Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012 Laser US Master Nationals

58 Boats contested the 2012 Laser US Master National Championship (standard rig) Sept 14-16 in Brant Beach, NJ. Brant Beach Yacht Club did a stellar job, running 10 races in a wide variety of conditions and providing generous hospitality ashore.

I came into the event a bit disorganized, but arriving a day early helped me get focused and sort out the new sail I was planning to use. Was fortunate to line up with Dominican sailors Ari Barshi, Jorge Abreau and Canadian Great Grandmaster (65+ years old) Joe Van Rossem for an hour of speed tuning in the flat water of Little Egg Harbor Bay, and found I had competitive speed and point against these quick sailors. Boat OK, speed OK, registration completed--I was ready for racing the next day!

Friday was rather light, and we sailed 3 races. I started off strong with a 1, 2, and just when getting cocky got a 13th to bring me down to earth. VanRossem was also fast out of the gate, posting finishes of 3, 4 that, with handicap points, placed him tied with me after two races!

Dodged a bullet between Races 2 and 3 by noticing the front of my hiking strap ripping away from the screws. Had just enough time between races to cobble together a preventative retaining line--a good thing as the strap failed during Race 3!
At the end of the Day 1 it was Grandmaster (55-64 yr age group) and New Jersey local Had Brick who led the fleet with sold Top 10 finishes. Canadian Andy Roy was in 2nd and I held down 3rd.

Saturday dawned cooler and windy, with a gusty, oscillating Nor'Wester pumping down the bay. After consulting with Clay Johnson from event sponsor Colie Sails, I chose a new hiking strap and its accompanying boots, together forming a hiking system designed to really lock one into the boat. Normally I don't like to change more than one major item before/during a regatta but this was a necessary fix that turned out to be a big improvement. After fitting the new strap and doing a thorough survey of my rig, it was time to go sailing!
Grandmaster James Jacob would have won Day 2 if the races were just to the weather mark. Getting a clean start and hitting the first shift were crucial to success on the first legs, and James was nailing it! I was getting great starts at the favored pin, but because I was so far down the line I couldn't tack until the fleet above had cleared out. Often this meant having to sail through the first shift, then waiting, waiting WAITING for the next lefty to flop over, often above the layline. This wasn't as bad as it seems because I was in fresh breeze, planing into the top mark above those who were on the layline. The difference in speed usually made up for the extra distance sailed.
At first my downwind speed was way off. In the shallow/choppy water of the bay, wakes of boats ahead were a greater factor than in deeper/wavier locales. Sailing a bit further to the sides had the intended result: my downwind speed was back to normal.
After three races I got tired of having Jacob and others beating me to the top mark and tried starting near the boat. I was perfectly set-up at the boat for Race 7 but somehow got stuck in irons as the fleet took off. Managed to get up to 6th by the end of the second reach of the outer trapezoid course, but on the second beat I made a big error.
Port tack and the left gate (looking downwind) were initially favored, so I rounded that one behind three of the 5 boats ahead. The lead boat soon peeled back to the left in a small righty, but the guy directly in front of me would NOT listen to my pleas that we also flop over. Why not just tack myself, you might ask? I was concerned he would then tack on me, giving me dirty air all the way back to the middle of the course. Instead of recognizing this guy's stubborn love of the right corner and just tacking, I tried to out-stubborn him by trying to foot out from below him. We ended up way right when the next shift (a lefty, natch) came barreling in. Mr. Stubborn and I lost 5 boats on that leg. If I had just tacked over sooner I could have easily been Top 5, but instead had to settle for 10th.
The last race of the day was very interesting. Again I was about 5th at the leeward gate, and again I rounded the left gate and headed right in a left lift. Again, the boat ahead of me tacked back to the middle, and again I didn't tack back. Had I not learned my lesson? What was wrong with me??
THIS time, I had reasons. First, I was nearly pointing to the weather mark in the solid part of the left phase, which meant the next phase would be...RIGHT. I saw the Radials up ahead on their first beat also very high on port, so I knew there was little-to-no-more left shift to come. The boat ahead that tacked onto starboard was eating a bad header to get left and falling down into the boats to leeward. There was no reason to head left. Yet.
About 1/3 up my beat, I saw the lead Radials ahead on port starting to sail lower, meaning the righty was on its way. I concentrated on just sailing fast forward on port, waiting as the breeze first dropped in strength, then started nibbling right, then building right before I flopped onto starboard.
By this point I had huge leverage on the guys to the left. They were coming back on port with decent angle, but as we converged the right filled in and I started lifting up and up while the left collapsed. Soon I was in full foot mode in pressure and gaining tons. Mike Matan, the lead left boat, ducked me about 20 lengths downwind of the weather mark, eventually rounding in front because he only had to do 1 tack to my 2. Managed to scoot ahead of him on the run and extend on the last reach to take the gun.

