October 12, 2014

2014 Hyères FRA - 16th GM

by Doug
These are my Worlds race journals.  I 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.

Hyères Master Worlds - 2014

I don't often go to regattas outside Texas so arriving early to train is important (this is my first event outside Texas since Oman last year). Here's what I learned from the training:
  • Light air will be quite shifty for open water conditions.
  • Stronger winds from the east will have big waves.
  • The forecast often changes, right now it looks like a light-air series.
  • The 11:00 start will favor sailors who like lighter conditions.
  • At 168 pounds (76.6 kg) I'm one of the lightest people in the fleet 
On my way to pick up Pam from MRS on Friday night, I took and extended detour to see the Pont du Gard. If you like bridges (like me) and arches (like me) then this must see engineering nirvana. How the Romans figured that a stream 50 km away that was just 17 meters higher than the town needing the water is amazing. And the work required to get it there is stunning. I guess the thousands of people who visit each day must agree. Definitely worth a visit if you like this sort of thing.

 Day 1

The lack of wind kept us on shore until 3:30 PM, and the grand masters were sent out last in the 5-8 conditions. Our fleet of 90 was split in two with blue starting ahead of my white. The line was square with most boats staying at the committee boat end, so I drifted down the line with 2 minutes to go. Then my boom came in slightly and it felt like a knock. So I decided to go for a start near the pin knowing that a tack would be needed ASAP. A Swiss sailor tried the pass me to windward and then leeward but I stared him down while blocking him, and he slowed down. Got a good start with a clean lane and was able to tack onto the favored port tack within a minute to cross the fleet. Those on the left side got a good lift, the wind was slow to get to those on the right, so those on the left took the early lead. I watched Roberto Bini (ITA) in my window pass me to leeward - he was really fast! We tacked near the starboard tack layline and played the shifts. We were in the lead as the boats that had gone further left came in. Rounded first ahead of Bini... so far so good.

First mark rounding  - race winner Phil Paxton (CAN) rounded in 10th.

On the run, I went right (looking downwind) while Bini went left. We were both concerned with the lack of wind in the middle with the 40 boats behind us. At the bottom of the run, Bini had edged ahead and then made what I thought was a mistake. He rounded tight and high, so when I rounded right behind I was forced to tack and then he tacked to cover me. I've seen experienced sailors work together by footing a little at the mark to get away from the crowd. Instead, Bini kept tacking right on me as though we were match racing. With the exception of one fake tack that he fell for, he was right on top of me for the entire windward leg. As we approached the second windward mark, a bunch of boats with more pressure came in from the right and I lost 4 places, rounding 6th. On the top reach, the leaders bunched up and I was able to get room from Micael Ludgren (SWE) at the next mark.

On the long run, the leaders went way left (looking downwind) while Ludgren, the last in the group, went way right. The leaders took off to be 30 meters ahead but I thought that they would have trouble with the longer route. By the bottom mark, Ludgren had passed 6 to take the lead while the leaders came in still ahead, and Peter Sherwin (GBR) got inside to get ahead. I then spent the bottom reach and final beat trying to catch Sherwin while protecting against those right behind me. Finished 7th, with the first 6 all having led at one point.

Mistakes made:
  • Did not go after Bini on the first run.
  • Did not do more to keep track of those on the right on the second beat.
  • Did not stay with the leaders on the second beat.
The forecast is light winds until Thursday and then it will get breezy. With only one race completed, they must be concerned about staying on schedule and have cancelled the rest day. The combined results of the two grand master fleets can be seen here. Lots more racing to go.

Day 2

They kept us on shore again waiting for the breeze to settle down. The 250 standard sails were flapping in the boat park but the direction and strength kept changing, so we got one race off just before 6 PM. I was told that there was a slight current going from left to right (favored a pin start), the line was square (favoring a committee boat start), boats in the previous fleet on the left looked bad (favoring the boat end), and the windward mark was set to the left (favoring a pin), so with 1 minute to go, I really had no plan at all. Decided to start mid-line which happened to be between Roberto Bini (ITA) below and Peter Vessella (USA) above me.

The wind strength was about 6-8 with a nasty chop that was unlike anything I'd sailed in for a long time. So I powered up with a loose vang and tight traveler, loose foot and soft mainsheet. It worked and I pulled ahead enough to tack and cross. But I decided to stay with Roberto Bini (ITA) going left. I led Roberto and Peter at the first mark.

