June 26, 2016

Thank you Art Mayer

By Doug
The Aussies dominated the recent Master Worlds with Gavin, Brett, and Mark each winning their divisions. I've had a 40-year connection with Australian Laser sailors, but that was never the plan. I went to Sydney to learn how to be a better crew, not how to be a better skipper.

As I mentioned in this post, I arrived in Sydney as a 20 year old kid out to see the world and to crew on one of the famous 18-footers. My first stop was Double Bay that had one of the two two skiff sailing clubs. After some very strong beers (12% alcohol!) I was introduced to Art Mayer (related to Louis B Mayer) who owned one of the older skiffs. We went to his boat shed and I saw something that I had never seen before - lots and lots of controls on a low, sleek hull built for speed. 

After a few minutes of chatting, Art looked at me and said, "this is not what you want to be sailing."

I was crushed. "Why not? This is why I came to Sydney."

"You see, for every hour on the water, you'll have to spend three hours working on this boat."

"What would you do if you were me?"

Art paused for a moment and then said, "I'd call a gentleman by the name of Frank Bethwaite."

It turned out to be some of the best advice I ever got, and began a 45-year friendship with the remarkable Bethwaite family. Within 2 weeks of arriving in Sydney, I was helping Frank in his factory and taking pictures of him and Julian testing different settings.

Used on page 254 of Frank's High Performance Sailing. Years later, Frank told me how
this picture changed his thinking
about how rigs
At Frank's invitation, I became the race secretary of this development class, called the NS-14, and today its DNA can be found in every high performance boat in the world. Frank, Julian, Nicky, and Mark have all been at the leading edge and have all won world championships. Their friendship and mentoring changed my life.

So without Art's suggestion, what would skiff sailing have been like? And what would I have been doing as crew? I found this vintage gem made by Art perhaps featuring the boat I would have been sailing...

Of course, my path would have crossed with the Bethwaites because of the huge impact that Frank and Julian had on skiff sailing. Here's what it looks like today.

This looks like a blast, but it's not something that I could have physically done for very long. I could well have ended up crewing on bigger boats. For me, staying on as a skipper in smaller boats like NS-14s, then Moths, and then Lasers was definitely the best option for me. I treasure the pure competition that Lasers offer, the travel to events around the world, the sharing on this blog, and many friends that Pam and I have made.

Thank you Art Mayer. 

June 20, 2016

Mark Bethwaite - Winning the 2016 Great Grand Master Worlds

I first met Mark in 1971 soon after arriving in Sydney as a 20-year-old out to see the world. I watched him and his crew, Tim Alexander, work on their superb FD before the 1972 Olympics but was soon after transferred by HP to Melbourne. Four years later I returned to Sydney and sailed Lasers with a terrific fleet off Balmoral Beach. And yes, I sailed with Mark in his first Laser race - a long-distance race to the Opera House and back.

Mark switched to bigger boats and won the J/24 and Soling Worlds before returning to Lasers in the 90's. In 1998 Dr. Stuart Walker was asked who he thought were the best sailors in the world. His answer: Paul Elvstrom, John Kostecky, and Mark Bethwaite. Today, Mark focuses on the Laser Master Worlds which he has won 10 times. Competing with Mark is sailing at its best.

By Mark Bethwaite 
I guess the LMW in Kingston Ontario last year is the logical starting point for my contribution to Doug’s blog.  My preparation for that regatta was not great and was set back further by not arriving in Kingston early as planned to train.  Carolyn and I made our way there by boat and were held up by high water levels in the Oswego Canal.  I was not really fit, not fast downwind and didn’t start well with two UFDs.  Alan Keen (RSA) sailed a great regatta and the points tie between us at the end of the series was (just) resolved in my favour.

I resolved to prepare better for Vallarta this year – I was looking forward to a rematch with Alan and whilst that did not eventuate I had seen what Doug could do in his first year in a new age bracket, having won the Masters in Chile in 1997 and Grand Masters in Korea in 2006.  Beware the Peckover in a year ending with 6 or 7!

I fell back on a proven strategy.  Get together a good group of sailors also going to the LMW, engage good coaches, schedule plenty of on water training after work and weekends, get the aerobic fitness up and train hard up to the last minute, fly straight to the LMW and come out of the blocks hard.

The four of us from Double Bay SC and Vaucluse YC were fortunate that Brett Beyer had time to coach us for several sessions between his commitments to Olympic aspirants from various nations.  After he left for European regattas then Vallarta, we had Mike Leigh for a number of sessions.  Both are great coaches and also diplomatic.  The ageing bodies of GMs and particularly GGMs are harder to train than the young, fit specimens they are used to working with, but it is in our head department that coaches find most difficulty.  Quite apart from declining eyesight and hearing, we tend to forget what we have learned from one session to the next, so there is a far amount of rework!

The fourth element to my training involved plenty of bike work. Nearby is the appropriately named “Heartbreak Hill” in Sydney’s annual City to Surf which attracts over 70,000 runners.  On most days during the months before Vallarta I pointed my bike at this hill from Rose Bay to Watsons Bay then again on the way home.  This plus near daily on water training closer to departure meant that I was fitter for Vallarta than I have been for some years.

