Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 RS Aero Worlds - Day 1

December 31, 2019
Black Rock (Melbourne) AUS

Yesterday was supposed to be the first day of racing, but 110 degree, 25-40+ knot Northerly winds put the kibosh on racing. Today we partially made up for the lost day by sailing 4 races in a glorious 12-20+ knot Southerly.

Did my usual pre-race current check, which gave me the confidence to get a great start at the boat end of the line. Led at the first and second marks, extending well away from everyone. Then, while pulling on the outhaul before rounding the outside gate, the small dyneema whipping twine holding the ends of the outhaul together snapped! I had to luff up (stopping the boat), grab the line before it completely pulled out of the blocks, tie a quick knot, then round the mark! This allowed Aussie Rhett Gowans to close within three lengths at the gate!

Sailing upwind I was quick, but half-way up the leg there was a loud BANG; my upper downhaul block had exploded! It was incredibly difficult sailing the boat upwind with no downhaul and Rhett got even closer. Despite being hobbled I played a few shifts well and extended on him before the run, where he is wicked fast. Managed to hold him off down the run, but he was close on my tail. The next leg was a flat-out hiking reach with the boat planing fast. Could've used some downhaul on that (and the final short upwind to the finish), but managed to hold off Rhett for a bullet.

We were well ahead of the rest of the fleet, giving me just enough time to jury rig the downhaul and outhaul, get a quick drink, and set-up for the next race.

Another great tussle with Rhett. I got 360 degree video of the whole race, posting to my YouTube channel now (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQTxkTCiwG4sRwca1Ppfj7Q)

Had another solid start at the boat (after doing a quick step-up 20 seconds before to gain some clean air), then tacked on a header shortly thereafter. That shift took me and a few others waaay right, over 4 minutes on port! It was nerve-wracking to be heading so far right (in the Southern Hemisphere, winds generally shift LEFT) but I saw good wind pressure ahead. Dug into that pressure, the compass dropped, I tacked on layline, then was looking down on the entire fleet well behind to the left. Rhett had started further left but tacked to cover me, which allowed him to get a bit of the right shift also, and he rounded 2nd.

Held him off on the reach and most of the run, but that wiley Aussie snuck by on a few waves near the leeward gate. I noted he was sailing quite high and slow after rounding, so footed off with speed and quickly blew through his wind shadow. A little lefty, tacked and he tacked to leeward and ahead. With good pace I moved forward on him, then tacked on a few shifts and was in the lead!

On the final port tack to the 2nd weather mark I sailed into a header and accidentally dropped the mainsheet. Spectators said the mast was almost horizontal as my body completely dumped into the water, the boat nearly capsizing on top of me! I quickly reached up, grabbed several handfuls of mainsheet and was JUST able to get the boat back upright! A bit of drama, a few boatlengths lost, lots of energy expended, but the lead was intact.

Once again Rhett gained significantly on the run, but I had a better leeward mark rounding and blasted off on the final reach. His boom hit the water and he sailed a bit high, allowing me to pull out to a 5-boatlength lead that held to the finish.

All 80 boats sailed back to the club for lunch (which felt quite civilized to this hard-core racer), then went back out for 2pm start of the next two races.

Race 3
The battle with Rhett resumed, culminating in an exciting final leg. Near the finish he crossed me on port, then tacked over. I was *just* able to lay the finish line without tacking, pipping him by maybe 2 feet after 40 minutes of racing. Exhilarating stuff!

Race 4
The breeze built to a solid 16-20+ for this one. I got too tricky, tacking too often on the first beat. Peter Barton (GBR) was launched, zooming to the front on leg one and extending from there. Noah Rees (GBR) did quite well to round 2nd, I was 3rd with Rhett breathing down my neck in 4th. Another firehose reach and positions didn't change, then I caught Noah on the run.

Sailing close to shore in the Southerly, there is an area where the wind drops right off. I sailed into this area while Rhett and Noah stayed high and in the breeze. By the time I woke up they had worked ahead, then I tacked too frequently in the latter half of the leg, trying to take advantage of shifts to catch up and moved back instead.

