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Monday 21st March 2011

Antigua Yacht Club hosted its 10th Annual Antigua Laser Regatta on the 12th and 13th of March.  There were 14 participants in total so every Laser available for use from the Yacht Club was out on the water!  The entry list included two juniors and two women.

Saturday morning began with a quick briefing on shore before everyone headed out onto the water including the Race Committee which was anxious to set the course and get things under way.  Weather conditions were ideal with winds around 13 to 16 knots from the east-northeast.  The course was set and the racing started, although a little behind schedule as usual!

It didn’t take long to see that it was going to be a very interesting regatta!  Antigua Yacht Club’s Olympic sailor, Karl James, was the defending champion going into the regatta and had been defending his title for the previous eight years.  This year, however, it appeared that things might be a little different.  For the first time in years of assisting on the Committee Boat we witnessed another sailor out there on the course who looked like he might be able to challenge Karl’s title.  Karl did win the first race but Jason Gaele, crew on the beautiful classic yacht, Rebecca, was hot on his tail, finishing a close second.

As the second race got started, it appeared that Jason had only been warming up in the previous race.  He managed to beat Karl quite easily in the second race, while the rest of the fleet also began showing its colours.  Former AYC Commodore Alan Hart had a good start with a third-place finish in the first race but slipped a little in the second, finishing in sixth position.  Close behind was Matt Hardy followed by Louis Sinclair, Leopard’s bow man, both of whom looked like they could be in close contention with Alan early on for the third place position.

The third and final race of the morning saw an exceptionally close finish with Jason Gaele and Karl James neck and neck on the final upwind leg.  Jason finished a matter of inches ahead of Karl, crossing the line on starboard while Karl tried to duck his stern and head up to take the win.  Unfortunately, this tactic ended in a protest filed by Karl but which was later thrown out by on-the-water judge, Chris Martin, leaving the win in the third race with Jason.  Regardless of the outcome, it was a very exciting race for those of us sitting on the Committee Boat, only inches from both finishing Lasers.

In the meantime, the two women sailors were doing quite well, finishing fairly far down in the fleet but with consistent results until Bea Shrewsbury had an equipment breakage towards the end of the second race and therefore missed the start of the third race.  Junior sailor Keane van Rensburg, who was at a great disadvantage due to his small size and lack of weight, finished the first race in 12th place but persevered and consistently improved on that with 11th and 9th place finishes respectively in the next two races.

After the lunch break the fleet was joined by experienced Antiguan Laser sailor Sean Malone who quickly disrupted the fleet by placing third behind Jason and Karl in both afternoon races.  In the afternoon’s first race, Keane appeared to have eaten too much for lunch, retiring because he was tired!  However, he came back to life for the fifth race of the day but only managed a 13th place finish.  This fifth and final race of the afternoon was very exciting however, with a close tacking duel between Karl and Jason on the final upwind leg, with the finish being so close that Jason had to ask the Committee when it returned to shore who had won the race – Jason had!

So at the end of the first day Karl knew he was going to have to pull out all the stops on Sunday to prevent Jason from stealing his title.  Karl finished the day with 8 points, only one point behind Jason who had 7.  In third place going into Sunday was Matt Hardy with 23 points but Alan Hart was close on his tail only three points behind.  Sunday promised to be an exciting day.

Further down the fleet, Verity, the second female competitor finished her day very consistently with four 10th place finishes and one 12th place, while Bea fared slightly less successfully, finishing 11th and 12th in the afternoon races.

Setting up the course for the final two races on Sunday morning was a bit of a challenge for the Race Committee because visiting yachtsmen had anchored in the middle of the racing area.  The Committee contemplated asking them to move but the wind settled down a little more out of the east and they were finally able to set the course.  The regatta seemed to have lost two competitors overnight – top female sailor Verity Chase and one of the guys from the middle of the pack, Matthew Satchwell.

The first race of the day saw very encouraging results in terms of Karl’s ability to defend his title.  Jason didn’t seem to have his usual speed on the course – so much so that we wondered if there was something wrong with his boat.  He finished well behind in third place with Sean Malone sneaking in between him and Karl, leaving Jason one very valuable point behind Karl going into the final race of the regatta.

Somehow Jason managed to pull it together and he had an exceptional final race, beating Karl cleanly but closely.  That left Jason and Karl tied with points at the end of the Regatta – it doesn’t get much closer than that.  However . . . the Sailing Instructions provided for one discard so all competitors were allowed to throw out their worst race – in Jason’s case that was his third place finish from the previous race.

When all was said and done, Jason stole the title from Karl for the first time in 10 years – by only one point!  Alan Hart sailed more consistently than Matt Hardy who scored only eighth and 10th place finishes on Sunday morning, so Alan took the third place title.  Bea won the award for the best female participant while Keane took the prize for best junior sailor, finishing ahead of the other junior sailor, Janil Smith, by only one point.  Each of Bea and Keane received a pair of racing gloves for their performances.

Karl James graciously shakes hands with the new Antigua Laser champion, Jason Geale.

The culmination of the two-day event saw Commodore Elizabeth Jordan hand over the much-coveted Antigua Laser Championship trophy to Jason Gaele, the first time it had been won by anyone other than Karl James.  Jason took home the Leatherman that Karl had his eyes on while Karl collected a North Sails backpack and Alan Hart, winner of third place, was awarded a brand new AYC polo shirt.  Karl now has a big challenge ahead in the 11th Annual Antigua Laser Open to be held in March 2012 – to win back the trophy that was his for nine years running.  Let’s hope Jason will be back as well to defend his title!

Article and photos by Kathy Lammers.

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