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Laser Masters Midwinters East at the US Sailing Center of Martin County

by Guy Noble 10 Feb 13:49 PST 4-7 February 2020

British Laser sailors in Florida - continued from the Palm Beach Florida Masters

The US Sailing Centre at Jensen Beach is another terrific venue. It looks like a very big Queen Mary in London or Poole Harbour in Dorset but it's better that both those venues. However Jensen Beach village is a curious place - a bit of a one horse town with a mad noisy railway running right through the middle. My hotel, the Jensen Beach Inn is only 100 meters from it and sleep is impossible without ear plugs! Having brought with me a light weight folding scooter I zipped down to the club each morning in about 10 mins - headphones on listening to my getting-ready-to-race play list...

We were joined by fellow Brit Max Hunt of Southeast Sailboats - Max has been putting in a lot of training at both Vilamoura in Portugal and Cabarete in the Dominican Republic in recent weeks - both big sea venues. We did notice a few grumbles from him after the first day along the lines of 'another bloody pond venue". However he changed his tune somewhat as he ended the event as first Grand Master and third overall in the Radial Fleet - a great result!

With 50 Standards (26 Grand Masters) and 29 Radials we were all set for some perfect racing....

Day One
Race 1

Everyone was very eager - The Standard fleet had four general Recalls taking 50 mins to get started. The race officer making many adjustments to the line angle and the windward mark. The left-hand side seemed to be paying dividends with a 7 to 10 kn southerly blowing up Indian River Lagoon tight and tactical was the name of the game. On the first run down I managed to pass Tim Law with Wolfgang Gerz just in front of me. Tim, right behind me made a slightly better mark rounding and gradually moved to windward preventing me taking on to port. After a close and hard-fought second windward leg Tim had pulled ahead - a lead he held, finishing 5th GM. With conditions very similar to Queen Mary my sixth position (eleventh overall) was my best result! But this would not last...

Race 2

By the time race 2 started the wind has picked up to about 13 kn. With 50 boats on the start line it was crucial (as is always the case) to get a frontline start. In the previous race I had started close to the pin and in-between the general recalls I had asked the pin boat crew how close I had been to the line and he informed me that I was near but still 2 or 3 meters behind the line - always worth asking. The second start was pandemonium at the pin and as many boats were trying to take advantage of a 10 degrees bias line, Boats piled up and keeping clear was imperative but not easy. Tim, Mike and Alan made easier starts from the middle of the line whereas Chris Ellyatt was in the thick of it at the pin.

Many boats tacked off to move over to the right on the first shift and holding this tack to move further to the right believing that there was more pressure that side. This meant for the first part of the beat it was difficult to get clear and get in sync with the shifts. With about a third of the first beat to go Chris and I, having gone far left, looked like we were going to be in the top 10 around the windward mark. However the wind gradually swung round to the right causing us to lose valuable ground. Positions didn't change much for the rest of the race - although I managed to loose several place on the final run down to the finish.

Race 3

In the Final race of the day I managed to get an absolutely horrendous start and never recovered. However Tim Law made a great start playing the shifts perfectly up to 1st beat and having a good run down to the gate. He then traded places with the three leaders. On the downward leg to the finish he lost two places but this was the performance of the day landing him 3rd place and 7th overall.

The day that had started so well for me fizzled out putting me into a disappointing 23rd overall. Chris clawed his way up to 15th overall and Mike almost into the top ten at 11th just behind Alan who had a very steady day with a 12th, 10th and 11th.

Day Two

The wind was building as we made our way out to the start line. Everyone was out a good hour before the start and with a 13 to 16 knts forecast we were all super eager to make sure of a good start. As Indian River Lagoon is generally very shallow, even 300 metres off the shore it's only a metre or so deep, the anchors for the pin boat is short. This means they can lay a very accurate start line. Getting a good transit was so important. Alan got a well deserved fifth in Race 4 but Mike Hicks won the day with a 9th, 5th and 12th. So far in the six races we had only had three black Flag penalties - this would change as the steaks increased and we all started to get more daring or is that desperate!

Day Three

There are some days when no matter how hard you try everything seems to go against you... this was one such. After some excellent coaching from my good friends the previous evening I was all set to repeat my first days 11th... well the racing gods had other ideas.

Race 7

The wind was pretty similar to the previous day at about 150 degrees and most the top sailors seemed to agree keeping left, certainly on the first beat would be preferable. However the wind was oscillating by 10/15 degrees. As we started those at the committee boat got the lift and, if you could hold your lane, you could keep going until you found either a lane to tack back into or until you were headed. There were some who made reasonable gains to the right but generally the left paid. The dreaded black Flag had caught 6 sailors out... including regatta leader Peter Shope - This was getting serious.

However for the time being we were off. It was Alan Davis who sailed superbly not putting a foot wrong to take line honours but glory turned to dust as he read his sail number on the white board at the stern of the committee boat.. along side Mike Hicks - two more to keep Peter Shope company. For those who know Chris Ellyatt it wont come as a surprise that he is a bit of a heavy weather beast and as the wind built he started to find his mojo chalking up a very fine seventh.

Race 8

Another four black flag miscreants should have been a clear warning that the RO was not going tolerate bad behaviour by the senior citizens of the Laser community. Tim Law was back in the top ten with an excellent sixth. I unfortunately had the cleat plate break on the start line and with 18 knots to contend no cunningham was a big disadvantage.

Race 9

So this was it. There is often a point in a regatta when sailors think to themselves.. I need to push.. may be stop being quite so cautious. Obviously the lower down the result you go the more the sailor with feel they are prepared to gamble. After all is 23rd worth protecting with a conservative start knowing that by being conservative you are probably not going to do better that 22nd... with that in mind it wont come as a surprise that 8 black flags were dished out.

Chris commented "I started just above Peter Shope, we were lifted big time with 30 seconds to the start and I saw Peter had stoped dead. I though he was being super cautious as he had already received a Black Flag in the previous race... He knew he was bang on the line and by then it was too late.. I was over". Alan had something to prove and managed a brilliant fourth while Mike and Tim were seventh and eighth.

The final day

The final day saw just two races sailed. The weather had turned colder but still a very pleasant 19 degreesC, overcast with a good 10 to 16 kn westerly. Alan Davis managed a second in the final race - this time not ruined by a BFD. Tim Law chalked up a sixth and fifth to get sixth overall, our best performing Brit.

Summing Up

These two midwinter Florida events are definitely worth doing for all Laser Masters. Treating it as a winter break for the family, even if you only do one of the venues could be the perfect way to get some valuable time on the water during those long winter months.

Standard Grand Master division:
1st - Peter Shope
2nd - Peter Vessella
3rd - Dave Chapin

The Brits - Grand Masters division:

4th - Tim Law
5th - Alan Davis
7th - Chris Elliyatt
15th - Guy Noble

Great Grand Masters division:

1st - Wolfgang Gerz GER
2nd - Michael Hicks GBR

Radial Grand Master division:

1st - Max Hunt (3rd overall)

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