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.

October 14, 2017

Italian Clinic Day Two

By Doug
A little delayed in posting this due to a detour of broken ribs, the Split Worlds, traveling back home and then getting caught up ...

On the second day of our clinic in Italy before the Worlds, Mark Bethwaite and I talked about something that very few sailors do - stretch before and after sailing. I put my routine here, and the following pictures are how a top Great Grand Master does his. If you prefer, Pam was also taking a video that you can see at the bottom. We took these on Roberto and Christine's balcony overlooking Lake Garda... such a beautiful home!

And here's the same routine with the video that Pam took:

October 11, 2017

Michael Nissen - Winning the 2017 Great Grand Master Worlds

Thom Touw Sailing Photography
I first met Michael on the water before the 2007 Laser Master Worlds in Roses, Spain. It was a practice day with a really strong offshore breeze that someone called the Spanish Hammer. I wrote in my worlds journal about winds of 40-50 mph, small sand dunes forming between the boats on the beach, and how we won’t sail in these conditions.

But on this practice day, three of us did: Michael Nissen (GER), Wolfgang Gerz (GER), and me. It was great fun and a little crazy.

Michael finished 2nd that year and this year won his first Laser Master World Championship as a GGM. Here’s how he did it.

By Michael Nissen
Please let me start by writing about my preparation for Laser Master Worlds in Split by confessing that I am still working almost full time. That limits my opportunities to go sailing, especially training in the boat. While my time in the boat is not as much as it should be, I usually attend the gyms in hotels during business travels. For decades now, I have done power training regularly at home.  Power training includes the legs and arms, front and reverse sides, and the core body in all four directions. Especially with squats, I still go to high loads from time to time.

Besides that, I found race-biking as a new sport about 8 years ago, now doing about 3 to 4,000 km per year. I would say that I am doing sports in one way or the other about every second day. I dare to state that this keeps me fit.

Fitness in the boat though is usually lacking when I am traveling to big races. I have a hiking bench at home that I use frequently before racing to adapt the muscles to the static load of hiking after having trained in the gym or on the bike.

In the old days of Finn and Starboat sailing, I used to set up a list of weaknesses that should be trained. I still do that in my mind today, but the list is much longer now. For example, I think that my heavy air tacks are lousy. That could trained very nicely on on Lake Garda (400 km away) if the time were there. Winds here on Starnberg Lake, south of Munich, are usually light. My gybes in light wind are also bad. Therefore, whenever I sail I try to do to tacks and gybes to improve. I am totally convinced these are the easiest meters to gain! Have you ever lost against a young guy starting to do repetitive gybes before the lower mark?

In general the list of weaknesses not only contain boat handling but also wave and weather patterns. (For some reason I almost never make the early tack on a persistent and continuing shift. I always hope the shift comes back...). In the old days I loved to sail in heavy air. I still love it but it does not love me anymore. One of the reasons is the light air here in my home region.

Sometimes, I discover some completely new things that the young guys do when I am watching videos or listening to talks. When I started Laser sailing, sailing by the lee was such a thing. It took me years to half way learn that. Torquing the body in coordination with steering up and down and adjusting the main sheet at the same time is a thing that I would love to learn. In the Finn and now in the Laser, I can only do it with a certain wind strength and a special wave pattern (and only for a very limited period of time...). 

The center of Europe is normally a very good place to sail because the Mediterranean (Roses, Callela), the Atlantic, and the Baltic/North Sea are all not too far away. This year I used these opportunities and sailed in Callela, the Europeans in Brittany and the German Masters in Kiel, including a week of training. The conditions in Kiel, by the way, were very much the same as in Split... The varying conditions these areas offer, help to develop skills in all kinds of winds and wave patterns. But you need to travel. Time is of the essence! If you don't have to live with the respective shortcomings, which I do. 

