Photo by Roberto Alvarez courtesy of caribwind.com
One of the main reasons for my trip to Cabarete last week was to gain some experience sailing in waves. Almost all of the sailing that I do at my home clubs and at regattas up and down the East coast is on sheltered waters: inland lakes or protected bays or sounds. The author of Split Tacks, ab, wrote a post a few days ago making the point that sailors like us are at a big disadvantage when it comes to competing at major Laser championships which are usually in more open waters.
I suspect that a lot of Laser sailors spend most of their sailing time on relatively flat water. Rivers, lakes, harbors, protected bays and so on. But when the major championships come around, they are nearly always held in open ocean conditions, with waves. In these regattas, most of the sailors are fit. Most of them can tack and gybe well. Most of them understand tactics and strategy. But the sailors who do well are those who can handle the waves, both upwind and down.Cabarete did not disappoint. The sailing conditions there were ... "interesting" to say the least.
Cabarete is on the Atlantic Ocean shore of the Dominican Republic and there is a reef no more than a half a mile offshore which has a gap in it through which you can usually sail to the open sea. But on the days of the regatta the waves were not only breaking along the line of the reef but also across the gap in the reef too. This made it impossible to sail through the gap, so we had to sail the regatta inside the reef. You can see the line of surf on the reef in the background in the picture above.
Outside of the reef the waves (I was told) were more regular and predictable; inside the reef there were still sizeable waves but, because of reflections off the reef, they were more chaotic. And in certain places on the race course they were breaking too. The average waves were more or less head on when beating on starboard and so from the side on port tack. Then on two days of racing there were big squalls with heavy rain and even stronger winds going through the race area at times.
So I would be racing in crazy winds and trying to cope with these big waves up or downwind when all of a sudden a huge wave with a breaking crest would come from an unexpected direction. I saw boats picked up by these waves and tossed in the air. One guy even told me he pitchpoled. Dealing with the waves upwind and downwind was a real challenge to me. Brett Davis's advice during the clinic was a great help and I am sure that after five days of struggling with the waves I must have improved a little.
The photo shows 2003 Laser World Champion Gustavo Lima catching a ride downwind on a typical Cabarete wave (if there was such a thing). I'm sure I did the same thing many many times during the week but as far as I know nobody captured it on camera. Hmmm -- I wonder why?