There is nothing like sailing in a world championships in your home country. Apart from knowing the waters you can even sleep in your own bed.
In my category there were three guys to watch out for: The Dutch man Wilmar Groenendijk and two Brazilian's Eduardo Carlos Wanderley and Joan Ramos, the first two of which had both won the Worlds before and Joan had won the Europeans.
Ignoring the fact that I had recently recovered from a broken scafoid (wrist) which put paid to any serious preparation; winning a regatta with a 12 race series and only 2 discards is not an easy thing for anyone.
I also remembered that Hayling Bay is not the simplest of race tracks, which was verified by the big scores the senior worlds podium finishers had racked up at the event just two weeks before. This was not going to be a regatta with straight 1's for anyone and in a way its the type of regatta that I relish.
At least at this regatta I could use my own boat. It is always frustrating using charter boats - the toe straps are never up to the straight toe hiking that I love to do with my short legs - the toe straps provided tend to roll and slip off my foot. Our new Rooster Pro Toestrap
is a definite improvement on our standard padded toestrap so I could straight toe hike
with abandon. It took us a while to test many different compounds and textures before we opted for the one we used on the Pro Toestrap.
I remember chatting to a Star World Olympic Medallist who was coaching the US Laser team - and his main regatta focus was "race every race as if it will count." So my mind was set on taking no risks and trying to score the best series I could muster. I would rather swap a '1, 9 - with a 4, 5
So entering the first race I was keen to not OCS yet it is always great to get off to a good start and calm the nerves. The wind was in the west blowing 23+ knots and the current was going west in its first hour of westerly flow. I was keen to take an early port tack to take advantage of any early favourable current inshore. I shaped up for a starboard end start and was just behind the line as the gun went. It felt pretty safe as I could see the race officer sighting the line, but there is always a little doubt. The conditions were perfect for me - big seas and strong winds; it felt like a Sunday race at Stokes Bay. It was a walk in the park until I gybed at the leeward gate, (I probably should have taken the other gate) and took a sheet over the boom. It was quite tricky trying not to capsize with the sail full, controls off and a main sheet around the boom. I managed to tangle the sheet up more after a quick shake - this normally takes the sheet off, so I had to resort to all stop and take it off by hand. Eduardo, was just behind once I had finished my tangle so I pressed on to the finish and timed it as 1 min 36 seconds before he crossed.
Race 2: The current had built and the waves were even more extreme. An early tack to the left would be ideal to take the best advantage of this conveyor-belt, but for some reason I took to cross the fleet on port? I was shaping up for a late tack to the pin end, but found myself tangled up with Gareth Edwards (GBR) who was also thinking the same thing, so I saw an opportunity, sheeted in and crossed the fleet. I was really cross with myself. What if I was OCS? Couldn't I just make a normal -low risk start? The race went smoothly with no hiccups and I finished over 2 mins ahead of Eduardo. I waited with some slight concern to see the scores and with relief I scored 1,1. Still kicking myself about the risk I had taken, part of me, however, was massively relieved that I had started well and that the opposition knew that I was in the regatta.
In the marquee I met some old friends -and I mean 'old' friends? Cesar and his compatriot Freek, from the Netherlands were good friends and competitors in the Europe in 1986/1987. I produced the odd photo from my pocket to embarrass the 'cloggies' and all was well with the world. Its always great to follow other sailors regatta stories as they progress through the week. I always have a soft spot for Peter Seidenberg. His amazing 7 World Championships will be hard to beat; his last one at age 71 in Canada last year. I love his energy and enthusiasm. I ran a training camp in Cabarette which Peter attended. He was amazing.
He had just been beaten by our own super star, Keith Wilkins at the Masters in Thailand, but Peter had not thrown the towel in. He was preparing to take Keith on and relished the challenge. We trained pretty hard for 3 hours a day, and no matter how tired we were when I suggested we should stop, Peter would always say - "just one more upwind". I followed Peter's and Keith's week with interest as these two World Champions when head to head.
For the regatta my home was also home to another old Europe friend from the 80's, a Fin called Jyrki Taiminen. Trips to and from the venue were some of my favourite parts of the week. Jyrki chatted about his first two races which were very different from mine. He is naturally 75Kg - and so I would normally advise he sailed a radial. He, however, puts on extra fat for the regatta to weigh in at 80Kg. He is very fit and is the most talented downwind sailor I have ever sailed against. After winning the Europe World Championships in 1990 he chose the business life rather than the sailing life. He now gets as passionate about sailing Lasers at the Masters Worlds as he used to do sailing Europe's. I wish I could have recorded our conversations on regatta psychology and put them on the web. He had a tough day on the water with a 7,5 and was still buoyant at the chance to make the podium at the finish.
We lost day 2 and day 3 with too much wind. Normally the rest day is a day to see local culture, instead it was back to work for me.
Day 4 was very different to the first day. We had winds still largely from the west to north west but with some waves left over from the previous days wind. The air was cold so there was no hint of a seas breeze forecast. The current was largely against us - but the wind was more patchy so you could go in to the shore and be first or last at the top mark. I managed a 3,3 and was really relieved. My points from the day was 6 - which was equal to another Brazilian, Joao Ramos. He scored a 5,1 and looked very slippery in the flatter water. Eduardo had a bad day, scoring an 8,12. The holes were huge and the race course quite unfair at times. I realised that with the winds forecast to be light, that I would have my work cut out to beat Joan in these conditions, and that any points advantage I had could easily be wiped out by a couple of bad races.
