Thursday, July 22, 2010

US Nationals - Day 3


What a day - a bit of everything, which is just why racing is a lot like life in general. The RC announced that we'd do a noon start for long distance, then run slalom at 3. That was met with a healthy sense of skepticism on the beach, as the fog was deeply entrenched and the breeze was light. Sure enough, though, with the onset of the ebb the sky cleared quite a bit and the wind picked up, and we had a sequence scheduled for 12:30. After two general recalls caused by much of the fleet over early (hey guys - lay off the coffee in the morning, will ya?!), the black flag went up, John Craig read the sailors the riot act, and around 1 we rolled got off a good start. The course was a short upwind to a windward mark off Presidio Shoals, a downwind through a gate off Point Blunt and down to a leeward mark off Treasure Island, then the upwind back through the gate and finishing in front of the St. Francis clubhouse.

I got excellent port starts each time, including the third one that counted, so I was stoked. I made it to the windward mark in something like 7th or 8th - stoked again. The picture above, one of many taken and made available - again - by Shawn Davis (go by pictures - the guy is great, and he's providing a real service to our little community!), shows me going upwind off one of those starts. The downwind was a bit rough, as the breeze was light, and since we had to pass inside the stationary mark off the St. Francis, jibing out into the better breeze was not an option. I lost maybe a place on the way to the club, but was in excellent position and feeling pretty good about things. Then I jibed, and I was pumping to pop the cams, one of them did pop a bit too much - right off the mast. This was the one that had popped off the mast in my crash yesterday, and in all the bustle to repair the board I neglected to check it.

If you look closely, you can see the lip of the cam body bent out of shape and the roller on that side pushed inside - subtle, but enough to make the cam pop when jibing the sail with the outhaul all the way released. I tried to use my foot to nudge it back into place while planing out of my jibe - and of course ended up swimming. I tried the same thing again after the next jibe, with the same result. By now, we were in the rough water between Alcatraz and the city front, and while I was doing OK on starboard (with the cam to leeward, the sail was plenty bagged out), I was losing angle and speed on port. Not good, but I figured that swimming to fix it was even slower, especially since with the outhaul off, it was likely to pop again. Between swimming after my mis-begotten cam repair stunts and my slow/high line on port, I ended up losing a bunch of places - it seemed like the whole fleet was going by me. At the leeward mark, when pushing back up, I noticed that I was way off the angle of the guys in front of me - whom I'd easily outpointed earlier. Plus on port, the sail was off-balance with the cam to windward in the sleeve - making the ride through the steep chop off IT even more uncomfortable. At this point, I'd had it - I dropped the sail, cranked on the outhaul, opened the sleeve zip and, after a fair amount of grunting and cursing, got the cam back on the mast - where it happily stayed until the end of the race, assisted by outhaul tension. The rest of the upwind was great - I picked up something like seven or eight boards - mostly through good speed and angle, but also three at the end by calling an aggressive layline to the finish (with a good assist by the ebb).

I ended up somewhere in 20th or 21st - which dropped me down to 18th in the formula standings (the long distance counted for two heats). At the top of the fleet, Phil McGain apparently owned this one.

And then we actually did start a slalom competition. The fleet was divided into groups of around 8 sailors each; each groups will sail five heats to qualify sailors for the final round, which will then run another five heats. Things got a little flukey, with the southerly off the hills messing with the westerly flow through the gate close to shore where the course was laid. This was OK for the first round of heats, though, and when things got way too light, the RC pulled the plug, with the qualifying rounds to continue tomorrow. My heat went off with decent pressure; I was on 8.2 and my 42 fin, which gave me good speed. Combined with a clean start, I got to the first mark in first, with CRad and Tyson Poor giving chase. Things were getting light, and I had to pump like crazy out of the next three jibes to stay ahead. Then, just before the fourth jibe mark, we hit a big hole. Tyson was right behind me, setting up higher. I tried to push up to make sure he didn't sneak inside me, but didn't have the power to make the happen, with the small-ish fin smearing off. So I had to take the jibe wider, and he did his catlike smooth jibing thing too get to the inside, then simply out-accelerated me and carried it into the finish for the bullet. He definitely earned that one - kudos to him.

