Friday, January 18, 2019

Shark Bay and Lancelin

After Cervantes, we drove one hour south to Lancelin. Nina had booked us a very lovely apartment about 200 meters from the ocean. A couple of times, I rigged on the front lawn and carried my gear down to the beach for a quick session. That was fun the first time, but the second time, the wind direction had changed, and the runs were very short - after 400 meters (a quarter mile), a reef forced me to turn around. Jibing the 7 meter slalom sail every 30 seconds makes for a good workout, but gets old quickly. So the next time the wind was up, we went to the Ledge, where the Lancelin Ocean Classic marathon race starts. The start is nice and protected by a reef about 100 meters from shore. Once past the reef, there's big ocean swell; the place most similar that I have sailed is Jericoacoara past the point on a 4.5 m day. I generally sail my slalom gear only on flat water, so being out in head-to logo-high swell was quite interesting - but also fun. However, I certainly had no desire to sail a 22 km downwinder in a crowd of 100 windsurfers in these conditions!

Nina was thinking about participating, but there were a couple of issues. Once was that the race organizers announced two or three days before the races that they would require proof of liability insurance, and charge an extra $25 if you did not have it, bringing the total entry fee for the race to $125. In past years, Nina would have had a decent chance to recover some of the fee in prize money, but the organizers did not post any information about prize money anywhere. "No worries"?
The other thing that kept Nina from signing up was that her biggest wave sail was a 4.7, and she definitely did not want to do the race on a slalom sail. After pulling a muscle yesterday at Coronation trying to water start my 6.3 Racing Blade in the waves, I can understand that! Getting the sail out was hard enough, but then the next wave would come and kill the wind, dropping the sail right back onto my head. On the bright side, this keeps me from trying to go out again today with slalom gear on a wave spot, and gives me a bit of time for blogging while Nina is having fun on the water.

Back to the sail choice: one problem at Lancelin is that it's unpredictable when the wind will pick up - sometimes it is there for the race start around 2 pm, sometimes it comes half an hour or an hour later. Furthermore, some of the legs are very deep downwind, so bigger gear is needed - the winner (former PWA World Champion Matteo Iachino) was a 7.8. So there was a good chance that the 4.7 would have been too small - not something Nina wanted to bet $125 on.

While we did not race ourselves, we watched the start, and then drove back to the finish to see the first racers cross the finish line. It was quite a spectacle to see about 100 windsurfers and 90 kites at the starting lines! 

The next day, we got up very early (just about when the guys across the street finally ended their party), and drove 800 km (500 miles) to Shark Bay. We thought that we had picked great days to check out one of the best speed spots, with a wind forecast of around 22-25 knots and the tide levels being just right. However, after we had already made the decision to go and booked the hotel, we received a warning that the wind at Shark Bay tends to be 10 knots above the forecast! When we got to the beach in the afternoon, it did indeed look like at least 30 knots. We went for a quick test run just to verify that we could control our smallest speed sails in these conditions, but considering the lack of sleep and late time, we did not do the 2 km bay crossing to get to the speed strip. Instead, we decided to come back earlier the next day, before the wind got really strong.

That was a good plan, except that the wind did not quite play along. It kept blowing all night, and still was around 30-35 knots, with stronger gusts, when we got back to the launch around noon. The water level did not seem right, either: it was supposed to be a foot higher, but looked exactly the same as the day before. 

We cautiously made our way to the speed strip. We walked more than we sailed since we wanted to stay away from the deep water, as Nina was not sure she'd be able to water start or flip the sail. We were sure we had discovered the speed strip when we discovered the alpha markers - but the water levels were so low that sailing near the marker was not an option, even though our fins were just 18 and 20 cm short. Typically, the speed strip allows for a 600-800 m long approach in shallow and flat water, before the final "speed up" strip close to a sand bar and a deep sling shot close to the shore. But  given the shallow water, our approach was cut down to perhaps 50 or 100 meters, not enough to get settled and pick up speed - at least not with our limited skills. By the time we got back to the launch, the tide had gone down even further:
While we did not get to sail much, and did not get any speed runs, it was still a fun day. The area and the water was just beautiful - definitely one of the prettiest spots I have ever sailed.

The next day, we drove back south to Geraldton, our temporary home to check out Coronation Beach, one of the most famous wave spots in Australia. Shortly after leaving, we saw a family of emus right next to the street - cool!

The next stop was Eagle Bluff, which offers a great view of Shark Bay:
On the way to Geraldton, we stopped at Port Gregory, a small town best known for it's Pink Lake:
The pink color is due to carotenoid-producing halophine micro-algae, Dunaliella salina, which is used for cosmetics and dietary supplements. The town also spots a large reef-protected harbor:
One of the speedsurfers from Perth recently windfoiled there, and called it "foiling heaven". For speedsurfing, it's not quite as ideal, since the typical wind direction is at about a 45 degree angle to the reef, and waves break over the reef, creating some small chop and considerable current. But I certainly can see how this could be a great spot for foiling!

The next two days are predicted to be light wind days, which seems to be the typical pattern here: 2-3 days of light wind, then 4-5 days of good wind. When the good winds return, we'll be back in the Mandurah region for some speedsailing at the various Mandurah Bay spots. I can't wait!

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