December 04, 2017

Maciej Grabowski - Winning the 2017 Apprentice Master Worlds

For me, watching the 2000 Senior Laser Worlds in Cancun was memorable for several reasons – we had fantastic sailing conditions, the way Ben Ainslie was able to catch Robert Scheidt on the reaches, and the talk about the upcoming talent of sailors like Maciej Grabowski from Poland.

Since then, Maciej has won many international Laser events, has represented Poland at three Olympic Games, and has recently won the Apprentice Master Worlds in Split. Here’s how he trained, what he learned about the new composite top section, how he sets his MK2 sail differently, and how he sailed downwind to convincingly win in a small but very competitive fleet. 

By Maciej Grabowski
I was really looking forward to coming to Split this year. It was the first time that my whole family came with me to Croatia and it was fun having the kids around in the boat park. 

Olympic coaching

Sailing wise I did not feel ready at all. The small Apprentice fleet was not helping my chances. Neither was the little sailing I did since the 2015 Laser senior worlds. But going back to last January, I was invited by Kacper Zieminski (POL), who secured his Olympic spot for Rio games during 2015 Kingston Laser Worlds, to coach him during the Miami OCR. Spending a couple of weeks in Florida is always nice especially when the weather is really bad around here so I decided to go for what was supposed be a one-time only coaching trip.

But as it turned out, soon after Kacper asked me to join him for the remainder of his Olympic campaign and I ended up on the Polish Olympic Team as Laser coach. As much fun as it was, all those months prior to the games were really intense and I had to combine it with my regular job. Fortunately, I work for my father who took it easy on me and I was able to work a bit out of the office.

Anyway I ended up being a coach and not sailing Lasers for all of 2016. In late December, I bought a new Laser but was not able to use it until May when I went for a week to sail at Lake GardaItaly. Since then, I only did seven days of racing in Poland at two senior events and one more week in Garda. 

The composite top section and MK2 sail

During my second Polish event at the nationals, we had a nice 70 boat fleet and I felt really good in the boat so my expectations were up. The first day was maybe 10-15 knots and I decided to use my aluminum mast with Hyde sail, whereas all the top guys used composite and NeilPryde. I believe it was the 2nd race on day 1 when the wind was down to 10 knots and I managed to move from 4th at the top mark to maybe a 10 boat length lead at the bottom gate. In 10 knots I was really quick and felt comfortable before the second beat.

However the choppy water made a difference and the guy behind me started closing the gap and eventually passed me. Not only did he pass me but put another 50m on me during second part of the upwind. Despite a tight cover, he was able to get away.

What I noticed was that he would simply accelerate a bit quicker. We both would hit couple of waves, slow down but he would just recover faster. Of course I knew those guys spent really long hours training this year, but we did some racing all with aluminum masts a few weeks earlier and I knew that it was not only their fitness, technique, and time in the boat that was paying off. It had to be some influence of different equipment, something that I like to play with a lot myself too, but this year there was simply not enough time.

I haven’t done much sailing with a composite top section prior to the worlds but those couple of days I did sail in Poland were difficult ones. With more than 10 knots I was really struggling and ended up racing those two Polish events with aluminum top mast. However I knew that sooner or later there was no way back from a composite top.

Training in Split

Arriving to Croatia I was hoping to use the seven days before the event mostly to select the mast and sail I was going to use. I was lucky to have Brett Bayer (AUS) bring a NeilPryde sail for me which I thought would be better with the composite top section I was going to use.

So I started sailing in Split with a composite top and new sail. At the beginning it was looking really bad. I could not keep up with the guys I was training with. I was slower and even with a lot of effort I was able to be fast enough only a short while (we did some speed tests and I was able to keep up for 2-3 minutes) and I knew that in a regular race I would not last for the whole race.

Since I was mostly sailing with Brett and couple other guys from the Masters fleet, I knew that they were in a good shape but could not believe it was only better hiking causing so much speed difference. So I figured I needed to start looking elsewhere. First of course I would pay more attention to what the other guys were doing regarding their sail tuning (I was still at almost zero cunningham and big vang tension which is fast for the MK1 sail). Additionally I looked online at some photos from previous senior events just to have some reference regarding the sail trim.

What got me thinking was the sail damage happening in the senior fleet because several straps at the top of the sail were ripping. I’m not sure how many sails ripped and believe it was close to 20. Apparently, the stitching that attached the strap that limits the mast movement in the mast sleeve could not hold the big cunningham loads. This is what got me thinking about the cunningham because the sails would break when rounding the top mark with full tension. Surprisingly, this was only happening to Hyde sails and it turned out that the NeilPryde sails had more stitching at the sail head.

So I started asking how they set their sails, meaning vang, cunningham etc. As it turned out, the way I was trimming the MK2 was wrong - I was doing it the MK1 style, meaning no cunningham even in a big breeze, and it was not working with the MK2 sail. 
My old way of setting the MK2 sail - loose cunningham, lots of vang, and overpowered.
It's faster having lots more cunningham. 

This was a turning point for me, and from then on my upwind speed got at a level that I knew I was able to keep up with the rest of the fleet.

Competing in Split

For the worlds at Split, there was not really that much wind that having enough Cunningham tension was that relevant. I still would play a lot with this adjustment whenever breeze was up a bit. For me I’d say that learning how to trim the sail properly was more of a confidence boost so I knew I’d be competitive in 12 knots up.

