Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Formula SUP...

Windsurfing Mag had an article in the latest issue making the point that windsurfing "ain't pretty" - or as my wife puts it, it's the ultimate surrender sport (as in it will teach you to let go of your attachment to the illusion that you have control over things). Last night was an excellent reminder of that.

I was stoked when after a good productive day at work, I found myself with hours of light left and a good southerly breeze - perfect formula conditions. I got out on the bay on my 10.8 and instantly ran into a bunch of weeds - way more eel grass than you'd expect this time of year. After a half hour of spending more time clearing weeds off my fin than actually sailing, I found myself a clear (albeit narrow) lane and started tacking upwind - I'd almost gotten to the point where I could see this as great tacking practice (yep, we're really letting go now...) when I noticed a big squall coming up the bay fast. Two minutes later, the wind died, and another two minutes later it started pouring rain, followed by hail. And the wind? Never mind that...

At this point, I was in the middle of the bay, with NO wind (no, not light wind - no wind...). I bobbed around for a half hour or so, looking for signs of texture on the water anywhere - none. All smokestacks in sight sent their plumes straight up, and calling the different wind talkers around the area confirmed it - I was stuck smack in the middle of the convergence, with no hope of any breeze anytime soon. So I derigged my stuff and started paddling with my mast. Since the water was completely flat by now and kneeling was less comfortable, I paddled standing up; don't know if this officially counts as Stand Up Paddling, and it sure didn't feel like the 'Sport of Kings' to me, but hey, after well over an hour of this, it got me back to shore where I launched (the Coast Guard came by when I was a hundred yards out and asked if I was the windsurfer being stuck that they'd been called about - nice to know people are watching...).

Are we letting go yet? ;)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Black and fast

This is my first season riding Exocet boards (thanks for getting me on the program, Pepi!), and since I've actually had a chance to ride them a for a bit now, here's my take on how they're working so far, and what I'm expecting from them this season.

My slalom board for this year will be the Warp 67, which is a known entity (the shape's carried over from last year) and proven fast. I got to ride one last summer and instantly liked it - very rangy, fast, point-and-shoot, and just the perfect size for a one-board slalom quiver. More of an unknown, however, was the Warp Formula - if you've been following the chatter on the web, there's been lots of speculation about this one. Some of that was fueled by the unconventional look (to save weight, and probably also to distinguish it from the competition, the board's bottom is not painted, resulting in that sexy black carbon look - very distinctive, for sure). I've had the chance to take mine to the Bay Area and test it a bit, mostly in stronger conditions. Here's my take so far:

  • It's very light - all that gram-shaving is paying off, and it's not just a matter of looks. This thing is engineered beginning to end to save weight, from the straps (every bit the equal of Starboards race straps) to the non-finished bottom and the thin shape. To ensure it doesn't blow up on a hot beach, it comes with a canvas bag - which I'll surely use at the Event Site.
  • It's responsive and stiff - I was a bit sketched out about the low weight. At this point, I'm convinced that it's not achieved by skimping on materials. There must be a major amount of carbon in this board, as even with its rather thin shape and in big nasty water off Crissy Field and Treasure Island, it feels every bit as stiff as the best custom boards I've ridden. That came as a huge relief to me to see that Exocet had followed through on that promise.
  • It handles big winds and nasty water really well - this being one of the new breed of Formula boards with super-wide tails (83cm one foot off), I was a bit concerned whether this shape would work well overpowered and in choppy water. Sailing it at Crissy Field and in the central SF Bay off Treasure Island on strong ebb currents allayed whatever misgivings I had - this thing is a pleasure to run off the breeze even in nasty voodoo chop, since it's so responsive. You can always find a smooth line and follow it with rather tiny steering inputs - very user friendly.
So how does it perform? As far as I can tell, it's competitive, but that's based on rather scant evidence so far. Lining up with the Berkeley racers (always a good benchmark, as those guys are really well tuned even this early in the season), I found that I had good angle and speed going upwind in the lower part of the bay - this covered the range of 9.9 being reasonably to fully powered, with waterstate anywhere from reasonably smooth to pretty choppy. Only when we got up to Treasure Island (and I had a hard time hanging on to my big sail while they were all able to take advantage of the better pointing from their 9.0's) did I have to foot off a bit. But even then, the extra speed I gained offset the loss of angle (not at all to be taken for granted in those gnarly conditions), and that was my first session of actually lining up with anyone.

At the Friday night race at Crissy, the board had really good speed upwind (my angle suffered from being oversailed) and was fast and deep off the breeze.

So at this point, I'm pretty stoked on the board. It seems like it's a really good fit with my Finworks fins, and it appears pretty tuneable. It definitely performs well in powered and over-powered 9.9, and the Europeans on the forums are raving about how it does in light air (something that I'm definitely willing to believe - you can just tell by feel that using a more powerful fin and bigger sail will be a good combo with this platform).

