Today we have a guest post from Susie Pegel. She does a pretty good of introducing herself at the start of her post, but by way of further introduction check out my 2009 post Susie Pegel - A REAL Laser Sailor and her 2012 opinion piece on Trapezoid Courses.
I've sailed/raced a Laser since 1971. In that time I have sailed/raced my Laser throughout the U.S., Canada (with the exception of Alberta and British Columbia) and in Europe (Kiel Week). I have sailed locally, in district championships (I was 1984 District 19 champion), national, continental (I was 1980 Laser North American champion) and world championships (1979 IYRU Women's Worlds and 2009 Laser Masters Worlds).
I have sailed my Laser in drifters, winds gusting to 48 mph, flat seas, big waves, no current, strong current. I have raced my Laser against world champions and Olympic gold medalists. I have sailed my Laser on small ponds and the open ocean. I have raced in regattas with a handful of boats and regattas with more than 200 boats.
During my Laser career I have experienced W-L courses, triangle courses, trapezoid courses. I have experienced upwind finishes, reaching finishes, downwind finishes. I have experienced good race committees and race management, and horrible race committees and race management. I have experienced good and accurate recording of race finishes and scoring, and complete disasters regarding the same.
In other words, I have seen it all and experienced it all first-hand.
I know the challenges of handling a Laser in a variety of conditions, negotiating it around a variety of race courses and across a variety of finish lines. And trust me when I say this, the best way to go is an upwind finish preferably at the top of the race course.
It is the fairest for the sailors from a tactical and strategic standpoint and boathandling standpoint. It is the easiest for the race committee, setting a finish line of a correct length for the number of boats and conditions, a finish line square to the wind with no "favored" end of the line.
It is the easiest for the scorers. An RC person can sight the line from the line flag to the other end of the finish line (the RC boat theoretically sitting perpendicular to the finish line) with scorers right there to record the finishes, able to easily see the sail numbers of the Lasers that are sailing 45 degrees to the true wind.
Anything other than an upwind finish (preferably at the top of the race course) opens up a can of worms for the sailors, race committee and scorers.
When it comes to a "reaching" finish, I don't care how long it's been done, I don't care how many times it's been done, that doesn't make it the fairest for the sailors or the easiest for the RC or scorers.
The scenario for a Laser race with a "reaching" finish:
The race goes along pretty much as normal, people sailing their Lasers close-hauled and tacking, not too difficult in a variety of wind, wave and current conditions. Then comes the downwind leg. Depending on the wind, wave and current conditions, some people may not even be able to survive the downwind leg not to mention jibing their Laser.
Now comes the last "leeward" mark that must be negotiated before the "reach" to the finish. Now your entire race is going to depend on being "inside" at that mark and executing the perfect jibe with nobody screwing you up. You have to be able to do this even in big waves, big current and howling winds. If you are not inside at this mark, executing the perfect jibe and nobody screwing you up, your race is over, you are going to lose huge numbers of boats.
So OK, now everyone who has gotten down there eventually jibes (with varying degrees of success) and now must sail that short "reach" leg to the finish line. Again, you have a variety of wind conditions (gusts to 40 mph, if you think I'm kidding you haven't been to too many Laser regattas), possibility of big waves (3-4 feet), and maybe even current as well. Some people will get in luffing matches, sailing higher and higher and now having to dive dead downwind to get back to the finish line. Some people will sail "straight" to the finish line. Some people will initially sail low to get away from boats to windward and then try to cross the finish line at a "hot" angle. From a sailor's standpoint, you have to make the transition from having just sailed downwind to now sailing on a reach. You have to readjust your outhaul tension, cunningham tension and vang tension for this last short "reach" leg. Not to mention your mainsheet. If you end up going dead downwind back to the finish line, your sail will be out accordingly. If on a beam reach, a different situation. If on a close reach, a different situation again.
There's no way the people calling and recording the finishes can see everyone's sail numbers correctly, not to mention the huge amount of overlapped boats, everyone sailing at different angles and different rates of speed. My experience has been that the finish line is usually set way too long and there is definitely a favored end. And some poor RC person who is supposed to be sighting the finish line from what is now the bow of the RC boat (since the RC boat is parallel to the finish line) has no idea what is going on as the Lasers go screaming by.
It also poses a problem for the sailors attempting to finish at the RC boat end of the line, how close can they get to the RC boat without hitting it with their boom OR EVEN WORSE how far out is the RC boat's anchor line and how close can I get to the RC boat without getting hung up on the anchor line?
What about the people who are supposed to be recording the finishes? Again they can't accurately see the sail numbers with everyone sailing at different angles, at different rates of speed, and often overlapped. (Don't forget the RC boat is parallel to the finish line) The RC just ends up guessing who beat who, and sail numbers are inaccurately recorded and some boats missed entirely.
I'm saying this all from first-hand experience at Laser regattas over the years. And did I mention some people will come around that last "leeward" mark and not jibe at all? They will just lay off and attempt to sail by-the-lee to and across the finish line. Anyone who is familiar with Laser racing knows that this is a real possibility depending on how the RC has set that finish line.
In my opinion, people who think a reaching finish is a good idea fall into one of these categories:
a) they have never sailed Lasers
b) they have never sailed Lasers in a variety of wind, wave and current conditions
c) they have never raced Lasers in a big fleet
d) they have never raced Lasers against good competition or seen Laser sailing done by experts
e) they have never been on a race committee
f) they have never attempted to record finishes at a Laser regatta, especially a Laser regatta attended by good to expert Laser sailors
In my opinion, it is also a courtesy to the sailors to give them that downwind sailing time back to the starting area to give them time to rest, drink some water and have a snack.
Also, the idea of "wouldn't it be nice if the RC could just sit in the same spot all day long" --WRONG!! Any respectable race committee is constantly adjusting the starting line for each race to take into account shifting winds and constantly adjusting the course to take into account shifting winds, sometimes during the race itself. If the RC is too lazy to do this, they shouldn't be race committee.
Just some food for thought. Now granted this only comes from someone with 42 years experience in the Laser class, people may have other opinions on the subject.
So there you have it. One very experienced Laser sailor's opinion.
Please feel free to agree, disagree, debate, discuss, offer solutions, suggest more problems, misunderstand, or change the subject (as per usual) in the comments.
Here is a picture of me about to cross the line in a reaching finish at Cabarete in 2012.