Sunday 9 October 2011

Exocet SL Sport 78cm (129l) and 66cm(105l) with XO Silver 7.8m sail

New Exocet overtaking old Exocet (formula so all is forgiven)
The first time I got the boards wet the wind was low. It was ideal to get a feeling for them and to see the planing threshold of the bigger board with the biggest sail I was supplied with. Most other sailors were either out on 150+l beginners kit or formula kit, with a couple of lightweight freestylers out doing their pump pump pop stuff.

Subtract about 25% for accurate wind speeds closer to shore where we sail.
Portland Harbour is graced with a wind anemometer high up on the wall, this is over a mile out to sea relative to where we sail and with the collective experience on the beach we have decided the wind is usually about 20-25% less than the reading on the wall. For example if the wall is reading 16knots then we are usually lucky to get a session in unless there are gusty channels to get planing. As you can see from the chart it was just over the 'planing' threshold when I got on the water at 13.30.

I took out the Exocet SL Sport 78cm with a 45cm Black Project type R fin and the 7.8m Silver sail and was surprised at how quickly the board got planing. Due to many hours on the water in the past two years I have found it just as easy to get a 110l 65-70cm wide board planing as a bigger 120-130l 70-75cm wide board. I think due to less weight and more manoeuvrability so it did surprise me how it easily glided onto the plane. With a constant acceleration up to around 8-10knots the board lifted and then slowly but surely gained speed. Where I say slowly, there did not seem to be much wind at all, with quite glassy looking water.

I went in to my first gybe on it, that felt strange after spending most of my sessions this year on a Mistral SL RD 95l, 59cm wide board with a very thin back end! With a lot of foot pressure I buried the rail and went round faster than expected and somehow ended up with both feet in front of the mastfoot. The board stayed stable while I regained my composure.

I had a blast around the boats next. I wanted to see what the sail was like in and out of wind. The moored yachts give a perfect opportunity for this. The water is always choppy around there as well, the fin was a delight, taking a lot of back foot pressure with ease and not spinning out once. Moving around the boats needs a lot of steering and it was here that the fin impressed me. For some reason I used to spin big fins out quite easily, yet not smaller fins when I eventually bought some. I dont know if it was the brand or my incompetence, I would like to think the brand but sadly that is probably not the case.

Once I felt the fin almost let go but instantly it bit again and it had no effect on board trim at all. The board stayed flat and true all the time with very little bouncing around. For the first time sailing a big board (I must admit to not sailing too many of this size) I was having more than enough fun. It felt good as opposed to one of those sessions where you go out with big kit while waiting for more wind.

Nice clean twist to the sail, you can see how little wind there was
by the lack of white horses on the water
The sail performed really well around the wind shadows the boats create. In this wind on my old 7.8 no-cam 2007 free-race (although they had not coined that name then) from another brand I would drop off the plane sometimes going round the back of the bigger boats. The sail held the apparent wind well and the cams kept it stable where there was no real wind in the sail.

I set the sail full, with what I think will be medium downhaul. That was leaving about a 1-2cm gap from the extension pulley to the sail tack pullley and using the settings written on the sail (25cm extension, 485luff) with the 460 silver 75% carbon mast. (In a future article I will attempt to rig the sail on 3 types of mast and see how it rotates, stiff top, constant curve and flex top, all different brands). I used adjustable outhaul with my boom set 1cm greater than the settings written on the sail. It performed like any cammed sail would, holding the wind well when turning off it to around 110-120degrees, and using negative outhaul. It went upwind well with positive outhaul to the end of the boom

I went in and changed boards, by this time the wind must have been closer to 12 knots,  Portland Harbour can be a strange location for winds due to the channelling effect between the two land masses of Portland and the mainland. I used the 37.5cm Black Project fin and wished I had gone slightly bigger as I think I would have been fully planing more often. The board moved subplaning well, always felt on the edge of planing and it got going twice. Both times it went to a faster top speed than the 78cm, but that is what I would expect in marginal winds and a thinner board going off the wind at about 110degrees.

After a bit of a slog upwind due to it dropping further I changed back to the bigger board with no fin change in it, keeping the 45cm. I had a break for something to drink knowing I was missing the last of the wind. By this time the wall was reading 12 knots so it must have been 8-10 onshore. The odd gust got me planing, not enough to get round a gybe though, then a lot of pumping to get going again.

Tris Best at the OTC had a play on the 78cm while I got changed, he got it going a few times, and was slogging others, and doing allsorts of backwind spinny flicky things with the sail. I must remind you it is a 3 cam sail!

This session proved that you need to get to know a board/sail/fin combination before you can comment on it. My first impression is positive and if I was in the market for a 130l board I would certainly consider this one after only a brief go on it, and I think the price would sway the decision as it appears to be considerably cheaper than others. I cannot comment on the 66cm/105l as the session was too short. The sail is good in marginal winds and due to being light and easy to use for a 3 cam sail it planed quickly and easily, and was light in the gybe. The top end I cannot comment on either, the wind was far too low. I was planing across the wind at 26knots with this combination and very little effort.

The Black Project fin was a revelation, having tried two of them, the 37.5cm and the 45cm without a spinout in such low wind I was quite amazed and am looking forward to trying these out in more testing conditions. I also noticed that the board would stay planing at around 10-12knots which I felt to be very low. This is perhaps the slowest I have stayed on the plane, I want to try a different fin of the same size to see how much influence the Black Project fins have on this low threshold. Is it the board, the sail or the fin, or a combination of all three?

Future sessions I will mix and match the equipment with stuff I own and know, that will give me a better idea of the differences the of these Exocet/XO products.

I have had several more sessions now on these boards, albeit brief. Over the next few days I will put my thoughts together on the developing feelings I have for them. My team mate and fellow tester Pete Young has already taken the Sl Sport 78cm to just under 34knots, and I have beaten a 'kit' personal best in terms of breaking 30knots with a fin over 37cm long.

Hope you have enjoyed reading - 'The Bus'

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