Sail Melbourne/Oceania Laser Championship 2020

This year’s Sail Melbourne regatta was acting as the 2020 Oceania Laser Championships, and the final warm-up regatta for the main event of the season – the Laser World Championships. With even more international sailors entered than we had at the Nationals, this Sail Melbourne is more comparable to a World Cup Event, and a good test before the Worlds.

Day 1;

With a solid breeze forecast for the first day of racing, the race committee’s initial comments were that the breeze would be strong, but raceable. That being said, as we got closer and closer to our 2pm start time, none of the fleet were in a rush to get ready, and eventually the race committee postponed us on shore.

After a short wait, we were sent out in to a 20-25 knot south-easterly breeze, with the possibility of only getting one race in.

Race 1;

Race one started after two general recalls, and a few BFDs. The breeze had been oscillating through a pretty wide range, and it looked like it would be tricky strategy-wise. Prior to the start, the breeze had been in a left phase, with most of the fleet favouring the pin. Given the oscillations, I expected the next shift to come from the right, so I wanted to leverage myself to the right side of the start line. With the whole fleet being a bit hesistant, and the left shift still present at the gun, most of the fleet were well behind the line, but being only 10-15 boats away from the race committee end, I was able to judge the line well and punch out from the start. The right shift I’d anticipated then hit us shortly after the start, and I found my self lifting up inside most of the fleet. This allowed me to start footing for speed which quickly pushed me in to a dominant position over the fleet. With a lot of the fleet starting to tack on to port, I waited until I hit the first left shift to tack and stay with the other leaders back towards the mark. Another 15 degree right hander helped a group who had pushed right early bridge the gap up to us, with the breeze getting even more shifty as we headed in to the last 1/3 of the beat. Given the large right shift, I expected this to hold until the layline, so I made my way to the starboard layline. However, as you may have already gathered, there was one last major left shift once I hit starboard layline, and myself and numerous others found ourselves grossly underlaid. I managed to find an opportunity to double tack, and narrowly made it around the top mark in 8th ish.

Unable to get my centreboard up on the reach with all the load on it, I did the best I could to go fast, and rounded the wing mark in 8th. I lost a couple of places on the downwind by not getting to a gust early enough, to round the gate in 10th. I’d decided that I would head for the right turn mark at the gate, as we had a large right shift on the downwind, so I wanted to stay on starboard until the next left hander. Being on the outer loop and even closer to shore, it was inevitable that the left side would have a significant geographic influence from the shoreline. I got to the first lefty, but didn’t really have space to tack, so I continue on an average angle on starboard which led to me falling out of phase. My losses were exacerbated when I semi-capsized in a tack about 1/3 up the beat. I ended up rounding the top mark in 25th, which I held until the last upwind where I gained a place to finish 24th.

The race committee decided that the breeze was too strong at this point, and that was it for the day. All in all, it was a pretty good day, but plenty of room to improve still. Three races scheduled for today, and the breeze is looking a bit funkier than yesterday.

Key lessons for the day;

  1. In an a wide-oscillating breeze, staying in phase with the shifts/leaders is imperative, even if it means tacking in sub-optimal lanes.
  2. Make sure you have a handle on your centreboard to help get it up on easily on the reach!

Day 2;

After the consistently solid breeze yesterday, today was looking to be a tricky one with BOM’s Melbourne forecast predicting winds from the “North East to South East”. With that being said, I think everyone was expecting the breeze to increase throughout the afternoon – similar to yesterday.

Race 2;

The second race of the regatta had a general recall to start off, with most of the fleet favouring the pin end, given a persistent left trend which was forecast. The breeze continued going left, and on the proper start, I tried to start towards the end, but had a crappy gap so ended up having to fight to find a lane. After numerous tacks in the first half of the beat, I settled on going all the way to the port layline to clear my breeze – this was also the favoured side of the beat. I managed to recover a little bit, but still rounded the top mark in high 30s.

I stayed high in the left shift on the reach, and managed to pick up a couple of places. My plan from then on was to work the ‘low road’ of the downwind, as there was some good pressure on the reach which I expected to flow down to that side of the course. I was able to pick up a few places on my side, but ultimately, lost a number of boats who went to the right side of the run which had even more pressure.

Having already put myself on the left side of the course (right side upwind), I rounded the left turn gate with the plan of tacking shortly after to not lose too much leverage to the left side of the upwind. I managed to stay roughly where I was on the upwind by working a few oscillations up the middle. Rounded the second top mark in the mid 40s. Lacking my usual speed downwind, I lost a couple of places, and then lost an additional place on the last upwind, by not setting up correctly in the increased pressure from last upwinds. 48th.

