George Szabo (Quantum Sails San Diego) has won 21 championships, including five US Snipe Nationals and four North Americans. In 2015 he won the two final Star Sailors League Regattas in two very different venues: The SSL Lake Grand Slam in Lausanne, SUI, and the SSL Finals in Nassau, Bahamas.
By George Szabo
(Photo courtesy of Bob Betancourt)
At any sailing regatta, fleet size affects overall strategy and priorities. The Star Sailors League fleet starts off big, and then ten boats make it into the quarter finals. Seven make it into the semi-finals, and four sail the finals. The declining fleet size format is pretty exciting—worth a try for a weeknight race series.
SSL Lake Grand Slam started off with 70 boats on the line, so it was important to have speed, and to sail fast to the correct side of the course. With a big fleet, managing your lane to always have clear air is super important. But also important is to consider where you will tack if you are behind. You need to anticipate where the fleet will tack in front of you, and place yourself accordingly – so that when they all tack to go back to the center or weather mark – you will have a place with clean air.
When we made it into the quarter-finals, with only 10 boats, the goal changed. We didn’t need to win our side – we only needed to beat three boats to be able to get into the next round. A good start is important of course, but once again, not getting caught in traffic and sent backwards is even more important. By sailing in the middle with speed, we were likely to be mid-fleet – which is just barely good enough. We found ourselves counting places, to see if we were ‘in’ or ‘out’ for the next round. And when we figured that we were ‘out,’ we looked around to find the one boat we might be able to pass.
At the Semi Finals in Switzerland, we needed to pass one boat to make it into the finals. That ended up being the Polish team. They were on the downwind layline to the leeward mark, and we jibed on their air to make the pass. Result – we went to the next round, and they did not.
Once we were in the Finals, and down to four boats, our blood was running, and the excitement and tension were high. So the goal changed again. We concentrated on a conservative start with speed, headed for the correct side, and hoped for the best. When behind, we just kept looking around for the wind and the best way to make a pass. The call might be to get leverage and hope for the good – high percentage – windshift, or it might be to look for the chance to make small ten foot gains. In Nassau, we were working to connect the dots (dark puffs on the water) and that didn’t work out perfectly in the beginning. It was a game of leap frog, with the lead changing several times. Fortunately, we were ahead after the final lead change.
(Image gallery: photos courtesy of Francine Chatagny and Star Sailors League)