Monday, 25 February 2013

New kit, what's it like?

My new kit from Tushingham and Starboard arrived back in January, but I've been in Bristol at Uni. Finally, last weekend, I got home to try out my kit for the first time. I was lucky with the weather, sunny both days, with lightish winds on Saturday and lots of wind (for Raceboard) on Sunday.

What am I riding?

Tushingham XR Race 2012/13 9.5, with an Ultimate Pro 520 100% Carbon mast, and Starboard Phantom 377 the 'batwing Phantom'. Noticeable features of the board are the tail wings, which actually start right up by the mast track, which is slanted, so the back is lower than the surrounding deck, and the front is significantly raised. The deck has a concave shape, so the rails are quite raised, and the board has a lot of vee underneath. The sail rigs pretty deep with shape continuing quite high up when rigged with low downhaul, it also has 6 battens, 1 less than my previous XR Race. For reference/info/whatever, I weigh about 68kg, and I'm about 180cm tall.

Saturday was fairly light, with about 6-8 knots when I arrived at Siblyback lake, but once I had screwed all the footstraps on, the wind had picked up a little to about 8-10 knots, still a few lighter lulls. I put the stock 52cm Drake fin in and hit the water. I sensed a little gust coming, so I slid the mast track right to the back (very smooth and easy with the slanted track), and after a few pumps I was planing. The board was very quick to get going, quicker than my Phantom 380. What really surprised me however, was when I hooked in after the first few pumps, the board just kept going! On the 380 in this wind, I would be continually pumping to keep it planing, especially on a broad reach, but this board didn't. Of course, with continual pumping on this board, I found that I could just go deeper and deeper downwind, when normally, I'd be struggling to keep the board planing at all. The sail is really nice for this as well, it is much more powerful than my old XR Race, and with 6 battens, it really feels nice and soft, reactive, and springy when pumping, I could really feel a lot of power being generated for even the smallest pump.

Planing in such light winds on this board is quite a strange sensation initially. It feels like there is a lot of lift and support under the back foot, which feels a little strange, because at the same time, the tail minus wings is actually pretty narrow, and not as wide and fat as the Phantom 380. It is easy and fun to blast around on, much easier than old style Raceboards with narrow tails.

You'd think that the wings would make it pretty awful at gybing, but actually I think it is better than the old Phantom 380. OK, neither have a particularly small carving radius, but the new board seemed to keep a lot of momentum making it really easy to come out planing on a broad reach to broad reach gybe, which is the only type of gybing we usually do on today's trapeziod or windward/leeward courses.

The board is a little narrower than it's predecessor, and so it gets on the rail upwind much more easily. This is also a good opportunity to discuss the next unusual feature of the board: the slanted mast track. For those of you who don't know, Raceboards have a sliding mast track that enables you to adjust the position of the mast foot depending on the wind conditions and point of sail. The idea behind the slanted mast track is that the raised position at the front gives more leverage, letting the board rail up earlier, and the lowered position at the back gives more control on the reaches and downwind. Does it work? To start with I used the front position of the mast track to give the maximum possible leverage, and the board did indeed rail very easily and early. However, I felt like I was lacking a bit of angle upwind so I moved the mast back a couple of steps, and it worked. The board now railed more easily and pointed higher.

On Sunday, I headed to St Johns lake (Torpoint) to test the kit in stronger winds. It was SE'ly and about 16-22 knots, maybe a little more in the biggest gusts. I hadn't sailed Raceboard in strong conditions for a while and it took me a while to find my groove. I still opted for the 9.5, and after a while, got used to the increased power compared to my previous XR Race. Like the old sail, this one has a huge tuning range, with it on pretty much max downhaul, the top of the sail de-powers really really well yet the very lowest panel above the boom stayed pretty tight. This helped pointing and powered the board upwind through the chop better than the old sail. After a few runs, I found the secret to taming the board! I put the mast track one back from front to help ride through the chop, although I moved it all the way forward in the biggest gusts, and gave the daggerboard a bit of rake: something I didn't really do on my old 380, since you could just keep moving the track forward on that to get more control, on this board however, not as much control is gained from having the track right forward, and raking the daggerboard a couple of degrees really improves control. You have to be pretty careful not to have too much rake, because then you can't point at all. I also changed down from the stock 52cm fin to a stiffer 46cm, which gave me a lot more control downwind and reaching.

Overall, I'd say that whilst the Starboard Phantom 380 is an amazing all-round board, and absolutely flies, the new Phantom 377 absolutely destroys this board in marginal conditions, where is rails and plans much easier and earlier. In strong winds, it is really rapid downwind and on the reaches, and flies really well upwind through chop, in a slightly different way to the 380, can't quite put my finger on how though! I seem to have written a lot more about the board than the sail, mainly because they are things that really need time to get tuned to perfection. The new sail is more powerful than my old one (the very first version from 2009), which makes it an absolute machine in light winds - well matched to the board. My old XR Race was stable and easily de-powered in strong winds, giving is a low drag, flying feel which suited my light weight, so I was a little apprehensive about how the new sail would feel in strong winds with it's extra power, and 1 less batten. I'm pleased to say, that this sail definitely retains it's predecessors mega wind range, and is easily de-powered  although it feels quite different, even when de-powered and totally manageable  it has more of a 'drivey' feel upwind. If anything, it the power is more stable and the centre of effort more locked in place than the old one, which surprised me, since it lacks the extra batten.

My bags from Overboard also arrived. I'm loving the 60l Dry Tube - really well built and perfect for stuffing loads of wet gear into, I'm also using the Adventure backpack, I can fit so much stuff into it, including a nice padded laptop pocket, and I'm still discovering little pockets useful for all sorts of things! Check out their website to see their full range of stuff - they make a waterproof bag or case for anything!

Cant wait to get properly tuned up over Easter, because I already feel pretty fast and ready for 2013! You can find out more about me and my windsurfing on my new website, which is now up and running here or by clicking "Website Home" at the top of this page.

Photo's and video by Paul Wright.

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