Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Taking on the technoweenies*

One of the fun things about sailing a One Design is that in performance terms, you really can't lose.  Every other windsurfer on the water expects to be able to blast past, which lends a delicious irony to the fact that sometimes the ancient Wally is actually pretty damn quick.

Rarely was this shown as well as at the NSW state Interclub round at Lake Illawarra south of Sydney a couple of years back.  It didn't just howl, it screamed, with official winds clocked in at over 40 knots - heavy enough to pick up one old board and impale it on another, pierced from deck to bottom with a skeg.

When it calmed down a bit, we went out to race in winds gusting about 30 or more - strong enough that big Mike Nelson, national slalom champ, took out a sail around 6m and a slalom board instead of his Formula or Raceboard gear.  And on the Z course, the One Designs caned it.  In Race 2, at the last mark the leaders went around four abreast - three One Designs and Mike Nelson, all ahead of the Formula and Raceboards.

The pic below was taken at the finish line of Race 2.  That's Mike to the right and to the left is Jessica Crisp - multiple OIympian, former World Cup women's overall champ - about to overtake him only to crash and lose the race five feet from the line. The Raceboards and Formula boards are all still struggling up the beat, well behind.

Jess Crisp, multiple world pro champ, chases down national slalom champ Mike Nelson

A bit earlier, on the other side of the world and the other extreme of conditions, British sailor Jonathan Pooley wandered down to 2007's version of the annual Fat Face windsurfing festival with an original dacron-and-daggerboard Windsurfer.  With 229 boards entered in the Freeride fleet no one would expect even an expert to be competitive on an ancient Windsurfer - but with winds varying from 1 to 8 knots, Jonathan was not just competitive - he came within a whisker of winning overall, losing only on countback with three seconds and a first.  He was beaten only by a Fanatic Ultracat Raceboard with an 11.4m sail.  And in the process, we scored one of the classic Windsurfer photos, showing a tiny lone dacron triangle against a sea of high-tech monofilm - and beating them all.

Jonathan Pooley (right of centre) shows no mercy to a fleet of 229 modern boards at the Fat Face Festival

I've also been lucky enough to enjoy showing off the Wally's performance at the extremes.  One was at the nationals a few years back in Victoria, where the Marathon was sailed in conjunction with a round-the-island race that attracted everything from junior dinghies to yachts and fast cats.  With a massive chop and 28+ knot winds, the only things that beat the top two One Designs home were a pair of national catamaran champs on their 16 footers.

On my last windsurfing trip down to Victoria, I ended up with a day to burn in Melbourne.  Windsurfing in Melbourne these days is (apart from the Parkdale One Design fleet) all about shortboards, but I thought I'd wander down to the windsurfer heartland at Elwood Sailing Club to see what was up.  What was up, it turned out, was one of the few races (apart from the OD ones) left in Melbourne.

A One Design starting as it finished - in front
With the wind struggling to hit 10 knots, the course was shortened to just half an hour of reaching back and forth.  With only two "real" longboards, my One Design and a nice home-made Raceboard, it was a two-horse race.  The Raceboarder had the pace, but never having raced before he didn't have the gybes.  At the end, the One Design came home about 50m ahead, finishing 10 laps. Third placegetter, on one of the SUPs, finished just seven.  Considering that there was no beating, it was an eye opener to see how fast the One Design went compared to the SUPs.

Meanwhile, in the USA, Ted Schweitzer is also out there scaring the monofilm jocks...

So who else has a favourite tale of taking on the might of the high-tech boards and winning?

* PS - no offence to anyone who moves monofilm and lightweight boards!

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