Saturday, December 29, 2007

The joy of a crappy session

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I'm back. After 2 1/2 months off the water to heal my shoulder, I had my first session today. By any reasonable standard, it was just south of marginal - very flukey, gusty winds; temps hovering just above freezing (it started sleeting at the end), another failed glove experiment resulting in painfully frozen fingers, and the the wind started picking up with a vengeance and going completely offshore - so I was way overpowered on my formula gear on the outside, then struggling to make it back in through the big hole near shore. And the whole time, I had a big fat *$&#-eating grin on my face...

There's something about the sensation of windsurfing, skimming across the water, fast and weightless and effortless. It's been a long road; it's taken a lot of discipline to heal, train around the damage, stabilize the shoulder, and not give in too early and re-injure things. My PT told me that I had healed better and faster than I had any right to expect; he then grinned and added that being a little compulsive can come in handy sometimes...

It's good to be back. And if someone has any killer tips on gloves/mittens that actually work w/o cramping up your forearms or making it impossible to get a good grip on the boom, let me know.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fast...

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Dave White, previous holder of the production speed record (he just lost that to Patrik Diethelm), is setting up a speed event in South England - Driven By Wind uses a sheltered stretch of water behind a sandbar. He'll set up timing equipment. This creates some nice competition for the Masters of Speed on the ditch in Southern France (which gave us Finian's current outright record of 48..7 knots), and Martin van Meurs has already demonstrated the potential of the place by breaking 50 knots on the GPS over 100 meters. Finian is getting a worthy adversary to play with, as Antoine Albeau has already shown he can be fast on the ditch even in suboptimal conditions by posting 46.55 knots on his first day there (see news item for November 21 as the Masters of Speed site).

Meanwhile, the kiters are getting closer and closer to 50 knots (hey, they can run in three inches of water - that sure makes for smooth conditions...), and the big-budget contingent is hard at work as well. Hydroptere already has the nautical mile record and had just been reconfigured to break 50 knots over the required 500m distance. Macquarie Innovation looks downright low-budget compared to that (until, of course, you remember that their budget is still probably an order of magnitude higher than even Finian's).

While Driven by Wind and Masters of Speed use WSSRC-certified video timing, there's a whole community of windsurfers using GPS to challenge themselves and their mates all over the world, posting their tracks and speeds on http://www.gps-speedsurfing.com/. And on the Maui Sails forum, there's some interesting discussion on the democratizing effect GPS has on speed, as well as what a nice competitive outlet it is for sailors all over the world. It's not ready for "official" records yet - there are some remaining precisions issues, and the GPS community operates on the honor system, with some rudimentary QA done on the data by the site administrators. But it's just a matter of time until someone builds a device that enables cheat-proof, high-precision tracks good enough to satisfy those outside the community, and lead to ratification by the WSSRC.

This winter sure seems like a good bet for breaking 50 knots - whether it be a windsurfer (most likely in my book), a boat, or a kiter. Long term, windsurfers are running into diminishing returns on speed gains - we'll probably have to come up with some innovations to defend the record against kites and boats, which seem to be on a steeper part of the learning curve. Ultimately, it's all good, though. Bragging rights vis-as-vis the kiters and sit-down-sailors are fun, but as long as people are inspired to go out and push themselves a little bit, it's all good.

The advent of GPS speedsailing, coming along at a time when there was finally a real push for records again, is creating energy that simply wasn't possible the first time speed was big. Sure, I remember the early days of speed, when windsurfers became the fastest sailing craft. Check Barry Spanier's account of those days to go down memory lane (or to marvel at it all if you weren't around the sport back then). And when 40 knots was broken, it was huge. But it wasn't as if people were going out and lining up on speed strips - the timing equipment was expensive, and it was impossible to cost-effectively run speed trials for the masses (the closest anyone ever came were probably the Gorge guys around Ken Winner's timing equipment and the 100m speed run on the Klickitat - Bruce has some great pictures of those runs on the wall in theSailworks loft).

Today, people are going nuts over GPS - and it's not just the dedicated speedsters. Anyone can go out on their slalom or freeride stuff and see how fast they can go. It's natural to want to see, and for anyone who's a bit competitive, it's a fun thing to do when there's nobody else around to compete with.

So strap on your GPS, point it deep, and send it - it's fun, and just like racing, it just might make your a better sailor in the process by giving you a reason to push yourself a bit. Plus whenever people see you come in from a session, they always ask the same question - "How fast can you go on that thing?" Showing them a GPS readout makes for a great conversation piece.

Monday, December 3, 2007

FW Worlds - lessons from Antoine's Domination

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The FW Worlds just concluded in Brazil, and the results speak for themselves. I think it's fair to say that Antoine Albeau pretty much dominated the event. If you look through the reports linked from the Formula Windsurfing website, and you watch some of the videos available through those links, or read some of Dennis Littel's or Steve Bodner's commentary, you'll again and again find comments to the extent that Antoine was just flying - comments made even by people like Gonzalo and Wojtek.

So what happened here? I think the short version is that Antoine is just a force. I raced the 2003 Midwinters in Florida, where he was using a crappy board (an outdated AHD design) in super light air (I was barely powered most of the time on my 12.5, and he was probably at least 20 pounds heavier than me at the time). He won that event, in front of people like Kevin Pritchard and Wojtek B. (who, if I remember correctly, was the reigning world champ at the time). He's been doing great in formula racing even in light air events like the 2006 Europeans and 2006 Worlds - both events extremely sketchy windwise, putting a heavy sailor at a severe disadvantage.

So Brazil served up some conditions you'd consider to be more to his liking - but it wasn't San Francisco style survival FW sailing. If you read Steve Bodner's reports, he rarely got into powered up 9.9 territory. Antoine was still using the 12.5 for most of the regatta. And he just took off on the fleet. He threw out a third, and his next throwout would have been a second. If he hadn't raced at all the last day, he still would have won - yet he came out and competed fiercely that day.

Prior to the Worlds, Windsurf Journal had an article that mentioned they witnessed Antoine testing a stack of something like 30 Deboichet formula fins in preparation for the event (not archived, it seems, so I can't provide a direct link). Is that's what's going on? Did the guy just out-fin everyone? Doubtful - for sure, he probably was the most tuned up, and he probably had some very fast fins that no one else had (that's the perk when you do fin development with the maker). But the top 10 were all on Deboichet or Kashy custom fins, most of which are truly custom and would be hard to come by for any of us (consistency and reproducibility of wet lay up-molded fins is a whole other topic, and one of the reasons I'm so stoked about working with Dave Lassila of Finworks...).

And sure, as the lead racer guy for NP, his NP's were probably more tweaked than anyone else's - but again, none of the top guys would have a hard time getting support from their sailmakers to get their sails to be exactly what they want them to be. That's certainly true of Steve Allen (a former world champ himself, and leading the pack charging after Antoine in this championship).

So some long-distance analysis can't really get stuck on gear - that's part of it, but it's a tuning thing more than the availability of magic silver bullets. And it can't get stuck on his size - as it wasn't THAT windy (Wilhelm Schurman, winner of the lightweight division, can be seen in some pics and videos using an 11.8 on one of the days - a day when Antoine got three bullets). And then you look at the fact that the guy fully dominated PWA slalom racing this year. And you have to take note that, on his first day ever on the Masters' of Speed canal in Southern France, he went over 46 knots in suboptimal conditions - and then goes on to say in the interview that he likes the speed 'racing' format better b/c it's more intense - I think we're starting to understand what's happening here.

Antoine has a lot of stuff going for him (or is making a lot of stuff happening for himself, more likely...). He's clearly incredibly talented. He's physically strong. He's well prepared and tuned. He's got a ton of experience. And, as can be seen from that comment about intensity after the speed thing (as if going 46+ knots wasn't intense in and of itself...), he's very much a competitor at heart (hey, the guy didn't sit out heats or events he didn't need to sail to keep his overall wins - why risk injury or equipment damage unless you're in it to compete, rather than "just" to win?).

But there's something else here - most competitors play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Few seem to be able to convert weaknesses to strengths. There's nothing more logical than for a big sailor like Antoine to always sail larger gear than his opponents - reduce your weakness (that whole light air/heavy sailor physics handicap), and maximize your strength (take advantage of your ability to control big stuff when the breeze picks up). And most of them do it. But it seems like he's managed to do it to an extent that's truly astonishing - check out the gear registration for the event. This place is known to be windy. Like Albeau, Wojtek registered a 12.5. Unlike Albeau, he then went to 10.7 and 9.0 from there. Albeau went to 11.8 and registered 10.7 as his smallest sail.

