July 24, 2015

2015 Laser Master World Championships (Kingston, 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 also learn something from them.
After 22 hours of on-the-water practice with Mark Bethwaite (AUS), the competition starts today. Two in our fleet have won this before, three have been runner up, and several others have had a top five result. Should be a blast.

Day 1

The World Championship is divided by age into fleets and the youngest in each tend to have an advantage. So when a person goes from, say the Masters (45-54) to Grand Masters (55-64), they are usually the ones to watch.

I'm sailing in the Grand Masters fleet and there are several excellent sailors who have recently joined us, most notably is Peter Shope (USA) who came third in the Master Worlds last year. My money is on him to win this year. Being just 4 months shy of my 65th birthday, I'm probably the oldest in the fleet and after today, certainly feel it.

Talking to the various coaches and people who know the area, going left on the course is popular but the Open World Championships was won last week by a fellow who played the middle right. And the storm breeze comes from the north, so it's cold and very unpredictable.

Race 1: The breeze was from the usual southwest and ranged from 10-15 knots. This would not normally be considered a strong breeze, but with 50 miles to build the waves were larger and choppier than you would expect. The wind shifted to the right before the start and I wanted to start at the committee boat but misjudged the current in each of the 2 general recalls. Under a black flag, we got away with me squeezing between a Brit and the committee boat. With good height, I was able to hold my lane but Peter Shope and Andy Roy (CAN, second in last year's Worlds) below me had better speed. Near the port tack layline, they tacked and crossed me. At the mark, two more came in from the right so I rounded a close 5th.

The run was tough because some of the waves were hard to catch, and those in front were better at it than me. At the bottom mark, I chose the right gate but Peter Vessella (USA, former Worlds runner up) and Tim Law (GBR) got room on me. Still in 5th place but it was a really bad rounding.

The leaders had similar speed and played the shifts differently but the positions remained the same with some close racing. Then, at the second windward mark, I made a mistake.

Wolfgang Gerz (GER, former Finn World Champion) approached on starboard with several others on his hip. I tacked under hoping to get inside room at the mark, but there was more current from right to left than any of us had expected. I had to wait for them all to tack and rounded 10th. Ouch! I got greedy and it really cost me.

With the jury boats watching us closely, playing the waves aggressively to move up was too risky. The top reach, run, bottom reach, and beat to the finish were uneventful with no more changes in positions.

If I had ducked Wolfgang and the other boats, I would have had starboard tack advantage at the mark and probably would not have lost those positions. Good close racing, but getting greedy at the marks rarely pays.

Between races, I checked the position of the gate marks and they looked even. This would help in the next race.

Race 2: It was very tempting to start at the committee boat again, but it just felt better to be further down the line, so I started on Andy Roy's hip 2/3 of the way down the line. We both had a good lane, height, and speed and went left. Peter Shope, who won the first race, tacked behind us to go right. Andy tacked near the port tack layline, crossed me, and I tacked above him. At the mark, 2 boats above me rounded in front of Andy and me, so a 4th at the mark with a bunch of good sailors right behind, including Peter Shope.

On the run, Peter passed me and everyone else except Andy by being better with his wave selection. Trying to avoid the crowd at the right gate, I took the left gate in less traffic and started the second beat on port going right.

This was a little risky because the general opinion is that going left works better, and several positions were changed. I went the furthest right and came in to round just behind the leaders in 5th place.

The top reach and most of the run were uneventful, with the first 5 in a tight group. As we approached the bottom of the second run, I was right behind Lynne Shore (USA, Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and Olympic Gold Medalist). Hoping to get room at the mark, I sailed right behind her, caught a wave, and hit her stern (this was not the plan). Lynn was as surprised as me, yelled 'Hey,' and I did my 720 penalty circles. Thankfully, I was just far enough ahead to hold onto 5th place. But a little inside Lynn and 4th would have been possible.

It goes without saying that being chicked by a women sailing in these conditions was impressive!

So, I'm in 6th place with a 10 and a 5. My mistakes prevented a 5 and a 4 which would have put me in 3rd place. Not bad as these are not my best conditions, but Peter Shope and Andy Roy are definitely the ones to watch.

Day 2

The good news is that we had less wind today, which I prefer.
The bad news is that the wind was not steady enough for racing... darn!
Three races are scheduled for tomorrow and it looks like we'll have more wind.

Day 3

The breeze was from the south and the forecast had it dropping from 15 to about 12. This turned out to be very accurate.

Race 3: The leaders lined up at the pin to go left so I joined them. Many hold back so it paid to pull the trigger a few seconds early.

