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 ;)