Friday, December 5, 2008

Epic high speed freestyle


Sailrocket is an ambitions project to make an experimental sailboat (I cringe at the term, given that this craft bears about as much resemblance to what I generally think of as a sailboat as a Lamborghini does to a Yugo) go world record speeds. For a long time, there's been an interesting dual development on the speed circuit. 

On the one hand, you've had attempts like Yellow Pages and MI and (significantly larger and more open-ocean oriented) Hydroptere using pretty sophisticated technology and rather intricate and complex designs to balance the physics in an efficiency game - meaning they have tried to  push the boundaries of lift/drag ratios on all foils and played with ways to leverage their righting moment to produce high speeds in reasonably low wind speeds (Sailrocket just produced 52 knot peak speeds in roughly 25 knots of breeze).

On the other hand, you've had the windsurfers and, recently (and with spectacular success) kiters, play a completely different game of simplicity and brute force. Yes, the wipeouts for them have been spectacular, too, but they don't involve a 20 foot craft looping - just a good old fashioned endo or teabagging at very high speeds (and no doubt a lot of pain). Kiters have learned to harness an advantage of their platform, which is that kites generate vertical lift - that allows them to use boards so tiny, they make windsurfers' speed boards (at 45 cm or less width) look monstrous. Pair that with their tiny fins, and they could not only reduce drag, but they could also find smoother water w/o fear of things getting too shallow. Pair that with the geometry of the whole setup giving them more favorable leverage, and it's hard to see windsurfers catching up.

So far, the simple brute force approach has the edge, with Yellow Pages in 93 the only efficiency play in the long list of first windsurfers, then again windsurfers (Maynard and Albeau, really, as they were in a class by themselves), and now kiters that have held the outright record.

What's becoming obvious, though, is that there's a middle ground. The kites are taking a page from the "boats" in that they optimize low drag by employing vertical lift to reduce wetted surface (only, they do it by simply having their kites drag them up while accelerating, as opposed to using hydrofoils to get a hull out of the water). They're also employing leverage for their righting moment - only they do it by decoupling the airfoil from the sailor/craft package via long kite strings as opposed to utilizing outriggers. So they're doing the same things, but radically more simply (and thus, one might argue, more elegantly). Which allows them faster and cheaper development cycles (tuning kites is a matter of a simple recut and some tweaks to line geometry; shaping a new kite board or producing a new fin takes a matter of days and investment in the hundreds of dollars, not tens or hundreds of thousands). 

The kiters have thus managed to push the solution space boundaries by one-upping windsufers on simplicity while at the same time gaining on the efficiency front (note that they're making record runs in lower wind speeds - which means they've got a feedback loop going that gives them more chances at records).  To get another crack at the outright record, windsurfing will have to figure out how to play the efficiency game - but still retain its simplicity (or else it will be cost-prohibitive and run into the issue of slow development cycles that seems to be keeping the boats from keeping up with the kites). That means truly exotic hydrofoils and outriggers and such are probably out. Perhaps launching from a moving boat (to allow for smaller boards) might work (hey, it's what they do with speed record aircraft so they don't have to have big draggy wings); that seems to make the need for super high and consistent winds only worse, however, and will further cut down on eligible venues.  Aircraft carrier-style catapults probably add a bit too much complexity (but might produce some spectacular YouTube moments...).

Fun stuff!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Liquid Lunch Checklist

  • Lots of wind - check (beginnings of liquid smoke, and not too off-shore, so the slog/swim to the windline was only about 5 minutes or so)
  • Reasonable temps - check (air and water both right around 50F)
  • Appropriate gear - check (5.0 and 80 liter board; a bit overpowered but good)
  • A reasonably well-timed hall-pass - check (rare, as lately wind has either happened at night or when work interfered in all sorts of nasty ways)
==> Nothing standing in the way of a great session, right?

Except after about 20 minutes of hunting all over the bay for a patch of water that wasn't too infested with driftwood, I bagged it for safety's sake and made my way back to shore. The flooding we've had here in NW Washington lately has left a lot of dead wood in the water, and with up to chest-high swell and lots of confused chop (not too mention the spray flying everywhere), it was exceedingly hard to spot those obstacles. Bummer!

Hopefully, this stuff will settle down on the beaches soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

For Sale

Exocet Warp Slalom 67

My 2008 slalom board - 105 liters, 67cm wide, and about the most nicely balanced slalom board I've ever sailed. Sweet spot is around 6.5-7.5, but it extends well down to 5.8 and crazy water with a slighly smaller fin (like a 34 or even 32 G-10 fin). It also works well with an 8.2 and a larger fin (like a 42cm carbon Finworks). I won the slalom in the Canadian championships on this board because of its range, speed in the flat stuff, and control on the outside (where the eddy line was pushing up the voodoo chop). The guys I was racing either had the speed, or the glide and angle, but never both - so I had more degrees of freedom.

If you're looking for a slalom board to race competitively, at a killer price, this is it. If you're looking for a fast board to freeride, its ease of use makes this one uniquely accessible (and ensures you don't ever have to worry about your buddy passing you because he has a faster board). This is also one of the nicest-jibing boards I've ever sailed.

The board's in great condition (one repair on the deck, but that never sucked water since it happened at the beach - that's where the Sailworks sticker is visible in the photo) and comes with super-comfy DaKine straps. I can arrange shipping at cost; we can figure out local arrangements anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, and maybe even the Bay Area (have a trip coming up in April) --->  $1,095.

Also: late 80's/early 90's F2 Lightning racing longboard, complete with all parts (yes, the mast track works and has been adapted for M8 bolts, so you don't have to worry about the proprietary F2 steel pins). This is the World Cup edition with the carbon center board. I picked this up from someone who had it in his garage unused for over 15 years, so it's in unbelievably great shape (no soft spots anywhere). I thought I'd come down for City League races in Seattle, but found that the drive was just prohibitive.  ---> $300.

Update: here are some pictures of the Lightning (yep, it's the big one; yep, it's in great shape; yep, the track is fully functional; yep, it's the carbon centerboard, and the gaskets are in great shape; yep, it the newer version with the PowerBox fin; ...)

Send me an email through this contact form to find out more

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Damn, those kiters really have hit their stride now. At theL├╝deritz Speed Challenge , Sebastien Cattelan  of France broke the 50 knot barrier. Rumor has it that this means the canal won't open for the next round of Masters of Speed - I could see how that might be true, as it would be harder to get sponsorship together and get people to commit that much time and money if there's no more chance at being the first to break 50.

Congratulations to the kiters at Luderitz - those are some pretty awesome performances. Given how quickly they were able to push their speeds up to those levels from where they were just a few years ago, there's been a lot of very rapid development in that sport. Good on them!

I wonder if this will spell the end of the speed rush windsurfing has gone through in the last few years, with several well-organized record attempts and a bunch of grass roots GPS-based informal competition. I also wonder what it will take for windsurfing to reclaim the outright record - it took Maynard and Albeau a lot of time, money, and R&D to get to 49.09; kiters just blew right by them, and physics seem to be on their side at this point. Seems like the current gear and technique combo needs to be tweaked a bit to get back in the game. The sailors have been trying to do the same thing vis-a-vis windsurfing (check or to see some of those attempts - none of them successful so far) Perhaps we'll end up seeing some crazy foiling windsurfers with funky outriggers to get on top of the physics here - but given the state of the industry, I'm not sure where the funding for such extensive R&D would come from. Incremental improvements to the current design paradigm seem to have run into the law of diminishing returns.

Monday, September 22, 2008


American kite- and windsurfer Rob Douglas (from Boston, I believe?) just broke A2's outright record. 49.84 knots over 500 meters in a shallow bay in Namibia. Check out the video - that's pretty damn fast. 50 knots is awfully close. Remember Albeaus's run, at 49.09, and how even the tiny chop on the canal caused so much chatter on the board, and you can see why the kiters might have an advantage here, now that their kites have come such a long way in efficiency. The upward force from the kite allows them to use tiny boards (whereas windsurfers need them to be at least big enough to where they can waterstart). Perhaps if we can figure out a way to jettison part of the board, or get some sort of running start off a boat or something...

Congratulations to Rob (and his coach Mike Gebhardt). Alway cool to see someone push the limits like this!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

29 years

It was in September of 1979 that I first learned how to windsurf. I was all of 9 years old, the gear was heavy and kludgey and monstrously awkward and slow by today's standards. I learned on a tiny little pond that I could have swum across in all of fifteen minutes. Even now, 29 years later, I remember the incredible rush I felt when, after repeated uphauling and flailing and stalling, the stars aligned: I sheeted in, and a little puff got me going. I had sailed Optis for 3 years at this point, so I knew about the feeling about being driven by the wind - but the immediacy of the experience was different.

From that moment on, I was hooked. The thrill of catching the wind and feeling its power come through your body, transformed into motion, is something that has never let me go to this day, and probably never will. To me, this sport is release, zen practice, plain fun, competitive outlet, and so much more.

