radio daze

The last time I crossed the start line in a big regatta was the ’97 A-Cat worlds and that didn’t turn out so well see A Sordid Tale of A-ddiction. And with two knee surgeries and the laws of physics preventing me from flying above the waves on an A-Cat; I needed, and found an outlet for my competitive sailing urges. This weekend I jumped into my first venture into the world of Radio Controlled sailing at the RC Laser National Championship. And I had the time of my life.
The RC Laser was developed by Jon Elmaleh, and Bruce Kirby (yes, that Bruce – designer of the full sized Laser) to be bullet-proof.  It is made out of durable plastic like most kayaks, and given the carnage that I saw and was unfortunately part of – a fleet of carbon IOMs or Marbleheads would have sunk to the bottom of the lake. Amazingly, it costs Xbox money and lives in a zip up soft carrying case that you can stick in your car, assemble in 10 minutes, and go out racing. I bought mine for winter sailing stress relief 15 years ago, and decided to dust it off when I heard that the nationals were going to be in my back yard.  The durable one design means that my boat and sails are as fast as any boat out there and (unfortunately for me) the winning comes down to how well you sail.
The wind was shifty, the gusts were sharp, and the dead spots lay around the course like a mine field.  Finally a challenge worthy of my pent up sailing aggression and overinflated sense of how good I used to be!  It sails exactly like the uni-rigged Laser, where you have to always keep moving, and are dead if you do a down speed tack. The only real adjustment to the rig tuning is a string attached to the clew that you can tighten or loosen and slide in and out on the boom for leach twist control and foot curve – but you can only do that between races.  Now, throw in the fact that the telltales are 30 yards away, and that even if you get a great start there may be 5 boats blocking your view and you need to fly blind for a little while, or around a mark, that you aren’t really sure if you are past yet…  You get where I am going here – it is a concentration challenge that puts big boat sailing, chess, and professional poker to shame.
So how was the racing?  Amazing!  A start line about 10 boats long, a windward mark with an offset and a leeward gate. Two laps of some of the best tactical risk management and maniacal boat handling that i have ever been part of. If it was a big boat race, something would break in the gusts, people would yell, bills would run high, and there would likely be blood on the deck somewhere.  But at this race, we were all standing together, with laughter, wise cracks, and the occasional mumbled curse about a wind shift or trip down the mine in a big puff.  The race starts with a 2 minute countdown recording, and the RD is there to keep it all peaceful and make sure no one is blocking the view from the mosh pit.  Everyone was great. They adopted me into this roaming band of merry pranksters, gave me tips that made a difference and didn’t get in my face when I inevitably bounced off someone in a tight squeeze. Contrast that to my first College regatta, or some weekend PHRF series on Long Island Sound, and I can say without a doubt that this is everything that is RIGHT about sailing.
I met my goals and made the gold fleet finishing 6th overall with good starts and a Bullet on Saturday in light air and the wheels falling off when the wind picked up on Sunday.  The regatta was won by Jon Emaleh, who just has an unearthly ability to stay focused and dig out of the inevitable hole when you go from first to deep – and make no mistake, you will DEFINITELY have that moment Radio Sailing.  I was the cause of at least one of them for Jon, and even though we got hooked together like mating whales and dialed deep into the Wayback Machine, he found a way to claw back to the top and I simply ran out of throwouts. Keeping your cool and your focus means consistency, and consistency wins championships.
Huge thanks to our hosts from the Lake Naomi Club for the food, the beach bar, and the helping hands that made it so special. And to Ken and the rest of the folks running the races for setting great courses in the midst of some serious swirling wind challenges, and for keeping all us Type A personalities focused on the fun.  Check out the video on their FB page here 2017 RC Laser Nationals.  – Anarchist Lincoln.