Sunday, July 19, 2009

2009 Gorge Blowout

What a fun race - normally, the Blowout is known as an epic downwinder from Stevenson to the Event Site. That's roughly 17 miles upriver, and since there often is pretty light breeze in Stevenson, and there often are big holes in the wind around the Narrows (just west of Viento), you usually end up massively overpowered once you hit the corridor east of Viento on whatever gear you had to choose to make it through those light places.

This year, conditions were more even - or maybe it only seemed that way, given the incredible range of the gear I was using. Last year, I had serious gear envy; Dale and I had both been running formula gear (Dale on 9.1, I on 9.9), and Bruce, rigging away from the crowd, surprised us on the start line with his big slalom board and 8.2, then proceeded to sneak through the light spots, leave me behind like I was standing still in the windy corridor and almost got Dale. This year, with my Warp Slalom 71 and 8.2 NXsl, with a 42cm Finworks slalom pro, I was properly equipped to overcome that gear envy - and I was amazed at how well this setup was doing compared to the formula gear near the start (where I had to milk it a bit and pump some to battle for clean lanes) - but once it filled in a bit, it was one long, fun ride down to the Event Site.

The committee-boat-as-rabbit start in Stevenson came off pretty cleanly - big holes on the Washington Shore, so it paid off to foresake some of the usual advantage of starting down the line and stay in the breeze in the channel. Within a few minutes, Dale was ahead, Bruce in second, with me and MacRae following. The formula guys (Stephane, Jay, Britt) stayed with us for a while, until things picked up a bit a few miles upriver. Until Viento, and even afterwards, there were a couple times that I actually crossed in front of Bruce, and I had speed and angle with him, but most of the time he was clearly ahead. Home Valley was really windy, and things were patchy and squirrely around Dog Mountain, with Bruce doing a better job of taking advantage of the opportunities in those conditions, slowly but surely putting a bit of distance between us. Meanwhile, MacRae was an ever-looming presence behind me, charging hard and sailing ever consistently with good speed and clean jibes.

Jibing around the mark at Viento (where the first sailor, Dale, served as the rabbit for the start of the Junior Blowout), I got a big kick out of seeing the juniors take off - Allyson, Ben, and Fiona were leading that pack and looking really strong. The big surprise came in the corridor; approaching Swell City, instead of the expected spray fest, the wind was actually pretty light again. The rec sailors were mostly slogging on their 4-ish sails as we came through, and it wasn't until past the Hatchery, towards the bottom of Wells Island, that the breeze picked back up.

Bruce got pretty close to Dale there for a while, but got a little too aggressive about the Oregon Shore at the bottom of the course I think - looked like he got briefly parked in lulls a couple times. In the end, Dale won in 59.07 (pretty close to the course record, I think), Bruce was just behind him (I think the gap was less than 20 seconds!), and I came in 3rd at 1:01:10. MacRae wasn't far behind either in fourth. Full results and some pictures should be up on the VMG Events site soon (I'll post a link when they're up). Full disclosure on the picture above - that wasn't actually from the Blowout, but was taken a couple days earlier by my wife on the same spot on the Event Site jetty where she was helping finish competitors during the race. Since I was on the same setup, it seemed appropriate to use it...

There were 56 competitors in this year's edition. Some standouts:
  • Marion Lepert (13!) ran the full course and won the women's division well in front of Farrah Hall. She ran an Exocet Formula board with, I believe, a 7.2 Sailworks NXsl. Oh yes, she also kicked quite a bit of grown-up male rear-end in the process. To the credit of all those men she beat in the race, they all were genuinely stoked for her.
  • Ben and Allyson, who won the boys and girls divisions, respectively, of the Junior Blowout - and looked really strong in the process. Allyson, by the way, was out sailing some more shortly after finishing, taking advantage of the beautiful conditions.
  • Fiona, who completed her first junior Blowout - on a Starsurfer. She was hanging with Allyson until around Swell City, where she got tripped up by a gnarly barge wake and really wrenched herself a bit. She persevered, however, and finished the race, displaying some serious grit.
  • Jay Watermeyer won the junior division on the full course from Stevenson in a pretty convincing manner.
  • The juniors in general; I'll have to check the results when they come on-line, but I suspect that almost 1/3 of the fleet was under 18.
  • The freestyle guys - Tyson Poor and Casey Hauer, sailing unfamiliar slalom gear and doing very well, thank you very much. Tyson was later seen sailing at the Event Site some more - again on his slalom setup. Perhaps we'll see more of these guys on the course soon?
  • Pieter Botha, who gets the McGyver award for the day. He sailed a really nice, solid race all the way down to just before the Event Site, then broke his mast. He then disconnected his base, stood on the board, and held the rig, aiming for the finish. It was slow going, but he made good steady progress; then, 50 meters or so before crossing the line, a kiter dragged his stuff right into him and Pieter got entangled in the lines - so he ended up swimming for a while to get his gear liberated, then had to swim around the kiter, and by now was downwind from the finish line so he had to swim/paddle back up and around the mark. I'm sure he expended more energy on that finish than he did on the whole rest of the race, but he sure showed some serious determination.
  • Pepi, who managed a top 10 finish - on a Prodigy!
A note on gear choices; a few years ago, the front of the fleet switched from slalom gear to formula gear for this race. This was before my first entry, but I'd speculate that with the slalom gear of the time, the formula stuff just had way better range, allowing you to survive the big breeze in the corridor and just trucking away from the small gear in the light spots. Last year, Bruce in 2nd and MacRae in 4th demonstrated that modern slalom gear with its big range can equalize that gap in the light stuff, and is still way faster when it's windy (last year, I was in front of Bruce until we got into the corridor; from then on, it was simply no contest).

My experience this year was a bit of a revelation. Yes, it's a bit of work in the light stuff - but given that they had to run sails smaller than 10m to ensure survival in the windy spots, the formula guys didn't have much angle (and certainly no speed) on us in the light stuff near the start. Turn out, a big slalom board with a big sail has tremendous glide. And once you get into the breeze and swell, the shorter outlines and curvier rockers of today's slalom boards do a lot better than formula boards - and tons better than those long, flat, narrow slalom boards of years gone by. And while deep downwind runs through large swell with big gusts can be a bit hair-raising even on modern slalom gear, there's a lot less resistance than when you punch a formula setup through those kinds of conditions. Sure made for an enjoyable ride.

Next up are Nationals Thursday through Sunday. The forecast looks great. Before then, I get to help out at Bruce's Junior Race Camp Monday/Tuesday - the kids are already displaying an enormous amount of stoke, so I can't wait.

1 comment:

James Douglass said...

Sounds like it was an awesome race. You were super close to Bruce and Dale, and super close to the 1 hour mark! Also, very cool that some juniors and usually-freestyle sailors made their mark. I can't wait to get the Gorge next month. I hope there's still wind.