Saturday, September 29, 2012


Without a doubt, the level of our local fleet continues to rise every season.
It was all too evident in the last Friday night race of season when 3 of us tied for 1st place after 5 races. In the 12 + years Ive been racing windsurfers at the St. Francis- I dont ever think I've seen this happen.
Out of 5 races, we had 4 separate sailors with bullets!
It goes to show that no matter what- not only does every race count, but every decision you make on the course counts
And with the way the racing rules for sailing are (appendix b for windsurfers)- even your throw outs count when you're tied at the end of a series.

The lesson- race the series like there was no throw out!

Race 1 started with the fog and flood tide coming in strong along the city front course.
The RC from the race deck called for Course A- a quick windward leeward with 3 laylines to call in less than 6 min. The twilight series is a small sprint course that require calling exact laylines and sharp board handling skills. 5 races are run with sailors able to discard their worst scores.
13 races in the season. You can miss 2 and you have to do RC 1 time in the season.

Somewhat reluctantly I rigged for the gusts with my Avanti 10.0 and 67cm kashy.
The night before I was practicing on the course and got knocked down pretty hard a few times with some big southerly puffs at X.

I knew right from the first beat I was in trouble as I got rolled, not able to keep a lane with my medium size fin. 30 seconds into the race, I had to duck CRad's stern and go for speed. Meanwhile Eric was killing it - calling his laylines perfectly and getting the first bullet in a 14-16k breeze followed closely by CRad, Soheil and Al and myself in 5th.

A quick regroup.
I moved my boom up, my harness lines back and let about a 1/4-1/2" of downhaul off to get more power into the rig for the 2nd race.
This time around, I was able to get a clear lane off the start and immediately move into what I call my 'low end gears.' By holding the uphaul with my front hand and standing the rig upright, I was able to keep more pressure on the fin and drive the board. The technique works well with the starboard 167 as the board doesn't require a lot of power from the fin, but rather a more efficient technique from the sailor.

In fact, the board gets too over powered most of the time when there is breeze and a smaller fin is usually better to keep things under control.

Al was able to get a good inside start and B and reached the top mark just ahead. As we gybed out to get better air past Anita rock, I was starting to gain but knew the big move would be to call the layline for the leeward mark. On a short course, you can make big gains by calling the laylines better than your competitors. With the flood tide coming in strong, it also gave me a reason to understand and use the flood to carry down the extra distance. Al kept going as I gybed away but soon realized I hadnt gone far enough- even with the flood tide to help me.
I had 2 more gybes to make right around the leeward mark just as Soheil was coming in strong from the outside. I managed to keep him just behind me all the way to the seawall where I called for room to tack and we both headed up the last 1 minute beat to the finish line.
Im not sure Ive ever been in a closer finish as we were dead even going across the finish line just pinching up enough to make it around the A buoy and through the finish line.
I got the nod from the race deck letting me know I had won that battle but Soheil was far from finished.
Race 3- I kept the same strategy and went for speed off the line starting just below the pack at B but getting a good jump and immediately going the one hand on uphaul mode. I was blazing upwind even with a 67cm fin in 12-15k. The key to racing with smaller fins, I found- is to always keep the fin lit up by heeling the board to leeward and creating additional lift. Its harder to do when you're in a pack of boards with not much room to breath so getting clear air is essential to making it work. A smaller fin is usually faster if you can keep it lit.
 Shown above-uphaul technique to rail the board!

I kept my lead, called my laylines and got the bullet not taking any unnecessary risks up the final beat. When your in the lead, a more conservative approach works best.