This shot, again by Shawn Davis, was the first jibe after the start during practice before the racing. You can see that it's getting suspiciously flat there on the inside. I was scurrying around getting gear ready after my heat, testing out a bigger fin to see if it was controllable in the puffs (didn't want to be caught again unable to push up to jockey for position at the mark), so I didn't witness much of the other heats. Notable result of the day, however, was Fiona Wylde getting a second in the women's heat - nice going and an excellent performance, especially when you remember that she's only 13 years old. Did I mention that I'm really proud of our Gorge juniors?
Tomorrow will probably bring at least one or two course races early, and the hopefully a bit more slalom. There's also supposed to be a freestyle competition, which should make for great entertainment - the level of the assembled freestylers is pretty amazing and should make for great viewing, even if I can never figure out what those tricks are.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

US Nationals - Day 2

Wow, I'm tuckered out. Tough day at the office, but also some really fun and challenging racing. We started a bit late as there seemed to be trouble with the windward mark; that kind of thing is pretty commonplace in racing, but at the St. Francis, it's notable, if only because it pretty much never happens. These guys have running races down to a science, and after that little glitch, everything was back to the usual precision. The delay gave the breeze some more time to fill in, so by the time heat 1 got under way, I was glad I was on my 9.1.

I had another good port start; a bit further down the line than I would have liked, but the starboard starters were charging down the line and really pushing it, so I looked for a gap near the boat, found one, got clean air, and was off. Being low didn't bother me, as the ebb was stronger outside. Then the gun sounded again and the general recall flag went up -or so I thought. Instead, that was the flag for the individual recall, and as I was slowly tacking and getting ready to head back, I realized that everyone else was still charging. Oops - that probably cost me something like a dozen places, as now I got stuck in the dirty air of the guys who had done their homework and knew their flags. Oh well, another lesson.

As I was making my way to the windward mark, I was slowly working my way back up through the fleet. At the mark, I was coming in pretty hot just as MacRae was pinching up to it after having called a pretty tight layline. As I was going by him, I thought I had enough space, but then I got hit with a puff as I was passing him, my fin lifted me out of the water, and I got launched over the bars, taking MacRae out in the process. What a bummer - taking anyone out is because of a stupid mistake is bad enough, but doing that to a friend and teammate is even worse. Luckily, nobody got hurt, no gear was broken, so we got back on our boards and went on. He was definitely extremely gracious and forgiving about the whole thing. The picture below shows the moment just as I'm about to go over the bars, with the clew of my booms then getting tangled up in MacRae's rig. Bummer. With all that, race 1 ended up with in 20th place. Not really what I had in mind, but better than a DNF (which could have easily happened given that incident at the mark).

That picture, by the way, is another one of Shawn Davis' shots. The guy does great work, and he spends hours on the boat to get these pictures of us (I'm getting seasick watching the boats bob around like that, plus it's *cold* out there). So if you're racing this event, or you're sailing at Crissy Field, be sure to check Shawn's site and be extra sure to buy any shots you really like - support your local sports photographer!

Race 2 saw a bit more breeze, and while overall the ebb was decreasing, there was a lot of lumpy water around - classic Crissy Field voodoo chop. After a general recall (for real this time) I got another good port start with clean air and made it to the windward mark in the top 10 - needless to say, I was stoked. On the way down, Steve Sylvester was chasing me, and at some point we came up on a ferry boat. He went low, I went high - and then realized what he was doing - while I was bouncing around on the steep side of the wake, he got the smooth side and left me in the dust. Yep, experience is not a disadvantage in this sport. I reeled in a couple of people on the second upwind, then was forced to foot off at the leeward mark due to traffic at the rounding, leaving the door open for a couple others to get me. In the end, it was 12th, with a reversal of yesterday's photo finish with Eric (he got me then, I got him today). This was more like it.

Then came a long break, as the RC had to wait for two large container ships to come through the eastern shipping lane on their way to Oakland. Man, those things are big! The breeze had picked up another notch, but now it was starting to flood at the start line and over much of the course. I ended up starting on port and having to duck almost the whole fleet, but got clean air again. I made a decent layline call, overstanding just enough to be comfortable that I would avoid having to double tack in the flood and came into the mark hot. I passed Fernando Martinez at the mark, as he had under-stood the mark and was struggling around it. Accelerating down the course, I did a quick tally and found that I was definitely in the top 10 - yeah. And then I got a huge puff just as I hit some steep/short chop and went over the handlebars - hard. David Well, who was following, reported feet pointing straight up, and just before I hit the water I heard the sickening crunching sound of carbon getting smashed by a hard object - my mast split the nose of my board open (the impact actually knocked one of the cams off the mast - never had that happen before). No injuries, though, so that was lucky; I retired from the race and hustled back to shore for a quick combat repair, but the RC called racing for the day after that heat - good thing, because I had only applied the first layer of super-glue and glass when it would have been time to get back out.

