7.7.07- may have brought some unforeseen luck for some sailors but anyone of the 15 windsurfers and kiters who finished this years SF Classic and UN Challenge had been training hard all season for the premier long distance race in the US Windsurfing National Ranking Tour.
A light wind and fog greeted the formula and kite fleet on Saturday morning for the skippers meeting on the race deck of the St. Francis Y.C. Soon enough by 2:30 the breeze filled in for a start just off Anita Rock in front of Crissy Field. The tide would be flooding all afternoon and the race would take sailors on a 45+ mile journey outside the golden gate and around 14 downwind gybe marks before heading through the end of the Berkeley pier and coming back upwind for the Ultra Nectar Challenge. Most sailors choose their 10.0 and ML boards as thats the unofficial SF one design.
The fleet was split at the start with half on port and half on starboard. I opted for port at the pin just above Mike Z and Ben. We crossed the starboard tackers with no problem and headed out to the breeze. Ben pulled away with some amazing speed while I worked my angle the best I could to shut Mike Z out. It was the beginning of a long race but every battle counted. David Wells got away clean on port below us and was out to a good start on his new L6 and finworks fin. I looked back to check the starboard tackers who were getting a nice inside lift at this point and climbing but it was still a bit sketchy near shore. Ben was the first to tack as he ran out of room heading towards the north tower. I carried it out further as I knew there was a strong flood and clearing the south tower was number one priority. As we got closer to the red nun just outside the gate, it was evident, the San Francisco conditions were indeed classic. The standing 4' voodoo chop hit the fleet like a mack truck in LA traffic. Boards were going down left and right...The leaders falling like trees in a storm.
I rounded the top mark with Mike Z in town and Eric just in front of us. Ben was down, Steve S was down, Percy was down and soon enough I was down as I tried to go for the chicken strap and go deep through the chop. With a quick recovery in the crazy conditions I was back up in the race heading down to the mark just inside the north tower- still in 3rd place. As we headed down across the bay towards the Presidio shoal marker, it was evident the flood was strong and the wind light near shore- what to do- come in low with speed or take the high route and work the flood?
Neither route worked for me as I was at the mercy of the puffs coming down the course. Percy , Al and Steve S all came in strong an managed to pass me while I was cursing to myself- standing still near the mark, waiting, just waiting for a puff to come down the course. Its all about recovery I though as I proceeded back upwind with Steve S. and Al just in front. One more time around the top mark separated the boys from the men and soon enough we were off on the reaching part of the race. There wasn't a whole lot of passing here but up in front David Wells was walking away from Eric in 2nd. The rest of us followed in tow zig zagging across the bay from Anita rock to Harding; under Alcatraz to Blossum, back to Harding- over to R4 and back to R2. It wouldn't be the Classic if something exciting didn't happen.
Being out in front gives you a great opportunity to sail your own race but this time Davis forgot to round R4 and gave the race the Eric who was well prepared with sight lines on all the marks. On the reach to Blossum Al, Steve S and Mike Z were all putting the petal to the medal. There wasn't much I cold do with those guys in front of me except wait for them to make a mistake. Not likely as Steve S has only missed this race 2x since its start in 1978. Last year he didn't even stop for a boat load of drowning sea-scouts! The man has priorities! Al had the unfortunate experience of finding some waterfowl to make the leg interesting. He slammed into a bird sending him into a great catapult. I quickly turned on the afterburners to catch up but he hung in there for the next 2 legs until we turned the corner to go downwind to the Berkeley pier. I rounded just in front of him but at this point there was only 2 more legs left to push. Steve and Mike Z were a good 30 seconds enough ahead and Eric and Percy were a decent minute up from me. David Wells snuck in there to salvage a 5th in front of me but was obviously disappointed after leading much of the race.
Nothing to do but forget about the previous hour and ten minutes and concentrate on the next half of the race back up wind. I immediately tacked to port going back to the stronger breeze shooting a gap in the Berkeley pier with David. I was climbing on most of the fleet and by the time I got to the first cross I had made up a lot of distance. My goal was to stay left of the fleet to get out of the flood. Eric took the Angel island shore a bit too close while Percy was getting some great wind just below Alcatraz. The chop at this point was steep and close together. I was just trying to eep the board going with the best VMG possible. I tacked back early once when I could clear Point Blunt and sailed up towards the Tiberon peninsula. It was getting lighter in there but I had some decent separation between the fleet and on the way back managed to cross Percy. It wasnt untill I was coming across the middle of the Bay did I see Steve S who chose the city front side to come up wind on did I realize I had a chance of winning.
I think they key was just wanting it. I knew I didn't have the best downwind race so coming back upwind I gave 110%- even when sailing on my own not in close proximity to the fleet. The 70cm kashy fin points like an Americas cup boat even when overpowered- theres a lot of lift. Off the breeze, its a little hairy in the voodoo chop but Mike Z factored that in with the double chicken strap this year.
It wasn't until later in the evening when the elapsed time came out did we realize that Ben- who rounded the bottom mark 10 minutes behind me- sailed a faster upwind course than me by 73 seconds. He was really flying with his 11.6. I didn't think it was possible but over the long haul it was his better vmg than won. Ben goes for speed. Hes a big boy weighing in at 210-220lbs. Combine that with a fast rig and some serious footing and you've got your upwind champion.
Congrats to him and Eric for showing us how to get the job done.
A couple of hundred photos from the race- can be found here
Thanks again to Chris for enduring a wet day on the water!
Results and Al's gps tracks can be found here