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Sole Focus: Laser Sailing The Australian Summer

Category: Front Page Item

By: Mark Spearman

When I am at home, I have a lot of things on. Full time university, full time sailing, a full time girlfriend as well as attempting to have a social life and somehow pay for it all. So when the opportunity came to pause all of this for two months to focus solely on Laser sailing, I was all too eager to take it.

 

On the same day as my final engineering exam for the semester I was jumping on the first plane out of Perth to Sydney for my summer of sailing. Having just spent the last week doing hour long structural analysis questions I was all too keen to get back on the water. I started off with two and a half weeks of training with the Australian Sailing Squad. This included current number 1 and number 2 ranked Laser sailors in the world Tom Burton and Matt Wearn respectively. Because of this, I was not surprised when in the first mini regatta we had I placed last. The following three mini regattas I was still placed in the bottom two but with every day I felt I was getting closer.

 

Some of my biggest issues were simple sail setup mistakes as well as not leaving myself enough room to accelerate into, off the start line. The final mini training regatta I managed to win a race and although I did not earn a high-five from our coach Michael Blackburn, I could feel myself making some solid improvements.

 

Next came our first big competition for the summer, ISAF Sailing World Cup Sail Melbourne. This was now my third Sail Melbourne in the standard rig and everyone’s first at the new venue of St Kilda. This new location included a very nice beach as well as St Kilda Pier allowing excellent viewing for the public to watch us race. The beach and pier were almost always packed with people either trying to catch a glimpse of the exciting racing or just looking to enjoy themselves in the sunny weather we had basically all week.

 

The first race of the event was great, it was 25knots, sunny and my speed was good enough to post a strong 3rd position. The following race I still had good speed but unfortunately made some tactical errors on the first beat making myself have to fight for the 10th place I ended up with. Never the less, this was a good day and I was now in 4th overall ready to back it up tomorrow. Day 2 was much trickier with medium winds and much more congested start lines. Unfortunately my sail felt setup incorrectly and no matter what adjustments I made, it didn’t never felt right; this paired with average starts gave me two poor races for the day, 13th and 9th. The following day was a day for chess and socialising as we waited around all day but it was just too windy to go sailing. Some of the other classes went out but were quickly sent back in, mainly with broken masts and injured crew members.

 

The final day consisted of 5-12 knots ‘crazy’ conditions in which I sailed well and posted a 4th, 15th and 3rd. This new format of racing for all World Cups meant that now the top ten boats were going to the medal race even though we had only done 7 races. It all came down to this, a double points medal race with only 13 points separating 2nd and 10th place and with myself being in 7th only 6 points off the podium. Anything could happen in this race and anyone could end up 2nd overall out of it, or 10th. Unfortunately for me, my starts which had been steadily improving all summer, fell apart under this increased pressure and I was last from the start. The race was short and everyone was protecting their position well with so much on the line, which made it very hard for me to catch back up. I only managed to catch one boat, posting a 9th in the race and dropping me to 10th overall. I was disappointed with the race, but happy with how the regatta had gone, as it had shown me I could be at the front in a competitive fleet of very good sailors. Congratulations must go to Colin Cheng for taking out the event and sailing the best I’ve seen him.

 

We then had 2 days to rest and reflect before going straight into Sail Sydney. This is a much smaller regatta than ISAF Sailing World Cup Sail Melbourne but still highly contested and intense. Instead of 8 races being spread over 4 days as Sail Melbourne was, Sail Sydney had 10 races in 3 days. These 10 races only included 1 drop and unfortunately I had too many bad races to get a decent result in this regatta. I finished 10th overall but only half a good race off 6th. Australian Sailing Squad member Mitch Kennedy beat me by a single point and as he had done something similar at Sail Melbourne the previous week, I was not going to let it happen again.

 

Next I had a solid week of staying at the Australian Sailing House with Luke Elliott (Swifto) and although we did not do any sailing, we made strong gym and fitness gains. I thought we would get to have a rest on Christmas day, but anyone who knows Swifto should know otherwise, we did our toughest high intensity workout on the rowing machines on Christmas morning!

 

Lastly came nationals in Lake Macquarie, for anyone who hasn’t been to Lake Macquarie I liken it to a mixture of Rottenest Island and the Swan river. There are lots of places to explore, beaches, caves as well as islands and good water activities. This was my last competition for the summer and I needed a good result to give me any possibility of qualifying for the Australian Sailing Squad. The first 4 days were shifty and variable conditions between 6-15 knots the whole time. Luckily I was nailing the starts and sailing quite tactically well putting me in 4th overall with a very good chance at 3rd. My biggest improvement I still needed to make was in my downwind speed in the lighter conditions. I have now changed to a thinner mainsheet and will be focusing on this in the next couple of training months.

The second last day was very light wind and I sailing shockingly to post a 23rd which I was not happy with. As Swifto says “sometimes you are your own worst enemy” and I did not do the basics correctly in this race, costing me dearly. Before the final day I was still in 4th overall, but with the second drop coming in, I knew it was going to be hard to beat ISAF Sailing World Cup Champion Colin Cheng. I sailed the first beats badly but caught up well in both races posted an 11th and an 8th but this was not good enough to beat Colin Cheng. Some days Colin gets his Cheng magic going and is very hard to beat and this was one of those days.

Overall I was very pleased to come away with a 5th at nationals (4th Australian) especially when you compare this to my 7th Australian placing last year. Hopefully I can continue this level of improvement and take down Swifto next. This result qualifies me for the Laser World Championship in Mexico and I plan to contest this massive event in May 2016. I would like to thank the continued support of Fremantle Sailing Club, Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club, the Ron Tough Foundation, the Western Australian Institute of Sport and the Western Australian Laser Association for making it possible for me to compete at this high level.

26.02.16 03:29 Age: 1 year