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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.