2006 SF Speed Sailing Event Report



6/30/06vers. - David Fielder

I was asked to summarize my experience and impressions of the San Francisco Speed Sailing Event of June 15 - 18th, for the CalCup website.  Unfortunately, due to prior commitments and the vagaries of our local Wind God, my only experience was in the practice session and Jonesing on the beach.  At the same time, hanging out at Crissy on a warm, calm, sunny day still beats working!

I registered in February for this event, knowing that I can sail fast on a straight course in good conditions, and wanting to document it.  As often is the case with early decisions, regrets start to set in over time as circumstances change.  In my case, my first foray into USTA tennis league play resulted in two important matches that I needed and wanted to participate in the weekend of the event, precluding any opportunity to sail other than that Thursday and Friday.

I'd been to the Golden Gate Yacht Club only once before, for a drink with my windsurfing buddy Oren who was applying for their new Velocity Club Membership (for wind and kitesurfers).  Knowing its location, well east of the St. Francis Yacht Club, my first concern had been with the event venue.  When sailing Crissy I've always been cautious to stay upwind from the St. Francis, especially during floods, so purposefully planning to spend a lot of time much farther downwind, hopefully on high-wind slalom gear, was somewhat off-putting.

At the competitor meeting Thursday morning it was announced that there were going to be several chase boats, so any imagined drift to TI or Berkeley became less of a concern.  Given the unusually eclectic mix of participants - including windsurfers, kitesurfers,  kayak sailors, trifoilers, skiffs, and a large cat, - discussion ensued as to how to manage these disparate vessels on the course, as well as regarding course location and other general trial details.

There were several Berkeley windsurfing compatriots in attendance (including Soheil and Isabelle), so I felt more comfortable that details would be worked out and we'd have fun.  What I should have realized from last year's Berkeley Slalom racing season was how dependent all of this planning and effort would be on the wind (duh!) - which proceeded to not show up in much abundance as the day wore on.

The three of us decided to rig and launch from the wall at the SFYC and left to get ready.  We rigged several sails since there was plenty of time and some hope that the wind might rise (in spite of poor weather report - due to heat).  Then we sat and watched for seemingly hours as the mysterious course setting process proceeded.

After the course was finally set and the green "course open" flag was flying from the start gate boat, Soheil launched with a 6.5 sail (all details approximate due to aging memory - apologies in advance).  Subsequently, he told us he almost wound up on Alcatraz due to the flood and lack of initial wind.  Marking his effort, I chose to go out on my biggest gear, a 144L F2 Xantos (aka The Barge), a 19 inch fin,  and a 7.6 cammed Windwing.  With that gear, I figured I could at least slog back.

Subsequently, we all began to make speed runs through the course.  It also quickly became obvious that if we waited for our "formal assigned turns", it would never work.  At the earlier meeting, we had drawn lots and were expected to follow each other in assigned order, with all craft interspersed.  Instead, we simply sailed through the course whenever green flag was up and no one else was "in the way".  Perhaps much easier to do with windsurfers?

In addition to the taking-turns issue, I learned the hard way to pay very close attention to how/where I finished each run and to returning to the course entry position.  Due to the 4-5 knot flood, any hesitation or inattention to direction of sail resulted in stiff penalty in trying to get back - sort of like trying to make that last upwind marker in the Berkeley Slalom.  I did learn from my first mistake and was able to make seven measured runs (plus several others) in the two hours I was out that first day (was told they missed one of my faster runs due to "radio chatter/interference").  Of course, these were all just practice runs, even though times were recorded and later made available to us.

Subsequently, we retired to the GGYC anticipating cold draft beer and an opportunity to gripe regarding the mediocre conditions of the day, etc.  Only to be told that kegs weren't being tapped due to too few participants!  What a bummer.....    :)

However, we did have practice run results, to which several of us applied complex math in converting those measured times (seconds over the 500 meter course) into more relatable MPH.  Somehow, in spite of lack of liquid inspiration, we were up to that task.

The Practice Results were in and Soheil led the way with a 34 second run which converted to 32.9mph (condensing all the math: simply divide 1,118 by the # of secs).  My best time with The Barge was 41 seconds or 27.3mph.  My Garmin Geko 201 GPS recorded a max speed of 27.7mph during the entire session - comforting precision.

So, everything seemed set for Friday's first formal speed runs.

Friday also dawned sunny, but there was definitely much more wind upon arrival at the GGYC that AM, so everyone was quite hopeful. We had a spirited discussion regarding starboard or port tack course setting, how far downwind to set it, how to deal with likelihood of windsurfers wanting to sail course more frequently than planned, etc.   Decision was made to change to a port course with start on the shore side and finish outside (hope I have this terminology right). This change was intended to alleviate some of the chop impact and make for faster times.  However, it also might have increased starting hassles due to less room to maneuver (but never got to find out - see below).

As it turned out, the course location probably didn't matter.  Wind decreased to the point that most of us didn't even launch that day (see initial Jonesing comment and 6/16 iWind archive).  Through my binoculars and with 10X zoom camera, I was able to document the trifoilers having some fun.  And then from somewhere (not Crissy), out came Mike Percey on his Formula gear.  He made several runs at speed, but appeared to have some trouble making the course until they moved it again.  Brian (?) also launched with Formula gear and made a run where he was essentially becalmed.  Needless to say, most of us weren't even tempted.

But, at least at the end of this day - they finally tapped the kegs!!!

Although I could only follow the event the next two days via my computer, I was quite impressed (and surprised given the equally mediocre iWind graph for Saturday) to have speeds reported for Percey and Bill Weir of 37+mph.  What I don't know is what sort of gear they were on and where the course was located that day.  Perhaps much farther upwind (where there had even been sailable wind on Friday)?

However, as I write this article, the event website now shows the following message - so I've really no clue as to what transpired. 

Due to possible timing discrepancies results are being verified and official results will be confirmed as soon as possible.

Perhaps another participant will share additional details?  There had also been discussion of keeping the course open for Sunday, which did have better winds, but that appears not to have happened?

In any case, not the greatest conclusion to the event, but I'm still glad I participated even to the extent I did.  I now know I could be competitive given right conditions and gear, plus have a blast doing so.  At the same time, it is clear that there are many factors that will always remain out of control - often resulting in much frustration.

 I'd also like to suggest choosing a more "speed-friendly" venue (minimal chop, current, traffic, etc).  For one example, we were informed that the current alone would negate any true records being set.  There are several locations around the Bay that would appear more appropriate - except for the spectators, sponsor, and beauty of the chosen one.  One that I'm familiar with is behind the jetty off of Brooks Island. 

Hope someone else, who actually attended the entire event, can add additional insights?

I'm also attaching several photos I took, including one of an even less fortunate participant......

Finally, and it should be noted  --  Windsurfers Rule!


The following event photos all by David Fielder

Brian Trifoiler

Big Cat, and trifoiler

Skiff crew

Day one finish line

Fast trifoiler

Jonesing on day one

Mike Percey

Really unhappy participant