was designed in 1999 to allow windsurfer
s to get “planing
” in lighter winds than ever before, as little as 7 knots
. Boards are short (less than 3m long), wide, (up to 1m) , high volume
(130-140 litres) and use huge
rigs (up to thirteen square metres!). The shape of a formula board encourages early planing due to the large surface area
under the feet of the sailor
(this is because there is a larger area to be pushed up
by the water flowing under it, think the ideal stone you would use for a skimming stone
…), and although different Formula boards have different shapes most are characterised by their width and the position of the widest point (much further back than on a traditional board to help induce early planing). Because formula boards plane so early, they also rip
in breeze. 30 knots is no hassle on Formula. This is the factor that really introduced apparent wind
Apparent wind is the wind caused by a board and a sail moving through the wind (imagine putting your hand out of a car window on a still day. True wind speed is nothing, but you feel a strong pressure on your hand proportional to the speed of the car through the air – apparent wind) and for the first time allowed windsurfers to achieve huge speeds upwind (towards the wind) and downwind (with the wind). Traditional windsurfers using small sails usually sail across the wind for maximum power, achieving this because all the wind is pushing on the sail (the sail is set at ninety degrees to the wind therefore all the wind is flowing onto it’s surface). When clutching onto a ten-meter rig, however, the last thing a sailor wants to do is sail across the wind. Instead they sail at as small an angle to the wind as possible, reducing the power in the sail but staying powered up due to the apparent wind flowing over the sail. The speed of the windsurf kit is governed by the wind speed and the angle to the wind, therefore sailing either upwind or downwind is a balance between sailing in the direction they want to go, and sailing at enough of an angle to induce high speed.
This is where racing comes in. Traditionally the mainstay of windsurfing is Mistral racing (boring) and freestyle (amazing tricks). Formula racing has now joined the fold as one of the quickest (a Formula board will go around an upwind/downwind course faster than an 18ft skiff!) and most exciting water sports in the world, and the fastest growing area in windsurfing, the 2004 Formula European championships attracted three-hundred sailors, (men, women and youth), a higher attendance than the Mistral Europeans!
Use of apparent wind is one of the biggest skills of Formula (and asymmetric dinghy) sailing, and there is no formula (pun intended) to say which angle gives the greatest v.m.g. (velocity made good, or speed in the direction the sailor wants to go). In a gust a sailor will turn slightly away from the wind to max out the apparent wind, and then use all of that power to turn him closer to the wind again. In a lull the sailor will be forced to turn away from the wind, to get more of the wind flowing across the sail and stay powered up and on the plane (to stop planing on Formula will slow you severely, equivalent to a spin in motor racing), add in pumping (pulling air into the sail), and you have another complication, obviously with air being pulled into the sail the sailor can sail closer to the wind, but pumping is hard work and also when pumping the board will be close to falling off the plane – dangerous. These are just the skills for keeping the board moving when at full speed, add starting, getting planing, turning through the wind (tacking and gybing) and keeping a tactical and strategic eye on the racecourse (Formula usually uses a windward/leeward course - one mark directly upwind of the other) while doing 30 knots and you’ll have some idea of the complexity and excitement of being a Formula racer.
Formula kit is set to grow hugely around the world. In areas where winds are light it gives beginner and intermediate sailors the chance to get planing, especially in the summer months, and allows more experienced sailors a gateway into argueably the most exciting racing water sport in the world.