If there is one fleet of sailboats that is well represented in the United States but under-represented in Marina del Rey it’s the Laser.
The 14-foot Olympic class dinghy boasts over 200,000 boats worldwide but isn’t a dominant class in our local waters. However, from Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 4 through 7, there were over 100 Lasers filling Santa Monica Bay competing in the 2012 Laser U.S. National Championship, hosted by the California Yacht Club of Marina del Rey.
Sailors came from all over the country and parts of Canada to compete in a regatta that has Olympic implications and career establishing ramifications.
Santa Monica Bay is known for its fickle nature and it came through, true to character, for the four-day event. On the opening day a thick fog caused races to be postponed and a shifty, light and oscillating wind challenged racers for nearly the entire regatta. Winds picked up on Aug. 6 but still remained relatively light.
Laser sailors who are devoted to the class try to maintain a body weight perfectly suited for the optimum balance between sailor and boat. In the men’s division that weight is around 165 to 175 pounds, and in the mostly light and shifty conditions that existed during the week, competitors in that weight range were well served. Heavier racers found themselves wishing for more wind.
Local sailor and now collegiate racer Will Petersen finished 21st overall, which wasn’t bad considering he’s not training exclusively on the Laser. Petersen’s experience is interesting in that he has competed and grown up with many of the sailors at the top of the leaderboard, including winner Charlie Buckingham.
Petersen is a very active competitive racer, who competed in the Laser Radial World Championships a few years ago, but he is currently concentrating more on double-handed and crewed boats at the University of Hawaii. He was dissatisfied but accepting of his position on the standings, and said he understood the difference between a good racer who is committed to the class and a good racer who is hopping on the boat for a one-off race, albeit a major competition.
“They’re more in shape,” Petersen said. “I was a little too big to be on the boat [190 pounds]. I just couldn’t keep up downwind. It’s a very physical boat n I’d say way more than it is mental.”
Although Petersen has a leg up with his understanding of the local waters, having grown up on the bay and being the son of a world class sail-maker, he spoke on the physical demands of the boat and how that limited him.
“I could read some of the shifts, but for the most part it’s a physical thing,” he said. “I can hit every shift and go the right way, but these guys would still pass me.”
In addition to physical prowess and proper weight, the middle of the pack and front-runners in this contest are also separated by funding, or a lack thereof. With any class associated with the Olympic Games, certain athletes are given the opportunity to train and compete more often and with more resources.
Buckingham has twice been named college sailor of the year and while he has his sights set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he will be attending the Trials for the 2012 London Oympics. He is a three-time All- American with an established circuit ahead of him.
If his performance at the U.S. Nationals is any indication of what’s to come, he might well end up in the next Olympic games.
Other local athletes also faired well in the Laser championship. Greg Dair, son of Carrie Dair, who heads up the junior sailing program at California Yacht Club, nearly cracked the top 10 with an 11th-place finish, and Del Rey Yacht Club’s Julian Soto finished 17th.