Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Laser New England Masters 2013 - Day 1

Last weekend I sailed in the Laser New England Masters.

For the past few years this has been held at Third Beach, Newport which as some blogger explained back in 2007 is just about the perfect place for Laser racing.

This year it was run by Sail Newport at Fort Adams with courses on the Eastern Passage of Narragansett Bay which is where the 34th America's Cup would have been held if only Larry Ellison hadn't been bribed by the San Francisco taxpayers to hold AC34 in that other town with a bridge.

I have to say I learned something in every race.

I think the race committee probably learned a thing or two as well.

Our course area was north of the Newport Bridge just off Coasters Island in front of the Naval War College.

Here is a view of our race course from the Naval War College.

Except that on Saturday the wind was blowing from the opposite direction, the wind was a lot stronger, that ugly big aircraft carrier wasn't in the middle of our course, and there were 48 Lasers milling around. Apart from those minor details this is a pretty good picture of our racing on Saturday.

Race 1. 
We had the obligatory general recall that is apparently compulsory at every major Laser masters regatta so that the cream of Laser masters sailors can work out that yes the tide actually is going out and yes it is pushing us all over the line.

On the actual start of the race I was pushed over the line again by the tide in the last minute before the start (I'm a slow learner) and decided to reach down the line to find a hole to duck back down into. All my fellow sailors started shouting helpful advice like, "You're way over the line," and when I tried to duck back down below the line they shouted less helpful advice like, "Up. Up. Up!"  I don't recall any of my sailing books recommending what to do when trying to force your way into the crowded front row of the fleet from above the line. Probably because they didn't imagine in a thousand years that any of their readers would be stupid enough to try this tactic.

At this point I got very confused, I saw a red mist before my eyes, the gun went off and I had nowhere to go except to start sailing to windward to avoid the rest of the fleet. I didn't even think to check the pin to see if I was really over the line but I was pretty sure I was OCS. What the hell, I thought. I might as well keep sailing and see what happens. It turned out that I wasn't OCS and I finished in the mid 20s which is pretty good for me in this fleet.

Lessons learned
1. Mid line sag is real
2. The other sailors have no idea where the start line is either.
3. The books don't teach you everything.

Race 2. 
I made a more conventional start trying to enter the front row from below the line.

I didn't do it very well.

I was blown out the back of the fleet.

Then I thought it might be a good idea to approach the windward mark (of a windward-leeward course with no offset mark) on the port tack layline.

As I approached the mark there was a huge pack of starboard tackers bearing away on the run who, in the stronger winds, were mainly out of control anyway and not expecting to see some old geezer on port tack on a collision course with them.

I finished in the high 30s.


Lessons learned
1. The other sailors in the fleet are really good at accelerating off the start line.
2. I suck at accelerating off the start line.
3. It was more fun when I thought I was OCS.
4. In retrospect it was not a good idea to approach the mark on the port tack layline.

Race 3.
Race 3 on Day 1 of the 2013 New England Laser Masters is a race that nobody who was there will ever forget. And not in a good way.

By now the wind was really honking, blowing dogs off chains, koalas off trees, and other colorful metaphors.

The wind was from the SW and the windward mark was up by the bridge. The tide was running pretty fast by now and was going out, i.e upwind.  The race committee called for a triangular course to give us the thrill of some reaching legs in the stronger wind. So far so good.

What the race committee didn't realize, at least not at first, was that the windward mark wasn't very well anchored and that by the time that those of us in the bottom half of the fleet arrived there it had actually drifted through the bridge.

No problem. Beat through the bridge. Round the mark. Reach back through the bridge.

Ha. As everyone knows winds under bridges are all messed up and squirrely. And the windward mark is probably the most crowded and incident packed part of the course anyway what with certain old geezers trying to come in close to the port tack layline and the general incompetence of some old geezers at bearing away in heavy wind without wiping out anyway. Add in messed up under-the-bridge winds and it was a recipe for disaster.

But wait. It gets better. The starboard tack layline passed close downwind of one of those huge concrete barnacle-coated bridge abutments. And as you passed the abutment you were of course in the wind shadow of afore-mentioned abutment. So you stopped. But the current didn't stop so it bashed you into the abutment. You were now in a total dead zone. You couldn't sail out because there was no wind. And when you tried to push yourself out, the current pushed you back up against the abutment.