A good start (blue top on the right) from www.sailingshot.com
With a good lane and speed, I wanted to tack to go right, but there was a boat blocking my way, so I waited a few seconds and decided to go behind another two boats. This meant tacking and bearing off sharply, and I focused so hard on not hitting anyone that I forgot to move my feet. So when I went to hike out I missed the straps, fell out of the boat, and it tipped. There's a first! With the boat up, I went right behind the entire fleet to find a clear lane. DFL. That's the bad news.

The good news is that the shifts were easy to read, so I worked up from 55th to about 30th by the first mark. Catching small waves on the run and then more shifts on the beat moved me up to 20th at the second windward mark. The top reach, run, and bottom reach were a little crazy and I finished 13th. But Pam was on the finish line taking videos and I finished just behind seven others, so it was close to being a really good comeback.

Race 4: Started again near the pin and watched Peter Shope (USA) get hammered at the pin. The middle left seemed to have the best pressure which is where I played in the front row. Rounded about 10th. On the run, some went way right while others went way left. There were lanes in the middle and that worked for me.

On the next beat in the front row, it was great to be able to play the shifts without the usual traffic. At the end of the second beat, I rounded in 4th right behind Peter Vessella (USA). He was faster on the reach, run, and reach, and I found myself defending against several really fast downwind sailors. Was happy to finish 4th, while Peter Shope sailed a great race for the win.

Race 5: The wind was dropping a little and had gone right, so I started at the committee boat at full speed with good height. But it was a general recall. Then the rain came in from the right and Bill Fuller (CAN) pointed out that the wind might go way right. For the second start it had gone left so I started near the pin between the leaders Peter Vessella and Peter Shope. We stayed close and worked our way left, as usual. As we approached the windward mark on port, the wind shifted 20 degrees to the right, hurting us and helping everyone on the starboard tack layline, including Bill. Rounded about 20th. On the run, both Peters sailed by the lee while I jibed, but our speeds were similar.

With the windshift, the left gate looked favored but crowded, so I took the right gate and immediately tacked. This worked really well and gained a few places. Protecting the right, I played a few more shifts. The reach, run, and reach were good and I worked up to 7th. Peter Shope sailed a great race to finish 3rd while Peter Vessella never recovered and finished 38th. I was that tough.

One of the ways I measure a race is the position at the first mark vs. the finish. On the first day, my 5, 4 ended with a 10, 5. Not very good. Today, my 30, 10, 20 ended with 13, 4, 7. So in that way, it was a pretty good day. Now, if only I can keep my feet under the straps!

Tomorrow is our lay day but with strong winds in the forecast, we'll be sailing again. I've dropped to 7th and would like to move up.

Day 4

Mark Bethwaite (AUS) and I have been training all week and we like to compare notes before the start of each race. Today was summed up by Mark when he said "my plan is not having a plan" meaning anything can happen and we have to keep our options open. The final day of the Open Worlds had similar conditions, and runner-up Philipp Buhl (GER) had finishes of 13, 48, and 1.

The breeze was cold from the north 10-20, but what made it difficult was that at the top of the course, there were 30 degree shifts. It rarely paid to play it safe up the middle and the compass was not your friend because you might be on a lift but the boat 100' behind you was on a much bigger lift... and in more pressure.

In each of today's races, I took the lead briefly and was also deep in the 20's. But so were many others.

Race 6: The line was pin favored with a good line site, so I started close to the pin on a header. Thinking it was possible to cross the fleet, I tacked onto port just as the wind shifted back right, so I had to put in another tack onto starboard. The boats below tacked on another header and crossed. Not finding a good lane, I continued on starboard and then tacked.

The fleet had split with about half going left on my side and the other going right. We continued in good pressure and a lift and at one point sailing on port I could not see a single boat in the window of my sail. I thought boy, are the ones on the right toast. As we approached the first mark, we were in a lull and they right came charging in on a lift with much more pressure. Rounded deep in the 20's... how quickly things change!

The run was strange because the waves were going left to right against the current and were easy to catch when in pressure. I took the left gate and played the pressure on the right as much as possible, but the left paid this time as I approached the windward mark for the second tine.

The top reach and run were mainly watching people and trying to stay in clean air to pass others. The finish was confusing because we had run into the fleet ahead. Finished 11th.

What was learned from this race? It's very much a lottery when percentage sailing works best. But this means sailing one option while protecting the other option. This did not work because the middle of the course had too many dead spots, so you really had to commit to one side and be prepared to play catch-up.

Race 7: Same line and line sight. Good start, called back. Under a black flag, same good start, called back. On the third start again under a black flag, got away near the pin in a good lane. Working to the left, played a few shifts with series leader Peter Shope (USA). This time, the final shift with pressure came from the left and we reached to the mark and I rounded in 3rd behind Gavin Dagley (GBR) and Peter.

