, Gerz, and Mark who had caught up. On the reach, run, and bottom reach Gerz tried sailing high and low to pass but we finished in that order. Rob sailed really well and Gerz finished just behind me. Race duration 70 minutes.

Race 4: Another good start but did not punch out. In fact, Mark and Gerz got an inside lift. After 5 minutes, I tacked onto port and Mark tacked above me and Gerz below. I thought that this will be good with my port-tack speed. Got above Gerz but could not out-foot Mark – very fast. Mark tacked when he got to the starboard tack lay line and I followed. Four more beat us coming in from the left, so I rounded in 6th with Bill Symes (USA) leading. In the dying breeze caught Mark and another to round 4th. We all went left again and then started to play the shifts. Passed another and was in 3rd when a 90 degree righty and velocity forced the race committee to abandon the race. Damn – was ahead of Mark and Gerz was deep.

The good news: Back up to 3rd overall because of good speed both upwind and down. Much better starts. Still a long way to go.

The bad news: none – it’s a privilege to compete with these people.

Day 3 10-15 shifty from the north, choppy waves, worst ever starts, OK upwind, good downwind.

Race 4: Talked with people before the start, got different feelings for what the wind would do. Felt it would clock and die and took out my light air mainsheet that was not needed. Lined up in the lower half not too close to the line, was more crowded than I expected. With 10 seconds to go, got a huge knock that meant I could not clear the pin. And the boat on my hip could not tack (Mark and Gurz could and finished 2, 3). So, was forced to stop and wait for most of the fleet to pass before tacking. Not much wind back there! Tacked several times looking for a lane and was one of the last to clear the line. Ouch. Went left looking for clear air and the breeze went right. The leaders stretched out as I rounded with just 6 boats behind me. Slowly crawled my way back from 31 to 18. One really miserable race. The truly great sailors can recover from a bad start. Not me this time.

Race 5: Same start, same lefty, and same jam at the pin!!!!!! Could not believe it! Could not ever remember this happening and it was 2 for 2 today. And was in good company again. This time Mark could not tack and was with me as people went by. He bailed and went left not to be seen again (finished 32nd). I went right and this time followed the fleet, rounding a distant 18. Might have passed a few on the run. On the next work, went right to get some separation from the lead pack that went left. Thought the right had more pressure. We converged with the pack forming a wall about 100 yards to windward. Played as few shifts in the middle and got a nice inside shift and pressure at the mark, moving into 7th. Whew! Passed 2 on the reach and had as group of about 8 just behind on the run with Jack right behind. Carved to stay just ahead on the long run only to get rolled by Jack on the lower reach. Finished 6th. Could have been alot worse.

The good news: a character-building day. Good speed downwind, am getting a feeling for the waves. And only dropped 3 places to 6th overall.

The bad news: two really, really, really bad starts. Not sure what I would do differently – being closer to the line risks an OCS. A 20 degree knock at the gun is unusual and puts you at the mercy of bunch of slower boats.

We’re half way through this world championship – a really challenging and fun event. Tomorrow is a rest day. Racing resumes on Thursday. I will be moving up.

Two really, really, really bad starts. Not sure what I would do differently. With the benefit of a little rest, here’s what I’d do differently. Jibe immediately, duck the fleet, and go right to get clear air. My definition of a good start is whether or not you have clear air after 20 seconds. In both races it took me at least a minute, so they were really bad. Ducking the fleet on the line keeps my 20-second definition with all of the options to continue right or tack back with the fleet. The challenge is admitting the start is a disaster and cutting your losses, even before the gun goes if possible.

Day 4 15-20 steady south, great starts, looong beats upwind, easy-to-catch waves

Race 6: Few boats at the favored pin end so started up from Mark and Fred. We charged off to the left. Speed was not quite as fast as others, in spite of wearing a heavy top to gain a little weight. Boats converged at the top mark in a large group with me in the middle, somewhere around 15th. Passed a few on the run. On the next looooong beat Jack Schlachter (AUS) punched out. Could not read the compass and never got a feel for the small shifts in the sea breeze but was able to gain and round 7th. On the reach, run, reach, and final beat was able to hold off Robert Blakey (NZL). Here’s the deal – even wearing wet clothing I cannot hang with the top 5 in a breeze. The speed differences are minor and I’m finishing about 20 seconds behind 3rd place, but I cannot close the gap.