Race 3;

Ready to put the last race behind me, the breeze was up to around 18 knots and in a similar direction to Day 1. With the entire fleet favouring the boat end, I expected the left side to pay again, so I set myself up towards the leeward end of the group with the plan of continuing to the left side. I had a decent start, but lost my lane after a couple of minutes, but I was able to hang on just long enough to give me a good opportunity to find a new lane. Having crossed most of the fleet who didn’t have good starts, I quickly found a new lane on starboard not too far behind the leaders. I then continued until the rest of the leaders tacked, and managed to get around the top mark in the late teens.

I held roughly where I was on the reach, and then headed towards the right side of the run, with the aim of heading towards the pressure which seemed to be hanging around the shoreline. I either went a little too far away from the rhumb line, or lacked a bit of pressure, but I lost a few places on the run to round in the low 20s. I went for the right turn gate, as the shore line had been significantly favoured on the second upwind thus far, but lacking a plan, I ended up making a few too many tacks to round the top mark in the low 30s.

For the next downwind, I improved my technique and managed to find some pressure to carry down with me to gain around 4 places on this downwind. I held this spot to finish the race in 27th.

Race 4;

Final race of the day, and the breeze was holding steady. The breeze was well in the left, and the whole fleet knew it with everyone lining up to win the pin end. I was in the group, but with one minute to go, my gap was closing rapidly so I backed out, and decided to try and find another spot. I reached the whole way up the line, and got to the end of the fleet (about halfway up the line) and decided it would be better just to start on port and get moving quickly. This worked pretty well, as when the next right shift came through, I was able to tack and put myself towards the front of the fleet. I carried this until the rest of the leaders began to tack on to port, and I tacked a bit below them to head back towards the mark. As the pressure dropped 2/3 of the way up the beat, I wasn’t quick enough to power up and lost a bit due to speed. Rounded the top mark in the late teens – low 20s.

I held good speed on the reach to stay where I was, and then worked a good line of pressure on the right side of the downwind which gained me a place or two. With a similar plan to the previous second upwinds, I rounded the right turn gate with the intention of hitting the shoreline. I was the last one to tack on to port, a little bit overlaid, but it wasn’t that bad as I had a set of coach boat waves behind me which I was able to surf upwind. I lost a few places to the boats who were able to make the most of the right shifts, to round the second top mark in the late 20s. With an additional left shift right at the top mark, there were a number of boats in front of me who hit the top mark, so I was able to gain a few places passing them. I rounded the gate in the mid 20s, and then lost a place on the last upwind to finish around 25th.

Overall, it was a solid day with a couple of ‘keepers’. I’m keen to keep the consistency up, and continue to work on getting good starts, and planning out my second upwinds.

Key lessons for the day;

  1. If wanting to continue to the left side of the first upwind, starting further towards the middle may be a better option; especially if the pin end is over-crowded.
  2. In flat water and gusty conditions, focus on sailing straight downwind with pressure, rather than trying to surf the small chop.

Day 3

Once again, the forecast for today was looking interesting with thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon, and possible squalls of up to 50 knots. Despite that, we were able to get out on time in a building southerly breeze.

Race 5;

After about 6 general recalls, and over 10 boats being disqualified, we were finally able to start our first race for the day in 15 knots of wind. Whilst the committee boat and the right side of the course had been favoured for all of the recalled starts, the broader forecast was anticipating that the breeze would swing towards the South East throughout the day. We were starting to get a few signs of that change prior to our proper start, and as such, I started towards the pin expecting a left shift. My start was pretty good, but I wasn’t set up 100% accurately, and had to work hard to hold my lane. With my lane narrowing throughout the leg, I held on until the port layline without the left shift showing up. This left me with a bit of work to do rounding in the high 30s.

Having come from the port layline, I had a tough time finding a gap on the starboard layline, and because I tacked under starboar layline ‘train’, I had no choice but to take to the low road on the reach. I managed that with some success, to stay in roughly the same place at the wing mark.

Expecting pressure to come from the left side of the downwind, I hooked in to that early and then used that to bring me back to the middle of the course where I found the next line of pressure to keep me going fast. I gained 5-10 places on this downwind.

Having seen a large line of pressure on the left side of the upwind, I rounded the right turn gate, and tacked as soon as I hit the pressure. With my focus for the leg on keeping to boat moving as fast as possible, I was making some good gains up the first half of the upwind. However, once it came time to head back towards the top mark, I got a little stuck sailing in a higher groove, and missed a smaller left shift to round the top mark in the mid-high 30s.

