REPORTS FROM THE FW WORLDS

OK guys, so the World Championships are taking place this year in Azores, Portugal, a tiny island way out in to the Atlantic Ocean. I’m going to do my best to give some commentary of the event from my point of view. Feel free to comment down the bottom of the page and get involved.

It’s pretty early in the year (basically the first ‘major’ event of the season) to be having a formula worlds and it’s also the first year of the new 2-year board cycle so there’s tons of new kit around and plenty of people have already started asking me what’s going fast. From what I can see about the gear in the few days we’ve had sailing here in Azores, the following:

Gear Impressions

So far from what I can see…EVERYBODY seems to be liking this new Starboard 167 blue machine. Non Starboard riders like Casper Bouman and Arnon Dagan have been spotted testing it out here. If Casper goes for it that will make last year’s Top 3 all on the same boards (Casper, Gonzalo, Steve). I’m a little biased because I’m on the Starboard team, but it’s a pretty sweet board, easy, fast, and not very fin specific. The other board that I was interested to see was the new Gaastra Vapor 3. So far only Ross Williams and Janis Priess have it. My Aussie teammate tried to order one 5 months ago and they couldn’t deliver it in time for the worlds (WTF?!), so he went and bought a Starboard.

On the sail front, CLEARLY THE COOLEST LOOKING SAIL is the new Gaastra fluoro orange/blue beast. It looks sick! Well done Gaastra you just nailed the colours. Sitting in my hotel overlooking the water you can spot them a mile away. Also the new Severne Reflex 5 is looking slick in the red; there’s a bunch of guys on them. Casper and Arnon have some new Neilpryde prototypes which look pretty sweet in shape but they are completely transparent so you can’t see them at all when they are out on the water. Gonzalo has a pretty decent looking new Loft, it’s VERY deep but Gonz tells me it’s very stable and I just saw him slaughtering a bunch of guys upwind today in the 25 knots (Sunday) that’s currently blowing.

It will be interesting to see what’s going fast when the racing starts on Tuesday.

The Venue

This is definitely going to be an interesting place to sail. We are racing inside a large man-made harbour with enormous 10m high rock breakwalls around the edges. The wind is totally offshore from the mountains in the centre of the island and is extremely shifty and gusty so it will be technical racing. The water is DEAD FLAT so despite the strong wind forecast most of the week I think most of us will be racing 11m’s most of the time (I didn’t actually bring anything smaller…uh-oh!). We have a really sweet, HUGE tent to rig up in with nice carpet however it’s tucked away inside the marina so it’s a bit sketchy getting out to the harbour without having to do about 9 tacks in extremely light winds (should be fun when 60 guys try this all at once).

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Day 1

Urgggh. Very long day today sitting around on the beach. If you look at the synoptic chart for the north-Atlantic today there’s quite a large high system sitting right over the top of us, killing the wind. So far since I’ve been here 4 days the wind has been quite true to the forecast. Some local sailors from the island told us today that the high might sit here for a few more days and we get nothing, but I’m optimistic as we’ve had some fast moving low systems move over us over the weekend bringing +30 knots and that is what the forecast looks like for later in the week so let’s see…

It’s looking like a VERY small fleet. I haven’t seen the final number but I’m guessing about 45 guys? I don’t know whether it’s too early in the season for you Europeans or people are getting lazy but compared to +110 last year this is quite horrific. That being said, at the front of the fleet all the usual suspects are here minus Antoine Albeau so the racing should be full on.

Today we just hung out inside the huge gear tent all day and talked about windsurfing. The organisers brought in a set of scales to weigh the lightweights and everybody jumped on. I think Hubert won the heaviest at 105kg and discounting the lightweights I might actually be the lightest in the heavyweight division at 79kg. haha.

