Monday, October 21, 2013

2013 Laser Master North American Championship

The New York Yacht Club hosted 98 competitors from as far as the West Coast, Canada and the Caribbean for the 2013 Laser Master North American Championship in Newport, RI this past weekend. 10 races were sailed over three days in winds ranging from 4-20+ knots.

..dawned relatively warm with a nice S/SW wind. The racecourse was between the Newport Bridge & Gould Island, with the weather mark set quite close to shore. This meant the wind shifts got more unpredictable and frequent the further up the course we went.
In Race One I had a fast start at the committee boat and tacked immediately to take advantage of a big left shift. Boats at the pin end of the line may have had a few lengths' jump on starboard but also had to wait to tack so I was able to pull forward on them before the wind shifted right, allowing me to tack back and consolidate. A few shifts more and I was in first at the top mark, a position I held for the remainder of the race.
Nice lead in Race 1 (click on pics to see larger versions)
Races 2 & 3 started in similar conditions but the left was much more dominant, especially at the top of the course. I kept trying to make the right work at the top and finished 12, 12, but was called over early in the second race (for non-sailors, this means I was scored last place +2: 100 ugly points!), so my scorecard was 1, 100, 12 for around 30th place overall. Peter Shope from California had a beautiful day, leading the fleet with 4, 2, 2 finishes.

..was cooler with not a breath of breeze on the water at 0900. After a postponement we launched boats at 1030 for another day of racing past the bridge. This time the wind was 4-12 knots out of the SE with longer shifts and the weather mark near the bridge. The race committee set the start line very close to Gould Island, which was partially blocking the outgoing tide; still, the tide was strong enough to make staying below the starting line difficult. The race committee used increasingly draconian measures to "inspire" us to behave, eventually flying the black flag: ANYONE over between 1 minute to go and the start was to be disqualified from the race! For the most part this technique worked and we got races off.
Poking out at the pin (194582)
For Race 4 I started near the pin end, figuring I could see the eyes of the line spotters on the pin end boat (to be able to tell where I was relative to the line), plus I would be one of the first to hit the heavier current of the main channel to the left. There was considerable line sag and because I could see the line spotter's eyes I got a huge jump on the boats hanging back around me, a great start that allowed me to claim another bullet.

Leading the pack at the weather mark
Desperately working through the fleet
In Race 5 I again started near the pin but for some reason had terrible speed and quickly found myself in the bottom 20 or so--it was UGLY. I didn't panic though, waiting for a favorable shift to clear my air then staying to the left of the fleet on the upwind leg to round in the 50s or so. Turned on the jets downwind and caught about 20 boats on that leg, another 10 on the upwind leg. By this time the current had switched, allowing me to stay to the right of a crucial pack of boats looking downwind and catch them right near the leeward mark before finishing 9th! While not a stellar finish, this race was a huge confidence booster--I'd turned a real stinker of a race into a keeper!
Ahead after the leeward gate
The committee favored the right end of the start line for Race 6 so I started there, tacking quickly over to port for a long, long sail upwind against the current. There were little puffs out of the left that made that side look good for a while, but then a righty came through that allowed me to cross back to the middle ahead of the fleet. I had a good run to extend the lead to 10 boatlengths, then rounded the left gate mark on port for another long sail toward the right.
About half-way up the leg I heard a loud BANG, just like the sound a mast makes before breaking. Then another BANG and my sail was looking fuller than it should. The mast was still up so I looked at the boom: everything looked OK at the back, but looking forward I saw the problem: the 3/8" solid stainless steel gooseneck pin had sheered off--the forward part of the boom was only being held in place by the downhaul line that was lashed to it!

With my boat crippled, Davies goes
on the offensive and narrows the gap.
A quick feeling of dread gave way to resolve--there was no WAY I was going to give up this race without a fight! I eased the vang and hiked less vigorously to see how the boom would hold up. Ray Davies from Canada quickly gained on me in my crippled condition and took the lead, but I worked a small right shift and NAILED the starboard tack layline to round a scant boatlength ahead.

Look how low front of boom was on run
On the short offset leg the boom fell down nearly to the vang tang, making the sail all sorts of ugly. Nonetheless, I managed to work the favorable current on the right side of the run and actually pulled ahead another 5 crucial lengths before the last, short reach to the finish.

Reaching to the finish
During the gybe around the final mark the boom slid off the mast completely, sticking forward about a foot in front of the mast, which made the sail very, very full and inefficient. Davies pounced at the opportunity but I held him up, up, up past the finish line before gybing quickly over to starboard to cross the line in first by 3 feet!