One other thing was to have a gym instructor map out a stretching program which significantly reduced my post sailing recovery time.

Preparation for a LMW should enjoyable – I think it is important to train in a way which is not only beneficial but fun.  I don’t like indoor exercise but I do like bike riding and on water training - others may take a different approach.  In Sydney we are blessed with a great Harbour and weather and as the LMW approaches, I really enjoy the feel of the body getting leaner, hands getting harder and the brain clicking into fast mode on the water, reflecting in better results in club sailing and lead up regattas.

I was fast enough upwind in Kingston but slow downwind so I really focused on my downwind speed with Brett and Mike’s help.  It was great in Vallarta to be quick downwind.

In addition to preparation for Vallarta, Doug has asked me to talk about the regatta and my view on the Mark II sail.  What was not to like about the LMW and racing in Mexico?  Great onshore and on water facilities and organization, clean warm water and sea breezes that filled in each day like clockwork, with waves to slash through upwind and ride fast downwind.  Add to that great competition afloat and camaraderie ashore assisted by cold Coronas and margheritas – it was as good as Cancun in 2000 and that is the yardstick by which all subsequent LMWs have been judged – up till now!

I have been sailing Lasers now for 20 plus years and having previously shipped Flying Dutchmen and Solings to many overseas regattas, I really appreciate the one design nature of the Laser class which means that you never need ship a boat again. You pitch up with your sail, lines and sailing clothes and are allocated a charter boat.  That is until this year when for the first time there was a choice of sail! 

Having alternated between the Mark I and Mark II sail since the latter became legal late last year, I have formed the view that the Mark II with more built in shape is a higher pointing and better light/moderate sail but the Mark I flattens out and blades off more readily in the head so is lower drag and faster in strong wind.  I was a keen student of the wind reports from all three regattas at Vallarta preceding the “main event”, the Standard Masters Worlds.  The result was that racked by indecision, I pitched up at Vallarta with both sails! 

My Mark I sail has now won three Worlds (Oman, Hyeres and Kingston) and has a race winning percentage at that level well over 90%.  I joke that I keep it in cryogenic storage between Worlds, and that is half true!  Certainly I always feel very confident with it.  I used that tried and trusted Mark I on the day before the practice race and was happy enough with my speed.

Then for the Practice Race in a combined GM and GGM fleet in 10-14 knots of wind, I used the Mark II.  I started on Mark Bear’s (USA) hip, lifted off him (which gave me great confidence as in similar conditions in Hyannis in 2002 he had beaten me to a pulp), was third to the top mark, second to the bottom and then drew away to win the race by an “Australian country mile”.  My sail selection decision was made!  That was the last time we raced as a combined fleet as the GGMs wanted a “gentlemen only” event and the GMs wanted no more of us either!

I have read and concur with Brett and Gavin’s observations on the Mark II sail.  With greater built in shape, the adjustment ranges for the downhaul and outhaul are smaller.  As the breeze gets up, I use progressively more vang as the Mark II is definitely harder work to windward than the Mark I.  Comparing notes with Doug after Race 4 at Vallarta when the breeze built to maybe 18 knots, he was working his sheet from block to block to about 15 cm whilst I was operating from about 15 cm to 30 cm (US sailors still using archaic feet and inches will have to do their own conversion!).

The next Laser Master Worlds will be contested at Split, Croatia in September 2017.  I have cruised the Croatian coast from Pula in the north to Dubrovnik in the south and Split is the pick of it – it should be an outstanding venue, combining Croatian history, culture and cuisine with great sailing conditions.  Be there!

June 16, 2016

Brett Beyer - Winning the 2016 Master Worlds

Brett Beyer (AUS) just won his 12th Laser Master Worlds and is on his way to breaking the all-time record of 13 held by Keith Wilkins (GBR). What makes Brett special is that he's not only a great sailor but he's also a great coach, and is working with the sailors from Singapore and South Africa for the upcoming Rio Olympics. This means that he has very little time to practice but instead spends lots of time watching other top sailors. 

The 2006 Jeju Worlds was different because we all sailed in one fleet, and it's the only time I've actually been able to watch Brett compete. Here's what I wrote in my journal: 

Followed defending apprentice world champ Brett Bayer (AUS) on the port tack lay line. Looks a lot like Olympic gold medalist Robert Scheidt (BRA) in the boat – tall, smooth, and just more speed. Beautiful to watch. Brett rounded 2nd and went on to win by 100 yards. 

Brett is a frequent contributor to our blog and he has kindly shared how he won.

Winning the final race, taken by Pam from the finish boat. Notice how flat Brett's sail is.

By Brett Beyer
The Masters Worlds in Mexico was one of my most enjoyable regattas for a long time. Sailing conditions that suited me as well as great race organisation and on-site accommodation were all things I had been looking forward to – and I wasn’t a bit disappointed.

My decision to compete with the old sail was always going to be a little risky, but I feel it is a more versatile sail upwind once you get some wind and waves, which was the expected conditions. I don’t regret that decision but nor do I think it contributed in a meaningful way to any of the results. I see the new sail as being an improvement overall but not in performance, just in sail shape and longevity. Each of the sails have advantages and disadvantages but it is impressive as to how close in performance the sails compare to each other.

