After two super-windy GorgeCups with at times epic slalom, the forecast for Saturday was calling for more of the same; alas, the clouds had pushed inland a bit further than predicted, and the Event Site was right on the bubble, with some big gusts coming through, but also some larget holes over much of where the slalom course would have been. That made it an easy call for the RC to run formula.
The course was a short upwind to a port rounding, downwind to the start pin for another port rounding, a reach around the boat, an upwind to a second, more distant upwind mark (and another port rounding), and then a downwinder to the start pin and a reach to the boat to finish (the picture, courtesy of Scotia's camera being used by Rick on the boat, shows me and MacRae reaching for the finish. At this point, I'd say we were comfortably powered; things would get more entertaining later on.)
That course layout, along with a significant port bias to the line, limited tactical options. Pretty much the whole fleet started port (with that short upwind leg, even if there'd not been as much port favor, the extra tack was too much penalty to try anything else). There was plenty of space to lay the mark with one jibe, so again no incentive to try something different on the first downwinder, and the reach at the bottom was pretty much a drag race. Tactics, then, came into how to position at the bottom mark for the longer upwind leg - pinch off the rounding to take the inside line, or duck people above to foot for speed and gain clean air, then pinch up from there?
That calculation only really came into play when rounding in very close proximity. On the first heat, I found Chris Prior and Bruce ahead of me by about 50 yards at the mark, with Chris pinching and Bruce footing; having nowhere to go on port tack that would provice clear air, I tacked off - and the lighter air and lack of current on the inside cost me big time, so it became clear that wasn't really a viable option.
The only place to worry about tactics, then, came into play with the layline for the upper windward mark (as you were quite far out when you had to make the call, and there was a lot of current, so people tended to overstand the mark a bit), and then on the second downwind - as the inside had lighter breeze and some big holes, it was a matter of either jibing off pretty soon to stay with higher pressure (but battle the current a bit more) versus going to the inside for flat water, no opposing current due to the eddy, and just hope to either dodge the holes or perhaps get the golden header puff off the shore.
The first couple heats had some light spots; most of the fleet were on 9.9's or 9.1's, and Bruce was looking for power on his 9.1. Chris Prior took full advantage of that and took the first two heats from him, with me coming in 3rd; Bruce then went up to his 9.9 and took the remaining heat (with the exception of #5, where both he and Chris were OCS). Chris showed that he's definitely a force to be reckoned with, giving Bruce some very spirited competition throughout the day.
The two of them were spot-on in their starts for most of the heats; Chris had amazing angle, while Bruce had his usual good angle paired with really good speed. I got myself stuck in the wrong place on the line several times, having to foot off for clear air and as a result missing out on the inside of the lift on port tack. That usually resulted in the two of them rounding windward first, and from there it was a parade to the end. Through the day, I found that I had good speed and, when I had things together, good angle upwind. My starts were not so great, so that's the next thing to work on.
After four heats, the breeze was definitely coming up a bit. We took a bit of a break, with Darren contemplating switching to slalom. There was a lot of pressure coming up the river - but by the time he had to make the call, there were still a bunch of holes on the course. Darren therefore made the only possible call, which was to stick with Formula; sure, the puffs were getting pretty massive, but running slalom at that point would have resulted in pretty inconsistent racing.
At the start of heat 5, however, the breeze definitely picked up a bit. Unfortunately, I ended up getting lifted out of the water on the first beat when I hit some stray chop just as a big gust came in. The crash that followed must have caused quite a splash; it took me a while to get out from under my gear and get myself sorted - at that point, there was no one left behind me, and it took me the whole race to claw my way back up to fifth (which, due to Bruce and Chris having been over early, turned to 3rd).
The breeze kept building for heat 6, and for #7, things were going positively ballistic. I stayed with Bruce and Chris throughout the course, and at the bottom mark, I was able to shoot out to leeward of them, footing off for clear air. Bruce was up and ahead; Chris was pinching on the inside but losing speed in the steep chop, and I had a clean lane below Bruce with good speed. Next time I looked back, Chris actually tacked off to look for smoother water inside. Usually, that would be a really bad idea; by now, though, it had gotten windy enough that the swell in the channel was getting really lumpy. I was having a pretty challenging time keeping things together and attempting to keep the foils working. Bruce, having switched back to his 9.1 a couple heats back, was clearly enjoying the easier handling of the smaller sail. When I tacked at the layline, things got really entertaining; spray was flying everywhere, and I ended up going sideways a fair bit. Chris made it to the mark at about the same time as I did, but I had the benefit of being fully up to speed going around the mark while he was pinching, so I got by him and was able to pull away a bit on the downwind, finishing that heat second behind Bruce (a nice end ot the day's racing after all 3rds).
Normally, going to the inside should have cost Chris big time, but as crazy as things got out in the channel, it was the probably the smart thing to do and almost worked out for him. If I had bobbled my tack, or had I not been able to hold it together after one of those spinouts on the long hairy starboard tack across the channel, he would have been long gone. The conditions out there on the last race sure made me feel good about investing a bunch of gym time into crosstraining, as it was pretty much a matter of grunting through it at that point.
Special shout-out to Ben and Fiona, youngest sailors of the day. Both of them finished all but the last heat (and #5 and 6 were getting pretty furry already); quite an accomplishment to get big formula boards around the course in those conditions when you're that small. Here's a picture (again, courtesy of Scotia and Rick) that puts things in perspective a bit on the size issue:
I got to do a little slalom sailing afterwards, which was nice. Given how tuckered I was after racing (especially those last few heats), and how windy it had gotten by this time (I was way maxed on my 7.1; a 6.2 and a smaller board would have been a much better fit), it ended up being a short session, but definitely some good practice ahead of Nationals next month. Interestingly, when I ran the course on my slalom gear, I found that my angles weren't that far off. Sure, upwind I was going a bit lower, and it might have required an additional tack to make the uppwer windward mark. Downwind, though, I was definitely going faster, and as long as I stayed in the breeze, at about the same angles (oh, and it was really fun rather than character-building). Food for thought for next month's Blowout.
Thanks to Scotia for organizing another flawless event. It sure would be nice if we could turnout up a bit; some of the usual suspects have been absent this season (yes, we know who you are, and we're planning interventions...) Some nice pictures taken off the boat by Rick during the first few heats (when things were still very civilized...): http://gallery.me.com/scotia#100059&view=grid&bgcolor=black&sel=54