Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ronstan Challenge Day 1

The Ronstan Bay Challenge has been a tradition among Bay Area windsurfers since the early 1990s. Unlike its often confused sister race- the Bay Classic- run later in the year- this downwind and upwind 20 mile + marathon is run with only 3 marks- an upwind mark set just inside the Golden Gate Bridge, the Berkley Pier and the finish line in front of the St. Francis Yacht Club. It's a no holds bar VMG race with unlimited opportunities to sail your own course- find the secret ebb behind Alcatraz and you could be golden but never-ever forget to take yours eyes off the racers around you.

Day 1 of the Ronstan Challenge brings the long distance race while Day 2 is reserved for course racing on the city front in front of Crissy Field. Its always a tough call what to rig for the Challenge as you'll get exposed to lots of different variables throughout the course- gusty wind and ebb chop just inside the gate, a suicide path of gnarly stand up chop at the shoals just east of Alcatraz and the possibility of a fogged in Bay to keep you guessing where the finish line might be. It could be any one's race.
I gambled and rigged the 9.9 slalom sail and the 70 cm kashy fin. This would be a fun race no matter what happended
The starting line was set just north of Crissy field. Approximately 23 formula boards and 15
+ kiters took the line for 2 starts. The boards were off first with Mike Z winning the boat and sailing the first beat with rather quickly as the rest of the fleet struggled to double tack around the top mark. With 4 or 5 sailors in front of me already I knew I would have to work to get myself near the top. I was able to work deep with my 9.9 in the first few puffs and stay below Sylvester and Radkowski who were on their 9.0s above me. Seth and Mike Z were ahead but within stiking distance. Also in the hunt was Eric Christenson who found some decent speed this year with a kashy fin. At our first gybe near Harding rock Sylvester got a good jump on me and we evened out side by side for the ride down to Berkeley. A few minutes into the run we started to run into some decent chop, cross traffic of barges and ferries that finally separated us. Sylvester was able to go deeper with a smaller 65 cm fin while I struggled to keep my 70 cm fin in control in the chop. Midway down I saw Mike Z gybe back as it was getting lighter as we approached Treasure Island. Seth and Sylvester keep going but I split the difference and gybed back to get into more breeze. It was only a few minutes into the run that I realized the far side was paying off big. Eric and Percy both crossed me and I ended up rounding the bottom mark in 6th with another group hot on my tail.
Time to put that 70 cm fin into overdrive and start working!
As I got back into the upwind mode I was struggling with dirty air from the 5 sailors rounding in front of me. I had to foot some to get some clear air but once I was able to go I felt I had better speed and was working the angle when I could. The fleet all stayed north banging the Angel Island shore and getting a double lift in and off the island. For Percy and Eric who tacked too early- they lost this opportunity and I was able to pass them by the next crossing. I headed back and tacked just shy of Alcatraz and headed back upwind. At this point the fleet was spread out. I saw Seth in front of me but lost track of Mike Z and Sylvester. It was only a matter of time before I would have to call the layline from across the Bay and judge how much flood had actually kicked in. Seth was first to tack with Mike Z 60-90 seconds back. I went 10 seconds beyond Mike Z line as to compensate for any flood. Immediately to leeward and 5 board lengths ahead was Sylvester who tacked and we were on a drag race across the Bay to the finish . My last card that I could play and possibly beat Sylvester was if I put some money in the bank, stayed high and Sylvester got flooded down and had to double tack the finish line. I knew he had a smaller fin and I could get some leverage on him. I began to get some separation and things looked good but playing out in front of us was Seth and Mike Z who were now reaching across the finish line. We had all overstood! Back to footing mode as I tried to put the distance I just gained on Sylvester back into some speed. I could feel myself gaining but there just wasn't enough time left. Sylvester rounded the finish line 9 seconds in front of me with Mike Z just 16 seconds in front of him. Seth took the honors with a finish time of just over 54 minutes and a new course record.
for complete results, equipment used nad a gps track of Sofeils long distance run- check out:

Day 2- by the 11:30 first start the wind was already up to the high teens and building and by the looks of it - it would be a long day of racing. Race 1 started off with half the fleet on starboard and half the fleet on port. Port had the advantage of heading to the right side with the current. I got off the line on port being the most leeward board just crossing the starboard tackers off the line. My angle felt good where I was able to give Seth some pressure and hold him off to the starboard layline. I held off for 5-10 seconds after he tacked and made it around the windward mark in 2nd while the breeze was building into the mid 20's.
Downwind it was holding on for dear life as the puffs were increasing. Sylvester was far enough back that I just had to keep the pressure on myself to keep going strong. I rounded well behind Seth at the leeward mark and was able to climb as he got a sloppier rounding. One more upwind and downwind for good measure and we ended up in the same position- Seth 1st , myself 2nd and Sylvester 3rd.
Race 2- wind was ramping up to a solid 25+ with some solid random gust. I got off the line well again on port climbing on Seth who was just above me. Bill Weir was holding onto his lane and rounded 3rd just in front of me but off the breeze went deeper and slower. I made my move to pass him to windward but kept going for too far and let him call the layline to the leeward mark. At the rounding Seth was first and then coming up front below was the start of the kiters coming upwind off the starting line. I rounded just inside the kiters and was able to climb on Weir upwind. By this time the tide was switching from an ebb tide to a flood tide and the swell was a solid 3-5 feet on port tack- right into the bow. Although a 70 cm fin was a bit much it was enough to hold a lane upiwnd. Near the port layline I tacked inside Weir just behid Seth and went downwind for another wild ride. I was in the 3/4 chicken strap holding on with every gust . I gybed for the finsih and just barely held on to a strong 2nd.
By the time race 3 came around the wind had ramped up to a solid 30+. The kiters wern't able to hold on any longer and headed in while just a few brave formula sailors armed with a 9.0 made the start. I started off again on port with Ben and Seth just above me. I knew I had to pinch them off at the start to get this race and so I applied the pressure from the start. Seth was the first one to fall below, then Ben. We kept going till the layline with Ben falling further to leeward but with solid speed. We all tacked and Ben led to the windward mark with Seth and I following close. I was really holding on for dear life off the breeze in the far leeward strap- looking for a place to gybe in some flat water. I made it around with Ben exploding just to windward of me in a grand catapult. Seth held strong to the leeward mark with the breeze and swell building again. It was an all out endurance test upwind again. As I made the beat to windward I could see parts of the fleet spread across the course like a bad case of acne. Sylvester was swimming after his gear, Weir was contemplating getting going again but by the look in his eye- be had already been beat dow,. A bit further upwind Percy was swimming hard for his gear as it went end of end down the course.
On the last beat upwind I managed to gain some on Seth but rounded to the top mark in 2nd again with another wild ride in front of me. I looked back and no one was in site so I decided to play it safe and just get to the finish in one piece. That might be a miracle. As I got to the point were I needed to gybe for the finish I was really running out of room near the rocks at the St. Francis. I carved but let the rig slip through my fingers. I spent the next 90 seconds getting everything back in order with just enough time to beat Eric to the finsh. As it stood we were the only 3 boards to finish. No one came close to being able to get around the course. Many got rescued, some managed to get back to shore but the big lesson we all learned was 25-30k is the limit for formula. When some of the best racers in the country cant finish a race, it's time to switch to slalom.
The big lesson in todays race race was the great range in performance of the kashy 70 cm fin. In just about all conditions the fin is able to depower and stay fully lit. I still have to work on the downwind performance but with the 3/4 chicken strap of the L7, things are still well lit off the breeze. Hopefully by nationals in 2 months Ill have the whole set up dialed in for all conditions.

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