This summer, as we were out on the water in the Gorge, my daughter Hope (now 8) and I were on a raging plane on the Start together; as we were coming into the Event Site, after almost hollering herself hoarse, she looked up at me and said: "Dad, I really get it now!" That week, she'd been doing the Big Winds kids' camp, had felt the wind in her hands, and now she had experienced the adrenaline rush of skipping over the water on a full plane. I don't know if she'll ever be hooked the way I have been; at that moment, though, windsurfing, often seen as a lone individual's pursuit, was a bridge for connection - a shared experience between father and daughter, her window into a part of my soul, and mine into hers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Squamish pictures

Gwen l'Hirondelle made some nice shots available as well - they're now part of the updated slideshow embedded below (click on it to get it to display in bigger size). She spent a lot of time during the weekend hanging out on the spit in clearly suboptimal weather, producing a lot of nice pictures - and she has graciously agreed for them to get published in support of promoting a great grass-roots event put on by the Squamish Windsports Society. That's just one example of all the great SWS volunteers who contributed to making this event happen. Thanks, Gwen - and thanks to all the volunteers for a great weekend!

David shot some pics of the slalom on Friday off the end of the spit and has graciously agreed to let me post them. I especially like the fact that in all the shots where I do appear, I'm leading ;)

The original gallery is posted at Elliot's site - thanks David for taking the time to take pictures when you could have been out on the water, and thanks Elliot for creating a neat community resource for the Pacific Northwest boardheads!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Canadian Nationals - Day 3 (final)

Phew - good exercise. The clearing weather didn't quite make it up Howe Sound, so the temperature gradient was actually reversed (w/ Vancouver warmer than Squamish, and Squamish warmer than Whistler). At least it didn't rain anymore after 8 am. Winds were pretty light, and really flukey. We ended up doing three heats of formula late in the afternoon, but more so we'd have something to do rather than because we thought it would be good racing (I guess we didn't want to sit on shore like the kiters, who in their frustration were resorting to building a gigantic floating rail for sliding tricks).

Since it was so light, we couldn't even lure out most of the racers, so it was just Chris Pior, Carey Caronni, and me. Interestingly, we were all on roughly the same sail sizes (10.7's for them, 10.8 for me); I'm about 25 pounds heavier than Chris, and Carey is quite a bit lighter than that again. The first heat then was finished in order of weight, with Carey managing to squeeze out Chris (who then took the next two). It was an interesting experiment, as the physics of the whole thing became apparent - anytime we pumped up on a plane after transitions, I'd need a few more pumps and lost more ground upwind to get going. It didn't help that my light air fin had fallen victim to a submerged piece of wood while checking out the course - to get any kind of pressure and rail the board, I had to resort to hanging off my uphaul.

Good exercise, for sure - we might have been a bit chilly when we left the beach, but we were dripping with sweat when we got back (Rob had at this time commandeered the PA system; when we were slogging in on the last puff of breeze, I distinctly heard him say something like "better you than me"...).

Results are thus firmed up - I won the slalom before Rob and Chris; Chris won formula with Carey getting second and me third. Phil won freestyle.

It's unfortunate we got such atypical weather on Saturday and Sunday; nevertheless, it was a fun event. The slalom on Friday was about as good as it gets (we got nine heats of slalom bliss) - just for that it was worth coming up. And even though for us spoiled West Coasters the conditions on Saturday were light (and Sunday even lighter), the Europeans would have just put on their 12's and called it great racing. For me, it was that one race a year where I wished I had a bigger rig (which is a cost-benefit analysis that doesn't really justify the investment).

There's talk of some more grass-roots racing at Squamish, as Rob and Chris were recounting the glory years of slalom racing there; the place certainly has that potential. For anyone who likes to race slalom, if the overall weather pattern is right, it would very much be worth the drive even from Seattle or even the Gorge.

I'm hoping to get some pictures to post in the next day or so, as there was a very friendly couple shooting with rather nice equipment and promising to make something available that would showcase the racing we had.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Canadian Nationals - Day 2

Lots of sitting in the rain and waiting this morning, with a front pushing through and making things feel more like March than August here in Squamish. Winds picked up a bit in the afternoon, and we got ready to race Formula. First heat got delayed as the breeze shifted quite a bit and we had to change the course to avoid turning this into a reaching match. Then, as we were about to get the second heat off, we had to pull the committee boat off station, as a big freighter was coming in and the boat was anchored right in its path to its berth. I was kind of glad that one didn't go off, as the wind had just dropped quite a bit while we were already in the sequence.

After a bit of rigging frenzy we all had our biggest sails up and were ready to go. We got three races off in light and shifty breeze. Current from the river added to the mayhem. The way the current played, there wasn't much latitude for tactics, as you had to get to the right side of the course to ride the current upwind, and the left side of the course to get downwind faster by not having to fight the current. Chris Prior took three bullets; I took three seconds. He's 25 pounds lighter than me, and he skillfully took advantage of that by getting good angle upwind and planing right through the holes up and down the course. Since I couldn't match his angle off the line, and since the wind was getting flukey on the right side of the course in the third heat, I tried a starboard start and actually led him through the first lap of the course; the lead I had built up at the windward mark had pretty much shrunk to nothing at the bottom though, and in the further dropping breeze, he got me on the second lap.

After we were all derigged and had eaten, the wind all of a sudden picked up; with the ramps created by the ebb, it would have been a good bump and jump session. After all the pumping, though, none of us were much in the mood. Tomorrow's forecast is for less rain and fewer clouds; hopefully that means a thermal push with a bit more sailable wind than today.

Slalom results so far actually do have us very close. After nine heats, I'm in first with 14 points; Chris and Rob are right there with 15 and 16, respectively. Yesterday's freestyle was won by Phil Soltysiak; he was really head and shoulders above the other competitors, landing quite a few pretty sophisticated moves despite the rather challenging conditions (river chop, gusty/shifty winds). He also did very nicely in the slalom, using his board handling skills to stay right in the game despite, as he put it, not being a slalom sailor.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Canadian Nationals - Day 1

9 slalom races (5 in the morning/mid-day; 4 in the afternoon after a break during the freestyle competition). Cool event - windsurfers and kiters both have their nationals right next to each other on the spit in Squamish. Wind went from OK powered 7.2 in the first round of heats to nicely lit-up for the last four. Tight competition in the top three, with Rob Mulder and Chris Prior showing good speed and great starts, as well as solid jibing (apparently Rob hasn't been sailing much at all this season; goes to show that this whole practice/training thing must be overrated...). I had three bullets, a second, a few thirds, a fourth, and one OCS. None of us can figure out the standings at this point other than that the three of us most all be within a couple points of each other. Great racing, for sure, with a wicked fun five-jibe downwind slalom course set by Rob and Chris (and heats spooled off with great precision by Harry and John Darling on the boat).

My 40cm Finworks slalom fin (about to be released - keep your eyes peeled) is working great. When you're lit and sending it, it just sort of goes away into low drag mode; when you're looking for power or needing to point a bit to jockey for position, it's right there, ready to get pushed on. Very nice - you just can't get that kind of performance out of a G-10 fin.

Tomorrow's forecast looks a bit sketch, so it might be shifty formula (or we might just all hang out and BS in the rain). Sunday should pick up a bit again. Of course, weather changes quickly around here.

Lots of people are taking pictures; hopefully some of that will be available to put online.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gorge Challenge - more pictures

Thanks to Pete DeKay for making these available:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Gorge Challenge - Day 3 (final)


Sorry - something went wrong when I downloaded pictures off Scotia's camera yesterday afternoon, but all the files are garbled, so I can't serve them up here. Hopefully we'll get some going; Pete DeKay was taking pictures of the awards, so we should get those online somewhere soon, I hope.

Meanwhile, here's the course we ran Sunday - Darren mixed things up a bit with a pretty slalomy formula course - Start, round A to port, B to port, Start Pin to starboard, Finish Pin to starboard, A to port, B to port, Start Pin to starboard, finish.

Conditions started out pretty tame, with some people joking about rigging their 11's to make the breeze come up. When we got on the water for the first heat, it was very nice 10m formula racing, and while it filled in a bit more, I was very happy on my 9.9 for the day. We got five races, which I finished 2, 2, 4 (fell at the jibe at the bottom of the course - in this fleet, you can't as much as sneeze without being passed, much less fall, which makes for really fun racing), 3 (Derek pulled off the first really successful port start of the day), and 1.

And that last one had a bit of a story to it. After Derek won the windward mark in heat 4 after starting on port and having to duck almost the entire fleet, it became apparent that maybe the advantage on the right side of the course had gotten big enough to overcome the starboard bias on the start and make it worth letting most of the fleet cross, so I went for a port start on the last heat. Stefan managed to squeeze in above me, with Derek and MacRae below me. Lots of frantic weaving through the crowd ensued, but when we were finally clear of the fleet and out in the channel, it became apparent that we were in the right spot. I made it to the windward mark in first, ahead of Bruce who was coming across from the OR side and tacked in my wake.

