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

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.

Puget Sound Sailing Championships – Moore 24s, J/24s and Dinghies Get a Full Weekend of Racing

Puget Sound Sailing Championships – Moore 24s, J/24s and Dinghies Get a Full Weekend of Racing

Corinthian (Seattle) YC’s PSSR Regatta started off last weekend with the small boat edition, and Puget Sound delivered with just enough wind for two good days of racing. With nine races sailed (eight for the J/24s), the winners all had to earn their way to the top. The PRO for the event, Egor Klevak, did an excellent job of keeping things moving along the entire weekend. Melissa Davies did a great job of drumming up participation, which was up substantially from 2016 across the board.

This year the seven Moore 24s were switched from the “large boat” half of the event (to be sailed this coming weekend) to the small boat event. That, combined with the 12-boat J/24 class meant that everyone had to stay alert in the starting area to avoid those unpleasant big boat/small boat interactions. It also meant the inevitable couple of incidents while one fleet was going through the start line while another fleet was starting. There’s just not a lot of room to get through a line when the J/24s are jockeying for position. Everyone stayed on their toes and it all worked.

Here are some of Jan Anderson’s photos. Click to enlarge. There are lots more here, and I know she’d love you to see them.

Saturday’s predicted light southerly held ’til mid afternoon, when a northerly blew down on the fleet with some gusty breezes, and the existing race was abandoned for some classes. Rather than saying enough racing for the day, Klevak reoriented the course and sent everyone for one final race of the day in a waning wind. It meant that by the end of the day a full five races had been sailed and a good regatta already was achieved. And it meant some very, very tired sailors.

And it appeared that that had been a wise move with a glassy Puget Sound the next morning. But as the land heated up, the northerly once again turned on and four more solid races were sailed. The strong currents of the weekend caused much consternation and some surprises. In the last race, for some classes, better wind actually trumped the ripping flood while heading upwind. As the crews gathered in the CYC clubhouse, the TV showed the Seahawks managing to hold onto a win. What a weekend!

Ben Braden and crew won the Moores, young Lucas Lafitte put his stamp on the J/24 fleet, Dave Watt won the small Star class and Kirk and Katia Smith stood atop the Snipe class. Results here.

Both the RS Aeros and Lasers had very good fleets, each with 11 boats on the line. Dalton Bergan managed to win the RS Aero, despite going with the smaller “7” rig on the first day. Second was Todd Willsie, the very first RS Aero owner in the region and third was Bergan’s father in law Carl Buchan, who may have regretted matching Dalton’s “7” rig the first day. Youth was the theme for the Laser class as Blake Bentzen won with a very consistent performance, with strong performances by Stasi Burzycki, Luke Gibbens, Kit Stoll and Perham Black (only the second day, but was he ever fast).

Gridley and Timms Win NWISA Singlehanded Championships

Gridley and Timms Win NWISA Singlehanded Championships

Northwest Interscholastic Sailing Association Singlehanded Championships

Photo by Jim Skeel

It wasn’t the breeziest of regattas, but the high school singlehanded championships were sailed over the weekend off Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle. The winners were Grant Gridley in the Radial class and Owen Timms in the full rig class. University sailors got their own Radial and full rig fleets. Congratulations to all who participated. BTW, I’m pleased to report that the Seattle Laser Fleet provided a number of boats in support of this event.

Here’s the report from the NWISA:

Saturday, September 23:

Competitors from around the Northwest were greeted by a light southerly on Saturday morning. This proved to be quite stable and peaked around 8 knots by noon. The breeze then began to fade, and by 3pm it had shut off completely. We were fortunate to complete 6 radial and 7 full rig races in that time, alternating between double lap windward/leewards and trapezoid courses. The 20 boat Laser Radial fleet especially was very competitive. This resulted in at least 8 general recalls (we lost count) and most of the later starts under I-flag.

Sunday, September 24:

The forecast for Sunday looked bleak, and after a shore postponement competitors left the dock at 11am to try racing in a fragile northerly. The breeze was just strong enough to start a Radial race, and it maintained a 3-4 knot average until most competitors had finished. After it fizzled out, competitors waited around on the water for another hour and a half before the Race Committee called racing for the day. NWISA is excited to send representatives Owen Timms and Per Black in the Full Rig and Grant Gridley and Abbie Carlson in the Laser Radial to St. Petersburg, FL later this fall. They will do a terrific job representing our conference. Big thanks to all the volunteers and race officials this weekend. The regatta was well run and made the most of our limited racing windows.