The run was tricky because some of the waves were catchable but there was always a jury boat nearby and I really didn't want to risk being yellow-flagged. Peter passed Roberto and almost caught me at the bottom of the run. We all took the favored right gate because it was closer and headed left again. On the next beat I focused on Roberto and Peter caught me on port-starboard. He called out "cross" but I heard him too late and decided to duck him, allowing Peter to take the lead. At the end of the second windward leg, Peter rounded first with me just behind and Roberto following. Peter has world-class speed catching small waves but the three of us stayed in the same position for the reach and first part of the following run. Peter then caught some waves that Roberto and I missed and shot ahead for good to win the race. I spent the rest of the run, reach, and final beat trying to stay just ahead of Roberto, covering him to the finish line.

We have completed the first 2 of 12 scheduled races, so there's lots more to come and it looks like it will be getting much windier. The combined results of the two grand master fleets can be seen here.  With a 7, 2 I've moved up from 14th to 7th. Tough crowd.

Day 3

After a rain delay we headed out as the wind built from the prevailing east. By the time it was our start it was up to 15 knots. With the building waves, I found it hard again to read the wind direction and line setting. With 2 minutes to go, I decided to start right at the committee boat and the fleet got away on the first try. There was a left shift and one boat actually tried to port-tack the fleet. I tacked onto port to get over to the right for when the breeze came back again. With the waves building and everything strapped in tightly, everything felt good. Approaching the starboard tack layline, the breeze thankfully went right and I tacked onto a lift. Was very surprised to see the leaders below me in the window and was even more surprised to be leading by 30 meters at the first mark. But with all of the support boats with their spare marks, I was confused about which mark was actually the offset, so I stopped to make sure I was headed the right way.

On the run, there were 4 others who were much better at catching the waves than me and they reeled me in. I passed Andy Roy (CAN) just before the bottom mark to round in 4th. On the next long beat, the wind continued to build and I slipped back to round 5th. The top reach was a bit of a screamer and two more boats rolled me. I hung on for the final run, reach, and beat for 7th. Such is the life of a 169-pounder (under 77 kilos) in a breeze at a world championship.

So my starts and upwind speed have been good but my lack of experience in large waves is a problem. Sure, you can catch them, but the best sailors ride them a little longer and then spend less time finding the next wave.

The breeze continued to build and was gusting to 25 with larger, choppy waves for the next start. This time, it was pin favored, so I started 4 up with a good lane and held it for several minutes. But this time the leaders slowly pulled away with a little more speed and, surprisingly, a little more height. When I tacked and could see the fleet in my window, it was clear that there were many who were faster. In the teens at the weather mark, the run was a lot of fun with the large waves, but the positions did not change. Until the bottom mark. The wind seemed to switch from behind to over my left shoulder and I had room at the mark, but the sail tried to jibe at the right gate rather than just stay out. In preventing this, I spun around and the mainsheet wrapped around the end of my boom. Being very grateful I did not hit the mark I had to stop, fix the mainsheet, and then get going again having lost a few more places.

The fun began again after the next beat and reach. On the run, I figured this was my throw out race so I got more aggressive with the waves. My bow caught one and I submarined. Normally, the cockpit ends up filling up with water and it's really slow but this time it did not because the back of the boat lifted up so much that the water came in and then drained out again. I must have been on a 40 degree angle because the bottom of the mast was under water and I had no steering. The pressure in the sail was huge but perfectly balanced so the boat came down and was off again. I asked others if they had heard of this without a capsize and none had. Amazing. Perhaps I've set an unrecorded record for the height above the water at a Laser Worlds without tipping.

The results of the two grand master fleets can be seen here. They did not record my finish in the first race so I'll request redress.

Day 4

The conditions were similar today - we had a strong breeze from the east with big waves. The first race was pin-favored and I got a good start 5 boats up that was called back because of a general recall. Under a black flag, I started again in the same position with a good lane. As we approached the port-tack layline we were headed, I tacked, and it was hard to see the mark in the distance. When we could, it became clear that we had overstood the mark by at least 200 meters. This was not as much of a problem as you might think because footing through the waves was faster than slamming into them, but it was still a mistake.

I rounded about 10th and was a little more comfortable this time by not catching waves during the hard puffs but rather headed for where the waves were smaller or cancelling out to go through them. This seemed to work well. I spent the rest of the race battling with Thomas Franzen (SWE) and was just able to get him on the finish line to finish 11th.

Jibing at the bottom of the second run
After a rest, we started the second race and the strong breeze had shifted right to make it committee boat favored. I like to start right at the boat because:
  1. others usually have trouble holding their position and drift out of the way, or
  2. the boat next to the committee boat bears off with 5 seconds to go opening a hole, or
  3. being in the second row is not a problem because you can tack for clear air.
A lot of others also wanted to start beside the boat, bunched up, and were crashing into each other with the waves and lack of wind beside the committee boat. With 5 seconds to go, the boat in the poll position bore off leaving just enough room for me to squeeze in for a good start.

