October 29, 2018

2018 Laser Master World Championships (Dublin, Ireland)

By Doug

On a rare day that was not windy.

At the 2018 Laser Master Worlds, we met again to do battle. My GGM fleet is one of the smallest with just 16 competitors but between them they have won 22 world championships in 4 different classes.

I trained hard for this Worlds, spending a total of 157 hours on the water and more than 7 hours on my hiking bench. The best part of my training was attending Brett Beyer’s downwind clinic at the ISA, and that part paid big dividends.

But most of the other training was on my own on a small Dallas lake, and this is no longer a winning combination. The best in my fleet were race-hardened, had better upwind speed, and either lived in the conditions that we sailed in or were basically full-time sailors. In my opinion, that’s what it will take to win a Master Worlds from now on.

The decision to attend Brett’s pre-worlds clinic was a good one as it helped get a feeling for practicing with other good sailors, but the conditions for the actual Worlds were very different.

Day 1: The forecast was 15-25, but it maxed out over 30. Like all of the days that followed, the temperatures rarely got to 60F (15C).

Race 1: Pam was on the finishing boat and when she was leaving the harbor it was gusting up to 25. Once on the course, the race committee apparently considered sending us in. The GGMs were the last to start and I missed the shift and was at the wrong boat end and not the pin. Ouch. Tried to play shifts to catch up but left paid. Wolfgang Gerz (GER) was leading at the first mark but could not quite round it (current?) and stalled out, losing several places. Mark Bethwaite (AUS) took the lead while I rounded 8th. We’re sailing the inner trapezoid and are close to shore, so it was playing survival vs. playing the small waves. I chose the former. The positions did not change until the second run when the gusts started to hit 30. At the bottom of the second run I jibed, lost control and flipped. Finished 8th. Mark has been training for several months in Europe and won in his usual impressive style.

Race 2: Pin favored and a good start there and surprisingly I rolled Mark as we went left. It was close at the first mark with Wolfgang again leading. Rounded 3rd. On the run, we were hit by a monster puff and I dared not bear off but just tried to stay upright. Ended 200 meters off the rhumb line which cost several places as others were better at managing the hard, cold breeze. At the bottom mark, Wolfgang had a good lead going left and I again tried to play the shifts to move up. On one tack my boat stalled because of really tight vang and I went into irons. I jumped into the water to swim the boat around onto port but it slowly tipped on top of me. Lost more places (note to self – in irons, let the vang off). On the top reach and run things for me were survival conditions, and several of the leaders tipped on the run (Mark once and Wolfgang four times). Pam was watching from the finish boat taking videos and lots of people were tipping just trying cross the line. I finished a poor 9th just behind Mark. On the way in getting to the ramp was challenging with the offshore breeze and I tipped two more times in the harbor. It was cold and Mark said that he was close to being hypothermic. Many seasoned sailors commented that this was the toughest conditions they had sailed in. And there was lots more wind in the forecast.

Day 2: The temperature remained in the 50’s and the wind built from the forecasted 15 to one gust that was recorded at 35. My GGM fleet was on the water for 5 hours.

Race 3: Being close to shore, there were some pretty big shifts and the wind went right just before the start, so I squeezed between Mark and the committee boat to get away cleanly. Played a few shifts but had problems tacking with the really tight vang (note to  self, let the vang off before tacking in a gust). The GMs were on the same course and we had to thread through the 62 boats coming down the run and many were out of control, so it was crazy. My speed was about the same as Mark with him footing and me pointing a little higher in the waves. Rounded in 5th with Wolfgang again leading. The positions were unchanged until the bottom of the second run. Where we rounded in a hard gust and I did not have time to get set up with tighter controls for the bottom reach. It was a screamer and being way over powered allowed John Dawson-Edwards (CAN) and Alan Keen (RSA) to pass below me, so I finished 7th just behind Mark, John and Alan. Being better prepared could have saved me 3 points.

Race 4: It was now very pin favored so I started 3 up with Wolfgang and Mark below. There was no line sight because the open North Sea and clouds were all gray, so it was one of those hope-I-was-not-over starts. We went left until Wolfgang below said “let’s tack” so the three of us led the fleet on a long port tack to the mark where Mark, Wolfgang, and I rounded in a tight group. On the run, Wolfgang caught a few more waves and rounded in the lead. The wind was still left so it was a long port tack to the second windward mark. Our positions were unchanged. The top reach was another screamer and I buried to bow to fill up the cockpit which allowed Michael Hicks (GBR) to catch up. On the run, he was still gaining and went left so, trying something different, I jibed to sail by the lee. Our speed was very similar and he got me on mark room at the bottom of the run. I tried to pass but he defended well, so it was Wolfgang, Mark, Michael, and then me at the finish.

