Monday, June 13, 2011

East Cost Windsurfing Festival: Racing

We spent the last two days the East Coast Windsurfing Festival in Long Island  - what a great event! And I'm saying that after making quite a fool of myself in racing - but more about that later. We had one day of great wind on Saturday, and a light wind day on Sunday. Here is a video of the relay race on Sunday which nicely illustrates the fun atmosphere:

The relay race was a lot of fun. Ironically, Josh Angulo's team finished last, with Josh as the last racer of his team also being the last sailor on the water. That was the punishment for Josh dominating the high-wind races the day before, including placing both 1st and 4th in the same race (see Peconic Puffin's blog for details, and make sure to check out his other blog entries about the festival for results and interesting stories, too).

A day before, the races had been a tad more serious, and we also had a lot more wind. Here is a replay of my GPS recordings from the third race:

As you can see in the replay, there is plenty of room for improvement in my racing. My start was actually good; thanks to a start further out in the water than most other sailors and the rapid acceleration of my Warp SL 71 slalom board, I was leading the pack on the first reach. Until I tacked and fell...

Well, that was not the only fall in this race. At the third mark, I did not manage to make it around two sailors in the water, and instead joined them. Another fall and problems to get going again after the second jibe mark, followed. And this was one of my two good races - I placed in the middle of the pack in this one. Here's a race-by-race description:

Race 1: Catapulting Peter
Being just a tad competitive, I had decided to borrow a cambered 7.5 m sail for the race, instead of using my trusted old Gaastra Matrix 7.0 that I could sail in my sleep, and on boards from 62 l to 280 l, flat water or high chop. When I rigged, the wind looked marginal, so I trimmed it for power. I had time for a quick run before the races started, but that was barely enough to get the harness lines adjusted. Just as the race started, the wind picked up, and board and sail explained to me that I had way to little practice in (a) sailing my new slalom board in chop, and (b) sailing cambered sails in fully powered conditions, especially in chop. My gear was nice to me and started out with a nice small catapult early on. I did not listen, however, and kept sailing on, so the gear decided to send some clearer messages with increasingly more violent catapults and crashes. When I still stubbornly ignored it and tried again, the mast decided to smack me into the face during a messed-up tack - that really hurt, and the message started to sink in. After one or two more crashes, I took the shortcut to the shore, rather than trying to finish the race that most other races had completed a while ago. I had to think a lot about Aaron, the Human Catapult, during this race...

Race 2: Tuning the gear
I had read that one should tune gear weeks before a race - but since I had not done that, I spent the time of the second race and the following freestyle heats to adjust my gear. I had a 6.5 non-cambered sail ready to go, and also switched to a smaller fin that I had gotten just a day before. After a trial run and some more down hauling (thans to Josh Angulo for the tip!), the sail was fine, but the fin was too small for the chop and my limited skills. Switching to a huge monster weed fin cured that problem, and I finally had gear that I was comfortable with.

Race 3: Slow is good
My primary goal for the race was to finish it, with some hope not to finish last. However, I did remember a few things from Andy Brandt's racing lecture at the Hatteras camp last year - namely that a good start is important. I had also noticed that the wind was better on the outside, so I started further out than most other sailors, and got off to a flying start, fully planing and leading the pack after a few seconds (see the GPS replay above). That lasted until I decided to tack. Not only was my tack too early, it also was wet, and about half of the field had passed me by the time I was back up. I made up some ground on the rest of the upwind leg and the first two downwind runs; but at the third mark, with one sailor already in the water and another one going down right in front of me, I took a little break and joined them in the water. With the current pushing me against the buoy, it took a while to get going again, and planing remained elusive for a while. Another crash at the next jibe mark followed. Still, I came in 10th of about 19 or 20 finishers, which I was rather happy with.

Race 4: Tactical errors
For the next race, the wind had gone down a bit, and shifted direction even more, so that one or two legs of the race now were almost straight downwind. Besides the usual falls during tacks & jibes, I made a whole bunch of tactical mistakes in the race. Somehow, it seemed I misjudged angles on every single leg of the race, which probably added about unnecessary 6 tacks, as well as several falls. I found myself fighting for third-to-last place in the race - oh well.

