Thursday, July 30, 2009

2009 National Championships: First Place Formula Women

I guess I didn't make it clear enough in the last post.....I've been getting a few questions. :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

US National Championships; San Francisco

Living in a van has its not being able to blog! For the past two weeks I've been back on the road in the USA for some high wind training on the Formula board. My schedule has included both San Francisco and the Gorge, an itinerary which one of my coaches, Mike Gebhardt, once called "running the gauntlet." The two venues have some of the highest wind sailing in the entire United States, and possibly even the world.

Trying to blog in a van

I spent a week in San Francisco, commuting to train with some really good Formula sailors in Berkeley. My first day on the water I had forgotten how crazy the San Francisco Bay can get, and it took a few days to learn the gnarly conditions. San Francisco really goes off in the summer, and the wind, current, voodoo chop, cold water, and boat traffic all make for some of the most challenging sailing found anywhere. I dialed in my gear and technique and by the end of the week was ready to take on the Ronstan Challenge, a distance race from the St. Francis Yacht Club, to a mark near the Golden Gate, all the way downwind to Berkeley, and return.

Before the wind comes up in San Francisco

I made a strategy for the Challenge based on the tidal conditions. We were experiencing a maximum flood tide right during the race, so on the downwind I decided to sail all the way across the bay, to Angel Island, to go with the last of the flood tide. the strategy for coming back upwind was the same, because the tide would be starting to ebb right after my planned mark rounding time. The wind hadn't filled all the way in after the start, and a few sailors and I were trapped in a hole above Alcatraz Island for a few minutes. Most of the sailors decided to go downwind along the San Francisco cityfront, because the wind was usually a bit less there. However, I thought I could take advantage of the less windy conditions to hold to my original plan. After I got out of the hole, the plan did indeed work as I passed quite a few other sailors by going across the bay. As soon as I rounded the Berkeley mark, the wind began to fill in and although I was on my way back up to Angel Island, the conditions soon became survival. With gusts up to 30 knots, I decided to try the cityfront. The new plan worked fairly well although I did get picked up and thrown by a few crazy puffs below Alcatraz. I finished the race in just over two hours, and was really happy that I had just made it back! We finished up the event with a few course races the next day.

After the Ronstan Challenge, I headed up to Hood River, Oregon for another few events. This is the summer of the distance race, because a day after I arrived the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association was holding the annual Gorge Blowout, a 26-mile downwinder from Stevenson, WA, to Hood River. I once spent a summer in the Gorge working, and I always wanted to do this race but wasn't able to. Finally, this was my year. Luckily, my training buddy, Eric Rahnenfuehrer, was around to be my blowout partner.

The launch at Viento, in the narrowest section of the Columbia for the Blowout.

We left Eric's van in Hood River, and carpooled up to Stevenson. On the way up, we noted that the wind was pretty filled in and strong throughout the river. Before the race, Stevenson started to really go off. It was about 18-20 at the start, and I chickened out and took Eric's 5.6 Sailworks sail instead of another borrowed 7.8, which actually felt great with the Formula board, but was way too small for the entire race. Through the narrow part of the river, the wind had really backed off from earlier in the morning. Many people had taken slalom equipment, and had to pull out halfway through at a launch called Viento. It was funny passing them as they were cursing the wind in the Narrows. I floated through on the Formula, and by the time I reached the Hatchery (a launch for hard-core waves and wind), the wind was back up again and I flew through all the funboarders to the finish at the Hood River Event Site. I was pretty annoyed at having taken the wrong equipment, but it was great to have at least finished.

After racing, I waited on the beach for Eric, but he was a no-show. He took his slalom equipment and didn't make it past Viento, so I had to take his van to pick him up, and swap all the gear around back at Stevenson. All in all, it was a pretty satisfying event, but you won't ever catch me using the wrong sail again!

I then had another few days until the US National Championships, which included both slalom and Formula racing. Eric and I did massive amounts of jibing around buoys with our shortboards to prepare for the slalom part. We sailed all around the river on the shortboards, upwind and downwind. We also got a good day of Formula sailing in Cascade Locks, in some smooth easterly wind.The regatta opened up with two days of hardcore slalom. We had three heats and knocked out 11 rounds of racing in two days, on a fun and inventive course that included tacking as well as jibing. The first day we saw winds gusting almost to 40 knots, which was pretty incredible. I don't think I've ever sailed the Hood River Event Site on a 4.0, but that is just what I was doing. The second day the wind backed off a bit, but was still enough to run a few more great rounds. The Techno 293 class for youth sailors also joined in, and these first-time Gorge sailors got some good experience jibing around the buoys. I had a great time at my first real slalom event, and even though I don't have slalom equipment right now, my 1990's Pro-Tech shortboard and wave sails made it around the course just fine. By the end of the slalom, my jibes had significantly improved, which I am quite pleased about.

Boards on the beach at the Hood River Event Site

The last two days of the regatta were awesome Formula races. The wind ended up being fairly light, but we had enough to get some good racing in. At the event site, the wind progressively gets stronger the farther upwind you sail towards the Hatchery. Our course was a windward-leeward with two windward marks, one at halfway up the course. We first rounded to the halfway mark, and then we were sent farther upwind for the second lap. At the most windward mark, it could get quite choppy and windy. However, down near the event site it was very light with gusts. If there were more gusts coming south from the Oregon side of the river, it was sometimes profitable to go downwind on that side, out of the current on the Washington side. The most strategy was found in playing the gusts, and watching their pattern on the north and south sides of the river.

The week in San Francisco paid off as the Gorge conditions seemed somewhat tame in comparison. I had great starts and my upwind technique had improved quite a bit, and I was hanging in there with mid-fleet finishes (fleet of 40, mostly big dudes). The second day of racing, the training paid off even more as the race committee moved the course west towards the Hatchery for better wind. We had some great fun sailing in the swell and breeze up there, and it was nice to be able to take advantage of classic Gorge conditions. I finished 18 out of 40 overall, and first out of the Formula women's fleet. Overall, I felt happy with how I sailed and know I have made some strides forward in the past few weeks.

Formula women at the awards