Laser® Masters Qualifier at Highcliffe - Steve's ReviewIn this Review of the weekend's Qualifier we look at the racing, safety, my Kit Bag (what to wear), the difficult job of the RO, The New Rooster Pro Laced Boot, Fitness Training and the weights of successfull Radial Sailors.
What to Wear?It was with some excitement that I packed my day kit bag for the first of two days racing at Highcliffe for the Masters Laser Qualifier for the Hyeres Worlds next year. I had not been in my Laser® for sometime, in fact the last time had been the Rooster Masters's Nationals in July; the conditions and the kit I was packing was very different to that for a light wind weekend in 25 degrees C plus. Now in September, with a forecast around 15 degrees C and wind I might get to test out some of my favorite sailing kit, specially our final production Pro Laced Hiking Boot. Although the conditions were forecast to be relatively light winds on Saturday, the low dew point temperature would make it feel cold so I packed my bag with a SuperTherm Longjohn (4mm superstretch neoprene), PolyPro Top (hydrophobic base layer), ThermaFlex® top (insulation) and Pro Aquafleece® top (windchill protection). I left my visor in the bag - just in case it was sunny and added an Aquafleece® Beanie to keep me warm should we wait around between races.
A Difficult JobThe conditions that met us at Highcliffe were very strange. As we sailed from the beach we could quickly get onto the plane only to then fall in a large hole and watch others sail around you. Thankfully we sailed far enough from the shore, so that the holes and gusts were a little less pronounced, but it was still a race track of some large snakes and ladders. The cross course current (left to right looking upwind) also had its effect, as it made the starboard end very favoured and also encouraged much of the fleet to go over as soon as they put their bows up to start. So there was much waiting around for the RO to find his best line and place his windward mark. I have only ever run one big regatta as an RO which I am slightly embarrassed at, not that I did a bad job, but that I have not done many more. I found that sitting on the committee boat was probably the place that gave me the least feedback of wind and current. Wind - because all the boats sail around you that are not sailing, and current, because the windage on the boat counteracts the current effects on the boat quite well. It was not until I got into a RIB that I was able to set the line and course marks correctly. It always makes me smile when I see committee boat members presenting a burgee to the wind whist they are anchored. With a 1 knot of current, and 5 knots of wind - they could be as much as 11 degrees out, add to that, the windward mark would also have to compensate for the sideways set for the current, and it's not an easy task. So we did sit around for some time either waiting for the standard fleet to start, or for the course to be re-laid; the wind was also constantly shifting. I thought I had a good day with a 2,4,2 but Jon Emmett, fresh from winning the UK National's and competing at the Radial Worlds was on top of his game, making it look easy with a 1,1,1. After the day on the water I was glad to be getting a warm shower as the dew point had dropped, making it feel very chilly.
Regatta SafetyThe forecast for Sunday was quite extreme. The three web sites I check were all reasonably confident that we were going to get gusts of 40 knots, but at about 14:00. At our start time of 10:30 - it only forecast 15 to 20 knots. I decided to replace my ThermaFlex® Top for a SuperTherm Top so to be extra toasty. Now as I planed constantly to the start-line with a building wave pattern against an ebb tide, I was trying not to put the bow down a wave whist sailing by the lee for safety, I thought this resembled more like 25 knots already. Perhaps it was the ebb tide but the race track had quickly become very challenging. I was also concerned that as the fleet contained some senior and perhaps very experienced members of the UK Laser World, that we had not been offered a tally board to take, nor had we labled our trollies should they be left on the beach. On top of that, the ratio of rescue boats to competitors looked on the face of it quite thin. I think it was 70 competitors to 3 rescue boats. I put my safety concerns behind me, as it was obvious we were going to race. It's strange that after racing the Merlin for most of the year, the Laser® feels very unrefined. Sarah had commented that there had been times in the breezy parts of Saturday, that she tried to find the raking string (used on the Merlin to depower as the wind gets stronger). Now it was blowing 25 knots, I thought that the Cunningham would be my raking string, taking the Cunnigham eye to below the top of the boom with my Rooster 6:1 cunningham system, all led to one side of the boom. Almost always to the port side so pulling on the Cunningham round the leeward mark is easier.
The New BootI finally eased into my toe strap for some windy Pro Laced Boot hiking. The grip between the boot and Rooster Pro Toestrap was immense, I was comfortable. I could hike straight toed style with no ankle pain at all. I could lock my calf onto the side deck and extend my knee to close to the side deck.
Competitive WeightFinally my extra 7 kg started to make a payback against Jon Emmett. Jon is 67 kg, perhaps on the light side of Radial Sailing, and I am 74 kg (on a good day). When I realised that Jon was always higher than me when I tried to sail his course through the waves, I put the bow down considerably and the boat started to dance. The speed increase was dramatic - and I could then start to work the boat up every wave with a whoop (push with the rudder) which lightened the bow and let the boat lift over the worse of the incoming wave. I passed John to windward on beat number 3 to be passed downwind again on the gybe. The wave just was not right to gybe on so I waited until it was, which let Jon inside me. Then he sailed beyond the leeward mark to the finish line, although there were no flags flying and we still had two laps more to go. As I relaxed, now leading with a big gap, I put the bow down even more - and the speed and VMG increased some more. The excitement was not over, on the last gybe for the finish leg, I caught my main sheet over the end of the boom leaving me to sail to the line to take the first, whist holding the sheet one to one. After crossing I stopped as I was relativley out of control and with lots of standard rigs to avoid, I stopped to untangle my mainsheet, perhaps too close to the finish line. The next standard rig that was finishing was also in a pickle; his main sheet was also over his boom end as well and with little or no control, he ran into me taking my rudder off and putting me in for a swim. Closely followed by the next finisher who also collided with us both. Now after 5 mins in the water, holding onto my tiller extension whist upside down, I managed to right the boat, save my rudder, check my gear over and sail away as if nothing had happened. (whoops)
When To Go Home?So slightly tired from the swim the next race would be a test of my fitness. After riding 112 km the weekend before on top of my normal 4 km of swimming and 60 km of riding through the week, I had at least had a rest day on Friday. I was up for it. I did however, sail up to the RO and suggest that the conditions were a little extreme considering his safety boat cover and the age of the fleet. I even saw a couple of our most experienced sailors make their way home before race 5 started. It felt like 30 knots as we made our way upwind. (does our impression of wind strength go up as we get older?) I rounded just behind Jon at the first mark. My sail did not look too nice down the first reach - I still had max Cunningham on and hardly any vang - so it was open twisted and had a weird flap by the mast, but it was very stable and controllable as the sea state was now large and boat flipping as the waves crashed from the right side on the starboard reach. I got to the leeward mark very close to John after an exciting second reach. On the next upwind (still comfy in my new boots!!) I put the bow down again. By the top mark, I had a nice lead that I held to the now shortened course at the leeward mark. The RO had now cancelled Race 6. Good decision. I was very proud of our new boots, my fitness levels and the seamanship of the rest of the Masters Laser Fleet. It was no easy sail to beat back to the harbour in one piece with very little water at the beach and very very strong winds. I managed to catch the leading Standard Rig sailors by the time I reached the beach. The radial fleet were fantastic at helping those at the back of the fleet. Sarah Cockerill, Anne Keats, Jon Emmett and myself making up the possy that held boats, dragged the tired ones to the beach and helped them onto trollies. We were probably the last from the beach in the end but I think we were appreciated. Check out my slightly embarrasing video guide of our new boots - they are really great!! http://youtu.be/KohIVnm-quU