Check out that boom
I was emotionally wiped out but exhilarated at the same time. It was 1600 (4pm), and we had a 2 mile upwind sail against the current to get home. One of the spectator boats could give me a tow home. I'd survived the breakdown, won the race, and gained a few points on leader Peter Shope. Relief!
Then Mike Rossum (who had been holding my gear on his coach boat between races) gave me the bad news: radio chatter indicated the committee was planning to run another race! How could I race with my boat in this state?? I sailed around to the spectator and coach boats, asking if anyone had a spare gooseneck on board; no-one did.
Fortunately, Ray and I had pulled well ahead of the fleet, giving me some time to regroup before they finished. I grabbed the electrical tape out of my life jacket, wrapping it around the boom and the gooseneck fitting on the mast in an attempt to hold the spars together. The tape was stretching and too weak to hold the boom like that for a whole race, so I went begging for duct tape from the spectator fleet.

Peter & Christine
Who came to my rescue? It is telling about the character of my competitors that it was Christine Neville (Olympic hopeful and girlfriend of regatta leader/my biggest competition Peter Shope) who provided not only duct tape but a length of nice strong spectra line to lash the spars together. I finished the repair about a minute before the committee began the sequence for Race 8. My mast wasn't rotating correctly and I couldn't ease my downhaul at all, but it had to do...

I got another good start at the boat and tacked quickly to port. This time, the breeze stayed, stayed, stayed left, so I just kept sailing on port. Got a little glimmer of a right shift and tacked back, but the wind died during the long painful starboard back to the middle. Boats coming out of the left looked golden, and Chris Raab, who went even further right than me, was now above me on starboard, pointing higher and going a bit faster. It was uncomfortable!

That said, I could see the left was collapsing: boats on port ahead were pointing way down and going slow against the current. I was on the favored tack pointing closer to the mark, so decided to just keep going. Tacked on the port tack layline about 15 boatlengths from the weather mark to round somewhere in the teens, and considered myself lucky to be there.

Because the wind was more left, the run was now skewed diagonally across the current, which was running downwind roughly 20 degrees left-to-right of the wind. Instead of sailing cross-current toward the mark like those ahead, I sailed directly with it, getting maximum benefit for a longer time. As we got closer to the leeward gate near Gould Island the boats to my left were getting less beneficial current and I started to gain. Then during the final 1/8th of the leg I had a very fast by-the-lee angle coming into the gate, while the pack to leeward slowed each other running dead downwind. I just managed to round ahead of the big clump of boats to round the right gate in 5th!

The committee had a flag flying at the gate indicating they had changed the course. The wind was very, very light at this point and my non-adjustable downhaul was too tight for the condition--I had to sheet in a very narrow range to keep the draft position in the right place. Directly ahead of me was local Paul Grimes and three lengths to leeward of him was local Andy Pimental so I figured left was a good way to go. About half-way up the leg I got concerned about the many boats that were getting to our right so tacked onto port on a small shift to consolidate on the boats to the right and also split from the two boats ahead--if there ever was a time, this was it. Unfortunately the left filled in, allowing Grimes and Pimental to pull further ahead, but I stayed in 5th to the weather mark, where the committee mercifully shortened the course.

We now had 6 races on the books, which meant each sailor was now permitted to drop his or her worst finish. Atop the leader board for a second day was the ever-consistent Peter Shope with scores of 4,3,2,10,5,3! Dropping my 100 point OCS (on course side) from Race 2 I was now in second by two points with 1,12,1,9,1,5  finishes. The next closest competitor was 30 points back--Shope and I had pulled away from the very competitive pack.

Wind and waves and a cruise ship oh my!
A brisk SW breeze greeted us at the club on Sunday--no postponement today. We sailed inside the Newport Bridge between Rose and Goat Islands with an anchored cruise ship to our left--a very confined area in which to race 98 Lasers!

The wind was phasing (shifting back and forth) and quite gusty, going from 20+ to 6 knots and back in a very short time span. Over the course of the day the wind gradually faded. Sea state at the start line was very confused by the waves bouncing off the Goat Island seawall, which was maybe 20 boatlengths downwind from the start line.

With only two points separating us Shope was obviously on my mind, but I knew with three races to go anything could happen. My goal was to sail my best, and if I got ahead of Shope, to stay ahead. A simple plan, made difficult by a wiley foe...

