Tuesday, December 26, 2006

All that's missing is a bow...


Not only did Santa come early with a nice session on 12/23, but I even got a hall pass on Christmas Day. Perfect 9.9 conditions (roughly 15-18 knots out on the Bay, with occasionally brilliant sunshine and reasonable temps around 48F). Not quite Baja, but great stuff nonetheless. The coolest thing was how it came about, as my wife and daughter looked out the window as I was taking out the who-knows-how-manieth load of paper recycling that comes with having Christmas with two kids and visiting grandparents, determined it was windy, and told me that they had another present for me ;)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Another good one...

Yes, it really is storm season now. Had another windy day today; while not as epic as last week's storm (and not packing as much moisture, hopefully sparing the region from more flooding), there was plenty of breeze. Sailed Post Pt.; found Glenn there, who had driven up from the South Sound. He started on a 4.8 Hucker and his 80 liter board; I started on my 24" wide Roberts slalom with a 6.0. It quickly became apparent that it was windy (it's hard to tell sometimes from shore, since it's a wee bit offshore, and visibility isn't that great). I found out later that the sensor at the cold storage at the north end of the bay was registering gusts into the 40's, with one spike up to 50. I'd say we probably had (once outside in the channel) about 30-35 mph as a base, with frequent puffs that took the spray off the waves.

I came back to shore after a few reaches to rig down. Decided to try something truly stupid - a 5.0 on my big slalom board, offset with a 32cm fin (I usually run a 34 with my 6.0). Surely, this couldn't work, but the small board wasn't really an option (it's got all of 70 liters, I weight 210#, and there was a big hole to about 1/4 plus from shore). Lo and behold, the combo actually felt pretty good. Sure, it was hard to keep the board down at times, but the monster puffs weren't quite as daunting since with that big a board there are no holes so when the gust hits you're already going fast. In a way, it seems that it's easier to hold a big sail on a bigger board, with more leverage and all (funny, actually, since a 5.0 is not a big sail, but today it sure felt like it). As I went out, Glenn came in for his 4.2 Hucker, which he then used to good effect for the rest of the session.

So today, I probably would have been happier on a 4.2 or 4.8 Hucker, using something like a fast freeride board around 85-90 liters or so. But the 100 liter slalom did pretty well. It was a little too big to safely go for air, but I had a pretty damn nice session. One of the surf-ski paddlers who were out in force to surf the swells (which got to well over 4 feet; the paddlers kept talking about 6 feet plus, but given their lower vantage point I'm not surprised by that) came up to me afterwards and told me that he used to sail (even has some 15 year-old gear in the garage) but had had no idea you could go that fast on a windsurfer. In between the big swells, there was the occasional stretch of smooth water allowing me to hold the hammer down for short stretches - sure was fun. Wish I'd had the GPS.

Lots of debris in the water though - the flooding rivers are depositing a fair amount of floatsam in the bay. After seeing what all floated down the Skagit this past week from my office window, I imagine it's worth down south though.

Tomorrow and Sunday promise either very powered Formula sailing or even a chance for slalom sessions. And it's not even that cold - air temp today was 47 degrees, and I was able to sail with bare feet and hands. I'd call that a good day ;)

Friday, November 3, 2006

Winter storm season has started...

Started with 6.0 on my 24" Roberts slalom. Had a great time, then got blown off the water. Switched to 5.0 and my 20.5" Roberts slalom. Had a great time, then got blown off the water. Watched the liquid smoke for a while, then went home to get some work done. Nice day ;)

We get quite a few storms blowing through here fall through spring. This one was a notch up from the normal fare, but I've been thinking about getting something besides my small slalom board for when it's blowing smoke. It's not so much pure size (it's at most 75 liters, I guess), as it's the on-off sensation. If you're going, you're going so fast you're almost losing bladder control. And if you're not going, you're swimming. Given the big wind shadow on the inside when it gets a bit Easterly, and the very rough terrain out in the channel, this is not quite the right stick (it works great in powered Gorge conditions, though, where you have nice orderly swell).

Monday, October 30, 2006

Stupid? Maybe, but worth it...

I was out of town for work, then flying solo with the kids for three days while my wife was out of town. Wouldn't you know it - it blew almost every day. Yesterday morning even started out sunny, with nice, steady 25-30 knots out of the Northwest, which makes for great Gorge-like sailing with big swells in the passage between the mainland and Lummi island (a friend of mine called me from the ferry to tell me the waves were running over the deck...).

Today, I finally got a window of opportunity. Sunny, but really cold (below 40F). Got to the bay, and it was way-powered 9.9. Could have sailed slalom but didn't trust the Northerly to stick around too long. Had a great session for about 40 minutes, then the wind died and I slogged back (glad I didn't take the slalom board, as that would have been a very cold swim).

So you'd think that it's kind of stupid to pursue a sport where you're that dependent on fickle conditions. And maybe you'd be right. After all, this kind of stuff doesn't happen in competitive knitting (is there such a thing?), and even kayak racers can pretty much schedule their workouts (plus there are very few kayak races that are canceled for insufficient conditions).

