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 ;)