ISAF OLYMPIC WINDSURFING EQUIPMENT EVALUATION EVENT - ptIII

Part III of the Windsurfing Evaluation event was held from 16-19 September in the south of England. Attending the trials were 5 different manufacturers entering a total of six designs, all conforming to the ISAF Hybrid rules.

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The ISAF Council at their mid-year meetings in June called for the trials, where the ISAF Evaluation Panel’s proposals of a Hybrid development class were rejected. Instead, the Evaluation Panel were instructed to properly evaluate the potential of the Hybrid class and to recommend a one-design piece of equipment from the trials for use at the 2008 Olympics in China.

In order to fully test the equipment over a wide range of wind and water conditions, the trials were held at both Hayling Island Sailing Club and Queen Mary Sailing Club. Hayling Island SC is located at the entrance to Chichester Harbour and offers excellent sailing conditions with flat water in the harbour and more open water outside. Queen Mary is very different, being located on a reservoir just outside of London, it offers much gentler conditions with flat water sailing but slightly trickier wind conditions.

Of the boards that the Evaluation Panel had tested in Torbole at the previous trials, all of the designs had been modified over the past months, with the only addition to the group being the BiC Techno 293D, which had been absent at Torbole.

The final list of entrants were;

BiC Sport – Techno 293D
Boards and More – Prodigy (Light)
Exocet – Flying Fish
Neil Pryde – Olympic Hybrid
PD Project – Olympias
Starboard – Z-Class (one-design)

The first two days of testing were to be conducted at Hayling Island from the 16-17 September. The forecast for Hayling was for a 15 knot SW breeze for Thursday which would build to a 20-25 knot wind on Friday. This offered the Evaluation Panel the perfect opportunity to test the boards in wind and waves that are so often present at many of the Olympic Classes Grade 1 events.

ISAF had arranged for 18 different sailors to attend, some team riders nominated by the teams and others who were interested to see what equipment the next Olympics could be raced upon. The sailors represented six different nations which were Great Britain, France, The Netherlands, Poland, Norway and Australia.

The Hybrid class tries to bring together the best of the different racing disciplines within the windsurfing world. The boards are a loose mix of a longboard and a Formula board with many showing the width and rocker profiles of Formula board to promote early planning and top high speeds. Others concentrated more on the light wind performance, using innovative bow designs to try and increase water-line length and reduce drag through the water. Generally the boards represented the Formula type of sailing so many of the sailors with longboard backgrounds had to learn a different type of sailing style for the trials.

Thursday saw a loose structure of testing take place, giving the sailors the chance to sail and tune the equipment to the conditions. Boards and sailors were split up into a Men’s and a Women’s fleet. The Men’s fleet were looked after by Mike Gebhardt (USA) of the Evaluation Panel, whilst Jorunn Horgen (NOR) of the Windsurfing Committee and the Evaluation Panel took care of the Women’s fleet.

Both fleets were then split up again into pairs, with two sailors tuning up against each other and looking at the boards’ performance on a variety of angles and sailing characteristics before returning to the club and switching equipment.

All boards proved to be fast and easy to handle upwind in the 15 knot winds and chop, showing good speed and height. No one board proved to be exceptional as speeds would differ as one would catch a gust and accelerate past others and then vice versa.

Downwind, again all boards proved easy to handle with the exception of the Exocet, whose canoe type bow proved hard to control in the waves and was prone to violent pitch-poling. It was the Formula type boards of the Neil Pryde and PD Project that showed the most promise in the conditions. Also the new Prodigy showed well and was popular amongst the sailors at the end of testing.

After all the boards had been tested and rotated amongst all of the pairs, both fleets combined to hold some informal racing to end the day. Two quick races were held compromising of a windward / leeward lap of about 500m legs. With racing held within the harbour, the true speed of the board could be seen as they whizzed around in 18-20 knot gusts and flat water. In the gusty and shifty conditions, it was a mixture of boards that showed in the results as with the conditions it was more a case of sailing ability then true board performance that came through.

