Monday, February 27, 2012

WISSA 2012: Closing Day

Our final day of racing took place on Saturday with another inch of new snow and a stiff northwesterly, a bit spotty on little Chain Lake. Kite Class had finished for the week and we were able to run six course races all toild, two with an upwind/downwind course and four on a crosswind course which enables us to complete races more quickly. There were many spectators on hand, it being Saturday and also because there was a youth pond hockey tournament taking place on the same lake. There has never been more interaction between the competitors and the spectators than at this event, at least theay I have seen. Several school groups came out to visit during the week. You should have seen Lars Fromell standing on his tall skates among a group of little children, towering three times their height over them like a Pied Piper on stilts. After course racing I was trying to head in for lunch and people wanted me to stop for pictures with them. Ah, the life of a Rock Star....

My position in course racing slipped from 12th to 13th overall. My skis didn't seem to be running right, or maybe it was just the wind holes, but I did finish all of the races except the first one we ran on Tuesday. Mike McCaffrey took 6th, Annie Tuthill 7th, new "Team USA" rider, from Wisconsin, Gatis Makstenieks, came in 11th and Will Tuthill 10th. Mark Bussard bumped me down to 13th by taking 12th, And Viktor Hora, another U.S. rider from Wisconsin, did a good job of keeping me motivated out there and came in 14th. The total entries were 18 in the category.

In slalom, I held onto my 10th place position. Mike McCaffrey slipped to 6th place and Annie bumped herself up a notch to 7th.

These are overall results for the U.S. riders, a respectable showing against the formidable Swedish team and also Finland's Rainer Salo, a mild mannered soft spoken fellow who is a terror on a race course, taking 4th overall in slalom and 2nd in course racing.

For more results see the WISSA 2012 webpage and go to the "Results" section where there are .pdf files for all categories.

After a short awards ceremony down the road at the Kewaydin Casino (no, nobody won anything - that I know of), another World Championships came to a close. The next day I was again crossing the straight on Mighty Mac, heading south to Ohio before turning east toward home. With an overnight stop in Jamestown, New York, I was home this evening about three hours ago as I write.

I will post more about the event and results, afterthoughts and ideas for future. I'll work on getting a hold of some new pictures to post and keep an ear to the wall for any new developments.

I'd like to take a moment to thank all of my fellow competitors for dealing a lot of background difficulties and making a great race of it anyway. I'd also like to welcome all new group members who I met on the ice in St. Ignace. And of course, to the good people of St. Ignace and the area Native community for opening up their town and their hearts to us and allowing us to have our event. A special shout out goes to all of the volunteers who helped out a lot behind the scenes, be it judging the races or preparing our lunches or setting up all of the facilities for the races. It was a pleasure meeting with and getting to know some of you on and off the ice.

So for now, good night, and keep an eye out here for more.

The New England contingent of Team USA will return to its home ice on Lake Sunapee, NH, this weekend. Those in the area are encouraged to join us. One beer, one autograph ;-)


Friday, February 24, 2012

WISSA 2012: Day 4 - Team USA Holding Its Own

We were only able to run three slalom races on the cleared ice today due to light wind that didn't kick up until late afternoon. But I did see some results yesterday and of the results so far and am pleased to report that the U.S. wing team has some contenders among the top ten in the course racing and slalom disciplines. In course racing, Mike McCaffrey is currently in 5th place and Annie Tuthiil is in 8th. Just below the top ten category, Annie's dad Will Tuthill is running in 11th and this writer is currently at 12th

In short-track slalom, Mike McCaffrey is in 3rd place, Annie Tuthiil in 8th, and the Captain here has broken into the top ten category for the first time at a WISSA event running in 10th place.

The more races we run, the better we get. In today's action, young Ms. Tuthill got the jump on all four of her co-competitors in one race to finish second ahead of Sweden's Lars Fromell with his 9 square meter draksegl, losing only at the last mark to another of the Swedes, Peter Klingvall, arguably the fastest wing/skate sailor at the event.

In the next race I started at the bottom (downwind) end of the line but was able to pull off a good start and stay ahead of the four, including Mike M. and two of the Swedes to win the heat. No one is more surprised (or insufferably pleased) then I.

