Monday, 3 October 2011

Exocet 'FreeRace' Tests - First Impressions When Rigging

Welcome to the Exocet SL Sport, Silver line Sails and Black Project Type R Fins Review Series.

First I would like to introduce you to our testing methods. I say 'our'  this because I am going to use some very experienced windsurfers, some intermediate regular windsurfers and a couple of 'occasional' windsurfing intermediates. The rationale behind this is to get the opinions from windsurfers of a range of abilities on the same kit, from first impressions to lasting memories and the small niggles that may arise from getting to know a bit of kit over a good few sessions in different conditions.

I have chosen to do it this way after I posted a suggestion similar to this on a forum a few years back and had quite a few others say it was a good idea. We spend a lot of money on kit and want to make the right choice when buying it, often we do not get the chance to test it rigorously and when reading the review of some kit that has been used by a pro/ex pro/team rider it is clearly going to be a very accurate account of the board but it often does not tell us what we need from the kit,  either for the weekend warrior or someone still learning to carve gybe after several years of windsurfing.

Once a year (if we are lucky) the magazines do a review that is relevant to the majority of windsurfers who use freeride boards in varied conditions, and have a few extra pounds requiring a few extra litres. It is rare to see some of this kit pushed to its limits and there will be a couple of the testers who will do that. To quote tester Pete Young, one of the top UK speed surfers and current holder of the unofficial but real Portland Harbour record, "it would be great to give someone else's kit a hammering". I have no doubt that he will, he has taken his 'old mans armchair' 144l freeride board to over 36knots. (late edit - he just took the Exocet SL Battleship 78cm to nearly 34knots in not too much wind, we will write about this in the next instalment)

Exocet 2011 SL Sport (RED), 2010 Slalom(BLK)
To start with I will talk about my first impressions when rigging, I am a bit of a rigging nerd and tend to race myself each time when rigging up, and had it to about 4 minutes from key out of the engine to zip up on wetsuit  with fully rigged kit before I started with cammed sails, now its about 5 minutes if I do not have to change the adjustable outhaul length.

The board range we are testing is the Exocet SL Sport 2011, which are based on the proven shapes of the Warp SL full slalom series. In the pictures you can see the 78cm wide (129litres) and 66cm wide (105litres) SL Sports in red, with the older Warp SL 56cm wide (80litre) black beast! The one in the middle is there just for show as it is gorgeous, and not in this full test although I am sure its new owner will be happy to write a few words about it once he gets to know it.

68cm "Does my bum look big in this?"
Exocet 78cm wide 129l SL Sport 2011

Both boards have a deep Tuttlebox, which of course takes a touch longer when rigging if you are using a regular Tuttlebox fin,  you have to locate the holes with the bolts and you need a much longer bolt than normal and needs a lot more screwing,  this is something speedsurfers are used to ;-).

The footstrap inserts leave only 3 options, front, middle and back, they are outboard and thats it, this is not a novice board or one for someone just getting into the straps, and has not been marketed as such anyway.

The footstraps themselves are sturdy and stiff, even when wet. The adjustment is quick and easy but not so quick that it will be prone to stretching over time, there is plenty of velcro and neoprene to keep them at the required length. I have set the footstraps middle front and back back as I prefer a slightly wider stance and do like to be riding the fin when going deep off the wind.

One feature I was keen to see was the 'heel bumper'. When I first looked I could not even see it, the footpads look normal. If you press the footpads though you can soon find a softer spot where your heel should be located. It will be interesting to see if this makes any difference or if it is a simple marketing gimmick that creates an added cost.

A word on the cost though, this is without doubt at the budget end of the market yet looks and feels as good as any other free-race styled board. The board itself is a head turner without a doubt, the understated simple graphics look elegant yet mean. It is well finished and looks distinctive.

The sails that we will test are the Silver line series, in sizes to suit the boards. 7.1m and 7.8m, the larger for the big board, and both will suit the smaller board.

The first thing I noticed when rigging was the velcro opening at the foot of the sail when rolled out starboard up. This always makes threading the downhaul easier and the foot looked well constructed and not a rushed job like some do. There is a small opening in the foot to allow the uphaul (the 'uphaul recess') to be threaded through. This stops the foot rising up in use when you have a tight/short uphaul which I prefer.

The pulley is a triple block that is secured either end and runs parallel to the the sail. The reason I note that it is secured either end is for North XT users, who need this for loop-loop-go, unfortunately unless you use extra thin rope you wont be able to, the diameter of the centre pulley means that the top of the block is too close to pass a doubled over rope through. You have to resort to threading it.

The second notable component was the zipped boom cutout which allows a longer cutout and less water entering the luff tube if you should drop a gybe. It also gives less disturbance to the laminar flow across the sail compared to an open cutout, or to put it in Mrs Redsurfbus's terms - it makes it look much neater which in fairness it does! The cutout allows a much higher boom than some manufacturers.

The luff tube is quite thin for a cammed sail, but there are zips to help the sail stretch where the cams go on, this prolongs the life of the sail/luff tube no end. Rigging is like with any cammed sail, downhaul to bend the mast enough to get the boom on, put the boom and outhaul on fully, let of a bit of downahul, unzip and put on the cams, zip up, downhaul to required length and adjust outhaul.

Rigging was quick and effortless, it rigged according to measurements using a chinook extension, it could have had about another 2cm of downhaul before the leech was loose to the boom.

There are lots of well thought extras on the sail that I liked, especially the boom cutout zip. This was unexpected considering the lower price of the sail compared to some of its rivals in the slalom market.

I have now rigged both sails 3 times each and never once had a problem or heaven forbid a delay in rigging. The top the the luff tube is stiff and looks long lasting. There is a lot of adjustment when downhauling to go from tight to loose leech when using the correct mast (XO silverline 75%) which is a constant curve. I will test the sail on other masts to give feedback as you will all know some sails are sensitive to other masts and others are 'welcoming' and work. The cams go on easily and are just small simple cams yet give a deep profile at the boom. 

The fins we are using with the boards and will test on their own are Black Project type R in sizes 37.5cm to 47.5cm in 2.5cm increments. My very first impression of them is they feel well constructed, and quite heavy from dense G10 so will be strong and stiff which I like. Please bear in mind I rarely use bigger than a 37cm Select S11 so even the smallest is bigger than what I am used to. In the beginning I used to spin out big fins for some reason, but never smaller fins. Perhaps this was due to trying too much back foot pressure in really light winds when I used big fins, or maybe the brand (stock fins that came with 2 boards, my friends know which but I wont post on here as they are a star in terms of making boards). I took the Black Project Fins 45cm Type R out for its first run in very light winds and it never lost grip once, I took the 37.5cm out with a big sail combo for the board (66cm) and only lost grip once while trying to overtake someone racing me out in 2ft eggbox low tide offshore chop, probably my fault for being a little over-enthusiastic. I will report a lot more on the fins in future articles and think they will deserve a write up of their own.

I have so far had one session on the boards, and Tris Best at the OTC had a little sail as well, I will report on it soon but the wind was very low, as low as 10knots at some points. I got the 78cm planing with the 7.8 easily and as the wind was so low we both managed a few helitacks and can report the sail was very light in the hands. I will go into more detail in the next part of the review.

By 'The Bus'

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