Racing the Windsurfer LT at the Siam Cup is AWESOME
The author of this blog raced dhingies when he was eleven years old on a summer holiday. He had never raced a one-class windsurfer in his life prior to the described event in Thailand. In fact, he went out of his way to shun daggerboards, dacron, starting signals and other forms of organised racing as far as he can remember.
What is course racing?
It’s a type of race most commonly run over one or more laps of a triangular course marked by a number of buoys. The course starts from an imaginary line drawn from an organiser’s boat to the designated starting buoy. A number of warning signals are given telling sailors exactly how long until the race starts.
That’s the theory anyway. In reality, shlogging back and forth with 50+ sailors in different weight classes, all trying to position themselves in a constantly shifting optimal position is an overwhelming experience.
Windsurfer LT racers who know what they are doing are taking their sweet time, while others are frantically circling around in a tiny area, hitting everything and everyone in their way. A Japanese delegation operated as a team, stringing themselves in a row and listening to their captain barking precise orders, relating to the signal countdown.
Your windsurfing experience doesn’t help in this process at all, unless you’ve spent your days without wind, performing freestyle. The fine balance and windsurfing technique required will allow you to position yourself in a spot where you are guaranteed a great start. And like so many other racing disciplines, a great start often dictates the rest of your race.
You find out very quickly that the goal is to cross the starting line at full speed at the exact moment when the race starts. This particular course involved tacking upwind to a windward buoy. Then bearing away onto a downwind leg to a second marker. Next another jibe on a second downwind leg to the last mark which is called the ‘downwind mark’ (or ‘leeward mark’). At this mark, all racers cross the finish line, after they did their obligatory second round, skipping the second marker.
You are going to learn real fast
My first start was terrible and during the (short) race I mostly battled with people outside my weight class just to get some kind of challenge going for myself. Very quickly though, the chaos becames understandable and you immediately start do do better in the next race and the race after that.
Entering the practice races will work miracles for your final results.
One-design levels the playing field
Windsurfing pretty much killed itself a few decades ago when the equipment got too technical, too expensive and too annoying to haul around. With alternatives suddenly fitting in a backpack (I’m looking at you kitesurfing!), the attrition windsurfing was already dealing with was accelerated even more, and pretty soon lakes turned out empty, windsurfing clubs closed and surf shops stopped ordering winfsurfboards. It was only when no-nose board disappeared, accessible shapes resurfaced and sailmakers adopted more universal bending curves that windsurfing made a modest comeback.
Windsurfer LT boards reflect the golden days of windsurfing, and they are designed for durability and affordability. A racer really only need a single board and rig. Knowing that the competition won’t have any advantage other than their sailing skills, really breaks down course racing to its bare essentials, another key ingredient that fuels the hardcore fan base of one-class windsurfing to this day.
For some years now, Cobra International prides itself on hosting the “most fun regatta in the Windsurfing Universe” and boy did they live up to the name! The location itself is a spectacular 5-star hotel right on the beach, with a massive grass patch where all exhibitors have their stands, in addition to the tents for overnight storage of the sails and boards.
You rig up, walk towards the beach and start sailing. No rocks, no weird walkways to the open water, just a really convenient spot with enough space to store over a hundred fully rigged Windsurfer LT sets.
When I was rigging up my set, I got to talk to a Red Bull hang glider athlete who arrived last minute from Switzerland. Joseph explained that when he saw the ad online, it was a no-brainer for him:
“I found a great flight out of Munich, and the fee buys me four days in a 5-star resort, a rental board and entrance to the festivities. If I bring back some of the surfboards I’ve seen here on sale and sell them back home, I reckon this trip will pay for itself. Too easy!”
Talking to some of the other racers, you hear the same story but with very different accents. Everyone jumped at the deal offered, including a hotel room in the 5-star resort, full entry to the race and a low rental fee for those who didn’t feel like flying in with a Windsurfer LT of their own.
Meanwhile, the Japanese turn up at random events in a group and usually dominate the proceedings with unofficial event t-shirts, group seatings and the occasional pumping when they think you’re not looking.
