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Michael Beckett’s Senior Laser Worlds

Post by Team GBR sailor Michael Beckett for Southeast Sailboats. Have you ever wondered what the Senior Laser Worlds are really all about? I’ll take you through the individual aspects of a Laser Worlds so you can appreciate that this is no ordinary event. This is the perspective of a British guy doing his third senior Worlds who finished 20th overall. The event took place in Split, Croatia from 12th-19th September.

Charter boats

The Senior Worlds are a mandatory charter boat event. This means that as well as paying an entry fee, each competitor must pay a charter fee and damage deposit as a condition for entering the event. As you know, Laser sailing is already one of the ‘purest’ tests of a sailor – there really is very little modifications you can do to your own boat to make it faster. Let’s be honest, that’s why people sail a Laser – not because they are miraculously fast or enjoyable, but because the racing is so competitive, fair and accessible. When you’re supplied with a boat two days before the beginning of a World championships, there is nothing you can do to the boat, it is the ultimate sailing race for sailors.
As you can expect, the morning when boats were handed out to 150 keen sailors is a tense one, nobody wants to be left with concerns that their boat might be inferior in any way. Boats are allocated randomly out of a hat. The on-site dealer was on hand all week to make repairs to any damage or replace spars or foils where necessary. On day three, on the final gybe mark of the final race in 25kt, I was involved in a huge collision resulting in a hole in my boat. Thus ensued a long evening in the protest room, which not only determined if I was to be scored DSQ, but if I was to lose my damage deposit also! Fortunately, I won the protest and got to keep my best score of the day – an 8th position. The next day I was using a different hull as it took the charter company 3 days to repair my boat, something which wouldn’t have been possible if I was using my own boat.

Fleet size

In the first year of an Olympic cycle (2017) it can be expected that fleet sizes swell, which made for a huge entry of 147 boats (don’t get me started on the Laser Masters – 350 boats!). This number of boats raced in three fleets, which actually made the qualifying series feel slightly easy. The reality was that finishing 20th in a race was the equivalent to finishing 60th overall, which made it very challenging to make the cut for gold or silver fleet. When it came to final series, gold fleet consisted of the best 47 Laser sailors in the World, silver and bronze fleet contained another 47 boats each.

Fleet Calibre

This is the real one. Once all the fuss of collecting charter boats was over, everyone got on with what they’re best at – dinghy racing. It’s a bit of black art, but most sailors do manage to find a bit of extra form when it comes to a World championship. At the Senior Worlds, nobody arrived without their ‘A’ game. I was at an event in Aarhus (the Test event for the 2018 Worlds) which contained a very similar top 50 to the Worlds, but the difference in how well everyone was sailing between the two events was very marked. This might sound like a small thing – but everyone is present, everyone. Even at World Cups, while it’s never mentioned there always a few absentees. For example the Australian Sailing Team not attending Miami, or individuals giving more time for injuries to repair, or maybe even just saving cash.

Each man and his pressure

It’s a safe bet, that for every competitor, the Worlds are the most important sailing event of the year (in a non-Olympic year), and when sailing is your job – that makes six intense days of racing. The event might be a chance to secure a year’s funding or fulfil a sponsorship contract, trials for the National team or maybe even Olympic trials. Mix all that in with the small but inevitable matter of how tough the racing is, if you’re not careful it can be a very stressful week.

So how did it go?

In all the events I’ve ever done – I can’t remember having been greeted by such a mix of conditions. The first few days brought fickle SE winds, with large gusts rolling down the mountains that towered 1000m above the race-course. On the third days racing we sailed out of the harbour into a huge 25kt swell with steep breaking waves. The target time of 1 hour for each race meant a lot of people were swimming on the final gybe mark. I can say with clarity it was the hardest days sailing of my life.

Into final series and thunder storms rolled overhead, firing golf ball-sized hail stones at the ground. One questionable gold fleet race took place, with opportunities to go from first to last and visa-versa available in abundance. On the 5th days racing, a late sea breeze formed which allowed three races to take place. I finally found my form in the last race of this day, winning my first ever World championship race. This also turned out to be the last race of the event, as the sea was completely calm on the 6th day. One of the few consistencies throughout such conditions, was Pavlos Kontides from Cyprus. Even despite his share of bad luck (a ripped sail causing a DNF) he remained firmly planted at the pointy end of the fleet, unlike virtually all his rivals. After showing good form in all the World Cups this year, it wasn’t a surprise to see him at the top of the leaderboard, nevertheless it was a very impressive display of dominance. I finished my week in 20th, almost inevitably it wasn’t the result I was hoping for however that doesn’t take away from an incredible week’s competition. I can’t advocate enough how incredible it is to really put yourself out there against the very best. It’s an experience that (to a moderate extent) money can’t buy. And once you’ve competed in a Laser Worlds, that’s it, you’ve hit the roof! You really can’t find a harder or better event to test yourself.

Written by Michael Beckett for Southeast Sailboats.  Michael Beckett is sponsored by Southeast Sailboats, using our unique control line systems for the Laser including our 8:1 downhaul system