Monday, February 15, 2010

Florida is Cold...but windsurfers still have fun racing

As the northeast United States gets buried with snow, Florida is experiencing relentless cold fronts. If you're coming down to get warm, forget it. The most you can expect is not to have to wear your snow boots....just your thickest wetsuit, and so we all did for Mike Rayl's Frostbite Series regatta in Melbourne.

Dressed for the occasion

Mike is a local guy who sails and promotes the popular Exocet Kona one-design longboard, driving around to events in a rusty 1980s VW van stacked with Kona gear. The Kona is a fun class, and Mike is a fun guy. His regatta day is very informal and relaxed, a gathering of friends to partake in a small weekend adventure. The venue is a bar titled "Squid Lips," which happens to have a little beach and some sweet heat lamps on the deck.

Temperatures were in the low 40s as the windsurfing vans slowly trickled into the parking lot. The wind was classic cold front conditions, northwest with big gusts anywhere from 8-20 knots. As we didn't have a boat or marks, we used channel markers with Mike running a rabbit start for the six Formula racers who showed. The Konas raced after us.

Heading out to check the course

The starting area, next to the SR 518 causeway, was extremely choppy. Waves were going every direction possible as the wind-driven chop reflected off the seawall. Not only was the chop bouncing everywhere, so was the wind, as it was forced to lift over the rise of the bridge and causeway. Therefore, the starting area and the leeward mark (a big, square minimum wake zone marker) had less wind and big wave action, making it a difficult place to maintain speed and control. The course was overall very challenging. Near each shore was a big lift, but the left (west) shore was the moneymaker. However, to get over there, we had to sail through the backwash and a couple big headers.

I had a good start on top of the rest of the fleet and gained some height in a few big puffs. Initially, Peter Ifju was ahead, but tacked out to the right too soon to gain the major advantage from the left side. I went in as far as I could to the shore without getting into the wind shadow and rode a few nice gusts up to the windward mark. Frenchman (living in Jacksonville) Vincent Barre used the same strategy and we rounded the windward mark together. I started to lose him on the downwind to his superior angle and speed. Although we were still in contact when we rounded the leeward mark, Vincent was able to navigate the difficult chop better and I lost him early in the second upwind. The wind had started to die and many sailors were having difficulty in the huge holes. I held on to my lead and finished second.

After the race, the Formula sailors decided to have a big training session. We were a little frozen, but the sun started to peek through the clouds, inspiring us to go back out. I worked with Peter a little, and was a gauge for him for tuning up his new Mike's Lab board. It was his first time sailing it, and some of his speed issues were related to the unfamiliar board. After a couple hours, Peter had his gear going faster and I was feeling really dialed in to the puffs and lulls.
Alex Morales showing some attitude

It was a chilly but fun and productive day for Formula and Kona sailors alike, and a great success for the race series. I'm hoping for another chance to compete at a Frostbite regatta.

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