Old is good at ILCA Masters
Published on October 1st, 2023
A strong autumn ebb tide augmented by some record rainfall across the Northeast created a one-way race track for most of the nine races at the 2023 ILCA Masters North American Championship, hosted by the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court on September 29 to October 1 in Newport, RI.
However the two sailors that emerged victorious—Ernesto Rodriguez in the ILCA 7 and Christine Shope in the ILCA 6—traveled very different paths to the top of the podium.
For Shope, a local Newport sailor, this was her first North American championship title.
“I am surprised,” she said. “I haven’t been sailing Lasers very much. I tried to do everything I could, and go get line sights to fight that current on the starting lines and see if I could keep up with Luke Hookings—he was going so fast—and Jon Andron.”
With all three days sailed north of the Newport Bridge, working the extreme current was crucial to success. Doing so required a strong start and the nerve to push out to a corner of the racecourse on the upwind legs.
“Every single beat was one-sided, except for the last beat of the first day, that was the only beat I tacked on shifts,” says Shope. “Every other one was you pretty much had to go to one side, and it was about committing to the edge. It took me a little while to figure that out the first day, but eventually we all learned it.”
With the exception of a seventh in Race 4, Shope finished every race in the top three. Even with the handicap applied to the Apprentice Masters (age 30 to 44, the youngest of the five age categories for Masters sailors, the handicaps decrease with age), she won the regatta by 14 points over fellow Apprentice Master David Waiting. Great Grand Master (age 65 to 74) Tim Woodford finished third, a further two points behind, in the 39-boat ILCA 6 fleet.
Rodriguez was equally as dominant in the 62-boat ILCA 7 fleet, winning four races, finishing second twice and scoring nothing higher than a sixth in the nine-race series. However, if he said he was surprised by his win, no one would’ve believed him.
Rodriguez has won numerous championships in the Laser, including the Masters World Championship in 2021. He’s also found tremendous success in the Snipe class, including the 2019 Pan Am Games gold medal.
Still, nine races over three days in breeze from 10 to 20 knots isn’t easy for anyone. Even if he was a favorite going into the event, he still had to earn the win.
“It was definitely a tough regatta,” he says. “I had a tough time reading the conditions because of the current. I believe we sailed the three days on three different courses. So you couldn’t take whatever you learned one day to the next one. That was tough for me as it was the first time I’ve sailed here.”
While the intricacies of the tidal movement inside Narragansett Bay may have been a mystery to Rodriguez, other aspects of the regatta were very familiar.
“These conditions fit me well,” he says. “I grew up sailing in choppy, windy conditions, so it feels like riding a bike. I sail in Miami, we have the same conditions, not that much current, but definitely a lot of chop.”
To combat the chop, Rodriguez really focused on getting his sail settings exactly right.
“One thing you’ve got to keep an eye on is the setup of the outhaul, and not over tightening it,” Rodriguez says. “I feel a lot of people over-tighten it when it’s windy. That gives you good height, but you don’t go through the chop very well.
“So you’re better off putting the bow down, loading [the boat] up and then heading up. The few times that I didn’t get right—I overdid it and the sail was too flat—I felt like that was a mistake. Every time I had it in the right spot, I felt the boat going through the waves really well, without too much effort.”
While Shope (Apprentice Master, ILCA 6) and Rodriguez (Master, ILCA 7) were the big winners, trophies were handed out in nine divisions. Other division winners included:
• Gord Welsh (Apprentice Master, ILCA 7)
• Peter Shope (Grand Master, ILCA 7)
• Peter Vessella (Great Grand Master, ILCA 7)
• Jamie Carter (Master, ILCA 6)
• Jean-Yves Fillion (Grand Master, ILCA 6)
• Tim Woodford (Great Grand Master, ILCA 6)
• Jon Andron (Legend, ILCA 6)
“It’s really fun because of all the people that are here,” says Shope. “Everybody coming out from the West Coast, that I know from San Francisco, it’s really fun to see them and do my warmups with those guys. The new younger Apprentice Master sailors that I haven’t raced against before, it’s really cool to have that competition.”