9 Days - 2 Regattas - 2 Boats - more Pies?
After selling my good Laser in order to purchase an Aero, it was time to see if the old beach boat of 157699 (with sail number 188631) was up to the standard of top class Laser racing. To be honest, it is my wife's boat so I should not call it a beach boat as she might get a little upset.
Gone were the nice glass fibre foils, back in use were the old vibrating metal filled foam foils. However, the rig was in good order, my trusty Rooster Carbon Tiller and Rooster Carbon Tiller Extension were ready to go, but you might have spotted a blog on changing my Gudgeons as the old ones were giving me too much weather helm - but she was clean and most importantly dry. (Note: weather helm increases with worn gudgeons because the tiller drops lifting the rudder up so it is more raked.)
I also changed the traveller eyes for the aluminium traveller eye and added a new, thinner DM20 traveller and added a new improved Rooster Pro Toe Strap for the Laser - now a more grippy version. I also took the opportunity to change the traveller cleat to the CL704AN Mk1 Racing Junior with Becket as the rules now permit it - it just cleans up the elastic.
The regatta was the Laser Masters European Championships with 100 boats on the Radial start line and 37 in my Grand Master Category. This was the first time I had made the jump to the grown ups in the 55-65 category, many of which are now in semi retirement and, by the looks of their tans, are now getting more sailing than ever! Given my season of 800 sailing and and my lack of large start line practice, I gave myself a realistic goal of finishing somewhere on the podium. I was also looking forward to using a final production pair of the new Rooster Pro Hikers which we have been working on for over 12 months. With on the water support in the guise of the Spanish Coach who was always helpful to take my bag and share his thoughts; a spin off from staying with the Spanish Team who were the most friendly group I have ever experienced. With the line being very long, mixed with unreadable wind shifts, I thought there would be the potential to score some very large numbers. I remembered the sage advice from an American coach who once said - sail every race as if it will count. The regatta was going according to plan, my first couple of races in the breeze were counters...
... until I did something rather stupid in race 3. I was sailing down to the port end, it was almost a 5 minute sail from getting the warning signal when I was thinking if only I had got myself to the port end sooner, I could have set up for a committee boat transit (sometimes called a back transit) and started above the sag on port. I decided I could get a transit at least if I hurry. With a rush of blood to my head combined with a lack of Sarah being more circumspect suggesting a safer strategy, I made it to the pin boat in time to tack and cross the whole fleet off the start. I just about pulled it off, but it was not the most sensible thing to do, I could have been OCS! Lucky for me I had decided to take the port tack flyer as the wind then headed from 8 degrees port bias to starboard bias by the starboard tack layline, which put me behind Ian Jones who had started at the committee boat and tacked. The keen beans who had started at the pin were unfortunately now sailing on the biggest header back from the left hand side of the course. Phew.. lucky and stupid on my part.
The early competition from Jeff Loosemore from Australia was pacing me pretty hard. I finally really slipped up trying to take a committee boat start in race 4. A very bad start - I had a thought with about two minutes to go to try and start down the line and get a clean get away. But for some reason I was fighting it out at the committee boat end. A 'nice' french lady Apprentice came barging in at the boat, put her boom over my head and sheeted in, almost pulling me out of the boat! I think it was at this stage I thought that Laser racing had gone downhill, especially the decision to combine the fleets as many disrespected sailors from the other fleets.
The next morning briefing I had a moan, to those who were happy to listen, that I had experienced lots of small minor collisions and one major one (the boom) where none had been my fault. The odd mainsheet touch, the boom end on my mast, to name a few. The fleet were either not caring or not able to control their boats.
