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.