If you’ve ever wondered what is would be like to take a break from sailing for a few years and then have the chance to attend a Laser Master Worlds on short notice, this post is for you. Pam insisted that I attend superb Brett Beyer’s (AUS) downwind clinic at the ISA in 2018 but I never got the chance to use it… a busy schedule and then Covid got in the way. We knew it would be rough, but the LMW Worlds in 2016 at the same location was the best and missing this was not an option. Unfortunately, Pam was caring for a family member and could not attend.
[Note from Pam: When Doug said he wanted to attend this event, I said 'you shouldn't go because you are not ready.' Doug said, 'I'm not ready so I can't not go.' I went to run an errand early this morning before heading to the airport later to pick up Doug and saw a man step out onto his front lawn to get the paper. He was about Doug's age, if not a little younger, and he had this gadget that extends your reach by about 4 feet. Instead of bending down to pick up the paper, he used this gadget to retrieve it. And then I realized something I don't say very often ... Doug was right.]
It’s good to be back after a 4-year break from Worlds competition. The flight from Dallas was uneventful until we landed and they instructed everyone to put on their masks … many people were not happy with the Mexican rules.
I went for a sail on Monday and it was not too windy but the waves were the biggest I’ve sailed for many years. There were lots of sailors much better than me. My GGM fleet is small with only 17 sailors, but we have 3 former world champions and 4 runners up, so there will be some good competition.
The practice race was today and the wind was stronger, perhaps 15-20. This is no problem on a Dallas lake, but the waves here were the biggest I’ve sailed in for perhaps 10 years. I went left, tacked on a header, and rounded a close 4th with the two Brits leading. The run was awesome and, for me, a little scary with the waves. They’re not at right angles to the wind so everyone needs to sail by-the-lee on starboard. The speed down a wave takes the pressure off the sail which can lead to an accidental jibe that might not end well.
Most stopped sailing this practice race after the run and I was pleased to still be in 4th. This could be a very good finish for me in the Worlds.
Day 1: Plan for today - 12 races scheduled and we get 1 discard, so rule #1 is do not use my discard on the first day! The waves are, for me, big and it pays to be aggressive to catch them, but rule #2 is tipping is worse than missing 10 waves. So the plan for today is to sail hard upwind and hang on downwind.
Race 1: This picture is the start of the first race, I’m 3 from the right and the race winner is 6 from the right. There are several faster upwind than me and a shift at the top of the leg pushed me down to about 10th. We’re sailing the inner trapezoid course so the run was with some big waves. Using techniques from Brett Beyer’s downwind clinic from 4 years ago helped me pass 2 boats to round in 8th. Tried to hold off several on the next beat and it turns out that I did not pace myself because on the top reach I was knocked out of the boat by a wave with my feet still under the straps and did not have the strength to sit back up into the boat. The same thing happened at my last Worlds in Ireland, but this time I tipped and did not have the strength to get going quickly. Finished second to last.
Race 2: Still pretty gassed, started at the committee boat end and tacked to go right. The plan was to avoid the crowd because I had not recovered from the first race. About 1 minute into the race, I pulled hard on the tiller and it came out of the rudder. The problem is that the rope supplied with the rudders is really thin and was obviously too small for my tiller cleat. So having $1,000 of carbon in my hand and no steering meant (1) don’t let go and (2) don’t tip. After a repair tying off the rudder line, I was under way again about 2 minutes behind. With such a good fleet, the race was effectively over, so I didn’t work hard but was able to catch 2 boats.
This would normally be an appalling first day but I earned it:
- Wolfgang Gerz (GER) sails full-time and goes to all the major regattas and clinics. He won both races.
- The leaders have spent much more time practicing than me so they’re faster.
- I took Brett’s downwind clinic 4 years ago and this was the first time since that I’ve sailed in waves… definitely recommend the clinic if you get the chance.
- Pam and I are both committed to getting back into sailing and we’ll be spending more time on the water.
In spite of this slow start, this is the best way to spend a vacation! Bonus would be having Pam here [Pam added that sentence].
Day 2: Talking with people before we hit the water:
- Luke Elliot is one of the top Aussie sailors who was in the Gold Fleet in the open worlds last week and is on a support boat mentoring about 10 of us. I was telling him how my upwind speed in a breeze is not as good as it used to be and he suggested sailing with no vang. It seemed counter intuitive to be powered up when already overpowered, but it helps punch through the waves without footing.
- Luke also said that when sailing upwind in Australia you tack before the pressure hits whereas here he suggests you tack in the pressure, not before.
- I asked Brett Beyer if he was powering up on the runs by letting out his outhaul, and he said yes. I had not played my outhaul once yesterday.
- I also talked with Wolfgang Gerz who won both races yesterday. His strategy is staying with the leading group and then gaining downwind.
So my new goal is to improve every day, which will not be difficult after my results yesterday.
Race 3: Started in 12 knots with no real waves but a lot of chop. I played the shifts and rounded about 10th. Catching waves was not really possible so the key was looking behind and staying in the pressure. Gained a few boats downwind and then lost them on the next beat to people who banged the left corner.
Without meaning to, I was with Wolfgang for much of the race and at one point on the second beat we were even so he lee-bowed me. Wolfgang finished just ahead in 5th to my 9th which summarized our differences – he sails with his head out of the boat to take advantage of every little opportunity, while I’m sailing with my head in the boat focusing on the compass and waves directly in front. This is an obvious area that needs improvement.
