Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cabarete Waves

Cabarete Waves

When I was first introduced to Laser sailing four years ago, Yarg, the creator of this blog, correctly told me that I would have to go through a painful initiation with a lot of capsizing before Laser sailing would become fun. I think there is a second painful learning process for us lake sailors when we try to start sailing in waves.

Last fall I took part in the New England Masters (age 35 and over) Laser Championship Regatta off Third Beach in Newport. There were light to moderate winds on Saturday, but Sunday brought 20 plus knot winds in open water with waves measured in feet, not inches like the ripples we have at our local lake. I capsized once in the first race, twice in the second (all on mistimed tacks), and three more times trying to get back to the beach (all death rolls). It was obvious that if I wanted to be able to sail and have fun at the major Laser regattas which are necessarily held on large bodies of water, I would need to get some experience sailing in waves.

Cabarete, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, is a tourist town with a beautiful beach, dozens of beachfront restaurant/bars and resort hotels with a focus on windsurfing and kiteboarding. The main drag just behind the buildings on the beach is a loud, smoky scene with speeding cars and motorbikes. About every 30 seconds someone on a motorbike will shout to ask if you want a ride, price negotiable, no helmet.

Cabarete is also the home of the CaribWind Laser Training Center, an amazing facility, unique in the world. It seems to be focused on Laser Training for very advanced sailors including many Olympians, but it also worked out well for me despite my, shall we say, less advanced skill level. I recently attended a four day Laser clinic there, followed by a three day regatta. A typical clinic day included an hour or more of onshore class with videos and diagrams, three to four hours of sailing with a variety of drills, a quick and very welcome meal at the EZE-Bar/Restaurant on the property, and finally another hour or more of class. My hotel, the Velero Beach Resort, was excellent with all the amenities, great water views, an open air beachfront restaurant, and a very friendly and helpful staff. It was just a five minute walk down the beach to CaribWind.

About a dozen sailors from all over the world attended the clinic portion. At least seven countries were represented. There was a wide age range from the twenties to sixties with most at the higher end. It was definitely the most skilled group with which I have ever sailed. It included an Olympic sailor, and I believe a Laser Masters world champion. They were all very friendly and helpful to me despite my less experienced status.

Head coach “Rulo” couldn’t have done a better job. He has an amazing body of knowledge about the fine points of Laser sailing in every situation, but also a great teaching style and personality. He was ably assisted by Paul on a second motorboat, a young English guy with a degree in naval architecture, and a lot of sailing experience. He was very nice to hang back with me when I would capsize as the rest of the fleet sailed away.

Launching and retrieving boats at the Cabarete beach can be challenging. Despite some protection from an offshore underwater reef, there were often pretty decent sized breakers. Retrieving boats was typically done one at a time with the assistance three young guys in the water, one at the bow with the dolly, and one on each side to lift the stern over the breaking waves. The sailor had to remove the centerboard, lift the rudder, remove the main sheet, and jump out of the boat just before approaching the retrieving team. I saw one normally very robust Seitech dolly break in the process.

The emphasis of the clinic for these very good sailors was naturally on the many fine points of speed, boat-handling, tactics, etc. My emphasis, on the other hand, was trying to learn how to keep the masthead out of the water, and staying out of everyone else’s way while sailing in large waves, typically two meters or more. Still, I learned a lot. There were some very basic but critical things, like simply steering to one side or the other when surfing down a wave to avoid plowing head-on into the next wave, turning the Laser into a submarine, and filling the cockpit with seawater. By the way, by my calculations a Laser cockpit filled with saltwater weighs about 290 pounds.

Ari Barshi, CaribWind Owner, at the Regatta

One final note which folks have been asking me about - the tragic earthquake in Haiti occurred while we were in a hut on the beach at our post-sailing class. We felt it pretty good despite being 150 miles away. The ground shifted back and forth laterally for about a minute. Lamps were swinging, but there was no damage or panic. We did talk about the possibility of a tsunami, but I’m not sure where we could have gone for shelter. Fortunately, it was not an issue.

So earthquake aside, Cabarete was a great experience which I hope to repeat after somehow getting some more practice sailing in waves. It is also a great winter vacation. There are activities like day-trips of various sorts for non-sailing family members. The folks at CaribWind were apologizing for the unusually cool weather there (highs in the 70s) and quite a bit of rain, but I had been shoveling snow the night before I left, so I was fine with it. The rain, of course, didn’t stop us from sailing, and the water temperature was about 80. We had good wind and waves every day.

Hasta luego.