With a good start, and clear air, I thought this would be a good first leg but it was not to be. The heavy-air pros slowly pulled ahead and when they tacked, I tacked below them to stay in my lane. When we approached the weather mark, I was in about 10th and then disaster - as I rounded the offset mark for the run, I must have let the main out too far and I tipped to windward.

The best recovery is to jam the centerboard in, push the gunnel down, climb on top, and jump in after the boat has done a 360. It's great because when the mast and sail come up on the other side, everything is ready to go. But I was totally out of gas, not thinking properly, and tried the usual way - swim around, get on the centerboard, get the boat up and then it immediately tips to leeward, get on the centerboard again, get the boat up, get in, and then sort things out. Pam was unfortunately watching in horror as the entire fleet passed me. When Pam met me at the ramp at the end of the day she had my hat which she had retrieved from the water. 
I did not realize how tired I was until the next run when I tipped again. And steering the boat over and though waves takes skill and strength when things get out of balance. I did not have either, lost control, and spun out no less than 3 times on this same run.

So I apparently crawled up to 29th place, but the results have not been posted either for today or with the corrections from yesterday. We're half way through the competition and the forecast calls for even stronger winds tomorrow.

After the racing, we were talking with Steve Cockerill who at different weights has won world championships in both full and radial rigs. He asked my weight and then said that at 169 pounds (under 77 kilos) I should not be in a full rig, especially in these breezy conditions.

[Note from Pam: It was on this day that Doug was wearing an extra shirt that was heavy when wet which sparked lots of debate as to its legality.  I've removed all reference to it but have left the links at the end of the post which contains the various debates that followed.  Bottom line ... don't wear gear that adds weight when there is a lightweight alternative available.  Good thing Doug never mentioned the waterproof jacket with a heavy lining that he was forced to wear one day because I'd locked his gear in the car and jumped on a coach boat and it got cold so he was forced to wear a street jacket instead of his spray top.  That jacket certainly weighed more than the extra shirt he wore.]

Day 5

One of the sailors lost his dad and his ashes were spread on the water outside the harbor. We were all given roses to throw in the water in his name... it was a nice touch.

The racing was like Groundhog Day - a repeat of the last few days, a little less windy but big rolling waves from the east because of the consistent wind direction. The first race start was pin-favored so I started there again with everything strapped in tightly. I'm getting a better feeling for the conditions, but so are the others in our fleet. Upwind speed was lacking compared to the top 10 and the waves were easy to catch downwind. I must have missed some small shifts on the second beat but got part of it back on the top reach by getting into the passing lane. For me, the runs are tricky because things can go from balanced and fast to very unstable in just a moment, and I found that you really have to be fast and hard on the helm and/or sheet to stay upright. Finished 14th.

The next race was interesting for a few reasons. The breeze went right making it committee boat favored. Again I wanted to start at the committee boat and Pam was in the perfect position to take some pictures.

With about a minute to go, I'm 195708 and lift my centerboard to drift into position:

There's usually a crowd, so you have to be patient and let things play out. At this point, there are still many options:

Everyone starts to drift sideways with 30 seconds to go:

This next picture is misleading because the waves were 1 meter high and the back of the committee boat was going up and then crashing down - it was quite dangerous:

At the gun, I bear off to keep my bow clear while accelerating:

10 seconds into the race, I've got a clear lane:

Some boats tack to go right which turned out to be favored. ESP 206049 rounded first:

Colin Dibb (AUS 202554) has won several master worlds and is excellent in these breezy conditions (he lives in Perth, Australia). He has punched out below me and is pointing higher:

So, my starts are not the problem.

Colin pulled in front so I could watch and copy him, and we stayed even for several minutes. He then tacked and crossed and I followed. For some reason I had better height, so when he tacked on the starboard tack layline we were even. And then I made a huge mistake - I tacked below him. And he rolled me, stayed high, and rounded in about 3rd. I had to tack and rounded in traffic about 10 boats back. With such a competitive fleet, I should have ducked him to round 4th or 5th. A brain-dead error!

It's easier sailing at the front and a lot harder being behind, so while the rest of the race was hard work and a lot of fun, I actually lost a few more places to finish an unimpressive 17th while Colin held on to 3rd.

We have one more day with lots of wind and then the final day may be a little lighter.

Day 6

Groundhog Day again - big seas and waves from the east. The two Grand Master fleets were separated into gold and silver, so for the first time all of the fast sailors get to compete together.