Being Dutch myself I was surprised at the Dutch turnout and it was great to learn from the guys at windsurferclass.nl about their racing calendar and the enthusiasm surrounding these events. Their first event has been cancelled already, but I am convinced that once Corona has settled, the Windsurfer Class will still be here, with the exact same equipment.
The Japanese, Australians and Italians will continue to dominate these one-class events as their countries are perfect for competitive windsurfing. Australia runs an entire racing season (September to April), and Italy has its lake events with some very emotional racing (“Madonna!!!!”).
An Italian race is considerably louder at the starting line and some of the Italians present at the Siam Cup gave us a taste of that tradition. Robbed of their usual hand gestures, as they need all their hands and feet to navigate the treacherous starting setup, they compensated with volume and bucketloads of drama…
Windsurfer LT’s are as simple as they come and really bring back the beginnings of the sport. Boards come with 277 liters of volume, a single sail for racing (5.7 m) and a windsurfer-issued mast, boom, base and powerjoint.
There’s no straps, but the combination of a rippled EVA deckpad and an ergonomic curve of the deck allows you to really put some pressure down without slipping.
A smaller board would smack around while planing, quickly causing you to lose grip and fall, but these boards weigh 15kg, and plow over everything with ease in a steady manner. They plane easy and navigate even easier.
For people looking to get into windsurfing and don’t feel like breaking the bank, this is the ticket.
Thailand is not renowned for its wicked winds, so competitors were extremely surprised at the forecast, and numerous people were caught off-guard, not having brought harness lines, let alone a harness.
A local windsurfing shop nearby must have moved an unusual amount of inventory the first day of the event. I also noticed several racers relaxing on the grass with needles, threads and cleats, sewing together their own harness lines from any Formuline/ Dyneema string they could get their hands on.
The Course Racing
Having windsurfed on five different continents, nothing prepared me for the complete overload of information on the first day of racing. The riders brief was short, and the minute the race director stopped talking, I had already forgotten everything but the bare essentials of the rules.
On the water, the organised anarchy at the starting line was too overwhelming for me to pay any attention to the signals, so I did the next best thing and followed our Canadian photographer around who was also racing (thanks for the harness lines again Brian!). The minute he started speeding up towards the starting line I knew it was one, and sure enough, the entire field suddenly tacked and moved in on the starting line, cutting racers off left and right.
Starting strategy for total beginners
Being in the same weight class, following our photographer friend around the course worked until I lost him later in the first race, but now I understood what had to be done. The next race I followed up on our CEO’s advice, which was to hover around the starting line, and wait for the second-last signal to pull away in the opposite direction. Once you hear the last signal, you turn around and try to cross the starting line as fast as possible and sure enough, just before you cross, the actual starting signal will sound. It’s a great strategy and funnily enough it only worked once. In later races, the frenzy at the starting line got worse as racers desperately tried to climb the rankings.
The Long Distance race
A first leg of strong winds and actual planing was followed up by a drop in wind, and unavoidable burns for those who forgot to apply copious amount of sunscreen (I missed a spot on my foot and ankle, which gradually roasted). The comradely was great, and I repeatedly watched members of the local windsurfing club finishing their long distance race with plastic trash they fished out of the Gulf of Thailand with a quick foot or arm.
All in all, the water was clean though, the wind was perfect and the Windsurfer LT boards absolutely blew me away, The traction of the pad was beyond belief and I never imagined being able to plane a windsurfer without straps but everything just works. The sails performed excellent, while the board just goes wherever you point it to.
– Stick your sail numbers on different heights on the sail so the one on the back doesn’t make the one in front unreadable
– Use some type of marine lubricant for your daggerboard cassette. If all else fails, wrap some bubblewrap on the top of your daggerboard knob, and tape it down – you can apply some extra leverage like that
– Pumping is not allowed translates best as “pumping is perfectly ok, as long as nobody sees it”
– It’s all fun and games, until the racing horn starts and the entire field instantly turns psychotic (or very, very competitive)
– On- and off the water behaviour is usually very different