Sunday, June 28, 2009

Learning to foot for speed in the flood

Sunday's course racing provided a building breeze and sunny skies with 15-20k by the 12:00 first start off the St. Francis Y.C.
We ran 3 triple windward leeward courses for plenty of upwind downwind racing in a building flood tide.
Racing was tight between 2nd and 5th- changing back and forth with CRad, Wells and myself all trading spots in most of the races.Thanks to Shawn Davis for the photos- more at his website.

In front, it was Al who took 3 bullets with amazing speed and no mistakes all day.
I learned so much about my VMG in the course of the day, that my upwind style changed completely by the last race. By running the sail a bit flatter than normal and much longer harness lines, I was able to really go from a pinching set up to a footing set up- which worked so much better in the flood tide and flat water.
Ben was dominating with this set up but he was left hung to dry at the windward mark- which was set just inside the windline and left the heavyweights watching the light guys pump away.
I struggled in my first 2 starts to get a lane off the line on starboard and maintain my position going into the seawall. After the first tack, the positions were pretty much set, baring any major mistake. Al and CRad both had great speed and found themselves in the top 2 positions. Wells- who is fresh on the F4 fin program- really stepped up the pace and was there at every mark rounding.
Photo credit: Shawn Davis
Race 1 started with a few guys on port tack and the rest on starboard. I was 1-2 seconds late pulling the trigger and fought for a lane. I ducked down taking some sterns to try to get to the wall first but was in 5th by the time we got the the top mark- set in a big hole. The fleet sat parked- exiting in pretty much the same order they came in.
A quick downwind and upwind saw the parade to the middle and we ended up in the same scenario- parked at the top mark. This time I saw Wells- escape by sailing deep around the mark and getting the a puff that wasn't even available 20 feet away.
Another quick down and up and I found myself in the same position, taking the rounding wide and keeping in the wind and catching up from 5th to 3rd on thet rounding.
Race 2 saw the wind build to 18-20k. A few more port tackers on the line this time with Ben and Al pushing the top mark again. I got screwed at the top mark in what can only be described as a hole from hell as the top 4 guys sailed away and I never got back in the game.

photo credit: Sergei Zavarin
Race 3 was run at 1:30 with the gust coming in a bit stronger.
Most of the fleet was well powered on the 10's.
I decided port was the way to go and got off the line well and had to match Ben's speed low angle in order not to get rolled. The difference was amazing as both our VMGs proved very fast upwind. At the top mark, CRad, Wells, Ben and I all came in hot just behind Al.
The lightweights escaped and got back to the breeze. 2 more upwind and down winds saw me putting everything I had to stay in the game with Wells and CRad and finally got the best of them on the last upwind by footing for speed with better VMG as the big puffs came down the course.
I managed to pass CRad on the last downwind and get off a better gybe and get going sooner to finish the last race in 2nd.
With Al clearly ahead taking all 3 bullets, it was a 1 point difference between 2nd and 4th with me getting the short end of the stick in 4th. Sometimes, that's how racing goes.
Overall, still happy with performance and new technique in the flood tide.
A huge round of thanks to the St. Francis Y.C for providing the resources and facilities to run 2 great days of racing on the city front. The race management is world class!

Almost forgot about Friday night racing at the club a few days ago.

Adam got some good video.

