Tuesday, September 8, 2009

2009 Laser Master Worlds - Day 6

As everyone knows by now, there was no racing on the final day. This was predictable from the morning in the boat park - the gradient wind was North at 5-10 knots and it was already quite warm by the time we arrived, around 10:00 am. The forecast was for warm temperatures inland so one would expect a seabreeze to try to form, which would fight with the offshore gradient with the most likely result of unstable conditions.

The fleet embarked at the standard time and headed to their respective race areas. It was clear the race committee was betting on a seabreeze as they set up in the same place as the previous two days. For a short time it looked like it would happen as a very light onshore flow helped us get out to the racing area. However, shortly after noon this started to die again and we could see the offshore breeze up against the shoreline. The Race Committee decided to pull up and take us back to where we had sailed the final day of qualifiers (Tuesday) and as they set up the conditions seemed remarkably similar, with some puffs moving down with enough punch to actually hike out.

It was clear that for the final day the Race Committee was going to hold to a high standard. They set up the course and got the Apprentices off but a fair right shift came through right after the start and some boats were just shy of the layline to the weather mark, so the RC abandoned the race. Shortly after the conditions began to deteriorate further, principally getting much lighter with much more pronounced shifts. The RC shifted the course around to get better aligned with this breeze and then attempted to start the Apprentices again, but were forced to postpone when the wind died at the start line.

By now it was well after 3:00 pm and the handwriting was becoming clearer. As I recall the RC made one more futile attempt to restart the Apprentices, postponing again just before the start gun and then went into a wait mode. At this point the fleet started to generally head in the direction of the harbor and at around 3:50 the RC agreed and abandoned for the day.

This was one of those days when it was frustrating not to race, but would have been equally frustrating to race. In my case, I would have needed a very good race and the second throwout, along with some help from some people in front of me, to make the top ten. Possible but, for me, difficult in what are clearly not my conditions. So, I end 14th overall which is not where I was planning to finish but was certainly an improvement over where I was standing after the qualification round!

Now that I'm back in California I'll try to put together the general critique of my performance and figure out where we go from here.

On the plus side, it turns out I beat my weight goal by quite a bit... I was planning to sail at 195 lbs which required losing some 15 pounds over the last six months. This morning's weigh in had me at 190 lbs!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

2009 Laser Master Worlds - Day 5

Yet another interesting day on St Margaret's Bay! As we sailed out the seabreeze was filling in for what looked like a carbon copy of the previous day - same wind angle, around the same velocity, clear skies, etc. The RC set up in what looked like exactly the same location and posted 190 for the course, just what we had the day before. So, remembering the lessons from the previous day, it was hard to think anything other than go right.

Peter Vessella and tuned up a bit and then did a series of timed split tacks. Interestingly, the person going left, whoever that was, came out ahead by a fair bit. Hmmm.... Given the day before, what does this mean?

We lined up for the first start and it was clear and a group of the sailors at the top of the standings were lined up near the pin looking like they were going left. I started midline, maybe down toward the pin a touch and started the front row grind. Boats above me peeled off one at a time to go right, some below passed behind to go right. In no time there was a group of five or so that started near the pin going left, then pretty much the entire rest of the fleet going right. I flipped over to take a look and the boats to leeward did not look like they were poking out. I sailed up to a bit more pressure then flipped back over to the left to chase after the group of five. They started tacking out of the left corner and were clearly launched. I tacked up under them and the view from the window showed that the entire fleet was now well behind. I got around in sixth, right behind Tim Landt and started chasing after Scott, Arnoud, Marc, Mark and Tim. The run was uneventful, as near as I can tell the order was preserved at the gate. Left was clearly the thing to do, I set up to go left and followed the pack. Then an amazing thing happened... Arnoud tacked and headed right! That could well have been the regatta, he was effectively never seen again and sailed a throwout. I short tacked the left corner and was able to pick up Tim Landt by the weather mark to round fourth. Again, steady on the reach and run, though Jan Scholten made a big charge. I held him off on the reach and then was able to stay comfortably ahead for the finish. So, fourth for my second best finish of the series.