During and after the Worlds, I had many discussions with sailors questioning how I can produce boat speed that is at times dominant. Especially given it is not fitness nor training related. And it is a question that I too have pondered, but don’t take for granted. I applaud Gavin and others that progress via the tried and trusted routine of hours on water and analysis. But this routine is not unlike my own, with the exception that I am not on the water sailing, but on the water coaching. Watching others in detail is ‘training’ for myself. My Olympic coaching has me doing less and less sailing over the years but improves my own sailing in ways I had not expected – mainly technically. And it is this technical understanding and improvement that I rely on so heavily, as opposed to on water training or fitness benefits.

Ernesto Rodriguez (USA) is supremely fit and a great sailor, he came 2nd in the regatta and is a good example. His fitness for sure contributed to his performance and I wish I had the time and motivation to do likewise. But I don’t and I know my best asset to rely on for performance will always be to technically sail the boat well. What does this mean? Well in waves, it means understanding shape and size of waves and attaching a specific technique and timing to each wave variation. This is not a general upwind formula but a very specific way to sail over/through each specific wave. In Mexico, the waves were different on Port and Starboard tacks, therefore the technique differed, as did the rig set-up, where often I was trying to sail faster on Starboard, compared to Port, which may seem counter-intuitive. This different wave pattern also offers the same gain potential for me downwind where applying a certain technique that has a tactical outcome was key. I often made around 30 seconds of gain each downwind, on the next fastest boat. This is something I simply can’t achieve with flatter water, or for that matter, better fitness.

But the problem with technique is that the outcome has to be measurable and quantifiable, and our sport doesn’t lend itself well to this form of feedback. So you either get a coach that can help with the feedback or, as most people do, ramp up the volume of training and learn via the trial and error format. Both ways work if you are curious and/or analytical enough to examine the outcomes. Boat speed is difficult to measure without a consistent training partner so using other cues to measure outcomes is a really good way to see if your technique is helping you or hurting you. For example:
  • Is the rudder too loaded?
  • Is the rig too grumpy?
  • Does the boat accelerate when flicking the bow away?
  • Does adding more hiking feel like it contributes?
  • Do I want wave direction downwind or go across the wave?
All these are reliable forms of checking to see if the boat is happy to go fast or if I’m in a battle with the boat, where speed will be the victim. This is the primary reason I haven’t got any marks on my ropes as I rely heavily on what the boat is telling me and I trust myself to make an appropriate change in sail shape or technique when necessary.

I am hosting Skype coaching sessions that started with Worlds debriefs as examples of improving technique and boat speed. The most requested topics I’ve received are: “Downwind wave catching” and “Upwind speed/waves”. This is where sailors felt most vulnerable last Worlds. Please contact me if you are interested for costs and other details at beyersailing(insert at symbol)gmail.com.

June 15, 2016

Gavin Dagley - Winning the 2016 Grand Master Worlds

Pam and I first met Gavin at the Hyeres Master Worlds where he finished 6th. At the Kingston Master Worlds Gavin finished 5th.

Gavin in Kingston
Getting a top five result is hard, but winning it is much harder. At the recent Riviera Nayarit Master Worlds, Gavin finished 1st, and a lot of people commented on how much he had improved.

Gavin winning in Mexico.
My experience was similar - 5th at the Wakayama Master Worlds, 5th at the Capetown Master Worlds, and then 1st at the Algarrobo Master Worlds. I shared how I did it but feel it may be even harder now to win. Gavin has kindly shared his thoughts about how he won his first worlds.

By Gavin Dagley
Wow. It still hasn't really sunk in yet. I actually got there - a Masters World Championship. Suffice to say I am pretty pleased.

This is my third trip to Masters Worlds and each regatta has been quite unique. At Hyeres, France, for my first Worlds I arrived knowing almost no-one - not even most of my Australian team mates. I was relatively new to the class and 500-odd Laser sailors all together can be a little intimidating. I think the thing that has meant the most to me is how quickly the friendships grow. The sailors are such a warm bunch that you can't help but be pulled in.

Doug and Pam introduced themselves on the second day when we were all trying to work out our places from the first day. (The scorers had been overwhelmed by the numbers and when anyone got missed at the finish they were simply scored DNF - and Doug had been one of those unfortunates.)

I also met David Rosenthal that day (AUS) who simply introduced himself and offered me an Australian team shirt. We ended up neighbours in the (very cramped) boat park. Tim Law (GBR) and I seemed to be in close company for most of the regatta, and it seems that that close rivalry has persisted into each of the subsequent regattas - we always finish within a very few places of each other, and there was only a single point between us in Kingston, Canada last year. That is the best part of the regattas - the annual catch-up.

Despite the friendly spirit of the regattas, the racing is not soft. It can have a distinctly determined edge to it. I realised after Hyeres, which is about 18 months ago, that I would need to do a lot of work if I wanted to ever have a chance at winning this event. It wasn't that my speed was so bad, but that any little mistake, or any speed weak-point, will be found out. Since my first worlds I have tried to put in a lot of effort into improving those weak spots.