The Apprentice fleet had only 14 boats, and Adonis Bougiouris (GRE) and Maksim Semerkhanov (RUS) were guys I knew from the World Cup circuit. I knew they did so much more sailing those past years than I did and it was not making me feel too comfortable before the regatta. Back in 2014 in Hyères I won first 4 races but from then on the breeze picked up and Adonis managed to beat me in what was looking like a match racing competition. I was really disappointed back then and was anxious not to let it happen again.

Because of the size of our fleet, I knew that I would have to keep an eye on both Adonis and Maxim and kind of let the other boats sail on their own. I’m sure it was a kind of an awkward view seeing the three of us sailing a separate race, but I knew it had to be like that. Adonis was actually the one trying to sail on his own in some of the races and it cost him few paces.

When I look back at it now, is sounds funny after winning all of the races, but right after the first start Adonis was to windward of me and he managed to roll over me with so such ease that I said to myself that there was no chance I was able to keep up with him. But I slowly started to get in the shift rhythm and arrived at the top mark maybe 3-4 boat lengths behind Adonis. Lucky I was at my (almost) senior speed downwind so I put maybe extra 10 boat lengths on both Adonis and Maxim on the first run.

I think that in every next race I was a little quicker upwind. But it was my downwind speed/technique that was winning races.

Downwind sailing

Regarding sailing downwind I could probably write many pages about it. The way I see it looking at the masters fleet, is that most guys were competing before downwind sailing techniques introduced the S sailing - meaning changing course when sailing downwind by either heading up or bearing off in order to get on more waves.

This is a way more complicated and sophisticated technique than it sounds. It is not only about going at a different angle than dead downwind. It is about being aware of how you need to adjust your sail, hull, position body in the boat – all in order to get on a wave a bit quicker. Even going by the lee is a skill - you obviously can’t go by the lee forever and getting back to the mark is an important part of the game. But to make it short, I think that for most of the masters fleet, this technique is something new, something they didn’t have a chance to learn properly.

There are of course some guys doing it better than others, but it is still possible to gain 200m or so during single downwind. It won’t happen in all conditions of course but this is something that all masters could work on.

Other than that there is really not that much difference between masters (in any category) and the senior fleet. Many masters would be competitive enough and fast enough upwind to be sailing senior’s gold fleet. But the downwind is something that makes all the difference.

The challenge with downwind training is that you would need to sail upwind for 2 hours in order to sail downwind for 30 minutes. And you need long hours sailing only downwind.

We used to go to lake Garda and train with the northerly wind early in the morning and sail from 8 until 11, break for lunch, wait for the wind to turn to southerly and sail back downwind again for another 3 hours.

Back in 2003 I used to train a lot with Mark Mendelblatt (USA). He invited me over to the US to train with him prior to the US Olympic trials. He already finished 6th at 2003 Laser Worlds, myself I just finished 3rd at the Laser Europeans (in Split) so we made a good training team.

The problem with Mark was that he was pretty slow downwind, so our focus was to make him a bit more competitive for the trials. We spent two weeks training in Oregon on Columbia River doing 20-25 miles downwind every second day. After moving to Texas for the trials we kept training for another two weeks with 75% of time focused on downwind. Mark eventually won the trials and finished 2nd at 2004 Laser Worlds. He was never the one gaining downwind like many of us were, but he stopped losing.

To sum up

So this ended up being my plan for the Split world championship – sticking with the guys going upwind and passing them downwind. Doesn’t sound like very exciting sailing but it actually was. I knew I had to stay focused because of what happened in 2014 in Hyères. On the last day Adonis made it a bit easier for Maxim because he was late for the last race with a black flag so we ended up match racing with Maxim, and was only able to pass him halfway up the last short upwind to the finish. This ended up being the race I was most happy with. 

Looking back at the event with a two month perspective, I’m afraid that if ILCA doesn’t do something with the regatta format, the Apprentice fleet will be gone soon. It was a bit disappointing racing only few boats after driving 1600km. Back in 2015 my home club was hosting Masters Europeans and all fleets sailed together. It made racing really fun.

November 23, 2017

Thoughts from a Female Sailor at the Laser Master Worlds

Intro and Comments by Pam
We received an email from a sailor we met through the blog and then at the Worlds in France and again in Split, and she wanted to share her thoughts. The email made Doug a bit emotional because he's seen me deal with some of the same issues when I've sailed with the local Laser sailors. Not all of them, but enough that it isn't fun and it brings out a protective side of Doug where he drops the gloves and says 'it's on!,' and proceeds to school the offending party on just how not fun he can make sailing for them. Not the most mature response ... so I am adding my comments below instead of Doug.

by Ute
Some thoughts from a female sailor of the last third of the fleet...

What I describe below sounds very negative and this clearly is not my intention. First of all I want to emphasize that I enjoy going to big regattas, sailing with nice sailors from all over the world, and making friends. So the negative I describe, fortunately, is only a small part of what happens during regattas.

Sailing in the last third of the fleet is a completely different experience of racing than what Doug usually describes. And being a woman often increases the differences experienced. [I've often felt that sailing in the middle to back of the fleet is the most frustrating.]

I think, and I know that many women agree, that we sail against different "groups" of co-sailors: [Ain't that the truth.]

Other women: usually very competitive and at the same time nice, decent, knowing the Racing Rules of Sailing, and sailing accordingly. [So very civilized and fun.]

Sailors I call "men": fortunately the vast majority of the fleet, just as the "women" nice, decent sailors, competitive, knowing the Racing Rules, and sailing accordingly. When racing, they do not make a distinction as to whether they compete against a male or a female sailor. [Always such a pleasure to sail with them.]

