Monday, March 8, 2010

Calema Midwinters - Serious About Formula

This is my 6th, almost-consecutive time competing at the Calema Midwinters Regatta. Every year, I've been doing something a little differently. From 2004 when I was sailing on IMCO, 2005 on borrowed Formula gear, to 2007 on RS:X, I've finally found my niche and have taken Midwinters Formula racing seriously ever since.

I've always had the goal of winning this regatta. Many times the womens' fleets aren't extremely deep, but a few talented women are always present, and it can be a challenging fight with them. In earlier years, I was competing against men in the longboard fleet, and learning how to race on the RS:X. After building a history at this venue of learning the game of racing and ironing out the kinks in my Formula sailing, I was really ready for a win here.

After tuning up for the regatta, I felt I had my gear really organized well. I've been on the same equipment for a year now (KA sails, Kashy fins, and Mike's Lab L7 board) and everything is feeling really comfortable. The comfort factor was huge for me, as the fleet that showed up was deep with talent, including a good number of pros tuning up for the Formula World Championships in two weeks, and all the local hotshots.

Sanding my board while Eric Rahnenfuehrer supervises

In all the fleets, the regatta had an exceptionally big turnout of kids. Younger sailors from the US Windsurfing youth team (and lots of other international sailors) were competing in the one-design Bic Techno class. It was an important regatta for them as it was their North American Championships, and simultaneously, a qualifier for the Youth Olympics. The Kona longboard fleet was also having its North American Championships, and young local windsurfers competed in this, along with a few in the Formula fleet. The usual suspects and shady characters of the local race scene put forth a good showing as well - my friends and training partners came down from the freezing northeast for some winter action. I spent some time tuning up with them and checking out the latest fins in the Kashy collection.

For the racing, Florida delivered the cold standard of this winter: northerly, frontal winds. It was difficult to determine which sail to take out, as sometimes it was extremely gusty. I ended up listening to Florida racer Ron Kern's advice: it's never a bad idea to use your biggest sail at this venue.

Switching and tuning a sail during racing

Each day of the regatta, the racing was classic cold front conditions. Decreasing, shifty wind started out in the morning from the northwest and gradually clocked northeast. This meant that the Formula fleet always had a small window of time where the wind was good enough to get a few planing races in. Luckily, Darren Rogers from the Gorge was there to head up the race committee, so the timing of the racing, even with six fleets to race, was just about as perfect as it could get.

The Formula fleet completed seven races over the course of three days. During this time, I had a few revelations about my racing and equipment tuning, which took a few good races, and a few bad races, to figure out. On the first day, we sailed two races back-to-back, during which I used my largest KA sail, a 10.7. As the wind built to 15+ knots, I realized that the big sail was controllable and actually appropriate to use (normally I use a 9.8 in these conditions). I needed the power to get through the gusts, out from under people, and to pull off a decent start in choppy, crowded conditions. However, I didn't realize this until the second day, when I took out the 9.8 in similar conditions. Although I normally have good starts, pulling off a decent one was difficult in the talented fleet. Putting oneself in a favorable position on the line meant starting in a group of really, really fast professional men. Starting above them worked well, but it meant that other talented sailors could roll over me. Timing and finding a lane was also really tricky. With the 9.8, I was unable to pull off a really good start as I simply didn't have the power or speed to hold my lane. I had a few good starts on port, but ultimately I lost distance as the lower left side of the course generally had a bit more pressure than the lower right (the upper quadrants of the course saw the opposite situation). In the pressure, the 9.8 did its job, but I was always around so many other sailors that it was hard to finesse the smaller sail in the disturbed air and water. It was a good experiment in finding the wind range and crossover points of the two sails, even though it meant I lost a few places in the racing.

In addition to sails, I was also able to test a few new Kashy fins, and found one that worked well in the marginal conditions (68 double-extra soft). I used my favorite fin, a 75-5 triple-extra soft, in extremely light wind, and plane around the course in 6 knots of breeze. I was successful on the last day of racing in that I chose the right equipment confidently, pulled off solid starts, and stayed with the fleet around the course. My better races usually put me around 20th place in the 35-board fleet, which are solid finishes in a fleet of really fast men. I feel I can improve upon my finishes by further examining my speed, but this will take some time and lots of equipment testing. I'm extremely happy about the way I raced (and that I won the women's fleet!). Congratulations to all the racers and event organizers for a really successful regatta.

Thanks also to Compass Marketing and KA Sails, my incredible sponsors who make my sailing goals a reality.

Passed-out regatta champion: pro sailor Paulo dos Reis from Brazil (first place overall in Formula)

Karen Marriott (2nd), Monica Arche (3rd), and I receive our trophies.

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