Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2011 StFYC Heavy Weather Laser Slalom

One of the cameras used in the Laser Slalom this year was a Sail Pro camera, which mounts to the transom of the boat and gives a view looking forward. Its nice because it shows you what the sailor sees, more or less.

I was able to download all of the video from the Sail Pro camera (well, the one that survived!) and am planning to post clips of the four races it captured on YouTube. I did finally manage to figure out how to do the first clip:

This clip is of a race that Sean Kelly did. While its not particularly nukin' yet, it is windy enough and its remarkable how smooth Sean is in executing all of the maneuvers!

Hopefully more to come!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 Laser Master Worlds - The Race-by-Race Summary

Warning! What follows is a long and torturous recap of (nearly) every race! Grab a six pack before wading in...

We sailed on the "North Course" area which was situated just off the west side of Alcatraz Island. We sailed one of two course configurations with Course 1 a windward-leeward arrangement where at the end of the second run one would proceed on a triangle (two reaches) to a leeward mark which gave a short beat to a finish line located just below the start line. Course 2 was a windward-leeward with a finish upwind of the windward mark. The idea was to run Course 1 as the first course each day, Course 2 for the second race so that it would be easier to get back to the beach after racing.

Race 1: Bad start and spent first part of first weather leg finding a lane. Arrived to weather mark in the pelaton but not far from first. Was starting to sail a great first downwind and was on the verge of breaking clear into the top 5 when I nose planted into a big wave and rounded up, filling the cockpit full of water.

Wipeout! Almost taking Ville with me! (Photo Chris Ray - crayivp.com)

That pushed me back into the low teens again (it was that close!). In what was to become a theme for the regatta, I sailed left but tacked well short of the layline to allow for some shifts to come back - but those who banged the left corner came out ahead. Last run held even, on the reach managed to get by Peter Drasnin to finish 11th. For an opening race, not a disaster, will take it!

Leading Peter Drasnin down the reach (Photo Chris Ray - crayivp.com)

Race 2: The race committee signalled course 1 again, with the bottom triangle to a finish. Another bad start, another race digging out on the first beat. The wind was a bit stronger this race so I was able to use a bit more speed to get closer to the front, especially as the tide had turned to flood and the first beat was really long. Again gave boats up by not going far enough left, otherwise not much to report. Race Committee wisely shortened the race at the second weather mark (after almost an hour of sailing!) and I finished 6th. So, ok day to start the worlds!

Race 3: For this race I was convinced that the left would have the best combination of current (we were earlier in the ebb tide cycle) and wind and was the way to go. The boat end of the line was a bit favored, but I figured that boats starting up there had to sail across the Alcatraz current shadow before hitting the main channel and starting at the pin would more than overcome this. So, there I was almost all alone at the pin with a good start shooting out to the left. At 2 minutes things were looking just as I expected, I was moving out ahead and starting to come up under the group and this time I was going all the way! But then, as I've seen happen many times in San Francisco, a vacuum hole suddenly opened on top of me and the wind died to nearly nothing, leaving me sitting on the rail hardly moving. The lead group from the committee boat end were still in the breeze, pointing higher and moving faster and now in the same current. With no obvious end to the vacuum hole I decided to tack, which took me back to the pelaton for another mid-fleet position! The rest of the race is a blur of trying to keep open lanes upwind, go fast downwind, etc., but the best I could get back to was 12th. This was a disaster!

Race 4: This race had a pretty even start line and a lot more company at the pin end. I managed an ok start and with the increased breeze just legged out to the left with the lead group. This time I did pick the right time to go back and managed to round the weather mark overlapped with another boat for the lead. Brett Beyer finally found his sailing legs and turned on the jets, I managed to hang on for a fourth, my best finish so far.

Race 5: Unfortunately, my memory has faded on this race already... I finished 9th.