That was more pronounced in the 2007 PWA slalom events (unfortunately, they don't seem to archive the gear registration pages for those events, so I'm going from memory here) - throughout the season, Albeau would register bigger sails and boards than both Dunkerbeck and Micah Buzianis in pretty much each and every event. Both of those guys are first rate slalom contenders, and the same size as Antoine. Yet they consistently chose smaller gear - probably to "insure" against epic conditions that would enable them to get on smaller gear when things picked up, and then use their size and leverage for out-of-this-world straight line speed. That used to clearly be Dunkerbeck's game plan (and if memory serves, he dominated the World Cup that way for a long time). Antoine has found a way to tweak control over his big gear when it gets gnarly to where he doesn't have a speed disadvantage, while also having ample power in the holes - and he dominates with it.

What's all that got to do with the average sailor, you ask? Nothing really - after all, these are racers, and we all know that racers are a different breed, right? Except, how many people do you see in your spot who always seem to be rigged for their strengths? If you look at big sailors vs. small sailors, you often find that the smaller guys are on relatively big gear, while the big guys are on relatively small gear - meaning the gear-size-gap between people of different size isn't nearly as big as you'd expect (and is it would need to be to equalize planing and control thresholds).

It's almost as if the big guys are so ecstatic when things go ballistic and they're the only ones able to hang on, they live for those moments and generally discount the misery that comes from too-small gear during the rest of their sessions. Conversely, you've got all those light sailors who are always the first to plane, and who seem to be using relatively large gear - as though they're so hooked to planing by a bunch of people slogging that they couldn't care less about getting blown off the water when it picks up.

In many ways, that kind of behavior is pretty natural - we all have our identity, and whatever confirms us in that seems to be accepted. If you're a big guy and you get blown off the water because you rig big, maybe it's not that conducive to your self image. Maybe a little guy can't stand the thought of some heavy sailor planing just as early. So you go out and play to your strength, and just completely write off the other side of the spectrum - after all, a negative outcome on that end is easily explained and involves no loss of self-esteem ("sure, I was bobbing while everyone else was planing, but hey, they're all pencil-necks...").

I've succumbed to this, as well. Check out this race report I did after the US Nationals long-distance day. You'll note that I seem to just accept the fact that I was under-powered, anticipating big breeze at the bottom of the course. Well, the other guys (especially the lighter ones) clearly were more appropriately rigged. But for a big guy, saying "I was under-powered" is pretty painless (hey, it's the wind after all). Admitting that I chickened out on rigging big (a risk a bunch of lighter competitors who were on the same size gear as me were willing to take) apparently didn't come to mind.

If that all seems like a bunch of psycho-babble, think again. Game theory has confirmed people's tendency to err towards things that confirm their bias, even if "objectively" they are creating suboptimal outcomes for themselves. Antoine seems to have broken through that - he's apparently confident that he won't get blown off the water even with bigger gear unless the whole fleet suffers the same fate. And in return, he's denying the lighter guys their light-air advantage.

So put that on the to-do list for maximizing your racing outcomes (or just having more fun on the water) - along with skill, determination, training, tuning, ....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day Storm

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The pic on the right (courtesy Dale McKinnon) shows what she saw from shore at Post Pt. today. Yes, that frothing mess of water is Bellingham Bay, a generally calm and peaceful part of the Northwest inland waters. Wind readings were off the charts at iWindsurf today (literally, as their new dynamic graphs top out somewhere around 50 mph). Airport recorded gusts around 60 knots; BCS showed peaks in the mid-70's mph range.

The pic was taken from shore at Marine Park - so her camera's vantage point was about 8 feet above water level. Clearly, the swell was well over head high. Mike Sumpter reported huge (100' high) spin drifts earlier in the day. Most of the guys apparently went to Cherry Point for some saner conditions. Not sure who that lone sailor is; might be Brett, taking his Bonzer for a ride.

It's been really windy the last two days or so. Yesterday and the day before, there was quite a bit of sunshine thrown into the mix as well. Oh well, back to taking care of that shoulder...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Rehab

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re·ha·bil·i·tate (rh-bl-tt)
tr.v. re·ha·bil·i·tat·ed, re·ha·bil·i·tat·ing, re·ha·bil·i·tates
1. To restore to good health or useful life, as through therapy and education.
2. To restore to good condition, operation, or capacity.
3. To reinstate the good name of.
4. To restore the former rank, privileges, or rights of.
(Source: freedictionary.com)

It's been four weeks now since I wrenched my shoulder. Luckily, since it's all just sprains, contusion, and a partial tear, the worst is pretty much over. A PT friend of mine from Berkeley likens inflammation to an angry bear - you just don't want to poke it in the eye, at least until it's all well-fed and calmed down (and that's probably where that little analogy breaks down - I have a really hard time seeing why you'd ever want to poke a bear in the eye, even once that's not-angry...).

My shoulder is now at that happy non-angry-bear state, and according to my PT here it's time to start poking it a bit with stabilization exercises while resting all the stuff that's not quite ready and giving it lots of icing/heat to get the blood flowing. Funny thing about my PT - he sized me up after talking to me during the exam, then told me that how quickly I'd heal would be entirely up to discipline or, as he put it, whether I can avoid being stupid. Now that there's not constant pain as a reminder, I'm starting to see what he's talking about.

And that's the program for the next three weeks or so - don't be stupid, ice/heat, and stabilize the shoulder while working around it to keep the rest of my body in shape.

Today, after a bunch of rain and ugly weather, there was sunshine, 55 degree air temps, and a nice 12-15 knot breeze on the bay. Since I'm a few weeks away from being ready to grab my gear and heading down to the water, I headed to the gym. Good motivation for sure.



Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Temporarily sidelined

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At the end of last Sunday's session, I had the windsurfing equivalent of a lift line injury in skiing (you know those stories - skied steep and deep for hours, then caught an edge in the lift line and got hurt). After 2+ hours of sailing, I decided it was time to go back in. Sailing along, I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention, hit a piece of kelp or something, and went over the handle bars. If I'd gone faster, I probably would have gotten thrown clear of my gear; as it was, my left shoulder smacked the mast while my arm was getting wrenched back. So it's a bit of a double-whammy - not only did I get hurt, I didn't even get an epic story out of it.

The whole thing was pretty painful, so it took me a while to waterstart and sail back. By the time I'd made it to shore, my left arm was pretty useless, so I ended up having to carry my board and rig up separately. It took two guys helping me to get out of my wetsuit. Tons of ice and ibuprofen seemed to calm things down, so I figured I'd sprained something, since the xray came back normal. Over the course of a week, while the internal swelling and inflammation has gone down a fair bit, there's still some distinctive pain and loss of range of motion. So yesterday I got an MRI; this should make it pretty clear whether I'm dealing with soft tissue sprains, or whether anything is torn and will require more than just another week of rest and a few weeks of PT/rehab.

Kind of weird how off-balance you are trying to protect one of your shoulders. Working out requires some serious creativity, as does daily activity. And it's still kind of hard to explain to my 2-year-old that dad can't wrestle with him for a while. I guess I jinxed myself when the Friday before, in a conversation with someone at the gym, I mentioned how favorable the risk/reward ratio is in this sport, and how I'd not gotten anything other than one minor case of whiplash in 28 years. Should have kept my mouth shut...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Windy...

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A good weekend for us Bellinghamsters. Temps in the mid-50's, a rocking southerly (the graph shows what happened at the north end of the bay, which doesn't get the benefit of the venturi generated by the SE pushing by the Chuckanuts), very low tide (meaning you could walk out to the windline, so no need for the usual swim/slog), and all that conveniently timed for a Sunday morning. It just doesn't get much better than that.

While participants in the first ever Bellingham Marathon were probably cursing the breeze, there was a contingent of 8-10 sailors off Post Pt., enjoying the playground Mother Nature provided with solid winds and big rolling (and, at times and in some places, surprisingly smooth) swell.

After years of rationalizing repeated beatings (here and here are some accounts of the not-so-painful ones; there were others which I simply refused to document...) received on slalom gear in these conditions, I finally took the hint and got myself a small freeride board. At 80 liters, it's a bit smaller than I would have wanted (slogging is still painful), but the price was right. The single rear strap, curvy wave fin, inset/forward strap positions, and detuned rails made for a very different sailing sensation. Just sailing along, it's pretty much effortless; you're just not going very fast. You can ride swells, and getting air is a lot less scary than on slalom kit.

The sailing style is the big difference. On fast gear, safety lies in holding the hammer down. If you back off, or god forbid sheet out, you start tailwalking and end up in a yardsale. Of course, that strategy is limited by waterstate, as the resulting warp speed will at some point lead you up and off a stray piece of chop - and the crater resulting from that tends to be pretty spectacular. The freeride stuff, on the other hand, allows you to back off when things get out of hand. The wipeouts come when you do try to push it - and find that the fin just can't handle it, so you're spinning out as your going at Mach speed through a trough. Different kind of sailing, for sure. Hopefully, we'll have lots of winter storms this season to help me get reacquainted with that ;)

The kiters at the north end of the bay were apparently passing the single 3m kite around the group to share. Of course, most of their usual crowd were down at Post Pt. windsurfing on 3.7's to 4.7's. I was on a 5.0 Retro, which was perfect at the beginning, and kept handling the building winds really well with a bit more downhaul.

