By Mark Spearman
14 races, 7 days on, 0 off, was not much of a fiesta if you ask me. The Laser World Championships in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico was the toughest regatta I have ever done. 115 of the worlds best laser sailors came together to battle it out to find out who was the best in a gruelling week of close racing.
My experience as part of the Australian Sailing Squad included travelling to Mexico 9 days early to get up to speed. I started the week easily the slowest in the squad but got the hang of it after a couple of days and was starting to have some fast moments. Our pre-regatta training consisted of speed testing amongst our 6 boat team as well as doing practise racing against teams from other countries. This set me up very nicely for the regatta as I was consistently racing against the 1st and 4th ranked laser sailors in the world.
The days were consistently 30 degrees, sunny, with a building sea breeze filling in from the left and then shifting significantly right at around 10-15 knots. The tricky part was understanding the moment the wind started shifting right, as after this point, anyone on the left side of the course got killed.
My first race I was confident in my right-hand side strategy and from sailing three boat lengths further right than anyone else I found myself in 1st place. Now this was a little nerve racking as I had a whole group of boats right behind me at the top mark but after a really good downwind I had a nice lead at the bottom mark. The following upwind, I picked the lay line too early and the, now two times world champion Nick Thompson got to the right of me and overtook.
Australian Sailing Team coach Michael Blackburn drove past holding up the high five that I would’ve earnt if I had won the race. I was not too disappointed as I still had 13 races left to earn the privilege.
Now as FSC coach Arthur Brett always says, “1 race doesn’t make a good sailor.” I knew I needed to back this up. The second race was totally different with huge pin bias and every boat tacking straight away onto port off the start line. I sailed well putting myself in 14th position but did not notice the change of top mark on the second upwind. This caused me a lot of unnecessary hiking pain in my legs, having to low groove back to the top mark in 16knots and also cost me 5 places. Besides this, I was happy with my first day and in 12th overall, which was a very good start to the regatta.
The second day I had some issues getting off the start line and even though my plan was to go right in both races I had to sail there in dirty air a lot of the time. Luckily my downwind speed was on point and I managed to get out of trouble in the second race, going from 28 to 17 in one downwind and reach. At this point I was still in the top 25 and needed to step up my starts if I wanted to stay there.
Day 3 my starts were good, I managed to get out to the right in the first race although rain in the morning had effected the seabreeze development and we had left shifting breeze both races. The second race was the best race I sailed all regatta, a good start at the pin lead to a late cross and a good second beat to score a 7 in the race. I was extremely happy to hold off legend Robert Scheidt (been sailing lasers longer than I am alive) who was chasing me down the entire race and finished within one meter behind.
The fourth day I was ready to go left again but this day the wind went right significantly in both races. I scored a 31 and a 42 and was pretty sad thinking I had dropped into silver fleet. Swifto (Luke Elliott) was equally as saddened but luckily for both of us our good starts to the regatta had saved us and we were in 41st and 42nd going into gold fleet.
The first day of gold fleet, we had done the stats, we knew 70% of the time the wind had previously gone significantly right. Unfortunately as stockbrokers disclaim, “past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.” This was the case as even though all the Aussie squad boys were on the right we were killed when the wind went left and were fighting it out the back. I managed to swap sides early and got a 33.
This seemed like the story for the next 4 races. I either stuffed up the start, picked the wrong side upwind or struggled with speed downwind and costing me a lot. In gold fleet the difference between 20 and 40 is usually less than a minute and the first downwind is absolutely crucial to getting a good result. I could not seem to get the hang of it and this slow speed cost me hundreds of places. I felt like in almost every race I had some really good opportunities to do well but could not piece the entire race together and a good leg here or there was not enough.
This was until the last race, where I finally pieced every leg together and got an 11th. This put me in 48th overall and although I would have loved to be in the top 40 or 30 or 20 or 10 or 1, this can be a goal for years to come. In the end, not a single Australian earnt a high five from Blackers this regatta, showing us that we all have a lot to work on if we want to impress the head coach! A huge thanks must go to WAIS, FSC, RFBYC, Ron Tough Association and WALA, without which this would not be possible. The Australians places are as follows:
Matthew Wearn 4th, Tom Burton 6th, Mitchell Kennedy 40th,
Luke Elliott (Swifto) 42nd, Jeremy O’Connell 46th, Mark Spearman 48th.
Full results can be found HERE.