“It’s Junuary out there!” exclaimed Stan Eriksson after standing out on the point and taking in the full brunt of the waves and wind off the Lake Forest boat ramp.
With a front moving through, the Lake Tahoe Laser sailors were facing the coldest, windiest and waviest night of racing, and how to stay warm in the event of capsizing became the topic of discussion among those in the group willing to go out. Ultimately, only five boats raced Monday off the shores of Tahoe City in the burly-but-fun conditions.
“I immediately sent them on a long Olympic course,” said chief race officer Stacy Conner, “to hopefully warm them up.”
At the windward mark in the first race, it was a dual between Eriksson and Todd Jackson. However, behind them, Kiwi Moore, Rick Raduziner and Buff Wendt were mixing it up on the reach legs.
By the time the sailors were on the next lap, Eriksson had pulled out a lead, and Jackson and Wendt were in a fierce downwind battle.
“Early, I started to work inside of Buff to gain the right of way with the thought of leading around the leeward mark. It was a great plan, until I was hit with a really big gust and death rolled,” said Jackson.
A death roll is a particularly brutal type of capsize in which your boat tips to windward on top of you instead of the sail going into the water first. Wendt sailing a bit more conservatively in the breeze went to the outside and jibed early to make a safe rounding of the leeward mark.
Ultimately Eriksson held on for the win, Wendt was second and Jackson was third.
In the second race, the fleet went back to trying out the new Harry Anderson course. Again, Eriksson and Jackson were the top two around the first mark with Wendt, Moore and Raduziner following.
Wendt had squeaked out a tiny lead among the chase pack and had right of way at the jibe mark when Jackson capsized and Eriksson death rolled trying to avoid hitting Jackson.
“With the cold winds gusting to 20 at the jibe mark, it was a bit chaotic,” Moore said. “It became a contest of staying upright at that point.”
Jackson righted his boat fairly quickly and was hanging onto the lead, with Wendt chasing him down. Eriksson spent awhile in the water trying to untangle a mainsheet that had looped around his boom at the time of the death roll.
“It really zapped my energy; even wearing a wetsuit and a hat, that water was very cold for the amount of time that I had to spend in it,” Eriksson said.
Jackson rounded the second jibe mark in first place, and then the downwind battle was on between Jackson and Wendt. In the end, Wendt surfed one more wave to approach the leeward mark in first place.
“I knew that I had to give everything I had to keep the boys behind me,” said Wendt. “I love sailing in big winds, but ultimately they tend to favor heavier people. Stan and I have to point high and have our sails bladed out, while Todd, Kiwi and Rick can really point lower and drive their boats at maximum speed in these conditions.
“I had no confidence that I could keep them from rolling me upwind.”
In the end, however, Wendt crossed the line in first, and Raduziner managed to finish second in a close race with Jackson and Moore, who finished third and fourth, respectively.
In the final race, Jackson, a heavy air specialist, had sorted out his boat-handling issues and was back in his usual dominant form. He took an early lead that he never conceded.
The real race for the night’s standings, however, was developing behind him. Wendt had rounded the windward mark in last place and took a low line to the jibe mark. Eriksson, Moore and Raduziner were surfing the waves higher and exchanging places with each wave as they tried to gain the advantage at the jibe mark.
Ultimately, though, it was Wendt who achieved the inside spot at the jibe mark, moving her up to second place which she never surrendered for the rest of the race. That left Eriksson, Moore and Raduziner duking it out for third.
“These boats are very physical if you are going to sail them well,” said Raduziner. “You have to constantly be hiking out and working your sail to get each wave, because if you don’t there is someone right there waiting to pass you.”
In the end, Eriksson made it into third, with Raduziner and Moore following.
“Buff beat us boys up in the heavier winds tonight with solid boat handling,” said Eriksson, “but she’s also won a worlds women’s title in San Francisco Bay, so we knew she was going to be a serious threat out there. It’s fun that any one of us is capable of winning a night, that is how close and competitive we are on the race course.”
Learn more about the Laser racing group at tahoeyc.com/laser-racing.html.