Day 3: Groundhog day with the same conditions – temperatures trying to reach 60F (15C), gusts in the 30’s, and Wolfgang wining 2 more races

Race 5: The leaders chose to start at the boat but I was sure that the pin was favored so I headed there. It was strange to start so far away from the best sailors in our fleet. Started at the pin and waited for the 2 on my hip to tack before tacking onto a big lift. Saw the rest of the fleet in the window of my sail… life is good so far. We weaved through the other fleet coming down on a run and I rounded a close second behind Charles Campion (GBR). Using the technique I learned at Brett’s downwind clinic, I passed him to take the lead, but the series leader Wolfgang pulled even with me (he too was at the downwind clinic). He took the right gate and I took the left. Playing the shifts, I crossed Wolfgang and he tracked to cover me on starboard. His speed was better and at the mark, Wolfgang, Charles, and Michael Hicks (GBR) were ahead at the top of the second beat. We stayed even on the top reach and I used Brett’s downwind techniques on the final run to pass Michael to finish 3rd, my best race of the event.

Race 6: Pin favored this time with the entire fleet, started 5 up with Mark and Wolfgang at the pin. I seemed to be out of phase compared with others and rounded 7th. On the run, had really good speed and passed both Alan and Mark. At the bottom of the run with big waves, people were taking the right gate to avoid jibing. Mark was close behind and inside, so I called “you have room” and prepared to round quite wide. But there was no Mark, just a loud sailing term that starts with the letter “f” (later learned that he buried the bow, filled with water, and had an unplanned jibe). On the long starboard tack to the left, I tried something that Brett suggested – hard vang and footing through the waves but for me it did not work and I could not point. At the top mark, was even with Alan and he led at the end of the top reach. Still in 6th. On the second run, things got hairy – in one gust, a wave hit me and I was knocked out of the boat. With my toes still in the hiking strap, I was dragged in the water trying to get back into the boat. Neither bearing off to get speed nor pulling in the mainsheet to head up gave me enough pressure on the centerboard to get in. After several gulps of sea water and what seemed like about a minute, I was able to get going again. Exhausted and in second to last, I took it easy to the finish. Still in 8th place overall, dragging my butt cost me 3 points and 2 places in the standings.

Day 4: A little sunnier and the top gust was just 30.

Race 7: With two minutes to go, I pulled really hard on the downhaul and… it broke. It took 5 minutes to fix so I got to watch this race.

Race 8: Was pin favored with Mark, Wolfgang, and me starting there. After a few minutes, Jorge Abreu (DOM) started to roll me, so I tacked. The long port tack took us close to the mark and the boats that went left rounded ahead, so I as in 7th. On the run, I pulled even with Mark who took the left gate while I took the right. Half way up the second beat, he would have crossed me but instead tacked onto port in front. We were slamming into the waves and Mark, according to Brett, is one of the best at steering through them. So I watched as he pulled about 8 boat lengths ahead. At the starboard tack layline, he tacked and I followed. And then something happened that neither of us could later figure out – I out pointed him so that he had to put in two additional tacks to round just behind me. We stayed even on the top reach and then he tried to pass on the run by going to windward of me and then carving back to the right. Using some of the techniques learned from Brett, I was able to hold him off on the run and then bottom reach. Finished 5th but back on shore learned that I was over the line at the start and was scored UFD. Normally I’d be disappointed with a DNC and UFD for the day, but I’m not in the running and am pleased with my new downwind speed that Brett taught me.

Day 5: Rain and then clearing, top gust 28

Race 9: Started close to the pin, went left, and hit the first shift. As with most races, the fleet stayed together. I played some shifts and took the lead on the port tack layline with a tight group rounding just behind. On the run, Wolfgang pulled even and was heading straight for the downwind gate. Looking upwind, there was pressure on the left and the tight group was going to miss it, so I moved downwind of the pressure and Mark followed. But as we learned several times, some of the pressure never comes and we both lost 7 places!! Note to self – stay with the leaders! We tried to catch them but they had too much speed in these conditions.

Race 10: Started again close to the pin and started to get rolled, so tacked. Worked the middle of the course and got even with the front row. But being tired with the really tight vang, my life jacket caught on the boom and I tipped again. Once up again, was 50 meters behind the front row that had good speed and stayed in phase, so was unable to catch them. Finished 10.

Day 6: Very light conditions from the south and not offshore. Lots of current.

Race 11: The fleet started at the committee boat, tacked, and went right. I footed under Mark to take the lead and then he tacked onto starboard. The fleet followed and Mark had a huge lead as we fought the current in a dying breeze before the race was abandoned.

There was a long delay and the current was taking us from the race area back to the harbor where we would have to de-rig, return our charger boats, have them inspected, and then prepare for the closing ceremonies. As the 3:00 deadline approached, there was one more fleet before us and it got away a few minutes before the deadline, so most of us decided to keep heading back to the harbor. We later learned that our fleet had in fact started after 3:00 with just 5 boats on the line. Mark, Wolfgang, and I were not one of them.

With a breakdown, UFD, and DNS, this was not one of my best Worlds, but there was lots to learn from. What worked:
  • Attending Brett’s downwind and pre-worlds clinics really helped with downwind speed and race planning.
  • Pam had been well-prepared for the cold weather.
  • The equipment, help launching, and event management were all excellent.
  • My conditioning was good, that was not the problem.
Areas for improvement:
  • Practicing a few hours each week on Dallas lakes will no longer work. This may sound obvious, but the best practice is in the conditions of the event. Those that did had the best finishes in our fleet.
  • My upwind speed use to be good, but needs a lot more work.
  • Relying on the compass rather than sticking with the fleet was a mistake. I also think that it’s time to switch to one of the new digital compasses.

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