I try to sail three or four times a week most of the time, and do fitness, flexibility and strength work most days in some form or other. I sail out of Port Melbourne in Australia and, though the Club has a number of very talented Laser sailors who will come out to train at times, most of my training time is alone. (Although there was one very notable training session last year: dawn on a weekday morning - 7am, 4 degrees C [about 40F], frost on the ground, with 20 knots of wind chill - and there are five Lasers training together off Port Melbourne.) Quality hours in the boat seem to really count for a lot - and I'm afraid that is neither new nor welcome news.

I have also found it is very easy for me just to go through the motions in training - get down to the boat a little late, do a few laps and a few tacks and think I have trained well. Because I do so much of my training alone, I think one of the keys for me is to be quite analytical and disciplined in my approach. I try to stay focused on the areas I most need to improve (this last year has been about building hiking strength and downwind speed) and set up some specific tasks for each session, as well as always including some handling and starting practice.

I also spend time after each session very deliberately trying figure out what I have learned – just trying to understand what is going on or how I might be able to do something better or fix an issue. As a result I have a number of exercise books full of notes, and I think that processing has really helped. I am always surprised at what subtle new learnings are lurking out there.

I think the biggest challenge for me has been downwind – particularly running in small to moderate waves. The techniques that make a Laser fast in those conditions seem like they are a “black art.” Coming into this regatta my mindset has always been trying not to lose too much on each run (rather than looking to gain places) – because the boats behind seemed consistently able to roll up to and over me. It also seems like it is a very tricky art to explain to someone who doesn’t get it yet. I don’t think I have yet come across any explanation that has really worked for me in a complete sense.

Having said that, I felt fast in this regatta, and was able to pull places back downwind. I suspect the difference might have been in lots of hours practicing the up-turn and the down-turn. I’m not quite sure. My logbooks are full of writing where I am trying to make sense of downwind technique and I am still trying to get my head around it. I suspect there is no short answer, but I just hope the new speed lasts.

I ended up using a Mark II sail for the regatta and fielded a few questions about what I thought of it. The short answer is that I prefer it, because it responds in a more familiar way to me than the Mark I, but I cannot honestly detect any consistent or significant difference in performance. Cristian Herman (CHI, 2nd GM) and Brett Beyer (AUS, who won the Masters for what seemed like the 100th time) seem quite able to make the Mark I devastatingly fast. The differences between the sailors seem to account for so much more than any differences between the sails.

The thing that I have found with the Mark II is that the settings are a bit more fiddly and precise. As a result, I use marks on the outhaul, cunningham and vang to keep track of the fast settings. (The best place for the outhaul and cunningham marks is on the ropes in between the blocks at the base of the mast and the cleats – the ropes don’t need to move nearly as much as for the Mark I sail, and using these marks it is much easier to get really accurate settings.) My set-up principles are:
  • don't move the outhaul much (and you don’t need to as there is very little stretch) - between half-a-handspan and a handspan of depth at the boom is right for most upwind conditions (and despite the greater depth through the middle of the sail [compared to the Mark I] it is easy to over-flatten the foot);
  • until fully powered always use enough cunningham to stay only just ahead of the wrinkles (which is less tension than is required for  the Mark I) - and when overpowered just pull really hard (some things don't change); and
  • go easy on the vang – you don’t seem to need quite as much through the middle and upper wind ranges as you do with the Mark I.
In flatter water (compared to choppy conditions) I go a little easier on the cunningham, about the same on the vang, and a little flatter in the foot.

I also believe that the sail needs a good amount of breaking in time - two or three times more than the 60mins of full-cunningham upwind sailing that the Mark I seems to need. I used a brand new (Hyde) sail for the regatta. I had done a couple of hours of sailing with it in 15 knots or so of breeze before the regatta, but felt quite slow in practice and during the practice race. The sail did not feel right – as if it was not properly broken in. So after the practice race, in the building sea breeze, I stayed on the water for another couple of hours just giving the sail a bit of a smashing, and it felt better after that. (I have used the Pryde version of the sail in our Australian Nationals and it is also really nice.)

So, what now? I hope to be in Split, Croatia for the next worlds. We'll see. It certainly promises to be another ripper of a regatta - they always are.

More pictures by Pam on the finish line. Keep in mind that this is the end of the race and everyone is exhausted!

June 10, 2016

The New Standard for Running Major Sailing Events

Nick Thompson recently won the Laser Worlds and said that this was the best event he has ever attended. Everyone who Pam and I talked with agreed, and what made it even more remarkable is that it was actually four Worlds held back-to-back. The organizers handled everything from a life-threatening medical emergency to cooling the hot pavement for tired barefoot sailors. Linda, Dan, Andy, and their team did a superb job and have shared how they did it and what they learned. The things that Pam and I feel made things extra special we've highlighted in green.