Race 6: We were starting relatively late in the day, and very much at or just after maximum ebb. I reasoned that at this point the right side of the course would have stronger ebb and should be favored. So, my plan was to start nearer the boat end and aim for an earlier tack to go right. Great plan, only lacked in execution. I had carefully researched my line sight and I had a clear view from my position to the pin and could see my line sight well. However, I'm well known for over respecting ebb current on the start line AND I'd not had a good start this regatta. So, at 10 seconds when the boats above me started to go I decided my line sight must have shifted and I'd better stay with the front rank. Sheeted in and off to the races with, finally, a great start! The boats above had a slightly better start so I could not immediately tack as was the plan (and as I could see that Russ had done) and I had to leg out left while waiting for things to thin out. While I tacked well short of the port tack lay line, I was definitely left and, it turns out, lucky for it as the right was definitely NOT the way to go! I rounded the first mark in second but had a massive knot in my mainsheet (note to self, if you have deck cleats it is easier to unravel the knots before the weather mark!) and had to stop at the offset mark to untie it before I could go downwind. Not fast. This dropped me to 4-5 on the first run and I pretty much held steady to cross the finish line in 5th. But... I should have paid attention to my line sight after all as I (and 5 other boats, including Brett) were OCS! Ok, these always come back to bite you, and it did hurt to throw away the 5th.

After a day of rest I was determined to come back and start getting better starts. My speed in the breeze was fine, I needed to get better starts and then execute better on the upwind legs in terms of positioning. Speed on the runs was adequete but it was clear that Brett, Arnoud and maybe Scott and Russ were faster, even in the bigger breeze.

Race 7: Get a better start, that was the plan, that is not what was executed. Another poor start, another race of digging back out to finally arrive 10th at the finish. This is getting old! Worse, at this stage of the regatta the top positions are starting to get out of reach. One needs to turn this around!

How to get a bad start! I'm the boat behind Bern Noack who is second from right in picture! (Photo Chris Ray - crayivp.com)

Race 8: My memory of this race is finally getting an ok start near the pin but not being able to necessarily hold my lane. Since the left was so favored there was no choice but to sail to the left in bad air, hanging on to the lead group as much as possible. By the time we needed to tack it was sufficiently clear going back right that I sailed clear to the weather mark and rounded in good position. I finished 5th in this race.

With four races to go it was clear that getting into the top three was not really going to happen but I still had a shot at getting to 4th, or at least into a cube (5th). When I got to shore this day I did my standard boat inspection and noticed the rivets at the end of the boom were getting loose. Probably not enough to worry about but this is San Francisco and it is windy so I elected to change those out on Friday morning.

Race 9: While we were starting late (I recall after 2:30 pm), we were still before max ebb so the left was the way to go. I don't remember much about this race, except that I beat both the Danes (who were ahead of me) but lost to Peter Shope (right ahead of me at this point) and I needed to keep track of points on these guys. Still, finished 5th so a good race.