Sailors I call "macho men": they act differently when facing a competitive situation with a female sailor in contrast to a male sailor. Whether you are in front or way back doesn’t matter. Just being in the situation where a woman sails as good (or bad) as this "macho man" makes him act unreasonably and forget the rules he usually knows more or less well. This group of sailors is often hard - or impossible - to distinguish from the following group, the

"stupid sailors": surprisingly many sailors that go to the World Championships fall into this group and are typically found in the second half of the fleet. These are sailors who don’t even know the very basics of the Racing Rules. They just think about their fastest and easiest way to the finish line. In 2014 in Hyères, and also this year in Split, I filed protests that I easily won. This year the sailor I protested really thought that - being the windward boat on the same tack - he could bear away and not give me my right of way just because he had a bad tack and could not build up speed afterwards. 'What could I do? If I had gone higher, I would have not been able to move upwind….' (His statement to the jury.) And this is just one example of many. Doug, I am perfectly sure that you do not have the pleasure of experiencing this kind of situation at the top of the fleet. It’s amazing to watch the jury more or less successfully trying to suppress too obvious smiles… [It is indeed a challenge to distinguish between the overly aggressive and the challenged sailor. I can identify with the challenged one because I've been there, sometimes still am, but I really dislike the overly aggressive one.]

Why is it that so many sailors just stop thinking after they get what they want. Firstly, this holds true at the starting line. With 60 to 70 sailors in each fleet and three to four fleets in one racing area, I think it would be nice that you don’t linger on the starting line. Everybody tries to get a line sight or to determine which end is favored. So why don’t we all leave the line after we have gotten what we want? And, secondly, why can’t the sailors who have completed the last race of the day go a little bit further upwind to not completely block the air for those sailors still in the race. In the last race of my fleet in Split, the boat end was favored. I had tacked accordingly on the starboard lay line - and finished about 3/5 towards the pin-end, just because of those sailors who blocked the wind and created wake after finishing and directly heading home to the harbor. [Being on the finish line boat, I am always amazed at how many sailors at the front of the fleet turn and sail right into those finishing. I've seen the finish line boat repeatedly holler at them to go around and it always catches them by surprise and seems to have really never crossed their minds because they are so tired. Only the very, very top sailors seem to have the muscle memory to turn the opposite direction from home to avoid the finishing fleet. Brett Beyer comes to mind. He never turns into or interferes with the finishing fleet.]

Why is it that so many sailors just push their way through to get in the water in the morning or back on land after the races? In Split we had only four small ramps. So, coming back from the races was always a challenge. And you could count on the fact that, when several sailors came in at the same time and had worked out in what order to use the ramp, another sailor would aggressively come in, passing everybody else and being on land and dry within a flicker of an eye. This was, frustratingly, the case the one day the Bora came in at the end of the racing day. The harbor was packed with boats, what was described as the first motor boat blockade ever was set up so that not all boats jammed the ramps at once, boats where ramming each other or capsizing, one woman basically hung in the mooring lines of big boats secured in the harbor. And some young, strong standard sailors just passed them…. [Watching this dynamic of getting in and out is truly fascinating. So many different personalities at play. What I have observed is that the more people you know, the more considerate they are or the more willing they are to apologize and tell you why they need to jump in front. Doug spent more time patiently waiting than I would have, mainly because he observed a lot of inexperience and he didn't want to get tangled up and tipped by one of them but a few times someone he knew saw him waiting and knew he had broken ribs and would holler at him to go ahead of them.] 

If everybody thought a little bit ahead, if people knew the Racing Rules better (my American husband insisted that I learn the Rules when I started competitive sailing and we still learn by discussing different situations after regattas and checking carefully word by word what the Rules say), if people talked more to each other on the water, the races would be so much nicer! [I couldn't agree more. The longer you attend these things, the more you learn and the more people you get to know. Doug has introduced me to many a person that he has met on the water or in the protest room in less than desirable circumstances and went on to become good friends with them. Another thing I find fascinating and encouraging.] 

Some thoughts recently shared by Lyndall Patterson, multiple Laser World Champion, and top female sailor in the Radial Grand Master fleet in Split...

"I have found over the years a lot of respect and camaraderie amongst most sailors. I do find as a female sailor that the diamond is a disadvantage in a fleet especially in the latter part of a race as basically many competitors will choose to be ahead of a diamond if they can be. I have become aware of this and best way is to be clear ahead if possible and certainly not take it personally. Leave it on water and share support on land."

November 18, 2017

LP At It Again?

by Pam
What on earth is end game of Laser Performance "LP"?  By now, most have heard about LP beginning its hostile takeover of the International Sunfish Class Association (ISCA). Finally, it's the Laser sailors' turn to watch the fight from the sidelines. I know, I know, many have drawn the conclusion that the ILCA is next, but Bruce Kirby may still be holding LP at bay.

We all knew about the Kirby v. LP case. Some were partial to Kirby's side (ImproperCourse), some were partial to ILCA's side (ProperCourse), but very few understood or really got behind LP's point of view.  Some perceived the ILCA to be siding with LP but to me it looked more like the ILCA was playing a chess game with LP, and the ILCA had essentially decided to sacrifice a pawn (Kirby) in hopes of staying in play a little longer.  I thought it was the wrong move but I completely understood the logic of the move.  

When the decision on the court case was handed down back in December 2016, most decided Kirby had lost and stopped paying attention. There were rumors of negotiations taking place behind the scenes and that a decent settlement for all (except Kirby and Global Sailing "GS") was likely and the Laser sailing game would go on as usual. The ISCA has apparently been having those same types of negotiations behind the scenes and look where they are now. Fortunately, for the Laser sailors, Bruce Kirby always had the best interests of the sailors in mind (yes, I believe, even when he added the ILCA to the lawsuit). 

