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.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Formula Windsurfing on the Americas Cup Course this Saturday

The Americas Cup will be showcasing more than one type of high performance sailing during this Saturday’s final of the Louis Vuitton Series. Immediately following the races between Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Challenge, the formula windsurfing fleet will take the course for several races along the San Francisco city front as part of the AC Open and CALCUP series.
Formula Windsurfing is the high performance competitive course racing format of the windsurfing world with riders capable of reaching speeds of over 30 knots.
Not unlike the AC 72’s which will be racing before them, the formula windsurfing class is an open developmental class- meaning sailors can choose from different manufactures of boards, sails and fins to fit their body weight and specific water and wind conditions.
The event is being run as part of the AC OPEN which sees 16 smaller events staged at the America’s Cup Village at Marina Green and run in parallel to the Louis Vuitton Cup and America’s Cup. In addition to showcasing the formula class, the events goals are to enhance the spectator experience at the America’s Cup Village as well as creating a link between users of San Francisco Bay and the America’s Cup.
Racers will launch from a specially designed ramp at the base of the America’s Cup Village and race around the city front course which takes them to Anita Rock, through the St.FYC starting line, around a leeward mark at Ft. Mason and back upwind to a finish in front of Marina Green. Awards will follow at the Village Stage in the America’s Cup Village.
Special thanks to 101 Sports and the Americas Cup Event Authority for helping to promote the sport of sailing and windsurfing in San Francisco and around the world.
More info can be found at & or come down Saturday to watch at the AC Village. The first possible start is at 2pm and prize giving at 4:30.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Report from the US Windsurfing Nationals

I wasnt able to attend this years US Windsurfing Nationals in Cabrillo Beach last week but am taking the opportunity to post my good buddy- Soheil's report form the regatta.
I think you'll find it a good read about the trials and tribulations of sailing a regatta- the highs and lows and most importantly- the lesson of never ever giving up.

Soheil sailed one of the best regattas of his career and finished a career high 4th overall in the Formula class. Big props to him for keeping it going and sending out an report each evening.

I was living vicariously through his post as I find myself in a new role this summer- that of a new parent. Ana Isabelle Bodner arrived earlier last month and is keeping us busy. Ive swapped out changing rigs for changing diapers but hope to be back on the starting line sometime soon.

Until then- enjoy the guest post.

Day One
I don't see results on the official web site yet, but I'm hoping they'll put some up soon. My best finish today was a 3rd place, which isn't bad for an old guy like me. Specially since the 2 in front are both pros or pro-ish.

There are some photos of the event here:

Day Two
Aloha from warm, sunny and pleasantly windy Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro CA!

Thanks for all of the kind words of encouragement everyone! My back is starting to give out (already!), but I'm motivated by yesterday's 3rd place finish as to what's possible... I actually had another 3rd place finish all sewn up yesterday, but had it taken away because of a silly mark rounding mistake on my part near the finish line... So I'm definitely in the running here if I can last the week.

Today I think I had a 4th and a 5th. Still in the running for a podium finish in the Course racing. I opted out of the Slalom racing today to give my back a rest. It is manageable with Advil and lots of stretching.

The slalom was awesome to watch (would've been more awesome to be in...). Lots of good slalom sailors are here and it looks like 20-25 guys on the start line for each race. The problem is that that is too many in one start for safe racing as slalom is a bit of a high adrenaline contact sport. Lots of crashes and several injuries so far.

They told us today that the Yacht club running the event and responsible for posting the results is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and that they refused to make an exception for our event. I think that's lame. The St. Francis YC that runs our events up in the Bay Area is closed on Tuesdays, but the race office staff happily comes in when we're running a national or international regatta and the results are posted on their web site before we've had a chance to get dry and put away our gear. Hopefully we'll start seeing some results posted tomorrow...

Tomorrow is the long distance race. This 1 race counts as two course races, so it is important for me to get a good result in this one!

I wonder if I come in 3rd, if I'd be the U.S. National Champion? The two guys in 1st and 2nd have foreign racing numbers: AUS and GBR... :-)
Day Three

Today we had the long distance race. This one race would count as 2 normal races, so it was very beneficial if you did well but could be disastrous to your overall score if you did poorly. The course was described to us at the skipper's meeting in the morning: a short upwind leg in front the beach we've been launching from, then a long downwind, weaving in and out of the breakwater in front of the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor entrances. Around the bottom of the breakwater, and then back up to finish in front of our beach again. My GPS recorded 32.09 miles sailed for the entire trip, and I did it in 1 hour and 56 minutes. It was a scenic and tactical race as there were giant container ships parked inside the breakwater and the breakwater itself to contend with on both legs. L.A harbor is absolutely massive. Largest port in the US, and 6th largest in the world when you combine the L.A. and Long Beach harbors together (they're right next to each other and effectively two terminals of one massive harbor).