Race 10: This race will, I'm sure, be remembered by all who sail it for a very very long time. It was getting near 4 pm when we started, which is in the window of the windiest time of the day on San Francisco Bay. Windy it was with steady over 20 knots and gusts registered by the committee boat into the 25+ range. Because we were at or just over max ebb they had extended the distance to the weather mark... and I did think it a bit odd that I couldn't really see the weather mark when we started the race, but, hey, its up there! This race I really thought the right would be the way to go and this time managed a good enough start to get going right relatively early. Peter Shope came across and tacked up to weather, but not really on me so I kept going right. As we sailed upwind it wasn't exactly clear where the weather mark was and at one Point Peter started yelling "where's the mark?" At that point the finish line boat stopped a few hundred yards ahead, and slightly to leeward, and appeared to be trying to anchor. Assuming they would be flying an "M" flag, Peter started reaching down to it - to the point where he was right on top of my air. I shouted "What are you doing?!?" and he said "Where's the mark?". At this point I actually saw the weather mark, about another mile (it seemed) to windward up near the Golden Gate Bridge! I said "there it is!" and Peter promptly sheeted in, consolidating his position right on top of me. Argh! So, reach off to get clear air, hike a bit hard to get some forward mojo, etc., etc. With mark in sight its clear now that the right corner will be huge, not only for current but also for the Yellow Bluff shift. Hey! We're racing big boats now! After about 40 minutes of upwind sailing we finally near the windward mark and its nukin' now! The ebb chop is huge, its gotta be 25 knots solid with higher puffs and we're almost under the Golden Gate Bridge! What a race! Russ rounds in first, I'm just behind but have to get sorted out again before turning down. Brett Beyer and Arnoud come in not too far behind, with Scott and Otto not far behind them. Now we are on a run from about the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge back to Alcatraz, in 25+ knots of wind with huge waves. Spectacular! Russ, Scott and I break to the right side figuring we'll fight less of the ebb coming down that side (we, of course, KNOW this being local). Arnoud, Brett and Otto break down the left side. At first things are going according to plan and we start to leverage around the other three. But about halfway down the leg it gets light for us (15-18) while the guys outside and in the middle look like they have more wind. I start to work back to the middle to maintain position, Russ stays to the right and Scott splits the difference. As we approach the leeward mark, the three outside boats have made a huge gain and, even with Brett capsizing, all three round well ahead of us. I'm leading the group on my side in to the mark but then at the last minute Russ and Scott ride puffs up the inside and round just in front of me. So, I start heading upwind just behind Scott and with Russ just ahead. At this point we've been racing for something like 50-55 minutes.

Remember the changed rivets? Apparently the stainless steel rivets I used to replace the loose ones did not seat properly. As I give the mainsheet one last tug to head upwind the lead rivet pulls out, the block comes out of the bale and suddenly I'm sheeting from the strap in the middle of the boom! At first I'm completely depressed that I'm out of the race when it was such a good one. But then rational though returns and I realize that a) I'm still sort of sailing, b) its ebbing, c) they are most likely going to shorten at the weather mark because we've been racing so long. So, I crank down the vang as much as I can possible get it, tack to go right and limp upwind as best as possible. I'm clearly not pointing with the other boats but the pelaton is far enough back that I might **just** hold enough of them off to get an ok finish - if they finish us. Thankfully the weather mark has been pulled back in to a more normal position and, sure enough, I see a finish boat near it. I undertack the finish line and limp back over to the left with 3 boats crossing me. Then, just when you can't think it can get any worse, the screw holding the mainsheet ratchet block comes out! Now I have to hold the main directly from the boom block - the only block still working! Ack! Still, not far to go and I manage to get across the finish line in 12th place. Not the 6th I was in but still not a DNF either!

Anyway, back onshore and EVERYONE is psyched to have done that race. What an epic adventure! And I take my boom with me to get it fixed (again).

The final day: Positions are now solidifying. There is no way to get to the top four, there is an outside shot at 5th but requires Otto to have two throwout races. 6th is in range but unlikely. I'm in 7th but only a few points all the way back to 12th. If I don't sail I can't be worse than 18th. Boom is repaired... head to start line. Sheet in mainsail and "ting!" the lead rivet pulls out with the block falling off AGAIN! I cannot describe the emotion, I'm disgusted with myself that this is happening, I'm depressed I can't sail, etc., etc. I limp by the pin boat to tell them I'm headed to shore when the vice commodore yells "why don't you tie it?" I tell them I don't have a line and they come back with "We have a line, get over here!". Wow! They throw me a piece of cheap 3/16" something (not spectra) and hold my bow while I wrestle with tying the block to the boom in 20 knots of wind. Not pretty but manage to accomplish the task. I give it a quick try sailing upwind, I'm not going to get the main in quite as tight as if normal, but its going to work. Back to the pin boat where they give me a knife to trim things up and then I'm off sailing. Thank you!!!!