What most don't realize is that GS and Kirby did not just roll over and play dead when the decision was handed down in December 2016. In fact, the case is still pending, with the Judge issuing a decision in June 2017 saying that he made a mistake:

... The Court dismissed Counts I through IV despite the fact that defendants themselves did not seek dismissal of these particular counts on standing grounds (likely because defendants knew that the BRUCE KIRBY® trademark had not been sold to GSL). In view that defendants did not seek dismissal of Counts I through IV on standing grounds, I do not think it was incumbent on plaintiffs to have anticipated the Court's mistake by making a fuller record of precisely what intellectual property rights had been sold rather than licensed to GSL. Because of the Court's own mistaken understanding on this issue, I think it is appropriate to correct the error ...

In that same decision the Judge said it was too late for GS to amend its counterclaims against LP in the pending case so GS filed a new lawsuit against Rastegar in July 2017 and that case was then joined with the Kirby case in October 2017:

As we have seen before, this might buy the Laser sailors a few years before LP can fully swallow up the ILCA and, in the meantime, we get to watch the ISCA class play its chess game with LP and maybe learn a few things along the way.  

And, let's not forget that Kirby was particularly offended when he discovered that LP was trying to obtain the LASER trademark for the purposes of running regattas and he initiated cancellation proceedings of the LASER service mark (for regattas) as well as the LASER trademark (for sailboats). Unfortunately, he was forced to withdraw the cancellation proceedings for the sailboat mark since LP produced an old document stating that Kirby had agreed to never contest the LASER trademark (for sailboats). However, the US Trademark Office ruled that the agreement did not apply to the LASER service mark (for regattas) and allowed the proceeding to continue. That proceeding was stayed pending the outcome of the civil lawsuit but now appears to be moving again (but might get stayed again). In the meantime, LP filed for a new service mark for regattas on the starburst logo, which registered in July 2017.

It is curious to me that the rights to the LASER trademark (for sailboats) are held by Karaya (Jersey) Limited but the rights to the starburst logo trademark (for sailboats) are held by Velum Limited. Seems like that would somehow give rise to a legal argument about two different entities holding a trademark for the same product. I thought a trademark was supposed to help a company identify and distinguish its goods (and their quality) from the products of others.  I certainly do not know if a Laser sailboat is the product of Karaya, Velum, LP or the ILCA. I more closely identify the Laser sailboat as being manufactured by LP (in some jurisdictions) to the global standards of the ILCA and certainly not to the standards of Karaya or Velum (or any of the other Rastegar shell companies).

But, really I digress ... even though Doug and I both sold our Sunfish earlier this year, the main purpose of this post was to offer some information to the ISCA since they intend to play their chess game a little differently than the ILCA: 
  1. Take a look at the Kirby cancellation proceedings of the LASER trademark. Many of the assignment documents included both the Sunfish and the Laser.
  2. Take a look at an old post about the possibility of the SUNFISH and  LASER trademark being up for grabs.
  3. Talk to an attorney about "collective trademarks" and whether the Sunfish class has a rightful and priority claim to the Sunfish marks.  
  4. Take a look at the specimen that Velum filed to renew their registration and to evidence their ongoing use of the SUNFISH service mark for running regattas.  They did the same thing with the LASER service mark in the Kirby cancellation proceeding and then said that the ILCA was a licensee. How hosed up is that?  So the ISCA runs the regatta (allegedly, as a licensee) and that provides evidence for Velum's use of the service mark and then Velum can terminate the alleged license and then gets to keep the service mark ... when it has never run a regatta?  

All of this might be a dead end but it might give your attorneys something to think about.  The ISCA is different from the ILCA in that AMF Incorporated filed for the SUNFISH service mark for running regattas back in 1972 with a first use date of 1959 and Velum subsequently acquired those rights. Sadly, I think it was LP's review of the trademark portfolio that might have inspired and motivated them to take over running of the regattas. But, surely it could be argued that they abandoned the service mark for running regattas because they have not done so for quite some time (like ever according to ISCA's recent writing). Whatever you do, good luck!  We are all watching and rooting for ISCA!

Disclamer:  All of this is personal opinion and speculation from a 20 year patent paralegal who is completely unqualified in trademarks but just might have a slight advantage in knowing where to look for some information.

November 07, 2017

Spring Racing Down Under

Lasers in Sydney, with historical 18' skiffs in the background.

By Doug
Being an honorary member of the best Laser club in the world has its privileges. Like getting reports of the events that Pam and I are unable to attend. Last weekend, they had 54 Lasers in a race against another local club. Brett Beyer was on hand coaching and he graciously shared his comments for the standards and radials starts.

Finn Alexander, Aussie Youth Sailor of the Year, wins the pin.
It’s bad enough to miss being in Sydney when you see the awesome race program that they have, and it’s worse to miss out on Brett’s coaching. There will be another chance in April at two clinics he’ll be giving in Mexico at the International Sailing Academy.

November 04, 2017

Kerry Waraker - Winning the 2017 Legend Master Worlds

I used to belong to Hudson Yacht Club west of Montreal. To keep it fair, their annual club championship was sailed in a different type of keelboat and I asked if they'd consider sailing it in Lasers. A fellow told me no because "Lasers aren't meant to be sailed by people over 35." Boy, was he wrong!

