A Laser sailor’s dream.
A warm windy week shared with a world record 500 fellow Laser sailors from 37 countries to duke it out wherever you are in the field. The feeling of meeting up with like minded sailors is palpable. The Laser class IS made up of its sailors – not the builders. Many talk of the issues that are currently being resolved in court, like a frustrated child wishing their parents who appear to have no interest in their well-being battle it out for their future. Those named in court proceedings are all having to spend money to defend themselves – money that is only filling the pockets of lawyers not sailors.
However, despite the cloud that hangs over the proceeding court case, the numbers of sailors that turned up for this world championships both bolstered the bank balance of the ILCA to aid its defence and made the regatta the biggest Laser Masters Worlds in history. So for an experienced laser masters sailor, there were not many legends and comrades missing at this event, making it probably the most competitive ever.
So my story of the week started with me feeling a little heavy for the prevailing conditions.... at the start of the week.
Feeling a little overweight for the radial at perhaps 77Kg, and definitely out of Laser sailing practice, my regatta goal was to finish in the top 5. My category, Radial Master, sailed as one fleet with 73 entrants from 14 countries. The prickle of excitement was tinged with concern that I really had not done my homework.
No race – only boat work to complete after pulling my Cunningham cleat off the deck. I must thank Ian Jones
Race 1 was light, patchy and full of holes and onshore. I guess the RO felt compelled to race as we had already lost a day. It was not ideal conditions. I lucked in
; after sniffing out a shift to the left on the start, crossed the fleet on port and won the first race by a big margin. It did feel like one of those races that I could just not have planned better. I noticed that Mark Kennedy had sailed nicely through the fleet to take second. Ian Jones had started at the committee boat which turned out to be really deep at the first mark.
Lucky First in Race 1
Race 2 started in a building breeze, except it really had not yet built. Off the starting line, those who started at the pin and went left faired better than those who tacked – and mid line sailors had no wind. A small bunch near the Committee boat had some breeze. Ian Jones rounded the first mark first and raced home to a convincing win from Joao Ramos. I managed an 11th after finding a nice hole. More in keeping with my expected goals.
The wind finally built to 15 knots for race 3. Once again the left had side of the start came up best. I had foolishly noticed some wind pressure to the right and went chasing it, but it turned out to be more left that right shifted. Mark and Joao were confidently in control upwind, but the waves were building for the final downwind - ideal marginal planing for those who had the right technique.
Rounding the top mark in 5th, I found myself rounding the leeward mark behind Joao Ramos with Ian Jones on my tail. We both then rolled Joao on the reach, Ian Jones almost rolling me but for a nice wave approaching the mark that enabled me to brake the overlap before I shut the door on him. Mark Kennedy had sailed the straight line to the mark, missing out the shenanigans and subsequently stole second from Ian and Joao finishing 4th on the last beat.
5th to 1st still overlapped.
Day 3 Gossip:
When meeting up with your fellow sailors in the evening, some thought that I was cruising the event. None had the conception that I was winning this by the skin of my teeth. Meanwhile in the Radial categories, the bumblebee of sailing – Keith Wilkins at 90Kg was in a commanding position. I just do not know how he does it. His speed at his weight is inspirational. I must stop worrying about being 77Kg. Jon Emmett was also in control but only just from Monica Viazzo and Scott Leith of New Zealand. Scott had won the apprentice World Champion when at the Hayling Island Worlds. As the wind was building for the week, Scott was getting faster and faster.
In the Grand Master radial, Terry Scutcher and Ian Escritt had had some top results although Ian, who won the first race convincingly, was finding the increasing wind and waves a challenge. In the Standard rig Grand Masters division, Nick Harrison had had a great start to his series, scoring three in the top 5 in the Grand Masters Standard Rig. His fleet were split as they had 87 entries which always makes it hard to work out if you are doing well.
The standard Masters fleet was the biggest – and probably the hardest too win. Brett Beyer was the main contender but he was in second with two firsts and an 8th. In the lead was Arnold Hummel at 6’6”, he was again one of the largest guys in this fleet. They also had Scott Fergason, a previous World Champion in this category who had been rather busy designing masts for the America’s Cup in the last 12 months, so perhaps slightly out of practice. These three towering men must have been slightly unnerving for Al Clarke who I had raced before in the Radial category. Al is perhaps 5’9” and super fit with great technique, but I really felt for him racing these 'big units’ in the building winds we were forecast. I think he was already regretting his decision at selecting the standard rig. Our very own Alan Davis in this category was having a hard time, despite recently winning the Europeans. His third in race 1 was never matched again. He admitted that he had recently lost some fitness due to work commitments. Alan always finds one sided courses a challenge. He has a pre set tendency to take the shifts up the middle - so this regatta was not playing into his less risky strategy.
