Friday, June 29, 2007

Sublime morning session

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!

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

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

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

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.