(Apologies for the delay in getting this out... our flight home from Sydney yesterday was canceled putting us on a bit of an expedition to get home...)
Back when I was in grad school one of the things we did was watch the Los Angeles Laker games on TV. This was back in Chick Hearn's hey-day and he was famous for many of his "Chickisms", like "its in the refrigerator, the door closed, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the Jello's jigglin!" when one team had the game put away, or "no harm, no foul, no blood, no ambulance, no stitches..." when the referees did not call an obvious foul, etc. The Chickism that applies here is definitely "In & Out, Heart-brrrreak!" for when the ball seemingly goes in the basket but catches the rim and is thrown back out.
Anyway... the forecast for the final day had not been promising the entire week and so it was no surprise to arrive at the boat park Saturday morning and find only a hint of breeze out of the South. There was some discussion overheard amongst some Race Committee volunteers that there was a good chance of no racing due to too little wind. In addition to that, we were scheduled to start at 10:00 am which I figured was way too early to allow for any help from the development (if any) of a seabreeze. Still, you want these things settled on the water so we all went about our morning rituals and prepared for what we thought would be a very long and hot day on the water.
The PRO, as he did all week long, made a great call to send us out early in the hopes of getting going on the set start times (the Radials were 30 minutes later than us). I launched at 9:00 am ready with extra water to drift around for a few hours but was surprised to see a steady, and ever so slightly building, 5-6 knot breeze from just a bit to the right of Southeast. With this breeze there was no reason to not start on time and, indeed, right on the appointed hour the RC started the sequence for the Green Fleet, then the Red fleet and then began the sequence for our race.
I would not say that light wind sailing is one of my strong points so my thinking was that I needed to get a good start and try to get into the lead group early, then try to not bleed too many boats to the finish. It looked to me like slightly more pressure to the left but a definite current advantage on the right. The line was pretty square but there was a slight bias to the pin end so I decided to try to start down from the middle, try to work just a bit to the left and then go right. I got a great start just below the main pack and was actually working out well when I picked up some weed causing me to drop back a bit. I cleared the weed but and got going again but now it was too late to able to work to a position to tack and cross the group I was in before we were all the way left. I figured I better take the medicine early and tacked over, took 2-3 sterns and managed to pop out in a nice lane. As I went all the way to the right I had just enough more pressure than those below me going right to move forward on them, and we had just enough favor going right that the boats who had continued to the left were now falling in behind me. The result was that I was first to the weather mark! I managed to hold that position down the reach and the run to go through the gate still in first, but with Andre Martinie and Wolfgang Gerz only just behind. At the gate I made a crucial error, I rounded the right gate but was momentarily disoriented - there was such a big shift to the left right here that I was pointing at the tip of a different island and for just a crucial few seconds thought I was massively lifted. By the time I recognized the error and the need to tack it was too late, Wolfgang had managed to get just inside of me and was in a position to prevent me from tacking. It was clear his strategy was to simply take me out of the race. We went left for a bit until I decided it was worse to sail off the course than to try to battle back with him going the right direction, I tacked but it was too late, I was now back in the teens with Andre now solidly in first. We continued around the track, in customary form Wolfgang worked his way back up through the fleet to finish with what I thought might have been a top five, while I was approaching the finish line in tenth or so... and then I saw on the notice board that I had been identified as OCS in that race!
Ok, that was a tough race but I was determined to not let it get to my head. Andre had won that race, so gained on me for second place, Malcolm had a great race as well and was moving up from fourth. The way the points were setting up, I only needed to have a good finish, like top five, in one of the two remaining races to lock down second overall for the regatta. I figured I had better focus on getting that done in this next race and not worry about the overall title until the final race. The wind was up a couple of knots from the first race, still light air by my standards but I had seen in the first race that my speed was better than I expected so it was all about getting a good start and getting clean lanes going to the right side to get into the front group.
As we lined up to start the boat end was pretty fairly favored. The Green Fleet had almost all bunched at the committee boat, the red fleet was more spread out but mostly in the upper half of the line. We were in a right shift so it looked like both fleets had started high on the line but were not rushing to tack off to the right, mostly carrying on towards the left. So my plan was to start a few boats down from the committee boat, drag race left until there was a good solid lane back to the right. And I was also determined to not let the OCS make me gun shy on the start. At the starting gun I managed to get a good jump just to leeward of the group starting right at the boat and began the drag race left. As we were going left it looked like the right was showing a bit more pressure so as the boats above me peeled away to the right I also went that way, as it turns out just a bit early and when I arrived at the mark I was in a fairly tight bunch of about 5-6 boats. With a good lane on the reach I picked off a few, then managed to pass a few more on the run to round the bottom gate in the top three. This time I took the left gate following Malcolm going right, with Mark Bethwaite and Wolfgang taking the right gate going left. I kept this for a few hundred yards and once the main part of the fleet had cleared the middle tacked back to the right in a bit of a shift to close the gap on Mark a bit and to cross ahead of Wolfgang. I tacked up on Mark's hip and followed him to the right. At the windward mark Mark had pulled ahead a bit, Malcolm was still in second, I was third, Wolfgang fourth and Rob Lowndes just behind. On the run and reach positions remained unchanged and we headed up the mini-beat with Wolfgang just behind me and Rob just behind him. Wolfgang tacked to keep clear of me, I tacked figuring I tack on him on his final approach to the finish line and Rob continued right. It worked exactly as I hoped, Wolfgang tacked on the finish line layline, I planted him just to windward, I crossed Rob to finish third and Wolfgang fell back to finished fifth behind Rob! I started my happy dance that not only did I secure second overall for the regatta but was now tied on points for first!