But then again - those 40 minutes made it very clear why I'm passionate about this thing. There's just nothing like that sensation of flying over the water, being the crucial link between your gear and the energy of the wind, balancing all three foils. It's something I haven't been able to explain to people who haven't experienced it.

Windsurfing is a fickle mistress... She demands a fair amount of commitment at the start - think of all the folks who've never really gotten past advanced beginner or intermediate status before giving up, since it just didn't seem worth the hassle (those are the people who think that the thrills you can get on a Hobie Cat are anywhere near the same; trust me, they're not...) And then, she continues to take her toll as the relationship continues; you get skunked after chasing wind for hours, you have dry spells without a session, etc. Yet still, the thrill is unique.

I guess that's why it's a passion - it's not for everyone, and it's not 'convenient', but man is it worth it. As I was slogging back to shore this morning, it just seemed like the person coming in was very different from the person who'd gone out just a short time before. Freer, more alive, more lit-up about life.

I don't know if you have something in your life that does this for you. If not, though, I'd recommend you start looking - it's too good to pass it up.

Monday, September 11, 2006

GorgeCup06 - Season Finale

In what was probably the strangest set of conditions any of us have ever raced, we concluded the 06 Gorge Cup season with some very fun and challenging slalom racing in Easterlies at Cascade Locks on Saturday, September 12 (yes, you read that right: slalom in Easterlies).

This was the second day of strong Easterlies in the Gorge, and when I got to Cascade Locks after making the drive from Bellingham that morning, I was greeted by the sight of Dale and MacRae ripping it up on 4.2 and 3.7 Huckers as Darren was desperately looking for spots to anchor some marks. The channel is very deep in this part of the river, so after much work and trial and error, he finally had to settle on a rather short figure 8 slalom course close to the Oregon side of the river.

The course setup made the best out of the challenging, gusty, somewhat flukey conditions, and Darren managed to set up a sufficiently long startline to enable a bit of separation. Still, coming into the first mark was an adventure, and from then on the constant crossing on the short reach was 'exhilarating' (in that 'oh @$&$ kind of way, as you're trying to avoid collisions) with some in the fleet being overpowered and everyone returning on port concerned about pinching enough to make the boat for the second rounding. Certainly made for interesting racing, and some of the mark roundings were rather chaotic.

In the first heat, I took the 7.2, as it had dropped a bit and I didn't want to be struggling to accelerate out of the jibes. Turns out, that was the wrong call, as I was seriously fighting my gear. In the second through 6th heat, I was on 6.0, and that seemed like pretty much the right call. Results were a bit inconsistent, as the chaos at the marks and the dicey crossings made things challenging. Kudos to the fleet - nobody got hurt, and everybody had the good sense to pull out and avoid collisions when things just got too wild.

In the seventh heat, conditions got lighter, so I was back on the 7.2. Unfortunately, as we were heading back after the first mark, Dale (who was leading), Bruce and I got hit with a big header. Dale seesawed his board over the boat's anchor line (quite the freestyle trick), while Bruce and I simply couldn't make it (all three of us had ducked a bunch of sailors coming at us on starboard at the outside mark, and then Dale had sat on top of Bruce and me, so we lost a lot of ground - too much to compensate for that big header). Bruce went in, and I ended up doing the same (first time I've ever abandoned a race I might have finished with a couple of extra tacks or some swimming - my 3:15 am departure from Bellingham and a long day on the water was starting to catch up with me).

Results were a mixed bag for me with 6th for the day; Dale took the day in front of Bruce. MacRae did an excellent job maximizing his performance in the challenging conditions and got third. Doug and Andy showed good consistency for 4th and 5th. Results for the day at the VMG website here. Despite being a bit disappointed with my results for the day, I was stoked we got to race (it certainly didn't look promising all week given the forecasts we had seen), and racing slalom on the last day of the season certainly was a treat. Plus racing with this fleet, it's impossible to have a bad day! Thanks to Scotia and Darren, who made a fun and worthwhile day of racing happen despite conditions that made this far from easy for them.

It's been a great season again this year, thanks to great organization and a fun, competitive fleet of racers. Can't wait to do it again next year. That night we had a ceremony and banquet at Divot's. Overall results for the season can be found here. Dale took first overall, with Bruce in second (first master) and me in third. Jac was fourth (and first Grandmaster), with Doug in fifth and MacRae in sixth. Shelley won the women's division and again showed that she can hang with the guys.

Here are some things I'm stoked about after this year's Gorge Cup season:

Tight competition - the fleet overall has gotten quite a bit tighter. Sure, we're still following Bruce and Dale around the course. But personally, I've been able to get closer to them, taking the occasional first position at the windward mark. I'm planning to improve on that a bit more next year. What's cool, though, is that our pod of racers chasing those two has gotten so competitive that (a) they can't always dominate in 1 and 2 if they make a mistake, and (b) any bobbled tack or jibe or slight miscalculation on lay lines can mean the difference between 3rd and something like 7th place in a race - that's a sign of good competition.