I had a similar plan for the last downwind, working the middle of the leg with pressure, and gained a couple of places. I held this spot until the finish to place 34th. Not the best race, but I’m pretty happy with some of the improvements I made in my second upwind technique.

With a large grey cloud building over the shore, the race committee put up the orange flag to signal the impending start of our second race. However, with only few minutes until the 5 minute warning for our race should’ve gone, the RC put up the abandonment flags, and that was it for the day.

Key lessons for today;

  1. Focus on sailing the boat as well as possible late in the race, and not on what your competition are doing.
  2. If you have a tight lane, and feel like you have a good opportunity to tack, you should probably take it.

Day 4 

Not quite ready to offer us a day of ‘normal weather’, Melbourne again threw some curveballs on the second last day of racing. The forecast expected plenty of breeze, and rain all day. Yet again, we were postponed on shore, and with three races planned to help ‘catch up’ to the scheduled races. As the postponement grew longer, we knew that our chances of getting all three races in was slim, but nonetheless, we were sent out a couple of hours after our expected start.

Race 6;

With a slightly biased pin end, I started the race about 10-15 boats up from the pin end, but wasn’t able to hold my lane for very long. I had to tack out and struggled to find a lane after that. I took a couple of bad waves over the bow which slowed me down significantly, but ultimately managed to get to the starboard layline early which helped me gain a few places in a right shift to round the top mark in the mid 30s.

I was able to stay roughly where I was on the reach, and then set about trying to pick up places downwind. I was able to get a number of good waves, and had some good pressure which got me to the bottom gate in the high 20s. Having had pressure on the left side of the course (looking upwind), I wanted to continue benefitting from that, and rounded the right turn gate.

Having had my compass get knocked off by one of the large waves I plowed through on the first upwind, I wasn’t entirely certain of how my angle was out of the gate, but I was determined to get to the left side to try and catch up. As we were sailing upwind, we were hit by a large rain squall, during which the breeze also dropped significantly. Coming out of the squall, it was clear that the left wasn’t the right choice, and I ended up rounding the top mark in the late 30s. Out of frustration, I wasn’t able to sail my best for the rest of the race, and finished in the low 40s.

Upon completion of the race, we found out that the Race Committee had called off racing for the day.

Day 5

Last day of racing, and as had been the case for most of the regatta, the forecast wasn’t looking promising; but this time due to too little wind. With very light winds forecast for most of the day, we went on the water for our scheduled start time, but after an hour of waiting on the water the race committee sent us back in to wait on shore.

After another hour or so of waiting on shore, we were finally sent out in a building south-westerly wind, with the expectation of only getting one race in due to the last start time.

Race 7; 

Being the last start of the day, the pattern for the previous fleets had seemed to be starting towards the committee boat, and then continuing on the long starboard tack until an opportunity to tack arises.

I went about carrying this out by starting close to the committee boat, and having a good start, but I lost my lane after a minute or so. I was able to clear my lane easily, and continued on starboard until I hit a large left shift with pressure. From there, I played the middle with the leaders, but ultimately lost out in the top 1/3 as the top left of the beat paid dividends. Low 40s at the top mark.

Having noticed a lot of pressure on the right side of our first downwind, I went hard towards it – eager to make up as much ground as possible. I was able to sail around a lot of boats that stuck to the middle, to round the gate in the mid 30s.

This time I went to the left side of the beat, and on a pretty high angle out of the gate. From there, I was focussing on staying on the lifted tack as long as possible, but the breeze stayed in the right for most of the beat, so I lost out to a lot of boats which went the other way.

I stayed roughly in the same spot on the reach, and went for the pressure on the right side of the last downwind by gybing early. I was able to hold a good angle in pressure, and eventually had to gybe again in the last 1/3 of the beat to keep my speed up. I managed to sail through a large number of boats ahead of me, to round the last mark in 41st. After that, I was able to pick up another place on the last beat to finish in 40th.

Even though this result was far from what I was aiming for, compared to race 6, I was really happy with how I sailed, and how I dealt with the second upwind despite being on the wrong side strategically.

Key lesson for today;

  1. Light air favours the bold!

This regatta was a particularly tough one for me, not quite being able to recover well enough during the week which had an impact on how I was approaching the regatta psychologically. I was pretty close to my goal of being in the top 28, and my performance was another improvement from the Nationals.

Next up, 2020 World Championships!

 

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