Race 7: Boat favored line and “the boat” must be 70 feet long, so it was time to try something a little different. Edged past the stern of the boat with 20 seconds to go with the leader Gerz below and held until the gun. Bang, a perfect boat-end start. Tried really, really hard to roll him for about 5 minutes but he eventually squirted out. We crossed Mark and Jack when they tacked. Tacked onto the port tack lay line with Gerz just above me. The front row of 8 boats were very even in these slogging conditions. At the mark, Fred Schroth (USA) came in from the hard right to lead by 100 yards! Go (225 pound) Fred!! I rounded about 6th. Lost Alan Keen (RSA) on the long run but passed Jack. Followed Gerz left while Fred and Mark went right. Another long slog which I do not remember much of, except everyone was hiking hard with very minor speed differences. Rounded 8th and held even for the rest of the race. Mark and Gerz reeled in Fred who finished a really good 3rd.

The good news: Mark and Gerz punch out eventually, the rest of the lead pack is very even. Positions 3-10 finish within about 30 seconds. Boat handling is excellent, no one is tipping, everyone is playing by the rules and are sailing in a courteous manner.

The bad news: none – just wish I weighed a little more for grinding in the breeze. Above 20 everyone is overpowered. Between 15 and 20, weight is really important. Need wind below 15!!!

Day 5 15-20 south again, poor starts, looong beats upwind, easy-to-catch waves, Gerz wins worlds

Race 8: After watching the previous start, wanted to go right so set up at the boat end but a little late, started in the 3rd row and tacked immediately. Charged off to the right with Bill Symes (USA) above and Fred below. Boats very even. We tacked after about 5 minutes and were horrified to see a 20 degree lefty coming through the fleet. Rounded in the mid-twenties. Ouch. Good speed on the run but the fleet was really spread out. May have picked another boat off on the long beat and, for the first time, got a good feeling on the reaches. What worked was pushing the boat sideways down a wave, like the way you move your pelvis on a swing. At times the boat was surfing while heeled to windward. Felt fast and gained 200’ on those around me. Caught another few on the final beat because of a small righty to finish 12th. Bill and Fred had less luck catching up, finishing 18 and 29. No more playing the right.

Race 9: Going left for sure. Accelerated 5 up from the pin just above Mark but got rolled. Must not have judged this line correctly and one of the boats above me was OCS. Tacked a few times looking for a lane. Felt slow with no real plan, just trying to stay in clear air. About 1/3 of the fleet was better at grinding in the breeze. Rounded about 15 in traffic. Same old story – caught some on the run by carving in the waves (felt really good) and then lost them on the next beat (felt really bad). Caught a few on the reach, run, and then reach. Finished 11th.

More action on shore: Gerz leads Mark by 4 points with one more day to go, but mathematically Mark cannot beat him. Mark protested Gerz for “hunting” and it’s the first time I’ve seen him protest someone in the 38 years I’ve known him. Gerz was on starboard and Mark was on port, ducking. The protest was disallowed for lack of evidence. So, Gerz wins.

A sad moment. Mark, me, and a British sailor named Keith Wilkins (who could not make it) have between us won a Laser master worlds every year since 1990 (Keith 10 times, Mark 6 and me 2).

Less wind from then north forecast tomorrow. I’m in 6th nine points out of 5th and cube. Would really like to move up a notch. Then, it’s home after want feels like a very long trip.

Day 6 5 from the north, shifty, no racing

Race 10: I talked with Mark to tell him that he had an outside chance of still winning. He needed 2 races with either a 1-1 or 1-2 and Gerz had to finish no better than 4th in both races. It was not meant to be. The wind was 5 and shifty – perfect for me but conditions that are deemed to be unsuitable for a Laser world championship. So after more than 4 hours on the water, we headed back to the club for the final time.

The Grand Masters was a tough fleet – former Sunfish world champ Ted Moore finished 21 and former World Master Games champ Gary Orkney finished 23. But the toughest fleet was the Masters with about 100 competitors. Scott Ferguson sailed a great series and became only the 4th US Master World Champion.

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