What about the starts during the championship? 
Concerning the starts, I think we had a very long starting line for the number of boats that were in our fleet. The line usually was very, exactly positioned. Like always, choosing the favoured end was very important. For all races, including the last one, I always took the end which I thought was best. Mark Bethwaite (AUS) chose the opposite boat end for the last race, which I believe was not good). With the small number of boats, there was always space enough to go close to the ends. Surprisingly, it did not pay off to sail out of the boat end, with a little disadvantage hoping for a shift to the right, which I believe the sea breeze could have offered. To my mind in did not make sense to start in the middle (danger of middle line sag!!!) as we had a rather constant wind.

The final, deciding race
Mark and I went into the last race with a one point lead on my side. Also he had to be better than 3rd including being ahead of me. In general, the positive outcome of the championship changed various times during that race.

Going into the last downwind, Mark was a close 2nd behind Doug Peckover (USA) with me and Alan Keen (RSA) following. For some reason Mark chose the right lane with Doug and Alan going down the middle. I chose to go to the left lane as it offers the mark room advantage at the lowered end. The sea breeze was more unsteady than it had been as now it was already around 4 pm. During that run it sometimes looked fantastic for me and sometimes disastrous. In the end, Doug was ahead and both Alan and I were inside of Mark at the bouy. That downwind decided the race and championship. As second, I defended my position against Alan on the last reach. That offered Mark the chance to go low. He rounded in 3rd just behind me for the final beat. Mark and I went to the left. Alan took the right side and finished 2nd behind Doug with me in 3rd and Mark in 4th. [for more details about this race, see the bottom of this.] 

Why then could I perform well in Split?
First I was lucky that my training in Kiel was exactly what I needed for Split. Second the wind and wave pattern were almost identical each race. Sea-Breeze coming in at 15.00h. 10 to 15 kn wind from 240°. Usually when you sail a series, the wind direction and wave patterns change substantially. In Split this was not the case. Downwinds we had marginal surfing conditions that offered smaller gains. Upwinds shifts were small and not very often. That way I could sail under conditions that I like and which I can manage.

I suspect when the winds would have been very light or heavy, results would have been much less even and open to other outcomes. I hear the Aussies like it, when its blowing...

October 08, 2017

Brett Beyer - Winning the 2017 Master Worlds

Brett Beyer (AUS) is a frequent contributor to our blog and has kindly shared some of the things that helped him win his 13th Laser Master Worlds – a record that ties the all-time record held by Keith Wilkins (GBR) as well as the consecutive wins held by both Brett and Keith.

Brett was coaching in China prior to his trip to Croatia. He’ll be giving much more detailed coaching about this Worlds via Skype, so contact him for more details.  In addition, last April he was a guest coach at the International Sailing Academy which I missed last year but if he gets this close to the US again, I will definitely be there.
Here’s a quick summary of how he trained and what worked.

