A Bird Watcher’s eye-view of the Laser Masters Worlds at Hyeres

From the pen of John Keates

The Base Nautique of Hyeres is situated less than a kilometre from a public and military airport, which led to some arresting sights and sounds as armoured jets flew in tandem, directly over our apartment, cleverly selected by Ann to be within two hundred metres of the afore-mentioned club. I only mention this because of the canon fire, the significance of which we’ll get to later. For now, we need to concern ourselves with formalities.

There was a lot of speech making on the opening and closing days of the regatta, quite a lot in French and only some of it translated. There was a common theme, however, since most speakers were keen to weave into their narrative the fact that the Laser Masters Worlds was enjoyed by 500 sailors from 37 different nationalities. Impressive yes, but for me not quite as inspiring as the 12 entries who were all aged 75+! This forced the organisers to consider making a new category of Master, (their choice was, ‘Amazing Masters’- the sailors’ preference was for ‘Legend’)*

The attentive readers amongst you will, no doubt, have noticed that I’ve yet to mention the sailing. Well, the event itself got off to a similarly sluggish start. The first two days were slow, light and sh—e (to quote Colston), and there was a considerable amount of hanging around, both on and off – shore. Once the sailing got going, the organisers decided to launch all 500 Lasers from just two slipways: at the same time! The Radial launch was particularly chaotic. Picture a Formula 1 race, if you will, as the cars jostle for a favourable position at the first corner. Admittedly, a Laser goes somewhat slower than a Formula 1 car but 250 Radials trying to leave from a slipway that was wide enough for a maximum of four boats created a spectacle that was thoroughly enjoyed by all those who were not taking part in it!

In those first days, after-race conversation was a little lack-lustre, Colston, in particular, was rather self critical of his performance in the light stuff, but he didn’t make things easy for himself by turning up at the start line without a watch! Thankfully, things picked up for him later in the week. But, what of our other 3 Parkstoners, Donald, Ann and Roger?

The youngest of this trio, Roger, sailed in the Apprentice Masters (Standard rig), and in  a similar way, but for different reasons, he, too, wondered what he’d let himself in for. The following morning, we turned up to his section of the boat park, to offer our support. From a distance, we noticed he was chatting to two muscular looking chaps from New Zealand. Once we’d reached hailing distance, however, we saw that, in fact, it was only one very muscular looking Kiwi. Looking at him and our own antipodean, Courtney, I reckon someone stole the contents of the latter’s lunch box, all through his childhood! At least we now knew the reason for Roger’s apprehension. Things also improved for Roger, though, as the week progressed and the wind began to gather strength. A 12th place in two of the races, in such outrageously fit company bolstered his confidence no end, helping him to endure the following conversation with Colston, after the first of the windy days. It went like this:

Colston: That was fantastic. Although it was windy, those waves were so steady it was impossible to capsize.

Roger: Actually Colston, I did capsize.

Admittedly, this was an unintentional ‘put down’ and it is to Roger’s credit that he made little of events later in the week when, firstly, Colston was forced to retract his world-wide tweet that he’d come 2nd in a race, after discovering that he was OCS, and, secondly, when he’d suffered the same fate as Roger – not so impossible to capsize after all Col!  We were all proud of the young pup in the group for managing an overall result of 22nd, and he was even man enough to recognise it wasn’t all about weight and fitness since one of his competitors with the physique of Peter Taylor (Jnr.) had given him a right toasting.

So, how were Donald and Ann faring whilst all this was going on? I did mention some time ago that the sound of canon fire was a regular occurrence. This wasn’t to scare birds off the nearby runways, as I’d thought, but it was the club’s way of signalling a change in the sailing instructions. This became significant for Donald since an alteration in his SIs hadn’t been noticed by him, and the consequent disqualifications threatened his attempts to make the Gold fleet, (in his section of the regatta, there were too many competitors to sail in one fleet, so they competed in flights and were subsequently sorted into Gold and Silver Fleets). However, Donald made extremely skilful use of a) an error made by the race committee and b) the support of Ann, who was so vociferous in her defence of Donald and his right to be heard, that the race organisers mistook her for his wife! This enabled him to persuade a 5 person international jury that they should give him redress. It’s debatable which of Donald’s achievements that week were uppermost in his mind; his legalistic prowess, his attainment of Gold Fleet standard, his best individual race position of the week, obtained in the Gold Fleet (12th), or his acquisition of a new wife without all that fuss of an expensive ceremony!

It’s an uncanny co-incidence that Donald’s and Roger’s best individual race score was the same as Ann’s overall position of 12/70, (Colston spoilt the symmetry by having a best result of 11th), which just missed her self-imposed target of a top ten finish. There wasn’t, thank goodness, a ‘Top Bird’ trophy but she wouldn’t have won that either, being beaten by a very strong Aussie lady. Given the wind strength for the second half of the regatta, (20-25Kts), this was, in her mind, a satisfactory effort. It was an unusual regatta for Ann, in that it contained no capsizes, no black flag disqualifications and no dodgy protests from her biggest rival, (you’ll need a long memory to recognise the significance of this last point – just don’t mention Lynne Jewell to Ann!).

Off the water,  the atmosphere was exceedingly cordial and the regatta’s social events were enjoyed by all, although I did notice Donald was getting a lot of sympathetic looks as his ‘wife’ seemed to prefer the company of an older man! I am extremely proud to be able to report to you that your Parkstone representatives were always the last to leave the free bar, (others might describe it as being thrown out rather than leaving), and we managed to consume a goodly proportion of the edibles on offer, although no-one could compete with Roger’s mum on that score: she was a hunter – gather supreme,(I should point out that she generously shared all that she procured!).

Other stars of the show were: the Standard fleet’s race officer – square lines all week and no fussing about while setting the course, the mark layers and course setters- perfectly angled reaches and runs, but the sailors’ top choice was the sun and the waves – big, long-lasting and steady (sorry Roger); all good enough to make everyone forget the shambles of measuring and the first day’s sailing.

The sun was wonderful but with the occasional thunderstorm, along came the mosquitoes! If I know you well enough, I’ll show you my body, but I warn you it isn’t a pretty sight.

So that’s the successes of the race team wrapped up; what about the support members. Roger’s parents were fantastically helpful, and I am now the proud owner of a Colston designed ‘master chef’ apron. My other achievement that week was to read ‘Moby Dick’ (or The White Whale), which probably explains why this report is so verbose –sorry!  

*Masters sailing is divided by rig (standard, radial and 4.7) and by age:

• Apprentice master 35-44

• Master 45-54

• Grand Master 55-64

• Great Grand Master 65-74

• 75+ (Amazing Master or Legend, take your pick!)


Final positions

Roger 22/38

Colston 77/116

Ann 12/70

Donald 36/87





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