Sunday, July 27, 2008

The 2008 Exocet Gorge Blowout

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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.

2 comments:

James Douglass said...

Awesome report! I'd say you got first place in the "mortal humans" division. Any idea what the best times for the Konas were?

Peter said...

Yeah, you guys were quite entertaining to watch from the crows nest. Maaa nature sent some clouds in just in time for the start.

Dale certainly had the experience and know-how with the wind patterns, the dude is practically a gorge deity. But Bruce is ALMOST human.

Sure, there were some keystone cops stragglers at the end who showed us what humility and long suffering is all about.... kudos' to them for making the attempt and outstanding effort to take on this long and grueling race. It's just so GREAT that this race has lasted for this long.... Blowout is a true Gorge legend.