By Brett Beyer
2017 Worlds Summary
With the expected lighter conditions of Split, it was my first time I’ve made a deliberate effort to lose weight in preparation for the Worlds. At a weight of around 86kg, I could really notice the extra power of the new sail upwind as well as fantastic downwind speed.
Upwind speed in a breeze has never been a problem for me so the slight risk of this weight loss seemed worth it. With the light conditions, the risk of over-sheeting again becomes the biggest issue in destroying sail shape.
To mitigate this risk, a deeper outhaul setting and a boat with more mast rake is preferable. Given that we don’t have control of the mast rake on our charter boats, then simply being very aware of outhaul and mainsheet tension upwind is critical.
I look most often at the top of the sail as this is the area that gets too flat with the first sign of over-sheeting. I’m comfortable with carrying high rig loads to the point of the sail becoming too high drag and holding you in a high mode too long. Once I feel this occurring, it’s time to vang on and begin playing sheet to drive the boat lower and faster.
I don’t use marks on my set-up preferring to rely entirely on sail shape and feel. But with the new MarkII sail, I have introduced what I feel to be the most important reference on the boat and that is a minimum upwind vang setting. This mark on my vang is a great reminder not to have too much vang off as this just deepens the sail excessively and creates massive drag, resulting in no pointing and no speed. Not a good combination. So this vang mark is for say 4 – 8 knots where you need the smallest amount of vang to lock in sail shape.
In lighter winds than this and also fresher winds, then you will be requiring more vang. It seems counter intuitive to use more vang in 2 knots than you do in 5 knots but you won’t be using much sheet tension in 2 knots so are forced to bend the mast with vang tension alone. The new MarkII sail is quite vulnerable to upwind vang inaccuracy but is more broad in forgiveness downwind.
My upwind speed at these Masters Worlds was quite average in the lighter winds but as usual, once it was near hiking and some waves, then fitness and technique takes the lead role and boat speed amongst the fleet is quite varied.
Positioning yourself with some space to leeward on start lines and upwinds without a lightweight European sailor under your bow was one of my main strategies. I can’t compete with their height, nor do I want to as it’s a VMG disadvantage to be going high and slow. I once called out to an Austrian in my fleet at a critical moment to “go fast, go fast”. He replied, “I’m sorry. I do not know how to”. I laughed at his response, then tacked away for clear air so I could again drive the boat to my satisfaction. And this is the case with many sailors that are good at a high mode only, but haven’t the fitness, urgency or technique to go lower and faster at times. This is a skill that needs training. As a fringe benefit, a broader range of tactical options opens up for you.
My downwind speed was exceptional. Rig set-up doesn’t play as much of a role here and the specific timing on each wave is where the most value lies. 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.
The waves were not large or offering great rides like Mexico. Rather, they were smaller and more compressed, but no less important to boat positioning and making gains. I apply some simple formulas for comparing boat speed and wave speed downwind and this is the way I train my Olympic sailors as well. This focus keeps the boat speed and technique more consistent.
My traditional weakness in the Laser is racing in winds of around 5 – 8 knots.
Before the regatta I practiced some techniques that provided me with great power feedback and confidence. Despite now winning 13 Master Worlds and taking sailors to the past 4 Olympics, it seems there is always something we can all get better at and practice. What a sport!!

October 03, 2017

2017 Laser Master World Championships (Split, Croatia)

By Doug
Practice Day

As some of you may know, I broke two ribs while practicing on Lake Garda 10 days before the competition started. Three doctors have told me that any kind of exercise is not a great idea, but I feel OK, Pam and I are here, and the forecast is mostly for light conditions.

I’m taking extreme care like having others help me rig and get my boat in and out of the water. Pam suggested that I follow the advice of our Italian friend Bepe and not take any more pain killers so I can feel what’s going on, which we thought was a good idea.

The weather pattern for the week turned out to be very predictable – the cool offshore breeze in the morning would die as the land mass heated up, and sometimes the sea breeze would come in by 3 in the afternoon… and sometimes it would not. 

There are 348 Lasers launching on 4 tiny ramps, there is not enough room on shore, and the club has never had this many boats before. Add to this a really long 6 km (3.5 miles) sail to and from our race area, and we have an ongoing learning experience. Here’s how it went for our practice race.

The Great Grand Masters (age 65+) are one of the smallest fleets with 21 competitors, but it will be good racing because:
  • Mark Bethwaite (AUS) has won this event for the last 4 years and training with him in Italy showed that he’s again very quick in all conditions.
  • Michael Nissen (GER) has come second in several worlds and is very fast.
  • Alan Keen (RSA) has also come second several times and is particularly fast in light air.
  • Several other sailors from ArgentinaNew Zealand, and Canada have had excellent finishes at previous world championships.
We GGMs are the last to start and the line was long and I thought pin favored. Everyone started bunched up at the committee boat which I thought was nuts. So I started near the pin and tacked.

The safest way for me to tack is to squat on my knees facing forward in the cockpit so there is no pressure on either side of my ribs. But it’s slow, so I could not cross a few boats that I should have.

The conditions were 5-10 with lumpy open water waves from ferries and other traffic. This was the first time I’ve used the Mk2 sail in these conditions and it felt different for sure. Several people are using Brett’s settings, and the outhaul and vang were hard to get just right. A little body movement would have helped get through the waves, but this movement hurt a little so I did not do it.

After a crappy mark rounding at the first mark, I was mid-fleet. Nothing happened on the long run and on the second beat, I played the middle of the course near Mark who had taken the lead. He was faster on this second beat which told me that others were also getting used to the conditions.

