Monday, August 26, 2013

Blazing saddles

Our formula windsurfing fleet had been invited to race on the Americas Cup course as part of the AC- OPEN- a showcase of different sailing, windsurfing & kiteboarding competitions run in parallel with the Americas Cup and Louis Vuitton race series this summer on the San Francisco Bay.




We waited until Italy's Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand finished their first race before launching from Crissy Field and sailing down to the start off last chance beach in front of the AC Village on the marina green. The shores were packed with sailing fans on grandstands set up along the water front but the 2nd of 2 races between Italy & NZ was cancelled as they reached their maximum safety limit where the organization and teams agreed it was not safe to race- a meer 24 knots of breeze and a 4k flood tide. Your typical summer San Francisco day.

Too windy for America's cup?
Enter the formula windsurfer!

Things were about to get fun.
If you're going to race on the San Francisco Bay- you better have the proper equipment or chances are- you wont be coming back anytime soon. Same applies with the AC boats.



The windsurfing fleet here has been pushing the limit of the equipment and evolving the sport for the past 30 years. We're extremely lucky to have a world class board builder, sail makers and fin makers within our community. Its all about experience and this fleet has it. The average sailors age this weekend was 50 years old and most have been racing some type of board for at last 20+ years. Anyone in the top 10 was capable of winning a race.

I chose my smaller Mikes Lab 89 cm wide board, 61cm Kashy fin and 10.0 Avanti for maximum power and control.  Conditions looked brutal with a steep chop and 20-25 knots of westerly breeze coming through the golden gate. If you knew what you were doing it was manageable. If not it was hell. I'd been sailing on this course for the better of 10+ years. It's my backyard, my playground.



Race 1 - beautiful start!
Just ducked below the one starboard  tacker on the line and squirted out in front of the pack on port with a good lead. The ML 13 has superior speed upwind though the chop and the Avanti 10.0 feels as light as an 8.0. You've got to have an efficient set up if you want to go fast!

Unfortunately I overstood Anita rock and let Tom Purcell, Eric Christanson and Jack  Lundquist sneak in there to round in front of me. We charged downwind and I was able to peel past Jack on the first gybe. That kid is really sailing fast and consistent for a 18 year old and the youngest kid in the fleet. We had a quick reach from A buoy to B buoy just in front of the St.FYC where there where still hundreds if people at the club cheering us on.

Time for the hero gybe!
Luckily I didn't blow it.


Tom Eric and I all charged deep downwind through some if the roughest voodoo chop Ive sailed in all summer. I went down but made a quick recovery and then saw Tom go down just at the mark. I caught up again and narrowly avoided the collision as I tried to pass Tom to leeward and at the same time Eric came into the leeward mark rounding the wrong way!

I rounded just in front of Tom and called room to tack at the sea wall and we both grinded upwind on port tack keeping pace with each other. Tom's got me by a good 30 lbs so he can hold down his own and with the north 9.3 he's wicked fast.  I lost track of the finish line and let Tom tack and failed to cover as he took the win while I got 2nd and Eric in 3rd for a nice recovery after re-rounding the leeward mark.
Always stay between your opponent and the next mark.
Simple rule but easy to forget especially at the end if the race.

Race 2 start caught the fleet by surprise including myself as I was still trying to adjust my boom height on the starting line and didn't completely engage the cleat so 30 sec after the start my inhaul line let go.  Pro tip- always tie a knot at the end of the line so it doesn't slip all the way out.  I did a quick fix during my tack & lost a few boards in the process but had it set for the rest of the race.


It was time to play catch up so one by one I picked off the middle of the fleet until I found myself in the top 5 again by the slalom leg in front of the St.FYC.  2 good gybes and I was back in the game!
The advantage of the smaller board through the chop was huge- It's got way better handling than the bigger formula boards; even upwind as I had the mast track pegged almost all the way forward,  it tracked extremely well & had superior speed through the chop.
Even if you sail a bad race and have good speed- you're going to end up ok!


At the leeward mark I had my eye on 2 more boards to pass upwind. The opportunity came as a ferry came through the fleet splitting Xavier off & he tacked back to the city front. I worked hard to grind Jack down with a bit better speed upwind on port tack but he hung in there and made a great call to the layline. I was able to just edge Xavier out across the line coming in on the starboard favored tack for 3rd while Eric took the bullet & Jack in 2nd.

Last race- time to get serious if I wanted a place on the podium. I knew the race was close in points between Eric, Tom and I so I had to stay in front of them. With no throw outs it could be anyone's game if any of us made a mistake. Tom already had a 6th in the 2nd race so he had no room for error.

It's important going into the last race knowing where you stand and who has what to gain.

Good start on starboard tack but Al & Eric were right there as we all tacked over from starboard to port tack. We were all overlapped within a board length of each other. Who ever let up the slightest would get shot out the back.

Al to leeward, me in the middle and Eric to windward.

We stayed overlapped for a good 30 seconds before Eric fell back a bit. It was now Al and I grinding hard to weather. I had a slight advantage to windward and started to climb with the better control of the smaller board.
Tom reached the top mark 1st and we pushed hard all the way through the 2 slalom marks not letting up an inch. Gybe for gybe we matched each other. I was on the verge of exploding several times but kept it together. I know Tom on the bigger board & fin must have been wired. Heading downwind on port tack past the GGYC there were minefields of voodoo chop. It took every muscle in my body to keep from getting catapulted over the front of the board- even on the smaller board.

As we approached the layline, I gybed first knowing the flood would help and one could understand and still make it. What I didn't account for was running straight into the chop. It was the pounding of a lifetime as my leeward foot barely stayed in the double chicken strap.  My legs were absorbing the chop like the front suspension of a mountain bike.

I had the line laid but just needed to keep it together. I rounded in front of Tom and covered until the finish gaining a few board lengths on the long port tack upwind. I made sure to not to make the same mistake again and called the layline to take the final bullet of the series and the days racing.

We had the awards ceremony at the AC Village on the same stage the Americas Cup and Louis Vuitton trophies will be awarded to the ultimate winners of this summer's AC circuit.

Overall- a huge success at getting to showcase our class and our sport to a wider audience. Many thanks to Cort and David at 101 surf sports for organizing the event; the Americas Cup Event Authority, the AC- OPEN and the many volunteers that make it all possible.

Results here

As promised, I told the editor at Sailing Anarchy Id get some SA shwag up on the podium.
Pics or it never happed, he said.
Here you go Scotty-

Photo Credit: Ron and Sue Kern.

3 comments:

Camilo said...

Thrilling narration of what must have been an amazing race. Congratulations.

Arden Anderson said...

Good job Steve! Great exposure for windsurfers and the other classes as well.
- Arden

Bill B said...

Any chance someone has any video of the race? I'm guessing since I don't see anything on the America's Cup YouTube page they didn't capture the moment for "us?"