Thursday, August 30, 2007

One more...

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

Check here for details and pictures.

9/12/07 update - all gone!

Element as pack mule


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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!