Lot’s of talk floating around about new gear. I am seeing a lot of ELK fins in boards this year, spearheaded by Gonzalo, Ross Williams and Janis Preiss who have been developing them. Elk’s are made in Latvia and look pretty slick. A few guys on the new Z-Fins ZFW model. I haven’t tried it but just running my hands over one it looks like it’s a thinner thickness overall (maybe 7% vs 8% for a ZF?) but the tip is much wider and possibly the overall surface area is wider. Looks good. For those asking about the logo on my fin cover I am running some new JobFins which I have been building with my dad back home for a little while now. They are made a bit different to everyone else’s fins but (I’m biased) they are super fast. They aren’t for sale before anyone asks… just trying to make the costs of owning so many fins a bit cheaper for myself and keeping my Dad the engineer busy. The other interest has been the Slake masts. You can read about them on their website but they are made in Australia, with formula and slalom models for every sail brand and about 30% lighter than anything else out on the market. I have not heard of one breaking yet after years and years of development. Already I’ve seen a few other brand masts snap in the tent in the past few days…urgghhh this problem never ends :-/

10am start tomorrow. Regretting to stay at the SUPER nice hotel which is the exact opposite end of the harbour so quite a long walk in the mornings. The price to pay for having a spa and sauna at the hotel I guess. haha.

Tune in tomorrow for (hopefully) some races.

Photo by Eric Bellande

Day 2

Racing today! Woah… some interesting conditions. I won’t write a blow-by-blow as I’ll be here all night but I’ll give you guys a run down of how it’s all working. Today we had quite S-SW winds which meant the course was perfectly straight up and down the harbour. We were starting in the middle of the harbour with a (very) short startline that was BRUTALLY port favoured all day with gates at the top and bottom of the course. The winds were extremely shifty over the day and it was hard to see the gusts as they came down the course so you could go from zero to hero pretty quickly!

I had the best of the starts in the first race on port and led to the western wall but sailed too close and dropped to 3rd around the top mark. I decided to go to the east (out to sea) downwind and got CRUCIFIED (losing at least 15 places) and fought my way back from 20th at the bottom mark back up to 10th to then go inside on the second downwind and watch everyone go OUTSIDE and kill me again. There wasn’t a favoured side at any point of the day, you really had to just stay in the gust you were in for the downwind and ride it to whatever side it took you too.

The only guy who seemed to not be worrying about gusts and just schpritzing everyone everywhere he went was Ross Williams. Mr Consistent; good starts, good laylines and 2 bullets and 2x 2nd’s to finish the day – nice work mate!!! I watched Steve Allen leading a race ahead of Ross only to get becalmed at the bottom gate and lose a bunch of places. I watched the same happen to Gonzalo. I finished a race today where 15 guys all parked at the finish line for 1 minute and it was whoever drifted fastest who got the placings (luckily it was me! haha). You could just end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time despite how much care you took to link up the gusts downwind. Very frustrating and you will see in the results the big names like Gonzalo and Arnon and even Casper were deep in some races even though they are going quite fast. It was hard to make up the distance you would lose if you fell out of the wind…

The starts were pretty hardcore. Most of the fleet is starting on port but the last 3 races were won by starboard starters. It was extremely difficult to lay the startline on starboard all day, so there was some carnage with a few port/starboard crashes and one guy in hospital (Marco Begalli – EDIT: he’s all good!) and a few broken boards!

We had a general recall in Race 3 that myself and Janis Preiss got KILLER starts on starboard and rounded the top mark in 2nd, 1st respectively a country mile ahead of 3rd place before the boat managed to catch up to us and we saw the general recall flag. Urggh. I couldn’t repeat that good start again…urgghh.

Race 3 the wind picked up considerably and a lot of guys switched down to their 11m’s which was interesting because us guys on Severne now have 11.5m which meant none of us did have to switch. This was interesting because halfway through the race the wind went light and I started passing people left right and centre downwind. Steve ended up winning this race and I posted my best result, 9th despite having quite a terrible start on starboard. This 11.5 is a really nice size for formula as it’s big enough for lightwinds but small enough that we don’t need to change down until 20 knots or so, whereas everyone has to get off their 12/12.5′s so we have a sail size advantage, especially if it’s gusty and there’s some light spots.

Race 4 the wind started to get fluky again and I got buried on the start. Thankfully that was it for the day, just the 4 races today which was quite a workout with all the pumping today. Like… SO MUCH PUMPING. Oh………god….