From this point, it was a bit of a drag race; I made it around the jibe mark, and the breeze was so filled in that I decided to jibe right there as opposed to taking it a bit further down. That worked out well, as I could lay the bottom mark, and set up to jibe just above it. As I came to the mark on starboard, Bruce came in hot on port and tried to squeeze by on the inside with a tight jibe. Any other sailor trying that, and I'd probably have bailed out to avoid a collision; instead, I just went for it and shot by below him to ensure he'd stay behind me. Unfortunately, the clew end of his boom clipped my shoulder. He decided he'd called it too close and DSQ'd himself, which, while being good sportsmanship, was a bit of a bummer as I'd hoped to hold on to that lead for another lap.

Overall, Bruce won both the formula (NRT) and slalom events, as well as taking the overall Gorge Cup title for the year. I placed second for the formula piece and ended up in sixth for the slalom - I'd hoped for a chance to redeem myself a bit there, but by the time the conditions were filled in enough to run slalom on Sunday it got a bit too late to switch formats before the awards and banquet. Probably just as well - as we were sitting down for the excellent food, I couldn't help notice that it was perfect 7.2 wind out there, and neither I nor any of the racers I sat with had any itch to go out and sail more.

One highlight of the day was the new formula weed fin design sported by Peter DeKay, who ran into a submerged log between those dolphin-style pilings on the Oregon side. The attempts to remove that fin from the box entertained folks at the Event Site for over an hour, with as many as six people wielding all sorts of tools to attempt to dislodge it. Bruce put on an impromptu board repair clinic (Hot Stuff superglue and accelerant and 4 ounce glass makes for very quick layups - combat repairs have just become bomb proof).

Check the VMG Events site for complete results - and while you're there, start memorizing the names of some of those juniors, who are moving up in the fleet. This is a pretty strong contingent of young sailors, and having seen them put in the work during the Sailworks Junior Race Camp all week, I'm pretty impressed.

Overall results show that this surge of juniors is coming none too soon; for the season, the top 5 consist of 4 Masters and one Grand Master. I guess in this sport, age groups are affirmative action for the young - hopefully the current crop of juniors will change that. Seeing how Steve Sylvester in the Bay Area still dominates a bunch of guys in their 20's at over 60, it's safe to say that experience is not a disadvantage in racing windsurfers. Pretty sweet, if you think about it, that there's a sport where up to three generations can be truly competitive with each other (and that doesn't involve checkered shorts and country clubs).

Now back to work for a week (work, yeah, I knew there was something I needed to take care of...), then off to Squamish for the Canadian Nationals next weekend. Wow, the season is coming to a close - not sure I'm ready for that. In the Gorge, it's been a fun season of very well organized racing. Scotia is a nation treasure, pulling off some of the finest events anywhere. She'd putting on next year's Nationals in the Gorge, and she's got some pretty big plans, so plan on showing up next July - it will be a blast.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Gorge Challenge - Day 2


Whoa - 15 heats (both formula and slalom) in two days - we're getting a lot of racing in. The day started with quite a bit of breeze, but the clouds made things a bit inconsistent (especially on the inside), so Darren called for Formula. Different course today - short upwind leg with a starboard rounding (port starting made no sense with this setup), followed by a downwind around the start line, a longer upwind (which meant that there'd be some tactical calls to be made), and then a downwind finish off the boat. The first heat was pretty windy; it picked up from there. Heats 2 and 3, however, still had big holes in some spots, so slalom was still not indicated. Heat 4 got downright furry. I had a 3rd, an OCS, a 6th (I'd started in the 3rd row, being a bit gunshy after being over early, then had to claw my way through the fleet), and a 2nd.

At this point, despite all the jokes about how that would instantly killed the wind, Darren switched format to slalom to take advantage of the conditions (and to avoid the carnage that seemed inevitable with formula gear in those conditions). We got 5 heats in, and Darren called things off after that to avoid running us in the now somewhat fading late afternoon breeze. Things were pretty lit up on the 7.2; I placed 5th, DNF (after a gnarly collision with Derek on the line - took a chunk out of my favorite fin, but both of us got off without injury or any other damaged gear, so we both felt pretty blessed), 7 (after a spectacular wipeout), 3, and 3.

I'm sitting in 2nd for the formula part of the event; slalom has me in 6th at this point. Forecast is strong for tomorrow, so hopefully more slalom and a chance to move up a bit. Time for fin repair and some stretching now. Scotia already has results up (anybody ever wonder how she does it all?).

The level of competition is pretty high, especially in slalom (you can tell the Gorge locals have had a pretty windy summer so far...). Special mention, though, has to go to the Juniors who are not only racing their FE gear in some pretty epic conditions, but are also running slalom (some of them on FE stuff). Especially impressive are the three youngest competitors (Ben, Allyson, and Marion) - lots of spirit, and each of them is a stand-up sailor. Right on!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Gorge Challenge/FE Northamericans - Day 1


Quick update on the day - I'll try to post something each night. Check the VMG Events site for the NOR and schedule, as well as results and such. Conditions were interesting today - lots of breeze, with clouds pushing through the Gorge. This definitely had a frontal feel to it, not the usual Gorge thermal gradients. Darren set up for course racing; the course contained one reach at the top, one at the bottom, with A fleet going for two laps and juniors and sport going for one. This all seemed like a really good idea at the time (the forecast wasn't really promising too much...).

The wind kicked up a notch, so I went out on my 9.9, set up for moderate conditions. That seemed fine as I ran the course prior to the first heat. When we all lined up for the start, though, the wind picked up some more - which made the whole experience a bit hair-raising at times (I added a bunch of downhaul before the second race). We ran three course heats, with Bruce taking bullets in each. After getting a pretty bad start on port, I was fighting for second with Derek (who's bet on starboard paid off big) in the first heat when I misjudged my layline for the second windward mark (I didn't notice that the wind had gone way South - so I got headed big time into the mark and lost a bunch of places when I had to double tack). I ended up fifth in that one.

On the second heat, we now had a big bunch of port starters. I had to duck some starboard guys, which then put me in bad air from people who'd started behind/above me. After some footing off for speed (kind of exciting when you can barely keep the board from flying off the water), I made an aggressive call on the layline and worked hard to get myself back into second, which I held all the way to the second windward mark when I hooked the anchor rope - and lost a bunch of places to end up in 7th. Heat 3 saw me starting on starboard, which worked way better - I was pretty much Derek and me chasing Bruce around the course, with me finishing second.

Because conditions had been pretty furry throughout the morning, Darren called a break at this point to reset the course for slalom. I was a bit concerned (as things seemed to get a bit light and holey on the inside), but there seemed to be plenty of breeze all over the course. We got three heats completed in increasingly light and shift conditions, running our standard Gorge slalom box course (there's a pretty significant upwind leg in this one). I ran my 7.2 and a 42cm fin, looking for good angle. The first start resulted in a general recall (seems like for the first slalom heat of the season, we were all a bit jumpy).

We managed to run 3 slalom heats in the increasingly erratic breeze (it's not so much that the breeze was dying - it was more that the holes on the course got bigger and bigger). Heat 1 worked pretty well for me until I stuck my rail in the third jibe - I ended up fifth for that one. Heat 2 worked pretty well - good start, following Bruce around the course; as we struggled with a light spot for the upwind leg, we got a warning shot across the bow in the form of Stefan, who was riding formula gear and managed to squeeze into second riding right up to the upper mark (whereas Bruce and I had to foot way off into the channel to get an assist from the current). I passed him in the reaching part of the course, but he stayed on it, and the second upwind was pretty much a repeat of the first one, which got him second for the heat and me third.

The third heat got really flukey - Stefan won the heat on his formula setup (I had done the same thing to Bruce last year in similar conditions; this year, he was prepared, riding a bigger board and an 8.2 - but with the huge holes now riddling the course like Swiss Cheese, even that wasn't enough), Bruce came in second. I clawed my way back to sixth after losing a bunch of places (12th or so) when I parked myself in a hole after the third jibe (at which point I'd been in second) and got rolled by a pack of sailors who rode a puff down the course towards me. In that race, I actually ended up slogging the last leg into the finish...

I think that today was a great demonstration of the different priorities race directors have to deal with. Darren really wanted to secure good course racing and thus erred on the side of conservatism in the morning - choosing to run course rather than slalom even when it was blowing stink to ensure the event got a bunch of heats under its belt (and there's no better way to frustrate a bunch of racers than to call for slalom and have conditions deteriorate on you). Once we had three heats, and the wind was defying all expectations by continuing to build, he finally relented and changed formats - which was then rewarded by the almost instant deterioration of conditions. In a perfect world, we could set two courses and switch formats at the drop of a hat; too bad there's no such thing as a perfect world.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The 2008 Exocet Gorge Blowout


View Larger Map

In her windblog, Temira called it "seventeen miles of downwind misery" and challenged her readers to "try it if your dare" - but most of the 50 or so competitors running the 26th edition of the Gorge Blowout had a great time. Winds looked pretty filled in all along the river on the drive up from Hood River, and quite a few people seemed to remember how windy last year was (more than one person was overheards saying that things looked "just like last year" with an ominous undertone...).