At the Laser Master Worlds, we have a category called Legends for sailors over 75. I love this because it shows how long we can compete if we stay in shape and take care of ourselves. The current Legend World Champion is Kerry Waraker from Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron. Here's how it's  done.

Christy Usher/Christine Robin Photography  

By Kerry Waraker
Preparation for the World Laser Masters at Split 2017

At the presentation ceremony at the Split Laser Masters Worlds, Doug asked if I would write about my preparation for the Worlds and later he added a few more topics of avoiding injury while sailing/training, mental approach, race strategy, and managing competitors.

Southern Hemisphere Laser Masters sailors are at a bit of a disadvantage when the Worlds are held in the August - September period in the Northern Hemisphere. Typically our summer sailing season ends around Easter time so there is about a 6 month period before the Worlds without much competitive sailing. In Australia we have a few Frostbite races and the South Pacific Laser Masters regatta (a 4 day regatta) about 8 weeks before the Worlds. This means we have to train through winter and try to adjust to make up for the lack of fleet racing to be fit and at our peak for the Worlds.

Looking at the wind statistics for Split for the last week of September over the last 4 years it was likely to be a light wind regatta and it seemed that getting 10 or more races in for second scoring drop was very unlikely. This put extra pressure on consistency. Another piece of information was from one of our local young sailors who had competed at Split a year earlier and he suggested that the water was choppy and not dissimilar to the chop on my home club race area. This could be to my advantage   

My 2016/17 club sailing performance had been disappointing and reflecting on that I determined that to get ready for the Worlds I needed to change a few things. 
  1. Improve my fitness and hiking
  2. Improve my boat handling
  3. Get my head out of the boat to more closely watch competitors and look for the wind on the water
  4. Improve my down wind speed
  5. Lose a bit of weight and get down to about 72  kg 
  6. Reread relevant sections of a few good sailing books
Coaches around the world have been stressing the importance of all the above items for years so nothing really new there. 

Fitness and Hiking

I started my fitness program about 4 month before the Worlds by cycling a couple of times a week and trying to get on the water 1 or 2 days a week. By the time of the Worlds I had increased my sailing to 3 or 4 times a week and spent 30 minutes a day on an exercise bike and did sit ups on non sailing days and when the sailing breeze was below full hiking strength. I changed from cycling to exercise bike about 8 weeks to eliminate the danger of a fall and injury while cycling. I find the exercise bike extremely boring but it had to be done

Boat Handling

Obviously with the sailing I was doing boat handling improved and also the improvement in my fitness contributed to improving my boat handling towards the end of tiring sailing session. My jibing has generally not been a problem for me but tacking and buoy roundings left room for plenty of improvement. Practicing and analysing what to do to improve manoeuvring paid off and some improvements were achieved. The boat handling skills of our young sailors is just amazing and watching them just makes me feel inadequate 

Head out of Boat

Looking at your competitor’s position and for favourable wind angles and pressure are important all around the course but more difficult on the upwind legs. More time in the boat and improved fitness has the outcome of not being concerned with boat speed and sail setup. Being fitter results in hiking properly and not worrying about it hurting so much while time in the boat improves your feel for how the boat is performing speed wise and enables you to quickly feel any reduced speed and make the necessary adjustment to sail settings. As result more time is available to look outside the boat at your competitors and the wind on the water

Downwind speed

My downwind speed in smooth water was OK but when we had waves and/or choppy conditions I was not as quick as a couple of my training partners. Interestingly they used different techniques. One sailed very much down the rhumb line with only small angles and minimal sheet adjustment while the other sailed wide angle and with plenty of sheet adjustment. Which technique was faster depended on wave conditions and wind strength. By the time of the Worlds I was almost as fast as both my training partners and had a good idea when to use which technique

Lose weight

I normally sail at about 76kg and as Split was predicted to be a light wind regatta shedding a few kg to about 72 kg seemed a good idea. I thought that I would probably have to watch my diet to achieve this reduction but as the exercise increased the weight came off without dieting and I arrived in Split at about 72 kg

Books and Mental Approach

Advanced Racing Tactics (Sturt Walker), Championship Sailing (Gary Dobson) and Wind Strategy (David Houghton & Fiona Campbell) are the books that I find helpful in getting my thoughts in place for a major regatta. Each time you read or reread relevant sections it helps the mental preparation. It gets you thinking about what you have to do on the race course. You also pick up on little issue that you hadn’t recognised previously which all helps to put the whole requirements for a successful regatta together. It is very easy to form a habit of just turning up to a regatta and just going through the motions without very much thought to what you are try to achieve. I think this is especially true as you get older and have done a lot of regattas. In my younger days I got very nervous before and in the first part of an important regatta but these days I am much more relaxed about it all but suspect at times I’m too relaxed and hence the reading helps to get you into the right frame of mind and thinking about what is required both on and off the water during the regatta

General comment on the Training Regime 

There is nothing better than to have at least equal and preferably better boat speed than your competitors. Better boats speed makes your race strategies and tactics look a lot better than they probably are although you still need to be reasonable proficient in these areas to do well in a high quality fleet. So given this thought I put a lot of effort into boat speed in my on water training. As Split was going to be a light wind regatta and my better results had generally come from stronger wind regattas I needed to spend time training in 4 to 8 knots wind conditions. The added requirement was to sail in heavier winds to get the hiking fitness needed in case of stronger winds in Split. The local winter winds characteristics allow me to do about half my training time in each of these conditions. By doing a lot of 2 boat sailing in the light conditions I arrived in Split feeling my light wind speed was good and this was confirmed in the practice race where I got to the first windward mark in first place and finish second.

