May 24, 2016

Just 15 Boats - A Legitimate Fleet?

By Doug
Until recently, Great Grand Masters could only compete in the world championships in radials, but now they can compete in full rigs. Because most prefer radials, the full rig fleet has been much smaller and this year, it will only have 15 competitors and already 2 have dropped out because of injuries. To some, this might not seem like a legitimate world championship. I disagreed and felt that it could be exceptionally challenging and tactically interesting:
  • In spite of all the great Laser master sailors we have seen, there have been 2 who have won what we might call the Triple Crown - the Master, Grand Master, and Great Grand Master World Championships.
  • The first is Keith Wilkins (GBR) who was Ben Ainslie's original coach. The second is Mark Bethwaite (AUS) who also won  J/24 and Soling worlds and is the former Australian Yachtsman of the Year. Great sailors for sure, and the best I have ever had the pleasure of competing against.
  • If I could somehow win here in Mexico, I'll be the third to win this Triple Crown.
  • But there's a very big problem - Mark is the current GGM world champion and is defending his title. He easily won the practice race beating GGMs and GMs while I was well back.
  • And there are other excellent sailors in our fleet.  Sounds pretty legitimate to me.
But it gets even more interesting:
  • In match racing, you can only lose by one point in a race.
  • But match racing in a fleet is completely different. Earlier this month at the Radial Master Worlds, Peter Seidenberg (USA) and Kerry Waraker (AUS), both former world champions, were match racing also in a small fleet. As shown in the results, they dominated.
  • What made it so tactically interesting is that Kerry had to count a third in one race, and then lost the championship to Peter by that single point.
  • So match racing in a fleet means that other boats could easily become a factor. A safe second will be much, much better than a third.
As a lake sailor, my plan was to come early to practice in the open water and to use a rolled one-regatta-old regular sail that is easier to depower in the expected windy conditions. But they say that no plan survives contact with reality. After two days of competition, two things are clear that you can read in my sailing journal: I definitely chose the wrong sail, and the only person who can beat Mark Bethwaite is Mark Bethwaite.

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