This year the UK Laser National Championships were held up in Largs, a small town on the west coast of Scotland. The racing area was between the mainland and the Isle of Cumbrae for the majority of the week. With six consecutive days of racing and a 35-strong standard fleet, it was set to be a challenging week if I wanted to podium.
On the first day of racing we were greeted by a steady 10-12 knot northerly breeze and intermittent rain (classic Scotland!). In the first race I came off the line close to the middle of the line and just to the left of the pack, as I was expecting a left shift to come back which I could capitalize on. After a 15-minute beat, the leading seven boats were separated by about 10 seconds; all to play for on the downwind leg. I sailed well down the first run rounding just behind the leader. Up the second beat I lost a place due to a couple of missed shifts, but managed to take it back on the final reach to the finish. To start the week off with a 2nd was a strong place to be.
The second race of the day and the wind had swung 15 degrees left at 4 minutes to go. I realised this and decided it would swing back at some point up this beat - so I went out to win the starboard end and tack. I did this and stuck to my plan. However it just kept winding further and further left with more pressure coming down that side. Looking back, maybe this move was too risky for the second race of the series and I should have played more to the middle of the fleet and let the boat speed do the talking. I was in the back five by the windward mark and managed to climb back to 9th which was a great recovery but still not the result I was looking for. Anyway after day 1 I have at least one counter and the results were all still very close. Still all to play for!
When we arrived at the club on day 2 it was very overcast and the water looked like glass. We thought it might be a day of sitting inside and playing cards, but within an hour of waiting in the club out of the rain, there was breeze strong enough to sail. We were sent out to the racecourse north of the Isle of Cumbrae but quickly stopped by the race committee as there was better breeze channeling down between the island and the mainland.
In the first race of the day I made a similar mistake as the first, banking on what I initially thought was a left shift only to find out it swung further and further than it had all day meaning everyone on the left came out a country mile ahead of me. Again, a big catchup was in order the whole way round the course and I managed to fight back to 7th - but still not what I was looking for.
A similar story on the second race with the left hand side holding well, I had a great start in this race towards the pin end and sailed low and fast to get above the fleet, I didn’t want to sail too far away from the mark so I was one of the first to tack back to position myself more conservatively compared to the fleet, and to bank my gain against those on the right. Would you believe it?! All the people who went further left and took much more risk than me came in smelling of roses. Again, I managed to climb back to 7th but was in a difficult position. Every time I was backing myself on risks they were not coming off and every time I was being conservative and covering the fleet the risk takers did well.
The race officer decided to try and get one race in ahead of the schedule, which was wise looking at the forecast for the rest of the week. For the final race of the day every beat had been holding left, but moments before the warning signal for the start of the race, the wind started to drop and swung slightly right. Now I was in a bit of a quandary – should I play the side I know has been working all day but might not continue to hold with this dying breeze? Or do I play the right as the conditions have changed slightly? I chose to play the left-hand side. As it turned out both sides came in well and I was 5th round the top mark and held this position for the rest of the race. All in all a 7,7,5, not ideal. Something needed to change!
Day three was similar to day one. Northerly oscillating breeze but no one really knew exactly what was going on, so it kept us all on our toes. I had a good plan to accelerate early from the pack as I knew we were all quite a way behind the line, but I misjudged the timings and started with the pack. It was hiking weather now so the more you put into the boat the more you got out. I sailed hard up the first beat, and was in touching distance of the leaders by the top mark. A quick downwind leg and I was right on their tails. On the final downwind I was right with the pack and managed to secure a 4th with everyone rounding the final mark neck and neck. This was a decent position to have climbed back to. Second race of the day and the wind was starting to drop, which also meant it was far less steady. This was a tough race and things did not go my way up both beats which meant I scored my worst result of the series so far, 10th.
Day four and five were abandoned due to lack of wind and thunderstorms. This also gave me some time to reflect and I decided that I was focusing too hard on my compass and not reading the bigger picture. I was struggling with decision making on the beats, so I had decided to launch without my compass for the remaining days.
We came to the final day. Unfortunately, the top spots were realistically out of reach so all I could do was try and consolidate or climb one place on the people around me. I set out to do that, but on the final day we were greeted by the highest frequency of shifts we had seen all week. Barely holding for longer than 30 seconds the whole way up the beat, shifts of up to 60 degrees. I played the first beat well rounding third but unfortunately on the final downwind everyone sat on my breeze and I rounded in the middle of a bunch crossing the line in 7th.
The final race of the series and I had to beat my closest rival by 6 points. His discard was a 10th so I had to get a 4th or better to be on the same points and he had to be 10th or worse. After sailing a tough first beat I pulled back on the downwind to round 7th at the gate. A turbo final downwind jumped me up to 4th a whisker away from 3rd. Now I was looking behind to see where my closest competitor was finishing, it looked like 9th. He had done enough. Once we got ashore though we realized he had actually got a 10th but due to the scoring system we were joint on points, but he would beat me on the number of 5th places through ‘countback’!
What a tight series. All in all a poor performance by me, but I have some time now to reflect and analyze where there are things I need to change before the next competitions which will be in the Autumn: the World and European Qualifiers.