Race Strategy

Starting and getting clear air is essential for a good result. In Split the starting line was fairly long with 62 starters and the pin end always seem to be favoured. I elected to start a third to half way down the from the start boat. The two reasons for this were that the pin end was very crowded and only a few boats come out of that position in good shape and advice from an Aussie sailor who sailed in the open Worlds was that with the wind in SW to W area the right seem to be the favoured. Starting closer to the boat allowed an easier passage to right by taking a few sterns if the start wasn’t so good. The advice about the right seemed be correct so I maintained this strategy for the whole regatta. My windward strategy was to be conservative in the first windward, not to be too far away from the leading group if possible, and try to be in the top 10 at the first mark and be a bit less conservative in the second windward if need be. This all fell apart in one race. In that race I had a good start and sailed on starboard with my mind in neutral waiting for a knock to tack back (which never came) and finished up overlaying the windward mark quite substantially. Talk about a senior’s moment?? I rounded the windward mark with only a few boats behind me but managed to get back to 15th which fortunately was my drop. 

Managing competitors

Looking through the list of entries in my category Peter Seidenberg was obviously one of my main competitors and in light conditions Steve Avery had gone well in Oman. I didn’t know a lot of the European entrants so they were a bit of an unknown. Also with the scoring method of taking the overall results from the combined GGMs and Legends fleet meant that all the GGMs were part of the equation and the more GGMs that you beat the better. After a few races it became obvious that Peter was the main threat so I tried to keep an eye on him preferably from in front of him

Avoiding injury

Doug asked me to comment on this topic but I’ve not had any serious problems with injuries over the years I have been sailing (most of my life). Probably the worst injury was during the preparation for Split where I got 2 very small tears in my left shoulder and it still isn’t better. It didn’t really worry me much while I was sailing. I think the tears were a result of doing push ups but not sure. Anyhow I stopped doing push ups. I guess I am lucky that over the years this has not been an issue for me. I know I’ll have to stop Laser sailing sometime but not sure when. Peter Seidenberg is nearly 2 years older than me so maybe he will be my guide on this. Peter is still going as strong as ever so hopefully I’ve at least a couple of years left in me.

Photo from RQYS

October 28, 2017

Bill Symes - Winning the 2017 Radial Great Grand Master Worlds

Bill is the driving force behind the Columbia Gorge Racing Association which for 21 years has hosted world championships, national championships, and the famous Gorge Blowout.

Bill had an outstanding come-from-behind win at the recent Master Worlds in Split. At any given event several people can win, and Bill explains how he was able to “find the magic” to win this world championship.

By Bill Symes
Doug has asked me to share some insights from my effort to win the 2018 Laser Masters Worlds (I sailed in the Radial Great Grandmasters division). The short answer is: sometimes the magic works. After 12 LMWs, I’ve learned that, no matter how well prepared I think I am, I could as easily wind up 20th as 1st. There are just too many variables that can’t be controlled, and you need a few breaks to win. This year I got the breaks. But I know readers of this blog will be looking for something a little more substantial than luck and magic. So here goes.


I set some general goals for fitness and weight loss at the beginning of the year, but unfortunately couldn’t muster the discipline or enthusiasm to get to the gym. Fortunately, I do like to sail. I logged more than 80 days on the water prior to Split, including a couple of very productive training sessions at the International Sailing Academy in Mexico and the Columbia River Gorge, with excellent coaching from Vaughn Harrison, Colin Gowland and Brett Beyer. I was also lucky to have some very fast rabbits to chase around, including Olympic campaigners Marek Zelesky and Justin Norton, and masters aces Andrew Holdsworth and Keith Davids. I’m sure this raised my game a notch or two.


The competition in our fleet promised to be stiff – 62 competitors including five former master world champions and the usual contingent of newcomers aging into the division for the first year, with the advantage of (relative) youth. But the man to beat was defending champ Rob Lowndes from Sydney. Rob has been a good friend and archrival since our first meeting in 2002 in Hyannis, MA. We’ve taken turns beating up on one another over the years, but lately he seems to have had my number, taking first to my second in the last two LMWs. That needed to change.

The conditions were light to moderate (7-11 kts) with small waves, the lower limit of my range but fortunately just enough to get my 180 lb. butt on the rail most of the time. Rig set-up was for max power, with a fairly deep outhaul and rarely more than a touch of downhaul. Upwind, I was usually sheeted out more than the boats around me, but seemed at least equal in speed and height.

The start was critical (no surprise there). With 60+ boats on the line, my focus was to secure a clear lane with good tactical options, so unless one end was really favored, I tended to set up closer to the less crowded center. I worked very hard to get good line transits (not easy to find on the featureless hillsides of distant islands – “hmmm, looks like third dip to the left of the highest rise . . .”). This usually enabled me to get punched out a boat length or more from the pack and sail the first beat in clear air.

Upwind the conventional wisdom was to go right, as the expectation was for the sea breeze to veer as it filled in. Sometimes it did; sometimes it didn’t. My usual approach to the first beat was to lean right, but take advantage of little oscillations to work back to the center (the only time I went all the way to the right corner, the wind went left – with disastrous results). Although I rarely rounded the windward mark first, I was usually in touch with the leaders.

Off the wind, it paid to be aggressive. I was able to pass boats on the reaches and runs by working harder to keep the boat surfing in marginal conditions, keeping the rig pressured up and sailing hard angles but always mindful not to stray too far from the rhumb line (a dangerous tendency in a big fleet). I spent a lot of time working on downwind speed this year, and it made all the difference.