Race 4: Started with a building breeze with waves now big enough to occasionally surf. Wolfgang started just above me which was certainly not the plan. Having no vang helped me point and he tacked away. The compass and speed worked well enough to round in 5th. The run was good by using some of Brett’s downwind techniques, but I lost two on the next beat by missing the last shift before the mark, so now in 7th place. The top reach was for me a little hairy as this is where I was hit by a wave that knocked me out of the boat yesterday. Lost 2 boats on the reach and then 3 more on run by getting too far right trying to catch waves. Finished 12th.
So, upwind today was a little better than yesterday but downwind was not because I made some tactical mistakes. My average finish was a little better.
|Team Texas - Chris Henkel and his wife Maria from Austin, Texas|
Day 3: Results
Race 5: Started later in the day with lighter winds like we saw yesterday. I wanted to start at the pin and go left so the plan was to approach on port and then tack into a hole. But the entire fleet kept moving down the line there was no hole, so I ducked everyone and started on port tack at the committee boat … that was a first for me. Some of the locals made the comment that the waves have been really big this year and there was a chop even though the breeze was just 12k. My speed was un-impressive and the compass didn’t really help because for some reason we were tacking in less than 90 degrees, even in the waves. Rounded 10th. The rest of the race was uneventful and I finished 11th.
Race 6: The committee boat seemed favored so I started there and my group tacked to go right. Vann Wilson (USA) was beside me and he punched out with good speed, mine was not. Rounded 7th, the waves for me were hard to catch on the run where I lost 2 more boats. The next beat was shifty so you could be constantly up or down 3-4 positions. Rounded 10th, and Jeff Loosemore (AUS) rolled me on the top reach. On the second run the boats just in front went left in more pressure and really stretched out, so again finished 11th.
For the first half of the race Wolfgang Gerz (GER) was behind me. He sailed beautifully to round the last mark in 5th and then passed 2 more boats on the final short beat. It was very impressive.
|GGMs Doug and Don Hahl sporting the 2016 US team shirts Pam designed|
Day 4: Saturday is a rest day and we continue for 3 more days starting on Sunday.
|Our hosts take Covid very seriously. This lady's job is offering people hand sanitizing|
Races 7 and 8: Both races were similar … a good start in a good lane, not much speed upwind, rounded about 10th, played some very catchable waves, worked hard to hold my position on the next beat, and ran out of gas. Conditioning has been a problem and on the top reach of the second race, I lost my balance, again fell out of the boat, and was dragged in the water with my feet still under the straps. After a few seconds of trying to reach the grab rail, I got out of the boat and then back in again. I have not seen anyone else have this problem and I’m sure it’s from just being totally exhausted. Pam knew that I was not in shape for this event but missing 4 worlds was out of the question, so we knew it would be tough if it was windy.
An interesting comment: the Germans take special care of their equipment and both left their boats fully rigged overnight. I’ll have to ask them why.
|At the 1994 Master Worlds a competitor from Taiwan drowned. Ever since then, the race management has had an ambulance on site during the racing. We appreciate that.|
Day 6: Results
Races 9 and 10: Races 9 and 10 were a little different because the breeze did not pick up until the second race. I started the first race at the pin, went to what some called the favored left side, sailed on a knock coming back, and rounded 10th. Things remained the same until the final beat and I misjudged the finish line to finish 12th. The race was won by James Jacob (USA) who went right on the first beat and led for the entire race. He said that he had maximum vang upwind which surprised both Brett and me.
In the second race, I started near the committee boat. Tim Law (GBR) crossed me, so I tacked to watch him as he will comfortably win my GGM division. There was nothing unusual about his body movement or steering, just very smooth and fast. Tim apparently trains with the GBR Olympic hopefuls.
|Sign beside our launching ramp that few have noticed|
Day 7: Results
Races 11 and 12: The breeze was lighter all day. Started close to the committee boat and Richard Vine (THA), hit the line perfectly at full speed and he rolled me. Went right and had just terrible speed, something that has not been a problem for me in previous Worlds in lighter conditions. Downwind was a little better. Wolfgang had a bad first beat but managed to finish 4th, Tim won the race and the championship and is the new GGM world champion. There’s no secret to sailing a Laser, he was the best prepared and has been very fast all week.
James had led for most of the first race so I asked him to sail upwind with me for a few minutes. He’s sailing with lots of vang which is counterintuitive… but it worked as he won the final race in very impressive fashion.
The final race was again sailed in a lighter breeze. Started near the pin in better speed but realized that playing the shifts in choppy conditions is hard to do accurately with my old Silva compass, so this will be its last event. Passed a few boats on the final beat to finish 9th. Wolfgang again had a terrible first beat but sailed a superb race to finish 2nd. He too was at the Brett downwind clinic and his speed on those legs was very impressive.
So Tim easily won, Wolfgang finished second, and Peter Vessella (USA) was third with seven top-3 results. I got what I deserved – 13th pace – because Laser sailing gets a little tougher each year.
There’s lot more to cover as we’ll have updates from the fleet winners, what can be learned from the open guys last week, the Master Worlds next year in Thailand, and more, so stay tuned.
|On the right, what world champions eat. On the left, screw it I'm hungry.|
|The breakfast crew with 2 world champions: Grand Master Brett Beyer (AUS) and Apprentice Andres Heredia (ARG). Thanks to Rod Barnes for insisting that Pam and I continue blogging.|