Friday, August 27, 2010

Luke Lawrence Grabs the Finn Youth World Championships by Winning the Silver Cup Regatta

The ninth and final race of the Silver Cup was a nail biter. Going into the final and deciding race, Luke Lawrence held only a one point lead over the two-time youth Finn European Champion Ioannis Mitakis, and a two-point lead over his US teammate Caleb Paine.

After a three hour delay onshore, the fleet was called to the start area a half hour before the 3:30pm cutoff time. The normally reliable strong seabreeze was muted to a soft, hot, unstable 8 knot westerly caused by a rare heatwave that had arrived in San Francisco overnight. The strong ebb tide that was running against the wind added a few tactical considerations for the competitors. Namely, it would want to push the fleet over the start line early, and make the windward legs relatively short with tight laylines. The foul tide made the downwind legs much longer and more tactically important.

Luke's game plan was simple. Don't be over early at the start, because restarting would be a big penalty against the tide. Knowing the fleet would compress at the windward mark meant the regatta was likely going to be won on the downwind legs and there would be opportunities to make up any deficit at the first windward mark. Luke explained, "For the start I made sure I was set up behind the entire fleet to eliminate the threat of being forced over early and I would use the current on my final approach. My conservative start and upwind tactic of shadowing my main rivals meant I just missed out on a big left hand puff that launched Caleb and the bulk of the fleet. I made sure I didn't overstand with the current and was able to overtake Ioannis but I still rounded in 11th just on the tail end of the tightly packed fleet."

The bulk of the fleet gybed at the weather mark looking for stronger wind in the middle of the bay while four boats which included Luke and Ioannis Mitakis headed for the shore and relief from the current. For a short time it looked like the lead pack was gaining, but faced with having to cross the main shipping channel twice with the underdeveloped seabreeze, Luke and the other three competitors slowly and consistently overtook the fleet halfway down the run.

Luke said, "When I saw Caleb jibe at the mark and Ioannis was 8 boat lengths behind me, I knew I was in great shape to take the title. The only wild card was that the wind was much lighter on the shore so I couldn't risk getting stuck in another hole, so I hung offshore in a little more current to make sure I didn't stall out." Luke rounded the bottom mark in second place and with the ebb tide quickly carrying him to the windward mark, he opened up a commanding lead over his Silver Cup rivals.

The best part for me was seeing Luke cross the line and then moments later witnessing the very emotional embrace between he and his mother Gloria Lawrence. I can attest to the fact that Luke was slightly nervous during the final few days of the event while he was wearing the leader's "yellow jersey." But unlike the US Sailing's youth championships, or the ISAF youth world championships where he finished second, he came home the champion. Did I mention that Luke has only been sailing the Finn for eight months? Impressive.

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