Race 5: Angulo Kihei 155 in light wind
The wind was light for the second day of races. I had only brought the 118l slalom board, while most competitors had old or new longboards with monstrous daggerboards, ideal for the conditions. Fortunately, Josh Angulo had brought a Kihei 155l board for demo'ing. I had tested the board in high winds in Hatteras, and loved it. It was clearly better suited for light wind than my slalom board, and he was kind enough to let me borrow it for a race. Indeed, the board was a joy to sail, and I managed to stay in the middle, if not the front third, of the pack. Really not bad, considering that everyone in front of me was on a board that was 4 feet longer and had a daggerboard!
At one buoy, I did a quick turning jibe close to the buoy. I think that surprised the sailor behind me a bit, who could not turn his longboard in time, and touch my board lightly with his. More from the distraction than from the impact, I started to loose my balance, and was about to fall when I felt a helping hand in my back. That was enough to regain my balance.  I thanked the other sailor, who pointed out that me falling would have been bad for him, too - but I still think he primarily did it because he's a nice guy. I definitely liked the spirit of the gesture! The owner of the helping hand turned out to be the author of a windsurf blog that I love: The Peconic Puffin.
I finished the race somewhere in the middle of the pack, which I was pretty happy with. I definitely love the board!

Race 6: Slalom boards for light wind?
I had to return the Angulo Kihei 155 after the first race and switch to my 118 l slalom board. With the heavy 7.5 m sail and little wind, I was constantly fighting to keep the nose of the board above water, and had no chance to keep up with the long boards. I think I was passed by just about every one in this race, even though I did not fall. But looking at pictures from the open division, even Josh Angulo on a bigger slalom board was not able to keep up with the fastest sailors on the longboards - so I think I can blame the equipment here. It was still fun to be out there.

Plans for next year
I was not sure whether or not I would like racing, and I certainly did worse than I thought I would - but I am absolutely planning to be back next year. The races showed some weaknesses in my sailing that are all-too-easy to ignore when just going out for fun. The great friendly spirit of the competition and the other windsurfers certainly make it easy for a racing newbie like me to join the fun. Here's a list of what I learned, and plan to do for next year:

  1. Practice tacks & jibes in difficult conditions. I can jibe and tack beautifully in perfect wind and flat water, so I usually seek out the easy spots to sail and turn around. That's not an option at a race, where other sailors and the marks define where you must jibe, regardless of chop and wind. In my case, that resulted in more wet turns than dry ones. With mostly dry turns alone, I probably would have placed in the top quarter in the high wind races. So I'll go seek out more difficult spots, like the river in Fogland or the voodoo chop in Kalmus, for more practice in less-than-ideal conditions. Or when the conditions are easy, I use more difficult gear - larger sails and smaller boards.
  2. Bring a longboard for light wind races. We have a Kona Mahalo that's just wonderful for light wind. It's not quite as sleek as the Mistral or AHD long boards other had, but it should give me good fighting chance.
  3. Share a room and get some sleep. We hesitated to sign up for the ECWF because hotel rooms on Long Island are between $150 and $200. For 2 nights, a trip with gas and ferry costs would run more than $500, which seemed too much. We ended up going when Jeff offered to drive on Saturday, but we had to get up at 2 am, and got little sleep in the car. That does have a negative impact, as I learn every time I fly to Bonaire. Next time, we'll leave on Friday, and reduce the costs by sharing a hotel room with other windsurfers (which we also did this time, and which worked perfectly fine).
  4. Practice pumping! That was very important during the light wind races, and it's a must for using smaller sails in higher winds, so it's a great idea, anyway. 
  5. Use comfortable gear you know well. When you start course racing, there will be plenty of unknown - the rules, the other sailors, the conditions, and so on. Adding more variables by using and unknown sail was a really bad idea - a smaller, slower sail that I know well would have gotten me to the finish a lot faster. So if you get new gear specifically for races, make sure to get plenty of practice on it!
  6. Have reasonable expectation. You may be a great sailor, but you will not win your first race. The first time is just for learning - after that, you can work on improving by using what you learned. 
My lovely wife, who originally did not even want to join the races, did much better than I did. From the list above, she certainly followed steps 1, 5, and 6: no big expectations, using the same Skate 100 board and 5.0 l wave sail she used most of the time, and she's worked on difficult moves much more than I have. So she placed 3rd in racing and also in freestyle - well done. Now, she is super motivated to practice a lot for next year's event, and so am I.

Finally, some pictures from the second day:
Start lineup

Just kidding - I'm not really in front

Open class start

Love the attitude!

Josh giving Jeanne a hard time because she did not chose him for her team
(Jeanne did not know she could...)

That's the spirit!

Team # 1 (no Josh Angulo here!)

Josh Angulo digging in hard

Happy raffle winners

Christina happy about her 2nd place

The top racer ladies

The open class winners

Happy trophy winners