It was absolutely neck and neck for three heats of course racing on Day Three of the 2018 Hydrofoil Pro Tour at St. Francis Yacht Club. Racing commenced at 11am in stellar sunny conditions with winds gusting as high as 36 knots, but dropping into the 20s for The SF Bay Challenge – the Tour’s fourth heat of the day with additional kitefoiling and foiling windsurfer competitors.
Heat one, competitors powered off the line with Nico Parlier (FR) rounding the weather mark first and Guy Bridge (GBR) and Johnny Heineken (StFYC) riding his wake. Heineken split to the outside on the downwind leg going for the tide and clean wind advantage in a play that payed off as he finished second behind Parlier.
Heat two saw Junior racer Toni Vodisek (SLO) in front of the fleet with an amazing start, rounding the weather mark in front of Parlier, Bridge and Heineken. Under pressure and ripping downwind he managed to hold on to fifth as Heineken, Bridge and Parlier passed him for the second windward rounding to finish in that order. Connor Bainbridge (GBR) hauled in Toni for fourth at the line.
Heineken had an outstanding comeback after a rough start and tack issue in heat three. Rounding the first weather mark in 14th, he hauled in and powered up hard to claim another bullet with Bridge and Parlier taking second and third.
“I made fewer mistakes today and it was fun in the full-on ebb chop this morning,” said Heineken.
Titouan Galea (FR) had another consistent day followed by Bainbridge, StFYC’s Joey Pasquali, and Florian Gruber (GER) now sitting at seventh overall.
“I started the Tour bad but every day I have gotten better and better, so I am making a small comeback,” said Gruber. “Today was awesome. Tomorrow is going to be tight between me and Joey.”
Pasquali’s holding strong at sixth and scored a fourth place finish in the SF Bay Challenge – which was particularly challenging this year. The gusty, 20-35 knot westerlies that have not let up since the Tour commenced dropped out entirely during today’s fourth race, a 15-mile distance run from St. Francis Yacht Club downwind to Berkeley Pier and upwind back to the club.
“I made it to the bottom first, I rounded the mark first, I made it to Blunt first and I hit the wind hole first,” said Heineken. “I had a lot of firsts in the race, but not the ones I needed.”
Dozens of other competitors followed Heineken into a giant wind hole on the south side of Angel Island by Blunt Point, about midway down the course.
“Blunt is usually very windy,” said StFYC’s Vice Commodore Paul Heineken, a veteran windsurfing competitor at the helm of one of the day’s Race Committee boats. “Johnny’s kite just fell out of the sky. Nico [Parlier] saw it and went low.”Parlier stayed in the grip of the wind and won the challenge with a time of 38:03, nearly two minutes ahead of the second finisher, Titouan Galea (FR). Kai Calder (USA) crossed a minute later, followed by Pasquali, who avoided the wind hole entirely.
“My tactic was to point straight at the [StFYC] clubhouse,” said Pasquali. “A lot of guys went toward Angel Island, but I was able to get through it pretty clean. Going away from everybody was what really paid. That’s what this race is all about. It’s a huge stretch of bay you can navigate in so many different ways.”
After swimming for a while, Heineken managed to fill his kite with a puff and relaunch to finish eighth, but the shifty wind permanently stranded 50 kitefoiling competitors and seven of the eight foiling windsurfers. Only ten kiters finished, six of them Californians, suggesting local knowledge played a role.
“It’s a tough location,” said Gruber. “It’s really hard to predict the wind. It takes more skills, there are currents and wind shifts on the course. That’s why Johnny does so well. He knows where to go.”
Though Parlier has maintained a lead for three days, with the top three separated by only seven points, the Tour could end in anyone’s favor tomorrow. High speeds, rough water, gusty conditions, tiring racers could make or break it for any of the top ten. The final day of racing for the 2018 Hydrofoil Pro Tour starts at 1pm PST tomorrow.
“Tomorrow looks windy,” said Heineken with a smile. “I’m excited for it. I feel good.”