2020 Australian Laser Nationals

Today marked the start of the 2020 Australian Laser Championships – one of the key warm-up events leading in to 2020 Laser Worlds to be held at Sandringham Yacht Club, Melbourne. As such, the fleet is a bit ‘beefed up’ compared to usual, with 70 boats – many of which are top international sailors. Leading in to the regatta, we’d experienced the whole range of conditions from 40+ degrees with 30 knots of offshore breeze, to onshore 5-10 knot sea breezes. The latter would resemble the conditions we raced in today.

Race 1;

With the race course covered in a thick layer of smoke from the bush fires plaguing Australia’s east coast, the first race  of the regatta got underway on the stadium course in 8 knots of breeze from the S/SE. Having determined that the breeze was mostly oscillating, upon seeing a large right shift prior to the start, I started towards the leeward end of the fleet which was bunched around the committee boat end. My plan was to continue on starboard until hitting the next left shift. Given the smoke, it was impossible to get a transit on the start line, and I was able to punch out from most of the boats around me who were caught in the ‘mid-line sag’. Despite punching out, I was still bow back on some of the boats at the committee boat, so I had no choice but to continue on starboard. The left shift never eventuated, and I had to make the most of what I could from the left side, to round the top mark in the high 20s.

I was able to stay high on the reach with decent speed, and picked up a couple of places there (mid-20s). My plan for the run was to work the left side (looking downwind) as there seemed to be more pressure there, but due to going high on the reach, I had a number of ‘low road’ boats blocking me from getting there at the wing mark. I tried to make the right side of the run work, but got a little bit too ‘middled’ early on and stuck in dirty air. I lost a couple of place on the run, and rounded the right turn gate.

On the second beat, I worked left side of the beat, which roughly kept me in the same place. With a little bit of extra pressure on the left, I finally got to execute my plan for the second downwind, with good success. Using good speed and pressure, I was able to pick up a couple of places. I then stayed in this spot over the next two legs to finish the race in the low 20s.

Race 2;

After a general recall and a postponement, the race committee had reset the start line to reflect the large right shift we experienced before our first start attempt. Following the adjusting of the line, the breeze swung back towards the left, and I started in the middle of the line, trying to stay a bit more conservative with the black flag up. With my sail number getting covered by boats at either end of the line, I was able to punch out pretty comfortably and get a good start. I lost my lane as the breeze shifted further left, but I was able to find a good spot to tack on to port. I managed to consolidate pretty well, and then kept working the left to round the top mark in the mid teens.

Stayed roughly in the same place on the reach, working a higher groove. With a similar plan to the prior downwinds, this time I was able to set myself up at the wing mark to be able to head to the left side of the downwind. This paid again, I gained a couple of places on this leg. With majority of the fleet heading to the right turn gate, I expected the breeze to come back to the right and as such, rounded the much less crowded left turn mark. After a ‘clearing’ double tack, I was able to head to the right and wait until I found some good pressure, and a 10 degree right shift to tack in to. This helped me gain around 5 places, but I then ended up getting a little bit stuck in the middle after consolidating. As such, I rounded the top mark roughly where I started the beat in.

With the breeze having dropped rapidly, I thought there was a bit more pressure on the right side of the run, and headed there accordingly. Having had 8ish knots behind me at the start of the run, as the wind was dying, I was trying to maintain the same speed in the lighter air, but managed to attract the attention of the jury. Having to do a 720 cost me 8 or so places, and I rounded the gate in the mid 20s. I pretty much stayed in the same spot for the rest of the race, but may have picked up a couple of places on the last upwind by tacking in to the large left shift early.

The forecast for tomorrow is for plenty of wind, so I’m looking forward to getting out and stretching the legs!

Key lessons for today;

  1. Trying to stay concious of my position relative to the fleet, and how the ‘chess game’ is playing out, to avoid getting stuck in the middle of the course/fleet; especially in lighter air.
  2. If it looks like a particular end of the start line is going to be very crowded, and you want to start there, speeding up my pre-start routine to get to that end early enough to find a spot.

Day 2

No racing due to excessive wind.

Day 3

After no racing on day 2, we were behind schedule, and had three races planned for the day. It  was a dreary, rainy day in Melbourne, but the breeze was race-able, and we got out as scheduled for the start of race 3.