This is NOT faster than the standard configuration!

Race 11: Ok, not much time to think here but whole regatta (save race 10) has been all about the left, no time to change now. I finally have a good start just above Russ at the pin end. We go left, left is the way to go. But, again, I tack too early. Russ bangs corner and is in lead group at weather mark, I'm just behind. Bern Noack has a great run and race to finish 3rd and move ahead of me in the standings. Peter Shope and I have a bit too much of a battle, in particular on the bottom reach he took me way up into the ebb current and we both lost Scott Ferguson at the leeward mark. I end up 8th. Otto was ahead, 4th is now out of reach. 6th is not gone, but I'm probably in 8th or 9th right now. Getting back to 7th is all about the last race.

Race 12: On the good side, its windy. On the bad side, the cheap line used to tie the blocks on has stretched so I can't sheet in all the way. There is a big crowd at the pin but do manage to get a front row start and am able to hang until I find a good lane to go back towards the mark.

Start of Race 12 with me just to windward of Russ at the pin. (Photo Chuck Lantz - ChuckLantz.com)

I managed to just cross a few starboard tack boats and am able to sail in clear air to towards the mark and get there in the 3rd-5th range with Bern and Russ. Its probably pretty solidly mid-twenties now and Bern takes a bit higher road down the run, I go with a lower road and also manage to get hooked up with a nice freighter wake. At the leeward mark I'm just ahead of Bern as we head left. As is always my case, I take an earlier tack towards the mark, Bern goes a bit further and we come back together at the windward mark with him just ahead. Another epic run where I'm able to round ahead again. On the final beat I finally decide to not be smarter and just stay between him and the finish line. In the meantime, Brett and Arnoud are having an epic battle just ahead of us for the regatta. Its amazing to watch and on the final beat Brett tacks early to go right, with Arnoud splitting and going left. As they come back together up near the finish line, Arnoud just crosses Brett on port and, from where I am, as they both shoot the finish line I can't tell who won. In the end its Arnoud by some fraction of a boat length to take the last race win and the regatta title. Had Brett won the race, he would have won the regatta on a countback! What a way to finish!

And in the end, Icross the finish line just ahead of Bern to finish tied on points but beating him for 7th on the countback. And, as it turns out, 7th is just good enough to get a trophy to remember my last Master Worlds in the Standard Master division!

The memento of my last World Masters in the Standard Master Fleet!

Finally, I was not the only member of the Usher household racing this event! Christy "RastaGurl" raced in the Standard Apprentice fleet and had a great time, so good that she's already booked our room for Brisbane!

RastaGurl! (Photo Chris Ray - crayivp.com)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Starting to catch up

Well, it has been a whirlwind month! I'm decompressing this week by being about as sick as I've been in recent memory, am hoping to recap more in the next week (famous last words!).

But yesterday the video for the slalom was distributed and it needs to get posted here! That was definitely a fun event and Vince Casalaina put together a short, but fantastic recap:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Last Practice Before Annual Pilgrimage to the Gorge

Tonight was the last night of practice before my annual pilgrimage to the Columbia River Gorge... today saw a max flood of 2.8 knots at 2:40 pm, going to slack at around 6:00 pm and onto max ebb of 3 knots at 8:30 pm. I was in the water at 4:15 pm and it was definitely already starting to turn along the shoreline, with no apparent advantage to being on the shore versus 100 yards or so out. We did have a nice breeze tonight:
Even more impressive were the waves that were building along with the ebb, they were huge by City Front standard and made for some fantastic downwind runs. Its really an amazing feeling when you're hiking out of the back of the cockpit flying down the steep front of a wave looking for a place to put the bow that won't end up being 3' under water (see this video for an example of how that can end) - and then you find the perfect escape!

Anyway, because I needed to pack up for tomorrow's trip north I was back on the dock at 6:00 pm... wishing I was still out on the water...