As the front came closer, the clouds moved in and it started to rain - hard. That was right around the time most of the marathoners were gritting their teeth through the last miles of the race. Kudos to them for sticking it out; I certainly preferred being on the water in that weather.

Friday, September 28, 2007

In the paper...

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I got two articles in the local media - one in the Bellingham Herald (online version here), and one in the Whatcom Independent (it's page 10 of 19 in the pdf archived online). The Whatcom Indy put it on their center page spread, with a teaser reference on their front page. In the Bellingham Herald, it took up the better part of the front page of the lifestyle section, with a small picture and teaser on the front page.

I've gotten great response from these; there were several email from folks who used to windsurf, and asked about how to get back into the sport. Some others asked about where to learn, and how hard it would be, and wanting to find out about getting their kids into it. And then there've been people talking to me about it at the gym, at my daughter's school, and even at work (although, as someone pointed out, I shot myself in the foot with that one since now everyone will be suspicious if I'm not at my desk on windy days...).

Of course, this is all part of the master plan - soon enough, we'll have windsurfing taking over as the major mainstream sport in Whatcom County and everyone will be out ripping - right?

Friday, September 21, 2007

2007 season - lessons and goals

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I've been wanting to do a debrief for a while now, and the more I mull over the season, the more I realize that there's really no over-riding grand unifying theory - instead, there's a number of things that I've learned this year (or that have been reinforced in some way - sometimes it takes a while for those lessons to really sink in...) So here goes, in no particular order:

Physical Fitness
I'm in pretty good shape compared to the rest of the fleet - both in the Gorge and at Nationals. The difference is that, since I live in a place that doesn't allow for almost daily sailing, I don't get to build up that windsurfing-specific stamina. Whether it's the last two heats of the 10-round slalom marathon on the second day of the 3-day Gorge Challenge, or the last day of the Nationals when I was reduced to hanging on as my early season decision not to get a formula sail smaller than 9.9 collided with a solid 35 knots and voodoo chop on the course and my cumulative fatigue from the previous four days' racing - multi-day events just got the better of me this season. While there's not full substitute for time on the water (as windsurfing tends to be the best training for windsurfing - duh!) I've started aggressively working on my conditioning. I've been taking very careful notes of what's been aching to the point of immobility, and I'm adjusting my workouts to better target those things. Hopefully, that will bear some fruit next season.


Course Racing - VMG
The Gorge is a bit of an interesting place. Because we're racing with a reasonably small fleet and with long start lines, and because the water tends to be pretty smooth considering how windy it is, this opens a unique opportunity. You can, if you have enough board speed, get away with a super low-drag on-the-edge kind of tuning. For me, that meant my Roberts (with a relatively narrow tail) and very forward-raked R16's in Medium stiffness. That setup is way fast off the breeze, and upwind all it requires for incredible angle AND good speed (what a deal...) is a little bit of room to light up the foils before pushing for angle. That worked great for me all season in the Gorge, as I was right on Bruce's tail. It wasn't until Chris Prior came down for the Gorge Challenge and, with really good angle, started reducing my tactical options (and in the process edged me out of second into third) that I got a bit of a warning that this setup might have serious drawbacks.

Going to Nationals, however, made that very clear in the very first two heats - I simply couldn't play the high-speed game there, as (a) the course layout favored tactical degrees of freedom from grinding and (b) the rough water didn't allow me to take advantage of my speed all the way (it's hard to really light up the foils when you're flying off Crissy voodoo chop). Switching to Finworks fins made a huge difference on day 2 when I got a 4th and a 3rd place finish.

So the goal for next season is to find a better balance that allows me more latitude in my tactics - find better angle off the line so I can create my spaces to accelerate when I need them and can close the door on others, while retaining my boat speed edge. The fins are a key piece in that; tuning the whole package is the other.


Slalom
Downwind slalom is dead simple; to win, all you have to do is:
  1. Nail your starts EVERY TIME - hit the line at full speed at 0, on the advantaged end, staying clear of anyone who might be OCS and could give you bad air.
  2. Have ample boat speed to avoid being rolled, easily roll others, and stay out in front where you have clean air and undisturbed water. Be able to preserve that speed even in the holes.
  3. Hit the mark first; set your line for the jibe to prevent anyone from cutting in on you.
  4. Accelerate out of the jibe faster than anyone else, even if there are holes.
  5. Repeat 3 and 4 until you finish (in first).
Really, it's that easy ;) Of course, optimizing for these success factors can lead to competing priorities. Sure, you want raw speed and super-fast jibes - that suggests going with relatively small gear and low drag (as well as good control so you don't bounce out). But you also need to punch through the holes and accelerate out of your jibes if it's light - which suggests more power and bigger boards/fins. And for Gorge box slalom courses, a bit of upwind ability is needed as well, also suggesting bigger gear.

Looking at slalom events this year, both in the Gorge and at Nationals, I'm concluding that:
  • I've gotten better at being aggressive on the starts; risking the occasional OCS, my starts have gotten more consistent, and I've started positioning myself a bit better. Gaining more experience has been helpful here.
  • I've gotten more aggressive at fighting for position within the heats, too. While that did cause me to crash in a crucial heat in the final rounds in the Nationals, I still believe it's the way to go - being tentative, for me, has led to at least as many crashes as being aggressive; you can't race slalom defensively and expect any level of success.
  • My jibes have gotten faster and more precise than they were in the past - I guess my slalom racing is finally catching up with my formula racing overall. The weak point is acceleration out of the jibe - the things for me to work on here are (a) getting a bigger board (and thus get better acceleration, as well as be more impervious to holes), and (b) working aggressively on my jibe exits (which is something I can do in the off-season when sailing slalom gear up here - you don't need a training partner to go through jibe drills, just a bunch of commitment and some breeze).
  • I've gotten faster - which is probably a direct result of just forcing myself to keep the hammer down anytime I'm out on my slalom gear, no matter how sketchy it might get. As a side effect, that's resulted in great entertainment for those sailing around me when I'm training, as the Bellinghamsters keep wondering why I'm out there on way too much sail taking big spills every so often...
It's been a good season - can't wait to see what next year will bring!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The wind's a fickle mistress...

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I met up with a reporter from the Whatcom Independent on Saturday morning. The plan was that he'd shoot some pictures of me sailing on the Bellingham Bay, then we'd have a little Q&A on windsurfing in Whatcom County, where to go, how to learn, and talk about racing a bit. The forecast wasn't all bad, so we met Saturday morning at 10 - except it hadn't filled in enough to get any good pictures (somehow, action shots of slogging on Formula gear aren't all that attractive, no matter how blue the sky...)

So we went for Plan B and bailed for Lake Whatcom, where I was going to give him a lesson. He was a great sport, and we got him on the Start, with me towing him on the longboard. Except as soon as we hit the water on the lake, the breeze there went from a lesson-perfect 3-5 knots to nothing (as in zilch, zip, not even a ripple on the water - sure made for stunning reflections of scenery on the lake, but that was about it).

We hung out for a while and talked, and then we had to bail since we both had other things to do. Of course, as I was driving through town with my kids a half hour later and went by the bay, I couldn't help but be struck with the irony of the bay now being adorned in whitecaps.

Nobody ever said this sport was supposed to be easy, or capable of being fit into a busy schedule for that matter. I'm sure it's making me into a better person somehow, though... ;)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Gorge Cup - season finale (sort of...)

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So in my last post I made the mistake of looking forward to the racing we should have on Saturday based on the really strong forecast. Which, of course, was a grieveous error. On Friday, while I was in the car with my family driving to the Gorge, the forecast collapsed about as fast as the pressure gradients did, and we got to the Event Site to the remnants of what had been 5.0 conditions and had now turned into very marginal formula sailing at best. The forecast for Saturday, at this point, was calling for light Easterlies - which was roundly pooh-poohed by everyone at the beach. After all, how could the whole thing change so quickly. Surely, there'd be some breeze on Saturday.

And there was - the picture above shows the extent of the breeze we got during the window of opportunity we had for racing. The picture was taken by Carey Caronni off the jetty at the Event Site (thanks, Carey!) - so you can tell it's Easterly, and it's ripping ;)

Hope sure had a good time with this setup - this was the first time we tried towing her behind the long-board, and it made a big difference, as she could be independent but still feel safe, plus I could get her going, since it's hard for her to drive that big board with her 1.7. Thanks to Roger Jackson for the suggestion (I improvised the tether with four bungee uphauls daisy-chained together; I'm sure rope and regular bungee would have been lower in drag but this worked well). That was a lot of fun, as was the fact that the racers made the best of things as Scotia and Darren organized paddle and swim races and Scotia got a chicken bbq lunch delivered - so it was a nice day at the beach.

