Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 Elvstrom/Zellerbach regatta

70+ dinghies and boards packed the San Francisco city front course for 2 days of racing at the St. Francis Elvestrom/Zellerbach regatta. The 5 fleets saw a building breeze and foggy conditions both days with racing in 15-25k and a raging ebb tide along the San Francisco city front.
The lasers saw a big turn out in prep for this season's masters and 4.7 World Championships in San Francisco.
With just 6 board sailors in the formula windsurfing class, our fleet saw the core racers in action but it was Seth Besse who showed the most consistency to walk away with 6 bullets.
Race 1 stated just after noon on Saturday in 14-16k. Both Seth and I sailed with our 9.5's while C-Rad, Al and Tom raced with their 11.0 rigs. Size didn't seem to matter through as I led around top mark catching a great puff and riding the ebb up while the rest of the fleet had to double tack the first mark. I kept the lead for the next 2 legs sailing smart to the laylines and it wasnt until the next downwind where I failed to cover the fleet that they got ahead. I gybed back outside to get more breeze while the fleet behind me sailed to the shore with a puff. Crossing at the bottom of the course again both Seth and CRAd were ahead. CRad and I rounded the bottom leeward mark in a pack of lasers on the outside of the pinwheel. Despite the dirty air, the formula boards are traveling so fast compared to the dinghies that it only takes a few seconds to clear and get through any bad air. We both tacked on the layline and I got a quick jump and was overlapped to leeward heading to the finish. It became clear that I would need to give him room at the finish as the RC boat acted as an obstruction. CRAd was able to shoot the line at just the right moment and edge me out for 2nd in a very close overlapped finish while Seth took the first bullet.
Race 2's sequence started after the dinghies giving Al and chance to rig down and help out Tom who had broken his fin. We realized with just Seth, Crad and I on the line, it wouldn't be fair to the rest of the fleet so we asked the RC to postpone while we waited for them. The RC obliged and we got Al back on the line but despite his best effort, Tom wasn't able to get back in time for the 2nd start. CRad led with some great speed off the line as we all started on port tack and charged the right side of the course. His momentum quickly stopped as he plowed directly into the offset mark in a spectacular crash leaving Seth and I to battle it out for the rest of the double windward leeward course. Despite having better angle I wasn't able to capitalize on it. I tacked just below him on the 2nd beat up thinking I would be able to squeeze him out but he had enough speed to roll right over the top of me.
Ouch! Speed kills. No strategy required.

In the high speed racing we do on formula boards, its not often you get more than 1 or 2 chances to make a move on the course. You've got to see it coming and when it happens capitalize on it immediately. When racing is tight, you've got to be able to utilize your best asset otherwise its waiting for the guys in front of you to make a mistake.
Seth took the bullet with me in tow for 2nd and Al in 3rd.

Race 3 started off in a building breeze but not before CRAd got the chance to rig down. Now the fleet was all on either 9.5's or 10.0's in 18-22k and a strong ebb tide. There were still some holes on the inside of the course but not enough to Seth to loose his edge and speed away to another bullet. I kept things in check putting some distance between me and the rest of the the fleet but sailed comfortable to another 2nd. Consistent!

Day 2 saw 3 more races for all fleets + the chance to sail in the flood tide before the ebb really kicked in strong at 2pm. The fleet went for a starboard tack start charging the left side of the course and trying to get to the inside first to take advantage of the shore lift. Despite the lift, it was actually better to tack early or else you overstood the top mark. In some cases, that actually worked out in your favor as we had to sail through the lasers fleet approaching the windward mark. The usual pecking order established itself quickly as Seth got out to an early lead again with great speed. I had 2nd all but wrapped up again in front of Al coming into the finish line but had to duck below 2-3 lasers and barely eeked out across the line salvaging 2nd.
Race 5 saw the tide switch and the committee board swing from straight downwind to straight upwind despite a fresh 18-22k breeze I realized what was happening but failed to take into account the relationship of the starting line. It was now a slalom start and I was over early. Clearing myself I decided to get some separation from the fleet to get any advantage I could. When your behind, you really don't have too much too loose and your risk can be bigger. I sailed to the right both upwind legs as the fleet hit the shore and was clawing my way back on the last downwind just about to pass CRad for 2nd but got a little too carried away and went swimming on my gybe. Total yard sale!
No composure the rest of the race and I used a ton of energy flailing in the water.
Well at least there was a discard coming after 5 races!
Race 6 started in 22-25k and a big ebb. All of the fleet was on either 9.o's, 9.3's or 9.5's and 64-67cm fins. Anything else was just too big to handle in the chop and breeze. I though for sure I was over early again getting a great start with no one to windward or leeward and actually ducked a few sterns heading back to the line to clear myself but no horn. I kept going despite the bad air and made my moves when I could. Taking lessons from the previous race, I picked up Tom and Percy on the 2nd upwind by calling a better layline and letting them overstand. It wasnt until the last downwind leg that I could go over the top of CRad with better speed and get back into 2nd. I made sure to keep my composure focusing just on the task in front of me and making my last gybe and sailing through laser traffic at the leeward mark. The finish was another hairy spot with 3-4 lasers crossing the line as I approached. Luckily I squeezed through with out incident to seal another 2nd.