My race started well enough, on port just behind AUS7. It looked like Phil almost had a collision with Jack Lundquist who was starting on starboard. I told Jack after the race that Port/Starboard is very cut and dry and he should protest Phil if he feels like his right of way was infringed.

I continued to follow the leaders (I'm in 2nd or 3rd place now) up to the windward mark, but this last leg brought us close to the beach where there is a lot of seaweed. This is where disaster struck, I snagged a large chunk of seaweed on my fin and started slowing down and going sideways. This kept me from making the mark rounding. So I tacked, went backwards to shed the weeds off my fin and watched as 5 or 6 boards passed me. I tacked again for the mark, and stalled because of even more board traffic above me giving me bad air. I didn't make the mark again! Eight or ten more boards went by! I tacked again and finally made the mark, but I looked behind and there was nobody left behind me. I was dead last! Only 5 or so minutes had elapsed and I was already in last place.

I was so dejected, I almost quit right there. My dream of doing well in this regatta was shattered. I almost shed a tear or two as I so wanted to do well here. However, I pressed on. I knew I could catch at least some of the boards ahead of me, and maybe I could salvage a top 10 position if I was lucky.

As it turned out, I caught up to the first clump of people ahead of me fairly quickly and passed! Now almost mid-fleet or thereabouts, I wasn't making up any ground on the boards I could see off in the distance. The wind was light, I had my small (10.0) sail to try and save my back a bit, and was well underpowered. I kept going and worked hard to pump my sail and get planing after every jibe. About halfway down to the bottom rounding, I saw a chance to overtake the next group ahead as some of them were doing short legs inside the breakwater and not hitting the corners of the course (this is sometimes advantageous but risky here as there were lots of ships and obstacles with wind shadows to contend with). I weaved in and out of some ships, hit the corners, and made out! By the time we came back out to the ocean from inside the breakwater, I had passed a group of 5 or 6 more boards. I held this position until the bottom mark rounding.

I could see Al and Tom just ahead. Ahead of them, I could see Anders from Finland. Ahead of them I couldn't see anybody as I was too far back, but I calculated that Phil was in 1st place, Xavier in 2nd and Fernando was in 3rd. Based on what I remembered from my disastrous time stalled at the top mark watching people go by. So now I was in 7th. The wind had clicked up another notch and my 10.0 was starting to feel in the groove. I put the hammer down and started pushing hard.

Again, I noticed the guys ahead of me short tacking inside the harbor and not taking any chances crossing behind the large container ships parked there. I threaded the needle between two massive monsters after doing a calculation in my head that the one casting the wind shadow above me was about the same distance I normally pass below the south tower of the Golden Gate bridge, and roughly the same width. So I went for it. I couldn't see the other guys for a while as the ship was blocking my view, but by the time I tacked and looked, I had overtaken Tom, and Anders. Only Al, Fernando, Xavier and Phil were ahead of me. Now in fifth. Hey, this was turning out ok.

Now we headed back out of the breakwater and to the ocean again. I could see Al and Fernando way up ahead, but they were a LONG ways ahead and were taking a long tack out into the ocean. As I followed, I knew I had to do something different or they would maintain that lead till the end. I tacked back towards the breakwater. Immediately I could tell that was the right thing to do as I could feel the wind lifting me onto a much more advantageous vector. I kept doing this (going a short way out into the ocean, and short tacking back towards the breakwater. By about the 3rd one of these tacks, I crossed ahead of Al and Fernando! Now in 3rd place!! I looked ahead but could barely make out Xavier well in the distance with not much more distance left to the finish. I kept pushing.

Alas it was not enough. Although I made up a bunch of distance on Xavier, he crossed the finish line well ahead of me. I'm guessing Phil finished well ahead of him as I couldn't even see him and he was fully dressed standing on the beach when I got back to shore. Still, 3rd place! After starting basically last and against improbable odds. I felt pretty good. But, I couldn't find the finish line!! I could see the committee boat that started us, but I couldn't see the pin end of the line which is this flimsy little flag mark that's really hard to see. Still, I saw Xavier pass right by the committee boat so this has to be the finish. I sailed over to them and saw them frantically waving their arms at me and pointing behind me. I look behind and see a different, much smaller boat and the pin end flimsy flag mark about 100 yard downwind. Disaster! I had sailed too far and come to the wrong finish. I turned back, sailed past this new finish boat and went through the proper finish line, but not before Al, who was not too far behind, and had managed to get there first. Again I was dejected. To have clawed my way back to 3rd, only to give it up for 4th at the end made me really mad.

