Hayling wind gods come up trumps
Moderate to fresh winds and some well proportioned waves to surf down provided an outstanding final day of racing at the Laser Masters World Championships in Hayling Bay. Two races were held in each of the classes within the giant fleet of more than 350 boats, split between the Laser Standard and Laser Radial and then into fleet based on age groups: the ‘Apprentices’ – 35-44 year olds, Masters – 45-54 year olds, Grand Masters – 55-65 years and for the Radials the Great Grand Masters (65+).
While New Zealand’s Scott Leith had the Laser Radial Apprentice title sewn up yesterday, so today Australian Brett Beyer came out first in the Laser Standard Apprentice class. Despite posting two bullets today he still only managed to finish five points ahead of Greece’s Adonis Bougiouris.
Perhaps the hardest class, being the biggest at this Championship was the Laser Standard Masters where the USA’s Scott Ferguson clinching honours with a race to spare. His final tally of 15 points puts him 21 ahead of the Netherland’s Arnoud Hummel, in turn just a point ahead of 1984 Olympic Finn silver medallist, American John Bertrand. For Ferguson, who heralds from Rhode Island where his company designs masts for leading America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race boats, this was his fourth Laser Masters participation and entered this regatta as the defending champion in the class following on from his victory in hurricane-swept Halifax last year.
With four bullets and discarding a sixth going into today Ferguson said he was concerned that in the wavy conditions that he might wipe out. In fact the margin between first and second may have been closer had his principle rival Arnoud Hummel not suffered a ‘death roll’.
“Originally I sailed Lasers pretty competitively but only at US National level and I didn’t have a chance to go further – I had a family and got a job right out of school, so I didn’t have much a chance to campaign it when I was younger. That was around 1984-5, just after the Ed Baird period.
“I don’t sail a lot - with work my time is limited, but there is another guy in the top 10, Peter Shope and he is from Portsmouth near to where I live and we hooked up. He has got seriously into the Laser so we did some training together. The downwind is huge – you can hang in upwind and if you can do the same or faster downwind you are going to be in good shape. We did some runs from Point Judith, 10 miles south west of Newport. We’d drive the boats up there and do a full downwind. It was good.
“I was a little bit surprised I did as well as I did because there are a lot of really good guys out there. A lot of things fell into place for me. Last year we didn’t quite finish the series so this time is was a lot closer with Arnoud. I thought Arnoud would be a lot better than me in a lot of breeze and he is really good. I was surprised how well I was going.
“This week the conditions were good. A lot of people complain about shifty conditions, but I find that pretty challenging. I went to the University of Michigan in the mid-west so it was sailing on lakes, and they sail there competitively all the time and it is part of the game. So I enjoy it when it is challenging and shifty and not just a total drag race where you have to out hike the same guy for 10 races."
Winner in the Radial Master class was local man Steve Cockerill, the well-known proprietor of Rooster Sailing. This is his fourth Laser Radial World Championship title, his first coming in Cork in 2001.
Cockerill posted a 1-2 today leaving him 16 points clear of second placed Brazilian Joao Ramos, in turn a further 18 adrift of New Zealander Hamish Atkinson. After a dismal set of results yesterday including a DNC and an OCS, the other star act of the day was Brazilian favourite Eduardo Carlos Wanderley who redeemed himself by posting a 2-1, hoisting him from 13th place yesterday to go home fourth overall.
Cockerill might have posted two bullets today had it not been for a unique incident in the second race. As he desribes it: "“I had a bit of a bad start and I went up the first beat quite slowly and then I found I had a bra on the centreboard. It was a blue polka dot version, it might have been a swimsuit top – whatever, it was slow. I had a very nice start, shot out and won the race. The jury were following you upwind and you think ‘my God, what mustn’t I do?!’ And you are just trying to enjoy the sailing and hoping that no one is going to flag you."
Otherwise this week Cockerill has been sailing on familiar waters – his home club is neighbouring Stokes Bay – and his worst discard was a 16th, scored yesterday when he was caught out on the wrong side of a shift.
“In the strong wind there is less stress. The wind doesn’t shift quite so dramatically and you can plane on waves. I like going downwind in waves as the light stuff is challenging and messes with your head. Today it was easy, just normal waves. We race at Stokes Bay in 28 knots, so today was a walk in the park sailing-wise.”
Cockerill started sailing Laser back in 1992 just as it was 'going Olympic' and competed in the pre-Olympics in 1994 and 1995 before losing the Team GBR trials to a teenager Ben Ainslie. "After weight jackets went in 1997 being only 5ft 8 I moved to the Radial and it was fun. Now I hop between the two. I’ve won the Radial Masters four times now. Twice I got beaten by a really good Kiwi, Mike Orams who is not here. I beat him once and I want to get my own back. So hopefully in San Francisco. He is very good in a breeze.”
