Something very strange and unusual happened to me on Saturday...
As planned, I went to sail in the Last Blast Laser Regatta at Quannapowitt Yacht Club. To be honest, the wind wasn't exactly a blast, but it wasn't a drifter either. Nothing strange so far.
I wasn't going with any great expectations of doing well in the racing. I was motivated more by meeting up with some old friends and catching up with them about sailing plans this winter. I also had fond memories of the excellent hospitality at Lake Q from the only other time I sailed there back in 2008. And I've always wanted to learn how to spell Quannapowitt. Nothing unusual here. Let's move on.
The first race was scheduled for 11am, and at 9 minutes to 11 I was still on the land, talking to my younger son on the phone and wishing him Happy Birthday. My baby is 31! How did that happen?
Somehow I managed to launch and sail out to the course in time for the first race, even fitting in a quick recce of the winds up the race course. It looked to me as if the stronger puffs were coming in from the right side of the course. I sailed over to that side of the course and, as expected, all the puffs were starboard tack lifts. So that was the plan: start near the right end of the line, tack over to the right side of the course as soon as possible, and try to stay in those gusts.
I pulled off a decent start near the boat end of the line and was sailing high and fast in clear air. As soon as the opportunity presented itself I went right towards a juicy looking gust, tacked on the expected header and was looking good. A little while later there was another gust coming in from the right, so I tacked over to take advantage of that one too. Lake sailing often is a game of "connect the dots."
I was pleasantly surprised to see that my plan had worked and I arrived at the windward mark in first place! Woo hoo!
The second place sailor was close behind me and started heading straight downwind until I reminded him that there was an offset mark to round first. (Actually I almost forgot that myself.) The other guy did a better bear-away around the offset than me and was soon ahead of me on the run. (Still need to work on that bearing away thing.)
He was still leading me at the leeward mark, but the wind had shifted further right so he tacked fairly soon after the mark. (Sail the long tack first, I guess.) But I carried on a bit further before tacking, still liking that right side of the course. And once again it was the correct choice. I was to the right of the fleet and with all the lifts from every little gust I was being progressively lifted above them. I arrived at the windward mark the second time with a much bigger lead than on the first leg! Woo hoo again!
I gybed around the offset mark, led the fleet down the run, still had a safe lead at the leeward mark, and crossed the finish line first by a healthy margin. I let go off the sheet and tiller, and turned to the race committee with palms up and an astonished expression and asked, "How did that happen?"
How did that happen indeed? It took a while for it to sink in how unusual this win was for me. I have won Laser races before, even won the occasional regatta, but never done it in a fleet that had more than 15 boats. There were 24 Lasers at Lake Q on Saturday. I've also beaten more than 23 boats in a Laser race many times before, but never combined that with crossing the finish line first. So this wasn't just an unusual result for me; in 30 years of Laser sailing it was unique.
Sure, there was a wide spread of abilities and experience in Saturday's fleet but there was some real talent at the top end including a many-time Laser Masters World Champion, and last year's Sunfish North American Champion (who is no stranger to Lasers.) There were probably at least half a dozen sailors there whom I hardly ever beat.
So I have to chalk up that first race as my best Laser race win ever.
Of course I couldn't keep it up. For the rest of the regatta I reverted to my usual mid-fleet mediocrity and felt somewhat fortunate when I discovered I had finished 9th out of 24 overall.
I drove home with a big smile on my face and casually mentioned to Tillerwoman over dinner that I had won the first race. Trust my lovely wife to bring me down to earth...
"So was it skill or was it luck? And if it was skill why didn't you win all the races?" she asked.
Hmmm. Good question.
No, I don't think it was luck. I researched the wind. I formulated a plan. I made a good start. I executed my plan. My plan turned out to be a good one. I didn't make any stupid mistakes. I didn't choke. No, that isn't luck. That's skill. (At least I would like to believe it.)
Sure, there's always some luck in sailboat racing, but as much you can overcome luck and win a race by having a good plan and executing it well, I think I can claim I did that.
So why didn't I do the same in every race? Good question. Maybe other people wised up to what the wind was doing? Maybe I didn't always get good starts? Maybe the wind pattern changed later and I didn't work out how to take advantage of it? Maybe I just got tired and starting making stupid mistakes? Probably all of the above.
So, whether it was skill or luck, it certainly was a strange and unusual event. A day to remember. October 8. I think I can remember that date.