Juniors - Bruce's junior clinic was great (I just loved watching them out on the water, and when I took my daughter out there to show what was going on, I could just see the light turn on in her!). Seeing those kids duke it out in competition was excellent. And seeing that we have juniors in the Gorge Cup fleet racing in challenging conditions and really sending it just makes me excited about the potential of it all.

Sportsmanship - the Gorge Cup fleet is a friendly crowd, and I see a lot of very commendable behavior every time we're out racing. People take responsibility for their actions - withdrawing after seriously fouling another racer, doing their best to keep things fair and safe, and having a frank conversation if things got heated on the course. There's not a lot of defensiveness, and everyone seems to have a keen interest in keeping things fun and fair for everyone. What's more, though - there's a lot of informal helping and sharing going on. More experienced racers help newcomers, and everyone freely shares and compares what works for them. That's the way a fleet grows and gets better - let's keep it up.

See you all next year!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Race Report - CalCup - August 19 2006

Being back in the Bay Area for a short visit, I got a chance to race CalCup. Like all CalCup races, the location was announced the afternoon before; the RC makes a decision based on weather conditions to ensure good raceable conditions, and they usually do a great job on that. This day was no exception to that as we raced in the waters of Pt. Isabel (but launching off Marina Bay in Richmond - a much nicer path to the water without all those barnacle-encrusted rocks and the dog turds you'd find at Isabel). Jason Voss ran a clinic before the skippers' meeting which was very well received (just witnessing the tail end of it, I must say he does a great job of picking apart technique and complex movement in digestible form on land).

Mike Percey, usually the driving force behind the CalCup, was not there, and neither were perennial top dogs Mike Zajicek and Steve Sylvester. Conditions were great - starting out perfect for the 9.9 and my big fin. I figured I'd switch down a fin size later if it picked up, forgetting about the way CalCup races are run (a fair bit offshore, and back to back unless there's a huge change in conditions so that the whole fleet will go in and change gear).

The course was WW/LW - WW mark rounded to port, LW gate consisting of the start pin on one side of the committee boat and the finish pin on the other. It looked to me like there'd be an advantage starting on port (a bit of a lift on that side of the course, plus one fewer tack), but that it was offset by the risk of shooting for the corner and trying to guess a long-distance layline for a barely visible WW mark. As the RC pulled the boat to WW a bit to make the line more SB favored, I chose to go on Starboard. Steve Bodner and Ben Bamer started port and ducked only a handful of board (me among them).

My plan paid off, as both Steve and Ben way overshot the layline and had to play catchup. I got to the windward mark just ahead of Jean and Eric, then held on to that off the breeze. At the gate, I decided to go around the start pin, go up a little ways, then tack over onto port to avoid being too far out when trying to hit the layline. That worked OK, and I got to the WW mark with a comfortable lead over Jean and Eric (Ben and Steve were in 4 and 5 at this point). And this is where I made a bad call, going way too far down on starboard looking for the finish in the hazy conditions instead of playing it safe down the middle of the course. I way overstood the layline to the boat and ended up in a photofinish with Eric and Jean, giving me a third.

Second race, Steve had apparently decided that port was a risky proposition (he also ended up being called OCS in the first heat), and he started just below me on the line. I had good angle and speed off the line, and was climbing on him when I had to slow it down and duck Ben who came on port but couldn't avoid me without running into another port starter below him - so we all avoided a collision (Ben exonerated himself with spins), but this pushed me just far enough down that I was now getting gassed by Steve. I tacked away as quickly as I could and ended up rounding the WW mark just behind him - the rest of the race was me trying to reel him in and him doing a flawless job of covering me, and we came in 1 and 2.

In the third race, I started feeling the big fin as the breeze picked up. Even though I had dropped the boom down a bit, I was just a bit overpowered and inefficient - all that lift didn't buy me better angle upwind anymore as I was having control issues, and certainly cost me off the breeze. Ben, on the other hand, was now ready to redeem himself with a vengeance. He, Steve, and Soheil started on port and this time they all called the layline right. Steve took the race, with Ben in second and Soheil in third; I followed in fourth.

Race 4 saw conditions pick up a bit more. I again stayed on starboard, this time because I was having control issues with the big fin and didn't want to risk threading through the fleet with my kit going all over the place. Ben really kicked it in this time and got a rockstar port start, followed by Steve. Again they made a perfect call on the lay line and held on to the lead - finishing Ben, Steve, me, Eric, and Soheil.

Race 5 now had a larger number of port starters. I stayed on starboard with the same rationale as before, not noticing that the breeze on top of the course had backed a bit more, making the right side of the course even more favored. Ben again took the race, followed by Steve and Soheil, with me in fourth.

Overall, Steve took the day ahead of Ben, I came in third. Jane Morson ran a tight RC, with clockwork starts and a nicely laid-out course allowing for good tactical variety. Oh, and the RC supplied water - welcome relief since I had neglected to bring my Camelbak and there was no time to go to shore between races (we do get kind of spoiled at the Event Site...).

As always CalCup was fun. The fleet is friendly and had several strata of very tight competition. No matter where you are in the fleet, you'll always have someone to compete with. And at the top, the fleet is pretty dense - no room for small mistakes.

