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.


  1. Doug, never seen a shark here! Could've been a big dolphin or a wing tip from a large manta ray - lots around at this time. Too bad you had to sacrifice your beer - we'll replace it next time around.

    1. Darn, wish I'd known, and look forward to the replacement!

  2. Hi Doug, thanks for posting these notes. You refer to your suggestion to Alberto about how to get up faster after his Race 10 capsize. Can you explain what this involves please.

    1. Done, see http://www.impropercourse.com/2016/06/youve-capsized-how-to-get-going-quickly.html

    2. Nice ! That makes complete sense when you think about it.


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