SF Classic

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

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice

This weekend we celebrated the summer solstice with the longest day of the year and 15 hours of sunshine both Saturday and Sunday.
The winds couldn't have been better, well sort of, depending on where you were.
There's an old saying that if you want the wind to be light- schedule a race- specifically a slalom race!
We had the perfect location in the middle of the SF Bay with a huge group of other sailors- celebrating the solstice at Treasure Island.
The first Cal Cup Invitational reach race was set for Saturday afternoon but alas with 15 sailors fulled rigged for slalom and potentially formula, the wind failed to come down the Bay and fill in by 3:30 and the race was called. Sure enough just as I de-rigged 3 sails, the wind started filling in.
I decided to bail and hit up the city front where Crissy Field was going off in 20-30k and huge swell at the South Tower. I managed one of the best session of the year, lit on my mikes lab slalom board and north warp 6.3. The stacked up 4'-6' swell was pumping set after set just inside the Gate with the wind line extending all the way into Ft. Point Bay allowing you to ride the sets way deeper and longer than normal. I spend a solid 30 minutes gybing back and forth between the South Tower of the Golden Gate bridge and Ft. Point while the tide pumped a river of flood like a moving moving sidewalk. By 6:30 the gust were into the 30's and I couldn't keep the momentum of gybing every 30-40 seconds - despite some of the best swell of the year.
On Sunday- despite being lighter, it was still a solid day. I squeezed out a late session on my big slalom gear lining up with a few locals tuning up for the US Nationals next month in the Gorge. By 8 pm when I left the beach, the sun was still above the span of the GG Bridge with another hour of day light left!
Ive been making sure everything is in good and tuned order this season with 5 rigs to manage between formula and slalom.
New harness lines,
Reinforced boom heads,
Double Chicken strap on the formula board,
Marked settings on bases and booms.
Lately, Ive been sailing the slalom gear with a waist harness and feeling pretty fast.
Its a different feeling than using a seat harness where you can essentially sit down and swing from the harness lines. The waist harness pulls from your core and you use your whole body against the force of the sail. That usually means shorter harness lines.
On the bigger sails, especially this years north warps, Ive been running the harness lines much further back on the boom as a result of the flatter more slalom like feel to the formula sails. You need to tune the 09 warps very full and powerful to get the most out of them. That means alot of tack strap pressure to put shape into the bottom of the sail. Also the sail requires almost no outhaul at all- with the sail touching the outhaul cleat on the boom and even the harness lines upwind. Any tighter and you start to loose angle upwind.
Also Ive been experimenting with wider booms the last 2 seasons.
The idea is the boom isnt draping as much over the boom downwind- especially in lighter conditions when you really bag the sail out. This also helps keep a clean twist all the way up the sail.

So far the modified HPL back end works best with several additional layers of carbon reinforcement this season. The Maui Sails boom works great as well but has a lot of swing weight and is still very wide and the furtherst point out.
This week-end will be a marathon of racing with the Friday Night Series at StFYC and the SF Classic on Saturday and more formula course racing on Sunday.
Break out the endurox recovery drink!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Racer's responsibility to know the rules

Sailing is one of the few competitive sports that leaves enforcing the rules essentially up to the participants. To make this work, however, racers actually need to know the rules and feel comfortable and knowledgeable enforcing them!
Once you begin to understand them, the game charges completely. You begin to take advantage of more opportunities because you know the rules and a protest becomes a means to ensuring fair sailing, not something that is looked down upon.
The fundamental principle of the Racing Rules of Sailing lies in sportsmanship. It says that when competitors know they have broken a rule they will promptly take a penalty or retire.
However, an important thing to remember is that in most cases, a sailor must actually be protested by another sailor or the RC to be disqualified!
So if you see somebody breaking a rule and don't protest them, you are just as guilty as not following the rules as the person who you think has broken a rule.
On the same hand, if you know youve broken a rule, the proper thing is to take a penalty or retire.
As the old saying goes, 'You haven't won the race, if in winning the race you have lost the respect of your competitors.'- Paul Elvstrom

An interesting scenario happened 2 weeks ago at our CALCUP series where the rules came into question and as a result of several emails with our local rules guru and US Sailing judge, Bryan McDonald, several important lessons were learned.

The course was a typical windward leeward with a start/finish line in bottom 1/4 of the beat. At the skipper's meeting, it was noted, the finish was was closed during the downwind portion of the course.
Upon finishing Race 2, another sailor came up to me saying I was disqualified because I sailed through the finish line.
I tried to recall the downwind leg and remember seeing another sailor inside of me when going downwind. Between the races, I went over and talked to the other sailor and to the best of our collective knowledge came to the conclusion that he or I did not sail through the finish line.
At this point, with out any protest lodged by the accusing sailor, I thought the issue was over.
When the scores where published (nearly 10 days later), I noticed I was scored a DSQ for race 2.
Informally, I sent an email to the RC asking what was up.
Their response: 'We saw you sail through a restricted area in addition to another sailor reporting the incident.'
'OK,' I thought, well maybe I did sail through the line with out really knowing it since the RC and another sailor said they saw me but it is certainly not in the spirit of the rules to automatically DSQ a sailor without a hearing.