The wind did eventually pick up - right around 6 pm, and streaky, so we didn't miss much as we went off to the end of year awards ceremony and CGWA end of season party. Turns out that in overall standings for the season, I came in third behind Bruce Peterson and Doug Beaman. We only got 6 scores this year (we were unlucky in losing two races to the weather, and another two to equipment malfunctions related to the committee boat), so there was only one throwout, and I had missed two races (the Blowout and the August 18 race). Congrats to Doug - showing up is a pre-condition, and the vagaries of whether conditions will enable racing are certainly always part of the game.

I'm planning on doing a bit of a recap on the season in the next couple days. For now, I'd just like to say that I'm grateful to have such well-organized racing with such a competitive fleet here in the Northwest. Scotia is an organizational power house (as well as a saint to put up with us all). I've had a lot of fun racing in the Gorge this year, and I can't wait to do it all over again next season.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

One more...

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Labor Day weekend is upon us, and summer is almost over. One more race in the Gorge - if you were ever about the fence about racing, this would be a good weekend to come down, as the forecast is excellent for the whole weekend, and turnout is likely to be good with the long weekend, and the awards party on Saturday night.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Formula Fins for Sale

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Check here for details and pictures.

9/12/07 update - all gone!

Element as pack mule

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Someone sent me an email, expressing disbelief at the notion that you could fit formula gear inside an Element (as I'd mentioned here). Well, here's how it works. It's a bit of a tight fit, but that's true of fitting Formula gear into just about any vehicle, even large mini vans.

What you see in the pictures is a Formula board, two booms (in their full length as needed to rig the sails - no real need to futz with the adjustment and shorten them for fit), two masts (520 and 550; those are under the board so they're hard to see in the pics), two sails (10.8 and 9.9), a box of accessories, a toolbox, a fin stash, a wetsuit and harness, and other odds and ends I happened to be carrying that day (gym bag, backpack for work, etc.)

The driver's seat is not pushed forward; the gear doesn't really encroach on my space, and the stuff sits low enough that while driving I have full use of the rearview and passenger side mirrors, and can see out the back and sides (in the side view picture, you can't really see the passenger side mirror b/c the camera angle is lower than my head would be while sitting in the driver seat). I have fit my slalom gear on top of my formula stuff pretty easily, but then I can't see out the side anymore, which is a bit sketchy.

Pretty amazing for a car that's shorter than a Civic...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Nationals Debrief - Slalom

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And finally some notes on slalom. First off - we were lucky with the conditions, as they were pretty consistent for Crissy Field standards. I was able to be competitive for the whole series of races on a 24" Roberts with a 7.2 Sailworks NXsl. Others did switch around their gear a bit; I don't know if it's because their stuff isn't as rangy, or whether they just wanted to optimize; my setup felt right the whole time, though.

Usually, slalom starts are biased towards the pin a little bit; that's supposed to reduce congestion at the boat (as people would try to be above others and roll over them on the way to the first mark). Since the first leg was a bit of a tight reach (especially in the finals when the ebb had slacked and it was starting to flood a little), it seems like the best starts were to be had in the middle of the line (with a bit of upwind advantage over the people at the pin, but with enough distance to the boat to avoid its windshadow and to avoid being pushed up by leeward boards with right of way).

The second reach, however, was *very* deep. So taking the first mark high was not necessarily a winning strategy, especially at the beginning when it was pretty light and you couldn't really get enough power to really fly that deep off the breeze. In the finals series, the first mark was moved down a bit - which was very welcome because it (a) reduced the too-deep angle for the second reach and (b) made up for the flood making the first leg even more of a squeeze.

In the qualifying heats, I had no problems getting pretty good starts; in the finals, with more people pushing hard and 13 boards in the race, the rather short start line made starting a bit more precarious. Add to that the fact that at the first mark it was flooding a bit now, and you really didn't want to be stuck to leeward of the line, pinching to make the mark and getting rolled by those above you.

The course was pretty short; each heat took between 2 and 3 minutes for the leaders, and the reaches were too short to do a lot of passing. Good starts and aggressive jibes, as well as fast acceleration out of the jibes, were thus the critical success factors (more so than big time straight-line speed on the reaches). This favored lighter, nimble sailors (like David Wells and Jason Voss), as well as really solid and aggressive jibers like Bill Weir. Seth, while not exactly a fly-weight, is certainly nimble and aggressive, plus he tended to run bigger boards than most to optimize acceleration out of the jibes, and that certainly paid off for him.

Waterstate was interesting, too. In the qualifying series, the first mark was right at an eddy line, so there was a bit of cross chop right in the jibe zone. Add to that the disturbance in the water from the press boat maneuvering to stay just to windward of the mark, and you had some 'interesting' water to jibe in. The second and fourth marks had typical Crissy ebb chop, while the third jibe was in pretty smooth water. In the finals, the picture changed a bit with the tide changing over; the first mark was now pretty flat (plus speeds were lower as we were pinching a bit with the flood pushing us down), but the second mark was all of a sudden experiencing some really strange cross chop with an eddy line close by (I stuffed the nose of my board into that in the last heat when I was trying to squeeze by David Wells on the inside of the jibe, resulting in a tremendous wipeout for me).

With an OCS in the first finals heat, and a big wipeout in the last, there are certainly some lessons to be learned from this one. Given how I was set up, and how the course worked, however, I don't think I'd change anything about my approach. While I had great straight-line speed on just about anyone in the fleet, the short reaches didn't really afford me an opportunity to take full advantage of that. My jibe exits tend to be a little slower than those of lighter sailors (or sailors who ran bigger boards). That left starts and aggressive positioning in the jibes as the key factors, and I tried to maximize those. In that first heat, I hit the line 1 second prematurely - so it was a matter of relative positioning (as I had left myself not quite enough room to maneuver in this first heat with the top of the fleet), but the general approach of pushing hard at the start was certainly valid.

Similarly, I was able to hold off a number of lighter sailors in several heats by positioning my jibes to close the door on them, protecting my position, and was able to pick up several positions by attacking those in front of me who left the door open. The fact that in that last heat I crashed while attacking is the risk you take trying to win a heat as opposed to just placing.
While you could argue that sometimes you just have to be conservative to protect your position, I've found that when I try to jibe conservatively, it often results in being too tentative - which often leads if not to outright crashes than at least baubled jibes that allow others to pass.

One thing for me to change, however (other than continuing to work on my jibes) would be to go with a slightly larger slalom board. While this would marginally decrease straight line speed, it should do a lot for acceleration on jibe exit, as well as make me more impervious to holes and adverse current (very important for a heavier sailor).

Racing downwind slalom is a blast. While the heats are short, they're definitely intense. The round robin fleet format allowed everyone a fair amount of racing - definitely an improvement from double-eliminations, which tend to result in the majority of sailors being eliminated early and getting very little racing in. For downwind slalom to be fun, though, the conditions have to be right. We were lucky to get enough breeze to have fun, exciting races.

The pros race slalom on large gear in light air these days, as a way to guarantee a contest. While I get their motivation (it's much easier to sell a slalom contest to spectators and sponsors, since it's easy to follow what's going on and you don't have to worry about setting different courses when it's getting light), as a competitor, I'd have to say that the prospect of racing slalom in 12-14 knots is just not very exciting. Sure, you're still going pretty fast, but the raw adrenaline rush of 'real' slalom (i.e., high wind slalom in 20+ knots) is just not there. As a racer, you're then stuck with moderately exciting sailing, but without the tactical challenge you can have in course racing in those conditions.

I'm curious to see how this will develop at the amateur level; in the Gorge, we're all basically racing 2 boards and 4 sails, just like the pros - it's just that we distribute that over one Formula and one Slalom setup, as opposed to two sets of slalom gear, giving us more range and variety for only marginally more money (as the large slalom stuff isn't really that much cheaper than formula gear).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Nationals Debrief - Formula

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Some notes on the course at the Nationals, and what that meant for tactics given the conditions on the different days. The diagram to the left roughly shows how things were laid out, with the course set off Crissy Field (the start line was just above the St. Francis, and the WW mark outside and upwind from Anita Rock). We ran the same configuration for all course races - Start, A to port, B to port, A to port, B to port, A to port, downwind finish; that's a LONG course - it took the leaders anywhere from 25 to 30 or so minutes per heat.

Generally, the outside (i.e., North side) of the course was favored going upwind; when it was ebbing, you got both the current and the extra breeze working in your favor; when it was flooding, you got the breeze outside, as well as a bit of a lift. Since that's a well-known bias at Crissy, PRO John Craig set the start with a fair bit of starboard bias and made it fairly short to discourage port starting. I did a few port starts, and had to pretty much duck the whole fleet, working to clear the boat end of the start line - it still was worth it for me, though, to get over to the right faster, and to get clear air (more on that later).

