Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Dad, What's a Laser Slalom?
For one thing, son, it's a lot more fun than another day in America's Cup court (take my breath away, Justice DeGrasse) and it's a game that's perfect for San Francisco Bay. Once upon a time, when the original Laser Generation was coming on (Bertrand, Madrigali, Cayard, Silvestri for a short list) people came from all over the world to play. Now, with the Laser North Americans just completed, we have a new Laser generation stepping up.
Picture two rows of buoys side by side, windward-leeward. Two competitors rally-up at the bottom of the course, each of them nose-to one of the bottom marks. When the judge figures they're even, he signals a start. The job is to tack up through the marks, cross over, gybe down through the marks, and repeat, and don't crash, and finish first. Keeping the marks close together keeps the gybes "interesting." Two days into a three-day event, we've seen moments when both boats were down. Looks kinda like this when it's going wrong . . .
Photo by Erik Simonson
And like this when it's done gone wrong . . .
Photo by Erik Simonson
The bigger the breeze, the better the Slalom. It's supposed to be hard. Work your way through the eliminations ladder to the finals, and you have bragging rights.
Our 2008 North American champ, David Wright of Toronto, says he grew up on "the legends" and wouldn't miss this opportunity to take a crack a Laser Slalom himself. Special rule: Exchanging sides at the top of the course the starboard-tack boat is required to pass above, and neither is allowed to "hunt" . . .
Photo by Erik Simonson
There's an intimate relationship between those on the course and those waiting their turn. Here we have two boats nosing-up for a start . . .
And as we say in the trade, "a reaction shot" as somebody bites the dust . . .
Crash and get tide-swept down the course, and you have to beat back up the course to get the mark roundings right. Brendan Wilton in one heat had the thing in the baghis opponent had issues and sailed off the coursebut Brendan went down and was tide-swept through the line on the wrong gybe. Sorry, Brendan. That's not a finish. You have to get the boat on its feet and back up the course, and he did that, and sheeted out and went for the gybe and then he crashed . . .
Did I mention that it's supposed to be hard? San Francisco Bay is one of the few places where you could pull off a Laser Slalom. First, you have the breeze. Then you have the location of the St. Francis Yacht Club, with a race course right in its front yard: a place to stage the racing, a place to trade-out boats, and a place for spectating.
Spectating is key. Where else while racing do you get to hear your best friends howling in glee when you screw up and take a dose of saltwater up the nose? We've been seeing wind in the twenties, but with wave action (unfortunately, I say) reduced by flood-tide currents moving in the same direction, no ebb-tide/countercurrent moguls. Alas.
Here's a little history lesson. The picture below was shot by one John Hutton (an amateur photographer of the first orderin its original form this is a much better imageand also a surgeon, a US Army general, and later White House physician to Ronald Reagan). We're looking at one of the early Laser Slalom races. Whitecaps. Reefed sails(!) And if you squint real hard you might see a figure on the bow of Wee Willie, now respectfully but less-colorfully known as the William L. Stewart, and that would be me with a camera. Oh dear. Despite wind and windage, there is enough ebb current to have Willie streaming upwind of the anchor. I recall, at one point, rolling in the trough and scooping water with both gunnels . . .
The Slalom wraps up on Wednesday. Dave Wright is sailing well and advancing, but this is still a wide open deal for many of the 32 entries on the ladder. Updates at St. Francis YC web site.
Quote of the day from Qingdao:
"As we near the start of the Games, the sea has been turning blue again. People were worried a few weeks ago because the race course had been covered in green algae, which was hard to sail through, but thousands of volunteers in fishing boats have been trying to clear the sea of sludge. The knock-on effect is that restaurant prices have rocketed because all the fishermen have been out catching algae instead of fish."
Ben Ainslie, Finn rep, UK
Thought of the day from the high Pacific:
Congratulations, Skip Allan, for finishing your unfinished business.
Thirty years ago Skip sailed his Wylie 27, Wildflower, in the Singlehanded Transpac and placed second. This year it seems impossible for him, on his 28th race from California to Hawaii, to do anything but hit it out of the park. He's in and the numbers look good. I've got more to say but it will have to wait because I got seriously sidetracked this morning by news out of New York and . . .
Thought of the day from the America's Cup beat:
Don't talk to me. Don't even come near meKimball