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

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