Positions did not change on the run and was still in 3rd. The leaders took the left gate and went right. Playing the shifts and pressure with Peter Vessella (USA) put us into the middle and we got stuck in a hole. At the top mark, the pressure came in from the left and we rounded in the 20's. The top reach was crowded and it paid to stay low. The run was then very interesting. Andy Roy (USA) was just in front and he went high to the left while others went very low. It then became clear that some were heading to the inner gate on the left while others were headed to the proper outer gate on the right. I stayed in the middle looking upwind for more pressure. Looking upwind, it came from where Andy had been so I sailed off the course, got the pressure, and passed about 7 boat that were just 100' to my right.

Things got crowded at the bottom of the run as everyone converged and the bottom reach was interesting because people tried to get up into the passing lane. Defending by going high would have left the door open for those right behind, but a few good waves helped me protect my position. Finished 7th.

I'd really like to have a day with lighter conditions and tomorrow looks ideal, but they've made it our lay day and we will not race again until Friday when it gets windy again.

Day 5

The breeze was steady from the south 10-15. There were shifts so the waves were a bit lumpy. It was an interesting day on the water. Mark and I talked again before the first start and his suggestion was to protect the right side of the course.

Race 8: Started at the committee boat, tacked, and went right while most of the fleet went left. At one point, we must have been half a mile apart where the smallest shifts can have a major effect. When we converged, the two groups were even and I rounded behind Gavin Dagley (AUS) and ahead of the pack. We were able to hold our positions on the run.

Gavin took the right gate and went left on the next beat, and I followed. Felt slow and out of phase and could not get a feel for the conditions. As those on the left approached the windward mark again, there was a large right shift and a parade of boats came in from the right. Rounded 20th, ouch. Made up a few places on the downwind legs to finish 9th.

Race 9: Wanted to start at the committee boat to have the best options on the first leg but got boxed in after a port tack boat tacked when I told him to cross. Missed a shift, never got into phase, and rounded in the 20's. Things did not improve much on the run and beat and was able to share my misery with Peter Vessella (USA) who was having a similar race. And then there was the second weather mark.

I was barely on the starboard tack layline with a bunch of boats right behind. The current took me below the mark so I tried to put in 2 quick tacks. They were not quick enough because I fouled the boat that had been on my hip, that fouled the boat on its hip, etc. At the end of the chain reaction, half a dozen Lasers were locked together, head to wind, going nowhere. Bringing out the Canadian in me, I said sorry about 5 times, bore off, and did my 720.

This put me deep in the 30's. With no drop race and with no desire to play the waves and risk being yellow-flagged, I took it easy for the rest of the race and finished 37th. I was reminded of the quotation from the American fight for independence "if this be treason, make the most of it."

Race 10: Thought to myself, I don't care how good the committee boat end looks, I'm starting near the pin. And it was a good start and lane. We went left, played a few shifts, and I rounded about 10th. The run was good with a few waves to catch and the next beat had good shifts. Except it seemed that the entire front row was having the same good fortune. Still in 10th at the top of the second beat, with series leader Peter Shope (USA) leading. He was not using a compass but had good speed and a very good feel for the shifts. The top reach was competitive and those who went low lost several places.

The run was the most interesting leg of the day. I wanted to go left but the boats behind did to, so I sailed back to the right to get a clear lane. About half way down the leg it I realized that Peter was not sailing high but to the gate of the inner course and not the correct outer course. There must have been better pressure on my right side and the waves easier to catch because at the bottom mark I took the lead just in front of Peter and Andy Roy (CAN). Peter tried the passing lane on the lower reach but the positions were unchanged.

Rounding the final bottom mark, Peter was just behind me and tacked. Andy and I continued on port. When I could lay the finish line, I tacked and Peter approached on port. He ducked me and I tacked to cover him. A few seconds later, our boats touched. My thought was that he too had tacked. With just a few feet from the line, I considered several options:
  1. The rule is that when 2 boats tack at the same time, the one the right is in the right. I was on the left and was in the wrong.
  2. But if Peter had tacked a moment later, he had not given me the room and opportunity to keep clear, so he was in the wrong.
  3. With 2 races to go and no bad races, Peter had deservedly won the championship. But if I protested him, it would have delayed the inevitable either by a few hours if he prevailed or by one day if I prevailed. Both seemed like a shitty thing to do.
So I did my 720, lost 6 places, and finished 7th.

When I described what happened to judges after the racing, they thought that I was probably wrong. But when Pam showed me a picture she took from the finishing boat, I had finished my tack before Peter started his.