Several boats that went right overshot the top mark which was the finish because of a shortened course, so I finished second about 30 seconds behind Mark. Had others not overshot the mark, I would have finished fifth.

So, there is lots to work on and additional speed to be had. Racing starts today and the forecast is the same – light and lumpy with a chance of some rain which could kill the wind.

Day 1

We waited on shore for the breeze that never came.

Day 2

Light and variable conditions again. The cloud cover meant that there would be no sea breeze and again no racing today.

Upwind boatspeed will be the key because the course is long and the fleet is small:
  • Need clean air at the starts because the boats may all try to be in the same spot.
  • Need to protect the right because some say that this is the favored side.
  • Need to watch and learn to get more speed as these conditions are quite different.
  • With the Mk2 sail, need more vang and less foot than normal.
  • On the run, need to work the waves like Pavlos Kontides (who won the Laser Worlds here last week), see how he plays small waves here at 11:00.
  • Most importantly, need to get good results quickly. The two times I’ve won this, was leading after the first day. The forecast is for continued light winds, so with an unknown number of racing days, an early leader could be hard to catch.
Three races are planned for tomorrow.

The Swedish team with their trainer.
Day 3

Pam put me back on pain meds because my side was tight, and we left the harbor at 10:30. The forecast was for a gentle offshore breeze that was to be killed by noon followed by a gentle 6-8 knot sea breeze. I bought myself a new light air mainsheet but took out my old mainsheet and hiking pants just in case. That saved my bacon because when the sea breeze kicked in, it was 15 knots with a steep chop when we started at 3:00.

I went upwind before the start to try hiking for the first time since breaking my ribs. It felt OK but I did not want to do any lateral movement to help the boat though the waves. It felt slow but I was very happy just to be there.

The line was pin favored so I started 3 up and tacked to go right as soon as the boat on my hip tacked. Michael Nissen (GER) played the middle and led John Pitman (NZL) and Mark Bethwaite (AUS), so I rounded 4th. There were good waves to catch on the run but I was not comfortable playing them. The positions remained the same until the second run when Alberto Larrea (ARG) tried hard to blanket me from behind, and it was good to hold him off. But I could not hold off Robert Blakey (NZL), so my first finish was a 5th just ahead of Alan Keen (RSA) and Alberto. Felt OK but was a little nervous about 2 more races.

The sea breeze started to die so the second race was about 12 knots with the same steep chop. It was committee boat favored, so I started at the boat with Michael just below, and tacked to go right which felt like the lifted tack, and he followed. Over the next few minutes, he pointed higher and slowly rolled me. Mark was leading and would go on to easily win, and there were about 5 boats just ahead of me at the first mark. On the run, sailing by the lee worked better than heading up to catch waves. On the second beat, the breeze was down to about 10 so hiking and body movement were not as important, so I was pleased to round the top mark in 2nd just ahead of Michael and John.

Was barely able to hold them off on the top reach, and Michael and I were even for most of the run until he caught 2 waves to move ahead. John was off to the side playing the waves and also moved ahead, rounding just ahead at the bottom gate. Both stretched out on the bottom reach, and I was able to hold off Alan on the final beat to finish 4th. Thankfully, there was no third race and we got back to the harbor at 6:00.

What worked:
  • I can hike – yea!
  • The compass worked well with 10-20º shifts.
  • Taking out 2 sets of equipment.
What did not:
  • My reaching was bad and made me vulnerable.
This fleet is small but really competitive. The forecast for the rest of the week looks the same, so I’m not sure if it will be the gentle 6-8 sea breeze or the 12-15 workout we got today. There is a 3-way tie for first between Mark, John, and Michael with me in 4th. The results can be seen here.

Some of the coach and judge boats.
Day 4

For me it was groundhog day – same incorrect forecast, we started and ended at the same time, we had the same leaders, same positions, and am still trying to hold off Alan Keen (RSA) for 4th position.