Dale and Bruce, who've pretty much sewed up the top two spots in the race for over a decade now (Bruce told me he has missed 3 out of the 26) split in their gear decisions, with Dale going for formula gear, and Bruce rigging (relatively large) slalom stuff. The rest of the fleet was similarly all over the map - quite few sailors on slalom or freeride stuff, a healthy formula contingent, and the intrepid Kona fleet (ranging in sail size from low 6's to Pepi's 9m). I went Formula, riding a 9.9 (Exocet Warp Formula 08 with a 9.9 Sailworks NXfw and a Finworks formula fin).

The combo was right on for me - right off the start, I was neck and neck with Dale for the first mile or so (we both chose to start at the Washingtong side, giving us the opportunity for a long deep reach to get away from most of the fleet; Bruce was a bit higher, apparently trying to roll us, but suffering from not quite enough breeze, so his angle was off quite a bit). As soon as we got into a bit more breeze, Dale (who was on a 9.1) started pulling away from me bit by bit (Bruce used to joke that off the breeze, we're all just Dale bait...). With Dale slowly but surely pulling away, Bruce (who was doing a remarkable job working his slalom gear downwind) stayed close. I knew that if I wanted to beat him, I'd have to pull away from him in the light stuff at the top of the course, so I pushed hard and led him for about the first quarter of the course until we got into a bit more breeze - and then he started catching up. From there until Viento, we basically traded jibes, depending on who caught a bit of a favorable header, or how much pressure there was (as soon as there was a puff, Bruce's slalom gear came into its own). We jibed around the mark at Viento (half-way through the course, and the start of the junior blowout) neck and neck - pretty cool after over 8 miles of racing downwind/upriver.

After Viento, conditions were a bit light for a stretch and I started pulling ahead just a wee bit; I hoped that it would stay lighter all the way through the corridor, but the pressure started building bit by bit, with the holes getting smaller and the puffs getting stronger. And sure enough, Bruce got past me in a big puff, and from then on, his advantage grew as we were getting into the almost furry conditions in the upper corridor - where I had to work it to hold on, he was able to just send it. By the time we made it to the top of Swell City (where people were sailing 4.5's at the time), it was clear that the wind was filled in all the way to the White Salmon Bridge and Bruce's lead would be unbeatable.

Dale won the race in something like 1:03; Bruce was about 2 minutes behind him (the stronger winds at the bottom allowed him to catch up a bit), and I came in 3rd (2nd Master's) a little less then 3 minutes later (I baubled my first transition of the race and actually dropped the sail on my second to last jibe in plain view of the Event Site - good way to keep the old ego in check...).

Results and pictures to follow - some standout performances, though:
  • Derek Nielsen came in fourth - here's a guy who's really stepped up his game over the past couple seasons.
  • Todd Selby, at age 17, did the full distance and finished really strong (I believe he was in 8th?), which won him the junior division for the full Blowout.
  • Marion, who is all of twelve years old, I believe, won the junior Blowout outright (that's right, she beat a bunch of teenage boys - I'm sure there were a few bruised egos...)
  • Ben, age 11, I believe, was the youngest competitor.
  • Shelley won the women's fleet - and placed very respectably overall.
  • Pepi won the Kona fleet and pulled off some very stylish looking jibes right before the finish as he was duking it out with another competitor for a photo finish.
Thanks to Exocet for supporting the event (US distributor Steve Gottlieb raced as well, placing second in the Kona fleet and showing good spirits despite having gotten stuck in the light air at the beginning on too small a sail and having to work pretty hard to get down the course). Thanks to Scotia for pulling off another flawless event, Darren for providing great race management on the water, and all the volunteers who helped out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

5 weekends back to back...

This weekend marked the 2nd of five weekends of back to back racing for me - last week's Gorge Cup, this weekend it was the Harrison Blowout, next weekend it will be the Exocet Gorge Blowout (14 miles downwind/upriver from Stevenson to Hood River), the weekend after that (August 1-3) will be the Gorge Challenge, and to cap it all off there'll be Canadian Nationals in Squamish Aug 8-10. Not a bad run - hopefully conditions cooperate.

This weekends racing at Harrison Lake was really fun - Carey and Jackie Caronni have been putting on a weekend of racing every summer for a very long time now. Saturday's are scheduled for the Blowout (downwind race from the Harrison boat launch to the Bear Creek campground), with formula racing and some figure 8 fun slalom at the boat launch on Sunday. Harrison is only about 1 1/2 hours from Bellingham, so it's practically in my backyard. Still, this was the first time I've been able to go - for the past five years, there's always been some scheduling conflict for me.

Saturday's downwinder had to be canceled for the first time ever due to no wind (try that on for size - the event's been running since the late 80's, and they've finally got skunked on one of the days - who says lakes are flukey?). Sunday, however, offered up really nice conditions - super smooth water (hardly any fetch upwind), good breeze, and brilliant sunshine. The lake is amazingly clear (and nice and cool), and with the mountains all around, it's quite scenic.

We had three races on a pretty fun course - start slalom style off the boat launch, go deep downwind to a mark in the middle of the lake, round that and go way upwind to the upwind shore (where you had to figure out the tradeoff between the lift on shore vs. the slighly flukier wind), then beam reach to a mark below a few hundred yards below the start, and finish upwind. I was nicely powered on 10.8 in the first race, then switched to my 9.9 which was the right call for heats 2 and 3. I got three bullets (recovered from a really big crash right after the start on the third heat when I made a lucky call in favor of the near shore lift to lay the top mark with double tacking - sorry, Carey), Carey got three 2nds. Big shout out to Elliot, who came in third and race really well - maybe he should reconsider not taking his formula gear to the Bay Area.

After the racing, I got a chance to spend some time sailing with my kids (yep, both of them at one time - nothing like a 3-year-old whooping with glee and saying he wants to go faster...). Hope's getting quite good at handling the sail, and uphauling is no big deal for her anymore; she's looking forward to doing the Big Winds kids camp next week.

Huge thanks to Carey and Jackie - this was awesome, fun grassroots racing. They had the whole thing well organized, had gotten a huge box of very cool prizes and raffle items, and just spread the stoke all over the place. Great fun - I'll be back.

Next weekend is the Exocet Gorge Blowout (big shout out to Exocet for sponsoring this heritage event!). Check out Scotia's VMG Events site for details on that, as well as the following weekend's Gorge Challenge.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Da Kine Derby - July 14 Gorge Cup race report


Originally, we'd hoped for slalom, especially since we had a two day window to run either on Saturday or Sunday. With the sudden emergence of a short heat wave on Friday, though, when the wind switched West again on Sunday, it wasn't slalom material (despite Bruce's best attempts to convince us otherwise, milking it hard on his 8.2 as Darren was setting the course). Instead, the call was for Formula, and that turned out to be the right decision, as instead of holey/flukey slalom of questionable quality, we got to do some really good course racing.

The course was short and fun - a quick upwind to the gate, round the jibe mark, back up to the gate, back down to the jibe mark, and reach for the finish (the juniors did only one lap). That made for an interesting combo - because the races were so short (only one heat in which the wind crapped out on us, took more than 8 minutes for the leaders; most were around 7), good starts were crucial. The gate added a tactical dimension - if you rounded to the right side of the course, you'd have two jibes and might overstand the jibe mark; if you rounded to the left side (and into shore), you might not make the jibe mark and end up with three jibes - and you pretty much had to make that decision as you lined up to start either port or starboard, as throwing in more than one tack would have taken you out of the race right away.

In most of the heats (especially early, when the start line was pretty long), starting on port was the ticket - you'd get into the current, flop over, then ride the smooth water on the inside all the way to the jibe mark. Later on, a shorter start line, along with a bit of Northerly slant to the breeze, mixed things up a bit. There were some great fights for position at the bottom mark as people jockeyed for the inside lane going up. Off the breeze, we had to occasionally go for close calls when going into shore and navigating around the large "dolphin" style pilings, which must have made for entertaining spectating from the Event Site bluff.

We had seven heats. Bruce dominated, winning 6 and then sitting out the last one. I had 4 seconds, one 3rd, and one 4th (horrible start on that one), and won the last one in Bruce's absence. MacRae, Jac, Derek, and Eric Sinclair all had some really good heats - it's fun to have close racing like that, with lots of little duels all over the course. I got reasonably close to Bruce a few times, but his solid tactics and consistent speed and angle left no doubt that he owned this one. It's nice to see that now that I'm tuned up on my Exocet and the Finworks fins, I'm competitive with Bruce on speed and angle (if you've ever lined up with him, that's not easily accomplished).

Speaking of gear - I'm pretty happy with my overall setup. The Sailworks sails continue to give great range, stability, and performance. My Exocet WF08 is a joy to sail with its responsiveness. And the Finworks fins are working really well - it's nice to have the confidence that you can push on the fin when you need the power, while still maintaining great speed and providing that smooth, predictable ride that allows you to push. I used a Pro all day and later let a friend test it while I provided a benchmark for him and he switched back and forth between the Pro and the fin he had raced all day; afterwards he actually accused me of sandbagging because the difference was so apparent. It took me a while to recalibrate things from last season, as I've made some pretty radical changes in my gear and haven't had enough opportunities to line up with tuning partners. At this point, I'm glad I did, as the investment seems to have been worth it.

