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Report on Laser National Championships 2015

Durban's Rudy McNeill reclaimed the title of the SA Laser Nationals over the May Day weekend with an impressive display offshore of Durban. Asked how he would describe himself in one word, he replied "Determined". McNeill certainly dominated on the water, five of his seven wins being completely solo affairs with him charging to the front and remaining there untouchable. The 2015 SA Laser Nationals had 62 entries with 60 boats actually competing, one of the largest regattas in the country for quite some time.

"I was out for most of last year with injuries, so it was a welcome return being back on the water and able to perform. I was happy with the rehabilitation of my injured knees and ankle. Leading up to the KZN Champs, Mike and I worked to improve, pushing each other which helped to build up both of our confidences quite a lot."
"Richards Bay was the first decent regatta this year where I could compare myself and I won the first three races straight off. My knees were fine and the ankle wasn't a problem. Everything felt great."

"The KZN Champs was a tester for both Mike and I. We knew we were quick but both needed to be tested. Building up to Nationals, I had to get into the right mind set. I kept repeating to myself that I could do it. Mike and I trained every day for a few months, getting the cardio we needed at soccer training and gym and then sailed at every given opportunity. I believe our fitness gave both of us a big boost."
"Entering the Nationals, my focus was to win but I also had the bigger picture in mind. The KZN champs win was a boost in my preparation for the Laser Standard Worlds in Kingston, Canada in June and July. Pacing myself against the really talented Rudolph Holm, I knew that if I lost to him I would have so much more work to do. But my feeling was that I was performing even higher than before the last Nationals. I was pushing myself for the wins to raise my confidence even further."

"There were times I had to dig deep. It wasn't all easy, I got two sixes but fortunately I won the day's racing on both of those days. I kept telling myself to get over the previous race, focus on the new one. My mantra became 'You are Rudy McNeill, do what you do, don't worry! Enjoy it.' If you look at the starboard side of my mast, I wrote my name there to remind myself of where I have come from and where I want to go! If ever I doubted myself, I would just look at that, know that I am experienced and build from there."

Chatting about the upcoming Worlds, the successful sailor stated, "I have sailed in Kingston before, when I was 16 for the ISAF Youths so heading to Canada isn't completely foreign; I remember the place well which will help a lot. This is all or nothing for me, my one and only chance to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. And what means a lot to me is that Mike will be joining me, pushing me every step of the way."

Also hard at work in preparation for the Laser Worlds in Canada is experienced Alan Keen who finished seventh overall in the full rigs.
"Unlike Rudy I just haven't been able to find time to sail this year - there have simply been too many other things getting in the way - and it showed in my results. The KZN Provincials last weekend and the Nationals this week are forming the basis for my training over the next couple of months leading up to the Masters Worlds."

"I started the event with a disaster - I had rigged my outhaul incorrectly and only noticed this minutes before the first start. A quick attempt to correct things resulted in a capsize which lead to further problems and consequently me missing the race altogether - not the way to start a Championships, but a good way to start a training programme as it emphasised just how costly lack of preparation and focus can be. Thereafter it was a case of playing catchup."
"At times I was able to match some of the top runners for speed, strategy and tactics, with a couple of races where I managed to round the top mark first, but keeping that position amongst of fleet of competitive, and mostly much younger sailors, was always going to be tough. It was great to see the geographic diversity with Rudy from KZN, Rudolf from Guateng, Alistair from Western Cape and Colin from Perth, Australia all up at the top of the fleet. The age range was equally impressive with the top 8 consisting of three in their 20's and two in their 60's and everyone else spread out in between. It's many years since we have last had that level of competition and diversity."

Ten races were sailed over the four days for both the radials and full rigs and nine races in the 4.7 class, allowing two race discards. Race officer, Tony Cockerill set a lengthy triangle-sausage-triangle course for the radial and full rig fleets. The 4.7's started the regatta sailing the full course but on the second day had their race track shortened to a triangle-sausage.
"The bridge needs to be commended on how efficient they were, they did really well!" said a delighted race organiser and competitor, Campbell Alexander. "The courses were difficult and quite technical."
"I believe that everyone had a fun time, the feeling of camaraderie was evident both on and off the water. I know that Trent Bingham was one of the last guys to launch each day as he helped everyone get out first. At every level the sailors enjoyed themselves. If it was between the grand masters, the competition between Andrew Walford, Ken Holliday and Peter Clayton was fun to see, or the 4.7s with the very competitive Frances van Breda and Megan Robertson having a tussle. Off the water I saw them chatting, with Frances sharing her experiences with all the girls, encouraging them. It really was a joy to watch."

Talking about the conditions, Alexander continued, "The weather was very unpredictable, conditions being very different to that anticipated from the weather sites with considerably more wind than expected. A South Westerly came through and stuck around for three days."

"The first day blew hard, and the decision was taken to sail close inshore with the consequence of tricky oscillating shifts and gusts. One had to read the wind on the water for the beats and pick up the wind shifts. Rudy was a master tactician and read these conditions like a book"
"On the first reach, some boats were very quick, in particular Rudy and Rudolph who showed their skill at catching the waves and keeping their speed up. The second reach was even more difficult with the option of heading up and catching the waves or going slower but straight for the mark. Again, there was a wide variation in speed between those who got it right and those who did not play the waves and the direction correct. The compromise of surfing the waves but not going the most direct route meant you ended up sailing a lot further, the gamble between going fast but further or the slower but more direct route."

"The run was particularly difficult because the current was sweeping the boats off the straight line course so a lot of the fleet sailed a longer course than they needed. The boats that managed to sail for the mark on the runs sailed impressively fast."

"On the third day, a north easterly was predicted. The barometer moved up but - surprise, surprise - a south westerly came through at around 20 knots. An ominous black cloud in the south west promised even more wind and I was concerned that 30 knots may hit us so the 4.7s were sent home as a precaution. A week earlier, the Vasco Race sailors also found that the wind predictions of 15 knots were very different to the 60 knots that turned up so the race officer and I were mindful of this. But the big gust didn't come through."

"On the last day, a north easterly arrived. This was an exceptionally difficult north easter, not the usual head out to sea and tack on the lay-line. The light wind was shifting by between 15 and 20 degrees and those sailors who picked up the wind pressure and the shifts made huge gains. In the last race, the wind picked up and the reaches were really good fun. There was also a special technique needed to deal with the second reach, the back straight reach where it was a matter of balancing, catching the waves but avoid being blown over. As soon as one became overpowered, one had to free off with the wave - the reverse of the technique required for the south westerly."

A really pumped and elated Dylan Long representing Theewater Sports Club, commented after the regatta, "I felt the competition was really good. Anyone could have won; the regatta was still wide open on the last day. Over the four days there was some stellar wind throughout the regatta made it worthwhile and enjoyable."
"The best moment of the regatta for me was winning the second last race as I worked as hard as I could to win that race. I pushed the boat and myself to the limits and was rewarded with the win. Every time I go out on the water, I learn a lot and I am really chuffed with how much I improved over the four days."
Talking about what is next for this future sailing star, he said, "This was the last time sailing a Laser for a while as I am trying my hand at sailing the fast flying 29er. My next goal is to represent my country in this class at the ISAF Youth Worlds in Langkawi, Malaysia at the end of the year. I am looking forward to that challenge; it will be awesome as I will be sailing with my younger brother, Arin."

The SA Laser Nationals moves to the Eastern Cape next year.