Our First Sail of the Year

Our First Sail of the Year

Submitted and written by Glynis Dorey, March 2024

Our first sail of the 2024 year.  But this time we were on high waves and warm waters.  This was totally different from that first day sail at Wabamun, a couple of years back, during COVID.  The ice had just dropped on Wabamun Lake and I was ensuring that I did not fall into the freezing waters. In contrast, the Mexican warm water seemed like a cozy teddy bear. Who cared about dumping!

Russel (Russ) Kraus, Isaac Bussin and I were the Albertans attending the International Sailing Academy’s six day March training session in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico.  Our coach was Al Clarke of Vancouver, the 2013 Laser Standard Master  World Champion.  It was a bit ironic to travel all the way to Mexico when Vancouver is much closer and cheaper.  But Russ  responded that we would have missed a winter sun vacation!

The clinic was a unique experience with top sailors, a top coach and top sailing conditions.  It was an education to continually deal with large waves and heavy winds of 15-19 knots, to which no one seemed to blink.  Many seeds were being planted because we were around “top sailing” mentality.

Al Clark brought his undaunted passion for racing and tough competitiveness, which we all felt.  The video of him sailing, during one of our sailings, showed how he sails in strong wind, making his techniques seem real. At the same time, Al was relaxed with what people were doing with their sailing.  He brought messages which sailors seldom hear:

“Do what it takes to make the boat move”; and

“Do whatever is right for you”.

He could quickly evaluate sailors’ abilities: both strengths and weaknesses and brought positive messages to each sailor.

To me, the competent sailors seemed lean and mean.  In one drill we sailed a triangle prism course where the 2 lay lines were obstacles by which sailors could not pass. In the strong winds, I was not willing to battle against these sailors who were forced to sail tight together.  If I made a sailing error at the wrong time, it wouldn’t have been appreciated by whoever was sailing beside me. Thus I sailed opposite tack to most or gave them room. (Maybe one day I’ll be ready)

No common racing opportunities were left ajar.  While Russ was battling with another sailor around the leeward mark, leaving a gap for me to slip inside,  his peripheral vision ensured that he suddenly blocked my opportunity and I was stuck.  At the starboard mark of the starting line, from where most Lasers eventually drift towards port and I can slide in, Isaac stuck to his advantageous position like glue. There was no sailing along the starting line – everyone quickly blocked. Therefore, like everyone else, I had to double tack, “crab” or sail backward to hold my position at the start.

Another indication of how serious the sailors were taking the training sessions was a  discussion of who had “right of way” at leeward  mark when a boat had toppled and the inside boat might have lost his “room at the mark” by sailing around the toppled boat.  Not only was the situation heatedly discussed at the day’s debriefing, it continued at our evening supper. When I finally mentioned that it was only an exercise, all three sailors jumped at me in chorus “No it’s not!”

Al gave me important advice.  While “running” in high winds, the Cunningham must be properly released or I am doomed to topple. Also, the leech at the second batten needs to be active, adjusted by the boom vang. I need to update my rigging with more pulleys so that the increased “purchase” will better depower my boat. 

Al admired my ability to sail a standard laser rig  in  winds over 15 knots and on day two, commented “pretty good” as I “screamed” passed his boat on a broad reach. Any merited, positive comment from a world master laser champion is greatly appreciated! That being said, I wasn’t performing well in the strongest winds so I changed to radial for the last two days. Then, on our last day of racing the winds remained light,   making me frustrated to compete against standard rigs while in the radial. You can never predict!

Both Isaac and Russ sailed well.  Al was impressed with Isaac’s sailing and Al and Isaac were often sailing “neck in neck” when Al temporarily grabbed someone’s Laser.  Russ was his strong, steady self, demonstrating his talent in broad reaches, despite the five stiches on his forehead after an encounter with the boom.

We had other ISA coaches occasionally present.  World Master Legend Champion, Bill Symes beat everyone in the last two days of races, demonstrating his power of good technique and sailing knowledge.  Also, Paul Swan, with a PhD in Human Performance Technology, sailed with us a couple of days. Pity he didn’t give us a short talk with respect to some of his expertise.

With almost daily, unrelenting heavy winds, the week of sailing was difficult for me.  But I survived, learned much and greatly gained from the experience.