More Photos by Jim Skeel. Click to enlarge.

US Sailing just sent out their Youth Sailing newsletter. Take a look.

Yanez Repeats at the 2017 Dale Jepsen One Design Regatta in Bellingham

Yanez Repeats at the 2017 Dale Jepsen One Design Regatta in Bellingham

It was a small but mighty fleet of Lasers at Bellingham Yacht Club’s Dale Jepsen One Design regatta this year. Jorge Yanez, the winner of the DJOD last year and the winner of the Laser Radial Masters Nationals event in the Gorge this year was there; the winner and runner up from 2015, Sascha Smutny and Doug Honey were there; and Perham Black, fresh off his win at the Bellingham Youth Regatta was there. The top of the 9-boat fleet was so evenly matched that places changed at nearly every mark rounding.

This is a photo from the Laser fleet in a previous Dale Jepsen Regatta.

Mike Johnson lead the regatta after two races with a first and a third for four points, followed closely by Yanex and Black with five points each. Yanez jumped out after that with two firsts in races 3 and 4, establishing a five point lead on Black. Undeterred, Black went hard right on the last beat of the last race, jumping past several boats and winning the race. Yanez finished 4th to save the regatta win by one point.  If he had been 5th, the tie breaker would have gone to Black.  

Third place went to Mike Johnson with only 4 points separating third through sixth places. It is for this kind of tight racing, often overlapped with other boats at every mark rounding and multiple boats arriving at the finish together, that we keep showing up. There were no protests, no starting line abuses, and only a few capsizes. Racers compared their ideas after each race were clearly glad to be lucky enough to be having fun among friends.  

Results here.

Regatta chair Mike Poulos, race officer Jonathan Knowles and their terrific volunteers, did a great job under difficult circumstances to choreograph five well-run and fair races. All races occurred on Sunday due to no wind on Saturday. Saturday had been the regatta organizer’s nightmare. Just enough wind to leave shore that went flat at the first warning, and then came back up 10 minutes after all boats got back to the parking lot. So on Sunday, everyone was elated to see a sunny 8 to 12 knot southeasterly materialize from the glassy bay – less than an hour before the first warning. The breeze held nicely right up through the last race and then died.  

It is interesting to note that only three participants at the event this year were also at the event last year.  Some could say we lost the others but the positive perspective says we gained several new people. Let’s build on that momentum and have some great events this fall. We could have a start at Corinthian’s PSSC (October 7-8) and Turkey Bowl (November 18-19). Would it be crazy to imagine 15 Laser’s on the starting line?

–Jay Leon

Ed. Note: I’d love to post something on the FJ and 505 fleets, so if anyone wants to share some words or photos, send them along and I’ll get them in. Also, thanks to Jay for the Laser report. No, indeed, 15 Lasers is not too many to expect for for PSSC and Turkey Bowl, especially if the great young sailors show up. Maybe both full rig and Radial fleets? Note this video from the Junior Olympic Regatta.

Junior Olympics Hosted by SYC

Junior Olympics Hosted by SYC

Junior sailing is certainly alive and well in the Pacific Northwest. This video from the Junior Olympics sailed last month and hosted by SYC was just made available:

NW Junior Olympics 2017 from Matau Media on Vimeo.

 

SYC Coach Cameron Hoard Reports: Seattle Yacht Club hosted the 2017 North West Jr Olympic Regatta. The racing took place August 26-27, on Shilshole Bay. This year the event had 93 boats with 112 Jr sailors competing for gold in one of the largest Junior regattas in the NW. Two days of perfect sailing, with 8 races sailed in 8-15 conditions on Puget Sound, plus an excellent Salmon dinner on Saturday, and fun party with raffle prizes and piñatas!

I’ll echo what SYC sailing director Brian Ledbetter has said, that much of the success of junior sailing in the area can be attributed to Andrew Nelson of The Sailing Foundation.

It’s worth noting that the tremendous turnout and enthusiasm was for traditional classes: FJs, Vanguard 15s, Laser Radials and lots of Optimists. Kids turn out in droves and have plenty of fun in those “old” designs!

Results.