While the course was long, once you were around the first time, it wasn't super tactical. Going into shore on the upwind legs wasn't really an option, so it tended to be a parade. Usually, someone in the leader's group would get a good tight rounding at the bottom mark and grind like crazy, resulting in following sailors getting gassed, and the whole fleet getting knocked down by dirty air. As a result, the upwind legs created little opportunity for passing. Only on the ebb could you potentially foot below people and get them through raw speed; on the flood, you'd get knocked down too much. As further risk to footing, there was always the potential that you'd get too far into the shipping lane and would be made to tack by a chase boat to keep you out of the way of oncoming container ships.

Downwind presented a bit more of a tactical opportunity; you could either go for playing the inside in the hopes of a good header (since you often get southerly gusts off the shore), or you could go for more pressure on the outside. Both had their risks - you could find yourself stuck in light air near shore, or you could be forced to jibe prematurely outside to get out of the way of freighters.

The whole layout very much rewarded good angle, both upwind and down. Upwind, good angle gave you options, as you stayed clear of the obstructions (shore for the starboard starters; then the shipping lane as you were banging the corner outside). It further allowed you to sail more directly into the flood for those races where that was a factor, resulting in a more favorable composite vector. Downwind, it allowed you to take risks going inside; passing someone by rolling them was risky, as they could head you up into the light air and shallow water by the beach.

The current, of course, was a major issue. With a strong flood, laying the windward mark had a huge element of chance - if you hit a header or hole on approaching the mark, the ebb would convert what looked like a safe layline into tacking practice. And since the current wasn't uniform across the course (on a strong ebb, there's usually a bit of a flood eddie on the inside; near slack, you can find all kinds of strange currents), local knowledge payed off handsomely for the top Bay sailors who call this place home. I remembered some of the lessons learned many years ago when racing here regularly, but I also had to relearn some of them pretty painfully.

Lastly, the waterstate is a tremendous factor at this venue. Crissy Field is famous for its voodoo chop. On a strong ebb, you've got big, pitched swell (with cross-swell at the eddie lines) teaming up with the innumerable boat/ferry/freighter wakes and reverberation off the seawall down by the start. On a flood, you can have flat water and washboard chop, with sudden cross chop coming at you out of nowhere. Compared to the Gorge, for a given wind strength, that results in generally much rougher and less predictable water. As a result, it's much harder to keep your foils flying.

That was a lesson I learned the hard way on the first day of racing. I was comfortably powered on my 9.9 - in the Gorge, that translates into racing on a 68cm fin. I was on my 70, though, since I simply couldn't get enough power to point otherwise. So in the puffs, I got stood up by a too-lifty fin, and in the lulls (or when I couldn't keep things flowing b/c I was working through the voodoo chop) I'd lose the drive from the fin. On the second day, I switched from my R16 to a Finworks formula fin, and it made a huge difference; I got better angle without losing significant amounts of speed, and the fin just had more range and tracked better and more predicably - that was both a matter of the foil and the softer flex.

Ultimately, the critical success factors for the regatta were
  • good angle (more so than good boat speed), which kept options open,
  • conservative laylines,
  • covering following sailors (critical for the leaders, as tacking off wasn't really an option for those following),
  • a setup with a huge amount of range, especially from your fin (due to the rough water and variable wind)
  • stamina
That last one deserves another look. The races were long, so 8 races plus long distance, while it doesn't sound like much, translated into a lot of sailing with the hammer down, in challenging conditions. Of course, on the last day, we were racing Formula in well over 30 knots of wind, so there was a survival element at work as well (having a 9.0 would have been very nice indeed...) While I'm in pretty good physical shape, it's hard to emulate the kind of conditioning you get from having an opportunity to reliably train on the water pretty much every day.

So for me, there are two areas of focus that I'm coming away with after this event:
  • Fins - I'll be working with Dave Lassila of Finworks on rangier Formula fins. My current setup (all R16's) is very much Gorge optimized.
  • Conditioning - I tend to be fine for one or two day of racing, but at some point my body runs out of steam. At the Gorge Challenge, the last few slalom heats on Saturday were pretty much just about holding on for me, and during Nationals, my body was very much feeling the strain. I don't live in the Gorge or the Bay Area, so I won't be able to simply up my amount of time on the water. That's why I decided to step up my conditioning and work with the folks at Bellingham Athletic Club; these 8 days of racing (with the only break being the long drive from the Gorge to San Francisco on Monday) clearly showed that to be the right direction.

On raking fins

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A while back, I wrote about race prep and raking some fins forward a bit. Michael (of the excellent Peconic Puffin) asked in a comment:

"When you tilt the fin in the box, do you worry at all about the fin base on the "shallow" side (the front, in this case) leaving space for air bubbles to catch and induce spinout?"

So I thought I'd clarify a bit...
Tuttle box/base systems control the rake of the fin, as well as how deeply it goes into the box, via the taper at the front and back of the base. Luckily, converting a fin from a +6 to a +8 rake only involves a very minor 'tilt'. The +x cm notation, btw, is the somewhat arcane way in which Deboichet measure fin rake - it's forward relative to the 'original' rake of their fins from a few years back, measured at the thickest part of the foil 68 cm from the base; that measurement probably originated with sailors playing with fin rake and looking for a way to quantify those experiments. But I digress...

So you're only looking for a wee bit of change in the rake of the fin (large changes, like taking an original R13, say, and making it into a +8, would be better accomplished by getting the fin repotted completely). In my case, I played with rake by putting a bit of a shim in the top rear part of the box before tightening the fin. That resulted in a bit of rake forward, and I tested different settings. Once I found one, I wanted to fit the fin base flush in the box - neither because of the less than 1/4" that was sticking out the back (as that drag would be fairly negligible), nor the potential for air getting sucked down through any cavity (as the washers on the fin bolts tend to keep things pretty tight), but because anytime you have a sloppy fit inside a Tuttle box, you can generate all kinds of point-loading, which will eventually compromise the box.

The pivot point being the front top edge of the fin base, you are then faced with needing to file down the corner of the base diametrically opposed to that, and to fill in the other two corners. Filing down is easy; filling in isn't rocket science either, though. All it takes is a bit of epoxy and some four-ounce glass. For this project, it took four layers of glass to build it up enough at the corners, and then about twenty minutes of sanding with the palm sander to get the tapers all nice and straight and smooth.

Now you may ask why go through all that work - it's a bunch of work, there's some risk you might damage the blade as you do it. Proven fast race fins have a good resale market, so I could have just sold mine and gotten new ones that were already potted to the precise angle I wanted. The answer is that fins that come out of a mold in wet layup construction are not super-consistent. You can take two 'identical' Deboichets, and you'll likely find some difference in testing on the water. So getting rid of a blade you know works and taking the risk that the replacement won't work as well wasn't something I was prepared to do. Of course, the answer to that is higher-precision fin construction with a highly repeatable, low tolerance manufacturing process. Dave Lassila of Finworks has been working on just such a Formula fin, and I'll be writing about that soon. Suffice it to say, he's really onto something.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

US Nationals - Multimedia frenzy

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Some good stuff from the Nationals:

Bryan McDonald's podcast after the slalom - fun to hear Bill Weir's point of view (for one, he used three sails to my one).


An article in the SF Chronicle.


Some video from the slalom, courtesy of Paul Beulow:



This one's an interview with Jim Kiriakis on the SF local news:

Sunday, August 12, 2007

US Nationals - Day 5 - Final

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Whoa, it was windy... While Friday we were racing slalom in 20-25 knots, since the forecast for Saturday didn't show much to get excited about, Saturday morning greeted us with a thick marine layer far outside the gate and solid breeze early, which increased steadily. John Craig, the St. Francis Race Director, got off a quick heat for juniors and RS:X before it went ballistic. By the time the Formula fleet hit the water at about 12:30, it was getting furry.

The official windreading on the boat was 28-32 knots, and there was more on the outside. I had decided that this season, I wouldn't get a 9m sail - the rationale being that I'd only really be needing it one day or so during Nationals. This was that day...

We got two heats off. After the first one, the RC had the announcer remind sailors that they were responsible for their own safety, and to please not go out unless they thought they could safely complete the course.

I posted two 8ths - not stellar, but given how insanely overpowered I was on the 9.9 (only Ben, who outweighs me by 30 pounds, was on a sail that big - all the locals knew better), I was pretty happy with how things went.

My final Formula standing was 9th, with a 5th in slalom. I'm pretty happy with that, and have some ideas on how to improve on that in the next couple seasons. The event was great - well organized, challenging, and just plain fun. My body is about as battered as it's been in a few years, and today I actually passed up an opportunity to go for a sail in favor of a nap - go figure.