Tomorrow we'll most likely run long distance to Treasure Island and back, followed by another course race or possibly slalom (wouldn't that be cool...). Off to bed now - I'm pretty much wiped out. Instead of moving up from 14th (results here - Waterhound should have a report up soon, too), I've now slipped down to 16th. Tomorrow should bring three scores and another throwout - we'll see where that goes. I'm pretty happy with my speed, and my tactics on the course seem to be reasonably effective as well. Just have to cut down on the mishaps a bit ;)

US Nationals - Day 1


Nationals got off to a good start yesterday. Conditions were cold, foggy, and a bit gusty. Nice big fleet, including a great group of juniors. David Wells has excellent coverage at Waterhound (if you haven't checked out that site, you really should!), and Shawn Davis not only has his usual professional-grade pictures up for viewing and purchase, but also graciously makes them available for embedding (that's where that picture above came from).

I had an interesting day. Usually in big events, I get myself buried at the starts until I find a way to pick my way through the chaos later on. Yesterday, I had four excellent starts (all on port), but then had a bit of difficulty carrying that through the heat. Race 1 was an unmitigated disaster - after rounding the top mark in the top 10 (I was stoked!), I gambled on the Southerly coming off the shore for the downwind and then got stuck in a hole on the inside that was hard to see coming with the confused water state there; then I way overstood the windward mark on the second lap, ending up in 28th.

Race 2 got a little better; not quite so good out of the gates, having to dive under a bunch of guys pointing higher than me, and generally not really putting it together on the course, but moving up to 18th. Race 3 saw me in the top 10/12 until the first downwind mark. Then I made a bad call, trying to squeeze inside of Bodner. Not sure what possessed me, since he tends to point a bunch higher than me, so he probably would have climbed up and pinched me off anyway, so I should have just taken the wider lane and passed him. Instead, trying to squeeze by on the inside, he closed the door and the nose of my board made contact with his clew, and I had to do my spins to exonerate myself from fouling him. That dropped my back into 15th, but at least things seemed to be getting better.

In race 4, I changed down to my 9.1, and that made a huge difference. All of a sudden, things felt right, and my angle got a little better (I had been footing and going fast compared to the guys around me all day; now I was still going fast, but not losing quite as much angle anymore). I got another great start (helped partially by the easier handling of the smaller sail) and managed to just not make any real mistakes all race long. I was pretty stoked to finish 8th in this pretty heavily stacked fleet (that one actually came down to almost a photo finish; I was reeling in Eric Christiansen on the way to the line, and when we pushed into the finish, neither he nor I knew who'd taken it).

At this point, Paolo dos Reis, who came in second at the Worlds, is leading the event ahead of Phil McGain, who's looking lean and strong and seems unaffected by sailing a 5 year old board and not having done any formula racing or training for several years - quite an impressive performance. Wilhelm Schurman (reigning lightweight world champ) is rounding out the top 3. Seth Besse is putting in an impressive showing as well, placing fifth, right between visiting formula rock stars Aurelien and Fernando.

Our Gorge juniors are doing really well with the challenging conditions; their racing is just as competitive with each other as what's going on at the front of the fleet. Great group of kids, for sure. They sure have reason to be proud of themselves.

I'm sitting in 14th right now (4th Masters). Today's plan is looking for two more course races early, then a long distance race counting for two heats in the standings (it wouldn't be SF Bay without long distance). The RC has been doing an awesome job running the heats, keeping us out of the shipping traffic, and setting the course to be fair despite the serious shifts in wind direction. And the St. Francis Yacht Club has once again rolled out the red carpet (nothing quite like a sauna after a day on the bay...).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wonder what the guy at the rental counter would have said...

You know it's regatta time when heavily overloaded rental cars start showing up at Crissy Field. Roof racks? We don't need no steeenkin' roof racks!

Got to SF yesterday, met up with the rest of the Gorge Cup fleet today. Good showing - five juniors (Fiona, Alyson, Ben, Jay, Alex), MacRae, Tavis. Bunch of Gorge freestylers down here for the Nationals as well; some of them might even do slalom. Went out today for a few runs with MacRae, Fiona and Alyson to shake out the legs. The girls were doing great despite the gusty/flukey conditions (the fog was well inside the bay today).