Check for pictures in the gallery and for results at the CalCup site (click on the little trophy next to the August 19 date, or follow the results link in the left hand side frame off the homepage).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Just another day in Berkeley...

Ever wonder how come the SF Bay fleet tends to clean up in formula races around the country? And is there something we can learn from that? Visiting in Berkeley, I got a chance to go for a sail and meet up with Mike Percey and some of the Berkeley regulars. And it just hit me again how great an incubator for formula racing this place really is.

Start with the conditions - pretty much every afternoon from April through October, you'll be able to sail formula gear out of Berkeley. While most of the rec sailors spend a fair amount of time slogging, the racers go upwind into the Bay, where the breeze is consistent and quite a bit stronger. It sure helps if you can schedule your practice sessions.

Then there's the fleet - it helps even more when those scheduled practice sessions include other sailors with whom you can tune. In Berkeley, the pack is pretty much led by Steve Sylvester, Mike Percey (both are there almost every afternoon), and Mike Zajicek (at least two or three times a week). Strong sailors, and always tuning and figuring out what goes and what doesn't. And always willing to wait up for slower sailors when going up through the bay, and to help out with advice on technique and tuning to anyone who asks. Very supportive.

Then there's the place itself:
As you go up from Berkeley (lighter breeze, reasonably flat water), you get into higher and higher wind speeds. In the Olympic Circle, as well as south of the Berkeley Pier up to Treasure Island, the waterstate tends to get slightly bigger, and depending on current also more confused. As you get up to and then past TI, the breeze kicks up another notch, but the water smooths out a bit - cross chop gives way to a bit more swell and slightly more organized chop. As you get up to Angel Island, you're definitely in for some breeze, and depending on current, the swell can get pretty large. Oh, and then there are ferry and freighter wakes to contend with. Did I mention that the place is scenic, too?

So in the course of an afternoon session, you'll go up through a range of conditions, with a fleet of sailors who are solid benchmarks. As you're making little adjustments, you instantly find out what works and what doesn't, in which conditions. And before you know it, you've been sailing for two hours pushing it the whole time (as your competitive drive makes sure you're not just hanging back) - great conditioning for sure.

I'd say the only drawbacks are that you can't go into shore for a quick tuning adjustment, and that you definitely need to wear a real wetsuit all summer. Not a bad tradeoff, I'd say. Of course, if you tell the hordes of people waiting for the conditions to improve at Berkeley and Pt. Isabel that these are perfect sailing spots, they'd probably laugh. After all, they're hanging out waiting for the wind line to move close enough to shore to where they can get there with small gear - and are often frustrated in the attempt. To the racers, though, all that talk of Berkeley being light and flukey doesn't apply - and neither does the frustration of East Bay sailors who sit in traffic to make it to the Treasure Island launch in the afternoon.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Race Report - GorgeCup - August 12 2006

Get your slalom stuff ready, it's going to blow like stink...

At least, that was the received wisdom the day before. And while it was breezy on Saturday morning, it was nowhere near full-on slalom conditions. Instead, the Event Site served up the usual perfect Formula conditions (powered on a 9.9, warm air and water, grassy rigging...).
After a brief skippers' meeting, we got out on the water. The course had an upwind gate for the first lap, with an upwind mark further up for the second lap (off the hook outside of Wells Island), which made for fun tactical options. Starting on starboard, you might make it with one tack, then go downwind in the channel. Starting on port, you were virtually guaranteed to make it in one tack, and would then have the option of playing for a lucky puff on the inside, where the Southerly comes off the shore sometimes.

Bruce and I both got our 5-minute signal and found ourselves gambling on a port start. Dale and Jay and Doug and a bunch of other sailors played the starboard card. At one minute to go, as I'm looking down the line, I'm noticing Dale and Jay lining up and shooting over the line by the boat. As I'm thinking to myself that this is a bit late to come across for a last-second port start, Bruce and I approach the line battling for position. Turns out, they thought they were starting (a minute early), encourage by Darren who had gotten confused with a borrowed watch (ok, it was mine, so I guess it's all my fault...) and had them on their merry way at minus one minute. While that made for a nice clear port start for us, it also meant the race had to be thrown out since there was no way to rectify that situation afterwards.

Not to worry, though - we ended up getting seven more heats that day. I got thirds in heats 2 and 3, in both races beating Dale upwind but getting reeled back in downwind. A fourth in heat 4 after I mistimed my port start and had to go way below the pack, which gave Kieran (who had a brilliant start and good speed, and didn't let up throughout the race even though I was nipping at his heels at the end) a third. In heat five, I was third around the first lap, then got flung in my jibe at the bottom of the course. As I was flying through the air looking a bit like a cartoon character (you know, running off a cliff and moving horizontally for a while before gravity finally asserts itself), I saw three sailors bearing down on me, all scrambling to find a lane between the mark, the log raft, my gear, and me - a bit nerve-wracking, I'd say. Miraculously, there were no collisions, and once I got back onto my gear after a bit of a swim, I managed to claw my way back to 7th on the second lap.