The sea breeze kicked in and I changed on the water into my warmer gear and hiking pants. It was pin favored and I started 4 up, watching Mark Bethwaite (AUS) fight for the pin which I thought was an unnecessary risk given his speed and the length of the line. When he tacked onto port, we were even and he ducked me. I followed going right and he had better speed in the choppy waves. Mark led at the first mark and stretched out to win again easily. Michael Nissen rounded in second with me next.

These positions stayed the same on the run and for most of the next beat. Before the race, I had talked with Brett Beyer (AUS) who said that he favored the right because it was closer to an island and there might be more pressure there. On starboard below the layline, a port tack boat leebowed me, than another leebowed him, and this repeated until we had 4 boats pinching below me in the waves. I could not hold on and tacked away, so for me playing the right did not work (Brett scored two bullets today in his fleet, so it worked for him).

Was slow in the top reach, OK on the run, and then slow in the bottom reach to hang on to 5th. Alan Keen (RSA) finished just ahead. I decided to not take any pain meds or have Pam tape me up (kinesio, not compression), and felt a little stiff.

The next race was again pin favored and Micheal won it. He tacked and crossed me and I followed. He footed while I pinched a little because of my limited lateral movement through the waves. We sailed through the 68 boat GM fleet coming down the course on a run and he had to dodge more boats, so by the starboard tack layline, I was ahead while many of the boats on my hip had overstood the port tack layline.

At the top mark, James Temple (AUS) approached on port, aiming for rounding the mark within the 3 boat lengths. I said “keep going, do not tack” which he can do if I do not have to alter course. But he tacked right in front and I had to head up to avoid contact. It was one of those “you know better than that” moments which was frustrating because (1) he did not do his circles and (2) it would have been the only time in the championship that I had the lead.

On the run I went to the left with Michael right behind, but looking at the flag at the top of the mast told me that this was a mistake because the wind was coming over my right shoulder, so going right would have had clear air. Was able to hold off Michael and a bunch of others and took the left gate with James just ahead while Michael took the right gate.

On port tack, tried to sail with James but he pinched hard to slow us both down. I disagreed with this tactic because the leaders usually work together to get ahead of the pack. So I slowed down, cleared his stern, and footed to the right.

Near the starboard tack layline I tacked to clear James but John Dawson-Edwards (CAN) had sailed well to move into 2nd place behind Micheal. All of this time Mark Bethwaite (AUS), who had not been a factor because of starting at the committee boat end of the line, was moving up the fleet and was in 5th place. On the top reach, he passed James and me so I was now in 4th.

Alan Keen (RSA) caught up on the long run. If he passed, he would be in 4th overall, so my strategy was to stay in front of him. Just before the button mark, I had a large wave that would shoot me ahead but my bow dug into the next wave and my cockpit filled up with water. Damn! So the bottom of the run was focusing on carving speed to keep the bailer working and not VMG speed. James passed me so on the bottom reach, I was between him and Alan.

On the bottom reach, James went high to again block me so I went low to pass him and stay with Alan who went even lower. I rounded the final mark just ahead of Alan and he initiated a tacking duel on the final short beat. My ribs said no but the score said yes, so I responded and we finished 4th and 5th. So I’m still in 4th place but my ribs are definitely saying “don’t to that again.” Our results so far can be seen here.

In the Grand Master fleet Al Clark (CAN), Andy Roy (CAN), and Peter Vessella (USA) are having a great battle at the top of a very competitive fleet. Their results can be seen here.

Lots of time to listen to music and hang out with friends.
Day 5

Hugh Leicester, our excellent PRO, sent us out and we waited until the sea breeze came in, and we started at 4:00. To me, the pin looked favored so I started there with most of the fleet starting at the other end. On the long starboard tack, the pin boats gradually lifted and I waited for the knock that never came. I tacked near the port tack layline and looked pretty deep, with Michael Nissen (GER) leading the boats who started at the other end. Could not find a good lane on starboard and rounded 8th, my worst start in the regatta.

We were sailing the outer course so the next leg was a reach. Several boats behind me went high and James Temple (AUS) blocked me from joining them, so I faked him out of the way and went low. But no progress was made there either.