One of the things I'm noticing is that my stance has changed quite a bit. I'm using longer and longer harness lines (roughly 26-28", as opposed to a max of about 24" last year). I've also been experimenting with a fixed (as opposed to sliding) spreader bar; while it doesn't give me that tweaked/twisted body position that I used to like for driving the board, the more squared stance seems to provide more leverage to really take advantage of the liftier and softer fins, so I spend more time flying the foils and less time tail walking. Still working on that one, but so far it seems to be a net positive, especially in slightly rougher water. Interestingly, that also seems to translate to slalom, except there I haven't really had a chance to test it against others, so it's just a matter of feel at this point.

A big shout out to Bill from Da Kine, who sponsored the event and provided not just a kick-ass BBQ dinner, but also a really nice array of raffle prizes. Thanks also to Scotia for again organizing a fun day of racing - she's a logistical power house and probably one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

Next up for the Gorge Cup is the Exocet Blowout on the weekend of July 26/27 (date to be set based on forecast) - a fun downwinder from Stevenson to Hood River, which usually provides about 17 miles of highly variable conditions and is always good for epic stories.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I finally found the Meaning of Life

and it's now in my coffee cup. You see, the blend of the day at Grounds Coffee here in Hood River (where I'm having breakfast this morning before hopefully racing this afternoon if the forecast holds) is called Meaning of Life (a robust Italian roast, according to the label). If only I'd known it was that simple ;)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pre-race windsurfari

This weekend's Gorge Cup is the Da Kine Derby (thanks to Da Kine for the support) - and to maximize our chances of running slalom, the schedule called for Blowout-like flexibility with the decision to race either Saturday or Sunday to be made based on the forecast. And that forecast looked pretty stellar by mid-week. After all the up and down and back and forth of the early Gorge season the North Pacific High seemed to finally settle into place, and iWindsurf was calling for solid Westerlies through Monday. My scheme was to get to Hood River by Friday afternoon, tune up a bit, and then be ready for what at this time looked like a Saturday morning skippers' meeting.

And then, just to drive home the point that Mother Nature doesn't work on a schedule, the forecast changed. A massive thermal low was settling in - resulting in a classic heat wave for the Gorge.

So the plan changed a bit -I got some more work done on Friday (conveniently, the little fires that erupted and needed to be taken care of didn't get in the way of time on the water...), then headed south to go sailing at Des Moines Beach Park (see map).

View Larger Map

Rick Martin was already there and rigging his 10.4. Rick keeps telling me that the place on most summer afternoons is just made for Formula, with steady breezes in the low teens, pretty friendly waterstate (no voodoo chop anywhere), and miles of water to explore. I'd have to agree - just peeling around on the 10.8 for a couple hours was a lot of fun. There was more pressure along the shorelines (both west and east), so I headed west towards the Pt. Robinson light, made may way upwind a few miles, headed back over to the east, and rode the pressure downwind along the shore making quick jibe after quick jibe. I had to stop myself from going back for more (the breeze was holding, and the views of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding coastlines sparkling in the sunshine were
delightful), but with a big weekend of racing coming on, two hours seemed like enough exercise for the day.

BTW, the one thing to watch out for at Des Moines is the little shoal right off the launch north of the pier - you can sail around it, or walk out to and over it, but at high tide it would make for a great fin cruncher if you aren't aware of it. This is the venue for the Seattle City League races that are run Wednesday nights in late spring/early summer; too bad that those are usually later in the day when the breeze dies. I could see this being a fun place to race Formula.

This morning, after a good night's sleep, I got a really nice slalom session at Stevenson. I hit the water at about 7:30, among the first few people on the water. The iWindsurf sensor sits on the pier just east of Bob's Beach, and while it was well filled in out in the channel, the windline was about 100 yards off the head of the pier.
The low numbers the sensor showed until way later probably accounted for the rather low turnout; it wasn't until about 10 that there really was a bit of a crowd out there; by 11, the wind started getting a little flukey - nothing to slow you down on slalom gear, but there was a bit more slogging going on among the sailors on small freestyle gear. Excellent session, nicely powered on the 7.2 and my Warp Slalom 67 (about 105 liters).

So far, the sailing/driving ratio is already way more beneficial than for my last trip to the Gorge - time to stretch, do some work on my gear, and get ready for tomorrow; at this point, the forecast is for slalom conditions - I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Racing - the ultimate zen exercise (yeah, right)

This is the wind graph for Saturday's Cog & Leaf Gorge Cup. We had a pretty decent forecast (15-21 in the afternoon), a sponsor (Sailworks - the cog part of the equation, and Roberts, hence the leaf), awesome trophies (commissioned by Bruce and created by MacRae, who is a metal working wizard and whose steel art is pretty cool), as well as arrangements for post-racing dinner (Mexican).

And a little after 3, the breeze came up. We all got on the water and checked out the course (same as last time, except the marks were more in a straight line, which would open up all kinds of tactical options downwind). Unfortunately, it died (with a vengeance) before we could even get a sequence started. As the day wore on and the wind continued to no-show, Bruce joked that the minute the first burrito was broken into that night, the breeze would come up.

Sure enough, at about 5:30 or so, with reports of no breeze anywhere within a 100-mile radius and completely flat pressure gradients, the race was called, sailors derigged and loaded their gear, Amy arrived with the food (yeah!), beers were cracked open - and the water started to show some texture. Darren and Scotia were game to run fun races as long as wind and light held out (thanks!), so a bunch of us got on the water (properly fortified with excellent Mexican food) to run fun races (since the event had been called, these couldn't count - so those excellent trophies are still waiting for a good use).

We got to run two quick heats before the wind got too streaky. On the first start, I started starboard with just a few others as most of the fleet expected the usual port favor and just wanted to get into the still-fast river current to take them upwind. I decided against that at the last second because of the northerly slant to the breeze on the Washington side and the big hole near shore (right around where you'd tack before hitting the eddy-line - the big current masked that hole, and I just sort of discovered it sailing around before the start). This worked out great, as the port starters, after clearing us, got knocked like crazy. I made it to the windward mark in first by quite a margin because of that and held on to it. With the streaky conditions, I was glad for my 10.8 and the big Finworks LT; not sure how Bruce managed to get his 9.1 around the course and get second- he must have some sort of anti-gravity device to get- that, or he really worked it, as he sat out the next one and let one of the juniors use his rig.

Second heat was different, as the breeze started filling in at the south end - so it was back to port starts. I ran the line for a bit to get away from the pack and have a nice pocket to leeward to accelerate, then came up over the line about 1/3 of the way in (Nikoka, on the RSX, was kind enough to keep the rather eager pack stacked above/behind her from spilling onto the line, so I got a clear lane). The first few Starboard starters, led by MacRae, cleared me easily, but when they tacked, the current and better breeze in the middle had already given me enough of a lift to where they were lining up with my wake. Jay got second, followed by (I believe) Mac Rae. And then it was time to finally bag it for the day.

As I talked to my 8-year-old on the phone while derigging the first time, her comment was that "it just wan't meant to be." Great perspective, I guess. I'm glad we got our little spurt of fun-racing in at the end, as that made me feel a little better about the total of 11 hours spent in the car that day. Hopefully, over the course of the season, the driving/sailing time ratio will improve a bit. Considering that the PWA guys all flew to Korea for a big slalom event and got completely skunked for a whole week with not a single result, this just goes to show that this sport will teach you some form of zen - whether you want it to or not.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Check that UJ tendon!

After one of the heats at the Gorge Cup a couple weekends ago, I went to move my mastbase forward a bit. Looking down at it, with the pressure from the tackstrap and the angle of board to mast giving a fortuitous bit of visibility into the recesses of the lower base cup, I noticed that rip you see in the picture. Mind you, this was my back-up base (I tend to use a different one as a matter of preference), and I had replaced the tendon late last season as a matter of caution (I do that at least once a year). As I couldn't get my hands on one of those original (yellow) Streamlined tendons at the time, I got this one at a shop in the Gorge. Didn't worry about it too much - hey, it's urethane, not much to it, right?

I checked my main base (which I reverted to for the rest of the days' racing) - its Streamlined tendon (which had seen probably three times as much use) was still fine, with no cracks to be found even upon close inspection.

  1. Not all UJ tendons are created equal - it appears that there's more to making a urethane tendon than one might assume, and that Streamlined has it figured out better than the other guys.
  2. Check that UJ tendon - the crack was not readily apparent when inspecting the base visually; it was only when it was loaded and extended that there was enough distortion that you could actually see the crack, which was otherwise hidden by the base cup. So really get in there to see - don't just rely on it probably being ok.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gorge Cup DQ Dip'n'Dash

My first Gorge Cup for this season, the Dairy Queen Dip 'n' Dash took place May 31 at the Event Site. Derek Nielsen lined up Dairy Queen as a title sponsor for the event (way to go, Derek!), and he got to choose the course accordingly. On the left you can see what he came up with (according to Derek, that happened in the wee hours of the morning...).

