Friday, August 1, 2008

Gorge Challenge/FE Northamericans - Day 1


Quick update on the day - I'll try to post something each night. Check the VMG Events site for the NOR and schedule, as well as results and such. Conditions were interesting today - lots of breeze, with clouds pushing through the Gorge. This definitely had a frontal feel to it, not the usual Gorge thermal gradients. Darren set up for course racing; the course contained one reach at the top, one at the bottom, with A fleet going for two laps and juniors and sport going for one. This all seemed like a really good idea at the time (the forecast wasn't really promising too much...).

The wind kicked up a notch, so I went out on my 9.9, set up for moderate conditions. That seemed fine as I ran the course prior to the first heat. When we all lined up for the start, though, the wind picked up some more - which made the whole experience a bit hair-raising at times (I added a bunch of downhaul before the second race). We ran three course heats, with Bruce taking bullets in each. After getting a pretty bad start on port, I was fighting for second with Derek (who's bet on starboard paid off big) in the first heat when I misjudged my layline for the second windward mark (I didn't notice that the wind had gone way South - so I got headed big time into the mark and lost a bunch of places when I had to double tack). I ended up fifth in that one.

On the second heat, we now had a big bunch of port starters. I had to duck some starboard guys, which then put me in bad air from people who'd started behind/above me. After some footing off for speed (kind of exciting when you can barely keep the board from flying off the water), I made an aggressive call on the layline and worked hard to get myself back into second, which I held all the way to the second windward mark when I hooked the anchor rope - and lost a bunch of places to end up in 7th. Heat 3 saw me starting on starboard, which worked way better - I was pretty much Derek and me chasing Bruce around the course, with me finishing second.

Because conditions had been pretty furry throughout the morning, Darren called a break at this point to reset the course for slalom. I was a bit concerned (as things seemed to get a bit light and holey on the inside), but there seemed to be plenty of breeze all over the course. We got three heats completed in increasingly light and shift conditions, running our standard Gorge slalom box course (there's a pretty significant upwind leg in this one). I ran my 7.2 and a 42cm fin, looking for good angle. The first start resulted in a general recall (seems like for the first slalom heat of the season, we were all a bit jumpy).

We managed to run 3 slalom heats in the increasingly erratic breeze (it's not so much that the breeze was dying - it was more that the holes on the course got bigger and bigger). Heat 1 worked pretty well for me until I stuck my rail in the third jibe - I ended up fifth for that one. Heat 2 worked pretty well - good start, following Bruce around the course; as we struggled with a light spot for the upwind leg, we got a warning shot across the bow in the form of Stefan, who was riding formula gear and managed to squeeze into second riding right up to the upper mark (whereas Bruce and I had to foot way off into the channel to get an assist from the current). I passed him in the reaching part of the course, but he stayed on it, and the second upwind was pretty much a repeat of the first one, which got him second for the heat and me third.

The third heat got really flukey - Stefan won the heat on his formula setup (I had done the same thing to Bruce last year in similar conditions; this year, he was prepared, riding a bigger board and an 8.2 - but with the huge holes now riddling the course like Swiss Cheese, even that wasn't enough), Bruce came in second. I clawed my way back to sixth after losing a bunch of places (12th or so) when I parked myself in a hole after the third jibe (at which point I'd been in second) and got rolled by a pack of sailors who rode a puff down the course towards me. In that race, I actually ended up slogging the last leg into the finish...

I think that today was a great demonstration of the different priorities race directors have to deal with. Darren really wanted to secure good course racing and thus erred on the side of conservatism in the morning - choosing to run course rather than slalom even when it was blowing stink to ensure the event got a bunch of heats under its belt (and there's no better way to frustrate a bunch of racers than to call for slalom and have conditions deteriorate on you). Once we had three heats, and the wind was defying all expectations by continuing to build, he finally relented and changed formats - which was then rewarded by the almost instant deterioration of conditions. In a perfect world, we could set two courses and switch formats at the drop of a hat; too bad there's no such thing as a perfect world.

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