Northwest Laser Masters Take on (and win!) Laser Worlds

There may be nothing as worthwhile as messing about in boats, unless it’s specifically racing the Laser Master Worlds. For the 300+ “mature” (35 years old +) sailors, it’s a chance to enjoy sailboat racing in one of its purest forms, against an international crowd who are as interested in having an enjoyable regatta as winning it. It’s a long, tough regatta for a sailor of any age and the quality of racing is quite extraordinary.

Pacific Northwest Lasers outdid themselves this year in Split, Croatia. Bill Symes (Portland) won the Great Grand Master Radial, Al Clark (Vancouver) in the Grand Master Standard Rigand Deirdre Webster (Portland) in the Women’s 75+ all won their divisions. But more than victory on the water, the event and venue were by all reports tremendous. Bill and Al both sent in reports, and we’re lucky to have them. Reading Coach Al’s piece really gives an insight into the racing aspect end of things, especially the psychology, within the lead group.

Championships aside, Greg Jackson, who raced in the Great Grandmaster full rig division, had every bit as much fun if he was “making the top half of the fleet possible.” See a little video below.

These photos by Duje Petric were all lifted from the event’s Facebook site. To scroll through all those excellent photo galleries is to see a lot of fit “mature” sailors having a lot of fun with one of the world’s simplest, yet most challenging, boats. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Report from Al Clark

2017 has been busy for me with my full time position at Royal Vancouver YC as their head coach. Duties included coaching our Laser/Radial high school aged sailors. Also I coached 29’ers at their Midwinters in March and Worlds in August. I particularly enjoyed these high level events with some very talented sailors. I love to learn about new boats and get all the pieces together to help them go fast the right way.

The third component has been coaching some of our Race Team alumni, Kyle Martin in his Finn (Miami OCR and Sailing World Cup Final) and Isabella Bertold (Delta Lloyd and Worlds in Holland) .

I watched and competed in about 17 regattas, 8 major events in 2017. So I would say I saw plenty of high level sailing and have come up with ideas over the years how to get to the front of the fleet.

My training for this year’s Worlds (Vacation time for me with my wife Sharon ) was very minimal. I wasn’t sure I had the mental energy to attend but signed up believing that when the time came I would be excited to race.

I did sail a local regatta in early July in Radials and then sailed the US Nationals in Lake Tahoe later that month. I kept in decent shape at my Crossfit gym and riding my bike .

On water training prior to to worlds was a few days in early September, and then it was on the plane to Croatia with the idea of sailing at the site. I had chartered a private boat and was able to start practicing Sunday September 17th, so with the practice race on the Saturday the 23rd, I had the week to work up to race trim.

I bought a carbon top section and had a new sail, and added my own hiking strap and compass (I use the compass quite a bit these days) . Generally I was quite happy with the boat (I really like the new boats from LP) and the gear by the end of the week.

I have marks for my vang, outhaul and cunningham. I find that when I feel the boat is fast with certain adjustments I make a note of it and try to keep that in mind. An example is I had 2 distinct marks on my vang for puffs and lulls in the 6-10 its we sailed a lot in. My outhaul marks are for upwind, a 1-5 scale on my deck.

The practice race (I sailed one lap) went well and I had decided to start near the favoured end then go on the first shift. Andy Roy was first off the pin then tacked , Peter Vessella was fast off the boat and I trailed both of them at the weather mark. I was in about 6th by the end of the run . Generally happy with my execution. The breeze was about 6 knots .

One of the factors for this event became clear after the practice race . The sail out to the race course was going to be about an hour and a half each day with at least an hour sail in . The wind didn’t happen till about noon each day (if it happened at all) so we were going to have long days on the water with lots of waiting . As a coach I am used to this .

The silver lining for me is that all the sailing out then in gave me plenty of time in the boat and I know that as I get the “feel” back I can be very quick in moderate wind in the Standard rig.

