Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2011 Laser Masters Worlds Wrap Up - Getting better, and the lessons learned along the way

For me, the 2010 Laser Masters World Championships was more about seeing how much I could improve in the year after the 2009 Masters Worlds, than about whether or not I won another Laser title. I was a last minute entry in the 2009 championships, having only sailed in a couple regattas since coming back into the class after a 30 year hiatus. I ended up finishing 10th overall in the 2009 worlds which was surprisingly good given that I couldn't hike very long in the windy conditions, which meant I wasn't particularly fast. Nor was I very smooth or fluid in the boat. But I knew that the opportunity to challenge and test myself both mentally and physically over the next year would have far-reaching benefits beyond Laser sailing, but Lasers gave me a focused goal to work towards.

My plan was pretty simple. Shift the workout plan from general fitness to focus on increasing my sailing fitness. Do more on-the-water training to improve boat handling, starting, boat speed, and fluidity. And finally, do more racing to increase confidence and re-learn big fleet championship tactics and strategy.

Chris Herrera works on strengthening my shoulder

For my fitness program I contacted Chris Herrera, who is the trainer for the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics and co-owner of Bow Down Training and Jaguar PT. Chris is very hands-on and creates sailing-specific workouts based on the latest scientific training principles, that also employ a balanced full body workout. One of the benefits of his program is that it changes every 4-6 weeks and the programs are delivered online with video descriptions of each lift or workout movement. Chris's program enabled me to reach a really high level of fitness and as it turned out, be able to hop back into the Laser after a six month layoff and still be effective.

the Swedish KSS national team was one of many international teams that I trained with in Florida last winter

I was fortunate to train with some of the world's top Laser sailors with coaching over a couple of months last winter. This included Clay Johnson (USA), Rob Crane (USA), Nick Thompson (GBR), David Wright (CAN), and many more international sailors and their individual coaches. They were preseason training in Florida for the first 2010 Sailing World Cup event, the Miami Rolex OCR, and I was able to join in. At first, it was quite humbling trying to keep pace and not get in the way. Even though I coached Brad Funk on the international circuit, it was good to experience the core fundamentals firsthand and see the subtle differences in techniques of the top laser sailors.

competing in the 2010 Miami Rolex OCR in the open division

Although my plan was to maintain a full schedule of regattas leading up to the Worlds, the reality was that my coaching schedule virtually eliminated any of my own racing or on-the-water training for most of the year. I was able to do the Rolex OCR (January), Laser Midwinters East (February), and Midwinters West (March). Prior to a few practice days before the worlds, I got in a few hours of sailing with a few San Francisco masters in July.

Even though I registered for the 2010 Masters Worlds at the first opportunity, I was still undecided about whether I was going until a few weeks before. I would have liked to had more boat time and racing, and I was considering joining a team for the Melges 32 Worlds which conflicted with the event. However, I felt strongly that I could still do well and would regret missing the opportunity and the experience.

The Masters Worlds is real championship racing in every sense and is not just some watered down regatta. The competition is top flight and every finishing position and overall placing is hard fought. The atmosphere on the shore is friendly and light hearted, but at the same time there is the sense of purpose that is unmistakable. On the water, the racing is just as intense as any world class fleet regardless of age.

Hayling Bay gave us a good variation of conditions challenging our heavy, moderate and light air speed over 10 races. The first and final days of the championships tested our fitness and heavy air sailing in ocean like conditions. Clean starts, good upwind speed and being fast and upright downwind ruled the day. Keeping inside the laylines given the upwind currents was another key factor in having a good result. The middle three days in the moderate to light winds was all about getting a quick start off the heavily favored start lines and staying out of the "black holes." This really tested our patience and ability to recover from picking the wrong side or randomly being dumped on.

pre-worlds training partner and two-time Grand Master Champion Wolfgang Gertz

A few key factors led to my success at the regatta, which included an early arrival for training, good starts, downwind speed, and overall physical fitness. Even though I didn't have much practice before coming to the regatta, it was important to get there early to get used to the conditions, especially the tides. Every day of training I got faster and let my body get over the shock of sailing after such a long layoff.