The fleet is pretty stacked with visiting rock stars and hot local sailors. Looks like at least 50 sailors. Racing starts tomorrow; Waterhound should be the best bet for good coverage.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gorge Cup - DaKine Downwind Slalom

Excellent day of racing at the Event Site. We ran round robins (let's see, heat one is A-B, heat two is C-D, heat three is ADHD...), so everyone got to race a ton. The course was set really well with no super tight or broad leg. Conditions started out with raging high-wind slalom (I was lit on 6.2, Bruce and MacRae were on 5.4 and not lacking for power either).

Split into four fleets, we got two complete 6-heat rounds off. The wind got quite a bit sketchier then (I ended up using the 7.1 and the big board - which turned out to be a good decision), and we got four heats in the third round before we had to call it a day.

The juniors did great; Jay Watermeyer in particular showed that it's time to move up to the men's fleet (probably right after Nationals), but most impressive were the younger kids who really showed that they learned a lot yesterday at the clinic, and who were relentless despite the challenging conditions. These kids are definitely ready for Nationals.

Bruce won the day (yes, it's still his river). Jac LeRoux sailed very consistently, with good speed, good starts, and solid jibing and tactics to edge me out for second; I ended up in third, with MacRae breathing down my neck - very tight points standings between the three of us, reflecting the very fun, competitive racing.

Now off to SF for Nationals. I can sure use the rest day, even if it's spent on the road. So far, this little adventure is shaping up great.

Results and pictures should come up soon on the VMG Events site - I'll link from here when they're availalble.

Friday, July 16, 2010

2010 Sailworks Junior Clinic

What a great bunch of kids - Bruce put on his annual junior clinic today, shortened to one day due to this year's compressed racing schedule with Nationals in SF next week. It was cranking windy this morning, making for epic slalom conditions - and the kids just ate it up. Tons of jibing practice; with a kid-to-coach ratio around 2:1 or so, there was lots of opportunity to interact, and there was some marked improvement and lots of learning. After lunch, things slowed down a lot with the breeze becoming really patchy, so we were all glad we got out on the water early. These kids will all be racing in the Gorge Cup tomorrow, and unlike us coaches, they'll of course be fully recovered ;)

Kudos to Bruce for the time and effort he put into this - it's definitely a great service to the future of the sport. These kids rock - and most of them will be at Nationals next week. Can't wait to see them continuing to excel!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Just a little bit further...

Go ahead, click on that picture. That's BP, slogging out on his smallest slalom board (my guess is about 75 liters) and 5.4. And it's not an optical illusion - he really is in the water up to his butt. At this point, he's been at it for about 7 or 8 minutes, displaying good balance, a fair bit of determination, and good slogging technique. This was taken Sunday, and while there was a lot of moaning at New Beach (the launch to the west of the Event Site, which was closed to windsurfers for a charity kiteboarding and SUP event) because of how the wind had died, it was still going off up at the Hatchery; in fact, Bruce was on a full plane about one minute later in, and wasn't seen until riding a lucky puff back down from up there well over an hour later.

I sailed for about 4 hours on Saturday in multiple sessions on my 6.2, slowly growing my high-wind slalom cojones back (I was still a bit sketched out after breaking my ankle last summer in those conditions). The wind meter at Swell City read 20-40, and that about summarizes the conditions pretty well - up at the Red Nunn off the Hatchery, there was never a moment where I wouldn't plane, but there were plenty of moments of holding on for dear life. Slalom sailing in rough water and big winds can be character building, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. What's more, there were those sweet patches of smooth water for hero jibes right above Wells Island on the OR shore, as well as the occasional well-formed swell that would make for beautiful mach-speed broad reaches starboard tack from Wells Island all the way back to the launch.

All in all a great day of sailing; can't wait to do it again soon. Things are getting pretty jam-packed here in the next few weeks - junior clinic on Friday, Gorge Cup on Saturday, then Nationals in SF next week. Looks like summer is finally here ;)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Family picture


Good day of sailing in Hood River. Got a chance to use every piece of
slalom gear I own as conditions built during the day. Warm enough to
sail in boardshorts, too - gotta love the Gorge.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

2010 Blowout

An interesting one. Good breeze at Stevenson, so I rigged my Exo 71 and 8.2 NXsl. Bruce was going slalom as well, as were MacRae and Jay Salzman. Jay Watermeyer was going slalom with an 8.5 Retro, and Sean Williams and Aaron Cardwell went formula. As we watched the conditions fill in some more, MacRae and I commented about how either we or the juniors were making a mistake here, as it seemed they were rigging awfully big...

Blasting around to warm up/tune up, the gear felt great; maybe the 40 fin was a touch small to track off the breeze. Then, after a jibe, I hit a plastic bag, went over the bars, and ended up putting a hole through my sail. Luckily, Bruce was able to help me out with a loaner 8.2, so I still got on the water in plenty of time for the start. Phew.

