Last weekend was the Topper Winter Regatta, the first chance I've had since joining the Topper UK Youth Squad to see how I have improved, and with the winter regatta now counting towards the overall Topper National Series results, the first chance for me to get some decent results to count. This Year the winter regatta was held at the National Sailing Academy in Weymouth. Every time I've sailed there, Weymouth has proved to be a great venue and always provides great racing. With a nice force 4 gusting force 5 forecast it looked like this weekend would be no exception.
On Saturday morning the forecast certainly seemed to be correct, with a fresh 20 knots gusting up to 23 outside, it looked like it would be an exciting day of racing. It wasn't until I was on the slipway waiting to launch that I started feeling a little nervous. But after launching, any nervous feelings I had subsided as I started to get into race mode, looking at what the wind was doing around the course as we made our way downwind to the start line. Two of the largest things we’ve been looking at in the UK Racing Squad are first beat strategy and starting technique, I've heard somewhere that "you can’t win a race on the start line but you can certainly loose it" and for me that perfectly sums up the importance of getting a good start. Goal setting is another large topic that we've covered in Youth Squad so because I had not fully recovered from being ill, I decided to adjust my original goal to finish in the top 20 overall and the top 3 for the youth championships. My new goal was to simply get the best starts I could and to keep good strategy throughout the weekend, and hopefully this would reflect itself through my results.
With a small postponement, the first flight of the first race was off fine with no recalls, quite a rarity for Topper events. The major advantage of being in the second start is it makes it very easy to see which side of the course pays, but with a postponement seconds before the start due to a sudden shift, this didn't prove to be such an advantage after all. After a quick adjustment of the line, on the second attempt we were off, and close to the middle of the line, with a slight port bias, and slightly stronger wind on the left hand side of the course, I was off to a good start. However after the first beat I had not kept to my strategy as well as I should have, and I ended up mid-fleet at the top mark. After a very exciting, but not very well sailed downwind leg I had lost a few more places. I knew I had to improve this race, and in order to do that I had to make some changes. During the downwind leg I realized that while there was definitely some convergence from the land on the left hand side of the course, any advantage that gave was counteracted by the starboard lift on the right hand side at the top of the course from the land on the right. So after tweaking my strategy I got hiking again and gained the places I had lost downwind, however with another two downwind legs and another beat I knew I could improve more. With the wind starting to increase slightly, I made great use of the techniques I had originally learnt from Steve’s article: ‘Experience the 4th Dimension’
, and gained a few more places on the next two downwind legs. And with the help of my (now quite old) Rooster Pro Hikers
I gained a few extra places upwind as well, placing me 22nd for the first race. Definitely an improvement from last year but I was determined to make that my discard.
The second race started off in slightly less wind, and with the PRO Using the U flag (Used at Topper events just like a black flag, but if there is a general recall you can sail again) to start all of the races, getting a solid transit was the key to a good start. However with the pin end of the line in line with nothing but the harbour wall this proved to be more difficult than expected. Using a mixture of a reverse transit (using the committee boat to get a transit instead of the pin end of the line), and a technique that our coach gave us at our last Youth Squad weekend, (pointing directly towards the pin end and seeing if your tiller points above or below the committee boat when pointing straight) followed by an excellent trigger pull I managed to pull off a second great start a nice distance in front of the majority of the fleet. Nevertheless after the first beat I realized that being ill for a week had had more effect on my fitness that I had originally thought, I simply couldn't keep up with the better sailors upwind. This led to a bit of a change of strategy, still determined to make my first race my discard I decided I would have to take a bit of a risk and push it downwind. Using a combination of sailing by the lee and broad reaching I used the horrible chop in the harbour, that was making it such hard work upwind, to my advantage, surfing most of my way downwind. Even if I did have to use the rudder as a "life saver", as Steve explained in his article, a few times, I was still managing to make up most of the places I was losing on the beats. This strategy seemed to pay off, as I managed to get a 15th
for the second race; my best ever result at any national event!
With the wind starting to pick up again I knew the last race of the day was not going to be easy, however I now knew what I had to do to get the results I wanted. I got another great start to the third race, this time slightly more to the starboard end of the line due to slightly less port bias. With a similar strategy to the last two races upwind and the same strategy downwind as I had used in the previous race I managed to secure myself an 18th place for the last race of the day, still better than my first race. And although it felt like I had nothing left to give, I still managed to make the long beat back to the academy and a well-deserved night’s sleep. Although not quite as good as the top 20 I had been hoping for, I was very happy lying 33rd
Although forecast to be slightly less windy, the second day was a whole different ball game, with the wind a constant 24, gusting up to 30knots on some parts of the course. If we got out sailing, it was going to be a very long day. With only a short postponement from the race committee, we launched in flights ready for the first race of the day. With the wind coming from further north than the day before, it still looked like the left side of the course would pay, however with quite a few shifts coming through it wouldn’t pay to go too far left. The fourth race of the weekend was the only race where I wasn’t entirely happy with my start; although on the line for the gun, I didn’t have enough speed off the line, partly due the large gusts coming through that made it so hard to bear away. This combined with a loose leech line meant that this beat was probably my worst of the whole weekend, however with the wind now easily averaging above 25knots and the sailors with the smaller 4.2m rigs pulling towards the front of the fleet, I knew that this would likely be the last race of the weekend, so I gave it everything I had. Bearing off slightly upwind, putting every ounce of energy I had into hiking the boat flat and sailing riskily downwind. Rounding the last leeward mark I was doing alright, but I knew, with the long reach to the finish line I could still make up a few places. I took a lower angle than usual towards the finish line, usually a risky strategy with several boats to windward, but with plenty of wind still managing to make its way through, it paid off and by the time I reached the finish line I had made at least 4 places and gained myself a 17th
place shortly followed by a postponement with no more racing from the race committee.
out of 160 competitors, I was pleased with my result; yes it could have been better, but taking everything into account, it was good. Another thing I have learnt during my training over the winter is to isolate what caused you to do badly when you have a bad race, and to isolate what you did better when you have a good race. 37th
out of 160 is way better than anything I could have done last year, however I still have loads I can improve on. This weekend has showed me how much I have improved over the last 6 months but also how much I need to improve my fitness for sailing. With the next national series event at Queen Mary in just two weekend’s time, I now have a lot to improve, but at least now I can work hard at improving the right things, and hopefully reach that goal of getting into the top 20!
Sorry for such a long post, but once I start writing about something like sailing I get carried away and can’t stop so thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.
David Saunders – Topper 273