Pretty happy with my 13th overall so far as I’m one of the lightest guys here at 78kg right now. Yeah, didn’t go and do the usual PWA Slalom training over the winter and eat 5 chickens with pasta a day and put on 35kg of fat. ahahaha. Actually being light feels nice; easy to pump, quick in the gybes, not worried about the lulls, and going DEEP AS A MOTHERF***ER downwind.

Tune in tomorrow for some high wind fun! My specialty ;-)

Photo by Eric Bellande

Day 3

Another 4 races today which a much stronger forecast with winds up to 25 knots building over the day. When I arrived at the beach 1 hour before racing a ton of guys already had 3 sails rigged on the beach ready to go. That seemed a little overkill to me as the forecast has been spot-on every single day we were here and you could clearly see it was going to be 10.7m weather all day. Sadly, with the state of the airlines in Australia (all of them seem to be going broke) it’s virtually impossible to take gear on planes from the east coast so I only managed to bring one mast and 2 sails (11.5 / 10.7) so at least that made making the choice what to rig pretty easy this morning – ha!

Although the first race was only 15-18 knots it was nice on 10.7 and slowly over the day the wind increased right up to 25 knots in the last race. The water is deadflat so it’s pretty easy to hang on to a 10.7m in 25 knots but the problem is with these conditions is that EVERYONE goes fast and where there is some advantages in being light when it’s fluky and gusty and you can hold your angle when you go through a lull in the wind, when it’s strong and consistent it becomes more of a dragrace game and weight plays a factor.

There is a tiny outcrop of rocks sticking out of the water just in front of my hotel at the southern end of the harbour which just happens to be the perfect layline both upwind and downwind to reach the top gate. A bunch of us were sailing really close to it but I somehow managed to plow straight in to them (I heard Gonzalo also hit the same rocks in a later race) in Race 2 hitting my new Jobfin so hard it started to spin out the whole way downwind before finally snapping clean off at the bottom gate (thankfully it didn’t at the top gate, so I could actually sail home!). It kinda sucks breaking your best fin! This fin was really nice in lightwinds but also in strong winds it had a lot of vertical lift which seems to hold the nose of the board down so I could run the mast track quite far back and go for speed no matter how windy it was. I switched to my old trusty Z-Fin 70 as a backup but it’s quite an old one and I find it has so much power I can’t hold the board down (I’m just flyyyyyyyyyying away!) and the last two races I was just trying to stay on the board, not really racing… which SUCKS cause I usually like really high winds :-(((( Had my worst results for this event too. Dammit. I even had spare Jobfins at home to bring, just couldn’t get them on the plane with only 40kg total baggage allowance.

Back up the front of the fleet a real battle was going on. Ross didn’t have as good a day as the first, slipping back a few places with Steve Allen making a solid comeback with 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st and Gonzalo with a 1st, 3rd and 2nd in the final race. When we get the 3rd drop on Friday the Top 3 is going to be VERY interesting as Gonzalo will be straight back in the game. Janis Preiss has been having a SOLID regatta as well finishing nearly every race in 4th with his discards a 6th and 7th (very consistent). Good to see these bright orange/blue Gaastra’s up the front as the sails really do look sick! Also it means 3 sailors on ELK fins are in the top 4. For those wondering, Steve is using a new BOSS fin he developed himself and has a Z-Fins 70 he’s been using in the stronger winds I believe.

Formula AGM

We had the IFWC AGM tonight down at the tent. It was a pretty poor turnout (not enough for a quorate) so another meeting will be scheduled during the FW Europeans later in the year. There were no official submissions for rule changes put forward so it was basically just a friendly chat, but one of the potential rule changes for the next meeting was put forth by POLAND which was to end the use of Prototype sails in formula. The pros/cons of this are:

PRO PROTOTYPES:
- Brands can use the events to do gear development (old argument that keeps coming up)
- Formula is a development class, so shouldn’t we be allowed to tinker with our gear? It keeps the sport fresh and interesting.

CON PROTOTYPES:
- What is the definition of ‘prototype’? If you change battens/cams, or restitch a production sail, is it then proto?
- Is a sail a prototype if it was made in the production factory, but is different to the regular production sail?
- It’s very hard to police for the above reasons, and requires a class measurer to be extremely active and measuring sails (time consuming).

