Thursday, 15 December 2011

Exocet SL Sport boards and XO Silverline sails real life review conclusions

In this final write up I will summarise my findings after using the Exocet SL Sport 66&78cm boards with the XO Silverline 7 & 7.8m sails. They were used in a variety of conditions from flat water to choppy seas, and from 10-12knots up to around 25-30knots. I sailed them with others for over 20hours in total in almost as many sessions. This allowed me to get to know the characteristics of the kit, from the benefits to the disadvantages of certain elements.

Overall I was really impressed with the boards and sails, I hope to show you this through the text below. I wanted to offer a detailed review process that was based on real life windsurfing of real life sized kit. All too often I open the magazines to read reviews on 5m wave sails and 75l boards, great if you weigh that of a teenager or are as tall as a one ;-) I also wanted to offer a review that was not  based around a graph/chart/scale that I often ignore as they have about as much meaning as the same in the Brass Eye comedy from the 90's.

The sails were easy to rig, with nice finishing touches that certainly add some value. They are full monofilm construction with a lightweight silver x-ply that joins the luff to the monofilm and houses the cams. One unique selling point of the sails is the Strip draft locker, I was interested to find out if this had much of an effect of the stability of the sail. Both sails rigged on a 460 mast. I tried rigging the sails on a variety of mast brands, including Tushingham (100% Pro), North (75% Gold) and Severne (80% Blueline). The cams rotated fine on all three masts, I think the North was closest in bend curve to the supplied XO silver mast. I judged this by how the leech reacts as downhaul is applied, with the Tushingham the leech went from tight to loose quickly with about 6cm of rope through the cleat. The North and XO was about 10cm of rope, and the Severne about 12-14cm. The shape/belly of the sail at boom level with mid downhaul was similar for all four masts, the tush gave a slightly deeper belly with the monofilm touching the boom just near the harness lines and hence was a touch harder to rotate but still managed it without a kick.

This shows the sail with medium downhaul, this was not as locked in as it
is when more downhaul is applied
On the water as I got used to the sails and their characteristics. I like them for their plug and play feeling and found that they do as they state on the marketing. They are bang in between a 'freeride no cammed sail' and a 'full on race sail (Goldline for XO)' in terms of wind range and feel. What I mean is you can feel the centre of effort move around a lot more on a freeride sail than on a race sail, the Silverline is the halfway house and does have a sweet spot where you get the same locked in feel as a race sail.

To get this locked in feel from the sail requires an extension setting 2cm more than stated and downhauled fully with the pulley near touching, this gives a very loose leech. When you do this you can feel the centre of effort move forward in the sail with less pull on the backhand in the gusts. This does make it much more difficult upwind but that is the way of the speedsurfer. With less downhaul upwind is a lot easier and it will point reasonably high, obviously this then becomes more fin dependent. 

This extra downhaul makes it harder to rotate the second cam, if you don't sheet in hard after a gybe then you need to shake the sail a touch to get the rotation, adding more outhaul helps this though. When set for the locked in feeling and heading upwind the sail makes a lot of noise from the leech, the leech being very floppy and lightweight making it 'rattle'. This was my only real critisism of the sail, it was less noticable with 7m compared to the 7.8. Extra outhaul did eliviate this a bit though. I want to clarify this a bit, my sails that do not give this rattle are often the heavier ones with thicker monofilm or longer mini battens in the leech, my lighter sails give this rattle more so it is not just this brand. I guess it is a trade off for a lighter sail with less swing weight in the top.

Tack strap, velcro easy rig opening, and
uphaul opening.
Nice extras, such as zipped boom cutout
It is a reasonably soft sail, rising to the plane consistently and with reasonable speed. With a couple of pumps you can increase this part of the performance, and in very light winds with the 7.8m on the Exocet 78cm (129l) I found I could pump the combination onto the plane quite easily. This is in winds that are not enough to stay planing across the wind, if I went off the wind to about 100-110deg then constant rhythmic sail movement would allow it to keep semi-planing at speeds as little as 10knots (this was in wind as low as 6-10knots). It was too tiring to do for too long though, I do not know how the Olympic competitors manage it for so long. In terms of speeds I took the 7m to 32knots and the 7.8 to 31.5 knots, both over the standard Portland harbour mid to low tide chop.