Rhett was dealing with his own problem: the boom vang fitting had pulled out of his mast! It was tolerable upwind, but on the run it looked all sorts of ugly. He did a masterful job hanging onto second. I got a bit closer to Noah by the leeward mark, then he rounded up accidentally, allowing me to squeak into third. Eyes set on Rhett now, with a short reach and beat to the finish. I got within a boatlength at the finish--Rhett really earned that 2nd place!

So, 4 races done. 1,1,1,3 puts me in front, Rhett has 2,2,2,2 and Noah 3,4,3,4. A nice start, but there are three more days of racing to come!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019 RS Aero Worlds - T-Minus 1 Day

Black Rock Yacht Club, Melbourne AUS

Practice race today before the World Championship starts tomorrow. I was the first to leave the dock about an hour before racing was to start, along with Aussie Michael O'Brien. We sailed upwind for awhile in lumpy hiking conditions then turned back to the committee boat; my speed was fine both ways. Then did the same with American Andy Mack as the breeze started to die. By the time we got back to the committee boat the breeze had almost completely shut off, making it difficult for those who left later to even get to the race course. The committee postponed racing about 40 minutes until the breeze started to fill back in from the same southerly direction.

While waiting for the wind I did some current readings and, contradictory to what locals swore, found there was quite a bit of current running. Tucked that bit of info into my head for planning the start.

The 9 fleet got off first, evenly spread along the start line. It looked like boats that were to the left crossed ahead of boats that started further right, so I decided to favor left.

It took two tries for the 7s to get going. On the first attempt Andy Mack won the pin (left) end of the line and I was the next boat up. Boats just to windward of us looked very solid, but were probably part of the large portion of the fleet over early, inspiring the race committee to bring everyone back for a second attempt.

This time it was Michael O'Brien who won the pin, with me just to windward and Aussie Rhett Gowans to windward of me. The breeze was still a bit light and the water very lumpy/choppy, placing a premium on keeping the boat moving by not slamming into the waves. There was JUST enough breeze for me to keep the boat going, and as Rhett (who is about 15 lbs lighter) started to move forward on me, I was tempted to tack away.

A younger me might have done it out of panic/frustration, but current me looked at the compass, noted we were still a bit lifted on starboard, and resisted the urge. Yes, Rhett was gaining a little, but tacking onto a header would have cost more than just surviving where I was.

As we neared port tack layline, the compass showed a smidge of left starting to creep in. I tacked quickly and took Rhett's stern by about a boatlength. He tacked a bit ahead and to windward, and bore WAY off to try to blow over the top of me--the game was ON! Again experience helped: instead of looking to see where Rhett was, I concentrated on getting the boat through the bumps by watching the water ahead (the noise of Rhett's boat going through the water told me where he was anyway). It was nip-and-tuck for a few long minutes, but I gradually pulled ahead, rounding the top mark first by a few boatlengths, with Michael close astern of Rhett.

The first reach was solidly on the beam, and I blasted away from the top mark hiking hard on a plane. I sailed a little bit low initially in a good puff, thinking I would use the ups to maintain speed in lulls. That worked well and I extended slightly by the wing mark, but spent too much time/effort trying to catch a wave after rounding and slowed way down, allowing Rhett to come roaring up from behind and pass.

Rhett and I had a good battle down the run, but he extended by a few lengths to lead at the leeward mark. We both rounded, then decided to withdraw from the race and sail in--no sense using up our energy on a race that didn't count. We had pulled ahead to a solid 10 length lead over the next few boats, with the rest of the fleet quite a ways behind.

Rhett is relentless, strong and knows his home waters well. It looks like the racing will be quite tight for the actual event!

Tomorrow the temperature is supposed to hit 109 degrees(!!), with a strong gusty northerly wind blowing down from the country's barren interior. Quite different conditions from today's southerly seabreeze--we'll see how things go!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

2019 RS Aero Worlds - T-Minus 2 Days

Didn't sail today, but did get in some boat work and socializing.