mid-line start just in front of the visible gap

Starting well is imperative to having a good series. The strong current could either help by holding you back from the line or hurt by pushing you over early. Always knowing what the current was doing and analyzing tide charts was critical. The other technique that I relied on was to constantly check both ends of the line before the start by sailing close hauled at each end and visually looking to see which end was favored. I also would check the wind direction constantly to determine the phasing of the shifts. I started mostly in the middle of the line, like overall winner Scott Ferguson. On the windy day, there weren't big shifts and clear air and speed was king, and on the lighter days the shifts were so big that the thought of being on the wrong side of a 20 degree shift was untenable. Being aggressive to the line is another key. I slipped a few starts and held back thinking my group was over early. Sure enough, they weren't, and I was stuck in bad air leading to a bad race.

You can't win or score well unless you have great downwind speed. When you see someone like Gold medalist Paul Goodison dominate the World Cup regattas, it's because he can round the first mark in the thirties and finish in the top five. His secret is that he is damn fast downwind. Fortunately, I am getting the hang of the new technique and was quite quick downwind.

being alert and fresh everyday is a big plus

Finally, fitness was what held it all together. As I tell the sailors I coach, it is a freebie. You don't need to spend hours on the water learning a new technique, testing new equipment, or going to regattas to improve your tactics, but you can work out anywhere and there is always time in every day to do some sort of workout. Being fit improves concentration on the race course and recovery in between race days.

I am pleased with how I performed in the championship finishing 3rd only one point shy of 2nd. It would be easy to look back at a capsize in the first race that cost me 3 places or the broken downhaul on the last day that cost me 5 spots, but I'm more than satisfied with 3rd, knowing that there is still more work to be done before the next Laser Masters Worlds, which are being held in my home waters in San Francisco in eleven months. There is no time to lose!

The greatest benefit of the Masters events is meeting friends from the past. (This is Dr. Alberto Larrea from Argentina, who competed with me in Takapuna, New Zealand, at the 1980 Finn Gold Cup.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Bronze Medal (Laser Cube) Finish

on the way to the race course for the final day

The final day of the Laser Masters Worlds was filled with drama including broken gear, a capsize, and a penalty turn in a three-way battle for the silver and bronze medals in very physical and challenging conditions. The ebb tide produced very big, choppy waves that compounded the challenge in the 17-20 knot winds. The tide also created an adverse effect at the starts by pushing the fleet towards the starting line, dramatically increasing the risk being over early and possibly getting black flagged for the race. Scott Ferguson had a big enough lead that after finishing 3rd in the first race and didn't sail in the final race. So the day would turn into a three way fight for the last two podium spots.

My day started locked in a battle for the bronze with Christian Pedersen from Denmark. It was going to come down to who beat who in the two windy races. With conditions similar to the first day of the championships where Christian posted a 3-4 finish to my 7-9 placing, I knew he was going to be hard to beat. I also knew it would be physically taxing pushing my fitness to its extreme. I relished this opportunity to justify all the training in the gym over the past year.

I started the first race just above Tracy Usher from San Francisco who is big and fast in the big breeze and waves. Normally he would grind me into the dust in no time but I was going well enough to ride his quarter wave for quite some time. In essence he was "towing" me upwind faster then I would go being on my own. After about three minutes he hit a nasty set of waves and I actually rolled him. This was a huge bonus because he was starting to spit me off the tow. Christian sailing fast came out of the right to round the mark just a head of me.

On the run I let it fly and quickly over took Christian and moved into 4th place approaching the leeward gate. As I pulled on my downhall to the maximum setting, it broke with a big bang! Laser sailors know the significant performance difference between a super tight downhaul, and maximum tight is only a few millimeters difference in pulling the tack of the sail up tight against the boom. My tack was now 4 inches above the boom and I've never seen a sail look so ugly. I limped upwind as best I could and overtook some boats on the final run to salvage an 8th. More importantly only one place behind Christian. The other thing that happened that race was Arnoud Hummel, who was second going into the day, capsized on the run and posted a big score. Now the final race would determine who would finish second.

with a broken downhaul the you can see the wrinkle cut through the sail numbers - very slow!

