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.