A View from the Back of the Fleet

A View from the Back of the Fleet

Bill Eimstad wrote this immediately after the Laser Master US Nationals. Between the newest women singlehanded champs, Abbie Carlson in the Junior Women’s and Hanne Weaver in the Singlehanded Women’s, we’ve had a lot to cover at the front of Laser fleets. My own experience was somewhere in the middle of the Master US Nationals.

There’s a danger in thinking sailboat racing is all about winning. One of the things we value in sailing is the never ending learning curve (especially it seems in the deceptively simple Laser). Another is the fleet camaraderie, which in the Laser Masters fleet is exceptional. Here’s Bill’s tale of struggle and triumph.

Full rig start! Photos by Christy Usher

Cascade Locks July 7 – 9, 2017 A few weeks ago I decided to race in the Laser Masters U.S. Nationals. After all they were being held right in my own back yard. Go sail against the best and learn as much as I can. It would be my third regatta in the Laser. For me there wasn’t any choice between a standard rig and the radial rig. I only have a standard rig.

After 48 years of racing sailboats I bought myself a Laser. I wanted to get back into a one person dinghy where the only thing that mattered was your own sailing skills. I started out 49 years ago learning to race a variety of sailboats at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Over the years I’ve raced all kinds of boats… Laser II’s, Stars, Lidos, Santana 20’s, and lot of other different keel boats including a 70’s era IOR 3/4 tonner Rhapsody, a well known race boat in Puget Sound area that I was the proud second owner of. That boat was a serious handful downwind in heavy air!

Day One: Friday morning it’s blowing a good solid 20 as everyone is preparing to leave the beach for the first start. I got some last minute advice from one of the clinic instructors, “try to keep it upright because capsized is slow.” No kidding! I got off the beach OK and sailed out into the river to bear off downwind. As soon as I turn downwind the boat takes off on a plane and wham, I capsize to windward. It kind of caught me by surprise. OK… I stood the boat up, got control and tried it again… wham, I capsized to windward again. After the fourth or fifth iteration of this same scenario I decided it was time to return to the beach and reevaluate the whole situation. It turned out four other guys in the standard class hadn’t even left the beach. All four are guys with a whole lot more experience in a Laser than I have. I was greeted with “you made a good decision” and Emilio Castelli offering me a glass of wine. Thanks Emilio. It certainly helped relieve some of my frustration. After another 5 of the standard rig sailors joined us on the beach before the 1st race was over I didn’t feel quite so bad. Hats off to Tracy Usher, he made it out for the second and third races. By race three the wind is hitting 30 most of the time.

Fortunately a couple of guys pointed out why I crashed to weather. DON’T LET THE MAINSHEET OUT SO FAR! Hey, I came here to learn right.

Day Two: Saturday morning seemed calm compared to the day before. There was a nice wind in the low teens with lots of nice solid gusts thrown in. I got off the beach early to try to get comfortable in the boat and get my bearings in the race area. There seemed to be a little more pressure on the Oregon side along with more pronounced gusts, and the water was a little flatter. Out near dolphin #14 on the Washington side there was a rough patch of water where the current velocity made the waves stand up pretty good. I chose the left side on the first beat hoping the smoother water would make up for the difference in the current velocity. Wrong! Again I’m learning.

Race two the wind is building. I lost track of the time in the sequence and had a horrible start but made it around the course with out any major problems, just slow going to weather in the chop. I’m starting to realize that my mere 155 lbs is a bit on the light side for keeping the boat flat and powered up enough to punch through the waves. Downwind is a blast! The boat just rockets through the puffs.

By race three the wind is still building and is well into the 20’s. The committee gives us a “D” course with the reach legs. I tell myself that should be one hell of a fun ride. Another poor start because I misjudged how quickly the boat would take off when I had to reach off a little to keep from being over early. More learning! Both beats are just agony because I can’t seem to drive the boat through the waves. The second downwind leg is another blast with lots of big puffs that send me closer and closer to the fleet again. I look back as I set up for the gybe mark and notice that I’ve got a little “calm” between puffs in which I can make the gybe. Both boats directly ahead of me capsize during the gybe. Just as I reach up to throw the boom across and throw myself across the boat the next big gust hits me and I go down too. As the boat goes over I throw myself onto the centerboard, untangle myself from the mainsheet and quickly get the boat back up. The big puff stays with me as I rocket towards the leeward mark. Man, what a ride! I even pass two boats! I manage to come up close hauled around the leeward mark without crashing and I’m thinking that I just need to make a couple of good tacks to make the finish line ahead of the two boats. Not to be. Three times I put the boat in irons trying to tack. Frustrating! After finally crossing the finish line I sail out towards the gybe mark to watch a closely packed group of the radial sailor round the mark. Unfortunately two of the guys end up capsizing on top of each other and getting all tangled up. Both sailors popped up and appeared to be unhurt. Tough conditions for everyone.