What I've found comfortable so far (but haven't been able to really test out as to whether it's truly the fastest way to go):
  • Base at about 135cm from tail (+/- 1, based on waterstate)
  • Straps 2nd hole from the back (for both fore and aft straps)
  • Boom about eye height (I'm 6'1"/185cm and 205#/93kg)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Crissy Friday Night Racing

At the end of my week in the Bay Area, I got to do the Friday night race at the St. Francis Yacht Club. If you've never done one of these - they're something special. The St. Francis is a rather well-appointed, big-time racing yacht club, but throughout the season, they let in both kiters (who have a Thursday night series) and windsurfers. I believe one of the reasons there's so much depth in the SF Bay Area fleet is that they get to race every other week. Note that half of the top ten formula racers at the 07 Nationals were racing on Friday.

The logistics on these events are pretty smooth - show up, pay your $15 drop-in fee, race. Start/finish is run from the deck of the St. Francis around stationary marks, and they run something like 5 quick WW/LW courses (sometimes with jibes required right off the deck to entertain the RC) in about an hour. The whole thing is then capped off with being able to use the club's facilities (showers and sauna - always welcome after a cold evening on the bay) and dinner in the grill room.

It had been a while since I'd raced one of these, and it was windy - the locals were all on 9.0's (except Ben Bamer, who at 230+ used a 10). Since I don't have anything smaller than my 9.9, I had to go down a fin size to my 68 to keep any semblance of control (it got a little wild at times...). Jay, by the way, decided to run his 7.2 slalom sail on his formula board since he, too, didn't have a 9.0 - this from the guy Pepi used to call "the Manimal", so it's safe to say it was windy... Several times, I had the whole board out of the water, holding on for dear life, and I was counting my blessings at the end of the night for only bobbled one jibe and having dropped my sail once.

The combo of a too-big sail with a too-small fin had the expected effect - I was going pretty fast, but couldn't point all that well. For the Friday night races, there's a big premium on getting an inside lane on port (everyone starts on port due to the geometry of the line) due to the lift on shore; footing off for speed is costly. I managed to compound that with being less-than-brilliant in my pre-start maneuvering (there's a lot of current there, and a lot of sailors milling about, and I was trying hard not to hit anyone).

I managed to pull out a fourth overall - mostly because of really good speed upwind (enough to make up my pointing deficit), pretty reasonable tacks, decent tactics, and pretty solid downwind performance (good speed and angle, and I managed not to blow up and take aggressive lines in several jibing duels). Overall, it was great fun and good racing. Of the three guys who beat me, two had done so in last year's Nationals (Seth had been 1st and Eric 3rd), and I managed to beat Ben and Al , who had both beaten me in the Nats (they placed 5th and 7th then, respectively) - so I'm pretty happy with where I am this early in the season.

Full results at the CalCup site (I was driving back home the next day when the locals were duking it out in their first CalCup of the year). Thanks to the St. Francis for hosting, the locals for being welcoming and competitive, and those who volunteered for RC duty (which surely had nothing to do with them wanting to sit out a windy one this early in the season, right?).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tropical @ Crissy

It's shaping up to be an awesome week. I'm in the Bay Area for a professional conference and decided to take my gear down with me to take advantage of the opportunity. So far, my week has been a geek's dream come true - get up early, get some productive work done, spend all day geeking out about databases, reporting applications, development tools, etc., then duck out for a session in the late afternoon, return, stretch, get some more work done, sleep, repeat. And the temps down here are feeling downright tropical compared to home (those 5 degrees extra air and water temps make a huge difference).

Jay Salzman is down here as well. We got some great slalom sailing on Monday (way juiced up 6.0 in choppy water - very pleased with how well the relatively big Warp Slalom 67 is handling those kinds of conditions). Tuesday, it was 7.2 slalom sailing (downright blissful), and then I just couldn't help myself and had to get out my new Exocet Formula Board despite the big gusts and nasty chop. Nobody else was silly enough to run formula gear in those great slalom conditions, so I didn't get a chance to line up with anyone, which meant I could just focus on getting used to the new ride.

I'll get a more detailed review of the board together once I have some more data to go on, but first impressions are good - it handled the chop well (surprisingly well for such a wide-tailed board, actually), felt light and responsive, and was fun to sail. Once it started flooding, the baord showed that it has really great glide. Seems like a good match with my Finworks fins, too. I'm stoked.

Now back to scaling out data warehouses...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Milestones - look Ma, no booties...

What a difference a week makes. Last Saturday, I spent the morning sledding with the kids in our neighborhood (at less than 100 feet above sea level). This Saturday, I spent most of the day on the bay, sailing with no need for gloves or booties. That first barefoot session each season always seems like a milestone...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Formula Board for Sale


Check here for details - rocking board, at a rocking price.