Day 5 and the conditions we still very testing. Joao remained very quick - passing me on the first downwind of the first race to take the lead, leaving me in 3rd. In the second race the wind was even worse. Having started mid line, I was laying the first mark on port, then the wind shifted and we laid it on starboard. Despite rounding the first mark second to Max Hunt (GBR), I managed to find the biggest hole on the run to round the leeward mark 12th. It was a real scramble to make it back to 7th. I was pretty relieved at that stage. I could still count all the scores at least. This was a very big scoring regatta. Unfortunately Joan was getting more consistent in the light winds. He scored a neat 1,2 he seamed to be unbeatable. With one discard I was still 2 points ahead, but if we got our 2 discards, then I was equal to Joan. His other compatriot, Eduardo had scored a 19th and a 9th - there for the grace of god...... Joan seemed blessed.
So as day 6 dawned the forecast was again light, but at least it was not off shore, so hopefully there were to be some waves to sail on. The forecast for day 7 was windy, although it might be too windy to sail so there was still a chance that we would only get 2 more races, and get only one discard.
The air was cold and the forecast was also cold inland. There was little chance of a sea breeze, although the gradient was an ideal direction (a westerly) for a south westerly sea breeze.
I considered the possibility of a sea breeze and put it out of my mind as the sea temperature was nearly the same temperature as the land on our forecast; you need at least 5 degrees difference between sea and land to get a sea breeze. It was important that I stayed within 2 points of Joan. I started just behind Eduardo at the pin end of the line, but I hung onto my lane with Eduardo not making it hard for me, so I rode Eduardo's wake out to the left. As the fleet took the early port shift, I was aware that the current was against the fleet on this first leg and I guessed they were keen to stay out of the stronger current, looking for relief on the right. I thought that there might be more of a lee bow available on port tack, the further left we went and so I held the starboard tack longer than the rest of the fleet. Wilmar, Eduardo and myself were out there, all exposed on the left with the fleet on the right. If the shift went to the right - then we were going to count a big one. Luckily for us it held and went even further left - leaving me a handsome lead into the first mark that I held to the end. I looked back at the fleet and saw Eduardo get his second yellow flag on the last reach and with some relief I saw that Joan well down in the pack. Joan finished 12th - phew - a cushion, but only a small one.
The second race was similar - except my understanding of the wind became clear as I finally realised that it was a sea breeze that bent the wind left. I learned this the hard way as I found myself on the port layline having chased what was left of the wind over to the left side of the course - only to find the wind bending back to the right, westerly (what little of it there was) and putting me back in the middle of the pack. My realisation saved me a few more places as I took a long tack to the right leaving those far behind who continued to tack to the left looking for the wind that was heading them and dying. Finishing 16th seemed like a disaster, but what happened to Joan? Evidently he suffered the same fate on the left as me, he went from top 3 to finish 6th when the wind went right, His scores had just exploded on him. I had gained 8 points in one day (as I could now use my original discarded 7th and today's 1st) - and he had gained 15 (using his original discarded 9th and today's 6th). With the second discard - I had gained 1 and he had gained 6.
You can imagine that I checked over my boat over meticulously in preparation for the last day. The forecast was for it to be 20 knots - but not such big waves as the current was largely with the wind at first. I could not afford a broken section or line. Joan was still a threat. I calculated that if he had a fantastic day I just needed a top 5 to win. But again I found myself taking a risk at the start. I saw an opportunity with 20 seconds to go, to duck out of my slot, 4 boats back from the pin and take the pin at speed. It was an awesome start, but I felt confident that I was safe (I hoped). I looked out for Joan who had started mid line and going up the middle. So despite thinking that the left would be better for current (as there was still some current going westerly in the main channel), I took an early tack and covered any mid line moves. The big Swede who I had a comfortable lead on when I tacked, led me into the top mark after hitting the left layline. He was not so quick downwind so I took the lead and finally finished with a small lead on Eduardo who was trying to put his second yellow flag (had to retire) and OCS from the previous day, behind him. Joan scored another 12, he did not look comfortable in waves. Again I agonised about the start. Was I over. I sailed to the Committee boat and check the board. No OCS recorded for our start. Phew.
Just to make sure I was going to sail the last race.
I took a very conservative start again - but I was not pulling through as I might have expected. I checked for weed. - no weed - just a blue and white polka dot bikini top!! I smiled. Board up and down and it was off. I saw Joan having a good race - he was my target. I finally took him on the last beat - and closed on Eduardo on the last reach. With Jury boats buzzing around us I guessed we were trying quite hard and we could get a yellow flag at any moment. Eduardo sailed excellently on the last beat - holding me out to take the last race. Pity for him that the conditions had not been quite so random - he might have been much more of a threat.
We had sailed in shifts, holes, strong winds and no wind. We had experienced the most testing and challenging conditions and I had come through it relatively unscathed. I was lucky that the regatta started and ended in my favourite conditions so I could keep calm and relatively risk free for the difficult light shifty stuff. I felt for Eduardo as he was a worthy World Champion from 2009 but this time his series had fallen apart half way through the week and I had got lucky more than once.
When I came ashore I found a family of Hayling members who had been following the regatta on John Bertrand's Blog
- it was quite a reception. I guess that's the other reason why its nice to be sailing in home waters.