Friday, May 04, 2007

Peter Milnes Memorial Regatta Newport

The Whippersnapper and I headed down to Newport for the Peter Milnes Memorial Regatta on Sunday. It was the first time we had raced against each other in a regatta since the infamous light air Collander Cup last year. I know I shouldn't focus on whether I beat my son or not, but in a tough fleet where I know I have little to no chance of being amongst the leaders I just can't help myself from checking my position against his in every race.

When he was in high school and we used to go to Laser regattas together we were pretty similar in standard and usually finished close in the results. Then he went off to college and enjoyed four years of top quality coaching and racing on the New England college racing circuit. At the end of his college racing career he must have been a much better sailor than me, but we never raced each other at that time. Now he is nearly thirty, has gained a few pounds and hasn't done as much small boat sailing as myself in recent years. So I always think I have a chance to beat him.

After a delayed start waiting for the wind to fill, the first race got away in a light patchy southerly wind off the land. I had a pretty bad start and was forced out to the middle-right of the course to find a clear lane. I focused on changing gears in the little gusts and lulls and gained a few places upwind. Good enough to give me a finish in the low 20's in the 52 boat fleet. The Whippersnapper was a dozen boats behind me.

Similar story in the second race but I did plan to break out to the left side of the course downwind as there seemed to be more wind over there. Actually thinking about my downwind strategy before the windward mark is something I have not usually been good at. Perhaps all those winter months playing Tacticat have had a positive impact on my mental game because I had the forethought to avoid getting trapped to windward of a pack at the crowded windward mark rounding, gybed immediately after the mark, and executed the strategy perfectly. Half a dozen boats up on the Whippersnapper too.

The third race started in a similar breeze but it almost died soon after the windward mark rounding. Looking at the boats ahead of me (there were always plenty of boats ahead of me) I could see the leaders were now sailing what has started as a run as a starboard tack close reach in a north-easterly wind. So I worked my way towards the new wind, tacked around the upwind of the two gate marks, and scored another mid-twenty finish way ahead of the Whippersnapper.

Short pause for the race committee to adjust the course and race 4 went off in a brisker breeze, real hiking weather. Just for the hell of it I tried for a squirrel start at the boat end and pulled it off perfectly, best start of the day. Had a nice beat but the left side boats won out and a bunch rounded ahead of me. Then I screwed up the run completely by vacillating about which side of the course I preferred. It probably didn't matter much which side I chose, but it was a huge mistake to sail across the middle of the fleet to change sides, and then fail to secure the inside position at the leeward mark. Then while I was trying to give room to the boats that entered the two boat length zone ahead of me, the Whippersnapper managed to sneak between me and the mark. I guess he did learn some tricks from college sailing. But then he went off with a bunch of the boats to the left when I tacked for clear air to the right, and I beat him by half a dozen places again.

In between races, I joked I would let him beat me in the next race. Yeah right. It was a two lap race this time, good hiking weather and some small waves to ride downwind, around 12 knots I would guess. I totally screwed up the approach to the windward mark on the first lap and had to duck way too many boats to find a gap in the starboard tack layline parade. Tacticat should have cured me of this bad habit too but I guess I'm just a slow learner. In this race the Whippersnapper used his weight to power away from me upwind, and he didn't forget to cover me on the final beat either. Oh well. Have to let him win occasionally or he won't want to come to regattas with me any more. But I was comfortably ahead of him in the overall standings.

Having done very little sailing since Cabarete in January, this was really just a shake-down regatta for me. A day to get used to racing a Laser in a big fleet again and identify what I need to work on (quite a long list). The Whippersnapper was complaining on Sunday evening about how sore his legs were; I felt fine so I guess running a marathon the previous Sunday was good training for Laser sailing.

Now when and where is the next Laser regatta in this part of the world?

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