The 2015 edition of Laser Midwinter’s East was especially important because it was the Canadian National Sailing Team Qualifier, and the 2015 Pan Am Games Trials. Five or six of the top Canadian boats will make the Canadian Sailing Team, but only the top male athlete would represent Canada at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. The event was held in the waters off Clearwater, FL on February 19-22.
The first day of racing called for 20-30 knots with big waves, and forecast definitely delivered. We started the day postponed on shore, and although the wind was set to decrease throughout the day, the race committee decided to send everyone home at midday.
On day 2, we began the first race in an offshore north east breeze which proved to be the most fickle winds of the regatta. It was also one of the coldest mornings I have ever rigged a Laser in – about 5 degrees Celsius. I started poorly, being forced out right but was able to catch up quickly taking advantage of shifts from both sides to round in about 10th. After a heads up downwind, I was able to soak some light breezes towards the mark and round in 6th where I would finish. I was leading the second race but a mistake at the windward mark caused me to lose the lead. I sailed a final conservative final race to finish the day with a 6, 2, 3.
Day 3 brought stronger offshore winds from the east of 10-14 knots. I had my worst race of the regatta in the first race. The race committee mistimed the fleet starts and we ended up going upwind with the radials who were on their second lap. Between the lasers and radials, I sailed in a lot of bad air on the first beat, and made some poor decisions trying to catch up finishing only 11th. I bounced back well in the second race, creating a strong lead on the first reach which I would hold throughout to the finish. I had a good last race to finish the day 11, 1, 4.
On the final day, I was sitting in 3rd place – 1 point behind Chris Barnard (USA) and 2 points behind Lee Parkhill (CAN) for both the regatta championship and the lone Canadian Pan Am spot. The forecast was light with quite a bit of movement throughout the day, so I knew there was a good chance we would get only two, maybe one race in before the 2pm cut off. Instead of getting into a fight right away with Lee, I decided to start at the boat end, where I thought the advantage was. My goal was to get enough ahead of Lee so that I could slow him down substantially before the first windward. I had a great start, but unfortunately fell out of my lane soon after the start and had to do a couple extra tacks to get back on track. I was still able to cross a couple boat lengths in front of Lee, and I protected the favoured right side, making small gains towards the starboard layline. I covered his air again on the layline forcing him to tack past the layline and sail extra distance. Things were looking pretty good! With such a strong current running right to left, I miscalculated the layline and had to do extra tacks at the mark with Lee closing the gap on me. I was still able to round in 3rd place with Lee in 8th place but not too far behind. On the first beat and reach, as forecasted, the breeze had swung right making the first downwind skewed. The top three boats including myself sailed low on the long starboard gybe by the lee towards the leeward mark. Lee, knowing he needed to catch me, continued reaching going high on the downwind to create some separation. About half way down, a strong puff filled in on the opposite side of the downwind, while I was sitting in very light wind. Lee and the others sailed right around us and towards the mark. I lost a lot of distance to the top group, and couldn’t catch up past 7th to finish the race. Lee capitalized on the extra wind and ended up winning the race. The reversal on the downwind – from 4 boats ahead of Lee to 6 boats behind was quite devastating and made the next race quite a challenge. I needed to have 8 boats between Lee and I by the finish.
In the second race, I took advantage of the favoured right side to round in 3rd place but with Lee and others close behind. At the bottom of the downwind, I tried to separate and make gains but picked the wrong shifts. Lee got ahead of me and was able to cover me to the starboard layline. Unfortunately for both of us, we sailed each other to the unfavoured right hand side of the course and got out of touch with the fleet. He finished just ahead of me in 6th, with myself in 7th. There was time for another race, but without a good second race it was statistically impossible to beat Lee and secure the Pan Am Games Laser entry. For the first time, I turned my focus to the other competitors and tried to beat Juan Maegli and Rob Davis in the overall standings. I had an OK race finishing in 4th place – good enough to finish 4th overall (lost a tie break for 3rd).
Although not securing a berth for the Pan Am Games in the Laser is a disappointment, I was very happy with my boat speed, consistency, starting and tactics. I learned invaluable experience in a trials scenario, and showed great improvement from the previous year’s edition. Congratulations to Lee Parkhill for securing the Pan Am berth – he sailed very well over the three days of racing. I am looking to carry this momentum through to my next major regatta in Palma de Mallorca, Spain from March 30 – April 4.