It was a quick course, and I'd think the most apt description would be FW slalom - our regular upwind to mark A just off Well's Island, followed by a quick sprint around marks B, C, the start pin, and a reach to the finish - 4 jibes in all. Conditions were typical early season Gorge - pretty brisk breeze (especially up high near the windward mark - we could have easily raced slalom on 6.0's up there), and quite a few holes down low (which made any thoughts of actually switching to slalom a moot point). The current out in the channel was ripping, which together with the strong breeze and monster gusts made for really lumpy water up there (following Bruce around the windward mark in the first race was the first time ever I detected a hint of hesitation in his jibing; mind you, that was a "hint of hesitation" compared to the rest of us, who were flailing quite a bit). On the inside, there was quite a bit of back eddy, resulting in really smooth water.

Tactics were pretty straightforward - start on port, get into the current as quickly as possible, and then switch into slalom mode. At no point was I really pushing for downwind angle (even the broadest legs were not "free" in that way), so downwind tactics were what you would do in a slalom race - how to pass/cover on straights and in mark roundings (which, when traveling at mach speed on OP'd formula gear, can be extremely interesting). The rough conditions put a premium on board and sail handling and smooth transitions; the big current and shifty (both up and down and oscillating) winds made reading the layline at the top challenging.

Most racers were on 9's; I used my trusty 9.9 (since I chose not to have a 9 this season - hmm, maybe I need to reconsider that...), which resulted in serious handling challenges at the top.

Derek stepped up and performed great, being one with the course he had specified - he clinched second overall for the day behind Bruce (all bullets except race 7, which he sat out) and ahead of me by 1.3 points. I found that upwind in the smooth stuff, I was very much competitive on angle and speed, but that I hadn't nailed it in the lumpy stuff (I was losing angle on Bruce there). I also made a couple of errors on laylines - one such error ended up being rather costly - in the 7th and final heat, I thought I had the windward mark but missed it narrowly; the raging current moved me past it on the wrong side, so I had to sail a big circle around it. All that maneuvering in big overpowering gusts and large irregular chop and swell caused me to flounder badly for quite a while, losing 4 places in the process - very annoying. In hindsight, I should have been more conservative on calling my layline, or just given up on pushing for it a little earlier and just let the current take me up on the proper side of it (it's hard to beat around 5 knots of true VMG provided courtesy of the river with a couple extra tacks); but that just didn't compute in my at that point somewhat addled brain (wrestling the big sail around for seven heats had clearly taken its toll on my mental acuity).

Results at the VMG Events website - another well-organized race, a fun bbq afterwards, and a good time had by all. One thing this day made clear is why Formula sailing works so well for making sure you get a good event. Sure, at the windward mark, conditions were beyond what's reasonable for formula racing - but it wasn't dangerous, just suboptimal. And as a result, we had a full day's racing. We could have run slalom - and had a truly mediocre day's racing due to the large holes at the bottom of the course. It would have been no less challenging - but the stories told afterwards wouldn't have been epic tales of survival at sea (excuse the hyperbole) but lots of grumbling about not being able to plane through the holes at the lowest jibe mark. I'll take holding on over that any day ;)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Check out these two pictures (courtesy Emmett MacDonald) - same sail, same amount of downhaul, taken within 3 minutes of each other at the Friday Night race in San Francisco in April.

The obvious difference is that one of them is upwind, with the outhaul fairly tight, and the other is downwind, with the outhaul cracked off a bit, going deep. These two pictures tell the story as to why today's formula sails are so insanely rangey - upwind, there's good drive, w/o the leach going all soft and soggy; downwind, if you get hit with a gust or the board hits a wave and decelerates a bit, there's enough twist to prevent you from being pitched over the handlebars when the leach catches.

Earlier generations of big race sails were huge advances for their time - but there was a lot less range, and twist was a lot less refined. When I started racing in 99, the big sails could be tuned with low downhaul tension, resulting in great performance upwind but a scary ride off the breeze. Or they could be tuned with enough downhaul tension for the leech not to catch off the breeze, which resulted in great speed all around but horrible angle upwind.

Mind you, that night I was on a 9.9 when, reasonably, a 9.0 would have been much faster and more appropriate for all racers on the course except Big Ben Bamer (who later also confessed to his 10 feeling a little big at times...). With all that range, I can realistically get a away with a two-sail formula quiver. My 10.8 is powerful enough for racing in what, for West Coast standards, is stupid light air, while my 9.9 is raceable even when it starts blowing like stink. Sure, there are tradeoffs (I didn't much care for the lower upwind angle the bigger sail forces on you in survival conditions at this particular Friday night race, or in the last two heats of last year's Nationals) - but unless you race in the Bay Area a lot, it's hard to justify a 9.0 anymore, and unless you race in Florida or Europe, the same holds true for a 12. Guess it's time to buy Bruce a beer this weekend when I go down for the Gorge Cup.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Olympics - FOD?

Starboard has finally officially announced their bid to be the supplier for a one design class for the 2012 Olympics. If they are successful, that would end the RS:X debacle (which was a great example of many well-intentioned actors creating a compromise so bad it's almost laughable...).

My understanding of the rules for the 2012 selection process is that it has to be a One Design class, and it has to be established by 2008. The question is whether FOD (Formula One Design) can actually establish itself as such a class - it's hard to see formula racers flocking to it, and the Olympic racers are a bit busy right now.

What I think Starboard got right:
  • Yes, full planing racing is more exciting, simpler, less costly, more representative of the sport, etc. - just like they claim.
  • Yes, the equipment exists (unlike the RS:X, which was just a bunch of proto-typed gear at the time of the selection - and the production stuff came in way heavier and with huge consistency and quality issues)
  • Yes, Formula is the most successful racing format around - and for good reason, as it's fun, challenging, and strikes a good compromise between those aspects and the feasibility of getting events to actually happen. Longboard racing is lacking on the former aspect; slalom is lacking on either the second or, if taken to the extremes of light-air slalom in 8 knots, the former.

What I think they got wrong:
  • Anyone else bothered by the assertion that with a 3-cam 11m, a 75% carbon mast, an alloy boom, and ONE standard fin, we'll have quality racing for a broad band of competitor weights in conditions spanning 6-25knots? I think it's safe to say that's over-selling the point a bit. To wit:
    • 6 knots is highly marginal even with 12.5m rigs and super-powerful fins on today's wide-tailed boards. Even 8 knots is a bit sketchy. And since race committees tend to be somewhat liberal in interpreting minimum wind threshold requirements when there's a big event at stake. For China, given the conditions there, the 6 knot threshold will probably mean that they'll start racing as soon as the anemometer on the start boat comes up over 5 knots a couple times - and that would make for horrid formula racing (it makes for horrid racing on RS:X, too, but at least they didn't promise anyone exciting performance in that wind range, just that it would be doable).
    • On the other end of the spectrum, that 11 with a fin big enough to get going in under 10 knots will be a real handful in true 20 knots, and somewhere near uncontrollable for even most pros at a true 25 knots. So for a small surcharge on the equipment (a second rig and fin pale in comparison to the cost of travel and training for Olympic hopefuls), we could instead have real competition over the whole range. Seems penny-wise-pound-foolish to me.
    • What's up with the alloy boom? Trying to show some cost savings? Racing this gear at anything like an Olympic schedule, that boom will come up for replacement a fair bit - why not be honest and just spec carbon? Again, penny-wise...
    • And yes, the gear is cheaper and less complicated than the RS:X, but does anyone truly believe that the claim of useful hull lives of 4-5 seasons truly apply for Olympic hopeful-level use? Reality still blows away the RS:X on economic terms - why oversell?
    • Yes, there'll be less pumping than with the RS:X - but that's not saying a whole lot. Meanwhile, by enforcing one-size-fits-all and cutting off the big rigs, you can be sure that there'll be a ton of pumping if there's any racing anywhere close to the 6knots they're promising the organizers.
    • Oh, and then there are semantics - Formula originally referred to the notion that equipment was regulated only by numbers - Formula 3/1 meaning one board/three sails, etc. - with the intent being to strike a compromise between keeping cost reasonable while also enabling innovation and spanning a large range of conditions and sailors weights/sizes. The result is that at the last FW Worlds, the 1st and 2nd placed sailors (Antoine Albeau and Steve Allen) are almost 20kg apart in weight, yet they were racing very competitively - don't expect that if they both have to use the same size fin and sail. Formula One Design, on the other hand, is a bit of an oxymoron.
Don't get me wrong - I think this is a breath of fresh air. If windsurfing is to be Olympic, and if it has to be One Design , then something like this is the ticket. I find it ironic, though, that one of the slides refers to FW as one of the feeder classes (along with FE and Techno293) for FOD - it's more likely the top FW racers will keep racing FW (since the competition is fairer and the racing will be at a higher performance level in a broader range of conditions), but will "downgrade" to FOD for trials and Olympics-related competition.

