Wednesday, April 29, 2009

San Francisco racing: 1976 style

In preparation for this weekends Elvestrom-Zellerbach regatta on the San Francisco city front, a look back at racing 33 years ago around the same course.

Gotta love the yellow foulies and banjo twang.
If you look closely, you can see a huge break @ Ft. Foint around the 16:00 mark.
Some interesting lessons about sailing in the flood and ebb tide in the classic conditions the SF city front dishes out.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Running on fumes in 25k+

The title pretty much says it all. For the past week Ive been TKO with what seems like bird flu or swine flu with energy levels @ 50%. Cough, Cough, Hack Hack.
But that shouldn't stop any reasonable attempts at racing, should it?
In hindsight, I probably should have stayed off the water for a few more days but damn was it windy since Andreas arrived earlier last week for some training and racing.
For the first time I can ever recall, Friday night racing was canceled @ the StFYC because of too much wind and chop. True it was gusting into the mid 30's and the chop was nastier than Ive seen it all year but we are men of steel. This is San Francisco. This is the stuff that puts hair on your chest, turns boys into men. Actually I had chickened out well in advance as my 9.0 still hasnt arrived yet and I was going to do RC for the evening but there was still some slalom sailing do be done with the boys.
I rigged up my 6.3 and 95l ML slalom board. Booms low for control. Sail flat.
I managed a hour session before being completely wound.
One thing I did take for the session is the confidence need for gybing in extreme conditions. You've got to commit 100%. There's no other way around it.
Look for a reasonable place to gybe and really carve the board hard while laying the sail down. It helps to oversheet or else you will have too much power going through the gybe.

Shawn Davis was on hand with his camera and keen eye to capture some of the action. You can find more of his shots @ his online gallery

Saturday's forecast looks equally impressive for the first running on the CalCup series.
Against my better judgment, I headed across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley.
For those of you unfamiliar, the CalCup is a local race series that is run once a month in the SF Bay area. The location is determined the day before depending on the best conditions.
Local rules guru Bryan McDonald gave a rules clinic before the race which seemed to opened a few peoples eyes that we actually had rules! This aint no PWA slalom where intimidation rules the mark rounding! We are now racing under the 2009-2012 ISAF Racing Rules of Sailing. Specifically, windsurfers have a special section with some exceptions and special circumstances (appendix B) in addition to all the regular rules.
Nonetheless Eric (44) and Mike Z (ML)still seemed to get entangled with each other in the last race at the start and were both arguing their prospective stories ashore after we came in.
Here's the scenario:
ML to windward and ahead of 44- both on starboard heading to the starting line with 20 seconds to go. 44 accelerates onto a plane and begins to pass ML to leeward. Realizing this, ML pumps onto a plane. 44 heads up and collides with the ML booms and takes him down.
Relevant rules: 11, 14, 15, and 16.1

Rule 11: On the same tack, overlapped: When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat.

Rule 14: Avoiding Contact: A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible.

Rule 15: Aquiring Right of Way: When a boat acquires right of way, she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear.

Rule 16.1: Changing Course: When a right of way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear

So how would you decide?
My advice: know the rules well but dont get yourself into a situation where you could go down. Thats always going to cost you.

As for me, the days racing was an attempt in how low I could run my batteries and still survive. Have you ever sneezed more than 4x in a row while running deep through voodoo chop?
Not a pretty sight!
In general, it seemed the right side of the course was favored but limited due to the Pier. Alot of guys were starting on port tack and getting the lift off the pier and tacking over. Mike Z, Eric and Sylvester were pushing the front in most of the races while I had some moments but couldnt put toether a decent series. C-Rad and Al were also showing some great potential dialing in their new F4 fins in the breeze near the front of the fleet towards the end of the day.
Still waiting for my fin quiver to arrive from Europe, I was on a borrowed fin and found some interesting results with a loaner from Sylvester. The IFJU 70 MW XSC had great control but not quite as much lift as the kashys as I was used to in driving the board upwind. I suffered a bit with upwind angle @ the start in the crowd- especially in the chop but found once I had a lane and as the conditions got flatter, the fin worked well.
David Wells managed to snap some decent photos from the shore after finding an USO (unidentified submerged object) and banging his board and fin up. Thanks for taking one for the team.

We ran 4 races of double windward leeward courses and by the end I could barely make it in.
I guess in hindsight it would have been better to stay in bed for another day but the 20k rule usually trumps everything- sickness or in health.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Spring training

Ive decided to try a few things different this year in my formula program and limit the amount of new gear I rotate into the quiver this season. Blame it partly on sagging economy but also on the idea that you do not need the latest and greatest sails, boards and fins to go fast- but rather time on the water to tune them in. Once you have a board that is tuned into the conditions you are sailing in, you can focus on other things happening around the race course.
Knowing the potential, and limitations of your equipment is far more advantageous that having the latest stuff and having no idea how to use it.
Having a board and rig that you can hop on and ride good from the beginning is priceless.
We are on our 2nd year of using the same boards (since the formula class decided to limit the ISAF certification to every 2 years vs 1) and people are beginning to find out what fins work well with what boards. The trend has been wider tailed boards (F2 Z, starboard 162) that demand more powerful fins. Sean O'Brien has posted a good article on his blog about tuning..definitely worth the read @
Formula windsurfing has evolved into a light wind racing program geared towards typical European light wind conditions. Major development has subsided in the board design over the last few years but the more powerful softer fins have allowed the wider tailed boards to get going in as little as 6-7 knots. Their limitations, however are control as it gets windier.

