Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Cervantes Windsurf Challenge

One of the things we had been looking forward to as part of our trip was the Cervantes Windsurf Challenge. A 7 km downwind course with "super-flat gybe locations" sure sounded like fun! So thought 75 windsurfers, most of them on full slalom gear. Here's a picture to part of the group approaching a jibe mark:
I think this was taken at the first jibe mark after the fastest guys had already passed it. I don't really fancy jibing around in a crowd, so in the first race, I let just about everyone else start before I took off, and then sailed the first mark wide. Plenty of others had similar intentions, but with a few crashes at the mark, the field was sufficiently drawn out afterwards to have plenty of space, making the sailing fun. Fun of the slightly scary side, since I was fully powered on my 7.0/112 l slalom combo. Normally, I probably would have sailed a 96 l freeestyle-wave board with a 5 meter sail in these conditions.

The wind kept picking up. Even though I rigged down to a 6.3 in the break before the second race, the race ended up in the "more scary than fun" category. Of course, that was mostly my fault, since I did not wait long enough at the start, and ended up being surrounded by tons of other sailors for a while. It took several crashes and longer swims around the marks before things quieted down a bit around me.

Up until this day, the wind had always kept picking up after lunch, so I needed smaller gear for the two afternoon races. Unfortunately, our 90 l board had a ding that needed fixing, and Nina was using the speedboard with the 4.7 m wave sail. The only "smaller" option would have been to rig a 5.6 m slalom sail for the 82 l wave board, using the mast we had gotten for the wave sails and never tested for the slalom sails. But since the wave board only had a little 20 cm wave fin, that did not seem like a viable option. By the time I had de-rigged the 6.3, all the vegetarian sandwiches had been taken, anyway, so it was time to walk back to the apartment and get some food instead of racing in the afternoon. Nina stays on the beach and raced all four races. In the evening, there was a fun party at the Lobster Shack, where we got to meet a few of the speedsurfers that I had read about for years. Cool!

The wind on Sunday was very light; one race was started, but not scored since most sailors did not plane through the course. Results were announced in the afternoon - Patrik Diethelm and Karin Jaggi had won the Men's Open and Women's racing. Kellie Tusler, with whom Nina had had several close races, often trading places at the jibe marks (where Nina was faster thanks to her easy-handling wave sail) and the straights, where Kellie's large race sail was faster, finished second.

A day or two later, Cervantes Windsurf Challenge posted the race results on Facebook - here's the second page (click on the image to see the larger version):
Something was obviously wrong: they had scored me in four races (red box), even though I had done only two. Worse, they had no score at all for Nina in any of the races! The results in the two races I had done did not seem right, either - I had done reasonably well in race 1, probably finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack, but had done a lot worse in race 2, with just a few windsurfers coming in behind me. But the spreadsheet showed me coming in as 42nd and 47th.

I sent the race organizers a message though Facebook, and got back a number of messages about "misinformed data", "no number no result", but also stating that the 4 judges on the beach had problems reading the number on Nina's NP sail. Here's a show of her and my sail near a mark:
Nina is on the green-purple sail with sail number "N", I am two spots behind on the orange sail with sail number "NI" (the numbers are on the other side of the sail, towards the beach were the judges were).

Apparently, the judges had misread Nina's number as "NI" in every single race, and assigned here ranks to me. The did not score our second sail at all. They were aware that they had a hard time reading Nina's sail number (possibly because of glare from the sun), but at no time did they try to check with Nina to double-check (and everyone was standing on the beach for about 30 minutes between the races). That was quite different from the long distance race in Hatteras, where a guy on a jet ski was assigned to verifying any sail numbers that were hard to read, and the president of US Windsurfing was running along the beach for the same purpose. Habits are different in Australia, it seems - many windsurfers went straight to the judges after finishing to check their rankings. At most races in the US that we have been to, that would not have been welcome at all; instead, preliminary results were often posted soon after the races so everyone could check for problems.

So, how well did Nina do? We cannot know with absolute certainty, since there was confusion with here and my sail number. However, we can be 99% sure based on our GPS tracks for the first two races:
Nina's tracks are in red, mine are in blue. I had a better top speed since I was on a race sail, while Nina was on a wave sail. I finished the first race ahead of her, and saw her come in as I was going to shore. In the second race, I came in a couple of minutes after her. This supports that the scores shown for me in the table above were indeed Nina's scores in all four races: it would put me in the mid-to-high 30s in race 1, and low 50s in race two. If you look at how much time I spent fooling around near the third mark in the second race, you can see where I lost about 15 spots between the two races! Nina sailed much more consistently.

So, Nina ended up with 124 points after one discard, two points ahead of Kellie. Correctly scored, Nina finished the second in the women's racing, beaten only by multiple world champion and current speed record holder Karin Jaggi. But she got neither the medal nor the cash price, nor the applause at the ceremonies. She did not even get a proper apology for the mistake when I had contacted the organizers by message - she only got one after she posted a "Don't recommend" review on the Cervantes Windsurf Challenge facebook page (quickly followed by a request to remove the "unfair" review).

For me, this was the last slalom race I ever entered, simply because I just don't care for sailing in big crowds at the edge of control. Unfortunately, this entire episode has also demotivated Nina a lot. She had originally considered to participate in the Lancelin Windsurf Marathon this Saturday, and possibly at a Safety Bay slalom later this month, but why would you do that if you end up with nothing but a bad aftertaste?