Lots of catching up to do on the 2nd upwind leg
The committee didn't mess around, hoisting the black flag right away. The pin end of the line was very favored for Race 8 and I was in the second row with 30 seconds to go, anticipating a general recall and concerned about being seen. I looked to weather and saw a gap between my group of boats near the pin and the next group further up the line. I dove way down, tacked and shot away from the line on port, just crossing the group to the right! The boats at the pin soon tacked over but I led almost all of them to the right including Shope, who I forced to tack off my hip about 2 minutes after the start. Unfortunately, he found a big shift after tacking over and was LAUNCHED, rounding the top mark in first for a big win. I stumbled out of the right side to round the top mark in the 20s or 30s but managed to grind back to 6th. Shope now 8 points ahead, with 2 races to go.

Surfing into 3rd in Race 9
Race 9, again under black flag. Honestly, I don't remember much about this one, just that it was very shifty and one had to tack right away on the shifts upwind. On the second run I was more concerned about where Shope was than strategy and made a mistake. We were in a left phase going around the offset mark, but instead of riding the lefty to the left (looking downwind) I let Scott Ferguson inside of me, who got the new right shift first and leapt into the lead. I nabbed 3rd and Shope was back there, but I wasn't sure how far.

I knew the scores were incredibly close between Shope and me, but wasn't 100% sure where things stood. I figured I had to place in the Top 10 and finish ahead of him to win the event. We had a long wait for the final race, during which I thought about tactical options: should I seek Shope out or just sail my own race? I decided to just race normally and if he came hunting, I'd do my best to shake him.

Surprisingly, I never saw Shope before the start. Had a solid start and first weather leg, rounding in the top 5 with Shope back around 15th or so. I rounded the downwind mark in 3rd and sailed about half of the upwind leg when I noticed Shope banging the left corner, HARD. This presented a dilemma: continue sailing my own race (which was going very, very well) or stay in touch with Shope? I decided to shadow Shope to the left, reasoning that I was in great position anyway, but if he got any sort of shift out there he might be able to leapfrog ahead. Prophetic thought, that...

To get left from my position I had to sail out of phase with the wind, enduring a bad angle and very light wind pressure in the middle of the course. Meanwhile, Shope indeed found a left shift to come back on and was hiking hard, sailing fast back to the middle--this was going to be close! I managed to *just* cross ahead of him when we finally met--he'd gained at least 30 lengths! We had a small tacking duel and I was stupid to let him get to the right of me near the top of the leg, from where he got the next shift (a righty, remember it was phasing?) and rounded ahead of me, with a boat in between!

Shope and the other guy dove down by-the-lee after the offset mark, pointing their bows at the downwind mark. I knew we were still in the right (looking upwind) shift, so instead of following them by-the-lee away from the next shift (which would be a left) I sailed directly downwind, surfing waves but sailing about 20 degrees to the right of the downwind mark. Then the lefty filled in, allowing me to bear off to a heading directly toward the mark in solid pressure, while Shope and the other boats ahead were in light air on a bad angle waiting for the shift to reach to them. It was nerve-wracking working the boat downwind, slowly, slowly catching up to, then moving ahead of, Shope's position down the track. About 4/5ths of the way down the run the left shift started to die, so I sailed by-the-lee on a good angle ahead of Shope and a fellow in front of him's dirty air to claim the inside position at the mark. I rounded about 2 lengths ahead and held on to finish 5th, with Shope in 7th--I'd won the Master North Americans!!

Martha Parker of Team One Newport has been a supporter for literally decades. This trip she kindly let me stay at her home and even massaged out the knots in my back after racing. Thank you SO SO MUCH Martha!!

My clients, for understanding that Marc sometimes has to go away on weekends to be cold and wet on his little boat.

Mike and Dennis Rossum, for letting me store stuff on their motorboat between races and for being so supportive.

New York YC. The committee had challenging conditions in which to run a lot of races for a lot of boats. Not every decision was perfect, but when are they? Shoreside, the staff were gracious and tolerant of sandy Laser sailors messing up their beautiful facilities. Yummy food too!
New York Yacht Club @ Harbour Court--not bad eh?
My mom, for being my first and biggest supporter.

Finally, thanks to my fellow frostbite sailors at Cedar Point Yacht Club in Westport, CT. The crazy races and tight competition we have at home makes for better results abroad. See y'all next Sunday!


2013 Laser Master North American Results

Photos above courtesy of Kelly Snavely