The after race de-brief that was held with the sailors confirmed what the Evaluation panel had seen on the water with many of the comments showing that the PD Project, Neil Pryde and Prodigy were amongst the more popular designs. Sailors also confirmed that whilst one of the better boards to sail upwind, and also one of the quicker boards, the Exocet was too much of a handfull for the waves downwind.

Day two came with a forecast of 15-20 knots increasing with gusts of 25 knots expected.

With another full rotation organised, the testing was to differ slightly with all 6 boards lined up in each fleet and being tested against each other at the same time. Another factor that the Evaluation Panel wanted to look at was how high up the wind range could the 10sq m sails be used.

Initially all boards were sailing almost equally upwind and downwind in the 18-20 knot breeze. However, once the tide turned, the conditions worsened considerably with a gusts of 25 knots blowing against the 2 knot current, creating massive 2m breaking seas across the sandbar at the entrance of the harbour. In these survival conditions, the men were only just hanging onto the 10sq m sails and the boards quickly became un-sailable. Most of the boards managed to get back to shore without assistance. Some incredible wipe-outs were witnessed as sails and boards did not all come through unscathed, with Dan Ellis (GBR) providing the best of the entertainment, flying through the sail of the Exocet in a spectacular crash.

Having sailed for four hours in the testing conditions, all of the sailors were exhausted and sailing then finished for the day. All of the boards and sails were de-rigged and packed, ready for the move up to Queen Mary Sailing Club the next morning.

Day three saw a convoy of rental vans going up the M3 to London with all arriving safely at the club by 10.30 on Saturday morning. Greeting the sailors was a stiff 15-17 knot breeze although the washing machine conditions of the day before were replaced with a short chop which had built up over the fetch of the reservoir.

By the time the sailors had got rigged and ready to go, the breeze had already dropped to around 10-12 knots which allowed the boards to be tested in marginal planning conditions. Here is where the development of the boards shone through with all of the boards easily getting onto the plane upwind and downwind and showing excellent sailing characteristics.

Testing was based around a figure-of-eight slalom course with boards being started at different intervals to avoid damage due to keenness at mark roundings. Slalom has never been tried before at the Olympics and the Evaluation Panel has recommended its inclusion into the format for Windsurfing to try to increase the spectator appeal of the sport and to try to modernise the format. All of the sailors welcomed this idea and relished the chance to show off some excellent carve gybing and reaching skills.

Following on from the slalom, another couple of informal races were held. As at Hayling Island, the shifty conditions did not accurately show the boards potential and results were more based on tactical sailing then speed. However, as the wind continued to drop to 8 knots at times, the Evaluation Panel were pleased to notice that all of the boards continued to perform well and were planing most of the time with just a few pumps of the sails.

For Saturday night, ISAF hosted a dinner for all of the sailors and manufacturers to thank all for attending and for putting so much effort into the trials for evaluating new equipment for 2008.

With the forecast of a building breeze for Sunday, and still wishing to concentrate on light wind sailing, the Evaluation Panel set a start time of 09.30. With the wind already blowing around 8-10 knots the sailors had to go to the very top of the reservoir to find sheltered conditions and a gusty 5-8 knot breeze. Here further fleet testing was carried out with the Evaluation Panel observing all of the performances of the boards. Even in these winds, the boards were easy to rail and get onto the plane in the gusts and sailed upwind at good angles and speed. Downwind the sailors would have to pump a little to get the board going but then would be able to track downwind nicely with good speed, with the board often popping onto the plane again.

By 13.00, the Evaluation Panel decided that they had enough information and had seen the boards over an adequate variation of conditions to make their conclusions.

All of the sailors were gathered for a final de-brief with the Evaluation Panel to discuss each of the boards and to talk about the performances seen both at Queen Mary and Hayling Island. From this, many subtle changes were recommended to each of the designs, which ISAF will pass on to the manufacturers and the pros and cons were summarised amongst the sailors.

The Evaluation Panel now have the task of sorting through all of the information and trying to select the best possible overall package to recommend to the ISAF Council in November. The official report on the trials from the Evaluation panel will be available within three weeks and posted on the ISAF website.

ISAF would like to thank all of the staff at Hayling Island Sailing Club and Queen Marys Sailing Club as well as all of the sailors, manufacturers and visitors who gave up their time to make the trials a success.

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