By the time race 4 came around the flood tide had increased to 2-3 knots and the fog was as thick as mud. I went for the same thing that was working before- a conservative start in the middle of the line but a good lane with clear air. I ran down the line sailing over a few sailors gaining speed and dipped back down. With the flood tide, you can always count on the fleet being a few board lengths back from the line and can usually find a mid line sag. Eric came out just in front of me as we reached the windward mark in front of the rest of the pack after over standing the top mark and coming in strong as the flood was pushing us down. Im not sure how but Eric was able to gybe and get going leaving me struggling as the starboard tack fleet sailed right over the top of me leaving me with nothing but dirty air.
Here is where the 10.7 might have been a better choice.
In formula sailing you always want to be powered at your maximum.
Once you fall off a plane- game over :/
The sooner you can get back up to speed- the better.

As I got going again I lost track of the leeward mark in the fog and sailed way past it, almost having to sail back upwind to get to it. Meanwhile Soheil closed the gap and was right on my tail as we rounded X.
This time, I went all the way into the wall while he tacked early. There was just enough of a wind bubble on by the seawall that it took me a few seconds to get going again and Soheil took 2nd in front of me calling the perfect layline to the finish line.
Race 5 was almost a repeat of race 4 but in the last min there were no puffs coming down the inside of the course.  The best thing to do in a light wind start is to get going early to be able to plane off the line. I got off the line well, starting to pump and get going almost 30 sends before the gun. I used the speed to head down the line as the rest of the fleet stayed parked at B on the inside. With a good lead, all I had to do was call my laylines right and Id be golden.

Seems simple enough!
Try calling a layline in a 3k flood tide and a dying breeze!
I sailed past the layline and counted to 10 and even gave myself an extra 10 seconds for safety as I was ahead. The angles in formula windsurfing as such that you can look over your back shoulder when sailing upwind and if you can see the mark, you should be able to make it. When sailing upwind on a windward beat, I always keep track of the windward mark and start thinking about tacking when I look over my front should and the mark just goes out of my view.  With a ebb tide, you can tack a bit sooner as the ebb will carry you upwind. With a flood tide you need to sail past the laylines to compensate for the ground you will lose due to the flood.
I just made it around sneaking past Anita and gybed back out to the breeze outside. The downwind layline was even trickier as I lost sight of it again in the fog and had to do a double gybe to get back on course. This was enough to let Soheil back into the game as we rounded the leeward mark pretty close. I had the lead but anything was possible with just one last move to make.
This time, I made the call and tacked before I reached the light air on the inside.
Soheil kept going.
I just about had the finish line laid when I got to a lull and failed to keep the board moving and with the flood tide going strong, it pushed down enough to where I had to double tack the finish while Soheil took his first bullet of the night.
That was enough for Soheil to take his 1st regatta win of the season, breaking the 3 way tie between Eric & myself.
The big lesson tonight was calling your laylines.
It can make you into a hero or a zero.

Aweome performance by all and another great season of racing at the St.FYC.

The RC has invited us to race in the fall dinghy regatta on October 22-23 so 1 more race to look forward to this year!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

water under the bridge

5k ebb & clean peaks stacking up nicely at the south tower...

I had just gotten off an 11 hour transatlantic flight.
The recycled stale air and 3" of coach class leg room clearance had just about broken me.
I needed a fix.
The jet lag could wait.
I rode down the presidio, across the gg golden gate bridge on my bike to pick up my car in Sausalito and then down to the beach where 15-22k and a big ebb tide swell were waiting for me in the middle of the Bay.  From the bridge you could see the brown water ebbing out the gate like a river.
The tide lines lines were fantastic with the ebb tide swell setting up perfectly in front of a flat water paradise in the middle of the Bay.
I immediately took the ebb ladder up to yellow bluff at the Marin headlands were the swell was already penetrating the gate with some nice sets barreling through the slot.
The wind was in the high teens with an abundance of late afternoon sunshine coming through the golden gate. The September twilight colors are so intense that it makes you want to be the last one off the water every time.