I'll post some more analysis after I'm back home (we've got a little family trip planned on the way home). In the meantime, there are links to pictures and results on the official Nationals Blog
(another example of how well this event was organized).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

US Nationals Day 4 - Slalom

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Brilliant sunshine and building breeze, so the RC called for slalom. It took a while for the breeze to fill in towards the shore, where the course was set, leading some to gripe that we should be running Formula races instead. Mother Nature came through for us, though, and we went into a round robin elimination series, with the fleet divided into 6 groups and everyone racing everyone else at least once. The 13 highest scoring sailors advanced to the final (it was supposed to be 12, but there was a tie).
I had 2 1st and 3 3rd place finishes in the qualification round, so I sat in 3rd overall going into the finals, comfortably qualifying. The breeze was filled in, and the water was getting a bit choppy as the strong ebb conspired with boat wakes and eddie lines to make life interesting on the course. I was nicely powered on my 7.2.
The final round consisted of five heats, with one throwout. I felt great, and with 12 guys crowding the start line, I was determined not to get rolled. So determined, in fact, that in the first finals heat I was over early by about a second - bummer, since I sailed a pretty good race. I followed that with a 3rd and a second, then we had a little break before the last two heats. As we were lining up for the start of the fourth heat, I baubled my jibe outside, and it took me too long to get to the start to be in a good position on the line - I got rolled, and had to claw my way back up to finish in 7th.
Now I was all fired up for the last heat - I got a great start, rolled Seth and made it to the mark in 3rd behind Jon Jay Ernst (who'd pulled an amazing start) and David Wells (who was a very consistent contender throughout the event). As we got to the second mark, I was catching up on them with good boat speed, and I saw David taking the mark pretty wide to get around Jon - so I decided to go for it and try for an inside line. I set the rail hard, and half-way around the turn stuffed the nose in a piece of stray chop - the resulting wipeout was pretty spectacular, as I did a superman off the front. When I came up for air, the mast was pointing down, and I feverishly started to recover among the whole fleet jibing around me - amazing that noone hit me. I finished that heat in 8th, getting a couple places back on the last two legs.
I felt great about my speed, and my jibes were pretty solid. Even with the OCS and the wipeout, I ended up in 5th overall for the slalom - I'm pretty happy with that. Slalom doesn't reward conservatism too much, so I'm glad I went for it; in the past, I don't think I would have tried to attack David's position on that second jibe, instead just focusing on warding off the challenge from Seth behind me. While it cost me a better placing, I think long-term, it's the right mind-set.
Links to results and photos on the official Nationals Blog.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Nationals - Day 3 - Long Distance

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Today we ran the long distance race, which counts for two scores towards the Formula title. The sailing instructions lay out the course - up from a start line off Crissy to a windward mark, then down through a gate in front of the yacht club, another gate off Blossom Rock, a leeward mark near the north end of Treasure Island, back up through the Blossom Rock gate, and finish in front of the club. I started on port and got to the windward mark in reasonable position, right behind Steve Bodner and Steve Sylvester. I jibed right after the mark to avoid the hole that was developing further in, but then got stuck with the windshadow from the oncoming parade of boards. Took me a while to get going, and the 9.9 (picked in anticipation of big breeze further down the course) had me pumping and looking for more power the whole way down.

Closer to the second gate, I finally got powered up enough and was starting to make up some places. I rounded the leeward mark and, in an attempt to catch up to the pod of leaders strung out before me, I decided to take a hitch and tacked. I got a good lift and decided to play the shift, hoping to stay in phase. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that while it was ebbing big out in the channel, inside above Treasure Island I was getting much less of a boost. When I tacked off, I crossed Percey by quite a distance; when I tacked back, he had me by several hundred yards.

The leaders (except for Seth, it seems), all overstood the gate off Blossom, and the rest of them followed them; I was looking for the gate and getting Blossom mixed up with another channel marker. I finally finished in 11th; that leaves me in 7th for now, but Al Mirel has pulled away quite a bit with his 3rd place finish today, and Bodner and Ben are both moving up with consistent low scores, plus they've got DNF's to discard.

Word has it that we'll be doing 4 course races tomorrow, then race slalom on Saturday. Results, links to photos, etc. are on the official Nationals Blog.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

US Nationals - Day 2

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Better - three races today, starting with light breeze on an ebb, and going to stronger breeze and a flood. Was on the 9.9 and 70 all day. Better angle, still good speed. 9th, 4th, 3rd. Seth is pretty much walking away with it at this point. Results are here; I've moved up to 7th now, three points behind Al Mirel. Steve Bodner had a mast break on him, so he scored a DNS - when the throwout comes into effect in the 10th score, he'll be moving up for sure; same for Ben Bamer who broke a fin today. Tomorrow is the long distance race, which will count for two course race scores. Should be fun!

US Nationals - Day 1

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Whoa - rough day at the office. Looks like my speed is there, but my angle is off. It was flooding like crazy, so footing was not a good strategy for making the windward mark reliably - I got myself pinched or sat on several times, having to double-tack the windward mark several times. 3rd race was a bit better, since I had a bit of time for tuning after the second (1 and 2 were run back to back). Looks like my setup was very much optimized for smooth Gorge swell.

The course was fairly long, with three laps of WW/LW and a downwind finish. Seth is dominating so far, with Ben Bamer giving him a real run for his money. Results so far are here. Only one throwout for the first ten races - this will be interesting.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Gorge Challenge - quick report

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Wow - what a wild and windy weekend. Three days of racing, twenty-five heats in slalom and formula. Then into the car and down to San Francisco for Nationals.

I came in 3rd overall, behind Bruce Peterson and Chris Prior. The event was really well organized, the courses were fun, and the racing was intense. If I'm not tuned up for Nationals now...

Lots of highlights; I'll post some analysis later, but here are some Clif notes:
  • Day 1 - started out with really lit Formula racing; switched to slalom. Then conditions got a little flukey - I ended up winning a slalom heat on Formula gear.
  • Day 2 - super windy, so we ran a couple formula heats, then did 10 slalom races. Epic.
  • Day 3 - full schedule of Formula. Very powered up, and great racing. Ended the day on a bullet - nice way to go into Nationals.
  • The juniors were a delight - fun to race with, and really stoked.

Scotia organized a flawless event and took great care of us. Darren ran excellent RC on the water. Pictures and results here. Thanks again to Dave Frazier for making pictures available, and thanks to Scotia (and Jackie, for being her helper) and Darren. And to Bruce, who (while helping half the beach tune their sails and fix their stuff, and spreading local knowledge around, lent me a slalom board since mine needed some repair).

Now on to Nationals at the St. Francis!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Getting ready...

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That picture is one of my Formula fins, in the process of cleaning it up after changing it from a +6 rake to a +8. I've been running them tilted forward a bit all season and been happy with the result, so I'm now committing to it by removing the extra bit of base that was sticking out at the back of the box. That should make a wee bit of difference on drag - hey, every 1/100 of a knot counts, right? ;)

Coming up next weekend is the 3-day NRT race (and FE North Americans) in Hood River, followed by the US Nationals in San Francisco Tuesday through Saturday. So the Mackes are going on a family road trip, spending a long weekend in the Gorge, then visiting family in the Bay Area while dad gets to indulge his racing bug. Other than all that fin tuning, I've been spending some time this weekend on other odds and ends, doing a little trailer maintenance, and hunting for camping gear for the weekend in the Gorge.

Can't wait for the flag to drop!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Welcome Bellingham Athletic Club!

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Physical fitness is a key factor in improving my performance on the water, aside from being simply a good idea to contribute to overall health and well-being. While I've lived by that for a while, I've decided to focus more on this factor and step it up a few notches. There is only so much time I can realistically spend on the water practicing given the sometimes fickle conditions, the demands of my job, and the time I want to spend with my family. Improving my physical conditioning will help me make the most of that precious time.

I'm excited to be working with the team at Bellingham Athletic Club. BAC is more than just a gym with state of the art equipment - there are two great facilities, a wide spectrum of classes and programs designed to challenge every aspect of fitness, and a staff of experienced fitness professionals to help you make the most of all those resources. I'm looking forward to taking my strength, core, and balance training to a new level, while adding in some fun cross training - starting with some yoga and tai chi.

The club is far from typical for the industry - the emphasis in on helping members enjoy healthy and active lifestyles and experience the joy of movement. You can feel that energy when you interact with the staff, and if you look through the staff bios, you'll notice that there's very little turnover here; it's about long term, sustainable success rather than the latest fad - a philosophy that really strikes a chord with me.

Thanks for the support!

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Gorge Cup that wasn't

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While thousands of couples all over the country were tying the knot and gamblers were taking their chances given the supposedly lucky date of 7/7/07, the Gorge Cup was on the receiving end of some not so great luck. Sure, we had racers, raceable conditions (actually, it was stupid windy and had been for days; I got a nice Friday afternoon session as well), a race committee, and a boat. Unfortunately, while setting the course, the committee boat suffered mechanical failure - a 1/4" metal rod in the steering linkage sheared off, leaving the boat with plenty of power but no steering. Oops...

Darren set an anchor and, after it became clear that this couldn't be fixed in place, bobbed around waiting for rescue (see Exhibit A...). Scotia organized a volunteer on a jet ski, hoping to salvage the racing by setting a figure 8 course and guiding the boat into a good spot to set a start/finish line, but despite valiant attempts, the ski operator never got the outside mark set in the crazy conditions (it ended up getting blown way downwind past the tip of the sandbar and had to be retrieved from there).