To give a little perspective on all this : Lars Fromell has been skatesailing since 1972. Skatesailing is to Sweden as is baseball to America. For us to compete with them at this level is something of a miracle, truth be told, and I'm pretty sure we aren't seeing their very best here. But I do believe we are beginning to lay the foundation for a truly competitive U.S. team. The Ice Spirits know I'm probably too much of a worn out old surf bum for this sort of game but there might be some younger folks out there to whom we old schoolers might pass the torch. For now I am very proud and happy with our results so far. There is no shame in being overmatched in fair and honest competition and if you can't be best you can always strive to be better. For my part, the day I stop striving will be the day I die.

Tomorrow if the wind permits we will complete our course racing and maybe even run a few more slalom races because the Swedish team wants to race us some more. And I want to race them some more because every time I do I learn something.

One more day to spend on the ice with old and new friends and co-competitors. Can it be be ending so soon? Aw, come on! Do we have to go now? We were just starting to have fun.....


World championships held on ice of Chain Lake

Mother Nature was unable to shut down the 2012 World Ice and Snow Sailing Association (WISSA) Championships in St. Ignace this week, but she sure made a lot of work for event organizers.

“Our community stepped up to the plate big time,” said Executive Director Janet Peterson of the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t even know if I could venture a guess how many volunteers have helped out.”

With participants from nearly a dozen different countries traveling to St. Ignace for the week-long championships, the ice of Lake Michigan proved to be far too treacherous. Faced with the cancellation of an event that is only held every 17 years in the United States, the people of St. Ignace not only went to Plan B, but had to make it up on the fly — moving all activities to nearby Chain Lake.

“We need this; we want this,” said Peterson of the motivation behind the hasty move.

WISSA features a variety of different races with participants wearing skis or hopping on snowboards and utilizing massive kites, giant sails and hand-held wings to capture the wind for each event.

While the United States and Canada were certainly represented, some participants traveled from the other side of the world — Finland, Russia and Sweden — to compete in St. Ignace.

“These folks come from all around the world,” said WISSA Spokesman Dan Shires, speaking from the heated tent where the athletes warm up and eat their meals on the ice of Chain Lake.

Niles Book of Marquette was one of the participants, admitting he wasn’t likely to win.

“It’s more of a fun thing for me,” said Book. “I’ve been doing this most of my life.”

Book, who usually travels to Teal Lake in Negaunee to practice his sport, said with the Seven Meter Slingshot he has hit 40 mph when conditions are right.

“This is a good day for me,” said Book on Wednesday of his chance to compete against the best in the world.

Peterson said the competitions will run through Saturday with the basic schedule calling for participants to begin gathering on the ice around 10:30 a.m. each day to lay out the course.

“It depends on the wind (direction) and what races they’re going to run,” said Peterson in determining the set up of the course.

An access road behind Little Bear East is being used for spectators looking to view the races.

Shires, who also is involved with the North American Ice and Snow Sailing events, said St. Ignace will play host to one of its events next winter between the third and fourth weeks in February.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

WISSA 2012: Day 3

This morning brought a trace of new snow and stronger wind than yesterday. Wings and sleds ran 3 course races successfully before breaking for lunch.The new snow was on the sticky side and the wind never really filled in and since these conditions favor lighter riders I was once again fast among slow. By expending serious amounts of sweat equity (and the occasional colorful metaphor) I was actually able to complete all three races and several riders DNF'd. Course racing is like that. You don't have to be the fastest but if you're faster than someone else you move up in the standings. Even a DNF (did not finish) is better than a DNS (did not start) so it even pays to show up. It was a workout and once again I was soaked.