In Conclusion

Success in a sailboat race is the cumulative result of a multitude of small turning points: win or lose a clear lane at the start, wind up on the right or wrong side of a shift on the first beat, round ahead or behind the peloton coming into the leeward gate. And of course, avoid the big mistakes, a capsize, a collision, a yellow flag, a missed mark, or one of those dreaded three-letter scores (OCS, BFD, DNF, DSQ, etc.), all of which I’ve had my share of in past LMWs. Fortunately, this time most of the turning points went my way and I was able to avert any major disasters.

I’m an intuitive sailor. Unlike many successful competitors, I have no engineering background and little technical or mechanical aptitude. Fortunately, I have 60 years of sailboat races under my PFD. I do best when I can turn off my thinking cap and sail on muscle memory. Call it “flow” or “the zone”, that elusive state of mind where relaxation and arousal find the perfect balance; you are focused, in the moment, running completely on instinct. I don’t know the recipe (wish I did; I’d bottle it and uncork it when needed) but I believe it begins with the quality of life off the water, which in my case was superbly managed by my wife, lover, first mate, social director, travel coordinator, mental health counselor, and head cheerleader LauraLee. Thanks to her, I was able to find the magic.

October 25, 2017

NA Brett Beyer Clinics Announced

By Doug
Brett recently won his 13th Master Worlds that you can read about here. His report included: 

My downwind speed was exceptional. I for sure overtook nearly all my competitors downwind rather than upwind. This is still one of the biggest mysteries to Master Laser sailors and is not easy to understand or to train for – hence the massive speed differences downwind.

Brett is currently coaching in Sydney which gives the Aussies an advantage, but he’ll be back in North America for two weeks at the International Sailing Academy:

Highly recommended!  (I’m going)

October 21, 2017

What To Do With A Big Stick

by Pam
I just got back from my 5th Laser Masters Worlds with Doug and I’ve drawn a line in the sand. Never again!!  Not ever, no way, no exceptions!! Something has to change.

Every year, Doug leaves a week early and I join him a day or two before the event starts. I plan my packing so that everything (all my stuff, all the US team shirts, and Doug’s last minute forgotten items) easily fits into my luggage, which is all wheeled so that I can handle it unassisted. On the return trip, Doug and I travel together and I am punished for my efficiency.

Doug travels with this massive, 50”, soft-sided, duffel bag that could easily fit a grown man inside. The reason -  it is the only luggage he has been able to find that his 47” hiking stick will fit into. For years I have  tried to get him to switch to something else and for years I end up getting all of my luggage with one hand while dragging half of his with the other. 

This year, while hurriedly dragging his body bag off the train the middle of Milan, ITA, I just started laughing hysterically and almost wet myself right then and there. Remember, he is recovering from two broken ribs. One train, one bus, two shuttles, one hotel, and two planes, all of which all seemed to be connected with lots of walking in between, not a lot of time to connect, and few carts or porters available. We alternated between dragging, tripping, swearing, dropping, and desperately hunting for carts or assistance all the way home. Every single person that helped us, or almost tripped over us, asked what was in the bag with Doug telling them it was his cousin or grandmother. 

By the time we got to the second to last airport, I was done. Broken ribs or not, my hands and muscles were trashed and he was going to get that damn bag himself. I went ahead with my luggage and when I looked back, there was this helpless looking, old man, with both hands behind his back dragging one side of this massive bag and his knees were literally buckling as he struggled to take each step. I struggled not to laugh out loud but let this go one for about 100 yards then finally stopped him and asked if he was finally ready to burn the dang bag when we got home. He agreed and I pointed to the carts that were lined up outside that he had not yet seen. When we finally arrived home, Doug could not understand why his ribs hurt more now than they did the entire time he was competing. 

So … for all his talent on the race course, he has not solved this issue and it would appear that everyone else already has. How do you travel with your hiking stick?

October 18, 2017

Al Clark - Winning the 2017 Grand Master Worlds

I’ve had the pleasure of racing against Al since the late 70’s. He’s always been known for his consistency and percentage sailing where winning races is not as important as winning regattas. This year, he sailed with amazing consistency to win in the arguably most competitive fleet – the 68-boat fleet Standard Grand Masters. Here’s how we did it.