Another man I admire is Colin Dibb from Australia, racing in the Grand Masters Standard division. Formerly from South Africa, Colin had won the Worlds a couple of times. He is not the biggest of standard sailors and I always wonder how he makes his boat race in waves. The truth is fantastic technique and top fitness. He admitted that he liked the radial and had considered the switch, but despite his less than sparkling start to the regatta, he was still positive as ever. The last man to talk of is what you might call a trail blazer: Peter Sceidenberg. At 77 he was now leading the Amazing Grand Masters Radial category. With 6 in this new 75 and over category – they raced with the rest of the radial great grand masters fleet - and Peter was always matching himself with those 10 years his junior and he was disappointed with his start so far despite leading this new division. The 4.7 division looked very small with just three entires. Sadly there were many ladies that should have considered this to be the rig for them, but who had chosen the radial with the early light winds forecast. They were already wishing they had chosen differently. Lastly Mark Bethwaite lead the Great Grand masters standard rig division. I do not think that he could ever race the radial as strong Aussie. Once again I think how amazing Keith Wilkins is to be doing it successfully at 90Kg. I should not forget the ladies in each Radial division, specially as some were already World Champions against the men, Vanessa Dudley had won the Grand Master Radial outright in Oman and was already showing that she was up to the conditions. Ann Keates from Britain in the same category admitted that she had lost weight after her recent retirement but was still getting some top 10 results after a good start. In the Radial category, Monica Azon already had a couple of second places against the boys but struggled in the stronger winds. Helene Viazzo in the masters Radial Category was already consistent in the Masters Radial fleet. Hilary Thomas, the founder of Masters racing in the UK was also competing in the Great Grand Masters division and enjoying the conditions.
With the catchup required the Regatta organisers had elected to use the lay day. No rest for the wicked. The winds were however, forecast to be 15 knots from the East – more onshore and more waves.
Day 4 (normally the rest day)
Race 4 and 5 played into my hands, great down winds with a decent start that enabled me to take the lead on the last run. Despite my perceived invincibility, Mark Kennedy was not missing a beat. His string of seconds meant that it was still very, very tight.
Mark Kennedy (AUS) - never missed a beat
Day 5 (more strong winds forecast – perhaps now 20+ knots)
With the stronger winds, I found it hard to make up the distance downwind in race 6. Sailors were finding it easier to surf and as we had been held ashore till the afternoon – the wind had shifted right leaving the run off to the left – which took away my transition options downwind. Rounding the outer leeward mark for the last reach I was still in 4th with two French sailors and Mark ahead of me. I am not sure how I did it, but I passed one French sailor to windward and took Helene, the first placed lady sailor to leeward just breaking the overlap at the mark.
Crowded Port Tack layline
Race 7 did't see my best decision of the week. I sniffed out the line and thought that the wind was going right. I also measured the line bias many times and I was convinced it was pretty even. However, the waves were more awkward on starboard, hitting you from the side, giving me much too much leeway. Mark Kennedy and Joao started at the pin end, Mark had been leading the race at every mark. On the last run, Joao caught a couple of waves that Mark missed to take his first bullet. It was my only consolation as I was still playing catchup, only taking 4th, despite my efforts to take Richard Blakey on the run and the last beat. The force was strong with him.
Richard Blakey NZL
I could not speak on the sail home. I was exhausted. Another check on my boat revealed more water and yet another bent top mast. Surely the builder can solve these problems. Has anyone suggested a sleeve in the upper mast? Time to straighten the top mast, re seal my self bailer, dry the boat out and think positive. Now only one point in it. For some reason sailors had assumed I was still in a commanding position – they had not spotted the consistency of Mark Kennedy. Perhaps the wheels had not quite fallen off my challenge, but it felt like I must turn things around pretty quickly.
Day 6 (more moderate winds – 15+ knots)
For Race 8 we were late to be allowed to launch, so once again the race course was a bit skewed. A short starboard tack and long port. The left hand side of the course once again proved slightly windier and again the leaders came from the pin. I had a more determined start just up from the pin, and although I had crossed behind Mark half way up the beat, I passed him on the next left shift and was, I thought in the lead. I misjudged my starboard tack lay line for the top mark and found myself back in 4th after having to tack twice more to round. Doh!
