As a relative newcomer to Laser sailing I didn't know what to expect when I arrived for the Florida Masters events a couple weeks ago. The first of three events was at Palm Beach. The host club is on the protected intracoastal waterway, but the regatta is on the Atlantic with on-shore prevailing easterlies and 3,000 miles of fetch. It required a 45 minute sail to get to the stating line. As a small lake sailor, it was a rude awakening to see a line of rolling breakers that needed to be crossed just to get out there.
Sailing a Laser in the Atlantic with 15-20 kt on-shore winds and higher gusts was certainly a challenge for a small lake sailor. I can't say I enjoyed it. I gave up that first day after completing 2 of 3 races, a good decision, as was the choice to use a radial. I capsized twice, once while on a run, barely in contol, when I reached down just for a second to try to unstop the autobailer. It was so unnerving when the boat would surge forward surfing on a hugh wave resulting in a sudden loss of pressure on the sail due to the change of the 'apparent wind.' I thought it was like riding a bucking broncho without being able to hold on, not that I've ever been on a bucking horse. I wondered if it was a mistake to try to do these regattas. I felt a little better that evening when the main conversation among the racers was about sore muscles and Advil. It definitely wasn't enjoyable sailing, but I hope my Laser survival sailing reflexes have been improved. Maybe someday I'll have the skill to actually enjoy sailing in large waves.
The second of the three events was at Jensen Beach within the protected intracoastal waterway about an hour north of Palm Beach. The wind was strong, but with just small waves, much more doable for someone at my level. It was tough going with a lot of hiking, but it was starting to get fun.
The final event at Sarosota on the west coast of Florida was sailed in light winds on Sarosota Bay. With much less of a physical challenge, I could concentrate on trying to do better starts which has been one of my weakest points. I can never seem to get into or stay in the first row in a large fleet. There were 83 boats competing on the line. Folks were very aggressive. The were many general recalls. All the successful starts were done under the black flag.
One morning I had breakfast with an expert Laser sailor from the Dominican Republic. I told him how timid I was lining up for starts, especially when there is a black flag. He advised me to remember that if I stay even with the boats on each side, the RC boats at each end of the line can't see my sail numbers. They will only disqualify the boats they can see. With that in mind, I finally got some first row starts on the final day.
Looking back on the experience, I'm definitely glad to have done it. It is a pretty good deal to get seven days of very competitive sailing in nine days with a nice break from the New England winter. I think I learned a lot from the sailing, and from the many on-shore conversations with other sailors. I'm thinking, maybe I'll do it again next year. We'll see.
I Like the Cut of Your Jib!
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