On the whole one-design requirement, I'd have to say that it's pretty hard to swallow that one - it's not like every skier or bike racer has to be on the same equipment for fair competition. In the sailing world, one design is the accepted norm, so I guess as long as we're under their umbrella, we'll have to play by those rules (unless we somehow get the numbers and internal funding infrastructure to write our own meal ticket). Still doesn't make any sense if you ask me, though... ;)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lunch is served

For non-windsurfers, a liquid lunch is an understandably suspect proposition; for our little tribe, though, it's an art to be perfected if you're trying to live your passion while also having a career and a family. The ingredients are simple - a bit of flexibility in your schedule (it helps to be productive), gear readily accessible, a nearby body of water, and a bit of breeze is all it takes.

Unlike the other kind, this kind of liquid lunch can actually be a big energy and productivity booster - I usually have such a buzz going when I get back to working that I swear I'm functioning at a higher level.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Formula SUP...

Windsurfing Mag had an article in the latest issue making the point that windsurfing "ain't pretty" - or as my wife puts it, it's the ultimate surrender sport (as in it will teach you to let go of your attachment to the illusion that you have control over things). Last night was an excellent reminder of that.

I was stoked when after a good productive day at work, I found myself with hours of light left and a good southerly breeze - perfect formula conditions. I got out on the bay on my 10.8 and instantly ran into a bunch of weeds - way more eel grass than you'd expect this time of year. After a half hour of spending more time clearing weeds off my fin than actually sailing, I found myself a clear (albeit narrow) lane and started tacking upwind - I'd almost gotten to the point where I could see this as great tacking practice (yep, we're really letting go now...) when I noticed a big squall coming up the bay fast. Two minutes later, the wind died, and another two minutes later it started pouring rain, followed by hail. And the wind? Never mind that...

At this point, I was in the middle of the bay, with NO wind (no, not light wind - no wind...). I bobbed around for a half hour or so, looking for signs of texture on the water anywhere - none. All smokestacks in sight sent their plumes straight up, and calling the different wind talkers around the area confirmed it - I was stuck smack in the middle of the convergence, with no hope of any breeze anytime soon. So I derigged my stuff and started paddling with my mast. Since the water was completely flat by now and kneeling was less comfortable, I paddled standing up; don't know if this officially counts as Stand Up Paddling, and it sure didn't feel like the 'Sport of Kings' to me, but hey, after well over an hour of this, it got me back to shore where I launched (the Coast Guard came by when I was a hundred yards out and asked if I was the windsurfer being stuck that they'd been called about - nice to know people are watching...).

Are we letting go yet? ;)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Black and fast

This is my first season riding Exocet boards (thanks for getting me on the program, Pepi!), and since I've actually had a chance to ride them a for a bit now, here's my take on how they're working so far, and what I'm expecting from them this season.

My slalom board for this year will be the Warp 67, which is a known entity (the shape's carried over from last year) and proven fast. I got to ride one last summer and instantly liked it - very rangy, fast, point-and-shoot, and just the perfect size for a one-board slalom quiver. More of an unknown, however, was the Warp Formula - if you've been following the chatter on the web, there's been lots of speculation about this one. Some of that was fueled by the unconventional look (to save weight, and probably also to distinguish it from the competition, the board's bottom is not painted, resulting in that sexy black carbon look - very distinctive, for sure). I've had the chance to take mine to the Bay Area and test it a bit, mostly in stronger conditions. Here's my take so far:

  • It's very light - all that gram-shaving is paying off, and it's not just a matter of looks. This thing is engineered beginning to end to save weight, from the straps (every bit the equal of Starboards race straps) to the non-finished bottom and the thin shape. To ensure it doesn't blow up on a hot beach, it comes with a canvas bag - which I'll surely use at the Event Site.
  • It's responsive and stiff - I was a bit sketched out about the low weight. At this point, I'm convinced that it's not achieved by skimping on materials. There must be a major amount of carbon in this board, as even with its rather thin shape and in big nasty water off Crissy Field and Treasure Island, it feels every bit as stiff as the best custom boards I've ridden. That came as a huge relief to me to see that Exocet had followed through on that promise.
  • It handles big winds and nasty water really well - this being one of the new breed of Formula boards with super-wide tails (83cm one foot off), I was a bit concerned whether this shape would work well overpowered and in choppy water. Sailing it at Crissy Field and in the central SF Bay off Treasure Island on strong ebb currents allayed whatever misgivings I had - this thing is a pleasure to run off the breeze even in nasty voodoo chop, since it's so responsive. You can always find a smooth line and follow it with rather tiny steering inputs - very user friendly.
So how does it perform? As far as I can tell, it's competitive, but that's based on rather scant evidence so far. Lining up with the Berkeley racers (always a good benchmark, as those guys are really well tuned even this early in the season), I found that I had good angle and speed going upwind in the lower part of the bay - this covered the range of 9.9 being reasonably to fully powered, with waterstate anywhere from reasonably smooth to pretty choppy. Only when we got up to Treasure Island (and I had a hard time hanging on to my big sail while they were all able to take advantage of the better pointing from their 9.0's) did I have to foot off a bit. But even then, the extra speed I gained offset the loss of angle (not at all to be taken for granted in those gnarly conditions), and that was my first session of actually lining up with anyone.

At the Friday night race at Crissy, the board had really good speed upwind (my angle suffered from being oversailed) and was fast and deep off the breeze.

So at this point, I'm pretty stoked on the board. It seems like it's a really good fit with my Finworks fins, and it appears pretty tuneable. It definitely performs well in powered and over-powered 9.9, and the Europeans on the forums are raving about how it does in light air (something that I'm definitely willing to believe - you can just tell by feel that using a more powerful fin and bigger sail will be a good combo with this platform).

What I've found comfortable so far (but haven't been able to really test out as to whether it's truly the fastest way to go):
  • Base at about 135cm from tail (+/- 1, based on waterstate)
  • Straps 2nd hole from the back (for both fore and aft straps)
  • Boom about eye height (I'm 6'1"/185cm and 205#/93kg)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Crissy Friday Night Racing

At the end of my week in the Bay Area, I got to do the Friday night race at the St. Francis Yacht Club. If you've never done one of these - they're something special. The St. Francis is a rather well-appointed, big-time racing yacht club, but throughout the season, they let in both kiters (who have a Thursday night series) and windsurfers. I believe one of the reasons there's so much depth in the SF Bay Area fleet is that they get to race every other week. Note that half of the top ten formula racers at the 07 Nationals were racing on Friday.

The logistics on these events are pretty smooth - show up, pay your $15 drop-in fee, race. Start/finish is run from the deck of the St. Francis around stationary marks, and they run something like 5 quick WW/LW courses (sometimes with jibes required right off the deck to entertain the RC) in about an hour. The whole thing is then capped off with being able to use the club's facilities (showers and sauna - always welcome after a cold evening on the bay) and dinner in the grill room.

It had been a while since I'd raced one of these, and it was windy - the locals were all on 9.0's (except Ben Bamer, who at 230+ used a 10). Since I don't have anything smaller than my 9.9, I had to go down a fin size to my 68 to keep any semblance of control (it got a little wild at times...). Jay, by the way, decided to run his 7.2 slalom sail on his formula board since he, too, didn't have a 9.0 - this from the guy Pepi used to call "the Manimal", so it's safe to say it was windy... Several times, I had the whole board out of the water, holding on for dear life, and I was counting my blessings at the end of the night for only bobbled one jibe and having dropped my sail once.

The combo of a too-big sail with a too-small fin had the expected effect - I was going pretty fast, but couldn't point all that well. For the Friday night races, there's a big premium on getting an inside lane on port (everyone starts on port due to the geometry of the line) due to the lift on shore; footing off for speed is costly. I managed to compound that with being less-than-brilliant in my pre-start maneuvering (there's a lot of current there, and a lot of sailors milling about, and I was trying hard not to hit anyone).

I managed to pull out a fourth overall - mostly because of really good speed upwind (enough to make up my pointing deficit), pretty reasonable tacks, decent tactics, and pretty solid downwind performance (good speed and angle, and I managed not to blow up and take aggressive lines in several jibing duels). Overall, it was great fun and good racing. Of the three guys who beat me, two had done so in last year's Nationals (Seth had been 1st and Eric 3rd), and I managed to beat Ben and Al , who had both beaten me in the Nats (they placed 5th and 7th then, respectively) - so I'm pretty happy with where I am this early in the season.

Full results at the CalCup site (I was driving back home the next day when the locals were duking it out in their first CalCup of the year). Thanks to the St. Francis for hosting, the locals for being welcoming and competitive, and those who volunteered for RC duty (which surely had nothing to do with them wanting to sit out a windy one this early in the season, right?).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tropical @ Crissy

It's shaping up to be an awesome week. I'm in the Bay Area for a professional conference and decided to take my gear down with me to take advantage of the opportunity. So far, my week has been a geek's dream come true - get up early, get some productive work done, spend all day geeking out about databases, reporting applications, development tools, etc., then duck out for a session in the late afternoon, return, stretch, get some more work done, sleep, repeat. And the temps down here are feeling downright tropical compared to home (those 5 degrees extra air and water temps make a huge difference).