I dug out the rule book and looked into rule 63 and found that if a race committee thinks a boat has broken a rule, including for instance not sailing the course correctly, it must protest the boat. The Protest committee will then call a hearing, find the facts, decide if a boat broke a rule, and penalize her if she did.

The next logical step for me would have been to apply for redress since my score, through no fault of my own, had been made significantly worse by an improper action or omission by the RC.
No protest was filed by any party, including the RC and yet I was DSQ'ed from a race.

I again consulted our local rules guru for consultation and he agreed- the RC had no right to penalize a sailor without a hearing (outside starts and finishes.) In addition, if other sailors think they see a rule being broken, it's up to them to protest. No protest = no grounds for DSQ.

Upon pushing the issue further, the RC came back with another sailor saying they saw me sail through the line (but again no protest.)

The evidence was beginning to stack up that maybe I did sail through the finish line without knowing it and maybe the proper thing for me to do would be to withdraw from the race but with out a hearing and no protest by either the RC or other sailors, it was well within my rights to continue to ask for redress and have my results reinstated.

I decided not to push it any further (against my better judgment) and try to use the scenario as an example to learn from.

Here's what I learned:
The rules are up to us to enforce.
If you race without really understanding them it's not really fair to yourself, your competitors or the sport.
As a competitor, you have the responsibility to uphold the rules.
Sportsmanship (RRS 2, Fair Sailing) requires all of us to abide by the rules, to take a penalty or withdraw when required, and to make sure our competitors abide by the rules.

Unfortunately, the “official” Rule book reads like a typical legal document and is often a confusing, and very uninteresting (boring), document to read. Fortunately, several books are available to explain what the rules mean, and why they apply to specific situations.

The best I have come across is:
“Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing” by Dave Perry, published by US Sailing.

“Paul Elvstrom Explains the Racing Rules of Sailing”
is the “Bible” of sailing explanations and should be the centerpiece of any racers library.

“The Rules Book” by Eric Twiname, currently edited by Bryan Willis and “The Rules in Practice” by Bryan Willis are the most popular and are perhaps the easiest to read and understand.

Also are some great blogs that will keep you updated on the rules:
The Racing Rules of Sailing: Look to Windward:
North Coast Windsurfing: racing explained by a mistral prodigy sailor.
Updated Cyber learning of racing Rules
UK rules Quiz

Of course, the rules are available online at:
ISAF website
More specifically, windsurfers also follow Appendix B of the RSS whicn can be found here.
And finally if you find yourself racing at a PWA event, forget everything mentioned above and just get around the course as fast as you can as there are no racing rules- only broken bones!
More about no rules PWA @ G-42 blog

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Friday night racing at the St Francis

Last Friday night saw some of the closest racing all season with Eric and I duking it out in front and ending the night after 5 races tied for first with 6 points a piece.
Racing started with most of the fleet on the 9.0's as the wind was a steady 18-20 knots but with big gust coming down the course. For those of you who haven't sailed in SF, 20k here is like 25k in other parts of the world. Like the gorge, the wind is denser here- giving a stronger punch. Combine that with a crazy ebb, boat traffic and SW gust coming down hard off the Presidio and most sailors choose to sail on their smaller rigs for better control.
Despite the gusts, I've got my 10.0 dialed in to where I can sail it pretty overpowered- even with a 70 cm fin, pinching upwind and straddling the chicken strap off the breeze. I hold off for the 9.0 until it gets really hairy.

In race 1 I took the lead off the line and rounded Anita in 1st with the pack close behind. Charging the downwind leg with full force, I rode the puff down as much as I could to the beach and gybed when it looked like the breeze was dying off some. At the leeward mark, I still had control but sailed the last leg all the way to the seawall, letting Eric tack first and just edge me out at the finish line as we crossed with both of us overlapped and shooting the line! Sometimes the inside lift works here but sometimes, if you're at the layline- youve just got to go for it and take your chances!