After a short lunch break, we went back for three more heats. Heat 5 had me lining up on port again, which by now was becoming a bit crowded. As I was finding my gap on the line and threading through the starboard guys, who were coming further and further down the line to cut us off at the pass it seemed, I was barely able to avoid two sailors who had some sort of yard sale just below me. That left me the choice of either spearing them (I still don't know who they were; I think Stefan was one of them) or pushing upwind, which put me right in Joe's path. I chose the latter and dropped myself and my rig to windward, hoping I'd either give Joe space to avoid me or at least make it a low-speed collision. The plan worked, but resulted in me getting off the line at 2:30 minutes after the gun, after untangling from Joe and making sure everything was OK. I finished the heat, getting back up to 8th mostly on the strength of good UW angle and speed.

Race 7 still had me a bit rattled, and I bobbled a tack as I was in 3rd coming up on the second Windward mark. This resulted in two guys getting on top of me, and me having to throw in two extra tacks to make the mark, resulting in a sixt.

Race 8 saw Bruce sitting out taking a throwout (as he'd already beaten Dale for the day). I started below Dale but was a bit early, so I ran the line for a bit and ended up ducking a bunch of starboard starters. As I got to the gate, Jay was approaching from the other side (he'd started on starboard) and crossed in front of me (Dale was leading quite a bit at this point - he was using Bruce's fin and found out why Bruce had that extra little bit of speed all day). He had one jibe to make it down to the mark, and he was out in the channel where things were steady. I wasn't going to reel him in by being conservative and going out into the channel, so I gambled on the inside. It almost worked, too, except for a wee hole at the bottom of the course, so I double-jibed and rounded the leeward jibemark behind him. At this point, he put on afterburners, and no matter what I did, I couldn't close the gap on him until the end.

Results can be found here. Jay and I tied on points for third overall this day, with him taking the tie-breaker since he placed second behind Dale, giving him a higher best placing for the day.

Overall, a great day of racing. Anytime you get 8 heats off in near-perfect conditions, with this kind of fun and competitive fleet, I'd call that a good day. Kudos to Scotia for putting it all together and Darren for running smooth races and a nice course - now we just need to work on figuring out that count-down feature on my watch for him ;)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Race Report - GorgeCup#6 - July 29 2006

BeepBeepBeep... - it's 3:15 am on a Saturday morning, and my alarm is going off - Race Day. Because the forecast is for strong winds and Darren and Scotia have announced they will try to run downwind slalom if the conditions are right, the skippers' meeting has been pulled forward to 9am from the usual '10-ish.' I get in the car and start my 320-mile pilgrimage from Bellingham to the Event Site...

As I got there, it's clear that the marine layer had made a deeper push into the Gorge than forecast - it was windy, but a bit flukey and definitely not slalom conditions yet. As the morning wore on, Darren decided to set a formula course first instead of just waiting for wind. The course was a bit different - UW mark lower but closer to the WA shore than usual to undo some of the usual port favor, followed by a broad reach as opposed to a downwind leg, and then three jibe marks before the reach to the finish - Formula Slalom ;)

In the first heat, I started on starboard, with Bruce and Dale on port. The port starters had to duck a fair part of the fleet, but managed to take advantage of the current and the lift on the WA side; I had to let them go, as I had too much traffic following me on starboard to tack early and effectively cover them. Jay followed Bruce and Dale, and rounded out the top 3 at the mark, with me following. The reach down was pretty powered up and didn't give a lot of opportunity for tactics - basically hold on until you got to the first jibe mark. We had no position changes through the jibes, and at the bottom of the course it was Bruce, followed by Dale, Jay, and myself. As we took it back upwind for the second lap, Bruce had made a very good rounding and started pinching like crazy, controlling Dale's position. Jay tried to shoot out from under Dale but got himself pushed down too far for my taste, so I decided to tack off. This seemed to work great, because as I got up to the windward mark, I crossed Bruce (Dale had also tacked over, but later than me), with Jay being pretty far down). Checking out Bruce's angle, I put a few more boardlengths in the bank, then tacked secure in knowing I'd easily lay the line, figuring I'd round in 2nd. Unfortunately, we were both hit with a huge header and had to double-tack. We both got squeezed out by Dale, and Jac and Doug got me as well and kept their positions to the finish - proving again that this fleet is pretty tight these days (we all finished within seconds).

As the broad reaching had been quite entertaining, lots of racers lobbied Darren to switch to slalom now - I'm sure that a more traditional UW/DW course would not have evoked the same reaction. Darren obliged, and after a bit of a break with course resetting and a skippers' meeting, we switched to downwind slalom (as opposed to the box course we usually run). The fleet was split into four groups (plus the sport fleet, which had its own start), and we did a round robin, assuring each sailor would race each other sailor at least once in each round (each racer would have three races in each round of 9 races).