One other idea was to not stop people tinkering with sails, so ALLOW modifications to “production” sails which come from the factory, have graphcis and a serial number, but NOT allow prototype sails, which are handmade in the design loft, usually from different (lighter) materials, have no graphics and handwritten specs on them.

A really good point was made by Fernando (ESP-71) in that when Ross Williams won the Worlds in 2012 in Latvia, he used production sails, and the next year a ton of people switched to Gaastra as they saw them as being the best of the sails (vs Steve Allen using a prototype Severne which nobody has access to). It was simply the best marketing for Gaastra that could ever happen. If you compare this to now, where Neilpryde riders like Arnon and Casper, if they were to win this event, it wouldn’t be possible to buy the exact same sail they are using. There’s nothing wrong with them using prototypes as the rules currently allow it, and we know we’ll see the improvements Arnon comes up with in these protos in the new Evo 7 sails … but, the point is still there for the general public there is no access to these sails. Does that matter? What do you guys think?

I personally think we should go to full production sails but ALLOW any modification you want to these sails. Re-cuts, new battens, cams, whatever. Because everyone can go to their sailmaker and get a re-cut. But a very small few of us can go to our sail brand and order a sail made from extremely light materials that are not used in the production versions.

Photo by Eric Bellande

Day 4

Another 4 races today with winds slowly increasing over the day with winds up to 30 knots in the gusts according to Bruno our race director. GOD DAMN it felt like 55 knots on my 11m all day!! Argghhh. A lot of guys started the day straight on their smallest sails (9.5m/10.0m). I did my usual overpowered trick which is to jam a few pieces of broken in to the leach edge of my sail on the two battens above the boom, which stiffens the back part of the sail and reduces the back hand pressure a ton so you can somehow hang on to it upwind. This works quite successfully however it takes all the acceleration out of your sail (which is what the ‘Reflex’ system on the Severne’s does well, what I am doing is completely negating the Reflex system) which makes it pretty slow off the startline and out of tacks, but it’s better than getting flipped and ending up face first in the water or putting a boom in to your teeth.

Today, despite the strong winds, was probably the most shifty of all the racing we’ve done this week. We are doing 3 upwind legs (starting from the middle, then three times around the top gate and finishing in the middle again) and since the harbour is too small to bang the corners you need to do a minimum 3 tacks (sometimes 4-5) up the course. There are little lifts up against the rock walls either side which depended on whether you were in a gust or not as you came towards the wall. It seemed quite difficult to link all the shifts up the course and you could think you were on a winner only to see someone on the other side who was 500m behind you at the bottom mark crossing you upwind by miles on an even better lift.

Speaking to Steve Allen after the races there was a lot of shifts in the Top 3 in the races today with Ross having one of the worst starts I’ve seen him have in Race 10, sitting massively downwind of Steve on the first upwind on port, where Steve tacked at the wall and missed the top mark by 100m; Ross tacked and got a lift and went around the top mark in first and won the race. In sailing you make your own luck, but definitely it was challenging out there for everyone in the fleet, and the guys who were really switched on and could set their gear up to point when they really needed to stay in the new wind gusts, were the best around the course.

There were some times upwind today where I literally had my front hand at the boom clamp and my backhand right back at my outhaul cleat (like a starfish!) just trying to keep the sail upright and not get flipped! The 11m does actually hold the board on the water better than a smaller sail with the long boom length, but every tack and gybe it felt like a 100kg benchpress in a wetsuit; just horrific!

There’s a bunch more photos from some of the race crew in the boats HERE, HERE and HERE if anyone’s interested. It’s bedtime over here, we have a 9am skippers meeting tomorrow (which is pretty early for an Aussie!) and the forecast is horrific 6 knots offshore… so let’s see what happens! I bet Steve Allen would like another race!!

Day 5

That’s it! No more racing today as we had no wind ALL DAY … Ross Williams is the new World Champion! Steve will be a bit bummed losing by 1 point I imagine. Now it’s time to go see a bunch of bulls run down a street, Azorian style!

15 Comments

  • Trevor Jones says:

    Succinct overview … great stuff! (And decent pics too)

  • Frank Wong HKG4926 says:

    Hi Sean, Can u cover a bit on Shahar Zubari (ISR-11), who was RS:X Olympic Gold on 2008 ? I saw him registered in the Light Weight Division…Interested to know his gear & his racing…Thanks a lot

  • ITA 321 says:

    What about araund Neil Pryde and Fanatic Falcon?