Race four I finally get a decent start and head for the right side to ride the current. I’m certain though that I’m doing more up and down in the waves than I’m making in forward progress. By the time I get to the weather mark I’m worn out and the beach looks mighty attractive, so I call it a day.

Day Three: The wind is smoking again in a repeat of Friday. I make it off the beach OK this time but promptly crash on a poorly executed gybe. When I stand the boat up I end up in irons again and then crash again before I can get the boat moving. I repeat this scenario a couple of times before I realize I have the vang down way too hard. I release it and sail the boat back to weather. I’m already worn out so I call it a day. This is not an easy decision for me to make as I want so badly to be out there racing. I have to hand to all the guys in the front of the fleet who were flat out racing under the conditions. It takes a tremendous amount of skill and finesse with a big dose of strength and stamina to sail these little boats under extreme conditions. I have a lot to learn.

After taking a couple of days to reflect on the whole experience, I have a Radial rig on order and I’m looking forward to having another go at this in a few weeks. Thanks to everyone who offered friendly advice. A big thanks to the race committee and regatta organizers for the great hospitality and a very well run regatta.

–Bill Eimstad

2017 Lasers Masters US Championships – One for the Ages

2017 Lasers Masters US Championships – One for the Ages

“Someday, when we talk about windy regattas in the Gorge, this may not be the windiest one ever but it will definitely be in the conversation.” That assessment alone makes the Lasers Masters US Championships one for the ages.

That’s saying a lot when it comes from Bill Symes, who has sailed and organized as many Columbia River Gorge Association (CGRA) events as anyone. Symes also said it was the windiest conditions he had ever sailed in. Kaighn Smith, who made the trip from Portland, Maine, explained that in his neck of the woods “in those winds it’s just survival. Here guys are racing.”

The event was the Laser Masters U.S. Championship, so it wasn’t a bunch of strapping kids out there. Masters events start at age 35 and end at, well, who knows. In this event there were a large number of Great Grand Masters (65-74) and a “Legend” (75+).

Fleets were divided into the Standard (aka full) rig and the smaller Radial rig. There were 18 full rigs and 28 Radials, with serious international contenders in both fleets.

If anyone was on the fence as to which fleet to sail in, the choice was obvious. The wind looked to be in the 20s already when registration closed. After the usual Gorge warnings (“there’s no shame in coming in if it’s too much” and “don’t get in the way of commercial traffic, you may die”) about three quarters of the boats headed to the starting line. Over the course of the day boats limped in, some with shell-shocked skippers, others with broken parts. Nick Pullen, for instance, came in with what he thought was a broken rudder. It turned out to be a broken gudgeon. When does that happen? By the end of the third race there were only 8 full rigs and 10 Radials on the course.

All photos by Christy Usher of Christine Robin Photography. You can see all of them here. Thanks, Christy!

The leaders at the end of the first day carnage were no surprises, Charlie Buckingham in the full rigs and Bill Symes in the Radials.

The second day started much more sedately, in the low teens, which allowed several sailors to get back their Laser mojo. Just as things started to look like a normal regatta with just about everybody finishing and a good mix of finish places, the Gorge started “nukin’” again. The fourth and final race of the day was on a par with the day before, and once again the DNSs and DNFs started mounting. Epic stories abound. Bill Symes, after having an up and down day, was enjoying a great race when he broke his aluminum top mast section just yards from the finish.

At this point the races at the top were clear. Ernesto Rodriguez was giving Buckingham everything he could handle in the full rig fleet, and Jorge Luis Yanez del Castillo of Vancouver, BC and Andrew Holdsworth of San Francisco were duking it out atop the Radials.