The trip north is to participate in the US Sailing Singlehanded Championship (the O'Day trophy). This is meant to be a nice test event in a windy venue against some really top competition. Of course, the real truth is that all Lasers sailors MUST sail in the Gorge at least once each Summer and this is my opportunity!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First day for 4.7 charter boat allocations

Today was the first day for early allocation of charter boats for the 4.7 Worlds. It appears that a number of competitors from around the world have arrived already to take advantage of this! When I arrived this afternoon around 4:00 pm there were already almost 20 4.7s out racing in front of the club:

Ok, so the photo doesn't do justice but it was pretty cool to see this many 4.7s out sailing in San Francisco!

I sailed today with Wolfgang Gerz and Scott Ferguson doing the standard Ft Mason to Anita and back loop. Today we had max flood (at the bridge) of 3.2 knots at 2:00 pm, going slack at 5:21 pm and then to a max ebb of 3 knots at 8:00 pm. We were sailing around 4:45 so during the time we were sailing it was definitely early ebb on the shoreline. Coupled with the slight southwest bend to the wind, the winning strategy was to hang to right side on the bottom of the course, then play shifts from middle to the mark. The gust range was a full 10 knots... we were always hiking but definitely playing the vang constantly and adjusting the cunningham/outhaul depending on how low the lull went.

Its definitely interesting when practicing with sailors of the caliber of Scott and Wolfgang, there is no room for error even in practice. Stop focusing for just one moment and they are gone, especially downwind. And you don't seem to ever get back what you lose to them!

Well, I'm learning a lot, that's for sure. I hope it translates into a good position in the Master Worlds!

Monday, July 18, 2011

T-minus three weeks and counting

The Techno Junior, Youth and Master Worlds start today and the St Francis Yacht Club is crawling with something like 200+ board sailors, young and old, from all over the world. Add in about 20-30 Laser sailors, young and old, here to train for the 4.7 and Master Worlds, then 140 brand new Lasers and its starting to get a bit crowded!

Yesterday was a 3 hour training sessions with Peter Vessella, Wolfgang Gerz, Christy Usher, Kurt Wessells, Walt Spevak, Christine Neville and Dimitri Despierres. Most of us were on the water at 1:00 pm, right at max flood at the Golden Gate. We sailed until around 4:00 pm which was around the time of slack water at the bridge and since we did the "standard" Fort Mason to Anita loop (mostly), and were along the shore, we effectively sailed the early ebb. Very interesting!

Our wind yesterday looked like this:

But otherwise the weather was pretty boring:

Anyway, big lesson yesterday is to watch the early ebb - at first it pays to be right up along the shore but as the ebb extends away from the shore there becomes a point there its no longer strongest right on the beach. However, ever more critical, as always, is to pay attention to the wind - the shifts always win out over the smallish changes in current (right now) and, worse, you can land in a big hole if too close to the rocks.

My strategy this year is to spend less time working on straight line speed and more time "racing". So we do rabbit starts at the Fort Mason buoy, race to Anita and then back to Fort Mason. Over and over again its being proven to me that being a bit faster upwind means nothing, as we approach Anita there can be some big wind shifts and if played correctly they can erase any gain on pure boat speed. Second - with the ebb its a downwind race but you still need to stay in the puffs and not wallow in the holes that can develop. We'll see if my strategy ultimately pays off or if I end up outsmarting myself on what I expect is going to happen...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

First wave of Lasers attack the St Francis Yacht Club

The LaserPerformance charter boats arrived this past week and there are now 140 brand new Lasers, hull numbers all in the 200100 range, lined up on the green behind the club!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Which San Francisco will we get for the Master Worlds?

Last weekend we had brilliant sunshine and could sail with, practically, only rashguards. The wind was steady from almost due west and the sailing was easy. Ah, what a difference a week makes!

