For me the real value of the Laser Masters is about the people and even though I have been to only one other Masters, it was nice seeing many of the people from last time and renewing acquaintances. In particular, I saw Doug from Improper Course and this time he had Pam along who is a delight. I also spent some time with my buddy Neil from Australia who had visibly lost weight from last year – which he attributes to a lady friend who has him on a very healthy diet. And, frankly after seeing Neil race this year, I think she also has been adding some vitamins and other goodies. I made some new friends – a South African living in Qatar, an Australian dentist, John the UK journalist in Australia, and a couple of Greeks. And the same little group of Great Grand Masters in Standards has mostly the same people as last year. Mark Bethwaite has been, as usual, a perfect gentleman, welcoming me with a kind word at each race. Although frankly, after battling the waves in 20 knots for several days, I think a few of us will be in Radials next time. Or maybe just forgo any dieting for a year or so and try to come better equipped weight-wise.
I am also starting to discover the culture of the Masters. Some of the sailors have a wealth of experience – typically starting at a young age and competing for many years. Some have done keelboat sailing and return to dinghies for the purity and fun and friendship of it all. Others are just club sailors who love the sport and come when they can. As a newcomer to the entire sailing scene, I am very lucky to be able to participate in an event like this and it is very encouraging to be welcomed into this group and included without any sign of being looked down as a newcomer. People are generous with tips and suggestions and even though often they are discussing past Laser events they have attended with many of the same people, there is no sense of exclusivity or snobbery. I heard an interesting comment from one of the people involved in events and he said there was a huge difference between the Open competition with all the stars, many of whom are prima donnas and want everything perfect on their boat, and the Masters where everyone is laid back.
I had an interesting discussion with a Dutch woman who explained that she and her husband had both been Olympic sailing hopefuls and had worked very hard but had never realized their dream. Now their children are very much into sailing and pursuing their own dreams – and not knowing what to do about university/career. And their parents don’t really know what to tell them. They don’t want to push them either way. There is no right answer.
Back to the racing, it was a survival day for me. And I did survive which I was glad to do. Lots of hard work trying to learn how to cope with the waves and more than one capsize. But a great learning experience and confidence builder. I got a bit more aggressive on the starts – which luckily for us is a very long line with plenty of room to start gaining speed with about 30 seconds to go. But, even with a decent start, it is a bit disheartening to stay more or less even with the stars for a minute or two and then see them turn on the engines and pull away effortlessly – well, I know they are putting a lot of effort into it, but just watching them keeping their boat flat in these conditions, with small tiller movements going around breaking waves, it sure looks effortless. And it is not just weight – Bethwaite can’t weigh more than me.
Finally, we had a moving event today involving Jean-Michel, one of the organisers in Oman and who is helping in Hyères with the boats. He is always available with a big grin and very pleasant. He grew up in the area and his father was very active for many years in regattas and became a judge. However, because he never learned English he could never be part of the Jury for a Laser event, much to his regret. His father passed away a day or so ago and Jean-Michel had a box of roses near the check-in station and asked any sailor who wished to take a rose and throw it on the water in memory of his father. I did so.