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
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: http://www.bbyc.net/lm-results/