    • Sean OBrien says:

      I don’t know if anyone here has the fanatic formula board?? Have not seen one here… Only Casper and Arnon on the new NP’s … the rest are on RS:Racings; 7 years old and still the best…

  • Peter says:

    Hey Sean,

    loving your reports as always! Thanks for doing that!
    What boom is Ross using?

    Peter

    • Sean OBrien says:

      It looks like some kind of custom thing he’s made himself. The front end looks like a Gaastra, but it’s been widened A LOT and has a kink like a Severne boom does. I assume he’s just widened his Gaastra boom?

  • steven says:

    nice overview. keep going!!
    but what about the sails that Ross and LAT23 are currently using ? From pictures, they seem to be a protos as well? So, then all guys in top are using proto sails? not

    • Sean OBrien says:

      Ross is using a combination of production sails and 2015 prototypes. His protos I assume are made at the factory as they have all the graphics on them so it’s hard to spot them. I’m not 100% sure if Janis has full production or proto sails but he’s Ross’ training partner for formula so I wouldn’t be surprised if he does. They are both going SUPER fast.

      Steve has a production 9.5 (his PWA slalom sail), and I think prototype 10.7 and 11.5. Hubert (POL-25) has the proto 12.5m that I had for a little while in Australia. It’s not very different to the reflex 5, it just had some subtle changes here and there but nothing radical.

      I can never tell with Gonzalo if he has protos or not. Arnon and Casper are clearly on prototypes.

      So, if you’re wondering what the advantage is in prototypes; it’s not always that they have a “better” sail. In the example of Steve, the prototypes he has are barely different at all from the production sails and they are also produced in the factory in Asia (the same as production sails), the main difference is they can be made from lighter materials and have all the reinforcements taken out. Which is fine for a 6 day regatta, but you can’t sell sails to the public with no reinforcements or they just completely fall apart after 2 months. I assume Casper/Arnon’s protos are handmade in Maui by Robert Stroj as they are must made from plain monofilm, not the coloured monofilm they use in production. They would be the lightest sails here I would guess!!

      On top of this, I assume a lot of these guys are playing around with battens (I certainly am). You can save some weight with carbon battens up the top of your sail but as soon as you drop your sail in the water they usually snap. Brands can’t really use thin carbon tube battens in their sails (despite the obvious performance benefits) …imagine your top battens snapped everytime you dunked your sail in the water… lot’s of unhappy customers!!

  • Jose says:

    Please comment on riders using older generation sails (NP’s mainly) as they think still perform better than newer ones ..

    • Sean OBrien says:

      There’s a bunch of guys on the old RS:Racing NP’s for sure. I think they are still one of the best performing formula sails. That being said, most of the guys have changed the battens considerably (I know BRA-50 has) and it still comes down to finding the right mast for them. One of the best masts NP ever made was the X9 530 from about 7 years ago and if you can find a NP mast with that bend (the FX-100′s are considerably stiffer in the base in comparison) you can get the old NP’s to work.

      The thing is with older sails though, they BREAK. A bunch of guys using them (BRA-50 for example) exploded the top webbing out of the sail and with no sail maker on the island that’s it for your regatta….

      I personally think there’s been a jump this year in sail performance with the Severne and Gaastra sails. I had tested the Reflex 5 Severne a lot in Australia and it has considerably better acceleration than the old NP’s or most other sails we tested it against (nobody has the new Gaastra, Loft or NP in AUS so we never tested it against any other 2014 sails, only older).

      A lot can be said in formula for KNOWING your gear. And maybe it does take 7 years to dial in a sail… haha.

    • Sean OBrien says:

      BRA-50 had a Slake mast in his NP RS:Racing which was made with the X9 curve (and about 30% lighter!) which he said he was loving until the top blew out of his sail :-(((((

  • Jose says:

    Slake? New fins? Can you find more?

  • Oliver says:

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the great coverage!
    Do you know why so many guys using a waist harness in Formula

    Thx regards Oliver

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