Start didn't go off until 11.15, which was worrisome - but the breeze held at Stevenson, and it was a really nice ride all the way to the narrows. Bruce was leading; MacRae and I were fighting it out for 2nd position at this point. Fun ride.

Coming up to the Narrows, it got light, but we were still planing. And all of a sudden, there was Jay Watermeyer, showing good speed and, through the lulls, passing both MacRae and me and catching up with Bruce. Looked like he made the right call at this point - but surely, once we got to Viento, things would become interesting. Except, they didn't - there was some slogging through the Narrows, then a bit of breeze coming into Viento, and then the wind just died. At this point, Bruce and Jay were up front catching the occasional remainder puff, MacRae and I were slogging and falling further behind them, and Aaron and Sean were catching up on their formula stuff. The next 40 minutes or so were character-building, as there was hardly any breeze, interspersed with the occasional lucky puff that would shuffle the standings a bit. At times, MacRae and I were less then 200' from each other, with one of us able to pump onto a plane and the other just dead in the water. Aaron and Sean slowly passed at this point, and as the little puffs allowed them to plane up sooner and milk it longer on their big gear, they soon dropped us.

Finally, we make it to the corridor, and the breeze fills in from downriver (as I see Bill C. approach from behind, with a whole host of sailors at his tail). I'm lucky to catch it before MacRae, who's a little further to the OR side at this point, and get to ride it from there. At this point, one of the aluminum clamps on my front boom end shears off as I pump out of a jibe; the boom gets a bit wobbly but seems to hold - so from now on the mantra is to sail smoothly.

The conditions cooperate with that - it's breezy enough to maintain a plane, but things are really tame, so no undue stress is put on my boom. I ride the rather weakish breeze down the corridor to the Event Site, reeling in Sean but not Aaron, and breathe a sigh of relief to make it down there without the boom giving in (phew again), finishing fourth overall, 2nd Master, in 1.52.24. Almost 50 minutes slower than last year - yep, that was about the amount of time spent slogging and doing the hula, pumping like made for every little puff. At the start, I was joking with some of the SUP racers (who did the course from Viento) that they should look into putting sails on those boards, since it made the whole thing a lot easier. In the end, given all the pumping, there were times when SUP'ing would have seemed like the easier way to go ;)

Results at the VMG web site - I'll post a link to pictures as they become available. Overall, I'm pretty stoked with this year's race. Kudos to our juniors - three of them finishing in the top 5. Jay, Aaron and Sean all made smart gear picks (and didn't let the choices made by Bruce, me, or MacRae influence their decisions). Then they proceeded to sail really well, definitely earning their top finishes. Way to go, guys - time to drop the junior classification and sail in the men's fleet!

Speaking of juniors - the younger Juniors starting at Viento sure had a rough time of it. It was windy there until just before Bruce came through to lead off their rabbit start - and then it died on them with a vengeance. They had all rigged for the expected windy conditions in the corridor, so they certainly had their work cut out for them. Way to stick it out - they all showed a lot of perseverance that day.

Honorable mention for the most impressive finish to Pieter and Chris, who went on a Gemini tandem. As they were planing through the finish line, they entertained the beach (fully packed - it was Windfest) with a well-choreographed dismount. Nice crash, guys - I haven't sailed a tandem since the 80's, but seeing the front sailor taken out by the rear rig like that sure brought back some memories.

Winner of the day, however, was Dale Cook, whose baby daughter was born that morning - congrats Sonya and Dale, and welcome Bella!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Object lesson on barging - Any questions?


Check out this screenshot from a video taken by Jean Rathle. Then scroll down to the video. Watch from about 2 minutes in and witness Steve B. taking out Al M. Steve was definitely barging here (pretty common thing in formula fleets). You'll notice that in his race report, Steve doesn't really dwell on things here - he clearly recognized he fouled Al (which is why he did his circles), and because it took him a while to sort things out after the yardsale, he had a crappy race.

Not to pick on Steve here; he's a seasoned racer, and he tried to walk that fine line between not running into people and not being over early. I'm sure he would have pushed up (and taken the OCS) rather than crash - if he could have. But it looks like he either didn't see Al, or things were happening too fast for him to process and react. Same with Al - it's pretty clear that even though he's looking up, Steve was in his blind spot and caught him completely by surprise, so he never had a chance to take evasive action, and while he apparently had a remarkable recovery to take second in that race (way to go, Al), I'm sure he realizes how lucky he was that nothing more serious happened.

