Monday, July 14, 2008
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.