Overall a super weekend of racing on my favorite body of water in some very challenging conditions early in the season. I made some mistakes like failing to cover and not being able to use my strongest asset but nothing too major that put me out of the top 2-3 boards. Obviously keeping a heads up on the startling line during the pre-start is a wise idea!
I'll credit the 2nd it to good off season training and being familiar and comfortable with my equipment. 4 out of the 6 guys in the fleet were sailing on new sails still trying to find their sweet spots.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Charging full spring ahead

Its been a while since I've posted on this blog as Ive taken the winter off from racing to focus on a few other things but fortunately the San Francisco racing season has begun again with ourvfirstvTwilight series at the St. Francis YC.
Things kicked off after an amazing week of wind on the San Francisco Bay. We saw 2 days of 30-35k breeze where I found myself completely wound on slalom gear that was way too big for the occasion. However, anytime on the water is good for your racing as I found a few settings on 5.8 and ML slalom that gave me great control in the 6' square voodoo chop and rolling swell under the golden gate bridge. This years increased snow pack in the sierras has left rivers of ebb flowing out the golden gate. It seems, even in the flood tide, its ebbing and causing some great upswelling and turbulent waters along the city front. Combined with a late spring swell, it has been a unprecedented spring for windsurfing in the San Francisco Bay. Its mid April and I've already gotten 30 days on the water + 10 days in the Sierras in some of the biggest powder days Ive ever boarded.
So yes- a great year so far!
My back has been improving greatly with the help of PT, yoga and some winter and spring paddling on a SUP board. Im getting the confidence back to fully charge again.
Ive switched to a waist harness this year in attempts to gain some additional lower back support after almost 20 years of using a seat harness for racing with little or no lower back support.
It took a few weeks to finally get things dialed in- especially on the formula gear but I reduced the length of my harness lines and learn to wear the waist harness a little bit looser so that I could rotate and hike out to windward. The technique works pretty good so far and leaves your legs much freer to work the board and fin.
For slalom gear, Ive added the north shox downhaul and base to my kit and wow- what a difference it makes. The Shox just eats up the chop and lets you keep the rig stable even in the gnarliest of tidal lines on the San Francisco Bay.
This season, Im going to be trying a different strategy for racing. For the first time in almost 15 years, I wont be buying any new sails and taking half the year to tune them up but rather- relying upon my settings from the previous year to build upon future successes. Im sticking with the NeilPryde RS Evo-2 9.5 and 10.7 for my formula quiver. I use the severne redline 530 mast on the 10.7 to get some additional low end vs the NP 530. For fins- Im sticking to what I know works: 70 Z soft for flat water and light wind; 70 kashy for my go to 14-20k fin and a kashy 67 for when the wind and water come up to where I need additional control. Ill be using the same ML10 formula board this season. The only thing different Ive done is to add lighter foot straps that don't absorb any water. Its a stock hull and practically a one design fleet on the SF Bay.
The first race of the season went well with 5 quick sprint races around the buoys on the San Francisco city front this past Friday in 14-18k. As with most races, getting a good start is critical. I always like to get the inside position right next to the B buoy so you can climb and get the inside lift along the shore. Its rare that more than one person will win the buoy so you really need to fight for it. This means being comfortable in the the pre race - stalling your board and putting yourself in a position where you've got some room to accelerate and punch out on the starting line.
The friday night series is also about knowing the tides. Understanding or overstanding the marks can put you in front or leave you behind in just a few seconds. This was quite evident on the first layline as Al and Chris tacked early to catch the ebb up while I overstood and came in with speed. There went any gains I had made on the first leg. I managed to stay in the breeze and maintain a lead all the way to the finish. Great way to start the season with a bullet!

Race 2 saw Al get the jump off the line as Marrion struggled to get going at the B buoy and left me waiting and waiting. Sometimes racing is just keeping clear of the other boats and having an escape strategy if things dont go according to plan.
David made big gains off the breeze as he came powered into A buoy passing Al and myself - who both understood the mark and came pumping in against the tide dead downwind. I stayed buried in 3rd on the last beat to windward with little or no options left to play.

Race 3 saw me getting a good start again and popping out in front to maintain the lead around the course. Sailing in the front of the fleet is easy as you've got clear air and all the options. It's when your behind that things get tough as you are more than likely sailing in bad air and your decisions are being determined by the fleet in front of you.

Race 4 saw some additional traffic on the course as I got pinned down below a sailboat rounding the last mark in the lead while David and Al snuck into windward of the boat and made some gains on the last beat to take the top 2 positions. The lesson here is to keep your eyes on the big picture and dont get trapped. I should have rounded up hard at the leeward mark and tried to squeeze around the sailboat. Sometimes its just bad timing and there's not a lot you can do.
Going into the last race, I knew it would be tight with David and I for points. The first beat to windward saw David, Al and I all get off the starting line well. David tacked first calling an aggressive layline while Al and I continued sailing. I split the difference between them and was right on the money. A good rounding and a quick gybe got me back to the breeze and down to the leeward mark in front. From there, its just making sure you don't make any mistakes.
Thanks to Soheil and Eric on the race deck for doing RC.
Full results here.
Next race is less than a week away with the Elevstrom-Zellerbach regatta at the StFYC this coming weekend.