Well, that lasted about 20 seconds as Rob sailed over and said he'd been OCS so Wolfgang was fourth, not fifth. Ok, second secured and one point behind Wolfgang for first.
So, here it was, the final race would determine the outcome of the regatta - just like it should be. The way the points stood, Wolfgang owned the throwouts but I owned the tie breaker so if I beat Wolfgang in the race, and I finished third or better in the race then I would win. I needed a good race here and I could not afford to get tangled up with Wolfgang in any pre-start nonsense.
Well... ok, I did make one slight miscalculation before the race began... I did forget that I owned the tie breaker so I thought I needed a boat between us to win... my thinking at the time was that I needed to win the race with Wolfgang no better than third.
For the final race of the regatta the wind had puffed up to maybe 9-10 knots so that I was just starting to think about hiking, but pretty much off the toe rail and not in the hiking strap. The wind was definitely showing a bit of a left shift and the pin end was pretty clearly favored. I got a great line up to leeward as the boats set up for the start and got a great jump off the line near the pin as the starting gun went off. I sailed over until I was sure I could cross the first boat, rolled into a tack, made the first boat, then the entire fleet and was off to the right in a left shift. I was in great shape going across when I ran into a soft patch and started to fade a bit. Pressure looked left so I tacked over to stay in touch with the group to the left. Indeed, Mark Bethwaite (the boat I had just crossed out of the start) had better pressure and it was clear he was going to cross so when I felt like I was close enough I tacked under and we made our final approach to the mark. At the rounding it was Mark, then me and then about 4 boat lengths back or so the main pack, with Wolfgang in what looked like 10th. On the reach he sailed through half of that, by the run he was up to fourth or fifth and on the run he and Andre Martinie closed to a close third and fourth. I took the left gate, Mark the right, I continued right until the bulk of the fleet had cleared the mark and then tacked to go left. Mark came out from the left still ahead, but I was still ahead of Wolfgang. At this stage of the beat, and in the 8 knots or so of wind, Wolfgang had a slight speed advantage so it was clear I was not going to beat him simply by covering, I needed to get some distance by staying in phase with the shifts. And I was still thinking I needed to pass Mark...
As we made the final approach to the top mark I ended more on the left side, Wolfgang a bit on the right and, initially, I thought I had gained. Unfortunately, a bit of a right shift came in and the gap narrowed considerably - I was going to cross him by only a bit more than a boat length. I figured here my move was to tack in front of him, so at the right spot I turned in the boat. I went through the standard roll tack where you stay more or less on the port side of the boat as the main comes across and fills on the new close hauled course, then, as the boat is rolling to leeward, transferred across to the starboard side, rotating to get my rear on the rail, flattening the boat and trimmed in to build speed (and being careful to stay within Rule 42) and started focusing on the waves ahead. All of the sudden I feel a slight bump on my rudder as Wolfgang has altered his course to windward and hit me! Ok, more on this later.
At the weather mark I round ahead by a couple of boat lengths but have a nice little puff that I am able to take down to drive hard by the lee for some distance. Wolfgang stays high and I think does not have the pressure I have so I am able to gain some distance. At the leeward mark Mark Bethwaite is too far ahead to catch and sails on to easily win the race. I round ahead of Wolfgang and manage to stay ahead on the bottom reach to round the final leeward mark a few boat lengths ahead. Wolfgang tacks off and I follow shortly just to stay in touch, then we both tack over to go for the finish line with me in second and Wolfgang in third.
As it stands at the finish, I've now tied Wolfgang on points but have first place because I own the tie breaker! Well, ok, I must admit that while on the water I'm still a bit confused and am assuming Wolfgang has won because he was right behind me at the finish but, as we sail in I'm very happy about having had a great day in conditions that I don't normally perform well in.
Once on shore I get sorted out about the tie break situation and realize that I have won the regatta. However, and understandably, Wolfgang files a protest regarding the contact on the water since if he can get me DSQ'ed in the race then he will win. As we go into the jury room I'm confident that it will be at best disallowed, at worst he will be disqualified because I am sure the contact occurred far too long after the tack was completed for me to be at fault.
For the non-sailors out there think of driving on the freeway when a slower car changes into your lane in front of you. If they do this too close and you hit them then its their fault for not giving you time to slow down. On the other hand, if they do so far ahead and you hit them then its your fault for running into them from behind. Obviously, there is a gray area where the car ahead may have changed into the lane too soon -or- you may not have taken action to avoid a collision soon enough. That's where the details of "facts found" get to be important...
Unfortunately for me the key "fact found" by the jury was that they determine, from the testimony given, that the contact was "simultaneous" with the completion of the tack. Their conclusion, then, is that I broke rule 15 of the Racing Rules of Sailing which requires me to initially give the other boat room to keep clear. The result, then, is that I'm disqualified from the final race and Wolfgang moves up to second in that race.
Losing on a protest is definitely an "in & out, heart-brrreak!" kind of moment but it is a part of the way the sailing game is played. In the end, I finished second overall, securing that with a race to spare, against a tough fleet and in conditions I'm not normally known for sailing well in. As well, Wolfgang sailed extremely consistently the entire week only finishing out of the top four in one race. In the end we were separated by only five points and if I'm honest with myself I can (and have in these writeups) identify several situations in the regatta where I gave him more than enough points to overcome that deficit. Anyway, I did come home with a coveted Laser Cube and am definitely happy to have broken my seemingly endless string of finishing just out of the money at the Master Worlds. But there is still one finish position that has eluded me, definitely leaving me with some unfinished business in the world of Laser Masters Sailing... so I'll be there again in 2013 in Oman!