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.