To summarise; if you do not want to go for a full on race sail with the oversize luff tube and extra cams, but want the opportunity for off the wind performance then this is a good choice and in a good price bracket. It has the extras that you come to expect from more expensive sails, such as velcro opening near the pulley for ease of rigging, uphaul opening to stop the foot of the sail riding up and a zip on the boom cutout. It would be a purchase that the extras would make you happy about for some time afterwards, giving a feel that thought went into them and there is a distinct feeling of good quality.

The Boards impressed me more than the sails. This does not count in terms of performance but they certainly got a lot of interest on the each/rigging area. They have a different and classy look to them with the sanded back red/carbon finish, good pads and quality footstraps. 

A lot of volume under the footstraps through to the tail.
The 78cm was a nice board to ride, it was not as hard and uncomfortable as some bigger slalom boards are yet still gave the feeling of speed with a smooth ride over choppy water (big fin = out in the chop at Portland Harbour). My max speed on this board was just under 30knots, several times. I know it would go over 30 as on the first day one of my team mates Pete Young took it to just under 35knots which is going some with so much floatation, but then for Pete 35knots is 30 for the rest of us. Initally gybing felt strange due to both the volume at the back and the overall width. The board was very forgiving in the gybe and I made some of my best ever gybes with it although I found it difficult to reduce the radius of the arc and record these as alphas (500m with a gybe, ending within 50m of the start) without going far upwind in the run up, hence reducing my overall speed. The board does want to stay planing through the gybe due to the volume at the back, this compensates for lack of finesse.

The 66cm was even better and in fairness is about as big as I go now with boards as my biggest sail currently is a 7.6m. At Weymouth Speed week I topped a 33.5knot peak on the board. This is the fastest I have been on a board greater than 100l/60cm. It also took me to a 500m over 30.5knots, unfortunately this was not in perfect line with the course.

On three consecutive days I also beat my nautical mile average PB's going from 24.8 knots to just under 26. At first while I was ploughing through the chop for nautical mile speeds I found the 'shoulder' (about mid rocker on the rail) occasionally caught and just made the board swerve slightly, which of course knocks the overall speed down. After more sessions this just stopped happening, I cannot explain why! I think it is just one of those things all windsurfers will understand where you seem to progress but don't quite know what you have done to do it. 

My only real criticism of both boards was the deep Tuttle box, I can understand this for the larger of the two boards but still find it is not required with fins less than 45cm, and a real fiddle to get the fin in when rushing to get on the water. So much so that on a couple of occasions where it was really low wind and a bigger fin may have made a touch of difference between semi planing and rising fully I opted to keep trying with the fin I had rather than fiddle with a larger one. More often than not you will share fins with one or two boards, sometimes even three so in less than 45/50cm most people opt for standard Tuttle heads. If the smaller boards in the range have normal tuttle why does the 105l/66cm have a deep Tuttle? 

I can live with the deep Tuttle though since I found out why the boards are so comfortable to ride, they have heel bumpers built in. Where your heels are there are deeper/thicker footpads, but these are not raised. They are built from hollows inside the shell of the board. It was surprising how much this benefits your heels. When I moved off the Exocet onto my Mistral SL RD 95l full carbon with footpads about as thick as a 3ply kitchen towel I really felt like someone was hitting my heels with a hammer in comparison.

Overall these are a great range of boards, and an excellent choice for the budding slalom or GPS windsurfer. They will certainly hold their own against some of the highly priced team edition slalom kit, but seem to give a much more forgiving ride.

I enjoyed doing the reviews, sometimes it was frustrating as I knew I could get faster speeds on smaller kit but I wanted to do the best I could for Ian Kraft, the Exocet and XO UK agent and owner of Surfkraft.  It was worth it for me as it has shown me alternatives that I perhaps would not have considered due to not seeing many on the water, if I was in the market for new kit right now I would definitely go for the 78cm and get a big summer cruising sail to pair with it. I would go for the 68cm and use it for distance sailing on Portland Harbour for the Portland Pirates GPS team. It certainly is a board that is perfect for long distance cruising. I know it would give me an excellent hour average but when I had them I was recovering my fitness after illness and an hour was far too long for me to go without stopping for a rest (at first 10 mins was too long!). I would like to try the smaller kit as well now and will purchase one in the future when the funds allow. I would like to try the Gold-line sails as I do prefer the full race sail if I am using cams, I would be interested to try them side by side with the Silver line to feel the difference.

I had planned for others to demo the kit and help with the review writing process but this did not happen quite as planned. Maybe next time others will be more interested in using the kit.

Good Speed and winds
'The Bus'

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