Race 3;

Prior to the start of the race, it looked like there was more pressure in the middle right of the course, so I planned to start at the boat end of the line, and continue on starboard in the right shift we had at the time. I was able to execute a good start 2-3 boats away from the committee boat under a black flag start. From there, I was able to work the middle of the beat with good speed and found myself in the mix coming in to the top mark. In the last third of the upwind, I tacked under the layline, in line with some boats ahead of me, but a large right shift then came through, lifting us all up to the ‘new layline’. It was a pretty tight lay, and although I don’t think I hit the top mark, I could see the jury boat out of the corner of my eye, so I did my penalty turns anyway.  I rounded the mark roughly in 8th place, but as the photo below shows (211543), it was an insanely busy rounding, so doing my penalty turns quickly cost me places.

Having finished my turns, I found myself in the dirty air of a lot of the guys going high on the reach. Trying to find a clear lane myself, I headed up, but with the large right shift from the upwind still present, I ended up having to go downwind back to the wing mark. 18th or so at the wing mark.

The right shift wreaked havoc on the downwind as well, making the run particularly skewed. I chose to stay on starboard, and head down the right side of the leg (looking downwind) as there seemed to be a bit more pressure there. It was a hard by the lee angle, but I managed to make it work picking up a few places 15th or so at the gate.

I rounded the left turn gate with the majority of the fleet. Shortly after rounding the mark, I tacked on to starboard, but after a couple of minutes on starboard, I found myself on a collision course with a capsized boat which gave me the choice of tacking or ducking them. I thought I was on a header at the time, and went with the former option. Turns out it wasn’t a header, and when I tacked back on to starboard later, I went straight in to the proper header… Falling out of phase cost me a number of places to round the second top mark in the mid 20s. I was then able to gain a few places on the downwind again to finish 22nd.


Race 4; 

Similar plan for the next race, but I wanted to leverage the right side of the first beat a bit more than I did in the first race. I pulled off another quality start from the committee boat end, and quickly found a small left shift which I could use to get me out to the right side. After a few minutes on port, I tacked back in a right hander, and had nearly all of the fleet in my window! I started putting the bow down, and the right shift kept getting bigger and bigger, extending my lead on the fleet. After 80% of the upwind spent on starboard, we were approaching a set of marks, but I wasn’t confident that they were the correct marks, and I couldn’t see our reach mark… I decided to tack back towards the other leaders to be safe, and confirmed with one of my competitors that they were in fact our marks. I tacked on to the layline, but it was pretty marginal, and having the dirty air of the few boats in front of me affecting me, I had to double tack to round the top mark in 6th or so.

With another huge right shift, the reach more or less turned in to a downwind, and I lost a place whilst not in pressure. 7th at the wing mark. I then had a decent downwind in the middle of the course, but the fleet gained distance on me. Once again, I headed for the left turn mark, and worked the middle of the 2nd upwind. This was a mistake, as a lot of the boats behind me were able to gain leverage to right, meaning I rounded the second top mark in 15th. I then followed a similar game plan for the next downwind, and maintained my position. Unfortunately, I lost another place on the last upwind after overlaying the finish line to finish in 16th.

Race 5;

In between race 4 and 5, I noticed that a lot of the leaders in the 4.7 fleet went around their right turn gate to head towards the left side of their second upwind. This had been contrary to the dominant ride side we experienced in the prior two races. With that in mind, I had also noticed prior to our start that there seemed to be more breeze on the left side of the course.

I set out to start towards the left side of the fleet – which ended up being mid-line. I had a good transit and was able to punch well clear of the ‘mid-line sag’ which gave me plenty of options on the first beat. I continued to the left side of the upwind, and worked that side of the course, but nothing significant came from it. It looked good at times, but eventually lost out to the right side of the course, to round the top mark in the low teens.

On the run, I stuck to that side of the course, but I never quite had enough pressure, or the right technique to make it work. I lost two places, but it seemed like we were spending a lot of time sailing ‘boom back’ on the downwind on starboard (broad reaching). As such, I went for the right turn gate, and again towards the left side of the course. This time it worked, and I found a significant left hand shift which helped me gain quite a bit, but I ultimately lost some ground in dirty air towards the top of the beat. Rounded the mark in 11th or so.

I then lost one place on our first reach, but I was able to work some pressure on the right side of the last downwind to jump a group of boats who were holding each other up on the run. 8th at the gate which I held to the finish.

Key lessons for the day;

  1. Working a side of the course, and the edge of the fleet on the second upwind is crucial to staying in clear air/able to make gains.

Day 4

With little, to no wind for most of the morning, a constant drizzle and thick bushfire smoke lingering around Melbourne, the stage was set for an interesting day on the water. After numerous hours of waiting onshore, we were finally sent out around 3pm in 5-8 knots of wind.

