Monday, May 25, 2009

Gorge Cup - race report


5/27 upate: Pictures, courtesy Michael Hildreth - Nice shot of a start (Bruce below me, MacRae above me), and a great study of what a jibe looks like when done too tentatively (notice weight too far back, sail not aggressively enough sheeted in).

First Gorge Cup of the season on Saturday, 24 May - and wouldn't you know, despite the fact that it was not only a race day but also a holiday weekend, it actually blew! We had 9 heats of very powered up slalom, with some pretty furry gusts.

After having been way late to the start in heat 1, I clawed my way back up to 3rd after Bruce (on form, as usual) and MacRae, who set the tone for his performance that day by being on it at the start and executing flawlessly throughout the race. 

In heat 2, I managed to be on the line with speed at the gun, following Bruce through the first three jibes. He was on a smaller board, so I was hoping to maybe get by him on the upwind leg - but just before I got to the offset mark at the bottom of the course, I had one of those wipe-outs where everything happens so fast, you don't even know what happened. All I know is that I got sent, and that in the process I hit my left thigh on something - hard. It hurt like hell water starting, and when I got on the board, my leg just sort of buckled, so I went in and sat out the rest of that heat with an icepack stuffed under my wetsuit leg.

I got back out there for heat 3, and while the adrenaline (and icing between heats) kept the pain at bay, my leg was awfully weak, which didn't serve too well in overpowered reaching, making my way through the chop to the start, or jibing. The racing was still fun, and at times it was even reasonably tight. MacRae continued to have a stellar day, taking two heats from Bruce (he joked later that he'll just retire now that he'd such a golden day;  my take is that this is the result of lots of practice and his great, go-for-it attitude) and placing second in the others (except for another bullet in the last race, which Bruce sat out). The recipe was always the same - he was right there at the start, had good speed down the straights, made solid jibes all day long. Way to go, MacRae!

I ended up with a bunch of 3rds and a fourth, plus a couple deeper finishes (usually following a bad start or a fall). Interesting note on gear choices - it looks like most guys have upsized a bit. Jay is running an iSonic 111; I'm on my Exo 71 (118l); MacRae is still using his three-year-old 105l F2 (and he's clearly tuned up on it). Bruce was going for a smaller board for a few of the heats (two of which he lost to MacRae) but also experimenting running his 6.2 on a bigger board.

So yes, the bigger boards can be a handful in the big puffs, but they sure come in handy on the short upwind, or when tacking after that leg, and they don't seem to carry too much of a speed penalty. And while they don't jibe as tightly and quickly, they make up for that with faster acceleration out of the jibes, especially on the inside if the breeze lightens up a bit. At the time, I kept thinking that maybe I would have been better off on something smaller than a 71cm board and a 7.1, but on the drive home it finally struck me that - duh - I was working on 1 1/2 legs, so no wonder that things seemed a bit out of control.

I'm pretty stoked with how the day went, and two days later, I'm actually walking almost normally again (and might be completely pain-free if I hadn't decided to go sailing today - but hey, it's Memorial Day, and it was breezy and sunny...). Great way to start the season - lots of breeze, a well-organized event (Scotia really has this down to a science - Nationals this year will be awesome!), a well-laid course and tight start sequences (way to go Darren - again, Nationals should be great), and a ton of racing taking full advantage of the conditions. Strong performances from the juniors (Alex and Jay were seriously pushing some of the seasoned racers; Alison did a great job getting into slalom, and Ben was inspiring in his tenacity), added to the happy picture.

Results (and maybe even pictures - Michael Hildreth was out on the point with a _very_ big lens) soon at the VMG site.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Off to do some racing

After light Easterlies last weekend led to cancellation of our season opener, it looks like we might have better luck today. This morning, there are bright skies and a good breeze in Hood River, and the forecast looks promising - perhaps even slalom potential. Should be a good time!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dialing in the slalom stuff

That s&^t-eating grin on my face to the right (as captured by Shawn Davis)  pretty much says it all - I'm pretty happy with my slalom gear this year. I got my new Exo 71 just before my trip to the Bay Area, where it got put to good use on both the 7.1 and the 6.0, and since coming home, I've been able to sail it with the new 8.2 a couple times.

Some observations:
  • The board is almost stupid rangey - 8.2 feels really comfortable, and I'm sure it can easily pull off a 9.0. And it's really tuneable - when sailing it with the 8.2, the biggest fin I had at hand was a 42 (very sweet Finworks slalom fin - keep your eyes peeled for more on these soon). That's a bit small, but just moving the base forward an inch put everything into very nice balance. The board shines in 7.1 conditions - chop is eaten alive, and you can just keep on pushing. It's everything that I loved about the 67, but even more point and shoot.
  • The new 7.1  Sailworks NXsl is sweet. The previous 7.2 was an amazing sail. The 7.1 takes that to a higher level. It's still got the same range, but even better control at the high end, and more potential to juice it up for when it gets a little lighter. It's definitely an evolution on the 7.2, not a radical departure - and that refinement really shows. This is my go-to slalom size (last year, I raced all slalom on my 7.2), and I'm really stoked about this one. I'm surprised by how tuneable things are on the downhaul - the sail doesn't get all draggy if you let out a 1/2" of DH - it just powers up more. Lessons learned from the Hucker, I guess. And when you flatten it out for high end, it gets super slippery - but remains pumpable out of the jibes.
  • The 8.2 NXsl is remarkable. I've had a ton of fun on it in pretty marginal conditions, but when the wind picks up a bit, it doesn't feel that big. It's got the same happy demeanor as the 7.1, just in a bit bigger. This is a great companion for the new breed of bigger slalom boards. I was a bit surprised that I actually found some speeds around 32 knots in my track log - not bad for an 8.2 and a 71 liter board in open water, I'd say (especially since I wasn't really doing speed runs - this was just letting it fly off the breeze a bit on the way back in). This sail, together with the 118 liter Exo, is fully raceable in conditions that, if on formula, would still see me on my 10.8. 
This Saturday is the first Gorge Cup - or maybe I should say, this Saturday might be the first Gorge Cup, as the current forecast is for light Easterlies. Hopefully, that will change (fronts move fast this time of year). Cross your fingers for raceable conditions.