Chris Larson Explains Exactly What It Took To Win The Sheehy Lexus Of Annapolis Melges 24 World Championship

Serial one-design champion Chris Larson assembled a hand picked crew to challenge for the 2009 Melges 24 World Championship title on his ‘home' waters in Annapolis. Coping admirably with the sustained mental pressure of being in the top two for the entire regatta and the random nature of the conditions which prevailed for the Championship, Larson delivered a remarkably consistent series, which ultimately saw him take victory with a race to spare. For the IM24CA, Justin Chisholm caught up with him soon after the regatta to find out more about his Championship win.

IM24CA: The conditions in Annapolis were as challenging as expected, but nevertheless you managed some amazingly consistent results on your way to victory. Clearly you have good local knowledge of Annapolis, but what do you believe were the key factors that you believe were most important at the Worlds?

CL: Everyone knows sailing in Annapolis is very difficult, whether you're a local or not.  Sure we had an idea of what could happen at the start of each race, however Richard, Curtis, and Mike did a fantastic job identifying the first puff and shift after the start.  At the end of the day, you had to get off the line well and then be able to quickly connect the dots up the windward leg.  I just can't say how great a job the team did with this.

IM24CA: The start lines looked to be real battlegrounds at times. How did you manage to achieve so many good starts?

CL: Going into the event, I knew I had to step up my game getting off the line.  I was aware that I had been struggling with consistency in this area and so had been really working hard to understand what was missing.  Dee Smith sailed with us during the Pre-Worlds and had several good observations, which I of course began to implement.  A lot of it had to do with the boat's angle of attack to the wind when speed building and the timing of when to deploy the jib.  More than anything this enabled me to get in a groove at the beginning of the event and this helped massively in building my confidence as the week progressed. 

IM24CA: Can you tell us about your strategy going into the championship and how this changed as the regatta progressed? What was the mood on the boat like during the regatta and how did you collectively cope with being in the top two for the entire week?

CL: Heading into the event we always knew it was going to be a marathon.  We focused on being patient; setting a goal of coming off the water with less than ten points each day.  The plan worked well and after day two, everyone except us had a double-digit finish.  That was a huge deal since it put us a race ahead of the field with four days remaining.

We became more and more confident as the week progressed. Looking back now, Day Four/Race Seven was the real turning point. It was very tricky, with lots of light air making it really easy to take a big score. To add to the pressure, I think the race committee called around twenty boats OCS. It was our worse race of the series, a twelfth place, but we felt like we had survived the storm. Salvaging a twelfth from that race meant we actually came away gaining points on Gabrio Zandona's Joe Fly team who were in second overall. It was a real confidence booster, which set us up for the remaining races of the Championship.

From there we just continued to focus on sailing one day and one race at a time. We had a great routine on and off the water, which made the event a lot of fun and I think this was actually one of our key ingredients. To be successful you have to be having fun and we really were.

IM24CA: Tell us about your boat setup for the conditions at the Worlds?

CL: Richard Clarke did a fantastic job of making sure we were tuned correctly for each start with the proper rig tension.  We felt solid upwind and down, which gave us the confidence that we could live comfortably in any situation. Throughout the week I recall that we actually kept the rig setup very simple and didn't adjust the rake at all. 

IM24CA: Introduce us to your hand picked World Championship winning crew?

CL: Sailing on the team were three Canadians: Richard Clarke (Olympian - Finn 1996, 2000, 2004), Mike Wolfs - (Star Silver in 2004), and Curtis Florence - (current Farr 40 and Farr 30 World Champion bowman).

Both Mike and Curtis sailed with me last year at the Melges 24 North Americans here in Annapolis.  After that regatta, knew we needed to improve and in particular become more tactically sound. Richard was a natural choice due his experience and time in the Melges 24 class. He was a key ingredient in Shark Kahn win at the 2003 Worlds. They spent something like eighty days preparing for that event and I knew that his unique experience would be vital to us. The really surprising thing was that when Richard stepped aboard, it immediately felt as if we had already sailed together for years.

IM24CA: Were you surprised to win with a race to spare? You appeared to be ice cool all week but were there any nerves at any point? Talk us through the conversation on the boat going into your final race?

CL: It was quite strange how the final day played out.  We had prepared ourselves for the strong possibility of a three-race day. We had a general recall in the first attempt to get a start off, so the next attempt was under I & Z flags. In the final seconds to the start, we were three boats up from the pin and safely behind the line. As the gun fired, I looked down and saw Terry Hutchinson very close to the line just at the pin. Knowing we needed to go hard left we decided to put the bow down and sail below the two boats who had started to leeward of us. Very soon after that, the guys told me that Terry (Quantum Racing), Gabrio (Joe Fly), and Lorenzo (Uka Uka Racing) had all been called OCS.  To be honest, initially I actually thought they were joking, but then was delighted to realise that they were serious.

With those boats suffering the double whammy of both having to restart, as well as picking up a ten point penalty, it was almost as if it were game, set and match, before the day had really started.  We actually went on to sail a great race; placing second, which left us with a thirty-one point, lead over Joe Fly in second.  Still unsure about the chances of a third race, we set about refocusing on the next start.  Just before the new sequence however, the RC came on the radio to announce that there would only be one more race. This meant we didn't need to sail the last race, as we could now carry our discard twelfth place and still hold the lead by twenty points.

IM24CA: What support did you have off the water during the regatta? Who else do you think contributed to your victory?

CL: First, I would have to say that our sponsors: West Marine Rigging, New England Ropes, McLube, Harken, and the Downtown Annapolis Partnership, were all great through out the week.  Also the IM24CA on-the-water reporting made it so easy for all these people to keep up with all of the action.

I also have to give a big thanks to my family for all of their support.  Doing an event at home is always hard; especially when it runs for three weeks non-stop and the reality was that I pretty much checked out and left them to fend for themselves.

There were so many people who have helped the campaign, but in particular I must single out Jay Kehoe who somehow always managed to be there to lend a hand. I would also like to give a big thanks to: Pete Pendelton, Dee Smith, Mike Beasley, Rod Jabin, John Loe, Grant Spanhake, Steve Calder, Mark Sims, and Jay Herman who all contributed to our becoming 2009 Melges 24 World Champions.

IM24CA: What does it feel like to have claimed the 2009 Melges 24 World Championship crown? How does this victory compare with your other world titles?

CL: I'm not sure if it has really sunk in yet.  The Melges 24 is such a competitive class and it still amazes me we were able to stay out in front wire-to-wire.  For sure, I'm very proud of our team and the accomplishment.  This victory definitely ranks pretty high on the list.

IM24CA: Will we see you back in the Melges 24 next year to try to defend your title in Tallinn?

CL: It would be great to defend the World Title, especially somewhere as amazing as Tallinn and I'm in no doubt that the boys would be up for it.  For sure we will try to be there and rest assured we will be working hard to see if we can sort out the finances to put a full program together.