Experience had taught me not to ever get too greedy- especially as the season starts to rool down.
Nobody like a shlog home even after a stellar session1

The avanti 7.7 and mikes lab slalom board were the perfect set up.
2 of the lightest pieces of equipment I have in my quiver and have ever sailed.
They make windsurfing so much fun as it feels like you've got nothing in your hands or below your feet at all.The board just floats over the chop and through the gybes.

Even with a cut down 44cm carbon formula fin, the board turns so nicely in the 3-4' swell that was stacking up with the outgoing ebb tide and opposing seas breeze.
The advantage of a strung membrane vs a traditional sail is amazing.
The sail feels like a rigid wing but soft enough to feel the power.

A few missed gybes and a thorough salt water flushing of 50 degree water and it was all good! Like I never missed a day.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

blue moon sprint

There's hardly a day that goes by that I don't try to line up on the San Francisco Bay and sent it downwind under the golden gate bridge.
Its the ultimate sailing experience!

If I'm not there, I'm thinking about it.
Its one of my favorite places in the world to be.
Conditions are never quite the same despite the the bridge being there since 1933 towering 220 feet above mouth of the San Francisco Bay.
I've been sailing under the golden gate bridge since I first moved to San Francisco in 2000.
Id recon at least 50-75 days a year x 10 years has allowed me to see a huge variety of conditions.

The chop, the swell, the wind, the inbound & outbound commercial freighters, the wildlife, the fog, the long dronning buzz of the foghorn, the view of the San Francisco city front on one side and the Marin headlands on the other, the tide lines, the incredible perspective of sailing under the bridge with the swell lifting you up are all the things that make this place so special.

There's the north tower set at the Marin shore.
Legend has it the great whites come here as the channel runs deep and is ripe with sea life.

The South tower can create a standing wave on a good ebb tide that allows you endlessly ride the incoming swell while the tide pulls you out!

Some days, the center span can bring howling 40k gust that venturi through the coastal gaps and under the golden gate bridge and into the San Francisco Bay while the ebb runs like a a river in the opposite direction stirring up a voodoo chop of white frothy mess on the water's surface.

Other times, the water is like a sheet of silk with barley a ripple on and the flood tide running at 4-5k into the SF Bay. It days like this that you can plane across the water on a formula board without a single sound.

Ive painted the picture.
Set the scene.
Enter the 2012 Ronstan Bridge to Bridge race.
I tried to run the course a few days earlier in the week and develop a strategy based on the winds and tides along the city front and in the southern shipping channel. My goal was to stay in the breeze, gybe early if needed to and stay upright at all cost in the voodoo chop. Max ebb was a 4:54 with a 3.65k outgoing tide

I was becoming intimate with my custom double chicken strap on the starboard 167 formula board through the disorganized chaos of chop and swell on the course. This years starboard goes especially well off the breeze and Ive learned that it doesn't need a big fin at all to stay powered.
My cut down 64cm kashy fin made the ride tolerable and even somewhat enjoyable.

The last piece of my quiver was the avanti 10.0 sail.
Despite being a light wind slalom sail- the sail blazes downwind. Its my go to sail for sailing in most any condition on formula in the SF Bay.

69 other high performance sailing craft joined the fun for a 5:30 start.
Rumor had it 2 Ac 45's were going to race plus l'hydropture- an amazing experiment in fluid hydrodynamics and all out sailing power. To give you an idea of what the hydropture is capable of- take the record they broke earlier in the week practicing speed runs on the SF Bay.

In winds just above 20 knots, the boat reached 44.5 knots driven by skipper Alain Th├ębault and with the CEO of America’s Cup team Artemis Racing, Paul Cayard, aboard. That's more than 20 percent faster than even the bay's high speed ferries (which run at 36 knots). In heavy wind the boat has a top end potential of 61 knots (more than 70 mph.)
I tried lining up with her earlier in the week and got spat out like a water melon seed in the turbulence of wind and water wake as they passed me like I was standing still.