After lunch I changed my two inner layers of clothes and switched back to skates for some short-track slalom racing. Here at last is an arena in which I can actually give the others a race. Everyone but the Swedish team, of course...they sail on their tall blades with a precise smoothness that is awe inspiring to witness. One of them doesn't sail a wing at all but a draksegl, or dragon sail, a type of skate sail. It's roughly trapezoidal in shape and supported by aluminum spars. This particular one is 9 square meters in area. Unlike a wing, the rider holds it on his upwind side and leans into it. Not an easy thing to sail at all, let alone race competitively. For my part, I actually won several heats by capitalizing on other rider's mistakes or by simply grabbing the gusts with the 4.8 and outsailing them. Then I would be moved to the next higher bracket and take the starting position at the downwind end of the line and come in last because the others would block my wind.By that time I was having way too much fun to care. We ran 9 races all told in this format. Short-track is the BOMB. I will post more about this in times to come as I learn more about it.

By the way, guess who got his picture on the front page of the St. Ignace news today?

More tomorrow. Rick 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

WISSA 2012: Days 1 and 2

I didn't post yesterday as planned - after the skipper's meeting it took some time to get our gear to the lake and set up. Then we spent the early afternoon sailing on the cleared ice practicing for the short track slalom before heading out onto the main lake with skis for course racing. The kites has been out racing while we were practicing. By the time we got out there the wind had become spotty so it turned into a skate-a-thon and with my heavy DH boards on I quickly became fatigued. The course was an up/down format and we were to complete three laps. By sheer force of will I was able ro round the windward mark twice but I was running last and after the second rounding I saw the marks being pulled so I knew I had DNF'ed.

Turns out I wasn't the only one... several sailors had already called it quits. Light wind and soft snow made for slow going and after the race I had to ski-skate about a half mile back to the pits. I was exhausted, dehydrated, and soaked to the bone with perspiration, as a result of which I also became chilled as the sun set. On returning to my ro, I simply had no energy left so I went to sleep. That's why I didn't post yesterday.

Today we had light wind again so we did more practice races on the short track area, giving those of us unfamiliar with this format more time to learn it. The kites completed more races out on the main lake but due to lack of sufficient wind wings and sailboards had no official races. They say there will be wind tomorrow so game on.

Much more to tell, of course but there's a beer somewhere calling my name.

Until tomorrow, Rick

Monday, February 20, 2012

WISSA 2012: The Road To St. Igmace, Opeming Ceremony

My perhaps dangerously overladen Forester performed magnificently on the long drive here, 20 hours all told with the planned overnight stop in Cleveland. Morning found us back on the highway and we gobbled up the miles, did the RuShip and I, the way a hungry Pac-Man chomps down the ghosts. The highlight of the trip was crossing the Mackinac Strait on the six-mile long bridge. Mighty Mac, they call it, and combined with the view toward Lakes Huron and Michigan it was simply the most awe-inspiring sight I have seen in many long years. Upon completing the crossing, you find yourself in St.Ignace where the local folk are pulling out all the stops to welcome us here.

During the opening ceremony at St.Ignace Middle School, we were treated to performances of Ojibway drumming and dancing by members of the area's Native community. The performances were im part to welcome us, and in part to "honor in loving memory, a quiet hero", Senior Chief Petty Officer Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Heath M. Robinson who gave his life in Afghanistan in service to this nation. Are not all true heroes thus? A moment of silence, if you will, and perhaps prayers for his family. We were invited to join in the Friendship Dance, to dance in a full circle around the drum they called the Grandfather, because all grandfathers enjoy seeing their children and grandchildren around them dance and be happy.

Another of the Ojibway performed a hoop dance with such agile footwork I wish to see him on skates with a wing. Then he would intertwine the hoops along his arms and spread them as though they were eagle's wings. Which was exactly his intention as another of his nation who was sitting near me said. When I told him I had seen eagles on my trip here, he said it was a sign of a good day. And so it has been. Dinner after the ceremony was hearty and filling, and we spent a little time afterward looking at all the young children's drawings about WISSA with their impressions of ice and snow sailing.

Regrettably, ice here has been as fickle as back home. We can neither sail on Moran Bay, just across the street from where most of us are staying at the Driftwood Motel, nor on the strait beside Mighty Mac, but on a small inland lake close by. Chain Lake has plenty of ice and we will make it work. The Show Will Go On.

Skipper's meeting tomorrow at 9:30, and then off to the race. I will try to post again tomorrow, maybe around mid-day.

Reporting from St. Ignace, your Humble Correspondent, Rick