Sunday, March 25, 2007

Beach sport? Yachting? Both!

Windsurfing mag has a feature on power sails this month. Looks like the Hucker got some good press - for good reason, I'd say. Interesting to me, however, were some of the comments made by the sailmakers (this is only available in the print edition, not on the mag's web site). In his blurb, Dave Ezzy says something to the effect that Formula was this big diversion - huge sails for going upwind/downwind, and the average sailor, he contends, got 'reamed' by that development.

Which begs the question - how exactly does the average sailor get 'reamed' by a small segment of the market going off and doing its own thing? I race Formula and think it's awesome, but I don't have any illusions about this being something that's applicable to everyone. What's learned in the process can and does filter down to the rec market, though - you can't tell me that all the stuff sailmakers learned in making these huge sails rock solid didn't play into what they did to apply rig tension to smaller sails in ways that allowed more low-end combined with good stability at the hairy edge.

Instead, this to me looks like more of the old "that's not really windsurfing" attitude I see a lot. There's this apparent division between people who think windsurfing is a beach sport (something to be enjoyed only if planing on small gear, with an emphasis on waves and Bump & Jump), and those (a much smaller group, I admit) who think of windsurfing as sailing in the yachting sense (racing on upwind/downwind courses, sailing big gear in light winds, etc.)

To the beach sport crowd, sailing in 8 knots is a way station - something that needs to be done to learn how to windsurf in the first place. Later on, when skills have advanced, they'd consider 8 knots time to play volleyball on the beach, have a beer, and bitch about the lack of breeze.

To the sailing (yachting) crowd, 8 knots is an invitation to play - be it on longboards (for those who just want to cruise around and enjoy the gliding sensation), or be it on Formula gear (for those who have the racing and performance bug).

If you live on Maui, it's easy to see how you would fall exclusively into the beach sport camp. With ample breeze most of the year and tons of wave action, that seems natural. Dave Ezzy lives on Maui. He certainly has proven to be a very capable wave sailor, and he's passed on the stoke (those pics of his son Graham ripping it up with the pros are truly inspiring). Good on him! What he's apparently not getting, though, is that there's a world where reliable 20 knots and waves don't happen. In that world, you're dealing with 8 knots and flat water most of the time. And even in places where you do have lots of times with lots of wind (think San Francisco Bay or the Gorge - noone's ever complained about those not being B&J friendly...), there are lots of people who, because of work or familiy commitments, or traffic etc., can triple their time on the water easily (not to mention lengthen their season to year-round) by finding a way to enjoy 8 knots of breeze.

There are different ways to enjoy 8 knots. If you're on Maui, you get one of the new SUP-inspired long boards, slog out through the surf, and basically get to go surfing without needing to paddle. Cool. If you live near flat water, you can putter around on a longboard in sub-planing mode. Or, you can go for the high-performance option and sail Formula gear. If you're a competitive person, you know which one you're choosing.

So there's an option to have a rewarding, high-performance, exciting sailing experience in 8-12 knots. It's called Formula, and it works. I know, you can plane on big slalom gear in 10 knots these days - but nursing my plane in hours of ho-hum BAF sailing isn't really doing it for me, and I like to range around and go places - Formula will get me there in a way nothing else will (not even the highest-performance racing longboards).

So exactly how providing a high-performance option for those 8 knots and up means the average sailor gets 'reamed' is beyond me. Maybe the mag can get Dave Ezzy to clarify that - I simply don't get it. You could argue it's because everyone now thinks they have to have monster sails and boards and buy stuff that's not appropriate for them. Hmmm.... - coming from the wave-camp, I'd be careful with that one, lest someone might seek to place blame for the thousands of flat-water inland sailors getting skunked at their home spots every weekend because the conditions aren't right for their small wave or freestyle gear...

The cool thing about windsurfing is that it's not just a beach sport, and it's not just yachting. It's got the best of both worlds, and it spans a tremendous range. All of it's fun - as long as you're not hung up on what someone else tells you is proper windsurfing. There's lots to do in this sport, and lots of people get different kicks from all kinds of things. Racing (small gear or large; downwind or on UW/DW courses or long distance), wave sailing, freestyling, B&J sailing, longboard racing or cruising, tandem sailing - it's all good stuff. What the sport needs is stoke, and fortunatly there's lots of that around. What the sport doesn't need are judgmental attitudes. Nobody's getting reamed if we on the lunatic fringe go off and race formula gear UW/DW. Nobody's getting reamed just because magazines show inspirational (and aspirational) shots of sailors ripping it up on Maui. There's no need for that kind of rhetoric - just get over it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Spring's here - sort of...

Got a nice session on the first day of spring - seemed appropriate. Of course, this being the Pacific Northwest, spring is a variable time of year for weather. After already having been spoiled with the occasional 60 degree days (both with warm rain and with sunshine), yesterday looked more like January with dark gray skies and 41 degree air temps. I held out for an hour way overpowered on the 10.8 and big fin before my hands and feet were just too numb. Looks like more of the same today.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Of chickens and little piggies...