This final bullet gave me a real confidence boost and seemed to have a psychological effect on the fleet. My day's finishes (4, 1,  1, 10, 1: 17 points) were dominant--the next best finishers for the day were counting 27 and 28 points, and they'd started the day with more anyway. Only two more races were scheduled, and the forecast for Sunday wasn't promising.

After some pizza and chatting with sailors at the club I went home and had a nice dinner with my hosts and some of their friends. These non-sailor friends were very encouraging when they heard I was standing in first, saying stuff like "you're going to WIN," etc... Usually such talk makes me anxious, but this time I just observed the energy being focused at me, noticing how similar it was to what was coming my way at the club. Momentum was on my side, people seemed convinced, and my job was to not get in the way of things playing out the way they expected.
As predicted, Sunday's breeze started out pleasant but quickly petered out, causing the RC to postpone ashore. We waited around for a few hours, the RC saying they would abandon racing for the day at Noon. The smooth-as-glass water on the bay made it seem increasingly likely we weren't going to sail, and I started allowing myself to get excited about being the national champ. Then, at 11:50, definite lines of breeze on the water encouraged the RC to drop the postponement flag--we were going racing after all!

Despite having a 10 point advantage over the next-closest boat, I allowed myself to get a little nervous about what was to come. It was light, anything could happen in two races! Old doubts and fears, old negative voices started clawing their way into my mind as we sailed out to the race course. I had a nice talk with (1988 Olympic Gold Medalist) Lynne Jewell-Shore and decided I was going to do a few things: 1) my pre-race preparation rituals; 2) get a front-row start; 3) be steady, not brilliant; and 4) give those negative thoughts and people the attention they deserved--none!

Ryan Minth punched out from the pin, bee-lined it for the left corner and came out way in front at the first mark. I started more conservatively about 1/4 up from the pin and was relieved to see my major competition behind. After that I resisted the urge to move higher, just staying between my main competition and the marks to finish 4th. Andy Roy made a remarkable comeback after being called OCS, eventually clawing his way all the way back to 6th!
The drama wasn't over yet. After finishing I sailed toward the start boat, tacked over, and immediately heard a loud metallic "TWANG." The lower fitting on my mast had sheared off, rendering the boom vang and downhaul useless! It took a long time to fashion a jury rig, but at 2:30 to the start I finally joined the hunt for a spot on the line. The breeze was building and I had tepid confidence in the repair--it was going to be a tense race.

Roy, still fired up after his amazing charge through the fleet in the prior heat, started almost at the pin and led at the first mark. Minth had another great start and rocketed off the line, pinching me off after a few minutes. I did a few clearing tacks then called the port tack layline perfectly to round a few lengths behind Roy. The two of us quickly separated from the fleet, me nursing my compromised rig and Andy pulling out to a healthy 10 length advantage. He extended further on the run and had me by a solid 15, then rounded the right gate (looking downwind) to once again go left upwind.

While sailing downwind I took a look upwind to see what conditions would be like for the next leg. Screaming down the course from the right was a pack of Lasers in a big black puff! Instead of following Andy left, I jibed around the other gate, sailed on port for 3 lengths, hit the shift, tacked and was beam/close reaching on starboard to the weather mark! Poor Andy on the left was caught outside of the righty and dropped way back. Ari Barshi moved up from 3rd to 2nd on this leg and easily held to the finish, capping off a remarkably consistent event to place 2nd overall. Grandmaster Mark Bear from Massachusetts snagged the final podium position by finishing 7th in the last race, just topping the unlucky Andy Roy in the race and overall series standing.
For me, it was a satisfying ending to an exhilarating event. I'd only made a few big errors and ground my way back after those. Starts were basically good, speed was fine, tactics and strategy were basically sound. It was also a great event in that I got to see my sailing friends again. We had some pretty intense discussions off the water, arguing everything from civil rights to global warming!
I had the pleasure of staying with Stephen Marshall and his family during this regatta. Stephen was my training partner for the 1996 quadrennium (Atlanta Olympics), and is now married with two adorable young daughters. Stephen's wife Nicole was the consummate hostess, their home lovely, and the kids entertaining, which helped keep my head somewhat screwed on during the many hours between race days!

Event results:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Frostbiting, April 30, 2012

Sailing the past Sunday was a wild and wooly affair, with winds oscillating through a wide range of direction and strength. One minute it was 20+ knots, the next 3! Overall, the trend was heavy offshore breeze, with six races being run by PRO Ched Proctor and his team in very challenging conditions.

