This weekend I sailed in my favorite event, the New England Laser Masters.
There are all sorts of reasons why I enjoy this regatta so much..
It's sailed out of Third Beach Newport (not actually in Newport) one of the Top 9 Sailing Destinations on the Planet.
It's a great chance to meet up with old sailing friends and make some new ones.They have a draw for all sorts of goodies from sponsors. More than one goodie per competitor. There was even a practice sail up for grabs this year.
The prizes are embroidered towels. Much better than plaques or silver cups. I even won a towel for Second Grandmaster once. I am the only man in the world who dries his man parts with a towel that is embroidered with the words "Second Grandmaster N.E. Laser Masters 2008."
But it's really all about the sailing, right?
On Saturday the wind was honking out of the south and there were huge swells rolling in from Rhode Island Sound. Classic Third Beach conditions. Several sailors chose to race with the smaller Radial rigs. I haven't bought a Radial rig yet. Some days I regret that decision.
The first race was one of those old-fashioned "Olympic" courses, or "triangle-sausage" as we used to call them in England. I couldn't see the windward mark from the start line. Probably not because the RC had put it over the horizon. More likely because of my poor eyesight. Or the waves. But maybe not.
I must admit I didn't work very hard on the first beat. I had that poor attitude that I wrote about in What I Learned From Running Marathons - "Take it easy. It's going to be a long day. Pace yourself. Don't go all out too early."
Good strategy for running marathons. Bad strategy for racing the best masters sailors in New England. As a result I arrived at the windward mark (not quite over the horizon) with the tail-enders. Which means there were almost 40 boats in front of me.
But the first reach was superb. I was catching rides on waves all the way to the gybe mark and passing a gazillion boats. Well, to be truthful, at least a few other tail-enders. Woo hoo!
I gybed without capsizing. Woo hoo!
The second reach was miserable. I couldn't surf on any waves and most of the boats I had passed on the first reach were passing me.
Why? I glanced at the rudder. Uh oh. Weed! I cleated the sheet and reached over the transom to clear the weed. I always feel that it's a little risky to sail a Laser on a screaming reach for too long while leaning over the back of the boat with your head in the weeds (almost literally.) So I try not to do it too long.
I pulled up the daggerboard and dropped it down again to clear any weeds off that.
Still I was going slow and I could feel on the tiller that there was still something on the rudder. I cleated the sheet again and went over the transom to clear more weeds off. Did I say weeds? This time it felt like there was a small tree hooked on the rudder.
By the time I reached the leeward mark I was with the tail-enders again.
I was still slow up the second beat. I glanced under the boat at the daggerboard. More frigging weed! I pulled up the daggerboard. Again. I wasn't much faster.
The run was fun but I didn't gain much distance on the boats around me. Shit!
I rounded the leeward mark. I was angry. This is not me. I know I don't deserve to be at the front of this fleet but I don't deserve to be almost last either.
I switched gears. I hiked harder and put the bow down. Aaaaah. Yes, I remember now. This is how you are supposed to sail a Laser in 15 knots. I passed the two boats closest to me. I looked back occasionally and saw the sad little faces of their skippers disappearing further into the distance. Children can be so cruel at my age.
I crossed the finish line ahead of about 5 boats. Not good. But better than DFL.
I resolved to do better in the second race, a simple one-lap windward leeward. The wind had picked up a bit more. I did a bit better than the first race on the beat but the run was the highlight of the weekend. Crazy downhill ride. Catching waves. Overtaking waves. I was in the zone. Focused on the waves around me. Pumping. Carving back and forth to find the best rides. Boats around me were capsizing. Boats in front of me were capsizing. Boats behind me were capsizing. Woo hoo! Children of my age can be so cruel.
I finished in the high 20's in that race.
But I was knackered as we say in real English.
I started the third race. But I wasn't having fun. So I quit part way up the beat, in line with my new philosophy as outlined in Sailing Philosophy with Crappy Chart, to sail until I reach the end of the Fatigue Phase and before entering the Exhaustion Phase.
I sailed over to the committee boat to tell them I was going in.
The race officer asked me if I wanted a beer "for the ride."
I laughed and declined. I haven't yet worked out how to drink beer while sailing a Laser on a broad reach in 15-20 knots.
There were 4 more races. The tide turned so that it was running against the wind. More people quit before the end. The guy who ultimately won the regatta reported that his legs felt like "Jell-O" at the end of Saturday's racing. I don't think that that is necessarily a good feeling.
Coming soon. A post on day 2. And a rambling post on what I learned about myself at this regatta.
Life is good.
I think I'll take a nap now.