When Vaughn isn't coaching sailors at our week long, all-inclusive Laser clinics in Mexico, he continues his work with countless Olympians, youth and masters sailors. He coached at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and founded ISA in 2008.
The 2018 ISAF World Championship was held in Aarhus, Denmark during the first two weeks of August. This was my third combined WC experience, the first two being Perth 2011 and Santander 2014. Both were located in fantastic sailing venues. Aarhus is no exception, however, it slightly differs being in the Baltic Sea and surrounded by land in every direction. This Laser Worlds experience racing more shifty and exciting. Having been to Aarhus once before, I had an idea of what to expect. High probability of 40-degree shifts, 30-knot winds with sideways rain, or 30 degrees and sunny with the light sea breeze.
For the Laser Radial the format was 3 days of qualifying, followed by a spare day, then 2 days of finals series, another rest day then the medal race for a total of 11 races. Yes, that’s 8 days to complete 11 races. Having come from the Laser Worlds North Americans in Long Beach, California, where the format was 3 races a day for 4 days in 15 knots, the WC was relatively less physically demanding. That being said, these longer regattas can be mentally and emotionally draining. It’s very hard to prepare mentally for something like this. They really take on the format of the Olympic Games in the form of televising, scheduling, qualification, accreditation, and other ways. Not to mention that this Laser Worlds was the first Olympic qualifier event, where some of the top finishing sailors could qualify their nation’s spot at the 2020 games in Tokyo. From a psychology preparedness perspective, it’s ideal to have your training and races embrace a similar feel and emotional arousal as the peak events. For this event, however, it was not easy to do this.
My team’s goal was to qualify Canada for the Olympics, which meant to finish with the top countries. Having finished 5th and 12th at last year’s WC in Medemblik, Brenda Bowskill and Sarah Douglas were ready for more.
We had a mix of conditions early on in qualifiers with the first day sailed in the sea breeze and the second offshore. The westerly offshore was a condition we had seen a lot of in practice and typically blew for several days at a time with strong winds and big shifts. The biggest notable difference was that every time we had trained in this we had altostratus clouds (dark, grey and overcast). However this day 2 of racing brought cumulus turned cumulonimbus clouds, which we hadn’t seen with the offshore frequently in the past.
The difference was that we had been used to 5-10 minute oscillations that were fairly predictable, but now these isolated rain clouds brought much longer and less predictable shifts, making some legs of the course persistent/favored, and others with 1 or more 30 degree shifts. The only pattern we could deduce was that clouds approaching meant a shift to the right, and clouds passing meant a shift back to the left.
The next day was similar but the clouds were lower, denser and moving faster… and our windward mark was closer to land. All of this made for a very high frequency of shift, especially toward the top of the beat. Leaders were often doing more than 15 tacks per beat, specifically on the second upwind. Sarah scored a 6-1 which put her happily in the top 10 heading into finals racing.
In the last two days, the skies cleared and invited a light sea breeze. We managed 1 race on live TV in 5-8 knots. Sarah showed off her impressive downwind speed after hitting the windward mark then rounding the bottom in 2nd. On the final day of fleet racing, the wind picked up to a promising 10-12 knots and appeared to be a steady sea breeze. After 9 races, Sarah was sitting in 3rd place and only a handful of points out of the top spot. A few unfavorable shifts in race 10 shook up the leader board, leaving Belgium’s Emma Plasschaert in a favorable position for the gold.
For a great recap of how the medal race unfolded, take a look at Sarah’s page
“My plan was to sail my own race, sail fast and ask coach where I fell on the overall leaderboard once I crossed the finish line.”
Link to medal race here.
Sarah was in a great position to grab the bronze medal in the regatta. She needed 2 boats between her and Anne Marie Rindom of Denmark and 1 boat between her and Paige Railey of USA, and to beat Monika Mikkola of Finland.
15 to 20 knots offshore is a great condition for Sarah. She was very quick in training so we knew her best chance in getting the podium spot was to sail smart and try to win the race. It was pretty advantageous having two of the fastest sailors in the breeze, Maria Erdi and Alison Young in the medal race, but not in contention of overtaking Sarah. That way it could be easier to get a few more boats in between. Emma only needed to stay within 5 boats of Marit to lock up the Gold so we guessed they may match race but in the end, the conditions did not favor it. The shifts were so big that luck could have you go from 10th to 1st in a blink. Rounding the 1st windward, Sarah was in position for the bronze medal but it changed when the umpire boat flagged her for rocking downwind. She recovered well and rounded the second windward in 3rd, but Anne-Marie right behind her was now holding the bronze. Sarah struggled to control the inside of the course for the final downwind which ended up costing her 4 boats, including Monika and Paige, giving up 4th place in the regatta. It’s always bittersweet to know how close you made it, but with this result and momentum, it will be easy to motivate ourselves to work harder for the next one.
Next, we’re off to Japan for the test event, then we’ll do some training at ISA before the winter regatta calendar kicks off. Hope to see you there!
Canadian Team members Sarah Douglas and Brenda Bowskill train regularly through their winter schedule at the International Sailing Academy. In 2017 they completed four weeklong performance training blocks at ISA’s facility with ISA’s Head Coach Vaughn Harrison to improve their sailing and fitness in preparation for the Laser Worlds Championships. They have been attending clinics at ISA Since 2014.