Al Clark leading Andy Roy at one of the weather marks.   Christy Usher/Christine Robin Photography  
They would finish the championship in this order.
By Al Clark
2017 has been busy for me with my full time position at Royal Vancouver YC as their head coach. Duties including coaching our Laser / Radial high school aged sailors. Also I coached 29’ers at their Midwinters in March and Worlds in August. I particularly enjoyed these high level events with some very talented sailors. I love to learn about new boats and get all the pieces together to help them go fast the right way.
The third component has been coaching some of our Race Team alumni, Kyle Martin in his Finn (Miami OCR and Sailing World Cup Final) and Isabella Bertold (Delta Lloyd and Worlds in Holland). 
I watched and competed in about 17 regattas, 8 major events in 2017. So I would say I saw plenty of high level sailing and have come up with over the years ideas how to get to the front of the fleet.
My training for this years Worlds (Vacation time for me with my wife Sharon) was very minimal, I wasn’t sure I had the mental energy to attend but signed up believing that when the time came I would be excited to race.
I did sail a local regatta in early July in Radials and then sailed the US Nationals in Lake Tahoe later that month. I was keeping in decent shape at my crossfit gym and riding my bike.
On water training prior to the worlds was a few days in early September, then it was on the plane to Croatia with the idea of sailing at the site. I had chartered a private boat and was able to start practice Sunday September 17th, so with the practice race on the Saturday the 23rd, I had the week to work up to race trim.
I bought a carbon top section and had a new sail, added my own hiking strap and compass (I use the compass quite a bit these days). Generally was quite happy with the boat (I really like the new boats from LP) and the gear by the end of the week.
I have marks for my vang, outhaul and cunningham. I find that when I feel the boat is fast with certain adjustments I make a note of it and try to keep that in mind. An example is I had 2 distinct marks on my vang for puffs and lulls in the 6-10 knots we sailed a lot in. My outhaul marks are for upwind, a 1-5 scale on my deck.
Racing starts
The practice race (I sailed one lap) went well and I had decided to start near the favoured end then go on the first shift. Andy Roy (CAN) was first off the pin then tacked, Peter Vessella (USA) was fast off the boat and I trailed both of them at the weather mark. I was in about 6th by the end of the run. Generally happy with my execution. The breeze was about 6 knots.
One of the factors for this event became clear after the practice race. The sail out to the race course was going to be about an hour and a half each day with at least an hour sail in. The wind didn’t happen till about noon each day (if it happened at all) so we were going to have long days on the water with lots of waiting. As a coach I am used to this.
The silver lining for me is that all the sailing out then in gave me plenty of time in the boat and I know that as I get the “feel” back I can be very quick in moderate wind in the Standard rig.
I was training whenever I wasn’t racing. Also entering the harbour each day there was no wind so I had a chance to work on roll tacks and gybes.
The first two days of the regatta (Sunday and Monday) we had no wind so there was a lot of catching up with old friends. Monday was cancelled early so after chatting with some of the guys I was walking home and noticed there was a late afternoon breeze so I went sailing for a few hours. I really like sailing everyday when I’m at these events, even for a short time.

Pam took this video of the racing on Tuesday. It's typical of the conditions that
we had - 10 to 12 knots with short choppy waves. There were not many
shifts upwind, but some good chances to pass going downwind.
The Tuesday we had a decent sea breeze (12 knots) by the time racing started and many of the favourites were near the pin at go. Andy Roy was smokin’ fast in this start and I made up my mind to stay with him. This ended up being a recall. In the next start I was motivated to go hard near the pin again and was near Andy and a number of other favourites. I realized that my speed was good and my height also. I arrived first to the weather mark then sailed too conservatively on the run and rounded third. I fought through the race and was better on the final run, I had a 5 boat length lead down the final reach. Unfortunately I picked up a bag on my rudder and was passed by 2 boats.
Race two I made adjustments and again was pleased with my speed, I won this race with a good gap and felt, as I sailed in that this was one of my best sailed first days at a masters worlds (nerves had been an issue), my self talk was to execute the game plan without fear. Keep the “what ifs” at bay. An example is don’t go to the lay line to early or have faith in the decision your making.
Wednesday was slightly lighter wind but again 2 good races, I was a little too conservative in race one but was generally happy with a 4th, Andy won that race. The next race was Andy leading again at the top mark, I snuck into 2nd on the rounding, I sailed smarter on the run and rounded close behind Andy going out to the right. I hung with him (happy with my height) then decided to carry on after Andy tacked, this got me into the lead, I extended down the reach and won race 4.
So after 2 days Andy Roy, Tomas Nordqvist (SWE), Peter Vessella (USA), Wolfgang Gerz (GER) and Nick Harrison (GBR) were all sailing well and the battle was on for the Championship.
Wednesday no racing
Thursday brought again little wind and lots of waiting on the water with one race. This turned into a pivotal race. I started near the pin even though my compass was saying square line, even a bit boat favoured, it never came back from this and with plenty of scrambling ended with a 10th. Andy sailed a nice race and could have led but a big righty came in late up the first beat, and Tomas won this race. So now we have a close battle for the podium, with others ready to pounce.
I decided that generally this race was one that I left the game plan and that I would ignore it and focus on the good races I had sailed.
Friday no racing, we actually had a breeze come up but ended up being too unstable and with the 175 Standard rigs on the course, we needed 2 hours to get in before sunset, pressure was building. There were a number of sailors that thought I had it won because the forecast for the last day was poor and there would be no racing after 3.
I kept to the routine and sailed out to the race course on Saturday. I will say that the long waits and the broken up regatta between races was difficult and I was pleased that I entered the final race with a positive mindset. I was determined to be on my front foot going hard, same as all the races that I did well in.

We had one race with a late moderate sea breeze that was enough for me to be in the hiking strap (always good). I had a midline start that turned into a decent rounding at the weather mark (5th), I passed Tomas on the run and headed left in 4th with the two leaders well ahead. Tacking on the shifts up the beat (many were going left), I gained and was close in 3rd with a good gap to the rest of the fleet.
Andy and Tomas now had their own battle going on for third place overall, and I only had to keep my head. I ended 2nd in the race and was relieved that I had not let myself down by sailing poorly but had risen to the occasion. Andy did what he had to with Tomas ending 2nd overall, Tomas 3rd.
My post mortem for the event is that the psychological aspects of competing are of utmost importance. There are a number of factors that helped me succeed - boatspeed and height (when needed), executing quality starts, solid lane sailing tactics on the first beat, aggressive tactics on the run, hitting shifts on the second beat (and remembering that what seemed to work on the first beat doesn’t always work on the 2nd), pushing hard to the finish.
It was amazing how much nicer it is to have a countryman and friend (Andy Roy) nearby on the racecourse when I wasn’t sure about a strategy. We fed off each other in terms of confidence, discussing tactics etc. at the end of each day.
Looking forward to the Worlds in Ireland next September.
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