In my first heat, I had neither Bruce nor Dale to contend with, as they were in the other heat. I got a good start just below Doug and was able to push ahead of him with a good burst of speed, making it to the first mark in first and keeping the lead. We hit some soft spots around the course (other than that, I was nicely lit on the 7.2), but Doug and I were in the lucky position to have clean air as we were separated nicely from the fleet, which helped us extend the lead a bit. So that's what it feels like at the front of a slalom race ;)

My second heat paired my group with Dale's, and he managed one of his trademarked fully-lit starts at the leeward end of the line. I was just above him, holding speed, but he held me off through the jibe and kept his lead. Now the holes were getting bigger, and Dale demonstrated how leaders usually get the 'lucky' puff by virtue of getting there first - we kept planing into the third jibe, and as he pumped out of there, I fell off the plane in the disturbed air despite pumping hard. Sam and MacRae were right on my heels and managed to stay on the plane, rolling me out of the jibe while also pumping like madmen. I got myself going again before the fleet caught up to me, but there was another big hole waiting for us at the fourth mark, after which everyone slogged, even Dale who'd gotten their far ahead of us. We all caught some more breeze on the home stretch. Wow, this was turning into exercise.

My third heat paired me with Bruce's group. I got a good start again, and was able to follow him into the first jibe mark. He pulled away from me in the jibe, and we were nicely powered until after the second jibe. Then the holes re-manifested. Bruce was able to pull through it a bit better, opening the gap a bit. We were both a bit ahead of the fleet at this point, as we had benefited from clean air and undisturbed water around the first two marks. At the third mark, it took some frantic pumping to get planing again, and the fourth mark saw us both slogging for a fair amount of time. The fleet following was not fairing any better, though, and we got going again in the middle of the finish stretch, with Bruce winning comfortably and me in second with a good lead on #3.

After the first round robin, lunch was called, and afterwards the breeze got more solid and the holes at the bottom of the course got smaller and less severe. My fourth heat was again without Bruce and Dale. Jac timed the start a bit better than me and was below and ahead of me, but I managed to set up right above him, and got the inside track on the first jibe. Even though he rounded ahead of me, he was now so far below that on the second leg, as the breeze let up a wee bit, he wasn't able to pinch me up, and he barely made the third jibe mark and had to take it wide, allowing me to squeeze by him on the inside and rolling him. Jibes three and four were in relatively light air, but still fully planeable, and I was able to lead into the finish.

On the fifth heat, I got a great start and was able to roll Dale off the line as he had to bleed off a little speed to avoid going over early. I led him into the first mark and set up for a nice jibe, but for some reason couldn't figure out how to get my rear foot out of the strap - great timeing for my only bobbled jibe of the day. I could actually hear Dale laughing as he jibed right at the mark while I took a very wide turn around it, having initiated too late. Oh well, next time, buddy... ;) Dale led into the finish, with good breeze all over the course except a little weak spot right at the finish. My sixth heat I ended up following Bruce around the course.

So overall, my slalom placings were 1, 4, 2, 1, 2, 2, which together with my 5th in the Formula race put my comfortably in third for the day. Bruce and Dale were tied for points for the day after discards, with Dale winning the tie breaker. They had each beaten the other once and lost once in their two slalom heats against each other.

After the two round of slalom were complete, Darren called it for the day, as it was after 4:30 and another 9 heats would have taken us well into the evening. The round robin format certainly eliminated one of the major concerns about downwind slalom, as there was no waiting around for double-elimination ladders to finish. After you finish a heat, it's pretty much time to get back out there for the next one, and the RC can just click off the races. Very fun indeed - I can see why the Maui slalom series uses that format. The races are short, but definitely intense. Of course, unlike the box format, there's not much chance of coming back after a bobbled start or mark rounding.

So after a quick dinner with some friends and a caffeine infusion, it was back to Bellingham - falling into bed about 22 hours, 640 miles, two fuel stops, 1 course race and six slalom races after I had gotten up the previous morning. A good day, for sure ;)

Check here for complete results, and be sure to come out and join us for the next GorgeCup - Saturday, August 12.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

My best session this year...

... happened at the Event Site in the week between the Blowout and the FW Northamericans this month. It was a pretty light day (15 out on the river, some holes on shore). What made it special was that for the first time, it wasn't me giving a ride to my six-year-old, it was her giving a ride to me.

Two years ago, I got to give Hope a ride on Bruce Peterson's Start, using a small Retro Ripper rig. It was a ball - she loved, actually told me to pump so we could go faster. We bummed a few more Start-sessions off Bruce and Joe Wyatt, and then last year, we got our own, complete with a Sailworks 1.7 Retro Ripper rig. For someone used to 11m race sails, that feels like a handkerchief.

Hope has loved getting rides on the nose. Sometimes, on windy days, we'd actually get the Start planing (on a 5.0 Retro), and she'd be standing between my legs holding on to my boardshorts, hooting and hollering. But for some reason, she wasn't all that interested in holding on to the boom by herself, or uphauling the sail. She had a lot of fun, especially if she could get rides with other kids at the same time. It's actually quite doable for a full-size adult to have two six-year-olds on the board and still go places - amazing.

This summer, after a few sessions riding and playing (the Start makes an excellent lake toy), she decided she wanted a 'lesson.' So that puts us at the Event Site. Just so happened Charles Ivey was there, too - and he kindly gave us some pointers on how to do the on-the-beach piece of this. Within minutes, she was balancing the rig, feeling what little changes in stance and posture did.

