2019 ILCA Radial Youth Worlds – Guest Blog Post by Cameron Holland
The Youth Worlds were held in Kingston, Ontario from July 26-31. I was really excited to attend this regatta, and also happy that I would have nine days to practice before the regatta began. I was looking forward to this as usually I get no more than one day to practice. The venue was Lake Ontario and it was definitely not the same as sailing on the sea, but it is not a lake in the Colorado mould. It is more like an ocean crossed with a Colorado lake. You could treat the venue like a lake-like piece of ocean, but it was not an ocean-like piece of lake.
I went with my mum and we arrived in Kingston late on the 16th of July. We had got a charter boat for the regatta but it was not available until July 19th. We had phoned a couple of places looking for a rental laser for the next two days but had not managed to set one up. In the morning we went to the Kingston Yacht Club which has a CSC-style children’s summer camp and asked if we could borrow one of their lasers. The manager, Fraser, hooked us up with a guy called Fergus who lived nearby and had a spare laser he was willing to rent to us for a couple of days. We signed up for that and one of the better things about renting this boat was that we also met another person who was training for the worlds, Billy. He was looking for someone to train with so we joined up to practice together with Fraser.
It was really rainy in the morning but when the rain stopped at around noon the wind piped up to about 15 knots. We got hold of the boat at 1pm and by the time I had rigged and sorted out the launching, the wind had already died down to about 10 knots. I was sad not to get the super windy part of the day. Before we went out Fraser showed us a video of who I think was Canadian sailor Maura Dewey, and pointed out a little up-turn she does when going through waves, so that was really cool. The idea was that as you go through waves you want to steer down a little bit, you want to have a larger angle to the wind so that you are accelerating as you are being slowed down by the waves. But Fraser showed me that there is a moment you want to turn up again to keep the flow over the daggerboard and keep sailing upwind. Going out on the water I tried to practice this but the conditions were too light to see the effect of the new technique. Billy and I did an hour and a half of rabbit starts and sailing upwind, speed testing etc. Billy and Fraser went in and I sailed upwind for an hour or two before heading back and packing the boat up because the wind was getting too light to sail.
Another light wind day, with wind from the north which opposes the sea-breeze direction. Billy and I went out sailing with the 420 group because Fraser was busy, but the 420 coach told us to do our own thing so we did some split tacks and speed tests until lunch. I was feeling pretty good about my sailing at this point, especially in the lighter winds with very little waves. While we were having lunch on-shore the wind died and it looked like it was dead for the rest of the day so we decided we had better things to do. Billy went to work out and I went home and spent the afternoon putting the numbers on my brand new race sail. I took extra care because last year my numbers failed inspection and we spent two hours in the back of the measurement shed re-sticking them. I did not want that to happen again!
We finally were allowed to get the charter boat from Portsmouth Olympic Harbour so we went there in the morning and were one of the first people to pick up a PSA charter boat. The PSA manager, Chris, was nice enough to take the deck cleats off for me since it was not too busy. I really appreciated this as we had no silicon with us to fill the screw holes. What a beautiful boat! It was a purplish-white that made my practice sail look mustard yellow in comparison. The boat was provided with blades, spars, and a hiking strap but nothing else. I had brought all my ropes and blocks but realised I did not have the correct control-line blocks. I could not properly attach the blocks I had brought with me so I jury-rigged them for the day but we had to buy some new ones for the regatta. Our first venture to Marine Outfitters, but not to be the last!
The sailing that day was quite windy and it was the first day I really got to hike. I spent the whole day hiking as hard as I could and trying to get my feel back in waves. I met up with Billy on the water and we did some practice races with the 420 team. I felt pretty good about my sailing. I skipped lunch and did as much hiking as possible for the day. I ended up doing an hour and a half of hiking upwind, then went downwind back to the same location in about thirty minutes. Such is sailing! I said goodbye to Billy and sailed upwind from Kingston YC back to Portsmouth to end the day. On the way in, I sailed past two other laser sailors, Tayte and Atlee, and I realised how badly I had been sailing for the entire day. They were keeping their boats flat and steady and hiking a lot more smoothly. Bummer.
This was the first day I saw my coach, Mike Todd, and the rest of my team. I was super stoked and excited. There were four other sailors on my team, Pioter and Michal from Poland and Ben and Tayte from Canada.