Michael of the Peconic Puffin had this post on his astonishment upon seeing center straps on formula gear in a picture posted by Steve Bodner. The chicken strap has been a vital piece of equipment on formula gear since its inception - rather chicken out downwind and go a little slower (but at a deeper angle) instead of swimming (which, as Rob Hartman used to put it, is surely the slowest point of sail). Of course, there's that point where even that won't do - that's when you start straddling the board and use the leeward strap (which Hartman used to call the little piggy strap - since when you're ready to use that, you're surely frightened to the point of squealing - cue theme from Deliverance here...)

Of course, real racers don't use these, right? In 2004, on the day before racing started at the US Open in Corpus, I was out sailing with Dale. He was on 9.8 (the smallest he brought), I ran a 9.1. The chop in the bay there gets really nasty - there's swell pitching up very steeply, then refracting off a number of seawalls, so by the time you get close to where the leeward marks and start/finish line were going to be off McGee Beach, you found yourself in a landscape of VW Bug sized moguls. On one run, we came downwind behind Micah Buzianis and Jimmy Diaz. I distinctly remember actually catching up to Jimmy (a feat never to be repeated), as he was alternating between the windward rear strap, holding that for a few seconds, then scrambling over to the leeward strap, then looking for middle ground. An hour later, he was seen on shore mounting a chicken strap...

And at the 2004 US Nationals in SF, Phil McGain (who had often announced that chicken straps were unnecessary) found that racing in the voodoo chop created by the ebb, tankers, container ships, ferries, and fishing vessels off Crissy Field could benefit from a chicken strap as well. He was asked about this by someone and replied: "I may be a proud man, but I'm not a stupid man."

Of course, speaking of downwind speed - Hartman used to credit his uncanny ability to hold the hammer down off the breeze in even the roughest water to his ability to simply turn off the frontal lobes...

March madness weekend in Bellingham

This is the wind graph from the north end of the bay on Saturday. Temps were in the high fifties. I got to Post Pt. when it looked like powered 7.2 slalom sailing in the morning. As soon as I had rigged, it had picked up a few notches, so I switched to the 6.0. Then it really picked up a went more East than I really wanted to deal with at Post (huge wind shadow off shore, and lots of swirly gusts coming down and around the Chuckanuts), so I moved up north to Little Squalicum Beach, next to the Plywood plant. Things were kind of light on the beach, so I stuck with my 100 liter slalom board and the 6.0. Cleared the pier in two tacks, then found myself in head-high swell with the spray getting blown off the top. Hung on going out against the swell on port tack (which was hugely lifted due to the Easterly component), trying to keep from getting launched into the stratosphere on that big board. Had some really exciting rides back in on starboard, shooting at warp speed along the troughs. Would invariably get myself tripped up over stray chop coming the other way and had some big spills. Reason prevailed, and I packed it in.

Sunday was windy again. I didn't get out until later afternoon; most of the locals had already bagged it after hours spent on very flattened 4.2's. Since it was due South now (around 4:30), and the tide was way low, I could use my smaller slalom board and the 5.0 and launch from Post Pt. The tide was so low, in fact, that I could walk right out to the windline - no swimming required. Spray was still flying, and it was all I could do to keep the board on the water going out on port into the swell bending around the point (roughly shoulder high, with lots of freaky chop mixed in). The rides through the troughs on starboard were amazing. Bailed just in time before the big rain squall killed the wind (that's the sharp dropoff around 5:30). Not sure if that's the end of winter storm season or not - we sure had a lot of them this year, including the epic one on November 15 that gusted up to 82mph at the Cold Storage (I sat that one out...) Maybe it's time to reconsider the notion that a small B&J board doesn't pay since we only have a handful of really windy days each year anyway...

Sure nice to be sailing in warmer air temps again - no need for gloves.

New home for the blog - where have all the comments gone?

A while back, I realized that my blog has become invaded by spambots spewing comments all over the place. Since I really didn't care too much for hosting all kinds questionable offers, I went through the database and deleted all the spam, then disabled posting of comments until I could figure out how to use some sort of 'living human' test. In the meantime, I discovered blogspot, which is a service provided by google. Lots of nice functionality, very easy to use. So I moved all my archived posts over here. I may at some point move it into my own domain (that's actually supported - all it takes is forwarding a subdomain); in the meantime, though, this will be my blog's home. The link from my website now leads here, and if I do choose to move the blog back into my domain, I'll keep that link updated as well.

Unfortunately, moving comments over (i.e., the legitimate ones left after I deleted the garbage) hasn't worked out yet. I'll see if I can figure that out at some point. In the meantime, commenting is enabled again, using one of those little 'type the text in the picture' tests to make sure the commenter is a human being. I'd rather not have to worry about moderating comments, but the software offers that option in case the spammers have found a way to defeat that mechanism.