I skipped most of the racing in the afternoons at Minorca Sailing this year and went out and practiced on my own, working on some of the many faults in boat-handling technique that our instructor had kindly pointed out to me in the mornings.
I joined the last afternoon of the Laser series racing on Wednesday and my friend (who had a dominant lead in the series) beat me by a mile in both races. Hmmm. I always thought that we were pretty even in ability. Maybe solo practice doesn't really make you any better at racing? Maybe racing makes you better at racing? Who would have thunk it?
So I wasn't sure how I would fare at the weekly regatta on Thursday. Could I repeat my win at the previous week's regatta?
There were about 15 Lasers and Laser Radials in the fleet but I figured the main competition was my friend (sailing a Laser Full Rig like me) and a couple of sisters from England who had been university sailors and who had already shown that they were a force to be reckoned with. The sisters were sailing Radials so, under Portsmouth Yardstick handicaps, to win I would need not only to beat them on the water, but also beat them by enough time overcome the handicappers mathematical jiggery-pokery.
The wind was from the south and the windward mark was up in the south end of the bay so it was shifty in a weird way that seemed to have no consistent pattern that I could figure out. There were gusts and holes all over the course. Hmmm!
A couple of minutes before the start of the first race I confirmed that the start line had a huge bias towards the pin end. Encouraged by our starting drills all morning I decided to "win the pin." And I did. Only to discover that the wind had shifted in the final two minutes and that the pin was now the unfavored end and all the rest of the fleet was now upwind of me. Duh!
So I started trying to find the puffs, play the shifts, and keep a clear lane. By some miracle I managed to arrive at the windward mark on the first lap in second place, a few boat lengths behind the younger Radial sister. I never did catch her over the three lap race but I did finish as first Full Rig and in second overall. But the elder sister wasn't that far behind me so I figured I might have only scored a third place on handicap.
In the second race my friend and I and another Laser sailor (from Ireland), all of us in Full Rigs established a healthy lead on the rest of the fleet. We tussled all around the course, but in spite of doing my best to psych out the Irish guy by shouting hails in a fake Irish accent and even singing several verses of "Wheels on the Bus" I ended up in third place. The Irish guy (whom I had sailed against in previous years at Minorca Sailing) told me he was very "chuffed" to have beaten me. Apparently I was his "that guy", the sailor you are always trying to beat but hardly ever do. Oh well.
After two three-lap races, the race officer announced that the final race would be a one lap race. Roll the dice. All or nothing. Have to get a good start!
Unfortunately the wind died just before the start and I had sailed too far away from the line. I was late to cross the line and in the bad air of about a dozen other Lasers. Ugh!
I tacked to try and find some clear air and as I looked at the fleet it seemed that the boats on the right were in stronger wind than those on the left, so I kept going right. The wind was getting stronger and stronger the further and further I went to the right, so I kept going. Now I was further out to the right than anyone else. What do they say in the books? Don't bang the corner?
What the hell! The books aren't always right. I went out to the starboard tack lay line, actually a bit beyond it as it turned out, and sailed fast to the first mark watching all the other little boats in the middle of the course through my window sailing slower than me. I arrived at the windward mark several boat lengths ahead of a couple of Radials, with my closest competitors in the regatta nowhere to be seen.
Woo hoo! I was winning the last race of the regatta, the last race for me at Minorca Sailing this year. I sang a few more verses of "Wheels on the Bus" as I extended my lead on the reaches and crossed the finish line with a substantial lead that I figured would be big enough to beat all the Radials.
What a great way to finish the vacation!
At the awards ceremony that evening I discovered that the top four boats (as I had expected it was my friend and me and the two Radial university sailors) were all within one point of each other. The elder sister had beaten me in the first race on handicap and had also just passed another Radial at the finish line in the third race to score two second places (with one throwout.) I had a first (in the last race) and two thirds. So with my throwout we were both on four points but my first was enough to win the tiebreaker and win the regatta!
Maybe solo practice does make you better at racing after all?
I took the beautiful Tillerwoman out to dinner but I really can't remember what either of us ate except that vast quantities of beer and wine and gin were consumed and that "someone" had a splitting headache on the plane today. I can't imagine why.