I said above that barging is pretty common in formula fleets. It's also a pretty risky strategy - if you're coming down the line at speed, fully lit with the fin loaded up, you have limited ability to take evasive action. So if someone pushes you up, you often can't go below and around them, and you end up going over early instead. If things go wrong in your evasive action, you're now forcing the other guy (who has the right of way) to take evasive action and mess up his start. Or you crash, which is really slow under the best of circumstances, or could get someone hurt if you're not so lucky.

For slower fleets (keel boats, slower dinghies), barging almost never works - you can pretty much rely on someone to come up below you and push you hard, and in competitive fleets, bargers will get pushed into premature starts almost every time. In formula, that's a bit different - there's a serious risk in pushing a barger up, and as Rob Hartman used to point out, swimming is indeed the slowest point of sail, and who wants to get hurt or get their gear smashed up and sit out the rest of the regatta?

That has led to barging being ubiquitous in formula racing - especially in local races (big, aggressive fleets at major events tend to close the door at the boat, so bargers usually don't even get a chance to run down the line - they end up peeling off to avoid getting pushed into the committee boat). And sometimes, that can lead to a situation where if you set up for a proper start, you end up getting screwed in the process - so even seasoned racers might choose to be part of the happy parade of bargers zooming down the line at speed.

Just remember that when you're barging, you're taking a pretty significant amount of risk. S&*t will happen sooner or later when you barge, and if it does, you had better be prepared to bail. Don't count on the people below you to just acquiesce and be cowed - sometimes, they'll push back. I don't have a problem with racers taking risk, as long as it's reasonable given their skill and the conditions (Steve B., for example, can usually be counted on to be in control, so I wouldn't hesitate to push up on him a little - if that makes him OCS, tough luck, and I'm sure he wouldn't complain about it).

Just as long as we all remember that at the speeds we're going, and given all the pointy/sharp/hard bits on our gear, cutting it too close can have some pretty nasty consequences. It's not a contact sport, after all.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gorge Cup - 2010 Season Opener

Victoria Day weekend in the Gorge - and just to make all those visiting Canadians (plus your humble narrator from Bellingham, which is nearly up there as well) feel right at home, the Gorge was dishing out frontal conditions - gusty winds, clouds (we kept waiting for rain, but were spared), and chilly temps (I doubt it broke 50 while we were racing). Participation was a bit low, as most racers still seemed to be in hibernation - I think we got all of twelve people onto the water. Hey - where were you guys?

After feeling out the top of the course, I decided to go with the 9.1 to ensure survival up there, knowing that it would be a bit sketchy at the bottom, especially downwind. Hoping for the lucky puff on the inside was not going to be an option. I started on starboard for Race 1, but was a little further down the line than I wanted (it's been a long time since last season...). Bruce was the only port tacker to clear me; MacRae and Jay had to duck. I stayed in the breeze and made it to the windward mark in 2nd behind Bruce. He went inside, I jibed off to stay in the breeze. Apparently, being mayor of the Event Site does buy you the private glory puff whenever you need it, as he was still ahead of me at the bottom rounding, and we held those positions for the second lap. On the second upwind, I noticed that I was able to stay in clean air on the inside of Bruce, climbing a little on him but going a wee bit slower. That's a new one, as usually he pinches a bit more. The big fin I ran must have had something to do with that. On the second downwind, the guys following ran into some light spots, so it was Bruce comfortably in first, me in 2nd, and then Stephane and MacRae.

Race 2 then turned up the lottery factor a fair bit. I was again starting starboard, and I was alone on that side of the course except for Fiona. I positioned myself right at the boat, since it had gotten really patchy, and I didn't want to be too far out. Good thinking, but not sufficient - the wind at the boat shut off, while there was a puff at the pin end propelling the port starters over the line. I didn't get planing and over the line until something like almost 10 seconds after the horn. Then, however, I got a fair bit of breeze, made a lucky call to tack early instead of taking my chances on the inside, and made it from almost dead last at the start to 3rd or 4th at the windward mark. Skittish about the light patches on the inside, I jibed off and rode the breeze all the way down through the channel. That did get me to the leeward mark in 2nd, but just before getting there, the breeze shut off on me.