In the meantime, though, it was pretty furry on the water. Exhibit B in the picture (rather grainy, I know - so much for cell-phone photography) shows you that there were solid caps and 1/2 foot chop on the inside, just off the breakwater at the Event Site - a spot that's usually glassy. Outside, it was windy enough for Dale to be on his jump board and 4.2 Hucker. I borrowed a smaller slalom board from Bruce and got out on my 5.0 holding on for dear life, and later (after it let up just a wee bit) we had really nice powered up slalom sailing.

I got some great speed runs on my 6.0 and 24" slalom board down from the lower Hatchery into the eddy below Wells Island; after one particularly fast one I figured I'd go get my GPS. By the time I got back out, though, the wind on the inside (where the water is flat enough to go fast) had died. I got one peak speed (one second interval) of 37.1 knots, but the rest of the readings were all around 33 knots - which is about as fast as you could go in the channel where the wind was holding. This was similar to the day before, where I also didn't think of getting the GPS out until the conditions had deteriorated a bit.

As bummed as I was about not getting to race, I had some great sailing, so overall I'd call it a successful trip. Thanks to Scotia and Darren and Sam for trying to salvage the racing; they sure tried hard.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sublime morning session

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Instead of heading to the gym this morning at 5, I took advantage of the breeze and went for a quick sail on Bellingham Bay. The light was amazing, and the bay was sparkling like a jewel, with the mountains rounding out the panorama. Great reminder why people come up here to spend their vacations. Met a bunch of friendly seals, a couple sailboats, and the early-bird fishermen. Glorious way to get an early morning workout. Of course, this being the Northwest, the sun rose at 4-ish - so I guess that means this doesn't really count as dawn patrol.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Welcome Northwest Honda!

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Meet my newest sponsor - Northwest Honda is my local Honda dealer in Bellingham, WA. They serve the whole Pacific Northwest, and they like the way use as a windsurfing/family/commuting/fun outdoors mobile showcases the Element's unique versatility. Thanks for the support!

Speaking of my Element, I wrote about it after I just got it to replace my totaled Subaru. By now, I've got over 6,000 miles on it, including three trips to the Gorge. It's been working out great. Well over 25 mpg commuting, and still around 21-23 with the trailer - that's pretty nice for a vehicle this roomy, especially since I don't coddle it. It's comfortable, fun to drive, and handles well (especially given how much space it has). What I really enjoy, though, is that everything just seems to make sense. The controls are well laid out and in the right place - you're never finding yourself wondering why something works the way it does; it's just intuitive, with a lot of obvious attention to detail. Everything about the car feels solid - the build-quality of this vehicle is amazing.

Be sure to check with Northwest Honda if you're in the market for a car, or need a reliable place to get your current ride serviced.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Gorge Cup - 6/18/2007

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To maximize the amount of racing, race director Darren Rogers set up two courses at once - a simple windward/leeward formula course upwind of the committee boat, and a 'Gorge Slalom' box course below the boat. As I had just gotten my new 7.2 Sailworks NXsl, I decided to take it for a spin while Darren was setting the courses - since I was powered up pretty well despite some holes, he decided to call me the wind dummy and start out with slalom racing.

The first slalom heat saw the whole fleet late for the start - Bruce got to the line first, at about four seconds late. I managed to mistime the start to badly, I wound up going over the line at something like 10 seconds after the horn, buried in something like 12th place in a tight knot of sailors. In the mayhem at the first mark, I had to go really wide, which didn't help too much. Through the two lap course (each lap including a 'free leg from the last jibe up to the layline for the starting pin, adding an element of upwind performance and tactics to the race), I managed to claw my way back up to 7th - not bad considering I ended up swimming at one jibe to avoid hitting a sailor who had crashed right in front of me.

For the second heat, I was determined not to repeat my bad start. Apparently, everyone else felt the same, as the whole pack was moving aggressively toward the line. At five seconds, I found myself close to the boat (upwind) end of the mark with a sailor above me and the whole pack slightly back and below. I tried bleeding a little speed, but the sailor above kept pushing, so I went for it hoping I'd be OK. Darren blew another horn, but as I looked back I saw no flag; instead of going back 'just in case' I decided to go for it, not knowing whether I'd been over early. I had a great race, rounding the first mark in 2nd right after Bruce and keeping that position throughout the heat. Clean air really helps, especially when it gets flukey - as the race progressed, we gained more and more distance on the fleet, as the packs kept having to pump hard out of the turns. Unfortunately, it turned out that I was over early (by about a board length, Darren told me later). Bummer, but it sure was a fun race.

The third heat saw bigger and bigger holes on the course; Stefan decided to run the course on his Formula gear because of this. I got a clean start and rounded the first mark in 2nd behind Bruce, right ahead of Doug. I kept that spot throughout the first lap until the free upwind leg - when out of nowhere Stefan emerged pointing straight for the pin we needed to round, while I was getting pushed downwind by a header. Bruce avoided being passed and opened up some distance on the downwind portion; I followed Stefan into the three-jibe reaching part of the course and managed to squeeze by him around the second jibe mark (Formula boards take up a lot of real estate on a slalom course...), but the gap I opened up on the last reaching leg and with the faster jibe around #3 was not enough as on the upwind leg, I had to pump through a hole while he just motored straight up to the pin again - I missed him by less than a board length. Given what he had to do to hang on to his big gear through the slalom course, he'd certainly earned that one.

Since it got a little flukey for slalom, Darren switched to Formula - a good decision. We had four excellent, very powered up Formula races. On the first heat, I got a good start on the pin end (again the course was pretty port favored, so there were only a handful of startboard starters). I had great speed and angle and was able to hold my position against Bruce. He called a pretty aggressive layline for the upwind mark, which seemed too dodgy to me, so I went a little further to put some in the bank. That paid off, as we hit a huge header on the approach to the mark, which meant he had to double tack while I could round the mark in first. As I headed off the wind, I saw the breeze on the inside near the Oregon shore all filled in, so I decided to stay on starboard and try to get down to the leeward mark that way. Bruce, apparently deciding that he had a better shot of passing me by looking for more breeze in the channel, jibed after rounding the mark. My call paid off, as I rode a good puff all the way down the course, jibed on the layline, and rounded the bottom mark with a healthy gap at least five seconds before Bruce. I held that position around the windward mark, having slightly better speed but lower angle upwind. Then it was decision time - another ride on the inside, or play for better breeze in the channel? I decided to stay on the inside, having had to work through a little hole on the approach to the mark. Looking back, I saw Bruce rounding just as a big gust came down the middle of the course, which caused him to jibe and ride the glory puff down the channel. I considered covering him, but didn't because there was a big hole between me and him, virtually guaranteeing he'd catch me. As I made my way down, a big hole opened up on the inside, and I lost enough time pumping through that and out of my jibe that Bruce easily beat me to the leeward mark and into the finish reach, so I came in second.

The next three Formula heats saw increasing winds at the top of the course (albeit too inconsistent at the bottom end of the course to switch back to slalom). I had three more solid starts but wasn't able to sneak by Bruce again, finishing second in all of them.

Lessons for the day:
  • Slalom starts are hugely important - and the difference between being over early and being late enough to get buried in the pack is a matter of just a few seconds.
  • Leaders make their own luck - the further up front you are in a slalom race, the less you're affected by holes, as you're only pumping out of holes, whereas in the pack you're also battling the turbulence and wakes created by the rest of the sailors.
  • Don't let up even after a bad start - while it's hard to pass people on a slalom course, it's certainly possible, especially with the free upwind leg.
  • Don't underestimate the power of Formula gear in a reaching format - while I had tons of speed and faster jibing on Stefan, he was able to take advantage of his ability to power through the lulls and get boatloads of angle on the free leg. Maybe there's something to the ever-increasing width (and thus planing power) of slalom boards; it's not just about how fast you can go and how hard you can carve your jibes, but also about whether you can keep your speed in the holes.
  • Races aren't over until you're through the finish line. I had a flawless 3/4 of a race in the first formula heat, but Bruce still got me by making a smart tactical call for the last downwind leg. I'll need to figure out my downwind tactics a bit better if I want to ever score a bullett.
  • The range of our modern gear is amazing. We were formula racing in well over 20 knots, with gusts quite a bit higher than that at the top of the course. It was FUN. We were slalom racing in mostly 20+ knots, with some pretty furry gusts, but also some pretty significant lulls. Again, it was FUN.
  • I love slalom sailing. It's pretty close to flying, exhilarating, exciting. On a race course, though, I'd rather get blown off the water on Formula gear than race slalom in shifty, inconsistent conditions. I don't mind the gusts, that's all great - you just go faster; the lulls, however, are a different story, as pumping out of a jibe in a pack with inconsistent winds can be pretty tough. Time to start thinking about a wider board.
After the racing was over, I spent a bit more time sailing on my slalom gear, since that's a treat I don't get too much in the summer months in Bellingham. The new 7.2 is simply amazing - locked in, fast, stable, rangey, with great acceleration but very user friendly in the jibes. Bruce was kind enough to take some pictures (see above for one of those - more in the Gallery).