Jay Salzman is down here as well. We got some great slalom sailing on Monday (way juiced up 6.0 in choppy water - very pleased with how well the relatively big Warp Slalom 67 is handling those kinds of conditions). Tuesday, it was 7.2 slalom sailing (downright blissful), and then I just couldn't help myself and had to get out my new Exocet Formula Board despite the big gusts and nasty chop. Nobody else was silly enough to run formula gear in those great slalom conditions, so I didn't get a chance to line up with anyone, which meant I could just focus on getting used to the new ride.

I'll get a more detailed review of the board together once I have some more data to go on, but first impressions are good - it handled the chop well (surprisingly well for such a wide-tailed board, actually), felt light and responsive, and was fun to sail. Once it started flooding, the baord showed that it has really great glide. Seems like a good match with my Finworks fins, too. I'm stoked.

Now back to scaling out data warehouses...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Milestones - look Ma, no booties...

What a difference a week makes. Last Saturday, I spent the morning sledding with the kids in our neighborhood (at less than 100 feet above sea level). This Saturday, I spent most of the day on the bay, sailing with no need for gloves or booties. That first barefoot session each season always seems like a milestone...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Formula Board for Sale


Check here for details - rocking board, at a rocking price.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Albeau kills it

So he really did it: Antoine Albeau has broken Finian Maynard's record. It wasn't a huge jump - only about a half knot - but consider that the guy has just flown back in from Florida where he placed 3rd in the Calema Midwinters - in super light conditions. So he's probably still a bit jet lagged, it's only his third session ever on the canal, and he dominates (Finian, who rules the place, didn't get over 46 knots - so it's clear the conditions weren't exactly a cake walk). Hats off. Tomorrow's conditions are supposed to be good, too - perhaps there'll be more news to celebrate.

Inching closer to 50 knots


Antoine Albeau set a new 500 meter record today; I guess they're still trying to figure out whether it was enough of a margin over Finian Maynard's previous performance to ratify it as a new world record. It's definitely another step closer to the 50 knot barrier. Forecast for tomorrow is apparently good as well, so follow the action at Windsurf Journal's live event ticker. Damn, that's fast...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sweet Saturday

Got up early, got some work done and still was able to get down to the bay by sunrise. Perfect formula conditions for the 9.9. Sailed up to the South tip of Eliza Island and noticed a pronounced shift in the breeze, from SSE to SSW. Uhoh..., I thought, as that can often indicate a fading breeze here due to the convergence of battling post-frontal clearing winds from the Straits of San Juan (SW) and the Straits of Georgia (NW). Started my downwinder thinking I might end up slogging back a good part of the way - to be surprised and delighted with clearing skies and the SSW filling in nice and solid. The ensuing ride back was just perfection, with solid breeze, the sun sparkling off the water, the views spectacular, and to cap it all, a bunch of porpoises doing their dance in mid-bay adding to the exhilaration. Back home by 9, in time to have breakfast with the family and then go to the gym to share a workout with my wife.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Slalom 63 - PWA madness or stroke of genius?

Check out the blurbs from the PWA's top-4 slalom racers on the new "Slalom 63" rules for the pro-tour at WindsurfJournal. Fun stuff. The Cliff Notes version - currently, the pros get to register 2 boards/4 sails for each event. That will change to 3 boards/6 sails for the season.

Interestingly, this is supposed to make things simpler and more affordable for the pros - to them, it's not a matter of how much gear you have, but how much gear you have to cart around while flying from event to event (which then results in huge excess baggage charges). Apparently, the top dogs have 4 or more boards and a full quiver of slalom rigs (sizes from as small as 5.0 for Pozo to around 10m for the light-air events like Korea - in .5 to 1m increments). While they only register 2 boards and 4 sails, most of them still bring everything everywhere, as the events are often close together (especially if they also compete in waves as well). And schlepping all that stuff gets expensive. Plus it makes it harder for new sailors to be competitive on the tour, as they have to stack up against those whole quivers. Sounds reasonable, right?

I find the range of opinions pretty enlightening. A2 gets off a good one-liner on weather forecasts - I assume he's trying to tell us he doesn't like the new scheme too much (nor the current one); of course, given that he dominates the discipline, his pithy comment on the restrictions providing a convenient excuse for bad results wouldn't really apply to him (he tends to not need excuses, and he seems not to hide behind conditions or gear when things uncharacteristically don't go his way - something to be emulated, I'd say...).

KP seems to think that as long as the rules are clear, it doesn't really matter which way it goes - cream will rise to the top and the outcomes will be pretty much the same. Valid point, I'd say. Micah thinks it makes sense b/c it's dictated by the market, although he'd prefer unlimited competition (presumably also taking away the restriction against non-production gear); given that this is the highest level of competition, I can see his point.

Bjorn Dunkerbeck is concerned about whether this will truly showcase the sport. To him, restricting equipment choice means that people will have to hedge risk - which will result in erring on the side of big. And apparently, he thinks that slalom racing on gear that's just a bit too big for the conditions is not sufficiently attractive.

And that's where the disconnect between what the PWA is doing vs. the reality of amateur/grassroots racing becomes really clear. Most amateurs have one slalom board, and probably at most two sails for each of those (that, by the way, was the original 4/2 formula...). That covers racing conditions for just about anything pretty well - not perfectly (as would be what AA and BD are after), but well enough to keep it exciting for the racers. But that's us amateurs - the pros can't live off putting on races that are satisfying to them; they need to create the most attractive spectacle possible to create value for sponsors and have media-friendly content to sell.

PWA (or, in its previous incarnation, PBA) racing went down the road of all-out competition with no limits before. In the halcyon days of the late 80's/early 90's, pros carted around giant stacks of equipment and made real money. An interesting thing happened - as the base of the sport evaporated after the boom faded away, the numbers didn't add up, and manufacturers no longer saw economic sense in supporting the pro-circuit (plus outside sponsors no longer thought of windsurfers as a demographic to reach, which made the pro tour a less desirable marketing conduit).

The current PWA tour is the result of a remarkable rebuilding process. There is a full calendar again, the racing is attractive, and the marketing seems pretty right on. This is still small change compared to most pro sports, but for a fringe sport w/o a huge halo effect (windsurfing is apparently no longer considered the cool, sexy new cutting edge sport), this is pretty good. PWA is forging ahead - good for them; but now the question is are they pushing too hard and making this whole thing unsustainable?

To wit - I'm a fairly committed amateur. I've been fortunate to get some support for pursuing my passion. Nevertheless, my racing quiver at this point consists of 2 boards (one formula, one slalom), and four sails (two formula, two slalom). Sure, I race on the West Coast - so I don't have to deal with 6-9 knot marginal conditions (so I can get away without the 12m), and I'm pretty big and reasonably fit (so I can hold down my big slalom board and 6.0 in most any conditions in which we'd consider racing). My quiver is probably a bit above par for the amateur fleet - so hearing pros whining about having to make do with suboptimal gear choices because they have to stick with the (rather open) restrictions on the PWA tour doesn't really bear a lot of resemblance to my reality.

Is that relevant in any way? Don't know - after all, in most sports, pros and amateurs are on completely different planes (both in terms of resources and performance). If I were making decisions for the PWA, I'd at least consider this point, though.

If the pro-circuit is too removed from the reality of the amateurs, it's losing some of the aspirational appeal and charm. So if you care about what windsurfers think (i.e., if you're marketing the pro-tour at least partially to the windsurfing public, either to create halo effect for products and thus drive industry sales revenue, or to have windsurfers buy PWA "stuff" such as dvd's and provide traffic for content that may at some point create ad revenue), keeping it somewhat 'real' might be important.

If, on the other hand, the goal is mainly to create the most spectacular content to plug into the bigger extreme sports consumer market (where the content is consumed by people who don't really engage in the activity itself, and where the revenue is mostly derived from advertising unrelated products to those consumers, or through some coolness factor), then perhaps keeping it real would be a mistake (as in the race for eyeballs, 'real' will lose out against outrageous every time).

For windsurfing, there's probaby something in between. PWA tried Super-X, and that died on the vine - so apparently pure spectacle didn't work (hey, it's hard to compete with made-for-TV spectacle where people engage in "extreme sports" stunts purely to generate outrageous footage with little apparent risk aversion). Before that, PWA tried Formula (which was driven by what was happening at the grassroots), and while they got lots of "good" (i.e., tactical, skill-driven) racing, it was a non-starter on the marketing front.

Jimmy Diaz, who runs PWA now, has a business degree. He clearly understands the trade-offs involved, and the incremental tweaking of the rules of the game are part of a process to figure out an optimization problem. The competitors seem to mostly get it as well. So far, this journey has been remarkably successful (as in having brought pro windsurf competition back from the grave). As they're pushing the boundaries, I'm wishing the pros well - it sure would be nice to see that what I consider the coolest sport ever can be successful at the pro level.