During the line up during the pre start- it became obvious the boat wasn't in a safe position with all the other kites and formula boards jetting in every direction. The took the wise move and started 5 min early for the safety of everyone around.
That however still left the Aussie 18 skiffs and kite boarders to content with as well as a handful of other foiling trimaran powered kites, extreme 40 catamarans, and what not's on the starting line.

The start was postponed as we waited for in inbound tug and an outbound freight to clear the starting area. The start line was set between the red nun buoy west of the south tower and a start boat set just north of mid span. The line was broken up into 3rds with the kite and formula boards starting in the most northern section of the line.

I knew there would be a mid line sag with the ebb and the fact the 2 mid boat lines were not sighting the line. I had Johnny Heineken just below me as we both squirted out from the pack 5 seconds early  and got a good jump on the pack at the start. I've sailed enough against Heineken that I know I can trap him, at least temporarily, by sailing beneath him and limiting his kite but I wasnt looking for any battles. I was just looking to go as fast as I could downwind 7.5 miles to the finish line set beneath the eastern most span of the Bay Bridge. Besides Ive given up on trying to beat the kites downwind while powered. They can go super deep. The only chance is when it lightens up and the formula board is back in the game again.
I continued on starboard tack off the line till around the St.FYC where I gybed back and could tell the top few kites had much deeper angles and I crossed just in front of the first skiff and held a good lead on the rest of the windsurfers. The pressure was starting to drop in the middle of the Bay so I gybed back and had a nice line just above Alcatraz.  There was a lot of disorganized chop and I was going between the chicken and the double chicken strap as the pressure went from 14-22k.
The tug that delayed our start was now bearing directly towards the finish line with the top few kites weaving around it. I choose to stay north where the pressure was as I didn't want to get trapped on the south side of the tug where the city front winds could be lighter as we turned the corner towards the Bay bridge.

The move paid off as I was still in the hunt in the top 10. Gomes went down hard just in front of me as he dipped his edge of his kite in the water while trying to stay alive on his slalom style kiteboard.
A ton of different strategies on what works best on a strictly downwind course
Heineken, who was using a course board, 13m Ozone edge kite but smaller fins had walked away at this point and was nearing the finish line. I was making some gain on kiter, Adam Koch on his course board in the lighter stuff but one or two puffs carried him 100m deeper and out of reach. Nearing the finish the top skiff just crossed in front of me but I had better speed bearing away for the finish.
It was going to be really close.
We were overlapped at the finish with the skiff finishing at the pin and and myself at the boat end.
I looked around and was happily surprised I was able to get all the other windsurfers and about 90 seconds back from the winner.
With the kites taking the top 7 positions, the first skiff just edging me out, I sat in 9th overall.
Johnny Heineken a new course record with a time of 14 minutes and 14 seconds blazing deeper and faster than anything else on the course.

Steve Sylvester was the 2nd windsurfer about a min back from me with Eric Christianson following close behind.
You can always count on the St.FYC to throw a good party and awards after the final competitors are picked up, boards put away and sails rolled up.

Johnny's secret- go fast and don't look back!


Past winners:
1998- McKee Brothers 49'er 27'-18"
1999- Bill Wier- windsurfer 25'-20"
2000- Vlad Moroz- windsurfer 21'-20"
2001- Rob Hartman- windsurfer 20'-20"
2002-Chip Wasson- kiteboarder 18'-04"
2003- Micah Buzianis -windsurfer 16'-23"
2004- Seth Besse -windsurfer 17'-10"
2005- Anthony Chazez- kitrboarder 17'-54"
2006- Jeff Kafka -kiteboarder 20'-28"
2007- Chip Wasson- kiteboarder 16'-30"
2008- Howard Hamlin- Aussie18 skiff 22'-25"
2009-John Winnning Ausie 18 skiff 19'-46"
2010- Michael C -Aussie 18 skiff 19'-44"
2011- Bernie Lake -kiteboarder (16'-15")
2012-  Johnny Heineken -kiteboarder 14'-14"