We attempted multiple starts, but significant left hand shifts were making the line extremely biased, and impossible to get a clear start underway. Having adjusted the line, and with the wind shifting back to the right, we were able to get a start underway. With the rest of the fleet starting towards the committee boat due to the swing back to the right, I wasn’t convinced that we’d seen the last significant left shift for the day. So I started at the pin, but immediately ran out of pressure with boats not that far away from me gaining 5 boat lengths within a minute. As the breeze was still in a right phase, I had no choice but to continue on starboard until the boats above me began to tack. Once we were all on port, the left shift started to come through, and I was gaining back the initial distance that I’d lost. As we were getting closer to the top mark, I saw a number of boats below me reaching down towards the rest of the fleet. That’s when I’d realised we were going to the wrong top mark… With the huge left shift, and lack of visibility in the smoke, many of us had assumed that the wing mark was our top mark; it was in the right place to be our top mark with the left shift! This meant I rounded the first mark in third last, and with a lot of work to do.

I caught up a few places on the reach, and then chose to go high on starboard to the right of the downwind. I was able to gain another few places here due to speed, but I probably would have been better off gybing and going by the lee on port.

As most of the fleet were going to the left on the second beat – understandable given the left shift on the last beat, I had no choice but to go the opposite way to everyone else. I rounded the left turn gate, and set off on my ‘Hail Mary play’. The right never seemed to be that great, but as I was nearing the starboard layline, I found significantly more pressure than the rest of the course, and a nice right shift to go with it. I tacked, and found I’d gained nearly 15 places as a result.

I set out correcting my mistakes from the last downwind on the second run, and immediately gybed to port, and started sailing hard by the lee. With a good lane, and good speed, I immediately began gaining on the boats on starboard, who were having to sail higher and higher to search for pressure. I continued this all the way to the bottom mark, where I probably should have gybed a bit earlier to consolidate the gains I made, but had to settle for picking up another 6-8 boats on this leg.

I then was able to gain another couple of places on the last upwind by sailing in clear air. 34th across the line. Despite not being a good result, I’m pretty proud of the comeback I made, and how I was able to stay calm despite everything going on. Whereas in the past, I would have lost my temper about not being able to see the top mark, and going to the wrong one, this time I was able to stay composed and focus on what I needed to do to get back in the race.

Key lessons for today;

  1. If seeking a significant advantage (ie a 20 degree left shift), you don’t need as much leverage over the fleet in order to capitalise on that gain. If I’d started towards the committee boat, but on the left side of the fleet, I have no doubt I could have been in the top 10 at the top mark. There was no need to go for such a big advantage by placing myself on the polar opposite side of the fleet.
  2. When in doubt, gybe!


Day 5

The penultimate day of the regatta, and the smoke had cleared and the breeze had returned. We set out for three races in 10-15 knots of southerly wind.

Race 7

After a couple of general recalls/postponements, we set out for a start under a black flag. Unfortunately, I got a little bit too eager and broke the line early. BFD.

Race 8 

Keen for redemption in this race, I set out to start in the middle of the line despite the significant right shifts which I’d observed in the first race. I saw a bit more pressure on the middle left of the course, and wanted to head towards that. My start was pretty decent, but shortly afterwards the fleet ran in to the left shift I was expecting. I had to wait for an opportunity to tack, and once I had a gap to tack in to, I I had a lot of the fleet in my window. I continued on port for 70% of the upwind, and then worked a few of the smaller oscillations to round the top mark in around 10th.

My first reach was decent, and I think I stayed in the same position; my memory is failing me a bit after a long day… With significant wave skew on the downwind pushing us to the right side of the leg, I was heading out that way, but wasn’t quite able to make it work. I lost about three places on this leg and rounded the right turn gate. Expecting additional left shifts as per the first upwind, I leveraged myself to the left of the fleet, and tacked as soon as I found the first left shift in clear air. I’d gained a place, and then continued to play the oscillations to round the top mark in 14th or so.

On the second downwind, I continued to make the same mistake as the previous time, and lost a couple of places to round the mark, and ultimately finish in 16th.

Race 9

With a bit of a right phase for our first start attempt, which persisted in to the second start attempt, the fleet set up for a boat end start. However, with about three minutes to go, the breeze started swinging to the left, and the a lot of the fleet began reaching towards the pin. I was able to start about 10-12 boats away from the pin, and quickly tacked in the significant left shift. I was ahead of most of the fleet, but had a pretty narrow lane, so I tacked back out to the left as soon as the opportunity presented itself. I then worked the middle in the last third of the upwind to round the mark in 14th.

