Charlie Buckingham of Maui and Michael O’Brien of Seattle became the new Laser Master North American champions over the weekend in atypical Columbia River Gorge conditions, Buckingham in the standard rig and O’Brien in the Radial.
The event came on the heels of the Columbia River Gorge Racing Association (CGRA)-organized Gorge Laser Performance clinic and the famous downwind Gorge Blowout Race. Both were well attended and deemed by all to be successes.
Races run by the CGRA are usually sailed in 18-25 knots, but those winds sometimes reach the full-on “nuking” westerlies of 30+. That’s what attracted many people from around North America to sail in 50-boat event. On the eve of racing the predictions were dire, and several ‘tweeners switched from the smaller Radial to full rigs as there class of choice. Winds were in the teens Friday and Saturday, except for Friday’s final race which at least gave competitors a taste of the real Gorge.
These photos are only from the third day. For the first two great sailing days see Jan Anderson’s gallery. Click on any photo to enlarge.
Buckingham, uncle to the Olympic hopeful of the same name, sailed a strong series, but had to survive a protest from the race committee in one race and missing a mark in another and having to sail back to it in the last race sailed. He was able to explain the situation in the protest and used the other race as a throwout. In second place, by a mere one point, was Gorge regular Dan Falk, who was able to match his usual strong heavy air performance in the lighter conditions. Tracy Usher, current International Laser Class Association president, was third with his usual consistency.
O’Brien’s victory may come as a surprise to those outside his home fleet of Seattle, but not to his home fleet competitors. He’s been diligently working at Lasers for about five years in the light winds and currents of Puget Sound. He was pushed hard by master Keith Davids who was only two points behind. When the masters handicapping was put in place, he was well behind grand master O’Brien. In third, by only a point after handicapping, was the perennial, ageless wonder Peter Seidenberg.
No races were completed the final day, though one was started and abandoned as the full rig fleet had picked up a zephyr en masse and were headed for one of the most interesting leeward gate roundings ever.
As is the case in most Laser Master regattas, the mood of camaraderie and enjoyment was profound. The fact that it wasn’t blowing 30 may have moderated the Advil consumption a bit, but had it been blowing 30 we all still would have been out there!