His victory this year was despite a year of considerable injury: “I broke my wrist mountain biking 12 weeks ago and I broke a rib sailing an ISO at Easter which knackered my training in the early spring. Really I have only been back sailing for four weeks.”
Perhaps star of this year’s Championship, if not all time in the Laser Masters class, was Keith Wilkins who won his 11th Laser Worlds title today having this year been forced out of the Standard and into the Radial as a Great Grand Master, following his 65th birthday.
Wilkins who heralds from distinctly land-locked Shropshire where he normally sails on a lake, has raced out of Hayling Island Sailing Club on several occasions in his long illustrious career. He particularly enjoyed today’s more boisterous conditions as he admits he is a little heavy for the Radial. His last Worlds win in 2001. Today with the slightly strong winds the fleet was well spread out in the Great Grand Masters class with Wilkins ending the regatta 10 points clear of the USA’s Peter Seidenberg, in turn 13 ahead of the Netherland’s Johan Stam.
Wilkins looked back at his long tenure in the class: “My first Laser Worlds was in 1976 but that was the senior not the Masters. I think that was the second or third world championship. I have done a number of Senior ones and Masters on and off since 1988. This my 11th win. My best result ever was when I won all races except one when I was second. That was in Cancun in Mexico in 2000.
“It is easier when you go into the bottom of the age bracket because then you get a bit of youth on your side. So that is what has happened here. Last time I won was in America in 2001 and I have only done two or three since then, so it is good to be back in to the winning situation. It is nice to be world champion again. I missed it. I missed winning.”
Despite his lengthy time in the Laser class, Wilkins sailing career in fact only began when he was 29. “I had a very high learning curve - reading and practice. From my first race, 23 months later I was European champion. That is how I managed to start. I got to the top very quickly. I never had a coach so I was self-taught and I could natural explain to others how to do it so I became an international coach. I’ve coached the Chinese, Koreans, I coached Ben Ainslie when he was in the southwest. He was also on some youth training that I did. I coached in India and Pakistan, America and Canada and a lot of other countries, but I don’t do much of that nowaways.”
The only leadership change today came in the Radial Grand Master fleet where two bullets today allowed Brisbane anaesthetist Lyndall Patterson, a mother of two grown up daughters who won the IYRU Women's World title on the same waters of Hayling Bay 33 years ago, to finally overhaul the strong American male contingent, in particular yesterday’s leader Alden Shattuck, who ended the regatta six points out of first. Patterson's success once again underlines her outstanding prowess and sheer tenacity and is believed to be the first time a female sailor has won the overall title.
Like Scott Ferguson another to defend his title successfully this year was German former Olympic Finn sailor and Finn Gold Cup winner, Wolfgang Gerz in the Standard Grand Master fleet. From Munich, the meticulous Gerz posted a 3-1 today to finish on 18 points. However American Peter Vessella, a newcomer this year into the Grand Master fleet, also posted 1-3 and this allowed him to overhaul Britain’s Peter Sherwin to claim second with the help of a second discard, 10 points from Gerz. The German winner spent most of today covering the potent Vessella, who next year will have the advantage of sailing on his home waters in San Francisco.
As Gerz described it: “I won last year and Peter Vessella, the American who was new into the class, who’d just turned 55, I had only once sailed him before three years ago and then he was much better. So I knew it would be very hard to beat him and it was. Now I am very pleased.
“I sail on a lake near Munich and there are maybe three or four active Laser sailors there, but at these international races the level is so much higher than what you get at club level that you can’t compare it. Here I arrived early as I knew it would be a difficult place and I have never been here. Every place is different and Hayling Island is very difficult to sail. It is great. I love it. It is extremely challenging as far as boat handling is concerned and the waves are very difficult – it couldn’t be better.
“Over the last three years, preparing for the last three Worlds, I went back to very very hard physical training, almost the same as when I was in the Olympics.
While two days of racing were lost this week due to excessive wind conditions, otherwise the regatta has provided a challenging mix of wind strengths from light and shifty to verging on the nearly-too-strong.
International Class Secretary Jeff Martin commented: “On Monday it was up on the limit and then we had two days where we couldn’t sail and had to convert it in to the rest day and since then they have had a bit of everything and today was perfect to finish off with: glorious sailing, Hayling Bay waves and steady breeze of 15-17 knots occasionally gusting up to 20. I don’t think there can be any complaints about today. I would have liked to have been sailing myself. It’s been a great event. I think the sailors are happy. There won’t be many people not sleeping tonight.”
The next Laser Masters World Championships are to take place in 2011 in San Francisco.
Full results can be found here