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.


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