By Linda Green and Andy Barrow
·       No egos. Everyone pitches in when needed.
·       Flexibility. Listen to feedback and make changes as necessary. "No" is okay, but openly explore all options first.
·       Understand that ILCA's documents are negotiable. They will work with you, but know that they are also negotiating!
·       Organizing committee members should be accessible to competitors and race committee.
·       Charter support personnel should be immediately reach-able during race days.
·       Having a floating "Chief Troubleshooter" is a great way to unload the event chair and identify a go-to person for issues and support. Choose him/her wisely!
·       Know the strengths and weaknesses of your team and be willing to make adjustments.
·       Very few volunteers are able to,or willing to commit to the entire series of events.  Recognize that and plan on replacements.
·       Overly zealous volunteers can burn out quickly. Feed them, hydrate them, appreciate them and tell them that often.
·       Keep volunteer commitments to small segments of time to avoid burn out.
·       Parking competitor boats close to launching helps everyone.
·       It is not necessary to give everyone a designated spot for their boat. They will self-organize.
·       Put wash-down hoses far away from the launch area. Otherwise they clog up the launch/recovery area when they stop to wash down.
·       Having the accommodation on the same property is a win-win-win. Organizers save money on transportation,  competitors like the extra time it gives them, and the host resort loves it and will give you bonuses for the business.
·       Having kids help with launching is one of the biggest helps to competitors and the race committee. Launches go smoothly and trollies are organized after launch.

·       Outsource when possible. Use a destination management company for things like airport transport. Pass registration information directly to them - don't hold and forward. Same for the hotel.
Racing/Race Committee
·       Keeping the same experienced race committee team throughout the event was a huge help and contributed to our success.
·       Jeff Martin's gas horn system worked very well. Loud horns are very important. Cannons don't work as well.
·       Using What-App to communicate between race committee members (and scoring office) was a huge success. Scoring was done as competitors were coming off the water, which allowed them to get protests and scoring inquiries submitted in a timely fashion.
·       Understand the limitations of your infrastructure (in our case, the ramp) and have a clear plan for dealing with it. Change the plan as feedback comes in.
·       Make sure medical support is close, and you know what you are going to do in the event of an emergency.
·       Make sure medical support exists for little things (scrapes, bumps, cuts, etc.)
·       A flexible web site system that can be quickly changed is very useful. You need to be able to submit scoring for immediate publishing.
·       We added the registration spreadsheet to a database the allowed us to quickly create the badges for competitors, as well as the files for upload to the scoring system.
·       High speed internet is critical for the press - they will be uploading lots of video files.
·       Track web site traffic! It will help in your discussions with your sponsors when they ask if they got the exposure you promised.
·       Sailwave scoring system works fine. You don't have to use the ILCA recommended system (it's out of date now anyway). We can share our scoring files and processes.
·       Social media needs to be managed at the venue, not from a distant, outside service provider.
Support Boats
·       Make sure the committee boat is well stocked with spares and tools.
·       Keep at least one support boat in reserve for backup and for running people and materials out to race area.
·       Pin and Signal boats don't have to be keelboats. It's negotiable. 
·       Pin and signal boats need LOTS of anchor rope (at least 150 meters for the pin boat) and good anchors.
·       Keep an email list (or use a newsletter system) to allow email communication with all competitors and all volunteers.
·       The official bulletin board needs to be large, and doesn't need to be locked (but it does need to be covered).
·       Daily weather forecasts are useful to the race committee and competitors.
Details (they matter)
·       Using badges for identification of on-the-water status is much faster and easier than sign-in/sign-out, but it is more expensive.
·       Playing music during launch changes the whole attitude of the people who are launching boats.
·       With our hot weather, it was important to keep the ramp wet (to cool it) and to give out that last bottle of cold water.
·       Take care of the athletes.  They are priority #1.  Feed them, hydrate them, give them space to gather.
·       Keep opening ceremonies simple and fun; keep closing ceremonies simpler and more fun.  The same applies to the mid-week social.
Things we wish we could've done
·       Twitter from the water, including mark-rounding and other interest items.
·       Results on a monitor, rather than printed. Printing takes time and wastes a huge amount of paper.
·       Set up a weather station near the racing area.
·       This is a business and your relationship with local sponsors should be the same as any other sponsor.
·       Communicate with your sponsors. Let them know how their product/service is being advertised.

June 05, 2016

You've Capsized... How to Get Going Quickly!

By Doug
There's no shame in capsizing a Laser. Sailing aggressively downwind means risking a capsize.  So every capsize should come with "yeah, but did you see how fast I was going?"

In my 2016 Worlds Journal I mentioned how my good friend Alberto Larrea (ARG) tipped in race 1 and lost 6 places, how I mentioned a faster way to get going again, and how he tipped again in race 10 and only lost 2 places. Here's the problem with the normal way.

You're sailing downwind (the green dot is where your weight is):

The sail twists in the pressure, the forces become unstable and you tip to windward:

It's a mistake, and the way we fix mistakes is we try to undo them. In this case, and to stay dry, we climb over the gunnel onto the centerboard and use it to get the boat up again . But this pushes the rig under the water:

[Not shown: swimming around the boat and trying to get on the centerboard, which can be slow and difficult for many people, including myself.]

The boom might still be in the air, and there might be water on the sail, so time here is wasted:

And by this time, the wind has probably pushed the boat downwind, so when the wind gets under the sail, the boat capsizes the other way and you have to get on the centerboard again:

You finally have the boat up and you climb in. It's more than just slow, it's exhausting!