Race 2 started with a bit more pre race strategy as the ebb was starting to kick in stronger. You could no longer just line up to the side of B, hang out for the last minute and charge the line but rather had to make your approach with a bit more caution. This meant, going a bit further downwind of the line and during the last minute, let the ebb carry you up to the line. This approach worked well as the rest of the fleet was having to dive down the line as they got sucked up and were too early in their approach. I was left with a smooth lane upwind to climb and get upwind well. Eric actually called the layline a bit better than me and arrived at Anita 10 seconds before me but I gybed a bit sooner and caught a puff to ride down and get to B ahead and in control. I didn't let the mistake of the last race happen again and tacked as soon as I hit the layline to the finish and took the bullet.

Thanks to Shawn Davis for climbing down on the rocks and capturing some great photos.
The complete collection can be found at his website

Race 3 started with me pulling the trigger 2 seconds late and having both Al and Chris to leeward and just ahead. I went into pinching mode but couldn't stay there for too long and had to dive below them for clear air. This actually turned out well as half way up the beat there was a persistent header which favors the leeward board as we got headed. My speed paid off and I rounded the top mark in 3rd behind Al and Eric but with course C called, I just had to wait for one of them to make a mistake as the tactical options were limited in this multi gybe and reach course. As expected, they didnt make any mistakes and sailed to the first 2 spots while I crossed the line in 3rd with CRad just behind.
Race 4 was another close one with Eric and I but I missed out on calling the top layline and Eric got the jump on the downwind. Pushing hard, I was making my move and looked like I might have a chance but fumbled my gybe just before B and was left man handling the 10.0 and rounding up in a big gust. I got everything in control again and held off Wells who was putting on the pressure in 3rd.
The wind lighted up some race 5 where I had a good advantage with the 10.0 and didnt have much pressure as Eric was caught over early in the ebb and had to restart. I sailed conservatively making sure I didn't blow anything and took the final bullet of the evening to finish strong!
Despite our fleet numbers getting smaller, the level of sailing has gone way up this year. The fleet is on a more level playing field in terms of equipment with most of the top sailors on far better fins than the last 2 seasons. The result is everybody is getting their stuff dialed and going fast. There's no one sailor who has a big advantage anymore but rather its the sailor making the least mistakes thats winning- as it should be!
Also- check out the new race camera mounted at the StFYC with full view of all the racing action!
Adam was there as well to capture som eof the racing on video:

Thaks Adam!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

As smooth as butter

Last nights session just came together as I didn't get on the water till 6:45 but was the last off at 8pm with the sun still going down under the Golden Gate Bridge.The tide line was amazing to watch along the city front course as the woodies made their way up the beach past the Presidio shoal in their Wednesday night StFYC series.
I sailed the Friday night course a few times and practiced transitions on the inside- gybing around B and rounding X..
There was a river of flood @ X that made any small mistake at least a few board lengths lost to leeward.

3/4 of the way up the beat to the bridge, the water was as smooth as silk in the middle of the Bay with a decent 2-3k flood tide running through.
The tide line is an interesting thing to sail over and through- all sorts of weird eddies and a wall of water to sail over- in this case, a mere 6".
The board chatters beautifully in these conditions- absolutely flying off the breeze with an extra 2-3k of board speed with the current.
Its time like these when I Iook around and realize the beauty of this place.
The marin headlands are just soaked in an intense Pacific orange glow.
No one else around for at least a 1 mile radius.
A few dolphins make their way towards the ocean against the incoming tide.

As I approach the south tower, things lined up completely different as the tide line was a 2-3' sea of voodoo chop.
My goal is to get around the red nun buoy just outside the tower.
I power through the zone- in what can only be described as a sea of intensely moving moguls.
The only way to approach this is to charge through- 100% committed!

I turn the corner with my foot firmly planted in the leeward chicken strap as wind has strengthen to the mid 20's
15 gybes later and I'm back Crissy field but resist a few minutes longer with a few Anita rock roundings. The flood slightshots me around as I practice a few more gybes off the beach
Adam was there to capture a few of the runs.