I thought about it on the short sail back to the beach and remembered the course diagram and the skipper's meeting from the morning. I ran up to the white board on the beach and looked at the diagram. The diagram clearly showed the same line was being used as the start line AND the finish line. This means that the same boat will be used as the start and finish boat, unless it is specifically called out as being different and is written in the sailing instructions or on the official notice board. There was no such mention or notation. Hmmmm...

Back at the rigging area, everyone was congratulating me for the massive come from behind effort, but also saying "sorry about the finish...". Al was very gracious and was saying that he considered slowing up and letting me finish in 3rd in front of him because he saw my predicament with the changed finish line, and knew that I had already beat him fair and square. On my way back to the hotel I called Darren the principal race officer to ask for redress based on the start/finish line change. He said he knew why I was calling, and that they were going to grant me redress and my 3rd place finish based on not having officially announced the finish line boat change prior to the start of the race. Hooray!

So, long story short: disastrous start in last place, perseverance, a bit of luck, good boat speed, and some calculated risks along the way paid off to a 3rd place finish.

Again, photos are here:

...and I'll send a link to the results once they're posted somewhere!!

Here's a map view of the course I sailed today as recorded by my GPS watch. It may help with visualizing some of verbiage:

The zigzag lines show the course I sailed. The color of the section of line represents my speed on that section (green= slow, yellow= less slow, orange= faster, red=fastest). The little green circle is the start and finish point. The skinny white line is the breakwater (low rocky seawall) that protects the entrance to the two harbors. You can see two gaps in this breakwater that we had to sail in and out of as part of the course. We started outside, went inside at the first gap, came back out at the 2nd gap, went around the end of the breakwater, came back out at the 2nd gap and stayed out until the finish.
Day Four
Today was all about weeds.

We had the 2nd to last day of the competition and we had 2 course races followed by a few heats of slalom racing. Going into this day I was in 3rd place, but I was tied in points with the 4th place sailor (Bay Area's Al Mirel, and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet...). My plan for the day was simple: stay ahead of Al.

The course was setup a bit differently than the first 2 days of the competition. The windward mark was set up much further upwind, and well upwind of the giant kelp bed on the north end of the beach. This made it a tactical decision whether to head to the beach for the lifted tack and risk getting stuck in the kelp bed or to avoid the weeds and instead sail out to the ocean where there is less wind on the headed tack.

Race 1, I got a good start on port tack heading into the beach. The start line was set a bit more square, so everyone opted to start on the tack going towards the lift at the beach. As we headed to the weedy zone, most people (including me) split the difference and tacked before the kelp got too thick. Since we had split the difference, we had to do a bunch of tacks to get to the windward mark. The guys who'd gone further inside the kelp were a mixed bag. Some were stuck, or down in the water, others had found a clear channel through and were now ahead. Ahead of me I could see Phil, Xavier, Jack Lindquist, and Al! Dang it, Al was ahead of me! But we were very close. I rounded carefully and jibed immediately to follow Al. We got going and I easily sped right by him (a little too easily...). I could see that he was looking back at his fin, and I knew what had happened. He was dragging some weeds. He stopped to disentangle himself from the pesky weeds, and I was gone. I finished in 5th or 6th as I also had a minor tangle with some weeds further on. As I finished, I looked back and could see that Al was at least 3 positions behind me. So far so good.

Race 2, was the same setup as Race 1 with the start on port, etc., except there was no Al!? I looked all around but couldn't see him. I got an even better start and all I could see ahead of me was Phil. I followed him all the way up to the windward mark, and then it happened to me. Stuck on weeds. I couldn't jump these off, so I had to stop and backtrack to try and get them to drop off. By the time I got going, a few boards had passed me and I was again in 5th or 6th. But still no Al. I had another minor spell with another batch of weeds further on, but quickly caught up to 5th or 6th again and held on to that to finish.

Overall, not a stellar day, but I may still be in 3rd place as Al finished behind me in 1 race and didn't compete in the 2nd race. Later we found out that he had broken his mast while waiting for race 2 to start and had to get rescued from drifting in to the rocky sea wall.

That was it for the day. I decided again not to compete in the slalom heats they had later in the afternoon as my back is still not good. I may give slalom another try tomorrow after our last course race.