For the second race the breeze was now a solid 15 knots and we were into that range where you need to hike hard but not de-power anything. The previous race showed everyone that the left was the place to be so this time there was quite a crowd at the pin end. If the breeze was going to be in the full hiking range then my strategy was to start up by the boat and try to stay clean up high, this way I could have the option to tack if necessary, but could also avoid the pinch fest that was bound to happen down at the pin. I executed poorly and soon found myself pinched off by one of those proverbial "pinch through the waves" people. After a short game of ping-pong I managed to poke through the line on port tack going right. Interestingly, the compass said I was in a big left shift, the weather mark was just off the bow and I could see Jan and Vann below also heading right on a good angle. The option was to tack onto a header back into the left corner, and into the peleton, or hold on the lifted tack and look for a shift at the top. Given the length of time we needed to sail to the mark this seem like a high probability move so I decided to stick with this, following Jan and Vann out to the right. Sure enough, up near the layline we got a nice pressure line which nicely headed us, we rolled into tacks and there we were back in the top ten. I was low of the layline (on purpose) and ran into a little bit of traffic coming in from the left, in the final approach Andy Pimental ducked me and went up to the layline, I went to around 4 boat lengths from the port layline and tacked back. Sure enough, Andy was spot on the layline and I wasn't crossing, so needed to plant a nice lee bow, which I did. This looked good for about 10 seconds when the last port crossing boat tacked right on top of me. Oops... I was able to slow, then tack behind Andy, cross Vann barely and tack above him to get around in something like 9-10.

While I was flailing around on my approach, Jan, who had crossed me by about 2 boat lengths on the first tack from the right, sailed up to round in 4-5th. Big lesson here, stay out of traffic!

The run did not go well, I sailed to0 far to the right (looking downwind), Vann, Andy, etc., sailed more to the left and held a nice puff down the course. In no time I was back in the peleton fighting for clear air. I rounded the gate back in the teens, then cleared out to the right. I made a couple of attempts to get back to the left but everyone wanted to go left so when they would clear they would bounce me out. On the final bounce I realized I was to the left side of the course, in solid breeze and maybe a little bit lifted. So, I held port tack on out towards the starboard layline. This tack was tough to sail, the wave angle was such that we were sailing almost straight into the waves so it required a lot of effort to keep moving. Focusing on speed here paid off and I was able to get back into the top ten again by the weather mark, back to close behind Vann. This time the reach and run went much better, with a significant gain on David Wells courtesy of a yellow flag given him by the judges. Andy Roy was blazing on the run to round right behind me, I was able to hold him off on the lower reach. At the leeward mark there was quite a crowd, with Terrry Neilson followed closely by David Wells, followed by me, followed by Andy and then Steve Cockerill. I cleared to the left sailing hard through the chop, then came back under the port layline to the boat end of the finish. David Wells elected to not use his starboard on me and tacked to leeward, basically giving me the lead on a slow tack. Terry was just crossing so I did the short duck. Then it got tricky, Vann was crossing up ahead, the pin was favored for the finish but if I tacked on the pin end layline then I'd be in Vann's bad air while, on the other hand, if I let Terry go I would lose him. So, I tacked short of the pin layline and forced Terry to leebow me which he did fairly effectively, then started to pinch to force me to tack. At this point I figured it was better to not lose David than force the issue with Terry so I tacked and lee bowed David. So, this race was an eighth.

Interestingly, Jan finished first in this race with his approach to the first weather mark rounding key to getting into the top group after the first beat.

At this point I sit in 14th overall, with points close enough to fantasize about moving up a few places. With one more race we gain another throwout which allows me (barring a disaster in the remaining races) to drop the 18th in the first race of the series. Interestingly, the scoring rules allow you to use both discards in the qualifying series, but only one discard can be used in the finals. This is going to be bad for some sailors, especially people like Mark Bear who will be forced to drop a 4th and keep a race in the teens. So, if we get another race, it will be interesting to see how the results get shuffled.

On the bad side, the weather forecast for the final day's racing has a light northerly... same direction as tuesday but with lots less velocity. As I type this the skies are overcast and the wind does not look promising.

Friday, September 4, 2009

2009 Laser Master Worlds - Day 4

Go West, old man, go west!

(Note: today's report is a bit brief, last night was Alain Vincey's lobster feed at our house and it was quite the affair! We're a bit slow to rise this morning...)

Today the seabreeze returned with the promise for the masters to finally experience what we all came here for - fresh breezes from the South-Southwest and nice waves for surfing downwind. Ok, the start time had been moved up an hour and it was a bit light on the sail out but the breeze was definitely going to come in.

The local folklore for St Margaret's Bay is that when sailing on the left (when looking upwind), or east, side of the bay that the left side is favored. Attached is a diagram that was worked up by the weather guy for the US Sailing Team which gives an explanation, basically you should see more pressure to the left and, if you go far enough, a left shift. More importantly, you go left because the locals tell you that's what you are meant to do. Always a good reason.

At the start of our race the seabreeze was still filling and at this stage was a bit unsettled, with definite light patches in between zones of 10-12 knots. When looking upwind it did appear that the breeze was more solid on the right so the strategy for the first beat was to go right to the pressure, then get to the left at the top, then think about going left on the second beat (once again in the inner).

That would have been a great plan to execute. Sadly, a number of other boats didn't share my plan and I executed one of those starts that was in the front row with clear air but pinned under a guy on my hip so I couldn't tack and I wasn't close enough to pinch him off. So, left we go... finally he tacks (with most of the fleet now to the right of us and I immediately roll into a tack and a big wave, putting me back so now another boat on starboard forces me back to the left. Argh! This time I work forward on him and roll into a tack again, but, yet again, in no time a pair of boats force me back. ARRGGGHH! Ok, finally sorted out and going right near the port tack layline with, now, boats crossing and going left. I sail off to what is left of the right layline and pick up a big fraction of those boats, hold steady on first run, then go right on the second beat and get back into the low teens. The top reach is a bit broad for me, I struggle a bit there and lose distance to boats in front but hang tough for run. On the bottom reach I dive low on a wave (mistake), Ari and Mark Bear roll over the top. At the leeward mark we round in a tight group with me outside of Ari and Mark and Vann Wilson. I elect to tack back to the left on the final beat and get clear, Ari is focussed on Mark and lets me get by to finish 12th. Well, ok, a lot of the top people have much worse races so I'm not alone in figuring that wasn't how I saw that one playing out.

For the next start the breeze is over 15 knots and after really spending a lot of time looking upwind its clear the pressure is solid and it looks darker to the left. I think that this is it, if there is a race to go left this must be it. The start line has an ever slight bias to the pin end so I decide to start down there, which isn't too hard since everyone is fighting for the boat end. Ok, this start is a recall but a good practice run because I didn't count on the rather extended anchor line on the pin boat. Line up again, same scenario and and get the pin end fully hiked with even a touch of vang on. At three minutes I look up to evaluate and things look good. As expected, Peter Conde has poked out from a mid line start and we are both extending from the front line of boats. Back to focussing on speed, then next evaluation at 5 minutes... hmmm.... not quite looking as good anymore, some boats that went right and are coming back and starting to look a bit better. At six minutes I figure I better get out of the left corner and avoid complete disaster and am glad I did. As I work up from about 100 yards shy of the port tack layline its pretty ugly with respect to the boats that went right and I finally get to the weather mark in the 20's. Ugh. Lesson learned, "Go West!" is the mantra. Second beat I go right with two short tacks left to consolidate a bit. A surprising number of boats head left and disappear into a black hole and by the end of the second beat I'm in the top ten, rounding ahead of Scott Ferguson and Rudy Ratsep. The top reach is again unfriendly to me, Scott and Rudy go by but I get back to them just at the mark. On the run I am happily running down the waves at full speed and totally forget the marks are will to the left of the angle of the waves... this mistake spots Scott about 50 yards and he is uncatchable. Rudy and I stay close with John Bertrand making gains and rounding right behind us. On final reach positions remain unchanged and as we start the second beat Rudy is one boat length ahead, John one behind. I tack off to the left again, coming back in the middle to keep close to Rudy. He and I trade a few tacks on the upwind, but its pretty much over when I try to plant a tight leebow but get hit, again, by a wave to put me back. As it goes, we have ignored John who one tacks to final beat to just get us at the finish.

So... finish 11th in this race. And, again, a number of the top boats have bad (for them) races. At the top, Scott has his worst day with a 3-7, Arnoud his best with a 1-1 (and the last a horizon job), Andrew Pimental goes 4-2 and Mark Bear hangs tough with a 14-5. What's tough in this event is that you can only drop one race from the finals, rolling double digits at the top is not a good thing!

At this point I'm standing in 16th. It looks like we get a seabreeze again today, though its not predicted to be as strong. With yesterday's experience my guess is that the right side of the course will be highly populated.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2009 Masters' Worlds - Day Three

The favorite morning pastime of the group I'm staying with is to divine what the weather will be for the day. We dutifully scan the local and marine forecasts, use the predictwind.com info provided by ILCA, check magicseaweed.com, etc. Its not entirely obvious that this does us any good...

For day three the forecast was for wind from the Northwest at 10-15 knots swinging to the Northeast and "diminishing" by the end of the afternoon, all under bright sunny skies. We sailed out to the day's racing area (in yet another new location) with a fresh Northerly in the 15-20 range. What does all of this mean? As the day progressed, the land heated acting to "diminish" the velocity and, as explained to me, the added "turbulence" over the land caused the remaining breeze to become very puffy and shifty on the race course. To compound all of this, the race committee elected to set up the course with the weather mark very close to the shore and under a small hill. The result was two breezes, one coming in from the left, one from the right with a large transition zone between them, slowly moving back and forth up the middle of our weather leg (I was in the "red" fleet again, sailing the innner loop).

For the first part of the first race the puffs still had enough in them to get out and hiking, but the lulls were back to sitting in. I started at the boat end having channeled the wind gods long enough to guess a right shift coming just about when the start gun went off. I worked off the right side (where the pressure was), taking a few hitches left to get across most of the fleet (see, I can learn from past mistakes!), and, after a few "oops" and "aha's" made it around the first mark in the top group. The leader, by lots, was John McCausland, who, early in the beat, had been sailing to the right on port when I was taking a hitch left. It was clear he didn't see me, so I started to duck him (no issues, I didn't want him tacking on me) when he suddenly realized I was there and tried to turn down to duck me. Ok, we both end in crash tacks, he goes left and gets launched! Well, unfortunately for him, no lead is big enough in these conditions and he ultimately finished 5th in the race, having gotten skunked at the end of the second beat.

The reach and run were uneventful with the fleet actually fairly well packed. Most of the leaders go for the left gate mark because its close and people appear to want to favor the right on the next beat. Having sailed a bit low, I'm in a better position to go for the right gate which is a bit more upwind and has a lot less traffic. As soon as I get around I start to get that sinking feeling that this does not look right, we are headed and its light, so I tack. Unfortunately, Steve Cockerill also tacks about 8 boat lengths ahead in my lane but I figure I better stick here because the left looks weak right now and the guys to leeward going right are looking pretty punched. This turns out to be one of those accidental good decisions, somehow we are in some sort of breeze "seam", with more pressure than the guys to the right and walking away from the boats going left. Pretty soon most of the guys to the right are bailing out and crossing behind us, so now Steve is in top 3-4 and I'm very close behind.

That was the first half of the second beat. The second half started to show how the rest of the day would go. Basically, as you approached the weather mark the puffs started to become more random, the would appear on the water above you but might never move down to you. In San Francisco, when we sail on the City Front, we get shifty and puffy stuff, but I'm used to seeing the puff moving down the water, not staying stationary. Needless to say, its a struggle to figure out how to deal with this and I manage to leak a few boats on both the right and the left spending far too much time in the middle. So, around the weather mark in teens, down the reach, run and final reach passing a few boats, close in on Vann Wilson and the Argentinian on the final beat but not enough to pass and end 8th. Given the conditions, I'm more than happy with that result!

As we set up for the second start the wind was backing off even more. There was still the occasional puff that had us hiking but it was definitely light in the transition area. As we lined up for the start it looked, to me, that there was more pressure to the left and nothing to the right. This with about 3 minutes to go... So, I started to favor the pin end. With a minute to go I was lined up with Andy Roy to leeward when the wind started to evaporate and in no time I was too close to Andy to be able to do anything. With 25 seconds to go I'm doing everything to try to get moving but to no avail. Gun goes off, I'm dead in the water, unable to really drive off with Andy shooting out to leeward. This puts me now behind the line of the front row so am also unable to tack. Then I'm behind the front row and now there is really no wind and I'm in full park. There is no more helpless feeling than watching the entire fleet sail away. As they say, in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead bins...

Interestingly, John Bertrand (and one or two other boats) is also in full park mode, having failed to clear out on port tack and having to spin a couple of circles. With the entire fleet now on port tack in a lift, all heading to the right, John takes off to the left. Waaaaay out there, on the other side of the known world, is a wind line and his going for it. I'm not brave enough to follow all the way, I tack back and figure I'll hunker in for the fight. When next seen, John Bertrand is reaching, on full plane, into the weather mark on a massive private puff, arriving in second place, which he holds to the finish. I guess you don't become a world champion or an Olympic medalist by being conservative in situations like this!

Fortunately for anyone reading this the rest of the race is a blur, consisting mostly of several shots at getting back into the teens only to be thwarted by the above mentioned inability to predict the next puff. An example would be Air Barshi and I crossing each other (me ahead) on the second beat with Ari ultimately finishing 15th. And I would admit that after getting skunked badly on the final 100 yards to the weather mark (losing at least 10 boats in the process), I became rather deflated and might have slipped into cruise mode to the finish. So, my worst race of the regatta, a 32nd and now my discard.