However, as I was close enough to Mark, Richard and Carlos Palombo on the next run, I rounded the left hand gate which was favoured and consolidated up the last beat to take the win at the finish. Phew, two more points clawed back as Mark could not pass Richard for second.
The wheels came off again in race 9. A poor start from mid-line did not get me close enough to the left for the normal left bend. Why did I not start near the Aussie to ensure he got the same sort of race as me? The two Antipodeans Mark and Richard were in their element but were split again by Joao Ramos who also liked the strong conditions. Despite my efforts – and I mean really drawing on all my energy I could not make back the gap and finished 4th. Now we were on equal points – but I was leading by the skin of my teeth with most firsts.
Day 7 (thunderstorms and light dying breezes)
Race 10 - Other sailors were starting to be aware of the closeness of the situation in our category – and typically said things like – “I guess you would prefer to not race today”. For some reason, whether I had convinced myself that I should like to race, when I told them that I was happy to race, they probably thought I was bullish. Actually I was thinking that winning is not everything. I could not think of more close competitive racing with sailors I respected. If I was going to be beaten in the end by one of these sailors – then they definitely deserved it. However, I was not going to roll over. I had the upper hand. Mark had equal points. The likelihood was that we would only have one race. With one race, the second discard would kick in, giving me a 1 point advantage as I could loose a 4th and he a 3rd, so I could afford to finish one place behind Mark in the top 4 places. He had proved quick in the light. I decided to play some cat and mouse games with him. Not too aggressive – just enough to let him know I was on his case.
On the second start (after a general recall) I had tailed him to the pin. I was pretty sure that the right was the place to start – both favoured and with more pressure, I was fairly relaxed that we were at the wrong end together but I did want to at least get ahead of him. The two boats to leeward of me at the start came together head to wind and made me tack at the point of starting giving Mark a slight bid for freedom. We raced off up the first beat to see half of the fleet ahead of us at the first mark, all from mid line to the right. However, it was not over for Mark – as we continued to find our way through the fleet. I was concerned that the top 6 had not protected the right enough on the last beat as we came ever closer to the top ten. Mark had to finish 2nd or better with me 4th or worse - the race ran out before we made the top 10.
We both discarded the last race. Ian Jones won this race from Joao – once again a reminder of what might have been had the winds been lighter.
As Mark and I sailed in we started chatting again. Both of us had plenty of "would-a-could-a-should-a-moments". Perhaps more that might play on his mind than mine. I thought of the other sailors in their respective last races and wondered if they had as much stress to complete their challenge as I had.
Finally when all the boat packing away had been completed, I found out that Keith had won that light wind drifter race. At 90Kg – I do not know how he did it. He said “the wind was forecast to go right, so when I was buried (I saw him in 6th) I went right on the second beat.” He lead at the top mark and took the bullet and his championship.
I never really got Nick Harrison’s story. He was looking very fit and was sailing incredibly well in his first year as a Grand Master – winning by the crucial point from Canada’s Andy Roy.
Jon Emmett did a better job on Scott Leith. Their points were also close. He had started better than Scott and then covered him to the first mark – tack for tack. Jon made it back to 4th, but Scott had to discard the race. Ian Gregory won the race in their absence to finish on a high – sailing away from the rest of the fleet. Ian thought he was a little light for this regatta at 67Kg, despite his height, he thought he should aim for at least 70Kg.
With so many categories to cover, the only British World Champion not mentioned so far was Hilary Thomas as first lady in the Great Grand Masters Category.
So five World Champions, for the British Team, four of them from the Radial Categories.
See the full results listings here -
In my category - It was great racing, there were six of us battling it out almost every race, yet we were all best of friends on the shore. Left to right: Joao Ramos(Brazilian) - fast in everything - even passed Mark Kennedy downwind to steal a win that saved me. Mark Kennedy(Aussie) - super fast upwind, Steve Cockerill (me), Richard Blakey(Kiwi) - super quick upwind in the windy stuff - he was in his element. I could not speak after when he held me off at the finish. Ian Jones(Brit) - if only it had been less windy - he was again super quick in the lighter and less 'wobbly' conditions. Carlos Palumbo (Argentinian) (not shown) always consistent and hard to shake off downwind. I have a lot of respect for you guys.
This is what Masters Laser racing is all about.
Peter Sceidenberg - Trailblazing
The last picture is of Peter Sceidenberg (189811) - 77 years young - first Amazing Great Grande Master - and yes - I think he IS amazing!