In the offshore wind fanning puffs were the norm, making it important to immediately get into phase with the shifts upwind. Unlike last week, tacking right as a puff hit was the order of the day. Given this situation, my aim was to start near (but not always at) the favored side of the line, with a lane to windward should a quick tack be called for. One time I even started on port, ducking starboard tackers. I lost a few boatlengths ducking them, but blasting off in-phase in the huge lefty more than made up for it.

The wind oscillations were about 20-25 degrees off the median. "Oscillating" means swinging back and forth, right? So if you're in a huge left shift, well away from the weather mark, does it make sense to sail higher than rhumb line when you know the next puff is coming from the right? Take a look at the diagram below (click on it to see bigger):

As can be seen, footing in the lifts and pointing in headers is the way to go upwind in oscillating wind. If these two boats were more in the middle of the course, the grey boat could easily tack to stay in-phase and cross the white one. Try it sometime!

Variable conditions like we had often force one to prioritize. Going upwind and transitioning from light to heavy, my first go-to is the vang. The vang has the greatest effect on overall sail shape, flattening the sail and moving draft back. If I have time and the puff is long enough, will also dial-in some downhaul (which moves draft forward and twists off the leech up top). If the puff is shorter in duration I leave the downhaul loose and really ease the sheet in puffs so the boat doesn't just heel over and stop. The outhaul is generally last to be adjusted.

Prioritizing is a big deal at mark roundings. At the weather mark in breeze, the first priority is getting the boat planing from the mark on a good wave in clear air. Vang is MINOR, downhaul is MINOR, board up is MINOR in this scenario. Watch this video posted by AJ Sorensen:

At 30 seconds, note the boat above me at the first mark, how it's spending time adjusting stuff (luffing high and going slow), and how many BOATLENGTHS I gain as a result. Even dealing with the mainsheet completely wrapped around my foot (42-48 seconds) doesn't deter me from keeping that boat planing toward the next mark!

Note also how I wait until 1:28 to ease the downhaul and raise the board--using a lighter spot to lean in and adjust.

Huge gains can be made by doing the most important things first, especially in extreme conditions.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring 2012 Frostbiting Start!

Hi All, hope you had a great winter!

Last Sunday was my first time back in a Laser since early last December. I've not been sailing during that time but have been getting to the gym (mostly riding the stationary bike and doing ab work). Nonetheless, I was concerned about how much hiking the ol'e bod would be able to do, and how it would feel after.

Fortunately, Sunday was a perfect re-introduction to Lasering: light-ish, patchy breeze and fog to start, then clearing and building pressure to 10-12 knots. The wind direction was a bit right of seabreeze for our area, but the conditions were classic for seabreeze development: cold water, fog, sunshine inland causing a thermal.

In our racing area with that wind direction, I tend to go left to get current relief near Cockenoe Island. But the breeze was trending right, and with the weather mark more away from the island than typical, there was less current relief out left. This, and the steady clocking of the breeze right, made the right progressively more favored, upwind and down, as the day progressed.

It took a few races for me to get sorted out. The fleet is getting better and better at starting, making it a real challenge to get off the line well. In addition, my soft top section and Intensity sail seem to be especially vulnerable in under 8 knots of wind. Ched Proctor and Jack McGuire had solid races and were clear favorites early. Ched sailed especially consistent throughout the day to nab Second overall--nice job Ched! As for the pesky McGuire, I'm glad the breeze built so we old heavy guys could leg out a bit on this annoyingly smart and consistent sailor...

A few thoughts:

- In a seabreeze, the wind runs parallel to the surface of the water, the cool air hugging the water as it is dragged ashore. It is especially important in such conditions to focus on being in clear air downwind. While in the latter half of a downwind leg, think about the last 10-20 boatlengths' approach to the leeward mark: how can you keep clear air for as long as possible?

- Beware of going TOO far off rhumbline downwind. OK, one side or the other may be favored, but why go 20-30 boatlengths to the side? It's the equivalent of corner-banging upwind--you'd better be DARN sure of what's over there (or darn desperate) to take such a risk! Always ask yourself: will the potential benefit justify the investment?

It was so nice to be out racing the Laser against old friends after the long break! I was nervous about how I'd feel, but the body quickly adjusted to hiking and boathandling. We are having unprecedented weather, so dust off the Laser and join us!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Great resource for regatta management

This site provides links to a treasure trove of information on how to run a big regatta:

Thought it might be helpful to those who are hosting important events this year, or who aspire to sometime in the future!