On Sunday the wind then decided two days weren’t enough. From the moment boats left the beach to that final push to the finish, the wind was the 20s and gusting into the 30s. It always seems windier in a Laser, but they were truly epic conditions, and it’s a testimony to the quality of the Lasers master sailors (and fitness) that they could compete in those conditions.

As in most masters regatta there were plenty of awards to go around. Rodriguez topped Buckingham by just a point for the full rig win. Del Castillo and Holdsworth traded firsts and seconds the entire second half of the regatta, but del Castillo had a clear victory in the end. There were awards for the various divisions in each fleet including apprentice (35-44), masters 45-54), grand masters (55-64) and great grandmasters (65-74) and the new category “Legend” (75+, won by Jay Winberg).

Upon being awarded the championship trophy, Rodrigeuz said “I came here hoping for a lot of wind, and I got more than I even really wanted!) It’s interesting that Rodriguez and del Castillo sailed together on the Cuban national team in years past.

 

Nick Pullen gave a moving speech about the origins of the Tony Dahlman Memorial Trophy (named after a most enthusiastic Laser sailor who passed away years ago doing what he loved – Laser sailing. For many of us, this sportsmanship award embodies what Laser sailing is about), after which it was awarded to mid-fleet finisher Simon Bell.

Any coverage of a Lasers Masters event would be incomplete without talking about the camaraderie. First of all, even in a national championship it’s an international event. With sailors from the Dominican Republic, Australia, England Canada and Israel, it felt a bit like a tiny Worlds. And from the moment one arrives at the site, through the racing and meals and while packing up the boats to leave, the mutual respect and support is superlative. Masters sailors know what skills and perseverance to sail the Laser. In conditions like there were for the 2017 Masters US Championships, that respect and fondness grow exponentially.

Ed. Note: You can read my more personal account of the event, and what I think I know about sailing on the Gorge, here. Whew.

 

–Kurt Hoehne

Sensei and The Gorge

Sensei and The Gorge
Here I am, 200192, very happy in a Laser Masters race on the Gorge. Photo by Christy Usher.

My Laser Masters US Champs last weekend didn’t go as planned. I’d convinced myself that I could sail well in a breeze, didn’t need to practice and my toughest call would be the choice between sailing a full rig or a Radial. I was going to be in contention. In reality my toughest call was quitting the first day, in my Radial, without finishing a single race. I’m the guy who stays out there no matter what, so heading for the beach was, shall we say, painful to the core.

Both decisions were the right ones.

My regatta, however, was yet another instance of Sensei Laser reminding me in no uncertain terms that to sail him one must be humble and work hard all the time. I can almost hear a disembodied voice, soothing yet forceful, saying “Grasshopper, you are not yet ready. Thirty eight years of Lasers is but a teardrop of a marmot in a mountain lake. You must carry the boulder up the mountain 10 more times and then we will begin again.”

As it turned out my agonizing over full vs Radial was pointless. The last time I’d sailed a Radial on the Gorge, the winds were atypically light and it was no fun. But this weekend, with the wind already in the high teens and building, predictions for even more wind in the coming days and the window for choosing closing, the Radial was the clear choice.

I made the run to the starting area without difficulty, watched the full rigs take off, and then started to work up-current from the start line. One weird 20-degree shift-puff hit and over I went. No big deal. Then again. And again. I was nearly pushed into the committee boat. And again. I still can’t tell you how I managed to capsize 4 times in the starting sequence, but I did. I wasn’t even late for the start. However, the die was cast for the rest of the regatta. I managed to stay upright until the gybe mark on the second downwind. And again I flipped and reflipped until I lost track of my total capsize count at 14. There was a chase boat nearby, no doubt wondering when they should stop the carnage. I finally said “no mas” and headed back to the beach.

Fortunately, there were plenty of folk already there. Many had not gone out, some had come in for similar reasons as I, and there were a few broken bits and pieces. Moreover, there were some excellent sailors on shore as well.

We watched as the 18-boat full rig fleet dwindled to 8 by the third race and the 28 boat Radial fleet dwindled to 10. My boat put away, I found my tent and nearly fell asleep in the afternoon.

Having thought through all the things Sensei Laser had taught me over the years, I came back humbled and devoid of expectations. I got on the course early, tacked and gybed and gybed and tacked. The wind was down around the low teens, perfect for remembering how to sail. As the wind built during the day, everything made sense again. By the fourth race of the day the wind was up to where it was the day before, well into the 20s with puffs probably into the 30s. I stayed upright and climbed out of the results cellar.

