Tuesday, July 15, 2008

2008 SF Classic recap: Searching for the ‘Camels back’ in the Berkeley Flats!

With a smaller formula fleet than previous years, this year’s SF Classic was still an exceptional race for the 19 board windsurfing fleet and 17 man kite fleet and as usual experience pays off with fleet veterans Steve Sylvester and Mike Zajcek taking 2 out of the 3 top positions in the weekends’ race.
Conditions never ramped up like most expected for Saturday’s long distance race but that didn’t make it any less of a race for all those trying to get around the 40 mile + course taking competitors out the Golden Gate Bridge and down and across the San Francisco Bay to the Berkeley Pier and then back again.
Since it's start in 1979, the original Oneil/ Marui Classic was one of the premier windsurfing races in the world drawing 100+ competitors with the likes of Robby Naish, Ken Winner and the orginal windsurfer rocket. To give you a perspective, it was a tremendous feat even to get across the Bay in those days, nonetheless make it down to Berkeley on gear that looks similar to the original model T. In the early 80's, competitors were making throw-away daggerboards that they released at the top of the course before the headed downwind on the 30 mile + ride.
Now even with the some of the best modern gear and amzing fast speeds pushing 30 -35 knots, you cant get yourself around the course fast enough! That was the case, when I found myself in an early lead but ended up sailing towards the wrong mark early in the race and was never able to catch up after that.
With variable conditions near shore, most of the fleet got caught under-powered near the top half of the course-with just a few of the leaders getting away and off to a sustainable lead.
After rounding the first upwind mark behind Mike Zajcek, Sylvester and Percy we made our way back under the Golden Gate where this years ‘north tower buoy’ was set much deeper than previous years. With the ebb kicking in at 1k and the light breeze, it was a slow rounding if you gybed 5-10 seconds too early. That mistake cost me a good 30 seconds as I drifted downwind around the mark as the 3 leaders reached across the Bay towards the presidio shoal. Years ago, I would have been yelling profanities given the situation, but I have since realized the energy spend on anger is not worth the effort.
Better to focus on getting past the next guy in front of you.
Luckily for me, Percy stopped at the shoal in a light spot and we were able to get going in the same puff and work our way up back upwind for the 2nd lap. I tacked early to take advantage of the ebb while Percy struggled to get through some San Francisco voodoo chop and went down hard. Rounding the top mark again, it was only Zajcek and Sylvester in front of me as we worked our way down in the light breeze. With a sail size bigger I was able to real them in and passed Sylvester and Mike Z at the gybe mark.
Unfortunately as soon as I found myself in the lead, it was over like that. The next mark, I thought was rounding the presidio shoal but actually it was deeper towards Anita rock. That mistake cost me losing the 3 guys I has just worked so hard to pass and then some as Wells and Eric went flying down the middle of the course with a decent puff. I was biting my tongue to stay cool.
Anita rock was another ‘cant get around this mark fast enough’ situations as I watched the 5 guys in front of me sail away as I drifted painfully around Anita rock in a light patch. Once reaching again, we were up to speed but the damage was done as the next hour of the race was simply spent following the leader which was Wells who was well powered downwind on his finworks fin.
I looked back and saw the rest of the 19 board formula fleet scattered across the top of the course struggling to get going. It could have been worse, I thought to myself as I enjoyed the rest of the underpowered but painless ride down on my north 10.0, ML7 and kashy 70 xs fin to Blossom, Blunt, R4, R2 and finally the Berkeley Pier to finish in 6th place. At least it was a beautiful day searching for the ‘camels back’ along the Berkeley flats!
For those who have raced the Classic before, the ‘camels back’ is a landmark on the distance shore you can line up the final mark of the race with. Once rounding the Berkeley Pier and heading towards Brooks Island, mark X magically be found after only sailing what seems like an eternity with out a soul in sight.
Back upwind for the UN ‘Challenge’, the key was to stay out of the building flood but in the wind. Zajcek was able to find the best route as he worked his way up the Angel Island coast and through the middle of the Bay to finish in 46 minutes and change. Fighting the traffic and flood coming up the city front was not the best idea despite what looked like better breeze.

Sunday’s course racing started with some tricky conditions as the unstable
wind, mixed current and weekend traffic made getting around the course a real struggle.
With John Craig moving the pin end back just 30 seconds before the 5 minute gun, starting on port was not an option despite the right side of the course being highly favored. A light patch hit the fleet in the final minute before the start and 4-5 guys including myself were ebbed up over the line and had to dip the line to get going again. After a slow restart, it was playing catch up again over the next 3 lap windward leeward course. I never really felt comfortable as the breeze was so puffy and shifty. I even backed down in the last upwind thinking I had weeds on my foil- but all to no avail.
Finally with the breeze increasing in the 2nd race, I started on port tack, just clearing the anchor line of the committee board to get to the right side of the course early. The port tack parade to the mark was painful in the building flood tide near shore but I was able to keep my lane up and round in 4th. On the final lap downwind, Al caught up with me to apply the final move just at the finish but the good news was we both passed Eric in the process.
The lesson I learned here was to use your advantage whenever possible. I was inside yet behind Al off the breeze- preventing him from making the last gybe. In this position, I was the controlling boat but didn’t seize the opportunity and instead let Al gybe first and followed.
Finally with the breeze up to the low 20’s I was told myself I had to pull it together and win the final race of the series to finish off on a strong note. I used the opportunity to switch down to a 68 kashy for better control. At the start, most of the fleet was on port tack and I stuck my nose between what seemed like a 1/2 board length hole between Percy to leeward and Sylvester to windward. Upwind on the first grind, I used every opportunity to climb with Percy pushing hard from below and ahead. Being the first to the layline is always tough as you have to make a good guess at the layline before anyone else. Fortunately I nailed it and extended my lead the rest of the race sailing conservatively but comfortable. That was enough to get me up to 3rd overall for the day in a very respectable group of sailors.
Its always fun to race with these guys as they have a wealth of experience. Brian McDonald send out an email yesterday with an article written by longtime SF windsurfer Paul Heineken on the first 10 years of the Classic- an interesting read with some of the early pioneers of the sport literally making history as they blazed their long boards across the San Francisco Bay.
You can find the article here and full results at:
http://www.calcupevents.com/Results/2008/Classic.shtml
Special thanks to the St. Francis Yacht Club and their professional race crew and volunteers as well as the locals like Wells, Soheil and McGrath for lending me some equipment to make it possible to race here!