This week the fog is back big time and then wind has swung to the hated (for me) SW direction. A small difference to many, but just enough to bring the wind down over the hills to the south of the Golden Gate Bridge - meaning big puffs and windshifts. I had a chance to hit the water last night, shoving off the dock around 6 pm and back in just before 8:00 pm. Any practice is good practice but mentally I just hate those long port tack upwinds straight into what appears to be an endless stream of short, steep chop coming right at you. Pound! Pound! POUND!!! Pound! The cockpit gets completely full of water, the boat always feels sluggish and, because the boat is moving slowly, in the gusts it always seems like I'm fighting the tiller and mainsheet to keep control.

But... I guess everyone else will have to deal with this too!

iWindSurf has one of their sensors located on the Anita Rock Pillar. This pillar is planted in the water about 200 yards off of Crissy Field and, in general, is a fair measure of the breeze one might expect to see at the weather mark of what will be the "south course" for the Master Worlds (and THE course for the 4.7 Worlds). Here is their summary of the wind yesterday:

Nominally racing will be in a window between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm or so. The things to note are: 1) the gust range (puff to lull) is about 10 knots, 2) the average is low-teens, 3) it is very shifty.

At the bottom of the course the wind will begin to even out (as one gets further from the hills above Crissy Field) and, in general, increase in velocity just a bit (solid mid-teens).

Anyway, fog is in now. What will we get for the Master Worlds?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Worlds are coming!

You can always tell when a major event is about to happen in your home waters - people you don't know start showing up to go sailing on your pond! Such is the case for the two Worlds events in San Francisco this Summer, with just 3 weeks to go to the 4.7 Worlds and 4 weeks to go to the Master Worlds. This July 4th weekend saw up to 15 boats on the water at any one time, with almost a continuous stream of boats in and out of the harbor all day long.

This weekend saw the "good San Francisco" with little to no fog, relatively gentle breeze in the early part of the day building to upper teens by windsurfing hour (formerly cocktail hour, but around 4:00 pm). I managed to get out on the water 4 of the last 5 days and had some great practice sessions with some really really good sailors, like Russ Silvestri and, importantly, Scott Ferguson. Scott recently moved to the Bay Area just for THE regatta (ok, not THE regatta to me, but THE regatta to the rest of the world - ie the America's Cup). As Ed Adams told me in San Diego last month - Scott is pretty darn fast and when you couple that with his uncanny ability to never miss a wind shift its a pretty deadly combination. At least I know where the very tippy top of the curve is.

For my part it is the same old story... hang tough on the upwind, not quite up to speed on the downwind. I would not be too worried if the Master Worlds were on a flood... but, sadly, we're mostly on an ebb tide and at least the first half of the regatta will be a downwind speed guru's dream. If the wind will only stay steady above 20 knots then I think I'm in there, but San Francisco is not always quite as windy as the reputation and its the "light" spots that crush me.

Ok, the other big one is that the top sailors in the "Standard Masters" - and the list is long here with, besides Scott, (in order of country) Bretty Beyer, Al Clark, Andy Roy, Ari Barshi, Arnoud Hummel, Charlie Buckingham (the older one), Russ Silvestri (yeah, the Olympic guy), Villie Roberts and Vann Wilson - are all rocket ships on the run. And those are just the sailors I KNOW, there must be an equal number I don't know! At the end I still believe Brett Beyer is the gold standard here, he's won something like 8 of 10 tries in the Apprentice division. Anyway, I'm thinking this regatta is going to be won by the fastest downwind speedster.

So... how to get faster downwind in only 4 weeks? Number one on the list is to go from 210 lbs (Etchells weight!) to something like 195. Ok, well, this could be a problem... Number two on the list, sail on ebb tide as much as possible. Hmmmm.... next week is ebb phase but I have to spend 4 days in Santa Cruz for work - from around 8:00 am to 7:00 pm.

Ok, the trick in the next four weeks is to figure out how to get as much quality downwind time on the water as possible.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 28, 2011