Results and photos should be up soon on the VMG Gorge Cup site (thanks Scotia!)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Gorge Cup pics

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Scotia posted some pictures of last weekend's race. Some really nice shots from Zoe Peterson (Bruce's daughter, all of 11 years old). Interestingly, the one she got of Bruce being over early in the second slalom heat didn't make it.

Some favorites:
  • Carnage at the start of the first race of the day (the one that ended in a general recall).
  • Slalom start
  • Lone starboard tacker - this was right after I made some flip comment to Darren about the line, and he very seriously asked me whether I truly thought people might think port could possibly be favored.
  • Mulder...

Monday, June 4, 2007

Gorge Cup - 2007 season opener

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Blazing sunshine and lots of breeze - definitely a good way to start the season. Darren set an interesting course - a gate just above the start line as the leeward mark for the first lap, with the finish being a reach to below the boat from the starting pin. Everyone seemed plenty eager for the first start, and most seemed to have recognized the significant advantage from starting on port - with the short course, only one tack would be required to lay the WW mark, and the outside was favored due to the strong current in the channel providing an extra boost. In fact, eagerness ran so high, there was a general recall.

The restart was clean; but I ended up in a horrible position way down after having to duck under several sailors just to run into a huge hole in the middle of the course that required some frantic pumping. At this point I was pretty deep, but was able to recover several places by making a pretty aggressive call on the layline for the windward mark - I rounded somewhere around 6th or so, then two more places on the way down due to another aggressive layline call and some very committed pumping. I got into fourth behind Bruce, Rob Mulder (who had the most amazing windward leg with blazing speed and angle, even pinching off Bruce), and Alex Aguera who was running the course on a 24" slalom board and a 7.2 - he had amazing speed off the breeze, and didn't lose too much upwind (he was going a little faster and quite a bit lower, but the short course still allowed him to lay the mark in one tack). As I was chasing Rob and Alex (Bruce had gotten ahead of Rob on the first downwind and never looked back), I witnessed an incredible display on the finishing reach with Rob holding off Alex - he sure put all that leverage to good use.

I gave my 9.9 a bit of extra downhaul and switched down to my 66cm fin (since pure upwind power didn't seem to win the day) and got 2nds behind Bruce in races 2, 3, and 5 - in #4, I couldn't hold Alex off on the second downwind as we rode a big puff down from the mark. When the puff hit, it was like he had hit some afterburners. Throughout, there were some spirited battles with Doug Beaman, who was racing very consistently and starting very cleanly.

As the fifth heat had been *very* powered up, and given Alex's display on his slalom gear, Darren switched over to slalom. To make for a faster switch, he did a slightly different course. Instead of in the middle of the course, the boat was now at the top, upwind from the start pin. Start on starboard, three jibes, then head out into the river for a free leg and tack to make it back over the start/finish line to complete the lap. We ran three two-lap heats. Unlike the old box course which had an upwind mark, the tack was a bit further out - this turned out to be significant. One of the nicest things about this setup was that we never had to jibe around the boat - hence no worries about hitting the anchor line or getting wrapped up in the boat if there were carnage during that jibe.

Alex was still running the same gear as before, except a slightly smaller fin - bigger than Bruce (who had opted for speed and jibing) though, which allowed him to reel him in on the free leg. All those years of pro-racing clearly showed, as in three slalom heats he got three bullets (Bruce was OCS in the second heat). The nature of the course was giving a bit of bias towards bigger gear and pointing - since the closer you were to the pin when you tacked, the more aggressive you could be on the layline. Most racers (me included) ended up tacking a bit too late, as it was hard to call the layline in the somewhat variable conditions. This was clearly underlined by the fact that Stefan was able to score two fourths and a third in slalom on his formula gear - he'd be somewhat slower on the reaches and losing a lot of ground in the jibes, but then he'd just motor upwind.

For the formula part of the day, I would have placed second. With the addition of the three slalom heats, I ended up in third with Alex taking second after Bruce. Always good to place that close to such standout sailors.

There was quite a bit of carnage at the marks - probably as much a function of this being early in the season (and everyone still being a bit rusty) as the fact that after five very overpowered formula races we were all getting a bit tired and sloppy.

Fun racing all around, and Scotia again pulled off a very nice event. Between the site, the race management, the amenities (excellent lunch and drinks and snacks all provided), this has got to be the best value in racing anywhere. Check here for results; pictures to follow.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Swiftsure

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I guess I finally graduated from day sailor to something else - although the whole thing only took a little less than 24 hours, and it all happened in the San Juan Straits, meaning it hardly qualifies as real offshore racing. Plus we were racing a 40' Benetteau - which is decidedly more similar to a floating Winnebago than a true racing boat in terms of creature comforts.

Nonetheless, it was a bit of an adventure. We left Bellingham Friday morning for Victoria; since it was dead calm, we motored most of the way. On the way, we got to see a pod of Orcas from a distance, which is always neat. West of the San Juans, we finally got a little breeze and sailed the rest of the way. Victoria Harbor is a trip in itself - the buoys say stay right, and you'd better heed them, since otherwise you're likely to collide with one of these:

This has got to be the only busy harbor I've ever seen where the channel also doubles as a rather well-frequented runway. Then there are the cruise ships - nothing like trying to dodge floating city blocks... We got into Victoria in plenty of time to check in, have some dinner, organize stuff, check out the party, and get a good night's sleep.

Since we had rafted up as one of the last boats in, we had to be one of the first boats out; here we are just before shoving off. Heading out to the start area, the Winnebago aspect quickly became clear as Doug, one of the three partners in the boat, whipped up eggs and sausages and coffee for breakfast. Not your average race experience; it was only the start, as that night he actually produced a pork roast for dinner...

The start was a bit of mayhem, as hundreds of boats tried to find their spot on the line for the multiple sequences. We were the third start, and our fleet was a bit over-eager, resulting in a general recall. Too bad, since we had really nailed the start, positioning perfectly at the boat end and ready to hit the line at speed on zero. Next sequence, we ended up OCS and had to go back - kind of funny to be worried about losing 1 minute in a 24 hour race in a keel boat.

We were blessed with plenty of wind, with only one brief lull of about 10 minutes between when the day's seabreeze died and the approaching front created a nice Westerly. We played the currents (lots of those in the Straits) and made our way to the Neah Bay return mark by 10pm. Just before that, we got to see this really nice sunset and have dinner in shifts (the aforementioned pork roast). The return trip was a bit quicker - for the deep reach across the Straits we set the spinnaker, which was a bit of an experience in the dark. Before jibing on the Canadian side, we doused the chute and just went with main and genoa - with the following swell and plenty of breeze, we didn't really lose any speed, as we were still making between 7 and over 9 knots through the water - about as much as you can reasonably expect out of a Benetteau.

Just before Race Rocks, while it was still dark, we had a bit of excitement as we spotted a strobe in the water to starboard. It was at water level, so it was clearly not a navigation aid or a boat - which meant it was probably an emergency signal of some sort. By now, it was blowing around 25 knots, so hardening up to check it out was a bit exciting. We beat up, tacked over, and approached to find that it was an EPIRB. At first, seeing the strobe reflect on the orange of the EPIRB's housing, I had this dreadful flash of strobe on life-jacket - meaning I thought there was a body in the water. We were relieved to see that wasn't the case, and when we called in to let the RC know about it, they told us that other boats had called in before and that noone was missing or in trouble - big sighs of relief all around for that one. We lost two positions on this, but given that we were right there, it didn't make sense to call in first - it would have taken way too long to make our way back to it. We later were told the RC would consider a time correction to provide redress.

We made it to the finish by about 6:30 am - which means we were underway for roughly 20 hours. That was a fair bit faster than expected, thanks to the great conditions. Apparently it's not uncommon for portions of the Swiftsure to turn into the 'Driftsure', resulting in boats seeking shelter from unfavorable currents under anchor, waiting for the tide to turn and the wind to pick up. We were spared that kind of thing, and instead had lots of power the whole way - to the point that things got a little exciting once in a while.

Being prone to seasickness, I was glad that my patch worked (if you ever need it, ask your doctor about Transderm-Scop - sure helped me); I generally get green as soon as I go below, but that wasn't a problem this time. I even managed to take a couple naps at night, as well as enjoy dinner and the occasional warm-up break below deck.

All in all, a fun adventure with a great group of people. The whole thing was just intense enough to be a great experience, without getting into the stupid zone - good stuff all around. The trip back from Victoria to Bellingham was gorgeous - sunny skies, 20 knots from the West, and even a pod of harbor porpoises coming by.