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.