I was training whenever I wasn’t racing . Also entering the harbour each day there was no wind so I had a chance to work on roll tacks and gybes.

The first two days of the regatta (Sunday and Monday) we had no wind so there was a lot of catching up with old friends . Monday was cancelled early so after chatting with some of the guys I was walking home and noticed there wad a late afternoon breeze so I went sailing for a few hours . I really like sailing everyday when I’m at these events , even for a short time.

The Tuesday we had a decent sea breeze (12 knots) by the time racing started and many of the favourites were near the pin at go. Andy Roy was smokin’ fast in this start and I made up my mind to stay with him. This ended up being a recall. In the next start I was motivated to go hard near the pin again and was near Andy and a number of other favourites. I realized that my speed was good and my height also . I arrived first to the weather mark then sailed too conservatively on the run and rounded third . I fought through the race and was better on the final run , I had a 5 boat length lead down the final reach. Unfortunately I picked up a bag on my rudder and was passed by 2 boats .

Race two I made adjustments and again was pleased with my speed. I won this race with a good gap and felt, as I sailed in that this was one of my best sailed first days at a master’s worlds (nerves had been an issue) My self talk was to execute the game plan without fear. Keep the “what ifs” at bay. Examples are don’t go to the lay line to early and have faith in the decision your making .

Wednesday was slightly lighter wind but again 2 good races. I was a little too conservative in race one but was generally happy with a 4th , Andy won that race. The next race was Andy leading again at the top mark, I snuck into 2nd on the rounding and I sailed smarter on the run and rounded close behind Andy going out to the right. I hung with him (happy with my height) then decided to carry on after Andy tacked , this got me into the lead, I extended down the reach and won race 4 .

So after 2 days Andy Roy ,Tomas Nordqvist, Peter Vessella , Wolfgang Gerz and Nick Harrison were all sailing well and the battle was on for the Championship .

Wednesday there was no racing

Thursday brought again little wind and lots of waiting on the water with one race. This turned into a pivotal race. I started near the pin even though my compass was saying square line, even a bit boat favoured. I never came back from this and with plenty of scrambling ended 10th. Andy sailed a nice race and could have led but a big righty came in late up the first beat, so Tomas won this race . So now we have a close battle for the podium with others ready to pounce.

I decided that generally this race was one that I left the game plan and that I would ignore it and focus on the good races I had sailed .

Friday there was no racing , we actually had a breeze come up but ended up being to unstable and with the 175 Standards, we needed 2 hours to get in before sunset, pressure was building. There were a number of sailors that thought I had it won because the forecast for the last day was poor and no racing after 3.

I kept to the routine and sailed out to the race course Saturday. I will say that the long waits and the broken up regatta between races was difficult and I was pleased that I entered the final race with a positive mind set. I was determined to be on my front foot going hard, same as all the races that I did well in

We had one race with a late moderate sea breeze that was enough for me to be in the hiking strap (always good). I had a midline start that turned into a decent rounding at the weather mark (5th ). I passed Tomas on the run and headed left in 4th with the two leaders well ahead . Tacking on the shifts up the beat (many were going left) , I gained and was close in 3rd with a good gap to the rest of the fleet.

Andy and Tomas now had their own battle going on and I only had to keep my head. I ended 2nd in the race and was relieved that I had not let myself down by sailing poorly, but had risen to the occasion. Andy did what he had to with Tomas ending 2nd overall, Tomas 3rd .

My post mortem for the event is that the psychological aspects of competing are of utmost importance. There are a number of factors that helped me succeed – boat speed and height (when needed), executing quality starts, solid lane sailing tactics on the first beat, aggressive tactics on the run, hitting shifts on the second beat (and remembering that what seemed to work on the first beat doesn’t always work on the 2nd) , pushing hard to the finish .