With a little Lateral Thinking, here's the trick I figured out many years ago that worked for Alberto... you're sailing downwind:

You tip to windward:

But you continue the mistake by grabbing the gunnel in the air and pulling it down:

You climb onto your boat which is easier than climbing onto the centerboard:

Your weight keeps the momentum going and you switch to the other side of the centerboard:

The boat keeps moving with the mast coming up followed by the sail:

You climb in, the boom's on the correct side, and you're good to go. It's faster, less work, and you might actually feel refreshed!

Note that this only works in deep enough water. Also, if you fouled someone, this does not count as a penalty turn!

June 01, 2016

2016 Laser Master World Championships (Nuevo Vallarta, MEX)

by Doug
These are my Worlds race journals that I make public so that others might  learn something from them.

As a lake sailor, I try to arrive early to get use to the open water conditions. As luck would have it, the local International Sailing Academy put on a pre-worlds clinic that was excellent, and they have agreed to contribute future blog posts.

Puerto Vallarta is on the west coast of Mexico in what local brochures call the world's seventh largest bay. The conditions this time of year are very predictable - the gradient (trade) wind is from the northwest and the sea breeze is from the west, This means that the waves are not at right angles to the wind. Upwind on port means slamming into the waves while downwind means the waves take you to the right of a bottom mark. The first race of the day is in 8-12 knots and this builds to 16 knots for the second race. Five of the six days had clear skies, so the sea breeze and waves were identical, while one day was cloudy and less predictable.

A typical race - me following Mark...
...or fighting for 2nd place.
As a first-time Great Grand Master, I was sailing in a small fleet so the starts were easy, the winds were steady, and it was a go-right course almost all the time. Adding this all up, it was all about boatspeed with virtually no tactics.

I've lost other Worlds from making the mistake of practicing what I'm already good at - light to medium winds. This Worlds was the first where competitors could choose the older sail or the new Mk II sail. I brought a one-series rolled older sail for two reasons: it was said to be easier to depower in a breeze, and I did not have the time to train with the new sail. My decision turned out to be the wrong one.

I bruised my ribs in Florida in February and had to drop out of Florida Masters Week. Then I broke my thumb 12 weeks before this event (domestic violence - our dog ran through my hand) and I could not sail or do any serious exercise, and was not in my best shape. My training consisted of second helpings. But this did not make a big difference in the outcome which typically looked like this:
  • I'd start near defending GGM World Champion Mark Bethwaite (AUS) at the favored end.
  • As soon as we could, we'd tack to go to the favored right side.
  • With excellent wave management, he'd lead the fleet to the starboard tack layline and first mark.
  • With great downwind speed and no chop from other boats, he'd stretch his lead.
  • Mark would win the race by a minute while the the fleet would race for second place.
The rest of this journal is adding to this basic scenario. Pam was again on the finishing boat taking pictures. She says that they kept the motor running to keep the boat facing the waves and not the wind which was from a different angle.

Pam taking pictures at the back of the boat.
Practice race: They combined the GM and GGM fleets, and Mark not only was the first GGM but also beat all of the younger GMs. We had similar speed off the starting line and first leg, but I was forced to tack away and never saw him again. He has what one coach calls "precision steering" that I first observed after race 6 of the 2007 Master Worlds - very little body movement and the best straight-line speed in the fleet. After the practice race, it was decided that the GMs and GGMs would have their own starts.

Day 1

Race 1: I normally like these conditions with flat water, but there was already some chop developing. Wanted to go right, so set up near the committee boat but there was a person in my spot, so put on the brakes and got below him to start right beside the committee boat, then tacked. Mark started about 3 down and also tacked so he was above me also going right. Our speed was similar and the wind was building going right as expected. The marks were hard to see from a distance, and I wanted to go with Mark but did not hear him tack. So for 10 more seconds continued going right. The wind continued right and we had both overstood, me by about 150 meters. Ouch. Mark was able to round just in first with me in 5th. We were sailing the inner loop and on the long run had marginal surfing conditions when sailing with the waves instead of towards the mark to the left. We all had to sail by the lee to stay near the rhumb line. Positions did not change on the run, next beat, or reach as Mark started to extend his lead. On the final run, Alberto Larrea (ARG) tipped, had trouble getting the boat up again, and lost 6 places (we talked about this later and I told him a trick described in another post). This moved me into 4th which was my finishing position. Mark did a horizon job.

The usual way by standing on the centerboard... slow!
Race 2: The race committee moved the pin to get the boats wanting to go right away from the committee boat. It worked and most started at the pin and then tacked onto port. I started about 4 up from the pin with Mark winning the pin and we all went right. I was above John Dawson-Edwards (CAN) and was able to watch him with his Mk II sail. We had similar speed at this wind strength. When we reached the port tack layline, I messed up my tack and he closed the gap and was right on my hip. Mark came in from the left and tacked in front, hemming me in. On port tack, John pointed higher, started to roll me, so I tacked twice to get some breathing space. Rounded 4th. After the run, took the left gate to go right, behind a fast James Temple (AUS) who pointed higher with his Mk II, forcing me to tack twice to continue going right. John got a good shift at the top of the beat to move well ahead. Still in 4th on the top reach. The runs are tricky with the building waves, the need was to catch them by heading up to the right, but then carve hard by the lee to stay on the rhumb line (it was interesting to see that Mark avoided this by jibing and sailing the bottom third of the run on port). Both John and James tipped in front moving me into 2nd. I jibed onto port to protect and sailed the rest of the run conservatively. Mark again did a horizon job.

