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Laser Masters Florida Championship for the Jack Swenson Memorial Trophy

by Guy Noble 6 Feb 06:42 GMT 31 January - 2 February 2020

Five Brits took a midwinter break from UK frostbite sailing and trekked off to Florida for sun sea sand and waves. What they actually got was one day of champagne sailing, one day of very light wind sailing and a final day of the most shifty fickle and tricky sailing you're ever likely to race in.

The three regulars Chris Ellyatt, Mike Hicks and Tim Law have been making the trip down to Florida for several years. The two consecutive masters events, usually held in March but this year brought forward to February because of the world Championships in Australia, are hosted by Palm Beach sailing Club and US Sailing Centre at Jensen Beach (review of this event will follow). It didn't take a lot of arm-twisting to persuade myself and Alan Davis to come along and get in some Pre-worlds training in Florida in preparation for the Laser Master Worlds in Australia - taking a week out of uk club frostbite series seemed like a no-brainer.

First let me declare that this is a blatant attempt at persuading more Laser sailors to come and race these kind of events - if funds permit. The focus here is to give an overview of these particular events not a blow by blow account of the racing.

Although we all are friends we are not in each other's pockets - Tim and Alan came with their wives Bernadette and Anne, Mike was with his son Charlie and we stayed at different hotels, meeting up sometimes to eat together. Florida offers some great sailing venues, beautiful beaches, great food and even golfing opportunities - so for partners or family there is plenty to do.

Accommodation was a bit more expensive than usual as Super Bowl was on in Miami but there are the usual range of choices from Airbnb to swanky hotels. Chartering boats is pretty easy and flights reasonable. For those of you that have done any of the European events it is more expensive as there is the air fare and charter to consider but if treated as a winter holiday it surely can be justified. ILCA and UKLA websites provide more info on the regattas timing.

The Standard fleet had 42 entries and the Radials about 24. Of these about half were from Canada, Spain, Germany and the Uk. The Laser Master are a very welcoming group always keen to get more boats on the water - so sailors from far afield are much appreciated. If you've done any of the UK or European Laser Masters events you'll know what the general level of the fleet tends to be - the US is no different. There are some ex-Olympians, some very enthusiastic amateurs and competent club sailors. Many good club sailors are put off because they think every one is going to be better. I thought that and in my case they were, to begin with. Sailing on a pond with 10 other boats demands certain skills which you probably now take for granted - lining up with 40 or 50 boats might seem daunting but you'll be amazed how quickly you'll learn and it's so exciting before you know it you are hooked.

The first day at PBSC offered up a good 12 to 15 knots with a moderate sea. We got in 3 races all run like clock work. First of the Brits in Race 1 was Tim Law with a solid 8th just behind his old rival Wolfgang Gerz (Finn Gold cup winner). Tim has had a tricky winter with some serious health issues to deal with so was pretty happy with that result but fitness and getting his racing head back in gear would become a problem as the days unfolded. Mike Hicks wanted to feel at one with nature so decide to swim with the dolphins on the first beat - not the fastest way round. Chris Ellyatt just piped Alan Davis with 13th and 14th respectively and I managed a 17th.

Race 2 - going right towards the beach was the favoured side but not getting a good start I was forced out to the centre left which didn't pay. MIke decide to go surfing in the breakers only tacking when a whopper broke over his head - could of been so much worse but he lived to tell the tale. Alan had the best result with a good 10th.

Race 3 proved a fairly similar affair with us brits owning the middle of the fleet. Although our results were a tad disappointing the sailing was stunning - warm, windy and wavy... the 3 w's as the late Geoff Martin described perfect masters sailing.

Day 2 could not of been more different. With the wind dying the first race was abandoned after sailing an hour with no finishers. The restart proved almost as frustrating with massive shifts lumpy seas and big pressure differences. Mike Hicks showed us how to do light wind sailing finishing a brilliant 4th.

Day 3 has become rather blurred probably on account of the huge 30 degree wind shifts which made for some serious shakes and ladders - suffice to say it was Alan Davis with a 9th and 6th and Chris Ellyatt with a 10th and 11th who came out on top. That evening we all entered into the spirit of the USA Super Bowl and watched the game while eating classic US food in a sport bar - arranged by Alan.

A word on the Americans and Canadians. Many of these guys are pretty much full time sailors and have been for many years so it's possible to learn a lot by watching them carefully. But it's important not to let their undoubted skill and speed demoralise you - they had to start just like us.

We all fought hard and started to get our heads into the Florida racing groove. Next venue on the schedule - Jensen Beach. So we packed the boats up and made our way about an hour up the coast to a protected area of water called the Indian River Lagoon. A big thank you to all at Palm Beach Sailing Club.

Overall Results: (top three)

1st David Heibert
2nd Dave Chapin
3rd Air Barshi

The Brits:
12th Alan Davis
14th Chris Ellyatt
15th Mike Hicks (second Great Grand Master)
18th Tim Law
21st Guy Noble

Full results can be found here.

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