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...