While watching the Brazilians finish their season this past winter and spring, I became to notice something- a lot of them were choosing the starboard 160 as their board of choice, for its ability to adapt well in most conditions. Could a 3 year old design still be competitive? I dug deeper and realized that last years world 2008 championship was won on older gear(161 and 2007 rig) that was dialed in- not necessarily the latest gear.Beginning to see a trend, I thought Id put the older, more well proven starboard 160 into my quiver this year instead of fighting with the technical F2 formula board. The 160's narrower tail made it ideal for racing in the SF Bay and Gorge as this summer schedule will dictate. After some searching, I found an almost new 160 and got it race ready with the help of Mike Zaijicek.
The double chicken strap and re gripped deck are a big improvement as the my first few sessions through the SF voodoo chop had me wishing for something more. Paired with the tuned and fast 2008 North warp 10.0, the set up has began to show some real potential.
The board, from beginning has been easy to sail well. I found a good mast track setting just back from the center of the track. My booms eventually moved up eye level to keep the nose of the board from sticking off the breeze.
Yesterday as I lined up with the Berkeley crew and had some great completely wound runs matched against Sylvester, Zaijicek, Percy and Christenson on their 9.0's through some hairy Berkley conditions. A bit overpowered with a 70 xs kashy and 10.0, I was able to hold my own upwind by grinding and climbing in the puffs with my height.
Off the breeze, the fin was manageable in the leeward chicken strap (as I later found out, we were all in, most of the time!) but the other guys proved a smaller fin may be faster in downwind choppy conditions.
The 2008 North 10.0 has a lot of range and I never felt it was too much sail- even in voodoo chop and solid SF gust in the mid 20's while the rest of the crew were on their 9.0's and 61 and 63 cm fins.
My next step is to try a smaller fin with less lift to give me more control in the breeze!

In last Friday's twilight race, I used the F4 E series fin with good success but as the breeze died it lost its upwind drive. Off the breeze, it was still slippery as ever.
Earlier in the week, while training on the city front with Wells and Soheil, the 72 xs kashy felt a bit much upwind in the chop but great off the breeze as it lightened up

So, whats the best board?
Still hard to tell as much is left up to the driver and the specific conditions you are sailing in.
I am seeing very specific set ups that work well in the light breeze and flat water (F2 Z and cut down kashy fins) as well as sets ups that work well when completely lit (L8 and 63 kashy.)
So far, the 160 looks like a contender, maybe not for the lightest conditions, but for an overall easiest board to sail well in most conditions.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

2009 Season Opener

2009 has been a windy year so far in the San Francisco Bay.
It looked a whole lot windier Friday as we were rigging our 10.0's while the city front was full of white caps and bump and jump sailors wound on the 5.0's. Nonetheless, a group of 10 or so sailors took part in the first twilight series of the 2009 season.
The series is run of the deck of the St. Francis Yacht Club along the San Francisco city front.
Unlike most formula races, this regatta is more of a sprint than a marathon.
5 races are run each night around a short course with sailors navigating their way through several buoys, commercial traffic and the famous SF fog.
There is big emphasis on starts, board handling and calling your lay-lines as each race last only 5-7 minutes! All of the fleet starts on port tack as the starting line is immediately next to the shore. The biggest advantage is to win the start on the inside and get the shore lift up to the first mark. Usually only 1 or 2 boards can squeeze out from the pack, but those that do- get to Anita rock first and are off with a good lead going downwind.
The RC can call 1 of 4 courses which involve an extra gybe or 2 around the starting buoys or straight downwind after the windward mark. After rounding the leeward just east of the St.FYC, sailors head back upwind towards the shore and make one last tack to the start/finish line in front of the club. The San Francisco tides usually pay a big part in strategy as the ebb or flood can give you a big advantage or serious setback as you work your way around the course.
Race 1 started with most of the fleet wound on their 10.0's with the wind in the low 20's. I managed a good start but couldn't quite pass Hansen Sails R&D guru Mike Percy as he led around the course. I put the pressure on the last leg and tacked just as Mike hit the shore but as the locals know, the inside boat will always get the lift.
Race 2 started with Eric Christanson, Mike Percy and I all rounding the top mark within a few seconds. As it looked lighter near shore, Mike and I immediately gybed out to get more air but Eric caught a decent puff at the beach and rounded the leeward mark well in front of Mike and I who miscalled the leeward mark layline and had to double gybe to get around. I pulled off 2 fast gybes and managed to pass Mike just before the bottom mark and had clear air to the finish for another 2nd.
Race 3 started with Eric winning the start and me having to foot for speed below him. As we rounded the top mark and gybed and worked our way downwind, the breeze was lighting up significantly and most the fleet got stuck upwind in a big hole. As we extended our lead and just as I was feeling confident nobody was going to catch up from behind, my outhaul broke. A quick tie off on the end of the boom got me going again but my sail was so bagged out I had no control in the gust. I was just trying to salvage the race and finish but pack caught up and passed me at the finish line.
While using last years gear can give you some advantage in terms of knowing your gear, its important to remember to check all your rigging before the season starts!
As they say, your only as good as you can recover!
I had to sit the next race out as I changed my booms on shore but was back for the last and final race.
Determined to get a bullet and finish strong, I kept the pace with Eric in check just above me. I wasnt feeling so good upwind as I was using a high wind fin and had to sacrifice some angle for speed as the wind was down to 10-12k. Eric had the jump as we gybed in front of the club and headed back downwind to the leeward mark. Putting the pressure on, I contemplated my last move as I fought hard to get a lane upwind and squeeze every bit out of my equipment.
Eric tacked early just before the seawall and was well on the layline to the finish. I thought if I could carry it a little further I might have an advantage getting the inside lift and beat him to the finish. Sure enough I managed to squeeze by him getting the bullet and finishing the night on a high note.

After being abroad last season, it's good to be back racing in front of my home club with a great group of friends pushing each other all the way around the course. I'm looking forward to the commoraderie and racing this year will bring.