Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2009 Masters' US Championship

The 2009 Masters' US Championhip was sailed in Monterey on August 13-16. I grew up in Monterey, in fact I cut my teeth in a Laser in Monterey so I did figure I had a bit of an edge in the local knowledge department. Still, I moved away permanently in the mid-80's and really haven't done a lot of sailing there in the past 10 years... fortunately, the sailing conditions haven't changed much!

Friday was an interesting day, in the category of "its never like this." Well, obviously, it can be like that but it is rare. The racing area in Monterey is the ocean next to the Monterey Peninsula, which consists of a large hill near the harbor. The "normal" seabreeze comes in to the bay running more or less parallel to the peninsula and is very steady, with a persistent shift as you sail to the left (towards the land). As the day progresses the wind also slowly clocks to the left and as it does this you start to get puffs coming down the hillside which can make for large left hand shifts. The entire day on Friday was this latter condition on steroids with unpredictable puffs rolling off the hills packing a 20+ knot punch to them. After saying all of this I can only add that Friday was the day to not have a disaster and I managed to roll a second in each of the three races while all the other players landed a race in the teens or twenties. As Ted Newland (former UCI Water Polo Coach) always said: "I'd rather be lucky than good!"

Friday's sailing had its sobering moment as well. Lake Tahoe area sailor Tony Dahlman suffered a stroke during the first race. Fortunately, a crash boat was nearby and they acted quickly, got Tony out of the water and raced him to the Coast Guard station and to a waiting ambulance where he was then rushed to the Community Hospital. Unfortunately, Tony suffered a massive stroke and didn't make it. A real reminder to all of us of just how fragile our existence can be... but also a moment of "I hope when it happens to me that I can be doing what I love one moment and have it over quickly..."

The weather for the weekend was a little bit affected by the "Lockheed fire" in the Santa Cruz mountains. Saturday saw the fog burn off early but before the seabreeze kicked in there was a heavy layer of smoke hanging over the bay. Still, Saturday was the classic Monterey day: the fog burned off to leave bright sunshine, the seabreeze started filling in before 11:00 am and by race time we were in the mid-teens with a beautiful ocean swell running. In these conditions thinking is not necessary, you start near the pin and sail left. You go to the layline, then you keep going. You go past the layline and you keep going. You go until you can't stand it anymore before you tack. And you get to the weather mark first. The runs were spectacular surfing down the waves. Great stuff! Well, the left side is the place to be but truth is there are some little shifts over there that can be used if you keep an open mind going. Anyway, I won the first race following that with a fourth and then a third to come off the water with a solid series lead... but still three races to go.

The last day was another kind of classic Monterey day... in this one the fog takes its time burning off and the seabreeze doesn't come in as strong. We started an hour earlier and when the gun went off we were sailing in a light seabreeze, in the 5-8 knot range. This is definitely not my forte though my real problem for this race was not making good lane decisions in the traffic. I rounded the first mark deep in the fleet, managed to take an outside lane on the run to get back to the leading pack of a dozen boats and then sailed a better second beat to pass a few more boats. I held steady on the final run to take a ninth. Fortunately for me the boat in second place was not far ahead and didn't gain many points.

The next race saw a bit more breeze, probably more in the 8-10 knot range. I was confident this was the "bang the corner" race and had a great start at the pin... if the race were over after 30 seconds I would have won. However, in the "I've seen this a million times in Monterey" story line, the boats that started higher up held a little more pressure which enabled them to climb to weather on me and as I sailed to the left side I was slowly sinking away. I tacked to get out but was not barely in the top ten. The pack arrived en-masse at the weather mark and nobody was able to really extend on the run so the second beat was critical. I managed to stay in the pressure, while still getting to the left "in time" and was back to fourth by the weather mark with good separation to the boats behind. Again, positions held steady on the final run. The best news was the the second place boat, and the only threat in the regatta at this point, capsized on the final run and finished several places behind me meaning I now had the regata wrapped up on points.

The breeze felt like it was continuing to build and the last race looked like it was going to be just like those on Saturday. I had a so-so start at the boat end but couldn't make the lane work with Chuck Tripp below and pointing what felt like 5 degrees higher than me. I bailed out and that was the start of really going backwards. Instead of continuing to fill the breeze started to back off and the left side started to see the big left shifts rolling off the hill. The first boats to the left got launched. I made the classic Monterey mistake of trying to under tack the left side and sail at or just below the layline. Well, I know better, all the boats inside just rolled over the top and I rounded deep in the fleet. Still, the pack was close and we seemed to be in a hole and I was sure I could see a puff line rolling down the outside, so I took a big outside line with the idea of getting into the "new" breeze and rolling down to the mark around everyone. It worked to the extent that I may not have lost a lot of distance but I sure wasn't in first! Second beat I failed to learn from my first beat and rounded in a solid 12th. At this point I figured that the race was going to be my throwout and decided to cut the corner and head straight for the beach, so I took a DNF. Still, not the kind of race you want to have as your last in a big series.

The take away from this event is that the training has been paying off. Upwind boat speed in medium to strong breeze has always been my strong point. This year I made a real effort to change my style of downwind sailing and really work on improving my speed and that is really paying off as I don't appear to be fodder for the downwind speedsters anymore. Not the fastest by a long shot but not getting rolled by several hundred yards either. Another big area of gain is in boat handling which is probably reflective of the sheer number of hours sailed on San Francisco Bay this year.

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