Afterwards, we hit the water, with me kneeling on the nose of the board (gotta love that EVA foam deck...) and Hope in full control of the rig. Occasionally, I'd balance things a bit for her, but generally, she just did it all by herself:

Now what's really cool about this is that there was no 'instruction' here - it was all just her being a kid, being in her body, and feeling her way around the thing. Because we had the right gear (big, floaty, forgiving, cushy board and the Ripper rig that was the right size for her and reacted appropriately to her input, unlike some of those board-flat kids' rigs you see sometimes), it was completely intuitive. She was playing instead of receiving a lesson. Sure, one of these days, she'll want to know stuff about how it all works. For now, though, she's just enjoying the sensation of being the link that converts the force of the wind into forward motion - the same sensation that got all of us hooked on windsurfing. What a kick - here's my daughter, grinning at me and having the best time, effortlessly sailing along.

If you have kids yourself, or you're an actual or honorary aunt/uncle, you owe it to yourself to take them windsurfing. It's tons of fun, and incredibly rewarding. Just let them experience that thing that lights you up - you wouldn't believe how easily they get the stoke. Just don't think you have to teach them any lessons - you're just along for the ride ;)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Why I gave up the perfect windsurfing van


I used to drive this really neat extended E-350. Passenger van, with all but one rear bench ripped out - lots of space in the way back for all my gear and a very nice sleeping platform (the 'Econolodge'), with one rear bench remaining for my kids. Good family/windsurfing vehicle compromise - if you can call it a compromise to respond to competing pressure (space for people vs. space for gear) by just upping the ante and going gargantuan.

The thing was a pig to drive, sucked gas like no tomorrow, was expensive to maintain (heavy duty vehicles need heavy duty brakes, tires, and other wear parts). It also introduced a wee bit of strain into my marriage (my wife like the fact that it made me happy, but she disliked having it in the driveway, hated having to drive it on family trips, and generally had a bit of an allergy to it).

But man, was it functional! It fit all my gear, and since I was commuting to work in it, I always had all my stuff with me for that quick sneaking-out-of-the-office session (the windsurfing version of the 'liquid lunch').

Then gas prices hit $3/gallon. I filled up the beast one day, and even though the tank was far from full, the pump cut off since the credit card pre-authorization at the pump only goes up to $75. Then I did the math. I was now commuting a fair bit, so I was putting over 23K miles/year on this van. About 8K of that, by the way, was purely windsurfing related - going to races in the Gorge, going down to the Bay Area once a year, or going up to Squamish, or just chasing wind locally. You get the picture - this was not really sustainable.

Then we decided that, because we now had two kids and lots of kid-related car-pooling, Jen needed a mini-van (actually, it's an MPV - a Multi Purpose Vehicle - not a minivan - or so the dealer told us...). So we were going to sell either her Subaru or my van. And doing the math, I just couldn't justify keeping the beast. I started to think about trailers a bit more seriously than before. So then last winter, I built one. Look here for a pdf (warning - it's almost four MB, so do this over broadband...).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2006 Gorge Blowout - 7/9/06

This was my first Blowout ever - for some reason, I've never been able to make it down for one before. This year, however, it fit perfectly with the opportunity to take some family vacation in the Gorge, bracketed by the Blowout weekend at the beginning and the FW Northamericans at the end, with lots of sailing and playing in between.

On the drive form Hood River to Stevenson, it looked very filled in all the way to Viento, and still pretty windy between there and Stevenson/Cascade Locks. And things seemed to be picking up, plus the forecast looked really solid for the whole stretch. It just didn't seem enough for risking slalom gear, though. So I followed Dale's and Bruce's lead and went with my Roberts Formula board and my 9.9 Sailworks NXfw. The only difference was that they had 66cm fins, whereas my smallest was a 68.

Things picked up a bit out on the river, and at the start, I was nicely powered going off the breeze. I was following Dale and Bruce, and duking it out with Kieran, Jac, MacRae, Stefan, and the slalom contingent of Anil and Carey. As we approached the narrows, all of us with the apparent exception of Dale seemed to find our personal holes and swirlies - the slalom guys struggled with that more than those of use on large gear, of course, but it's still kind of frustrating to be slogging, looking frantically for wind, then riding a puff down the river until finding yourself unable to avoid the next hole. Dale was putting a lot of distance on the pack at this point, and the rest of us were trying to stick with Bruce. There were lots of changes in the positions at this point, and things were surprisingly tactical.

At Viento, the Junior Blowout started as Dale came through as the leader, playing rabbit to the eager crowd of junior sailors raring to go. The rest of us were quite a bit behind, struggling with the flukey conditions. As we got closer to Viento, I tried to stay as close to the Washington side as I could, trying to avoid the holes on the Oregon side - there were big patches of glass there. Jac got pretty close to Bruce, and the two of them roared into Viento in tight formation on a nice puff. Bruce went incredibly close into shore and pulled that off without either losing the breeze or running into the rocks there - quite an achievement. Jac stayed a bit further out. I was able to ride a strong puff down the middle of the river, then round up to get to the mark at Viento, then use my momentum to jibe and get back out into the breeze. I passed Jac in the process and came neck and neck with Bruce - that was, however, the last I saw of him, as he steadily pulled away with the breeze filling in more and more.