As I was slogging the last 20 yards to the mark, I was joined by MacRae, Tavis, and Jay, who had gone inside, but then jibed off as things got light and found breeze in the channel as well. We all rounded in one big cluster, and this is when things got downright aerobic. Being furthest to windward, I didn't quite have enough power to get onto a plane and to be able to bear off for the reach around the bottom end of the course. MacRae waited for the second puff, pumped up, and was gone, along with Jay, starting the upwind leg well ahead of me. The second lap saw is in those positions, and while I was working it pretty hard on the final finish reach, I couldn't quite pass Jay.

Races 3 and 4 were similar in that the start was highly influenced by erratic holes and puffs, and we all tried to make the best of it. Bruce was the most consistent in that endeavor; he did get buried in the start of one of those heats, but through smart sailing got himself back to the front to finish the day with four bullets. I switched to my 9.9 after race 3, when it seemed that the big gusts at the top of the course had abated a bit and the holes at the bottom gotten even bigger. That made things entertaining at the windward mark for the last heat, but with all the pumping throughout all those races, I must have been a bit oxygen deprived. I think I finished the day in 3rd after MacRae - we'll see when Scotia puts up results at

Overall, not a bad way to start the season - we got four heats (which were plenty challenging given the huge range of conditions), I didn't break any body parts (which is how I'd ended last season, on the first day of Nationals), and everyone had some good stories about hard fought battles on the course. And while I thought that I really wanted to do another one at the end, especially as it seemed that the breeze was filling in, a mere 45 minutes of slalom sailing made it pretty clear that I was pretty much running on empty, so when the wind crapped out, I decided to call it a day as well.

The course was set out a little further, with a short first and a longer second upwind leg. That made for more tactical options than usual (I started starboard every race and usually made it to the first mark within striking distance of Bruce - the usual course layout tends to create a lot more port favor). The races were well run, Scotia was her usual textbook example of cheerful and friendly effectiveness and efficiency, and it was good to be out racing again.

Speaking of racing - there's a bit of a movement afoot to put a lot of emphasis on slalom this year, with lots of round robin heats of downwind slalom being run. Round robin downwind slalom is a really nice way of getting away from the Gorge box course, which seems to scare off some racers because of the mild upwind leg and tack involved. The reason for that format was to allow large fleets to race together, thus avoiding the sitting on shore involved with running slalom eliminations. Round robins get around that by allowing small fleets of sailors to race (so there's no giant pile-up at the first mark), but still making sure everyone gets to race everyone else during the course of the day. Look for more news on that soon - but be sure to get your slalom or freeride gear out, whether you've been racing with us yet or not, as it's going to be a lot of fun.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tuning up

It's May, and the first Gorge Cup of the season is only three weeks away; good thing conditions have been pretty good lately, with remarkably good southerlies. And yes, that really is a 9.1 - after five seasons with a 9.9/10.8 formula quiver, I've relented and added a smaller size. After all, Nationals are in San Francisco this year, and those guys race formula well into conditions that would have us switch to slalom in the Gorge.

Early on in today's session, it was pretty marginal for the small sail, but after having it for well over a month, I was really looking for an excuse to finally try it. Turns out, besides being a real pleasure to sail, it has remarkably good low end. I had observed Bruce using his very effectively in patchy conditions before, but I had just chalked that up to his efficient sailing style. Maybe I need to reexamine my bigger-is-better credo.

And just as I was starting to feel a little chilly in my short-sleeved suit, I spotted my friend Dale McKinnon in a small runabout. Dale's a pretty inspiring local fixture, having rowed the Inside Passage at close to age 60 (see here and here for some background - she's also quite a character). Her current project, however, is to coach a guy from the Seattle area in preparation for a swim across the English Channel (he got really close on his first attempt, which was also coached by Dale) - and here he was, doing laps in Bellingham Bay (water around 48F, air a little cooler) in his speedos. I somehow felt pretty toasty after seeing that...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Going to my happy place

Every windsurfer I know seems to have a favorite set of conditions, matched with a favorite set of gear, resulting in a favorite kid of session. It's that sort of Goldilocks state, where things are just right - not too this, not too that on any scale, just pure windsurfing goodness.

