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!