From now on, it got to be really fun - the wind was fully filled in and increased quite a bit until, when passing through Swell and the Hatchery, it got downright entertaining. I pulled away from Jac now that I was finally fully powered and his bigger sail and uncanny eye for shifts were less advantageous.

The finish order was Dale Cook, Bruce Peterson, Andreas Macke, Jac LeRoux, and MacRae Wylde. Anil Rajani came in 6th - quite the achievement given he was on slalom gear. Results (http://vmgevents.com/gc/results_files/06_blowout.htm) and pictures (http://vmgevents.com/gc/album/album2/index.htm) at the vmg site - here's one of me finishing: http://vmgevents.com/gc/album/album2/pages/aIMG_3705_jpg.htm

I'd say the one-design fleet in the top 3 (Roberts/Sailworks) again demonstrates that the gear just works, btw. The boards are friendly and fast, the sails are rangey and fast, and the package just feels very nice indeed.

So, about those juniors. I finally caught up with Todd Selby, the first place junior, just above the Hatchery. I think he's about 16. He was on an 8.5, sailing his FE board with the stock 70cm fin (which is a pretty lifty and draggy beast). He didn't just sail through the (by now pretty substantial) swell - he charged. There was no hesitation, no survival sailing - the kid totally committed and went for it. Good on him - he'll be someone to watch.

That, by the way, is pretty much true of the whole US Windsurfing Junior Team - these kids absolutely rock. They're positive, committed, and support their team mates. There's no whining, there are no excuses. Great group of kids, all of whom are doing their part to get the full benefit from the terrific coaching they're getting from Charles Ivey. These kids are the future of the sport, and a credit to it as well. Right on!

Meanwhile, I can't wait for next year's blowout - it's a fun race, ably organized by Scotia Bauer of VMG Events, ably run by Race Director Darren Rogers, and gleefully raced by a very diverse group of sailors. Come join next year - it's too fun to miss.

2006 FW Northamericans - 7/13-16

We had three days of racing as part of the USWindsurfing National Race Tour, concurrent with the Formula Experience PanAmericans. At the last moment, the FW class also sanctioned the event as the 2006 FW Northamericans. Besides all the GorgeCup regulars, we had the US Junior Team (competing in FE), and three Brazilian visitors (Wilhelm Schurmann, Gabriel Starosta, and Renato Pozolo).

Racing kicked off on Friday with perfect conditions (nicely powered 9.9) - a fact that I seemed not to have noticed looking at my results... After kicking off the series with probably the second-worst port start I ever had, I proceeded to go ankles up in the second race after snagging the anchor line on the windward mark. I followed that up with running into Renato (who copied that move on the anchor rope) in the third race, as well as some generally lackluster sailing in the fourth heat. Basically a case of not staying in the game in the face of minor adversity - my results for the day were 14,15, 14, 11. Being so far down in the standings, I wasn't really privy to what happened at the top. Bruce took a heat from very fast and consistent Wilhelm, and he and Dale rounded out the top three, but I didn't get to witness most of their battles as I was fighting my own.

Saturday, I bounced back with three fifths and two sixths - amazing what a little perspective will do. Wilhelm consolidated his lead with four bullets. Conditions started out with nicely powered 9.9 and, for the last course race, got downright entertaining (read windy). Darren announced he wouldn't run any more course racing that day, so the sailors on the beach clamored for slalom, and Darren obliged. We got to run two heats, which were great fun as always, even though we ended up with some big holes on the course (afternoon flukiness at the event site - note that Jay did exceedingly well on his formula gear).

Sunday was another great day of racing. Starting out with light 9.9 conditions, the breeze increased for the second heat and kept building through the 5th (and last) heat. My results for the day were 4, 9, 4, 5, 9. The second heat saw me ankles up after getting snagged on the finish pin during the sequence with 9 seconds to go (I was trying to avoid a sailor barging down on me while preserving the nice gap I'd found on the line and didn't pay close enough attention). The last heat, even though it was a deep placing, was actually my proudest one for the day, as I managed to bounce back from a big crash at the top of the course and a collision with Jan (and subsequent big crash) at the bottom of the course. I felt pretty good about staying in it and clawing my way back through much of the fleet.

As far as the formula piece was concerned, this was a one-sail regatta. The 9.9 NXfw proved its range, competing nicely with the big sails Jac and Doug had up in the light heat on Sunday, and was slippery and fast (and controllable) against the 9's when it got windy. And I keep finding that when I'm nicely powered with that 9.9, the Roberts can outpoint just about anything while keeping good speed upwind.

So there we were - three days of racing, with 14 Formula and 1 slalom heats. Conditions were generally fantastic, there was lots of spirited competition, the event was superbly organized and run (thanks Scotia and Darren!). This was definitely a great event, again made even better by the presence of the juniors. Their stoke again infected almost everyone on the beach and made a great time even more fun.

Pictures and results here