There are people from all over the World of course, with new sailors from several new countries, like Japan. It was nice catching up with the small but potent US contingent: Derek Bottles from Seattle and Andy Mack from Salmon Falls, OR (the Gorge). Had several people ask various questions, and worked with a rigging specialist from the UK on a secret project that actually ended up no panning out. Oh well...

Tomorrow is the practice race. My goals: get proper tide and wind readings early, formulate a game plan, then execute. Simple stuff, but I've been a bit lax lately about that kind of stuff, and with the TIGHT competition expected, solid regatta prep will be useful.

Sorry for no pics, will try to get some tomorrow.

Friday, December 27, 2019

2019 RS Aero Worlds - T-Minus 3 Days

27 Dec 2019, Black Rock (Melbourne), AUS
Today we were assigned charter boats by the efficient Liam Willis of RS. I jiggered with a few things to make them to my liking, then went out for a quick sail with Brit Noah Rees, Australian National Champ Rhett Gowans, and Jens Roehrssen from Germany. It wasn't as windy as we've seen over the last few days: still hiking breeze, but not enough (for me at least) to start depowering with vang. This is a tough condition to sail in because the boat is fully powered up, making steering around choppy waves very physical, especially when bearing off a bit.

We did a few rabbit starts upwind, then did a couple of long runs back to the harbour. The wind was quite streaky, where a boat just a boatlength or two to windward could be in different wind than you, so outright speed comparisons were difficult to make. I felt generally good with my height, speed was OK, but at times Gowans put the bow down and was quite quick. On the last beat my downhaul strop broke with a loud BANG that the others heard several boatlengths away! A few minutes doing up a jury rig and I was ready to go again, but we were quite far away from the club so decided to sail back.

On the run to the club, Gowans was again fast on his home waters, playing the choppy waves well. Rees seemed to be going well, ever so slightly slower but he wasn't pleased. I found it absolutely vital to catch the few big wave sets that came through, otherwise one was boatlengths behind. Additionally, it was important to stay well clear of slower boats' wakes downwind (standard stuff, but never hurts to re-visit). A little disconcerting was pace toward the end of the day, when the breeze lightened and it was harder to keep up. Being 15-20 lbs heavier than others kinda does that, so here's hoping for a windy regatta!

It was only about an hour's sail for me, a quick check-out of the boat and some of the faster competition. This will be my first international event in a 7 (mid-size) rig, so it will be interesting to see how it goes. Tomorrow will get the boat measured/inspected, then MAYBE another quick sail. The next day will be a practice race at 2pm, then actual racing starts at 1pm. Excitement is building, as people are starting to trickle in from around the world. It has been nice to see old friends and make new ones.Can't wait to start racing!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

2019 Sail Sydney Regatta

This past weekend was the 2019 Sail Sydney regatta, sailed out of the Woollara Sailing Club in Rose Bay. It'd been 19 years since I last sailed on the Harbour (when training for the 2000 Olympics in the Laser), so it was fun to once again see the beautiful water and topography. Saturday the breeze was a bit more right than Sunday, but both days featured LOTS of chop, motorboat wakes and traffic, including the (in)famous Sydney Harbour ferries, which stop for NO one/boat. As a result of deaths caused by collisions, it is now illegal to pass within 100 meters in front and 50 meters to the side of the ferries, with a fine of up to $2000 for infractions!

Apologies for no videos: my 360 degree camera was only taking 3 second snippets, definitely not usable. Need to get that sorted...

Back in 1999/2000, we raced on four sailing circles around the Harbour. In 2019, we didn't sail in any of those locations, so past experience didn't help much. Friday before the event a number of us went out for training, but I had a breakdown and couldn't push the boat as hard as I might. Setting up the new boat took a fair bit of time on Saturday morning, so I was the last Aero to leave the ramp. NOT my preferred modus operandi...

I got to the racing area about 10 minutes before the first start. It was just enough time to get the boat set-up for upwind work and check out the start line. The breeze for Race 1 started at a rather pleasant 12-15 knots (plenty to keep me hiking with the 7 rig), and after a good start at the boat, I played a few shifts and had a substantial lead at the first mark that I was able to hold to the finish.