For the rest of the week I kept my nose clean. The wind was very light - not really my conditions. One race I started at the pin and managed to cross as the wind headed at the last minute, giving me 2nd behind the Italian. On another I started on port mid line and found a nice gap in race 8. Both were 2nd places. I did not appear to have the speed to win a race. If my start was not gleaming my results were reflected with larger numbers. It was tight but could I keep taking gambles to keep the score line small? Although I led the regatta with a couple of days to go, the second discard was going to help Ian Jones more than me. Ian is a Master and because he races in a different category I could not give him a hard time. Rule two prevents me from racing him as it might effect his regatta. My focus was really on my fellow 37 Grand Masters. On the last day the wind picked up enough to hike. I had to ensure Michael Pals from the Netherlands did not get a couple of 2nd places with me scoring over 11th in both races. In the first race he did finish 2nd, and I was 11th but he was unfortunately OCS. I had an appalling start and was only able to pull up to 10th (after Michael was disqualified). My start in the last race was more focused. Perhaps now I could press the line harder as I thought I had it in the bag. My 2nd in the last race was a nice way to finish the regatta, it had been hard! My legs were just about used to Laser hiking again, but I had pushed a little too hard in the last race. As I sat waiting for our category prizes my body felt a bit broken. I could not believe Peter Seidenberg in his 80th year RAN to collect his gold medal (well it looked gold) in the Legend Category (over 75) putting me to shame in my 50th year.
Ian Jones took the 1st Master but we all knew that he also won the regatta overall from me in 2nd and Jon Emmett in 3rd who was also 1st Apprentice. On his heels was Ian Gregory who was flying on the last day taking two 1st's to finish 2nd Master, toppling Alessio Marinelli from Italy in the process. So it was Rooster Pro Hikers 1st and 2nd overall in the Radial Fleet.
My fellow Grand Masters: Left to right: Michael Pals NED, Steve Cockerill GBR(me) and Gilles Coadou FRA.
Putting the Laser on the roof felt extremely heavy once again. My body was feeling it and deep in my subconscious was muscle memory of how easy it was to put the Aero on the top deck of my double - at 50kg sailing weight it really is a lightweight!
A day later and one long ferry back to the UK, I was going to test my couple of hours practice in the Aero against all comers at the Aero Southerns sailing from Hayling Island Sailing Club.
The forecast had some possibility of it going southerly and building with a sea breeze, perhaps as much as 10 knots. I was a little worried that I might not be big enough for the 7 rig at 75Kg and at the same time I was concerned that the 7 rig might be a little tame if it stayed light.
The first start was much cleaner than those from the European Masters. I was led at the first mark by a 9 sailor, Paul Bartlett from Starcross. Unfortunately for me, he led us round the wrong leeward gate mark, and with my lack of preparation, I followed him. It was not until we were a good 50m upwind that the tail enders took the other mark and we were returning to follow correctly - the chase was on. It was going very nicely until the last reach with only Jane Peckham in a 7 in front of me. She taught me my second lesson of the day, to sit further forward as she held me off whilst Nigel Rolfe rolled me to windward.
I also found that pointing was helped by reduced vang tension in the 8 knots we had. I took that into race 2 and took a win by 1 minute. Downwind was slightly embarrassing as going with the waves with some steering made the boat fly. I did not think I was illegal, but it did feel immoral passing 9 rigs on the run. (Note: 2319 backwards spells PIES - lots of people told me that!)
Race 3 went the same way. I used the 9 rigs extra speed on the reaches to ride their waves and take a good lead on the other 7 rigs.
The Sunday dawned and the gradient suggested we were not going to race. It was from the East and the RO had very little wind, probably not the 5 knot minimum on our course, but we raced after a long wait. My third lesson of the weekend - do not take an Aero head to wind and stop. The rudder does not have any padded effect so you might be there for sometime. I had taken myself to this strange position just 10 seconds from the start trying to avoid a barging boat at the committee boat. It took me another minute to get her back sailing again, I felt a right plonker. Still learning lessons was what I was there for. Perhaps I should have lifted my rudder for the pre start? Perhaps I should have hit the barging boat? Well at least I can be wary of that large mud pie. I was able to pull up reasonably well when we had some wind by sitting well forward, using the vang to open the leach - laser style, but now the downwind had no waves so there were no options to work the waves and my downwinds were not helping me pull through. The next start I pulled the rudder up a little and was confident I could avoid anyone. The race was drifting along OK but was abandoned as it dropped to less than 2 knots.
The 7 rig felt plenty for me in 5 knots and also plenty in 10 knots. I wonder what I am like in 20 knots. I guess I will learn that at the Aero World Championships later in July in Carnac.