For any other non-Australians thinking about racing at the Cervantes Windsurf Challenge, I would not necessarily discourage that - just make sure that check your rank with the judges right after every race. Also, you should be comfortable sailing your gear in 4-5 ft swell and chop, and in being in a slalom starting line with more than 70 other windsurfers - the announced goal for next year was 100.  The often-used strategy of overshooting marks by a wide margin to avoid the crowds is also somewhat limited, since there are either shallow reefs or the shore within about 50 meters of most marks. Some comfort with not knowing the exact rules also helps - there is no official "notice of race", and I still wonder whether we sailed a PWA-style "no rules" slalom or one where regular right-of-way and racing rules apply; true to the "no worries" philosophy, that issue was never touched upon in the skipper's meeting. But a large majority of participants seemed to be just fine with that, and had fun.

Here are a few more pictures:
Fighting for control (I think I lost..)
GPS Challenge Winners - Nina was 3rd in Women's

The Pinnacles, 17 km from Cervantes

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Coodanup Pictures

We had two days in a row of sailing at Fangy's Weed Farm in Coodanup, Western Australia. If you wonder why it's called "Weed Farm", check this picture:
Nina stood in the weeds today for a while to take some pictures:

Monday, December 24, 2018

Droned at the Weed Farm

The little drone I bought for our trip wanted action. The wind played along - at about 15 mph, the Spark would be able to fly against the wind. Mike was game - he wanted to get "droned". When we explained to him that "droned" sounds a lot like the German "(zuge)droent, he stated that he wanted to get droned in the weed farm. So to Coodanup we went.

Unfortunately, I had never flown the "flying camera" for any noticeable distance before, so I misjudged how far out I had to fly. I stayed way too close to shore - about 200 meters out, while Mike and Nina sailed about 800 meters out. Here's a picture that shows the problem:
The green tracks are from the drone, the red and blue tracks are from Mike and Nina. No suprise I could not really see them on the phone's screen! When I play the video on the computer, you have to look really hard to find them. See for yourself:

Friday, December 21, 2018


We have been in Western Australia for a week now, and I finally got some time to blog. We've been busy getting a phone, getting it to work, shopping for a car, getting it fixed, windsurfing, and getting more windsurfing gear for Nina so she can freestyle and wave sail a bit.

There are lots of fantastic things that deserve their own blog post - the city of Perth; the weather; the highly civilized driving on perhaps the best road system I have ever seen; wonderful bakeries and other great food; Christmas decorations (yes, they definitely deserve their own post!); and, most of all, the wonderful people we have met. But, this being a windsurfing blog, I'll start with the windsurfing.

We had arrived Friday afternoon, and Sunday was Nina's birthday. So she got to pick what we'd do, which ended up being ... checking out a car! It was a station wagon that we ended up buying, but it fortunately was on the way to Mandurah, where Fangy's Weed Farm is located. If you want to find this place on the map, look for Coodanup and Mandurah Bay in Western Australia - but the map won't tell you what makes this place special. Neither does the picture of the launch site:
The main sailing area is about half a mile to the right, hidden behind the trees. It's about knee-deep, sometimes shallower, with thick seaweed growing right to the surface. In some areas, the water surface looks more like a lawn than anything else - and you can sail right through this "magic carpet". You do, however, need a specialized fin - a regular weed fin won't make it through! Fins need to have a rake of at least 50 degrees to shed the weed, and they need to be quite short - 22 cm or less is the norm.

To get us on the water required the help of two local sailors, Mike and Ross, better known as "Decrepit" and "Fangman". Fangman had developed his own fins especially for the local conditions which work a lot better that most other high rake fins, and he had prepared three fins especially for us. Mike, with whom I had had a bunch of email exchanges about GPS prototypes, came of the water when we arrived and drove to Fangy's house to pick the fins up, since Ross was up in Lancelin. When we discovered that the Fangy Fins did not fit quite right, Mike gave Nina one of his fins (also self made, with a stainless steel front edge), and let me use his board. Another local sailor lent us a couple of fin screws that somehow had not made the trip.

The sailing was perhaps the most unusual windsurfing I have ever done. We sailed straight through weed beds which would have meant instant catapults with regular slalom setups, without slowing down, except for an occasional tug when you hit an unusually dense patch. If you managed to hit one of the channels where the weed had been pushed down, you'd accelerate, since the water was mirror-flat in 25 knot wind. A bit behind the thicker weed patches, the surface of the water would clear, and the "chop" would build up to a centimeter or two.

Still slightly jet-lagged due to the 13 hour time difference, we kept the session short, but came off the water with big, fat grins. Nina had set four new personal bests, I had one (plus the second-fastest session ever, in a lot less wind than in the fastest session!). When we returned to the same spot two days later, Nina again improved her top speeds, setting two new PBs.

Our third session was yesterday in Safety Bay. The spot was quite nice, somewhat similar to Bonaire in the setup with a large shallow section next to a deeper section (but the launch is in the deep section). That was a short session - Nina's mast broke in the middle of her third run, and she had to swim back for 20 minutes. But in the evening, she picked up two freeride sails and a mast for free from a local freestyler. It is quite incredible how many nice and helpful people we have encountered in our first week here! It has already restored my faith in people - wonderful in these times where consideration for others seems to be out of fashion in many parts of the world.
Nina in Perth

Christmas kangoroos