It was amazing how much nicer it is to have a countryman and friend (Andy Roy) nearby on the race course when I wasn’t sure about a strategy. We fed off each other in terms of confidence, discussing tactics etc. at the end of each day.

Looking forward to the Worlds in Ireland next September

–Al Clark

Report from Bill Symes

My wife LauraLee and I have just returned to planet earth from one of the most dramatic sailing venues I’ve experienced in more than half a century of sailing, the Croatian coast. Split, Croatia’s second largest city and site of the 2017 Laser Standard Men’s and Masters World Championships, rises up from the remains of a 3rd century Roman emperor’s palace against a towering backdrop of granite cliffs, facing a cobalt sea and a string of islands surrounded, even in October, by swarms of white sails. Very cool.

We arrived as the guys from the just completed Standard Men’s Worlds (that’s the one for the younger, fitter, full-time sailing crowd) were leaving town, and the city was gearing up for the onslaught of 350 Laser “masters” (minimum age: 35; maximum age: unlimited), their significant others and assorted entourages. We were greeted with a gala opening ceremony on the city’s waterfront promenade – the Riva – complete with welcome speeches by the mayor and various local and Laser Class grandees, live performances by folkloric singers, a really loud audio visual spectacle, and vast quantities of food and beverage (the first of many).

Unfortunately, the wind in Split turned out to be somewhat less robust than the hospitality. We settled into a daily routine of waiting all morning for the offshore breeze to die, then waiting all afternoon for the sea breeze to fill in. The first two days it never did. Racing finally got underway on day three, with each fleet completing three races in light-moderate conditions. The pecking order quickly emerged, with the usual suspects topping the leader board in most divisions.

In the 62-boat Radial Great Grandmasters fleet (65+), I ended the day with finishes of 4-1-16, leaving me in third place behind a couple of Australians, current world champion Rob Lowndes and former world champion Kerry Waraker. Day four produced enough wind for two more races and 4-1 finishes for me. More importantly, I was able to drop the 16th, which boosted me into second, two points shy of the lead. The next day, on a dying breeze and shortened course, I managed a third bullet and moved into a two-point lead.

The forecast for the next couple of days was for no wind and, sure enough, after drifting around for 3 hours on day six, we were sent in without a race. Now the regatta was mine to lose; another abandoned race on the final day would not have been an entirely bad thing. But the race committee was determined, and they sent us out at noon to wait on the water while they prayed for wind. Their prayers were answered at 2:55 pm, five minutes before the deadline for last warning gun. We took off in an 8-knot breeze, and despite my initial anxiety and a mediocre start, the momentum was now on my side, and I was able to work through the fleet and take the race and the championship.

A couple of timeless bumper stickers.

Laser Masters Worlds is like an annual reunion with several hundred of your best sailing buddies, always in some wonderful place you’d have never thought to visit were it not for this event. For masters, the après sailing revelry is just as important as the on-the-water action. Not that the racing isn’t serious business; the field always includes former world champions and Olympic medalists, and the competition at the front of the fleet is intense. There’s a bumper sticker for Laser masters that says “Cheat the nursing home. Die on your Laser,” and these guys are living it. I can’t think of a better way to go.

(For a full regatta report and results, go to laserinternational.org. For Laser geeks interested in the more technical aspects of the racing, check out an upcoming article in Doug Peckover’s blog Improper Course.)

 

–Bill Symes

Greg Jackson may not have been in any of those podium pictures, but I can guarantee he had as good a time as anyone there. Here’s a little video of him talking about the event for a non-sailing crowd. Well worth a chuckle or two.

Kurt grew up racing and cruising in the Midwest, and has raced Lasers since the late 1970s. He has been Assistant Editor at Sailing Magazine and a short stint as Editor of Northwest Yachting. Through Meadow Point Publishing he handles various marketing duties for smaller local companies. He currently is partners on a C&C 36 which he cruises throughout the Northwest. He’s married to the amazing Abby and is father to Ian and Gabe.

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