The final race I again got a quick start in the middle of the line and was able to sail free and clear the whole beat. Half way up the beat on port tack I ducked behind Christian letting him go left electing to minimize my tacks in the huge waves. It worked out he gained a couple of boat lengths and got two boats in between us, but I was still very close. Arnoud was a few boats behind both of us and the race was now on. We overtook Christian downwind and I move forward in the lead pack to rounded the gate in 3rd. Unfortunately it was right behind Tracy Usher, the heavy air speedster who proceeded to drop me like a cheap date. Arnoud soon passed as well, being faster upwind. Christian was threatening to pass until he fouled a starboard tack boat and ended up doing penalty turns. On the final run I closed up to round the final mark on Arnoud's transom and that is how we finished.

Arnoud Hummel finished 2nd overall, one point ahead of me in 3rd place. I finished one point ahead of Christian Pedersen.

a coveted Laser Cube

I will do a wrap-up blog soon about my overall impression of these Laser Masters Worlds.

final results worlds website

Sunday, September 19, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds Day Six: The final podium spot to be decided tomorrow

Michael McIntyre (Star Gold medalist), Wolfgang Gertz and I study the tides

Today Scott Ferguson put a lock on another Masters Worlds title. There is a three way battle for the final podium spot to be decided on the last day between myself, Christian Pedersen, (Denmark), and Al Clark (Canada).

Today was another day of fickle winds and building tides on the Hayling Bay. After a two hour delay and one abandon race, we were able to get in a race in a 5-6 knot westerly breeze. Al Clark was the runaway winner showing exceptional speed in the light wind.

Unlike the shore breeze from the previous two days, the wind for the second race was from the sea breeze direction. The days are getting colder and not warm enough for the seabreeze to fully develop. Being late in the day, it soon deteriorated into psychotic patterns. One minute we were fully hiking; the next virtually becalmed. Added to that mix was the Grand Masters fleet which the race committee in their ultimate wisdom started just as we approached the first leeward gate. It was frustrating to say the least having twice the number of boats (100) all drifting around with the tide, seeming to be going nowhere. I don't know why this race was not abandoned.

Last leeward mark rounding I past these three boat at the finish to preserve a 4th place

Tomorrow's forecast is for 15-18 knots from the southwest, similar to the first day of the regatta. It will be full-on in every sense of the word and really exciting racing.

Friday, September 17, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day Five

The forecast for shifty tricky northwesterly winds lived up to its billing. The story today was of two winds - 20 degrees left and 20 degrees right. There wasn't an in-between. The pressure was up and down as well, full hiking or sitting in. I handled the 8-12 knots and tricky shifts well and posted a 4th and a 1st in the two races.

Taking off too-warm gear and surveying the course

Both starts today favored a quick tack off the line (20 degrees left). About half way up the first leg the pressure would fade as the wind became unstable. The early leaders who started well (who tacked onto port early) and were now covering the center of the course while the not so good starters were pushed off to either the left or the right sides of the leg. It turned out being in the center was the black hole and one or the other side was going to be hugely favored.

In the first race I was with the two regatta leaders, Scott Ferguson and Arnoud Hummel when the middle started to fade. Scott tacked out early heading left while Arnoud and I continued on the favored tack to the mark. I remember thinking that was the last we were going to see him when the 20 degrees right shift came in. Well… good plan but we lost pressure and were sitting in while the left hand boats were fully hiked! Arnoud and I redeemed ourselves on the second beat while the fleet hit the left hard we went hard right and bingo, we met up with our 20 degrees right wind.

Race two was a carbon copy of race one except it was the right that paid off this time. I was positioned well to go to either side again and remembering what Scott did the first race, I was tempted to tack left when the wind faded. Ultimately I decided to gut it out and head right by letting a group of boats cross in front of me while I sailed the on the header. New pressure and more shift meant I and a few other boats were launched and I went on to an easy victory.

Rounding the leeward mark before the finish

I'm now sitting in 3rd place overall but 11 points back from first. The two leaders are Arnoud and Scott and are separated by only one point.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day Four

After two days of canceled racing, we finally got a break from the gale force winds to sail two races in an moderate 8-12 knot shifty, northwesterly wind. Today also marked the end of of the qualifying series for the Master division, which split the sailors into the Gold and Silver fleets. All the standard fleet leaders (Apprentice, Masters and Grand Masters) maintained their respective top spots, but none have more than a 3-point cushion at this point.

