Monday, March 29, 2010

Laser Midwinters West Final Day

The final day of the Laser Midwinters West ended on a high note for all the competitors. As was the case in the first two days of racing, the westerly sea breeze came in late in the day. With a three o'clock cutoff time for the last race, we only sailed one final race in the strong 18-20 knot breeze.

The ebb tide again made it difficult to judge the line, and the Radial fleet, who started first, had a number of attempted black flag starts that were postponed as the final seconds counted down. There were only a handful of boats behind the line within the final seconds. The race committee was smart to go to the AP flag instead of penalizing the fleet in extremely difficult conditions. These "practice starts" gave the Radials an opportunity to better judge the current and finally on their third attempt, they had a clean start. We also were able to judge the current by observing the Radials, and our first attempted start was all clear.

The breeze for the first beat and run was a little unstable. Even though it was windy, there were "holes" in the breeze. Upwind, if you dropped into a hole, the boats just to windward would gain by being in five knots more pressure. There was a very distinctive line of wind on the edge of the hole. Dropping into a hole downwind was more dramatic because the big waves meant the boats with pressure would gain great distance surfing the big waves by not having to struggle to catch them.

After a good midline start I suffered on the first beat along with others by dropping into a hole while the boats to the right hand side gained. I was able to minimize the loss at the top of the beat with some good old fashioned straight leg hiking to round just on the heels of the leading four boats. Down the run, the fleet spread out with some boats going low sailing by the lee while others sailed high in the surfing conditions. I decided to take the middle road on the downwind, which took a lot of hard work and patience.

In typical Laser fashion, everyone was doing their own thing downwind. The sailors were sailing drastically different angles, everyone rolling wildly, and surfing the short steep waves to the best of their abilities. With the holes still present groups of boats would stall out only to catch back up in the next gust. As the leaders converged on the leeward gate, I was able to catch a "big set" of waves at the last moment and gained just enough to break an inside overlap of 3-4 boats to round in second place.

For the next beat and the remainder of the race it was full on power sailing. The wind stabilized and increased slightly to a solid and consistent 20 knots. The top reach and final run in these conditions is what makes racing on the Berkeley circle so much fun. The reach was non-stop "fire hose" planing, followed by a downwind leg where you have no option but to go for it on the edge of capsizing the whole time. If you sail conservatively, you'll end up submerging by burying the bow and filling the cockpit with water (making the boat even more unstable), or possibly pitch poling, death rolling, or capsizing to leeward. There were more then a few boats upside down on this run.

Being extremely comfortable in these conditions, I closed in on the leader as we arrived at the leeward mark. I could have pushed for an inside overlap and most likely have gotten it, but it would have been really dicey with the potential for disaster being high. Making two jibes and a really hard rounding was not worth it. On the final short beat to the finish there was no opportunity to gain. I crossed the line in second place feeling satisfied with a hard fought race.

Sean Kelly, an intercollegiate sailor from Cal Maritime, finished two boats back in fourth place and sealed the regatta victory. I end up scoring fourth place in the overall standing.

Left toRight Sean Kelly (1st), Peter Vessella (8th), Tracy Usher (7th), Ian Elliott (6th), Alex Heinzemann (5th), John Bertrand (4th), Kevin Taugher (2nd)

To celebrate I plan to do a ten mile run to the top of Mt. Tamalpais in the morning.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Laser Midwinters West Day 2 - Fits and Starts

Day 2 of the Laser Midwinters West produced three races, two races were sailed in a very light and dying northerly wind, but the third race was in a strong 15 knot westerly.

The first two race starts were complicated by an ebb tide, pushing the fleet over the line prematurely. After the first recall, the committee went to the black flag. It did not help that the leeward end was heavily favored. A number of boats were caught out on the next attempted start. I decided to make sure I wasn't one of them so my strategy was to start on port tack ducking boats on the line looking for a clear opening. Good for not getting black flagged, but not great having a good start. I spent the first two races working my way through the fleet. It was a good challenge, especially because the courses were only one lap around the trapezoid.

When the wind completely died and I thought we would be heading in, the westerly came roaring in with full force. It happened in less then two minutes. I have seen this many times before. It was fun hearing one sailor rave about how great it was and how he had never seen anything like it before. He couldn't stop talking about how great it was to have it go from a flat calm to perfect racing conditions in lees then five minutes. And he was right! It is like some turned on a fan and completely transform the day in an instant.

The final race was a classic Berkeley circle racing. We sailed a full course for a change, having an extra run and beat to sort out the fleet. The top of the leader board has not changed with Sean Kelly putting on a commanding performance and holding a seven point lead going into the last day.

road trip

large group of Canadians competitors are here

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Laser Midwinters West - Day 1

The Laser Midwinters West regatta is hosted by Richmond Yacht Club with the race course on the famous Berkeley Circle. Famous for it's high winds, short steep chop, and the numerous World Championships, Olympic Trials and many national championship regattas held there over the years. It might be considered sailing's version of golf's National Augusta, where they hold the Master's tournament each year.

view of San Francisco and Berkeley Circle from Richmond Yacht Club

With 54 Lasers and 50 Radials registered, the regatta promised great competition.

I am fortunate to have grown up in the San Francisco bay area and spent many days sailing and training on the "circle". I've learned many lessons on this venue in my early years sailing the Laser. One such lesson was the fastest way to round the reach mark was to have a controlled capsize instead of "trying" to gybe. It was less stressful knowing exactly what the drill was, going into it, instead of the option of either pitch poling or death rolling, both leading to a "yard sale" where you end up swimming after the boat and gear (that was another lesson - how to swim after your boat). Fortunately I have a better handle on heavy air gybing, but I still have that option if ever needed! Even when it is not blowing the racing conditions are spectacular.

The Spring and Fall in San Francisco tend to be milder which was the case today. The racing started late in the day when the westerly finally settled in. We sailed three races around a trapezoid course in a steady 10-12 knot westerly. It was a great day of sailing!

My goal for this regatta is to work on my starts and get faster downwind. My three race score today is a direct indication to how I started. I had a 5th, 2nd, and 13th. The third race was going to be a great start but in the last 10 seconds another competitor was ducking into my leeward side and I became too distracted with him and lost track of the time and ended up starting late. It was a black flag start and I was being extra careful not to be early but I also ended up stalling and blades which put me back in the third row (I was the only one in the third row by the way). The good news was that I stayed patient, found clear air and the favored side of the course. I had good speed downwind and pulled back a lot of places. Much better then I thought I would, ten seconds after the start.

The fleet is very competitive. Sean Kelly, an intercollegiate sailor from Cal Maritime is leading followed closely by Greg Martinez, who is a Radial sailor sailing in his first standard regatta. I'm currently in 5th and hope to have more good starts over the next two days.