Heavy Weather Laser Slalom 2011 a blast

Laser Heavy Weather Slalom
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With 25 knots registering on the committee boat the Laser Slalom 2011 fleet hit the water for the wildest ride on the Bay, the St Francis Yacht Club’s Heavy Weather Slalom event, presented by Laser Performance and Maclaren. Racing began about 1pm in a flood tide and white caps. Not quite perfect but good enough, noted Don Trask, event founder.

Of the final four, Peter Shope and Ben Richardson (both USA) went head to head, with Shope prevailing and taking the overall first place trophy after four exhausting races. 'I don’t know where that came from,’ said an elated Shope. 'I tried to stay in the moment and not to look forward too much. I made sure that the vang was in the right position for the run at the beginning of each reach because I didn’t have time to deal with it going into the reach. That really helped me.'

Scott Ferguson (USA) took third prevailing against Mike Matan (GBR). This year's top three in the competition are incidentally all from Laser District 7.

This regatta is all about the spills and Ferguson took first prize for a phenomenal crash in his last race that catapulted him some two boat lengths off his stern. 'I needed to jibe, I got a huge puff and was just not going to make the gybe. I got pretty zapped especially after I crashed in the third race. Making the gybe is the difference between staying in the race - or not! It was a lot of fun.'

The talent-stacked fleet included international competitors from 18 years to 70-something, with anything from 40 years Laser sailing experience to six years. An elimination ladder saw yesterday’s winners advance and for those who lost two races, it was game over. With no room for error, spectacular - and frequent - crashes throughout the fleet made for tense moments on and off the course.

LaserPerformance Ambassador and Team Maclaren skipper Anna Tunnicliffe made it through to the final six. She said she was a little nervous going into the event as it’s been a while since she’s sailed a Laser (she’s been busy campaigning the Elliot 6m for the 2012 Olympics). 'The upwinds were hard because I’m a good 30 pounds lighter than the others racing but I liked the downwind.'

The Laser Slalom proves wrong beyond doubt anyone who argues that sailing’s not a sport because it’s not a workout. Watching competitors’ rapid fire maneuvering and hiking in the bigger breeze today demonstrated just how intense the job is in the Slalom to make it around the course unscathed (even the top guys - and gals - capsized). Racers cited gym workouts and aerobic exercise as a key part of their training for the event, and on the water, competitive drill sessions. 'I usually finish my race training with a 20 tack/20 gybe drill,' Ferguson said.

And that’s what Laser sailors love about it. Said Tunnicliffe, 'I really like the physical aspect of the boat and how you have to work really hard to make the boat do what you want to do it. I had to consider every move I had to make and I had a great time.'

That’s the end of the Laser Slalom for 2011. When it’ll next take place, no-one really knows. It worked out well to hold the event at St FYC this year because it slotted in between the Laser Youth and Master World Championships. Ideally it’s the perfect event to hold on a weekend to encourage greater spectatorship and most definitely when at a time when a howling breeze is guaranteed. Maybe it can become a stand-alone event going forward - there’s certainly no shortage of enthusiasm:

Said Ryan Nelson (USA), 'It was a blast, I can’t wait to do it again, I was just so bummed to go over when I did.'

* John Bertrand was the winner of the first Laser Slalom event held in 1974.

Today's photos to follow when available