June 04, 2012

2012 US Laser Nationals

by Doug

With just 16 full rigs registered, I decided to join the 46 boat radial fleet to get more competition and learn a little more about sailing the smaller rig. The results were surprising, to say the least.

This was a young, heavily supported bunch of sailors with no less than 15 coaching boats watching their every move. Actually, it felt more like a closely supervised summer camp with equipment that would put most fleets to shame. I saw a beautiful enclosed trailer that carried 2 lasers and had lots of spare parts and gear. It looked like it belonged to a Laser dealer but no, it belonged to one of the teams! Sailors came from as far away as New Zealand and included 2011 Youth World Champion Erika Reineke from the U.S. Just a few weeks ago, Erika came 8th in the radial worlds and beat Paige Railey who is our Olympic representative in London. Lots of talent!

Racing started on Thursday and the conditions were light and lumpy - something I like in a full rig. But in the radial, everything felt underpowered. We only finished one race and on the last leg I was passed by about 20 boats that went off the course to catch a huge right shift. I went to bed that night in 31st place. Ouch!

The conditions on Friday were the same with lots of holes and shifts, and I just could not get the boat going. With 2 mediocre finishes I ended the day in 21st place. These kids are good starters and fast all around the course! I went to bed Friday night hoping for the breeze to fill in.

And it did. On Saturday, we spent a total of 7 hours sailing 4 races in a 12-15 southerly with short, choppy waves. In my best race, I went hard right off the line to get a nice right shift and led at the first and second marks. But on the run, several surfed past me and for a short time, I was able to watch their techniques. The most impressive was Erika who gained 100 yards on me and 50 on the leaders. Her style is interesting to watch as she carves back and forth in a movement that looks like a pendulum. Very smooth and almost always on a wave. I thought, no problem - I'll get the leaders back again upwind. But they cranked on all of the controls and then pinched over the waves. I could not point as high and footing worked, but I just could not regain that distance upwind. So, I went to bed Saturday night exhausted and in 11th place with the realization that Laser sailing is now very much a downwind sport.

Sunday was again windy and we spent another 6 hours sailing the final 4 races. Two of them were so-so because of missed shifts. The other two had me leading, and I was able to copy the downwind techniques as the leaders reeled me in. It's very hard to describe, but it's all about wave selection, keeping your weight forward at the right time, and coaxing the boat around without too much tiller movement. The rides were better and I was able to hold off a flying downwind Erika to get a 4 and a 3 (had she been using a compass she would have been more in phase upwind and would have beaten me easily). So, I ended the event in 7th place, the only master, and old enough to be the grandfather of most of these kids!

Here's the best part - all of them were a pleasure to sail with. They were great starters, fast, aggressive but well within the rules, good at communicating (please sir, can we start now?), and very clean. There were no ridiculous roll tacks or intentional collisions at the marks that we see in other fleets. Several judge boats followed us closely and I only saw 2 yellow flags in the 11 races and both calls were picky, in my opinion.

I've always thought that you learn more in the middle of the fleet than at the front or back, and this Nationals proved that as there is so much to learn from these future rock stars. Did I miss sailing a full rig? Yes. Would I sail a radial with these kids again? Absolutely!

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