So, the first half of the regatta is now over. I'm standing 21st overall with two single digit races, an acceptable 14th and two discards. Getting to the podium is mathematically possible but will require the remaining six races to a) all be sailed, b) with finishes in top 3, c) some luck with the leaders having some bad races, and d) even more luck with the weather cooperating and bringing back the seabreeze, and the stronger the better. The forecast for Thursday and Friday is promising for the seabreeze so I'm going to be optimistic that its still possible climb back. However, my guess is that I'm going to need to be prepared for some more light air sailing.

This year marks my eighth Masters' Worlds. Only one, Fortaleza, featured the same conditions everyday - breeze from the same direction ranging from 15-20 to 20-25 everyday. All other events have featured a range in conditions, with some light days and some breezier days, some shifty puffy days, some steady days, etc. The winners of the Master Worlds have to be good all around sailors, able to sail fast in light, medium and heavy air while mastering what the weather throws at them. Towards that end, the current leaders of my fleet, and in particular Scott Ferguson and Arnoud Hummel, are showing everyone why they should be at the top. If the breeze does come in, based on the second race of the series, I think Arnoud has a speed advantage upwind but I bet Scott will find a way to stay right with him (hit to Scott: put the bow down and hike a tiny bit harder!). So it will be very interesting to see how this plays out! And, of course, none of this is meant to slight any of the other sailors in the top group, for example Andy Roy, Andy Pimental, Steve Cockerill, Ari Barshi, Peter Vessella, etc. It just seems that for this event that Scott and Arnoud are going to be the two fighting it out in the end.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009 Masters' Worlds, day two

In summary: ugh!

Regatta organizers always work hard to control what they can but they are helpless when it comes to the weather. In the two weeks I've been here its pretty obvious that St Margaret's Bay will take any excuse to supply a nice southwest seabreeze... except for this week!

We sailed out to the starting area in a light southery with hopes for it to build by race time. Unfortunately, a westerly gradient was pushing in and around 1:00 pm started to appear on the horizon. The RC did start the apprentices in the southerly breeze (190) but by the time it was our turn the wind has started to turn. So, after a bit of a delay they picked up everything and moved over about mile and a half to get closer to the western shore (presumably better sailing in a westerly). They set up for a breeze direction of 245 and by the time the course was set up we had 5-8 knots with some shifts.

The big question was how to play the first beat. Right took you to the shore directly and it looked like way up there was a bit more pressure. Left took you parallel to the shore but there did also seem to be wind out there with a hint of a big left angle in it. The middle didn't look promising. The apprentices started and it seemed most were favoring the left but by the time we were to go it wasn't yet obvious.

I started near the pin which was nicely favored and should have tacked to a) cross the fleet and get in front early, and b) stay in phase. Well, I dearly wanted to tack... but I hesitated because I wasn't quite sure if I could clear one boat and, of course, as time went on I clearly couldn't so the opportunity was lost and he rode me out to the left. I guess I figured that was ok, the original game plan was to favor the left side (for more pressure) anyway. Unfortunately, we were sailing through a major light spot. Worse, almost the entire fleet was now going right in a relative left shift. After another minute the guy on my hip tacked, I did too and for about 30 seconds we looked great with the fleet nicely tucked in the window. Then it became apparent that a right shift, with pressure, was coming down the course, the entire fleet was tacking and going to cross by miles. There was no tacking back, there was still a huge hole to the left and I had to settle for now being in the high 30's with the leaders launched. Ugh!

I spent the rest of the first beat paying quite a bit more attention, in particular staying with the lifts and puffs as much as possible. This got me back into the 20's by the weather mark. I had a good run, passing a few more boats and worked the same logic for the next beat to get into the low teens with the possibility of maybe breaking into single digits. But the next run was not so kind and I was only able to hold position to finish 14th.

As this race finished, good old St Margaret's Bay brought in the seabreeze and, as it does here, the initial pulse was in the 15 knot range. Finally some hiking! But, no, it was not to be... we did start a second race but the wind quickly faded and by halfway up the first beat we were looking at 5-8 knots and chop... Thankfully the race was abandoned on the final downwind leg when there was a fleet inversion (ie the last place boats became the first place boats). So, I'll spare the details other than to mention that I was not having a good race here either.

So, three races in the books, two with double digits. Not what I was hoping for. My speed in the light stuff is mediocre, I don't think good enough to win a race in under 8 knots, but should be good enough to stay in the top 10. So, bad decisions are putting me way behind early and without better speed its very difficult to get back to the lead pack, much less the leaders.

Today is nominally the final day of "qualifying" before we split into gold and silver. The current results are posted at this link and right now I'm sitting in 19th and, hopefully, barring a disasterous day today, I should make the gold fleet. Forecast today is for light offshore, not exactly my stuff but we get what we get!

What I would give for a breeze where I could do some hiking!