I had a very good day posting a 2-5, which jumped me ten places to take over 5th place. The on-course conditions were challenging from two perspectives. The wind pressure was up and down with big leftover chop from the past two stormy days, so maintaining boat speed (and keeping the cockpit from filling up) was a full-time job. There were massive wind shifts that could either make your day or make you wish you could have a do-over.

A quick fast start led to a second place finish in the first race today

Ari Barshi, a sailor from the Dominican Republic who owns and operates the Laser Center in Cabarete, and I were around each other most of the day. In the first race we both had awesome starts and were launched by the first windward mark which turned into a two boat battle for the win (Ari won). The second race saw us together again but this time deep in the fleet, in the high teens, after being on the wrong side of a 20 degree shift at the start. I was able to get a couple of critical boat lengths on him at the leeward gate, rounded inside a tightly bunched pack of boats, and was able to get away unencumbered on the lifted tack. I finished up 5th and he unfortunately found himself in rush hour traffic and posted a 20th. It was just one of those crazy days out there where being in the right place at the right time was a make or break proposition.

Tomorrow the stakes are raised with the top Master competitors all racing together in the Gold fleet, so it should be challenging and fun. The winds are forecast to be more of the same as today but a couple knots lighter. Saturday looks like it could be really light and the final day, Sunday, is predicted to be back to the Southwesterly sea breeze like we had on the first day of the championships.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day Three (Groundhog Day)

As predicted in yesterdays blog (sound familiar), today's racing was (again) canceled due to high winds and rough seas. Although not as severe as yesterday's conditions, the race committee determined after a two hour delay that it was too risky to send the fleet out in the prevailing 20-25 knots breeze and massive waves. Certainly a big consideration for them is the vast number of competitors (350) they have to manage and the wide variation of ability and fitness of the Masters competitors. While some outside the class may question why we didn't sail today, you won't find many here who don't think it was the right decision.

Another layday is another opportunity for my body to recover. I did get in a light gym workout and finished a very inspiring book that I recommend to anyone - "Born To Run," by Christopher McDougall.

Born To Run is self described as "full of incredible charters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and most of all, pure inspiration." The author, Christopher McDougall, sets out on a massive quest to answer one simple question: "Why does my foot hurt?" McDougall, who is six feet four inches tall and weighed 230 pounds, stopped playing pickup basketball and decided to turn himself into a marathoner. Turning 40, in five years of running he ripped his hamstring twice, strained his Achilles tendons repeatedly, sprained ankles, suffered aching arches and had to walk down stairs backwards because his heels were so sore.

What is intriguing about Born to Run is that it exposes the modern approach to running and high-tech shoes as the major culprits of most running injuries. McDougall states that 80% of all runners sustain injuries that are related to the stress induced by modern shoes and ignorance of natural, child-like running technique. He also gives an insiders look into the ultra running scene (50-100 miles races in mountain courses) and conveys the passion and dedication of these self-made athletes. Finally, the takeaway message is that our bodies are built as running machines and we need to get back to how we ran as children and to experience the same joy.

McDougall's message really resonated with my effort of getting back into shape to effectively sail the Laser, which has thus far been a two year journey. It involves working out regularly, on-the-water training with the top Laser sailors in the world, and improving my nutrition and overall health. My philosophy was to start out slow and my mantra at first was "less is more." It included walking on a treadmill and a basic weight routine. I had suffered an aggravated Achilles tendon over the past 20 years and was unable to do one of my most favorite exercises, running. I like running because of the physical benefits but more because of the mental boost it provides. Pounding out 3-5 miles thinking about racing to great victories used to be one of my favorite workouts, but I thought those days were long gone. I was very wrong.

My workouts are quite robust now and include lifting 4 days a week plus 6 days of cardio, either running or cycling and a lot of times both. With this increased intensity comes the inevitable injuries, soreness and pain. I have learned that those issues come with the territory given the intensity of my regimen and my "life experience" (i.e. age). It is frustrating being sidelined by a nagging injury and the thought that I can be hitting the road again in earnest is exciting.