The wind dropped throughout Races 2 and 3, making it harder to hold off the 9s, sailed by locals Simon Reffold and David Andrew. I made a big mistake in the final run of Race 3, getting stuck to leeward of a slow I420 and staying there for too long, which allowed Simon to walk away for the on-the-water win.

Another late departure had me racing to get to the line. Fortunately the breeze was a bit stronger, so I had enough time to do some wind and current readings before the start that turned out to be crucial.

We started around 1050, and the locals said the tide would switch at 1100. OK fine, but my readings showed a still-significant amount of incoming tide, which would favor staying right on the beats and left (looking upwind) on the runs. In Race 4 I port-tacked the fleet (surfing a nice motorboat wake) and covered the right side of the fleet upwind. Simon did another fine job of playing shifts and we rounded very close at the top mark. On the runs there was a definite current line (a band of leaves/debris) that I made sure to stay on the correct side of, while the rest of the fleet sailed more directly toward the mark, but in bad current. This allowed me to gain on the runs. It wasn't until the final run of Race 6 that I felt comfortable sailing more directly to the leeward mark on the runs (nearly 1.5 hours after the tide was "supposed" to have changed). Simon got ahead of me on one of the races upwind, but I won the other two on-the-water to take the event overall.

There was tons of chop and boat wakes to deal with on busy Sydney Harbour. I worked really hard downwind, steering all over the place to catch waves and ride them as long as possible. Upwind, one could occasionally surf wakes by sitting very far forward and hiking super hard. The nice thing about the Aero in these conditions is that it accelerates so incredibly well--I was even able to hold off the leading I420s on some beats Sunday!

The Sydney Aero fleet is growing rapidly. It's a good bunch of people who are keen to sail and learn the boat. Off the water we spent a lot of time going over rigging and techniques, which resulted in significantly tighter competition as the weekend went on. I look forward to sailing against a number of these fine sailors again at the World Championship in Melbourne 28 Dec-4 Jan!

Be sure to check out www.SailStar.org, a sponsor of my 2019 Worlds campaign! They are a sailing school with locations in Sweden, Croatia and Tenerife. For those who want to enjoy some Winter sailing in the sun and surf, SailStar recently added 4 RS Aeros to their Tenerife fleet, which includes bigger and smaller boats as well.


I was heartened to see so many junior sailors handling the windier conditions just fine. They looked fit, focused and competent. It was so nice seeing young sailors not afraid of wind--if anything, they wanted more. American instructors, race officers and yacht clubs: please allow our youth to learn/sail/grow in stronger breezes, or we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.

In general, the Aussie sailors looked more trim/muscular than Americans--clearly they're not shying away from fitness. If I was a junior, I'd definitely be working on my strength and stamina to compete at the international level!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Traveling Internationally? Read on...

When planning an international trip, a few tips:
- Check with your cell provider about service to the country/countries you're planning to visit. They'll probably say: "We provide international data while you travel."
Question is: is it HIGH-SPEED data? Probably not. Then you'll need to purchase their "enhanced" data package, usually at some crazy price (in Sprint's case: $25/week). If you're like me and don't want to pay that, read on...

- BEFORE leaving your country, ask your cell provider if a "SIM Unlock Code" is needed to use a different company's SIM card. This code allows one to get a local SIM card at destination, often with better data and international rates (Telstra had a special offer in-airport here in Australia: AU$20 for unlimited calling to/from USA/Canada/others, and 35gig data for 35 days!).

I didn't know such a code was needed for my carrier (Sprint), and am now trying to deal with this via email over excruciatingly slow roaming data (it's too slow to handle online chat).

- Noise canceling headphones. Just do it. Spend the money, get decent ones (as of this post, Bose QuietComfort 35 II or 700, Sony WH-1000XM3 are the frontrunners). I got mine used on craigslist for nearly half-price. Incredible how much quieter these make the journey, especially for those of us flying in the back!

Happy Traveling! Signed,
Learn From My Mistakes/Experience