Practice days with Mike (Day 4-8)
Mike’s general plan for the practice days was to have intensive training to start with, tapering off during the week, so that we retained our energy for the regatta. On the first day we went out for three hours, going down to one and a half hours on the day before the practice race. In the mornings we did rabbit starts, speed testing, sailing long upwinds, and making sure our boat speed was good so we could hold lanes for 15 minutes at a time. We also did downwinds focussing on surfing, different modes and sail set-ups. For the last half of our practice we would join a race course set up by the Vancouver coach, Al Clark. The NZ team, Vancouver team, and Royal Canadian YC team (Ontario) were always there as well as some other sailors. The starts were always messy with lots of people over, getting pushed by the current and not really caring too much. However there were a couple of people who were really good at starting and I would start near them to practice holding a lane after the start, which I found really useful. Towards the end of the practice days I would stay out later than the rest of the team which allowed Mike to give me more personal feedback on my race decisions and suggest improvements I could make on my boat speed. Over the course of the practice sessions I kept my boat a lot flatter, to the point you could take a level and keep the bubble almost in the middle. One of the misconceptions I had was that I thought you needed a little bit of heel when it is wavy so that steering adjustments would lift the nose, but in fact it is simply better to focus on hiking harder and keeping the boat flat and keeping your tiller hand steady. The tiller should be free to move when you hit a wave but it should not bounce around. The tiller should be kept smooth by maintaining some resistance, similar to the shock absorber on a car. One of the biggest things I got out of the training days was my first big insight into surfing downwind. I realised that I had been turning too little when going back to by-the-lee. I was not reversing flow over the sail properly. I would turn up and get forward flow to start me down the wave but when I was actually on the wave I wasn’t turning by the lee enough and I was getting no flow instead of reverse flow. I realised that by leaning into the turn more and committing harder I could maintain my speed and go for a second upturn on the same wave.
I was feeling really confident going into the practice race and the regatta because on the last practice day in light wind and low waves, Mike organized a practice with the GCYSA (Gulf Coast) team and in a rabbit start/lane holding practice I pinched off and extended forward on the three boats above me, including Asher Zittrer, who I thought had a chance to win the whole competition.
Practice race day (Day 9)
I slept in and then we went to visit the locks at Kingston Mills, which was really cool. There are 49 locks on the Rideau Canal, with four in a row at Kingston Mills. In the afternoon was the practice race. The rest of my team had decided not to partake in it, instead they would watch from Mike’s coach boat. I was assigned to the blue fleet which was the second start. I attached the blue ribbon to my mast with electrical tape and sailed out to the race area, all official. I got out to the course and surveyed the conditions; an approximately fifteen knot breeze with medium waves and moderate downwind current. After establishing the conditions for the day, I overheard one of the sailors saying that they were not planning to start with their assigned fleet and that, in fact, most of the people who were participating in the practice race were going to start in the yellow fleet regardless of their assignment, and would start early without giving any care for where the line was. I knew from previous experiences that most people didn’t take practice races too seriously, but I was really hoping I could get in some good practice in the exact race format. Alas, I resigned myself to reality and decided I would start first too, with the yellows. When the committee boat blew the 5-minute horn, I sailed right past the jury boats, who could clearly see the giant blue strip taped to my mast, right up to the start-line—sorry jury people! I did all my preparation—I got a line sight, I checked the exact current direction, I checked for line/course bias, and finally I set up in a spot that would give me a clear lane all the way to the favoured left side of the course. It all went wrong when the race committee blew their one-minute horn and three or four boats decided they wanted to start, prompting three or four other boats to decide to go… the entire fleet had cleared off the starting line by 30 seconds to go. My friend Marcus and I were left behind alone. We gave each other a look and then Marcus turned and sailed in. I decided, in naive hopefulness, that perhaps everyone who didn’t care about the rules had started in the yellow fleet and the blue fleet would adhere to the rules. How wrong I was. After everyone started early once again, leaving me in their wake. I decided to just sail the race despite a last-place start—the worst that could happen is that I sail a nice upwind with some good hiking practice. After the first thirty seconds I had already caught up to the tail end of the fleet. The entire blue fleet were pinching and heeled up while I sailed my boat perfectly, perfectly flat on a low-mode. I passed the roughly 35-40 boat blue fleet and rounded the top mark in second. I made up about 45 seconds on the top guy—and the fleet—within a 15 minute upwind! I was glad to receive whoops from my team-mates on the coach boat as I rounded the first weather mark and started the downwind. That’s when I noticed that nobody was actually going downwind at all and were just simply sailing in. Ugh, practice races. In hind-sight I probably should have expected nothing from the practice race and sailed the yellow start with the better sailors, but sailing against the lower level blue fleet was rewarding and exactly the boost I needed to my confidence. That evening was the opening ceremony for the regatta with the sailors parading in country groups, and speeches by the mayor and ILCA representative. After the ceremony I met some people I knew from previous regattas as well as a new friend, William from Australia, who is really nice.
RACING! (Day 10-15)
Before racing I discussed my goals with Mike. I simply wanted to feel good about my sailing and feel as though I sailed as cleanly as possible, taking advantage of every piece of luck I got. Mike said I should set a more concrete goal, so I decided that making gold fleet sounded pretty nice because last year I missed out and was in silver fleet. The regatta consists of six days of racing with two races each day. The first three days are a qualifying series and sailors are randomly assigned to one of three fleets each day. After six races the top third of the sailors become the gold fleet, the next third are the silver fleet and the last third the bronze fleet. There is no switching of fleets after race day three.
