Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 3: Opportunity Lost?

Day 3 began as yet another beautiful day in Brisbane, mostly sunny, warm and a nice breeze blowing from the Southeast - what more could a sailor want?

While this was only the third day of the regatta, it is often the middle days where the regatta order gets set. Mindful of that I was determined to not let the Day 2 leaders get even more separation with my goal to remain in the hunt at the end of the day, and the first half of the event. Since my upwind speed in a hiking breeze appears to be quite good I was quite happy on the sail out to see that we would be pretty much full on hiking! So I was feeling confident that I could achieve that goal.

High tide today was for around 1:00 pm, just after our start, so it was expected that the right would not be current favored making the left side "open", at least on the first beat. With a square line I elected to start in the middle where the fleet seems to sag substantially making it possible to really get a good jump out in front. With a good start and good speed it did not take long to get into the top group and I was able to roll into the first left to go right. I determined to not sail to the wrong weather mark this race and held the port tack all the way across to pick up a nice right shift as I approached the weather mark, rounding first just in front of Andre Martinie and Jorge Abreu (who is clearly faster than anyone in full hiking going upwind). I had a good reach and run to even slightly extend a bit, rounded the left gate for the second beat, sailed about 100 yards to a nice right shift, tacked to starboard and suddenly had opened even more. This was looking like it was going to be a great race... but then it started to get soft and very shifty. The top half of the beat saw me spending lots of my lead and in the last 100 yards to the mark I fell back to just ahead of the chasing pack. Andre was making a strong charge and was in second, Rob Lowndes, who had a spectacular run to get into 3rd, was coming on strong and Wolfgang Gerz had recovered from far back to be just behind. At the weather mark we rounded effectively overlapped with me on top and I got pushed just enough to the right to find a massive hole. Wolfgang, rounding from behind, dove deep to the left and stayed in pressure. In no time he was even with Andre, sailing in more breeze, and soon took the overall lead. I spent the rest of the run trying to catch up and got onto Rob's stern by the final gate but could not capitalize on the last reach and final beat. I finished fourth which is a great finish in this regatta but I was definitely feeling like I had just lost a great opportunity to make a solid move up the leader board.

As we rolled into the next start sequence the breeze was at its peak, in the 15-18 knot range. I pretty much stuck to the game plan from the previous race, starting a bit further up the line and rolling into a tack onto port a bit sooner to get to the presumed current favored right side. While the breeze held velocity on the first beat there were some pronounced shifts and I ended up taking a few to make sure the guys out to the left did not get too much separation. Approaching the weather mark it was once again me rounding first with Jorge not far behind. I had another good first reach to maintain my gap, then a good first half to three quarters of the run to even open up a bit. Once again it started to get soft as we approached the leeward gate (it seems to be a feature of the outer loop) and I went for the left gate to sail on what seemed like a nice left shift heading right. However, a good fraction of the trailing pack took the right gate and were going left so I figured I better not let them separate and took a tack to the right. Nick Page carried on to the right while I kept pace with the boats going left. About halfway up the beat I decided to get back to the right while Nick had found a nice right shift all the way over there. I did have a good angle to the weather mark, and I remembered the previous race where I tacked way too many times on the final approach, so I decided to continue on and had to just duck Nick going back to the left and, it turns out, into oblivion. So, I managed to round the final mark still in first, still with a good lead and only a run, reach and short beat to finish. What could go wrong?

As I mentioned yesterday, there appear to be about a bazillion (physicist speak for an incomprehensibly large number) jelly fish in the water. I neglected to mention there is also a lot of weed floating about in the water. By the time we were on the final run the sun angle was such that I could not see anything in the water, just that there were waves. I knew there were jelly fish about, with the now familiar thud-thud-thud sound as I sailed through packs of them. But now something new, a GIANT chunk of really nasty sea weed grabbed onto my rudder not only putting on the brakes but also making steering difficult. Clearing weed off a Laser rudder on a run in 15 knots of wind is easy for the Olympic guys, less so for a Master sailor and even less so for one who has not been putting in the hours in the boat. So... what to do? Leaving it was not an option, I tried several times to sheet in, reach back and clear with my hand but could not quite execute before the boat starting rolling uncontrollably. Eventually I went into a big roll jibe and was able to shake it off the rudder when tipped but by now the chasing pack was getting closer, in particular Wolfgang Gerz who had managed to once again sail from oblivion to threaten winning the race!

Well, this was NOT going to happen this race, I got sorted, rounded the mark to the reach and turned on the jets. About 100 yards in front of me was the last sailor in the red fleet (starting just ahead of me) and by the leeward mark I was 4 boat lengths behind him, going to the final beat. He was obviously not comfortable with the breeze and I sailed right up to his stern before being forced to tack. Wolfgang held on to evenually sail through him but I think the damage was done and I finish first with Wolfgang far enough behind to not be a concern. Mark Bethwaite, recovering from two OCS's the day before, finished third, Malcolm Courts finished 5th. Andre had been in third but capsized at the final mark and ended 6th.

At the halfway point of the event, Wolfgang Gerz has a nice 6 point lead. He is sailing very consistently showing an uncanny ability to recover from poor positions early in the races. His line score of 4-6-1-2-1-2 is showing him to be the guy to beat.

On my side I have high confidence in my speed when the breeze is up but don't feel particularly spectacular in the lighter stuff. Still, my biggest problem in the regatta so far has been the execution errors - like hitting the mark in the first race to give away 2 points, to capsizing on the run, to sailing to the wrong mark. Yesterday I was more focused and mostly sailed well, except for the meltdown at the end of the second beat of the first race. Looking forward the current forecasts are not great for breeze, putting it into the 10-12 range for Thursday and Friday and making Saturday look outright sketchy. But it also appears that Wolfgang's worst races were in the lighter breeze of the first day as well, so the regatta is still not over!

Looking behind, Andre Martinie, after a several year vacation, is sailing fantastically well and is also still a threat to win the event. Malcolm Courts may well be the fastest sailor in the 10-12 range, and will certainly be a threat to move up, but will need a lot of help from Wolfgang to get to first. With 6 races to go and it does not seem like its too early to count positions, but there are two throwouts (if we get 10 races) and Wolfgang is currently throwing out a 6th - meaning he can have two disasters and still be at the top of the leaderboard.

Today (Wednesday here) is the lay day so most sailors are already off touring the Gold Coast and other local attractions. Unfortunately, this morning is raining fairly hard though that is supposed to clear soon so the day off should end up being great for everyone.

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