I am looking forward to trying some of his concepts this fall and winter to see for myself if I can experience pain free running again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day Two

As I predicted in yesterday's blog, today was a blow out with racing canceled. Gale force winds and big waves made conditions dangerous (especially for a bunch of old guys in little boats) and the race committee has been very cautious about safety. The waves were an impressive sight even in the early morning, breaking across the channel over the bar. As we arrived at the sailing club the Ap over A was already flying. It was not a hard decision to cancel because the winds were expected to increase throughout the day. Wednesday looks like there will be less wind but conditions may potentially be too strong and rough to sail.

I spent the day at the Southampton Boat Show and ran into many of the Masters competitors at the Rooster Sailing booth stocking up on some warm gear. Rooster Sailing was started and owned by Steve Cockerill, who won both Radial races yesterday, and is widely known as "the boat whisperer" the name of his world famous (in Laser circles) DVD. Although Rooster Sailing is not well known in the USA, the UK based clothing and equipment company caters primary to dinghy sailors and reflects Steve's British sailing roots in a creative way. This is especially seen in the innovation and quality of their cold-weather gear!

A Sail-World.com article on Steve described his business style perfectly: "Steve projects an individual style and has worked to develop and market fittings and clothing that improve on or fill a gap in the existing ranges available." What's even more impressive is that at this regatta, Steve is absolutely everywhere talking to people, making the rounds, is inundated with attention, and is still so focused that he is winning the Radial Masters Class.

Apart from hanging out at Rooster's boat show tent (where all the coolest old guys hang out), today was a much-needed day for recovery. I (and I think most of the fleet too) took a beating in the high wind and waves of yesterday's competition. I woke up in the middle of the night with the muscles of my left arm frozen. Although I did a serious cool down at the gym and stretched, it wasn't enough and I spent a chunk of the night icing it down. To top it off I got a cold too. Although I'm injured and sick, I'm definitely going to keep racing, because I am the toughest guy in the fleet. My best friend now is the "other blue pill," sales of which went up all over the island last night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

2010 Laser Masters Worlds - Day One

I'm currently competing in the Laser Masters Worlds, which are being held in the UK at the Hayling Island Yacht Club at the eastern end of the Solent. It is an amazing place to sail with a huge dinghy club, exceptional organization and race committee, and world class sailing conditions. I've been here for the better part of a week training with a couple of former training partners from my Finn campaign, Wolfgang Gertz and Michael Nissen, both from Germany.

The most amazing thing about this area is the tide, which is enormous, and the powerful current. There are treacherous shelves and bars underneath the high water, all of which are exposed when the water rushes out. Cruising sailboats and powerboats are moored all along the sides of the channels, and most are laying on the hard, totally stranded and dry in the thick mud, when the water leaves. Locals here are extremely cautious about navigating the harbor, and very respectful of the tide! Most of our training was based on when we could go out with the tide and return in the coming ebb. This meant most days we couldn't/didn't sail until late in the day, usually returning at sunset. The tide was also accentuated by the new moon a few days ago. The tides this week are not as big as last week, so we can get to the course and back in reasonably favorable current.

high tide: no bars exposed

low tide (that's me down by the water's edge)

Today was on the windy side with the breeze starting out strong and increasing during the two races. The building ebb tide made for powerful, full ocean-like conditions. Upwind was full on power hiking with cockpit-filling square waves. The runs were epic with many options on how to: 1) best surf the monster waves; 2) avoid becoming a submariner at the bottom of the bigger sets; 3) stay upright. The best approach on a day like today is to "go for it" on the runs. Having the confidence to do it is a big factor. Otherwise backing off means over trimming to prevent a death roll, meaning you will likely end up "chicken winged" and at some point, either spinning out or capsizing to leeward and/or burying the bow and filling the cockpit, which compounds all of the above.


Epic conditions and confusion around the leeward gate

I was happy with my speed today but suffered from being rusty from not being in the Laser over the past six months. The first race I was fighting it out with Scott Ferguson, last year's Masters world champion, for third place, when I capsized at the jibe mark and lost three places to finish seventh. My second race start was really bad and sailing throughout the fleet to finish inside the top ten was a good result.

Arnoud Hummel from the Netherlands busted out two bullets today to take the early lead over Scott Ferguson. see results.

Tomorrow forecast is for 20-30 knots and if it holds racing may be postponed due to the massive seas that will likely accompany the high winds.