It’s Friday evening, August 31st, and it’s the final race in the 2018 Friday Night Slalom Series at the St Francis Yacht Club. The local Crissy Field crew has been at it all summer, the points are super tight and it’s time to duke it out one last time for all the marbles! Steve Bodner reports:
Text by Steve Bodner
Photos by Tiia Westberg and Maxim Panchenko
Friday, August 31: It may be the end of summer but the San Francisco Bay is lit up like a Christmas tree with white caps & voodoo chop! The NW breeze has returned with gusts of over 25 knots and I’m as giddy as a small kid on Christmas morning.
Picture the scene: fifteen slalom racers jockey for position at the favored pin end of the start line. With ten seconds to go, the fleet sends it, pushing speeds of 30 knots on the first beat set 1/4 mile north of the St. Francis Yacht Club. It’s anyone’s race as the top two are tied on points going into the series finale.
Most racers have 2-3 rigs & 1-2 boards at their disposal, but I’m running tight this season with only 1 board and 1 rig for the entire series. It works 90% of the time. The other 10%, I hang on like hell and just enjoy the ride!
We round the first mark set deep in mounds of chop and a blistering breeze. I come in hot just behind the leaders and wait for a moment to pounce. Dr. Nick Mast is in full control just behind the series leaders, Soheil Zahedi & Jean Rathle. I wait for any opportunity but the leaders don’t let up one bit. Two more gybes, three more reaches and all I can do is hang onto 3rd for the first race of the evening.
My approach is to sail as conservative as possible at the front of the fleet and not make any mistakes. Race #2 starts and it’s full mayhem on the 1st leg. I nail the start, getting a good jump on the fleet at the pin end but the steep chop and deep heading to the first mark make it almost impossible to control the 70 cm slalom board. My back foot goes into the leeward strap just to maintain some sense of control! We round in a tight pinwheel formation carving through the gybe and getting shot out to the next leg. Those that don’t commit fully, go down hard and are left swimming at the mark. When you’re out in front, all you have to worry about is not screwing up too much. There’s no head games except for your own. I make it through the remaining two gybes, hang on like hell and get the bullet for the 2nd race of the night.
Race #3 goes by like some type of white flash. Wind, water, spray – it’s everywhere. I find myself in 4th behind the series leaders going into the last leg. Local hot shot and chef extraordinaire, Andre Larzul, demonstrates that you don’t need race gear to get around the course fast, just fast gybe, and the dude can gybe. I never get an opportunity to pass except to send it in the last 100m of the course. I put the pedal to the metal and pass to windward with just seconds to spare and squeeze into 3rd again.
Race #4 is where it’s anyone’s game. The leaders both take themselves out in spectacular wipe outs. Soheil does a super man going into the first mark and is left swimming as the fleet scurries by him. Local wizard David Berntsen has full control on his xs-slalom board and small slalom rig. These are his conditions for the past 25 years and he’s killing it tonight. One more gybe to go with David in the lead and Jean just a few board lengths ahead of me. We both go into the gybe like a pair of synchronized swimmers. I opt for the inside lane as Jean stumbles through his gybe and goes down. He’s left a small room of opportunity for me to take. The lane is only a few feet wide. With my butt checks fully clenched, I send it. All I see are the whites of his eyes as I fly past his head bobbing in the water. I make it through by the skin of my teeth or maybe Jean’s. I somehow keep it together the last leg to secure 2nd while Dave gets the bullet. Jean is slow to get going amongst the chaos of the rounding and takes his throw-out for the evening in 7th.
It’s time for race #5. A quick tally of the scores in my head puts Jean and me tied going into the race and Soheil just 2 points ahead. Again, it’s anyone’s game to win or lose. Both Jean and Soheil have eaten their throw-out so there’s no room for any mistakes. There’s some fierce head battles between the two as whomever wins this last race takes the series. The duo never let each other out of their sights in the pre-race battle. Soheil is on his xs Mike’s Lab 90L slalom board and 7.1 rig while Jean opts for his 100L bump and jump board and 6.3m rig. Whatever gets you around the course faster!
I’m just about beat down. Holding onto the 7.6m rig and big board has me feeling the pain. My arms are stretched to their limit. My hands – barely able to hold on. Maybe I should have opted for more time on the water this season in lieu of kiting but I try not to think about it and just enjoy the ride for the last race of the season.
I get absolutely buried at the start, failing to pull the trigger early enough as the top-3 boards fly off. Soheil is in absolute control on his small rig and flies to an early lead. However, you can never count Dave out. He flies past Jean on the last leg and gets 2nd for the night while Jean and I fill in from behind. That leaves us tied for the evening and the tiebreaker for our series goes to whomever has the better throw-out. I have a 4th while Jean is sitting on a 7th. As I’m reminded for the umpteenth time, you’re only as good as your worst race, even if it’s a throw-out!
A big congrats to Soheil for taking his first season series. He’s been the man all season, always with the right gear and sailing solidly every race when it counts. I’ve been racing in the StFYC Friday night series for almost 20 years now and it’s never been as much fun as it is now. I don’t take things as seriously as I used to but I now realize the reward comes in the process, not the results. No matter how you finish, just enjoy the ride.
Many thanks to the St Francis Yacht Club, PRO Ian McClelland, the club’s race office and all the volunteers who make this possible.
Here are the season results!