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.