Gorge Blowout in an Aero
The Gorge Blowout — a white knuckle, 18 mile downwinder from Cascade Locks to Hood River, Oregon.
This was the first year an Aero has competed in the famed Gorge Blowout. The ultimate torture test for single handed dinghies. We were all interested to see how an Aero would compete with the Lasers. Andy Mack and Sean Grealish took up the challenge in their Aeros.
Read what Andy has to say ....
Report from Andy Mack
"It was a great ride, way better than the last time I did the Blowout in a Laser. We only had a small fleet of 8 boats, a mix of full rig and Radial Lasers, and two Aeros one with a 9 and I sailed a 7.
The first half was pretty moderate 10 - 15 knots and picked up to 15 - 20 knots around the corner to Viento. The Aero was only a little faster in the non-planing conditions. Sean Grealish had a 9 rig on his Aero which was faster the first 30 minutes until I was able to plane and surf, then I could surf and plane a little longer and lower. Sean looks to be around 190lbs, while I’m barely pushing 160, so I would expect to be able to go little better in the moderate conditions. He tended to steer around more and stayed up high to get on a plane and then didn’t convert it to enough VMG down the course. As the wind and waves built up I was having to get way back in the cockpit to keep the bow from stuffing and tended to steer up aggressively to keep the bow out. I probably could have pushed it more dead down and took a few more waves over the bow, I was trying to be conservative and avoid a swim.
The start of the second half was up a notch, 20 - 30 knots. There was a pretty gnarly puff right at the start which took out a Laser and Sean pitch poled right on the line. These guys hauled out at Viento instead of pushing on. Good choice, it only got windier.
Bill Symes with a full rig and couple other Radial Lasers were able to sail lower and faster than I was willing to go, I was more comfortable reaching up, and tacking since I have not worked out my heavy air jibing technique. The weekend before the Blowout I went for my first sail in 15 - 20 knots and had a difficult time landing any reach to reach jibes. While very slow, tacking worked out in the end, no flips. While I tended to hug the Oregon shoreline to stay out of the big waves Bill and the Radials legged out on me going straight up river in the middle until the breeze dropped back down to under 20 knots, then I could hook up on the waves again and surf longer and lower.
I had one really close call with a death roll that I somehow saved, I think by getting dunked hard to windward and having the boat pivot around me enough to keep from rounding down. It took me until Wells Island at the west end of Hood River to finally catch and pass Bill. Just in time to dodge all the kite boards, while trying to not have to jibe to make it past the Event Site bouy and stuff any waves.
The Aero likes a little more reaching than dead down running. There were a few times I had to round up in order to unload the rig and rudder. There were some loud pops from the rudder area, but no cracks or crunches, it sounded more like settling than something to worry about. I’ve experienced much worse from new boats and lots of catastrophic failures.
The Aero tolerates over sheeting on the run to stay in a safe mode and keeps planing without ridiculous sheet loads or feeling over sheeted. I stuffed a few waves pretty good, that’s where the open cockpit comes in handy, drains like nobody’s business. My GPS charting app recorded a 13.3 knot peak near Swell City and about 12.5 at the finish.
Overall, the boat is nice and tight, without being too lightly built and breaking. I was definitely worried I was going to break something, I kept trying to prevent from overloading the rig and rudder unnecessarily. In the end, all the gear and the boat faired perfectly. If I had the race to do over I would push myself harder to pull off normal jibes and run a little deeper. There’s no doubt I was taking it easy trying hard to not capsize, the boat likes to be flat, so aggressive steering and rocking doesn’t seem to pay off much. A shorter tiller would be nice for heavy air big wave driving.
The Aero is very fun boat! It really excels against a Laser in the marginal planing and surfing conditions where you can drive it hard down every wave and catch almost all of them. If a top Laser sailor like a Derek Vranizan were out there it probably would have been a more even race. Bill did an impressive job of pushing his Laser, I had to work hard to catch up when the wind dropped enough near Hood River where it favored the Aero."
Andy Mack won the event in his Aero 7.
Full results at: Regatta Network