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 ( and pictures ( at the vmg site - here's one of me finishing:

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