For me, that happy combo is slalom sailing when fully powered on my Exo 71, Sailworks 7.1, and Finworks 40, and it happens in that magical slot right around 25 knots - a little more if the water is flat, a little less if it's bumpy, but the gear has so much range that really anything between 20 and 30 knots or thereabouts results in bliss. Add some radiant sunshine, brilliant views of Mt. Baker, Canadian Cascades, and the Olympics to the Southwest, and some good wildlife viewing (witnessed a seal catching a small seabird for lunch - that was a first...). Mix in the fact that during spring, the weeds are still pretty subdued here while temperatures are nicely moderate - presto, I'm in my happy place. Life can be pretty sweet sometimes...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rites of spring

First session of the season in short sleeves; always a big deal here in the Pacific Northwest. Amazing how much more agile one feels without all the extra neoprene. Made me downright adventurous - ended up doing tacking and jibing drills for well over an hour to shake off that rusty conservative winter mode. Tired now; time for a well-refrigerated barley beverage...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Doing the hula

This was taken today by Belligham Herald photographer Andy Bronson. He introduced himself as I was rigging, and I guess he liked the line about me taking a liquid lunch. Hard to tell from this that once out of the wind-shadow on shore, I was perfectly powered up on my 7.1. Nice big swell to jibe on - would have made for great port ramps, but I'm still holding off a bit on impact until the ankle is fully back to normal. The flip-side of that, however, were nice smooth troughs on starboard, allowing for going warp speed in what otherwise tends to be pretty rough water. Nice way to spend an hour on a Friday. Given that it was published on the Herald web site, I'm glad I didn't have to cancel any appointments with the old excuse of having to go to a "board meeting"...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday slalom

board chattering over chop
sheet in and send it

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stoke - both vicarious and direct


The picture on the left is of Lindsey Vonn, who today won the Olympic women's downhill in Whistler, just a few hours north of here. Her team mate Julia Mancuso won silver. I'm stoked about this for all the obvious reasons (I'm sure you've seen some of the coverage on Ms. Vonn; without any personal knowledge of her, it's probably still safe to say that she's an amazing athlete and has worked very hard for this).

The reason I'm so stoked about it, though, is that the head coach of the US women's alpine team is windsurfer, fellow Sailworks rider and Gorge Cup racer Jim Tracey. You see, Jim is one of those quietly competent people; on top of that, he's a very good coach and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.

Jim has been volunteering as a coach in Bruce Peterson's junior race camp since its inception a few years ago. I got to take part in that this past summer, and it was one of the most rewarding things I've done in this sport, plus it was just a blast. What you have to understand, though, is that for us assistant coaches on the water, things were easy. We helped the kids out a bit, tried to reinforce points Bruce was making, and generally got a lot of stoke out of sailing with that many bright, inspired, energetic kids. Jim, however, spent most of those days shooting video for later analysis, either from the boat or, at one point, from the hot asphalt roof of a warehouse for hours on end. And he was stoked to do it.

When someone who is that committed to his vocation meets with the ultimate success in his chosen field, with two of his athletes at the top of the podium at the Olympics, it confirms that things are well and the universe does work the way it's supposed to. And hence my vicarious stoke today - congratulation to Jim and his team on what's a tremendous success.

And then there was the direct stoke experienced today, right here on Bellingham Bay, where I got to partake in steady 18-20 knots from the North, served up with brilliant sunshine and spring-like temps in the mid-50's. Perfect weather for the 9.9, it was a goldilocks session all around. Not too light, not too cold, and not too windy to where things would have been hard on my still-recovering ankle. Sweet.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Back - sort of

After over 6 months of serious withdrawal, my surgeon just cleared me for windsurfing as of last week. And as if someone had flipped a switch, the very windsurfer-friendly El Nino winter we've had (mild temps, lots of breeze) turned into what feels like early spring with even milder temps and no breeze whatsoever.

Friday, I finally seemed to get a chance to go sailing, with gorgeous weather, temps in the mid-50's, and a nice southerly around 12-15 knots - perfect formula weather, basically, and about as perfect for a first session since that day in July as I could have asked for. But then this is windsurfing, not indoor soccer - a sport that depends very much on the favor of the wind, aka that most fickle of mistresses.

And so I made it out to the launch just in time for the breeze to back off mightily, and while I normally would have recognized the signs of convergence pretty much immediately, my optimism, fueled by over six month of dry spell, propelled me out (because surely, it will fill back in - there's still a southerly gradient here), only to then leave me stranded a few hundred yards out with glassy water and the occasional 2 knot ripping gust off-shore requiring me to swim/paddle back (you know it's pathetic when you can't slog home on formula gear).

I ended up getting a ride from our local SUP maven (thanks, Beau!), whose example inspired me to do what I should have done to begin with by taking out the Kona and getting a nice SUP workout. My coming to my sense was rewarded with a spectacular bald eagle flyby and some curious seals stopping by for a visit. Not a bad way to spend some time on the water. I guess it's a good sign that I'm back to living by the wind forecast, though - means I'm back to being a real windsurfer (rather than one sidelined by injury and working really hard on my zen skills...)

Friday, January 1, 2010

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