To sum up:
  • The GGM fleet is small and competitive.
  • Sailors from the southern hemisphere are leading in all 4 fleets.
  • Mark steers through the waves better than anyone else here.
  • My best conditions (flat water, 8-12k) will have to wait until the next Worlds in Croatia.

Day 2

Race 3: With the lighter conditions, the first race would be my best chance for me to move up in the standings. But as the series went on, I found out that the Mk II sail had an advantage in pointing in these conditions which made upwind boatspeed problematic, and the starts and laylines dangerous. A late shift to the left made the pin favored, so I headed down the line. Wanted to duck a boat that was on the line but it bore off to defend, so I pinched to get some height at the gun. Tacked when the boat on my hip tacked. Mark had started at the committee boat, everyone went right, and Mark had already punched out. He tacked on the starboard tack layline and crossed just in front of me. With his Mk II sail and pointing ability, I counted to 5 and then tacked above him. At the top mark, he led with me and Alberto just behind. With the outer loop, the top reach and run followed, and Mark stretched out while Alberto started to mess with me by trying to get directly to windward. As we approached the bottom gate, I headed up to the right to catch a wave and then bore off clear ahead - no room. We jibed around the left gate and followed Mark on port to go to the favored right side. And then I got to see the new Mk II sail closely. In the building breeze, Mark pointed significantly higher than me, so I footed through his lee to go with Alberto who was also footing. Our positions were unchanged at the top mark but Alberto caught me on the run which was tricky because the waves were coming from the left side (looking downwind). Gaining speed by going right was offset by having to sail by the lee to go left. I jibed onto port to protect but Alberto bore off directly to windward on starboard with the right of way. Close to the mark, I carved to leeward, caught a wave, and broke the overlap. On the bottom reach, Alberto went into the passing lane so I headed up. With a big gap between us and the 4th boat, we had room to play, so I took him high, waited for the best wave set, and bore off sharply to sail by the lee this time to the right. With no overlap and room at the mark, and with a short beat, was able to hang on to 2nd place. Fun, tight racing with a really good sailor.

Race 4: Pin favored, Mark started there while I started 4 up between two with the Mk II sails - dangerous because of the risk of being pinched off. With the wind building and favored right, waited until the boat on my hip tacked and then followed while Mark was still boxed in going left. Close to the top of the beat, Mark led from the left side while I led from the right, and he leebowed me. For 30 seconds, tried to roll him knowing that he could point higher, and then put in two quick tacks to get some breathing space. Those few seconds turned out to be the only time in the first 8 races when Mark was not in the lead. He took off on the top reach with me and Alberto following. Positions held on the reach and long run, and we followed Mark as he took the left gate to again go right. Alberto was busy trying to hold off James Temple and after a wild run and lower reach, we finished in that order.

Mark on the top reach.

Day 3

Race 5: The line was long for the fleet size and it was pin favored, so I decided to try something different - hold back on port tack at the pin, find a gap, and shoot through in the favored direction to the right. This would have worked beautifully except there was no gap, so I had to duck the entire fleet. Pam was watching from the nearby finish line and later asked "What was that about?" Note to self: don't experiment at a Worlds competition. So I went right with the fleet to the left of me. Mark rounded followed by John Dawson-Edwards and John Robertson. The race was for 2nd place as we played the waves going downwind, me the to right of the others but I lost any gain when jibing onto port to get back to the rhumb line and the bottom mark. Still in 4th. On the second work, got John DE on a shift but John R still crossed in front and tacked above me on the layline. John R had overshot the mark slightly and I squeezed into 2nd at the mark and that's how we finished.

Race 6: Wanted to start at the pin but with 1 minute to go, changed mind and started 1/4 of the way down from the committee boat. John DE started at the pin and tacked. We all went right, speed was OK but not great, stayed away from the boats with the Mk II sail. Mark punched out and tacked with James tacking just below. Not knowing where the layline was and because it was easy to overstand, I tacked below them. John DE came in from the left ahead and tacked just below me, boxing me in and preventing me from footing to stay in clear air. Mark started to roll James who tacked away and then started to roll me, so I tacked away. At the mark, it was Mark, James, John DE, and me. Tried the new wave catching technique taught at the ISA that worked but was too far to the right and lost my gains sailing back to the rhumb line. Still in 4th at the end of the run, and everyone took the left gate to go right. John DE was in bad air so he tacked away. I could not point and put in 2 tacks to continue right following James who then tacked away, not sure why. So, Mark and I continued right and I was in 3rd at the top mark behind John DE who went low on the run catching waves. Rolled him as he tried to get back to the rhumb line with good speed on the waves. Held on to 2nd.