On the run, went right to get clear air but lost 2 more boats. At the bottom of the run, Alan Keen (RSA), who was just one point behind me in 5th place overall, was sailing really well leading and I was now in 10th. Not a good race so far, so I needed to try something different.

Rounding the bottom mark, most took the right gate so I looked for some separation, went left, and banged the right side of the course. Three boats were passed mainly because of clear air and good speed, not shifts or pressure. Rounded the top mark in 7th.

Boats going downwind for some reason went left so I sailed straight for the mark, sailing by the lee as much as possible. It worked and I moved into 5th place right at the bottom mark, and that’s how I finished.

Michael passed Alan to win. In doing so, Alan only gained 3 points on me to put him 2 points ahead in the overall standings, a more manageable result from a frustrating race. It also gave Micheal the overall lead in the championship as Mark Bethwaite (AUS) finished in 3rd place. We have two more days to go, our results can be seen here.

Day 6

We went out and waited for a few hours in marginal conditions, and then came in again. There was no racing, and we have one more day to go.

Two worthy champions - Michael and Mark.
Day 7

For the final day, Pam medicated me again, we left the harbor at 10:30, and we waited until just before the 3:00 deadline to start racing. Being in a safe 5th place overall, I decided there was nothing to lose by sailing hard for this final race. Michael Nissen (GER) was leading defending champ Mark Bethwaite (AUS) by one point, John Pitman (NZL) was in 3rd, while Alan Keen (RSA) led me by 2 points for 4th place. It was about 10-12 knots with a pretty steep chop.

I started at the boat with Mark just below. Michael started further down the line, tacked, and would have crossed both of us. I did not want to interfere with the two leaders so I tacked and Mark followed going right. I was pointing higher than Mark and would have been directly in front of him, so I footed a little to not interfere with the leaders. Mark tacked onto starboard and Michael tacked just below him. They were very close.

At the port tack layline, Mark was in control and led Michael back on the port tack. Ahead was John and Alan leading at the first mark on starboard. As I approached on port, I tacked trying for the lead, slipped and fell on my side (ouch), regained control, and rounded a close 3rd ahead of Mark and Michael.

On the run, Mark and Michael chose to not engage while I played the middle and took the lead by leaning forward on larger waves to stretch the surfing. I took the left gate with Michael right behind, so Mark took the right gate to get some separation. We went right and by the top mark, it was me, Mark, and Michael. On the top reach, I again had speed problems and Mark passed me to windward to take the lead – the top reach had been a problem for me all week.

On the run, I again had good speed and passed Mark, so at the bottom of the run it was Mark, Michael, and Alan rounding in a tight group right behind me. Mark went low on the bottom reach while Michael went high to defend against Alan. As we rounded the final mark for the short beat to the finish, right behind me it was Michael, Mark, and Alan. If we finished in that position, Michael would win the championship, Mark would be second, John third, me forth, and Alan fifth. But the race was not over yet.

The danger for me personally was that if Michael and Mark went after each other on this the final leg, they could allow Alan to move into second place which would keep him ahead of me in the overall standings. And this is what happened. Much more importantly, the overall winner would be determined in the final minute of this race.

Mark had no option but to tack onto starboard and Michael followed with what he later described as a really bad tack, while Alan followed me to the starboard tack layline. I watched through the window of my sail as Mark tacked on the port tack layline. Had he crossed Michael and stayed ahead of Alan, he would have won the championship, but he could not cross Michael. To remove any doubt, Michael clipped the end of Mark's boom and Mark had to do a 720. So the finishers were me, Alan, Michael, and Mark, making Michael the new GGM world champion.

All of these gentlemen were a pleasure to sail with. Our final results can be seen here.

It was also the end of an interesting winning streak. Keith Wilkins (GBR), Mark Bethwaite (AUS), Wolfgang Gerz (GER), and I are all about the same age, and in spite of really good sailors turning up each year, one of us had won a Laser Master World Championship every year since 1991. Michael ended the winning streak this year and, perhaps not surprisingly, is Wolfgang’s training partner in Germany.
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