I was lucky. I was the right way up in the dead zone as I gently polished my gunwhale against the barnacles on the abutment. Other sailors capsized in the dead zone. One sailor fell out of his boat when it capsized and was swept away from his boat by the current while the boat was polishing itself against the barnacles.

Outside the dead zone it was even worse. A cauldron of death and destruction. Even if you didn't capsize you had to dodge all the boats that did and all the little heads of sailors in the water desperately trying to swim against the current to get back to their boats trapped against the abutment.

I think I will still be having nightmares about this day five years from now. So, probably, will the race committee.

I finished in the high 30s.

Ugly. Ugly.

Lessons learned
1. Sometimes you are the windshield. Other times you are the bug.
2. It would be fun to see a windward mark under the bridge at the America's Cup.

Race 4.
The windward mark was the course side of the bridge this time but I still capsized there.

Lessons learned
1. Don't capsize
2. Learn how to do capsize recoveries faster.

I finished in the high 30s.

Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

Race 5.
After 4 races in which I was feeling my lack of race experience this summer and wondering whether I should retire from Laser sailing before I did any real damage to myself, I actually sailed a race where I didn't commit a single bone-headed screw-up. I ended up just outside the top 20 in this race, my best result of the day.

Lessons learned
1. Don't screw up
2. When you don't race much you screw up. 

Here endeth the first day of the New England Laser Masters 2013.


Unknown said...

Your day paralleled my day at the MYC Regatta, sans the bridge, of course.

in Race 8 I came in like you did in Race 1, but I WAS OCS and didn't realize that the I flag was flying, so just ducking back over the line didn't work. Good thing that I had reserved that race for my throw out.

You and I sailed identical Race 2's, except I was in a Sunfish on a squirrelly small lake.

Coming into the line from the back, I got squirted right back out the back again.

I didn't have a barnacle encrusted bridge, but I did have to avoid Dave when he fell out of his boat at the leeward mark (which I do have on video)

Different regatta, same lessons. Thanks!

Frankie Perussault said...

Lovely story!!! did you get wet, dear???...

yarg said...

Sometimes sailing around the buoys in fleet racing gets a little boring, and the Lase is certainly a great boat for having other kinds of sailing fun. Perhaps we should have a Laser slalom around bridge abutments in 20 mph winds. The boats should all be sanded with barnacles. Sailors might want to borrow helmets from the America's Cup guys. You and I should be in the photo boat.

George A said...

After this thrilling account I can't wait to go to the Classic Moth Boat Association's National Championship (3rd weekend in Sept.) and flex my geezer muscles while having multiple brain farts on the start line. Rumor has it that we'll see a Classic Moth attempt to race with hydrofoils. No, not moi. No bridges in E. City. Very few barnacles in the Pasquotank River.

Keep Reaching said...

Great writeup.

As for the bridge, it is well known that evil trolls live under many and play havoc with wind holes, currents, etc.

Anonymous said...

Great writeup. Good luck with the rest of the races !

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

If the current ever drags you OCS before the start, you can try this tactic!

Tillerman said...

Frankie, I am a Laser sailor. I always get wet.

Tillerman said...

Great idea yarg. There is a famous Laser slalom event in San Francisco but they only race around buoys. Having a Heavy Air Laser Slalom in Newport sounds like a great idea and doing it around the abutments supporting the Pell Bridge would be spectacular. Let's get the gang together and do a trial run soon.

Tillerman said...

Poor Dave. If you would like me to past that video of him on my blog I would be happy to do so.

Unknown said...

Yes that race three was a total cluster F... I saw you carressing the bridge - didn't realize it was you or I would have come over there - but I was having my own hell of a time. All I can say is "GAAAAAH!!!"

Frankie Perussault said...

pity you didn't get my joke, I can do understatements too!!!! I bloody well know you got soaked through and through after a race like this, you would even on a 'big' boat

Tweezerman said...

I like one of your last comments; When you don't race much, you screw up. So true! As long as you can laugh about it around the keg, it's all good. A drifting mark usually means the race gets scrubbed. Did they count it anyway?
Your story dredged up another one of my older sea stories from my memory banks which, at some point, I'll get around to posting.

Tillerman said...

The race counted. I didn't even realize the mark had drifted until somebody told me the next day that they saw it moving. I guess that's a much more likely explanation than total incompetence by the RC so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Look forward to hearing your story Tweezerman.

El Capitan said...

Congratulations!! You're a very good writer!!

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