Touring with the World – GBR Team Sailor Michael Beckett
Read this great write up by Team GBR sailor Michael Beckett of a hectic last two months….
The ‘Easter’ period, April & May, was a jam-packed few months for every Laser sailor on the international sailing circuit. First up was the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma, Mallorca, a huge event with over one thousand sailors entered across the many classes, 183 of which in the Laser men’s Standard fleet. Such a large entry meant being split up into three fleets, qualifying taking place for two days followed by three days final series racing (gold, silver & bronze fleets) and then a medal race on the sixth day for the top ten. Because the qualifying series only consisted of four races it was very unforgiving racing, with sailors needing to average 15th position in each race to make the cut for gold fleet. That, combined with Palma’s notorious racing conditions, made for a challenging and nervy week.
I managed to stay consistent through qualifying and entered gold fleet sat comfortably in 7th place. doing well in the racing so far had relied heavily on a good start and spotting the pressure, a bit of a speed edge didn’t do any harm either. Day four was a memorable day, 16 – 24 knots, straight into the bay, over blue water and under bright sunshine, it was a challenge for the legs and boat-handling.
I managed to keep it consistent through final series (much easier said than done), to leave me going into the medal race in 6th overall. I was excited to be doing the medal race at an event where almost all the World’s best guys were present. It may sound obvious, but the problem with medal races is that they’re so difficult, because they only have the ten best guys in the world in, and nobody else.
As I launched for the race in a fresh easterly, I (and I think most of the guys) assumed it would be a simple hour of sailing with a 30-minute race, then back ashore to pack up. After five long hot hours on the water baking in the sun, the wind did a few laps of the compass and we finally got a race in. At one point I was last in the race, but helped by a fair amount of luck I climbed back to third. This left me 5th overall, probably my best result in senior racing so far. One down, two to go.
After a good result in Palma I ignored my instincts to try and keep producing more of the same sailing performance. Despite a good result I went ahead and made a lot of changes to my sailing and boat set-up anyway, with more of a long-term strategy to make the best result further down the line, after Hyeres World Cup.
Hyeres was the first European round of the 2018 World cup series. The biggest difference from a World Cup to normal events is a two-lap upwind/downwind course with a huge 70 boat fleet. This meant the separation between the boats furthest left and right shortly after the start was huge, making the first beats incredibly tricky and very easy to get wrong. The opening race of the regatta was held in a typical Hyeres Easterly, which is normally a left-hand gain. I spent most of the race on the left of the course and it all went well, so I assumed it would make sense to do the same in the next race. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and my confidence in the wrong strategy was very punishing. For me that set the tone for an immensely tricky week in predominantly light winds that I struggled with. Despite having a new boat and working hard on new technical goals, nothing went that well for me and I finished a disappointing 21st overall, an identical result to my 2017 performance. Two down, one to go.
From Hyeres I drove with all the other Laser sailors to La Rochelle, for the Laser Europeans. It was a great relief to travel north, to escape the mosquitos and heat of the Mediterranean! It was important to take a few days off, as overall, I was spending a month in France for the two events, so this time had to be broken up with some time to relax.
La Rochelle, renowned for tide and waves, is a very technical venue to perform in. In the run up to the regatta I spent a lot of energy trying to get used to the tides, the offset swell and building up outright boat speed.
I won the opening race of the regatta by a comfortable margin and managed to stay consistently inside the top ten for the remainder of the three-day qualifying series. Going into the final series I knew racing would be immensely challenging, just looking at the entry list you could be forgiven for thinking the event was the World Championships; with the best Australian, Kiwi and South & North American sailors all present. The conditions were consistently above the 12kt mark, with the first day of gold fleet racing taking place in 18kt and huge swell. The racing was phenomenally tough and relentless, I stuck to my plan and tried to stay consistent over a long six-day regatta.
The intensity of racing and high wind strength meant I was getting concerned about the possibility of a disastrous breakage of anything on my boat, to the extent that I would go down to the boat-park early every day just to allocate time to checking through everything. At this point, I must say how grateful I was to be using control systems that weren’t just highly effective, but easily capable of withstanding day after day in 12kt+, so a huge thank-you to Southeast Sailboats.
Going into the last day, the breeze was finally easing to make way for some rain. The points at the top were close, I was in third (European) place and fifth overall, desperately hoping I could finish with a medal. Nearly all the event leaders had a poor opening race which they discarded, moving me up to second European and fourth overall. That was how things were to stay incidentally, as the final race wasn’t started before the time limit. I sailed ashore and packed my boat up in the rain, with a great feeling of relief after winning my first ever senior medal. For me, the best part of a good result isn’t the result itself, but the confirmation that all the training and effort I put into sailing is, not necessarily perfect, but along the right lines. It’s as satisfying as it is relieving.
Michael uses Southeast Sailboats 8:1 downhaul system, our unique outhaul double puller system and our equally unique tied version of the Harken 29mm block plate.
Michael Becket is competing in the World Cup Sailing Finals in Marseille France over the next week – good luck Michael!