My two races were identical: I wanted to go right, got not-so-good starts at the committee boat (the back was slamming up and down, I got cautious, and others jumped in), not-too-bad speed to the right, big header coming back to the mark. We all had some great rides downwind with lots of spills. And for me, 2 bad results as everyone is getting better in the conditions.

The good news is how others have been doing. In our Grand Master fleet, Nick Harrison (GBR) is 3 points ahead of Andy Roy (CAN) who has 3 bullets in the last 4 races. Peter Vessella (USA) is sailing really well and is another 3 points back. But the forecast for the final day is lighter winds and Peter is the only one in the top 5 to win a light aired race. Multiple winner Wolfgang Gertz (GER) is another 5 points back and had a bad race (16) when he had a knot in his mainsheet at the top mark. Colin Dibb (AUS) is in 5th, and there are a bunch of heavy-weather experts just behind.

In the Masters, Brett Beyer is in the largest and most competitive fleet of 116 and he's dominating, and is actually discarding a 1st! Brett is on his way to winning his 9th Master Worlds. Amazing.

In the 77 boat Great Grand Masters fleet, Keith Wilkins (GBR) is leading but is being chased Rob Lowndes (AUS). If Keith wins, it will be his 13th Master Worlds which is a record that only Brett has a chance to beat anytime soon. Last night, Pam and I had dinner Keith and his partner Linda and reminisced about some of the great places we have sailed - Japan, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand... the list goes on and on.

 As Lyndall Patterson (AUS) says, 'it isn’t about the people you beat, but the people you meet.’

Day 7

At last... medium winds again from the east with a heavy chop from the previous winds. We had 2 races on this the final day of competition.

I wanted to start at the committee boat but Mark Bear (USA) was in my spot. So I started behind him and except for Andy Roy (CAN) who jumped out, the front row was very even as people played the shifts and crossed tacks. I rounded about 10th. Some of the waves on the run were catchable and made from some nice gains. The next beat saw the leaders stretch out. At the top of the beat I went right, caught a big right shift coming into the mark and gained about 5 places, while the front row on the left lost many places and Laurent Mernaz (FRA) took the lead.

On the top reach and first part of the run, we started to catch the silver fleet that was on the same course. I went right to protect against Colin Dibb (AUS) and Rob Britten (CAN) went right to protect against me. We were way off to the right (looking downwind) as the front of the gold fleet began to merge into the back of the silver fleet. Then Rob said, "come on guys, let's head for the mark." I bore off towards the mark and Colin continued to go after Rob. When all the boats converged at the jibe mark at the bottom of the run, it was a real mess. Rob and Colin got room on a dozen boats that included me and Andy who was outside me. So I dropped back about 5 places and Andy about 7, but he went low on the bottom reach and made a remarkable recovery to finish 3rd. Rob won and I finished 10th (next time someone suggests we go low, I'll say "after you.")

The final race had a slightly lower wind with smaller waves. It was pin-favored and there was a good line site on the shore so I got a good start about 3 up from the pin. My setting was pretty loose to keep the boat moving through the chop and I punched out. On a long port tack to the mark Tim Law (GBR) led below me and rounded first with me right behind. On the run, Tim went way left for reasons that I did not understand and I passed him as we approached the bottom mark. The wind was coming over my right shoulder so I decided to take the left gate and others thankfully followed (it's good to keep everyone together). Several continued on port tack while Micael Ludgren (SWE), Tim and others tacked onto starboard. I decided to cover the latter because there were more boats, but got nervous when approaching the port tack layline still some distance from the mark. So I tacked first, playing the percentages and hoping for a rightie that never came. Micael and Tim came in with more pressure and rounded ahead. The top run was uneventful while on the run I caught Tim again and went on to finish 2nd behind Micael. It was a fun race and it was good to have solid finishes in the lighter conditions.

When all the scores were in, Nick Harrison (GBR) beat Andy Roy (CAN) by one point. Had we not run into the back of the silver fleet in the first race, Andy might have held onto his 2nd place and would have won the world championship with the tiebreaker. Any one of the top finishers would have been worthy champions in these tough conditions.

It's also worth noting that Brett Beyer (AUS) won the largest and toughest fleet with a perfect score of 10 bullets. This was Brett's 9th win and we're sure there will be many more.

Miguel Noguer (ESP), Pam, Brett Beyer, and Eduard Rodes (Miguel's coach)
What's under Miguel's shirt? A small replica of the Gold Medal he won in the 1980 Olympics
Day 1 & 2 Pictures

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