Saturday, July 25, 2009

USWA Nationals - Day 2

More typical Gorge slalom conditions than yesterday's wild ride. The Men/Masters and Grand Masters fleet were split into Gold and Silver fleets, so finally all the top sailors got to compete against each other. Bruce Peterson dominated Gold Fleet racing - straight bullets, except one OCS (he and James Dinnis were both called over early in Heat 10), and a 3rd in Heat 11 where he got buried at the start and clawed his way past a bunch of pretty fierce competitors to challenge the leaders. James Dinnis was charging hard and giving Bruce some keen competition. MacRae Wylde and Chris Prior pushed hard as well and were always mixing it up there. From the Bay Area contingent, David Wells and Steve Bodner were contending with the leaders; Steve took the bullet when both Bruce and James were over early.

Bruce and James provided very instructional sailing all day long. They both had great speed and displayed great starting acumen (they were both over early once - in slalom, if you're never OCS, you're simply not pushing hard enough). Bruce tended to own the advantaged position at the pin end of the line; that move works only if you can be confident that you have enough speed not to get rolled even by people running at a broader angle from above. And both did some beautiful jibing.

There was a bit of contrast in technique, though. James was pulling wide, g-force laydown jibes in the Anders Bringdal tradition. Bruce, on the other hand, varied his technique, but usually made his jibes a bit tighter, especially the exit, while not giving up any exit speed. In the rare instance that he's not the first going into a mark, that usually allows him to get inside the other guy and get up front. In today's racing, that played out only once between him and James, after a start that resulted in a general recall. James was ahead getting into the first mark (before they figured out that the fleet had been recalled) and did a very fast, wide, laydown jibe. Bruce went into the mark a bit higher and wider and exited right at the mark, getting by James on the inside. That's when they both sheeted out and went back to the boat, having noticed the recall, so we didn't get to see that one play out. Would have been fun to see if Bruce could have punched through. It certainly set him up well for the second jibe (as the second reach is tighter, and he had a higher line).

Those jibes were what allowed Bruce to recover from (uncharacteristically) getting buried in the last heat of the day; he made up a lot of ground against a bunch of pretty fast sailors. It's hard to pass on a reach - but Bruce was able to sneak by people on the turns. I guess the lesson is to work those transitions (yes, including tacks - the one tack on the outside in the Gorge box slalom/M-course format tends to be a great opportunity for those who have their short board tacks down solid).

In the Silver Fleet, Torsten Tabel and Jeff Fagerholm were duking it out; in all of the melee, though, one sailor truly stood out. Ben Bamer, after having sat out the first day in the wild conditions (they just don't do slalom in Berkeley...), lined up with the field on his formula board and 10.0. We've seen people do well on Formula gear in the Gorge slalom in the old days, when the upwind leg was more significant, especially on light and patchy days. Friday, however, was nothing like that - the slalom sailors got close to being able to tack right on the mark, and the breeze was pretty filled in (no one was using anything bigger than 7.1, I believe, with most sailors on 6.0-6.5). Despite the lower board speed of that setup, the wider jibes required, and the control issues when power reaching, Ben stuck with the slalom guys; I'm sure that was really good strength training...

The juniors and women's fleet showed a lot of good close racing. Jay Watermeyer is clearly leading that field with strong, consistent sailing; Aaron Cardwell and Alex Nielsen were duking it out for second. There were a lot of really tight races between those three, with Jay usually getting a bit of an advantage through tighter jibes and clean tacking.

Marion Lepert led not only the junior girls, but the women overall as well, with Alyson Fromm in second for the juniors (and still in front of some accomplished, older racers). And then let's not forget the fact that those two (ages 13 and 15), as well as Ben Grodner (age 13) raced all day on Thursday and finished their heats despite the truly crazy conditions. And the Technos came out today, too. It certainly wasn't their kind of conditions, and the kids had to work it pretty hard to get those big boards around the course in what for them were very windy conditions. They all showed some serious guts, though.

And that really gets me to the main story of these Nationals. Between the junior fleet and the Technos, there are 22 sailors age 17 and under on the water. That's out of 68 competitors so far (there are a bunch more in the wings waiting for Formula, as they don't have slalom gear or don't race slalom). These kids are energetic, enthusiastic, and they've all displayed enormously quick progress in their skills. Personally, I'm incredibly stoked to be part of a sport where an experienced guy in his mid-40's can dominate a fleet, and where a bunch of young guns are charging it this hard. Despite the bummer factor of having to sit out the rest of the regatta (and, actually, the racing season) with a cast on my leg, that makes me feel pretty good about things.

I won't be able to report on Saturday's or Sunday's racing, as I got an opportunity to hitch a ride home today (with my left foot in a cast, driving a standard and pulling a trailer for over 300 miles just didn't seem like such a good idea). The forecast for today was for Formula conditions, and despite earlier predictions of a stifling heat wave, even Sunday looks like it will have raceable conditions. Check the VMG Events site for results. The slideshow below has some shots from the junior/women's, silver, and gold fleets that I took from the bluff before I needed to get my leg elevated and iced again; there are links to more pictures at VMG Events.

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