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 ;)