I had an unfortunate feeling that everyone was going to take the racing on the first day a lot more seriously than the practice day and I would not find it as easy to overtake the fleet. I knew I had to be very consistent during the qualifying series because it is a lot harder to get good results once the fleet has been split. There is only one drop over the whole regatta so it is likely that in the gold fleet you will have to keep any bad result from the qualifying series. That’s the mindset I went in with — don’t take massive risks, play it safe and keep it consistent. I knew my starts and boat speed were good enough to get me into gold fleet so I had to make sure I didn’t do something stupid to risk that. My game plan going into every single race, since it was a location where the wind was stable and the current was a huge factor, was to keep left. I aimed to start in the middle, because I am good at starting there and I knew I could get a massive lane. I could then extend the lane to the left side of the course where I would be safe because of the current. I was able to rinse and repeat five times with scores between 16 and 20. The sixth race I got a perfect start in conditions I knew I was very strong in — decent wind and low waves. When I got off the start line I knew I could do some damage with this race. I hiked my ass off! I was at the front of the fleet and easily keeping pace with the top group, if not gaining. But it all fell apart when, thirty seconds after the start, my feet slipped out from under the hiking strap and I watched from the water as my boat and my victory sailed away from me. I was so strong in the conditions and so unwilling to get a bad drop in the qualifiers that despite the fact that by the time I got sailing again I was last I still worked my ass off. I decided that if I could keep the leaders from getting any further ahead of me than they were now, that would be a win. I passed a ton of people and ended up finishing 22nd. What a comeback — but sadly it turned out to only be capsize number one.
I made gold fleet and accomplished my goal. A couple of other people I usually find it difficult to beat did not make gold fleet which was surprising. I think I was helped by the pre-regatta training that removed all my rust, and the low wave conditions which removed the huge boat speed advantage some people have in high waves.
I fully expected to get last in every race from here on, since I had qualified 49/54. In the first race when I finished 25th I was unbelievably ecstatic. I found that the practice we had done, holding a lane for 15 minutes, really translated well into the gold fleet where everyone had similar boat speed and the people who couldn’t hold on lost out. Since I could hold on I never lost out. After the 25th place I was less excited about the 35th I got in the second race, despite the fact that I would have been happy with it at the start of the day. Overall it was a very positive Cameron coming out of the first day of gold fleet.
When I went on the water on the second day there were two differences. The race course had been set closer to the island which meant more sheltered waves, more current, and more land effect. The left was even more favoured and the conditions were even more lake-like than day one. Having very small waves makes holding lanes really easy because there is nothing to mess up one boat relative to another. I started the first race of the day about fourth from the pin despite a 2-3 degree committee boat line bias because I was very confident that the left would really pay. I got a great start and held my lane to the top mark. Since the entire fleet also wanted to go left, I ended up being pushed over the layline so I waited to tack until the boats on my hip tacked. About 10-20 boatlengths before the mark there was a huge left windshift and the wind on the right died. Even though I was super-close reaching to the top mark the clump of 10 boats around me were able to glide first to the top mark. I rounded the top mark in sixth. Wow! I held my place until the last downwind, however since the wind was in a left phase I thought there was a chance the wind would swing back, and on the second upwind I kept to the right of the boats going left. This allowed two boats to pass me, which is what happens when you try to sail safe. Two more boats passed me and I crossed the line in tenth which was completely insane! Great finish! The wind picked up for the second race into hiking conditions, but the waves had not yet built. I started middle right because the committee had increased the line bias to spread the boats out along the line more. I started just on top of Tom Higgins who was third overall at the time, and I was able to hold my lane. Partway up the leg Tom told me to tack, which I didn’t want to do but I figured he knew what he was doing, and so I did. As soon as I tacked I realised we were already on the layline since the course was skewed right. Most other people did not notice, so almost everyone in the fleet overstood. I hiked my ass off again, this time making sure my feet stayed under the strap, and I sailed clean into fourth place around the top mark. Holy shit! The rest of the race was very easy because I was in a pack of five boats who were clear of the fleet, I just had to watch out for the sailor behind me. On the second beat the pack of five created a huge separation and we ended up about a quarter of a leg ahead of the fleet since we could all sail in clean air. On the final reach the guy in third was flagged by the jury and had to do turns which put him behind me. What a feeling! Third place in a gold fleet race! That’s a story for my grandkids!
The next day I dropped abruptly with two capsizes in two races, resulting in finishes of 42 and 43. I was so happy with the third place from the previous day that I didn’t mind too much; that race had made my whole regatta. It was also cool to know that even in gold fleet I could work back from dead last to finish in the high 40s, passing several sailors. In the last race, one of the top sailors had a bad start and was near the back with me and I was happy to see that I could work through the fleet just as well as he could. Having the good drop from the qualifiers meant I had to keep only one of the results from the last day and I only dropped nine places. I ended the regatta 35th in the gold fleet, and the fourth North American sailor.
Looking back I am extremely happy with my performance. I had everything going for me and I was able to convert that into a good result. For the first time in a long time I was not rusty going into the regatta and the conditions had decently flat waves which meant being smart mattered more than being fast. The location played to my strengths and overall I achieved my goal of being able to convert every piece of good luck I got and minimise the effect of the bad luck. I have come away with lots of valuable sailing experiences and some new friends. My team-mate Ben introduced me to the Nova Scotia sailing team who were extremely nice and included me easily in their group. I also made a good friend in Will, who left me with a koala who will share my dorm room with me in college.