After the racing, Mark made the interesting comment that I was more competitive in the breeze than in my preferred lighter conditions. I found this interesting because all my life it's been the other way around. Yes, being able to depower the older sail helped but it was at the expense of having any advantage in my preferred conditions.

Day 4 (the only day that was cloudy, with a little less wind, and shiftier).

Race 7: Pin favored, started 3 up from the pin, could not hold my lane, took some sterns, went right with OK speed. Rounded 2nd at the top mark. Was a little slow on the run as catching waves was more difficult, but was able to stretch out on the next work, reach, and run. Finished 2nd.

Race 8: Pin favored again, Mark started at the pin, me 4 up. After a minute, Mark was able to tack, clear the fleet, and go right. My group going left included James and John R who were 3rd and 4th in the standings. Could have followed Mark by taking a few sterns but decided for the first time to do a little fleet sailing and cover my competition - the first time I was not sailing the course and the first time going left. Later on shore, I learned that we all wanted to go right but assumed that others wanted to go left... interesting psychology that worked against us. So when we tacked and met the right group, right had paid big time and were well ahead. Rounded 9th. The run was frustrating because it was hard to catch the waves and easy to get yellow-flagged, moved up to 7th by the end of the run. Went right on the next beat, rounded 6th at the top mark just behind 3 boats. On the top reach, catching waves meant sailing too low, so I stayed above the rhumb line and let the 3 just ahead sail too low. In the last 200 meters, they could not catch waves but I could, which moved me into 3rd behind Alberto. On the final run, I caught waves going right and got even with Alberto, but lost too much getting back to the rhumb line and lost the 3 I had passed on the top reach. Note to self - protecting a 3rd is better than trying for 2nd and then losing 3 boats. Could not make up any ground on the bottom reach or final beat, finished 6th. Too many mistakes and not enough speed.

Day 5

Race 9: Started 3 up from the pin, tacked as soon as the boats on my hip tacked. The 2 below, Mark and Poopy Marcon (FRA), continued left.
Mark starting right at the pin, me 3 up.

A few seconds later going left, the rest would tack and go right.
This time, had OK height with a looser vang and downhaul trying hard to stay away from John Roberson just below with his Mk II. On the starboard tack layline, crossed Mark coming in from the left to lead at the top of the beat, 20 seconds ahead of Mark.

A rare sight - Mark not leading.
On the top reach, he got separation and started to close the gap, and on the run we both caught good waves by carving. At the bottom of the run, I took the left gate to go right and Mark followed. We held even with Mark pointing and me trying to defend by footing. Things then got interesting at the top mark as we sailed into the end of another fleet that was coming off the top reach. The run was crowded with lots of chop that made catching waves hard. Mark went a little right of the rhumb line while I went a little left. Mark gained on the run and then again on the bottom reach. On the final beat, Mark tacked to go left and I decided not to cover which he later said surprised him. The reason was because of what I learned from race 10 at the 2015 Kingston Worlds - on the final beat, don't mess with a really good sailor and just head for the finish line. But two more issues related to my vision made it a much closer finish than planned: I overstood the layline to the finish by about 4 boat lengths, and finished at the committee boat end not the pin that was favored. You can see this in the video that Pam took here.

Race 10: Started at the committee boat, was first to tack to go right and Mark followed just above me. Could not point, and Mark and the boats around him gained 50 meters in height. On the starboard tack layline, the other boats that pointed higher tacked in front and I had to put in 2 more tacks to stay in clean air. Rounded 7th and passed 1 on the reach in the passing lane. Could not gain on the run and spent time defending against several just behind me. On the final beat, had trouble pointing but passed 1 more. On the run, speed meant taking chances, and Alberto tipped (but this time tried my suggestion to get up faster) and only lost 2 places. I finished 4th.

After the day's racing, Mark told me of an expression they use in Sydney (referring to me beating him in the first race and him beating me easily in the second): "Don't poke the bear!" With one more day remaining, Mark and I had secured 1st and 2nd and did not have to sail the final two races.

A reporter asked if he could interview me to answer questions about Mark, partly because I've known him since 1971 and partly because I'm the only one so far to have beaten him. Part of the interview is here starting at 0:55.

Day 6

Races 11 and 12: These were almost identical where I started at the committee boat with Mark just below and him pulling the trigger just before me. We tacked to go right, I could not point, and in both races rounded 4th. To be honest, I did not feel like working the boat too hard and was really just enjoying the moment and watching. In the first race, Mark pulled the trigger a little early and was disqualified. Bummer for him, and bummer for me not trying a little harder to finish in 2nd and then get the win. In the second race on the first run, Mark sailed too far right towards the outer gate and lost some ground but still won. And I passed Poopy on the final beat to finish 3rd.

On the way in, Colin and Max from the ISA gave me a cold beer which was very much appreciated. It was a broad reach sailing back to the club with pretty good surfing waves, and on one I slipped out with my feet still in the straps. I had to pull in the mainsheet in to get going again, but with the tiller and mainsheet in one hand and a nice cold beer in the other, I just laid back being dragged through the water enjoying my beer. Then I remembered Pam saying that a large shark had been seen in the area [corrected in the comments below] so I donated the rest of my beer to the ocean and sailed back to the club just like other normal sailors.

Cube winners.
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