The SF Classic is one of those races that gets me every time.
Billed as the oldest long distance windsurfing race in the World, it is a marathon endeavor putting competitors in some of the roughest spots on the San Francisco Bay.
The history of the race is almost more legendary than the race itself with the likes of windsurfing icons like Robby Naish, Ken Winner and locals Bard Chrisman, Steve Sylvester, and Mike Z all putting the names on the trophy over the years.
For a very interesting read on history of the event as well as development of the sport in it's peak years- check out the article Paul Henekin wrote about a mid fleet perspectice of the race from 1979-1989.
With 15 mark rounding from outside the Golden Gate Bridge, across the Bay 8 times and finally through the Berkeley pier AND BACK- there's always something that's gotten the better of me year after year.That is until this year.
Surprising even myself, I led around the course at every mark and took both the SF Classic and the UN Challenge- for the best upwind time from Berkeley to the finish line at the St. Francis Y.C.
Stoked is how I felt as I crossed the finish line nearly 5 minutes ahead of Mike Z and David Wells on the return trip home!
We had spend the previous week preparing for the Classic by running the top half of the course- getting down to Pt. Blunt and finally coming back home in winds exceeding 30 knots.
That training really helped me push the entire race- knowing to take each leg as its own race and concentrating on the feat in front of me.
Of course, when you're racing across the entire Bay- you cant forget about the big picture.
The tides played a huge factor in both the upwind and downwind legs of the course.
photo credit SERGEI ZAVARIN
The Formula fleet started around 2:15 in a raging flood tide.
My goal was to start on port and get out to any ebb- well at least out of the flood!
I won the start, having to duck 1 starboard tacker and taking the rest of the fleet.
Both Al and CRad had better speed on the first leg and sailed from below me to get outside the bridge first. We all tacked on what we thought was the layline to the red nun but it was apparent, the flood was going to get the best of us.
Al hit the flood tide first and immediately both CRad and myself tacked back once we realized it would take a few more tacks to windward to get around the windward mark- set in a huge patch of raging flood tide and voodoo chop. We both overstood the top mark- knowing quite well that once we hit the flood tide again, any progress to weather was in vain.
Again, I think being familiar sailing in the crazy voodoo chop helped.
I knew that you had to keep your power going through or else you were done.
That meant really bagging the sail out to get the most power and keeping the board moving.
I made sure to overstand the port layline again- making sure not to get swept down into the mark.
As I made my way back through the voodoo chop and downwind, I saw most of the fleet struggling in the first of many tests that would put some separation from the leaders and the rest of the fleet.
The mark boat set at the north tower was unusually deep and I had to make 3 gybes to get around it.
It too was set in a tide line made up of boiling, stood up waves with no easy spot to gybe.
Leading the reach to the Presidio shoal bouey, I knew I had to put some money in the bank so that I had some room to heat things up as it got lighter near shore.
Sure enough, the plan worked as I came screeching to a sudden stop in a few hundred meters from the next mark as the wind whittled down to just a few knots of breeze.
My nearest competitor- Al- was well to windward facing the same scenario but having to go dead downwind to reach the mark.
I got in and out as fast as I could and back up top outside the Gate.
This time, we had some company as the kiters were making their first attempt at rounding the top mark.
With considerably less upwind angle than the formula boards, it was a maze of sorts to find my way to the layline again ducking and pinching through the kite fleet.
I used the same strategy of overstanding and spending as little time upwind as I could in the flood tide.
It worked and I was off again in the lead.
I decided to gybe early to get back into the flood downwind and made my way to the mark set way inside the north tower.
Reaching down to Anita Rock, the flood tide made a velvety smooth water state where I really sent it deep- again making sure to compensate for the lighter breeze near shore at crissy field.
At this point, I had a pretty good lead but it was still early and anything could happen.
Soheil, Al and Wells were all pushing hard coming down from the bridge as I made my way across the Bay towards Angel Island and the next mark- Harding rock.
It was all pretty routine from there- if you can call beam reaching in 15-20k with a formula board routine.
I went from chicken strap to the double chicken- trying to find a comfortable position in each one of the reaching legs that sent us from Blossom Rock to Blunt to R2 to R4.
I tried to keep on eye on David and Al behind me but still had at least a half leg advantage but knew the pressure was on.
Going deep after R2, I kind of stumbled upon the Berkeley pier and the next rounding.
Mark X on the Olympic Circle lined up perfectly with the camels hump on Brooks Island.
Baring disaster, I knew I had it wrapped up and took the last leg easy to gain some needed strength before the next upwind.
Wells caught up considerably and was only 7 seconds behind at the finish gate.
I put the petal to the metal again and never let up the next 1 hour and 2 minutes it took me to reach the finish line at the St. Francis Y.C.
I knew I wanted to protect the right side where there would be less adverse flood tide and maybe even some ebb so I tacked with Wells and Al as it began to lighten up on starboard tack at the bottom of the course.
I had good angle on both of them lost track of them as we sailed up upwind towards Angel Island. At this point we were going through several conversing tide lines but I managed to spend the most time in the ebb- taking a route tacking back and forth between Angel Island and Alcatraz.
I was forced to tack earlier than I wanted with an inbound freighter coming down through raccoon straights but took another hitch back- almost all the way up to Harding where it really looked like I overstood the finish line but as I sailed across the Bay for the last time, I was well positioned for the adverse flood as well as one last obstacle- a red and blue ferry headed upwind straight in my line to the finish.
Should I cross or duck?
Not wanting to blow the lead I had worked so hard for all race, I took the conservative approach and ducked and squeezed past the finish line to take the bullet.
Arnaud was on the race deck capturing racers as they came across the upwind finish.
I think having equipment that I knew worked was another factor of my success.
Im pretty confident with the 2008 north 10.0 to provide the best range in the conditions we faced. I had the sailed dialed. I was running a 67 cm kashy xs fin on my starboard 160.
The kites were not so lucky and never got pasted the presidio shoal doldrums and had their race abandoned.
Sunday is another day of course racing with al least 3 races on the schedule.
Report to follow