SHOPE WINS MASTER NATIONALS
By Joe Berkeley
Be careful what you wish for. After four light-to-medium air races at the Laser Nationals in Rochester, New York, the fleet was pining for more breeze. Lake Ontario, the 14th largest lake in the world, obliged.
The black storm cloud on the horizon moved from left to right, the RC posted course D, a windward, leeward, windward, leeward, reach, gybe, reach, finish to windward. Against the black sky, just shy of 98 white Laser sails waited. At the gun, the breeze had filled in at a solid 20. Up the first beat, the breeze increased to 30 and then to 35. Rain fell in a great white sheet and visibility became near to zero. There were no atheists in this race, as everyone said a little prayer they would live to tell the tale.
While some made deals with their particular Gods, and others struggled to survive, two were out to kill. Tracy Usher of San Francisco started at the pin and with his hiking strap as loose as possible he hiked and hiked and then hiked some more. To the right of him, Peter Shope started closer to the boat. With his strap just as loose as Usher’s and his legs just as straight, Shope hiked, hiked, hiked, then looked up to see he had a commanding lead.
In the 35 mile per hour breeze, Scott Pakenham observed that Shope was actually tacking on the shifts. His red yacht named Fluffy, a tribute to the cat sleeping in his Toyota minivan, was a red burst against the white out conditions, going up the breeze not so much sailing as flying, pressing the bow down driven by adrenaline that had been locked away during the previous races. Shope would go on to win the race and the regatta with a 2, 1, (8), 5, 1, 1, throwing out a race that many sailors in the middle of the fleet would love to pluck from the discard bin and call their own.
At the weather mark in race 5, one boat missed the layline, tacked, and capsized. Soon, there was a multi-boat pileup of carnage, boats stuck together, upside down. The more humble competitors overstood, sailed around the carnage and focused on survival.
Downwind, the waves had kicked up to five-foot steep moguls and the leaders were dancing down them with loose vangs, sitting in the back of the cockpit, rooster tails flying from the transoms. For these sailors, like Mark Bear who sailed to a third in race 5 and a second overall with finishes of 4, 3, 12, (20), 3, 3 “Master” is a term of sailing skill rather than one which denotes entrance into that august organization, the AARP.
In the big breeze, calamity visited itself upon sailors of all skill levels. The great Nigel Heath of the Water Rat Sailing Club in Canada was the last to rig his boat on Saturday, but he was the first to finish in races 3, and 4. In the big breeze in race 6, Nigel Heath was putting every ounce of his 160 pounds into keeping the boat flat when he rounded up, capsized, and almost bisected the reporter to weather of him.
Andy Roy, the President of the Laser class finished fifth in race five. Between races, he stated that he is happy with the state of USA/Canada Laser relations. One of his countrymen noted that it would be great to have some USA attendance at Canadian Nationals. The note is worthy of review as there were no shortage of Canadian sails on the line and the opportunity to sail on a Great Lake is a treat.
When the breeze picks up, the waves get steep and the bottom of the lake goes to the top. The water gets colder as the Lake “turns over” and the conditions are ideal for Laser sailing.
Fleet 413 had great representation at the regatta. Shope was first overall, Mark Bear was second. In the radial division, the man of iron, Peter Seidenberg, took home more first place silver. He finished with a 3, (13), 2, 2, 5, 4. David Frazier won the Great Grand Master division. Scott Pakenham and Peter Hopple, who travelled together both had one race each in the top ten. If you could outfit their pickup truck with go-Pro cameras, you could have the makings of a great reality TV show.
Hopple, who sails with whatever clothes he can get his hands on reflected upon the fact that when he first returned to the Laser fleet, he didn’t pay much attention to gear. He often sailed with a wooden tiller and rather than buy hiking boots he just laced up his construction boots. After one heavy air day, where he had a couple of strong races, Dan Neri, the man of very few but very powerful words, approached Hopple with a question. “You beat me? With. A. Wooden. Tiller?” The question was rhetorical as Neri did not expect an answer and turned on his heels and walked away.
As always, the camaraderie on land was quite good and it was great to have competitors from all over the country in the mix. The housing was first rate, the RC figured out how to get 6 races off in tricky conditions, and the staff of the Rochester Yacht Club was hospitable.
Between races, I came up with an idea worthy of consideration. During postponements when the fleet is waiting, when the race committee flies Code Flag V, it is an invitation for the fleet to vote. By sailing to the left of the committee boat, you are voting to sail in and cancel for the day. By sailing to the right of the committee boat, you are voting to stay out and wait for breeze. The vote is not binding, but informs the committee’s decision. The thinking is Master sailors are not youth sailors. The centuries of wisdom on the starting line is worthy of the race committee’s consideration.
Joe Berkeley is a freelance writer who finished 26th at the Laser Nationals. His work is at joeberkeley.com