This was a painful race because getting a bullet in this fleet is really hard. I do not regret my decision to take my penalty turns, but I do regret messing with a very good sailor rather than just heading for the finish line less than 100 feet away.

Tomorrow is our last day and I'm in 8th place 7 points out of 5th and a cube. 
PS: Pam got up at 3 am and wrote this on our blog. It includes a picture at the critical moment with Peter.

Day 6

We waited onshore for the breeze to pick up. I prefer to sail with minimal clothing because it helps to get a better feeling for the conditions. Pam took out my hiking pants just in case and I put them on before the first race because the wind was already building. It would not be in the 5-10 knot range that I prefer.

Race 11: The southwest sea breeze was building as indicated by the clouds to the north, so Mark and I agreed that it would be another 'protect the right' day. This seemed to work last week for the open worlds people, and watching the fleets ahead of us showed right paying even though most went left.

So I started at the boat, tacked, and went right. There was good pressure and the breeze stayed left. I thought that when the breeze goes right, the right side will pay as planned. Except it actually went further left. When we met the main fleet at the mark, the entire left fleet crossed and I rounded in the 40's. So much for trying to play weatherman.

The good news was that my drop race at this point was a 13, so I could take risks with playing waves downwind and the shifts upwind. The bad news is none of it salvaged another really bad race. Finished 32nd.

The lesson learned (again) was that the collective knowledge of the main fleet is usually better than individuals who roll the dice. Besides, boatspeed and percentage sailing are my strengths so I decided that my final race would be near the pin, in the crowd, and I would go with them.

Race 12: The pin was favored, crowded, and had all of the top sailors. We only had a few minutes to start before the 3:00 deadline and our PRO did and great job getting us away on time. Had an OK start between 2 of the top sailors, pointed with no vang or cunningham, and was able to hold as several of the top had to bail and tack behind the fleet (this was the risk of this plan, and these sailors had bad finishes).

So far, so good. By the time we got to the port tack layline, I was in second place in my group. With the wind increasing, rounded 5th behind a few who were just below. Went left on the run trying to protect my lane but the right seemed to have more pressure. Rounded the bottom gate in 8th, went a bit right to get clear air, and then followed the leaders left. Good speed with a little extra power as the waves built.

Rounded the top mark in 6th and held even on the top reach. On the final run, there were about a dozen just behind and it was hard to catch the waves, so I went way right to get my own pressure and passed one to get into 5th. Held on the bottom reach and final beat.

Final thoughts: Our fleet had a lot of good sailors and playing catch-up was hard most of the time. Living in Dallas, I don't have fast sailors to train with so I practice boatspeed. For me, the final race summed up the event - get decent starts, stay with the crowd, be patient, and try to use any boatspeed advantage.

One thing that my training partner Mark Bethwaite said was that each fleet gets harder as younger people join. The world championship was won by Peter Shope (USA) who was one of the youngest while I tied with Wolfgang Gerz (GER former Laser master champion and Finn Gold Cup winner) for 7th (he won the tiebreak). As the oldest person in the fleet, I'm happy to be in the top ten and look forward to joining the great grand masters at next year's world championship in Mexico.

Mark was able to successfully defend his GGM world championship after a bizarre series of events that I'm sure Pam will describe. We'll be in the same fleet next year which we both look forward to.

Kingston put on a great show - the town is great, the people are great, the organization was great, and of course meeting friends from around the world again was great. It was one of the best worlds we've had the pleasure of attending.

The final results for the Standard Grand Master Fleet are here.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this entertaining and informative journal.

    1. You are more than welcome. I must admit that previously winning this event (Korea 2006) takes a lot of pressure off and lets me truly enjoy the experience that I like to share. There is nothing quite like it.

  2. Hi Doug, congratulations for your result as ...senior Gm! We will miss you in the GM fleet.
    I am not so happy of my performance in Kingstone ( I finished 26) but this gives me the motivation to improve my weak points. The nice thing of sailing in this competition is that you realize that having some good speed is only a fraction of what you need to stay in the front of the fleet: being ready psychologically but above all experience and capacity to 'read' the sailing area and to manage the difficult situations are also mandatory. Finally It is right that sailors with much more background than me are in the front and that if It happens than I round a mark in sixth position my elastic bring me back to my natural position! Hope to see Pam and you in Italy next year! Ciao

    1. Thanks Roberto.

      I love your metaphor about an elastic pulling you back to your natural position. My natural position in this fleet was about 5th, so if I had a really bad start my elastic would pull me forward, and with a good start and first leg, my elastic would pull back.

      I think that it's a great way for people (and coaches) to manage expectations while at the same time setting goals for improvement.


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