Tomorrow we have course racing scheduled for the early afternoon, followed by more slalom heats. It is likely to be a short day as they have to pack up the beach and do the awards ceremony afterwards as well. Barring a disaster, I'm in a good position to hold on to my 3rd place position. We shall see!
Day Five
The last day. An epic journey for me so far, but in some ways even more drama was in store for me on this last day.

The day started out well enough, I had slept through the night for a change, the back was felling relatively loose and I was feeling good. Nervous, but good. After 4 days and lots of battles, Al and I were still tied in points going into the last day, and the last 3 races of the regatta. If the day finished with a tie, I would win the tie break since he had worse scores than me to throw out. All I had to do was to maintain the tie, or just stay ahead of him to take 3rd overall.

Race 1: Got a good start but slightly behind Al. I was going fast though, and caught him up and passed him in short order. Played all my cards right with good tactics and transitions and finished in 3rd place behind Phil and Xavier. I looked behind me as I was finishing and Al finished 3 places behind me. Things were looking up!

Race 1.5: Leaving the beach after the break between race 1 and 2, I turned my back for a second to adjust my boom, and a rogue wave snuck up behind me and crashed into my sail. I heard several sickening crunching noises and knew exactly what had happened. I looked and I had broken almost every batten in my sail!! Disaster!!! There was no time to change sails, so I had to go with what I had. Sailed to the start line with this lumpy mess of a sail.

Race 2: Got a great start. The lumpy sail was actually doing ok. The center of effort kept moving around and it was a bit of a struggle, but I was holding it together. I was in 2nd behind Phil for a while and then Tom snuck past. Xavier must have gotten tangled up in the weeds since I didn't see him after the start. I was comfortably in 3rd, but I could see Jack and Al some distance behind me pushing hard. After two laps I was still a bit ahead of them as we approached the finish line. Right before the finish we have to round the pin end of the start line, and then we have a short reach to the finish. As I turned the corner and the power came on in the sail (90 degrees to the wind exposes your sail to the maximum force of the wind), the lumpy, broken sail became a beast and started wrestling me. I wrestled back and lost, falling in backwards. Jack and Al went by, but I got going and finished behind Al before any more damage could be done. I did a quick calculation in my head: I was still ahead of Al by 2 positions. All I had to do was to do no worse than 2 positions behind him in the final race.

Race 3: It all came down to this. Got a good start above Al and tacked above him. Started the next leg ahead of him and going fast. Then everything slowed down and going sideways: weeds!! Tried jumping them off, no go. Tacked and went backwards for a bit, no go. Dropped in the water and kicked the damn clump off my fin and got going again. Al was well ahead now and there were about 6 or 7 other boards between us! I had to whittle this deficit down to 2 before the finish! Turned on the afterburners (well..., lumpy, unwieldy afterburners). Sailed fast and well with crisp transitions to catch one after another of these boards. Rounded the upwind mark on the 2nd lap with just 1 more board to catch. He was well ahead but I was going faster and deeper downwind. I jibed when he jibed and we started the last leg before the reach to the finish. Again going faster, I caught him up, and pulled up even with him, but he was still below me a bit and very close. I jibed for the final reach to the finish and he jibed almost at the same time. We were dead even. But then the lumpy, unwieldy sail was again exposed to the full fury of the wind. I was wrestling it and couldn't get any speed. I managed to stay upright and sailing, but I watched in despair as he pulled away and finished in front of me. I had given up 1 too many places...

The dream is dead. Well, not completely... I lost to Al Mirel in an awesome epic battle by 1 point. It's still quite an achievement, because he's one of the most consistently fast sailors in the U.S., has a long history of windsurfing racing (racing windsurfers and doing Olympic campaigns long before I knew what windsurfing even was.), regularly trounces me at our local races, and is 6 or 7 years younger than I am. Actually, I'd forgotten about the age thing and it comes into play now. As I'm sitting dejected at the awards ceremony tonight, I hear them call my name and announce that I'm in 3rd place. What?! I go up to get my trophy and then they call up Xavier in 2nd, and Phil in 1st. As I'm standing up there with these two getting applause, it hits me that Al and I are in different age divisions! Al ended up getting 1st place in the Master's division and 3rd overall in the Formula class.

There you go. Not so bad after all. It was a really fun regatta. The conditions were just about perfect for racing. The only things I regret are injuring my back, and not being able to continue racing in the slalom after the first day, which looked REALLY fun.

The official Results for Formula, Men's and Women's Slalom are now posted here: