Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wind and More Wind

It's natural to want to show the best side of your home waters when a big regatta comes to town, so it felt good for the San Francisco locals when the Golden Gate wind slot finally went "nuclear" and the seabreeze touched 30 knots, late in the U.S. Windsurfing Nationals and North Americans. On the Formula boards--think wide wetted surface--the downwind stuff was an exercise in hang'n pray, baby.

Granted, not everybody likes that much breeze, but without it, you really haven't sailed on San Francisco Bay.

That's the stuff we were looking for when the Kite Nationals came to town earlier in August, but we just didn't get hit with it at the time. There's also the whole spirit of the thing, as seen in the windsurfers' regatta poster. San Francisco in 2007 is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. There's still no peace, man, but tie-dye we got.

The look of the racing on the water was a bit more down-to-the Blue Planet.

Here's course racing as seen through the lens of Paul Buelow, before Seth Besse separated from the Formula board pack in the final race. Besse won 9 of 10 Formula races and figured that, "I probably could have taken the other one, but I got conservative."


Conservative? The guy who dislocated his shoulder on the racecourse, hit the beach, replanted that sucker, and went back out? Conservative?

Anyhow, winning Race 9 made a happy man of Steve Bodner. It also made him second for the regatta and at the same time raises a point about the scale of the event. Both of these guys are local sailors. Competing events close on the calendar discouraged many sailors who might have come from a distance, though as Besse pointed out, whenever there's that much breeze—anywhere you go—Crissy Field sailors are going to do well, because they feel at home.

The racing was equipment-intensive. Moderate winds early on, increasing later, rewarded those who brought a full quiver of weapons, and there was the slalom racing on Friday that also wanted special gear. The Formula boards favored by locals are nearly twice as wide as the RSX Olympic boards, so downwind in a breeze they're a lot to handle (Bodner showed me the deep, carbon fin on his Formula board and commented, "Eight hundred dollars").

Robert Willis was the winner on the RSX, winning 8 out of 8 races.

Here, justfer justfers, is David Wells leading a slalom race, again as photographed by Paul Buelow . . .

Meanwhile, the scene beachside would be familiar to anyone who knows Crissy Field (it's part of the Presidio National Park), with the breeze blowing parallel to the shore and driving sand along with it. I walked around and took a few snaps. Regatta-gear hoodies were not a bad call . . .

There's quite the cultural mix here. St. Francis Yacht Club, which hosted the event, took the lead years ago in bringing windsurfers into its world. With some of its most prominent "yachtsmen" taking up windsurfing (including ex-Olympians and members of the board of directors) that move was hard to avoid. And there was no reason to avoid it. And now we're beyond that, and around here anyway, it's all one world. Looking east from Crissy Field beach, here's the race announcer's tower, and if you peer through it you see the StFYC clubhouse. At the end of a raceday, people move down there (downwind, so literally down there) for hot showers, refreshments, and the inevitable "and there we were" debriefings . . .

After the hit-the-beach debriefs, of course . . .

Nothing average about the setting. Here's Bodner hauling out, and you can see the Palace of Fine Arts beyond the trees and one of the hills of San Francisco in the background . . .


But probably a good call. The Royal Ocean Racing Club on Sunday announced a postponement for the start of the classic Rolex Fastnet Race. The cause was "the continued severe weather warning issued by the UK Met office."

Apparently, there was a chance of dangerous conditions, just when a good part of the fleet would have been crossing the exposed waters of the Western Channel and Celtic Sea. One note of personal interest to me, having been up close and personal with races in which people died and the judgement of the race committee was questioned, was the comment from RORC racing manager Janet Grosvenor that, even thought the RORC has taken the responsibility of not starting at the scheduled time, the responsibility for those who do start on signal still rests with the skipper: "It remains the RORC policy to start a race when it is safe to do so and the responsibility for a boat's decision to participate in the race or to continue racing is hers alone."

The intent now: Start the 300-boat fleet on Monday for the race out to the Fastnet Rock and back. The delay, intended to avoid exposing smaller boats to the worst of a passing low pressure system, doesn't mean that everybody is off the hook for some rough sailing. This from the race web site:

Chris Tibbs, the meteorologist for the Rolex Fastnet Race, has forecast a south-westerly wind, Force 3/4 (7 - 16 kts) for tomorrow's start. Tuesday should see the strongest winds, likely to be near the Lizard and Land's End with the wind south-southwest Force 6/7 (25 - 38 kts), with a possible increase to gale-force Force 8 (34 - 40 kts). By then, the bigger boats will be past and the smaller boats will still have options for shelter if the breeze strengthens.

When you're talking Fastnet, there is no forgetting 1979, when 303 starters set out from the Isle of Wight in fine weather only to encounter a storm that proved especially fierce on certain parts of the course, and deadly to certain sizes of boats. Fifteen people died, twenty-four boats were abandoned, five boats sank, and only 85 boats finished. The '79 race was immortalized in a book that is still a good read, John Rousmaniere's Fastnet, Force 10.

Weather forecasting has improved more than slightly since 1979, and the weird thing is, all this just makes me sorry that I'm not there—Kimball