From the outset Sunday, the breeze was on about as it had been Friday. And while I threw in a couple harmless capsizes for good measure, it was a great, exhausting day of sailing. And the final race of the day was epic. I don’t care what the anemometers say, that wind had to be in the 30s much of the time.

The results were never as good as I’d expected, but it was probably the most satisfying regatta I’ve sailed in 20 years.

 

A Gorge Primer

For those who’ve never sailed a dinghy from Cascade Locks on the Columbia River Gorge when it’s “nukin’,” here’s my best shot at describing what it’s like. These are my impressions – not meant to be gospel. Much better sailors than I can describe the ins and outs of how to sail in a breeze in the unique Gorge conditions.

Heading to the start.

You launch from a somewhat sheltered beach at Cascade Locks, and its about a 20 minute sail to the starting area. Hug the shore and it’s relatively benign, though the occasional wind blast will come through. Stick your nose out into the river more and you’ll get a a bigger taste of the huge puffs, combined with waves. More than one sailor has found themself upside down on the way to the start and considered whether he/she should even be out there. Regardless, feeling the breeze on the way to the start can be deceptive. That is, until you turn up.

The Start

With the current running at a couple knots or more, you don’t line up 3 boatlengths upcurrent of the start, it’s more like 8. You find pretty quickly that when folks pull the trigger, they’re pretty much on the line at the start. Those first 30 seconds are critical, and you want to pay particular attention to the monster waves. Hitting one wrong can stop you dead and send you to the back of the fleet in a hurry.

Upwind

If you go right off the start, you get into good current and the washing machine on the Washington side of the river. It’s as raucous a beat as you’ll ever tackle with the wind-against-current standing waves regularly enveloping your hiked-out form while bringing you to a stop. Then you look over to the left and see a bunch of the fleet on a port tack lift along the Oregon shore. But wait, you’ve been carried so far up-course with the current it doesn’t matter. Then there’s the matter of commercial traffic. Barges and their pushboats coming along at around 12 knots over the bottom can be a very scary thing if you’re upside down.

If you go left off the start, you get into the nice flat water and get knocked as you come in, delivering a beautiful port tack lift as you come out. You look up, and all those boats have been carried waaay down current and up the course. But wait, you’re headed at the mark and they’re not. All is good. Even while playing the shore at some point you’re in those big standing waves clearing out your sinuses.

Not only are the puffs often in the 30s, they seem to come randomly in 20-degree shifts. When this happens, there’s only trimming and easing to prevent capsize. There is no cleating. Ever. And tacking is something you plan for. Ease your overtightened vang, pick your trough, and don’t hesitate.

Downwind

All that current is now against you and the standing waves are waiting out in the middle for you to practice your S-turns on. And, there’s generally more breeze. In fact, sometimes boats will head out into that current and head to the gate or leeward mark in a cloud of spray ahead of everyone.

It is very difficult to describe how remarkable these downwind legs are. The adverse current makes them long, thrilling affairs and it’s a truly unique challenge to both stay upright and keep the bow from submarining. Combine that with the Laser’s responsiveness to body language and there’s really no experience quite like it. If you capsize, the water’s warm.

Set up for the puffs, because when they hit they hit hard. If your vang is eased the right amount, you’re overtrimmed just right and you don’t get itchy fingers on the tiller extension, you’ll just end up going faster than you ever thought possible.

Along the Oregon shore and there’s less current and plenty of wind. And that wind seems to bend around and give you a knock later in the leg so you can bear off around the weather mark and then hold that starboard gybe all the way to the mark. More often than not, the Oregon shore pays. But it’s not nearly as fun.

Coming back to the Beach

I see as many capsizes on that 25 minute beat back to the beach as I do on the races. We’re spent. Hiking out is often just sitting and leaning out – a little, while dumping the sail. Reaction time isn’t what it once was, so a bad shift will flip you. But as you come into the beach, there’s almost always someone to take pity on you to haul your boat, and your sorry carcass, onto dry land.

Final Thought

Finally, there’s this: While planing on a Laser in a 30+ gust and spray invading every orifice on your body, you can’t think about health care, your mortgage, your kid’s report card or even Donald Trump. Even one bit. Thank you, Sensei and the Gorge.