I held my position on the reach, and then keen to improve my downwinds from the previous race, I focused on staying smooth with my maneuvers, and using every bit of extra speed I gained to buy depth towards the mark. This seemed to work pretty well, and I was able to gain a spot on the run. 13th.

Again, I went to the left side of the second upwind, but it wasn’t as good as the previous times, and I lost out a bit to some boats on the right, to round the top mark in 15th. I then held this spot until the finish.

All in all, a pretty good day despite the BFD. Two more races to go tomorrow, to wrap up the regatta!

Key lessons for today;

  1. In moderate conditions, even though it may seem like there’s enough wind, staying smooth in all maneuvers, and adjustments of body weight are crucial to going fast downwind.

Day 6

The last day of the regatta, and the breeze looked like it had decided to play ball! We had two races scheduled, and ended up racing in in 10-18kts. Going in to today, I hadn’t looked at any results, but I knew that I would have to try and get two solid scores to help jump up the leaderboard.

Race 10

After a postponement and a general recall, racing finally got underway on a black flag start. Prior to the start, there had not been any major shifts that I had seen, and the pressure seemed to be pretty consistent across the course. With that in mind, I expected that winners would come from whichever group would be able to leverage themselves towards the side of the next small shift, and it would essentially be a speed test to that side. The breeze was in a slight left phase at the start, so I chose to start towards the committee boat end to be able to tack early, and head towards the right side – where I expected the next shift to come from. I had a pretty good start as I pulled the trigger a bit earlier than the boats around me, but ended up taking a few bad waves which put me in a tight lane. I tacked, and headed out on port on a good angle. I then waited until the boats below me started tacking before I went back towards the top mark. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have the speed to keep up with the best guys, and rounded the top mark in the early 20s.

I held my position on the reach, and then headed towards the right side of the first run; this tends to be the ‘fast lane’ in these sorts of conditions in Melbourne. This time however, it didn’t quite have the pressure of the other side of the course, but despite that, I think I gained a place here.

Being on the right side of the run, I went to the closer right turn gate, and headed out to the left side hoping for a geographic shift off the shore. There were some hints of it, but I didn’t quite pick the right time to go back, and lacking some pressure, I lost about four places. This left me with a bit of work to do on the downwind, and luckily, a lot of the boats in front of me pushed hard to the left side of the course, leaving me with a clear lane to overtake them in the middle. I was able to sail fast and with pressure to get to the gate in 24th, a position I held to the finish.

Race 11

With the clock winding down to our last start time, I was uncertain that we were going to get a second race in. The breeze had died since the first race, and the race committee were clearly not rushing to start a race. That being said, once the orange flag went up, I didn’t let any of that affect me, and I was focusing on trying to get another solid result.

With the wind significantly less than the last race, I knew that pressure would be a much bigger factor in this one. With that in mind, I noticed a significant line of pressure coming down the right side of the course, and new that would be the main influence on our race. As such, I started near the boat end, but a last minute left shift killed my lane pretty quickly. I waited for an opportunity to tack on to port, and leveraged myself to the right of the fleet, and in to the pressure. This brought a nice right shift with it, and I was able to carry this all the way to the top 1/3 of the upwind, where I had to use subsequent left shift to get back towards the starboard layline. 8th or so at the top mark.

With such a huge right shift, the reach nearly turned in to a downwind, and I was able to stay a bit closer to the rhumb line than my competitors to round the reach mark in 7th. At this point, I elected to stay on starboard and go by the lee to try and by depth, whilst the rest of the pack had gybed on to port and were reaching…Big mistake… This ended up costing me about 8 places by the bottom mark.

The strategy for the next upwind was pretty obvious, as the right shift was still present. With that being said, I went a little too far in to the shift and ended up overlaying it, costing me two or three places. Not going to repeat the mistake of the last downwind, I gybed early, and held my position in 19th until the finish.

Key lessons for today;

  1. Don’t go downwind down a run, if you can reach down a run!
  2. Keep the layline in mind when a significant persistent shift changes the landscape of the course.

All in all, it wasn’t my best regatta, but I definitely had some promising moments. I’m pretty happy with how consistent I was able to stay in my mindset, and approach to the racing, and I’m keen to work on some of the on-water weaknesses that I uncovered this event next week, at Sail Melbourne – the last warm up event for the World Championships.

As always, thanks for reading!

One thought on “2020 Australian Laser Nationals

  1. Jan Kemp

    I enjoyed reading your blog Dan and your honesty and analysis of each leg and race. Good luck in Melbourne. Jan K


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