Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fighting Chicken

Our first five days in Hatteras were windy - we planed every day, usually in wind that was higher than the forecast. Friday took the crown - the forecast predicted 20 mph at 8 going down to 15 during the day, but we got 23 mph going up to 30 and staying there.

I took the opportunity to fight my inner chicken. It's quite a loud-mouthed beast, and I often listen to it. Not this time! Out came the 72 l speed board, even though the wind had turned from NNE to NNW by noon, meaning higher water levels and more chop. I had been overpowered towards the end of the morning freestyle session on my 5.6 m sail in 25 mph wind. With meter readings of 29 mph after lunch, switching to a 6.3 m race sail sounded about right. You need to go big for speed, right?

Well, the 6.3 turned out to be encouraging the chicken just a bit too much. In theory, a 6.3 should be easy to hold in this wind and "moderate" chop. Indeed, the sail never felt overpowering; instead, it combined the best characteristics of a freestyle sail with amazing stability. But with the inner chicken constantly screaming "Not so fast!", I never quite got the feeling of being in control.

On the verge of once again loosing the chicken fight, I rigged down to a 5.6 Loft racing sail. That made a lot of difference, and I was finally able to get a few runs near 30 knots. That may be nothing to good speedsurfers, but for me, it's a lot in chop. With the chicken finally under control, I even found a patch of flat-ish water near shore, and get a 32 knot run - 2 knots faster than my previous best in Hatteras, and my 5th-fastest session ever. Take that, chicken!

We'll be at the ABK camp for the next five days, so we'll focus on freestyle instead of speed. Maybe I can beat the chicken once again and try a few loops...

Monday, October 9, 2017

WET Fall Regatta

The WET Fall regatta took place the last two days at David Kashy's place in Seaford, VA. We took that as a reason to drive down to Hatteras a week before the ABK camp, and had a blast.

The weather was nice, the wind great for longboard racing, the organization once again excellent - thanks to all who made it happen!
Racing is always a good way to learn where you need to improve. I had plenty to learn! Some of these things are:

  • Practice the hard stuff, not just the fun stuff! I fell a couple of times in long downwind legs, which I never practice.
  • Check your gear before the trip! When I took out Nina's Ultra Cat at the end of day one, I discovered that the mast foot tendon had about 10 deep cracks; it was just pure luck that it had not broken during the races. Nina ended up using slalom gear for several races on day two, which was fun in the gusts, but had her drop to the rear of the field in lulls.
  • If you're racing with your MSO, she might expect exceptions from the right-of-way rules, even if she knows them perfectly well. Or perhaps she never practiced stopping with a cambered sail on a race board, and absolutely will not drop a 3-cam 7.8 m sail. Well, at least not before the inevitable collision. 
  • Listen carefully at the skippers meeting, and then look at the flags! More about that below.
The races also illustrated nicely how much gear matters. Steve was in a league of his own on the Starboard Phantom 377:
Although looking at the picture, maybe he just discovered how to sail downhill all the time?

John was in second place in most races on a Mega Cat with a 9.5 m raceboard sail. When Nina was on her Ultra Cat with a 7.8 m 3-cam freerace sail, she managed to pass him a few times; taking the weight difference into account, she was on comparable gear. I'm much closer to John's weight, and was on my Lightning that does not have a race daggerboard, so I was far behind John in the light wind races. In the second race on Sunday when the wind picked up, I managed to get close, and might have had a chance to beat him ... if I had looked at the flags and seen that we were going around the course twice this time, instead of just once as in the first race of the day. By the time I understood what all the "2" signs that the boat crew was making meant, the entire field had long passed me. But at least there was nobody else in the picture when I finally crossed the finish line:
The pictures are from Marcia and David - big thanks! Here's a final one of Nina having fun:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Speed Spots

Jose left us and took the wind with him. While waiting for the wind to come back, I think of past sessions, and wonder - where did I go really fast in the past? Thanks to my sessions database with 1,113 entries since 2009, that's easy to answer. Here's a list of the spots where I have reached top speeds above 30 knots:

No big surprises here. Three of the top 4 spots are Slicks, and the remaining spot (Corpus) is shallow everywhere, and also has excellent speed strips. Perhaps the more surprising thing is that my home spot, Kalmus, is at the very bottom of the list - I sailed faster than 30 knots in only one session out of 251! Compare that to Sandy Point in Connecticut, where I sailed only twice - and broke 30 knots both times.

But as the avid reader of this blog knows, my Kalmus sessions are usually freestyle or bump & jump sessions. It's rare that the wind is strong enough to make speed sailing interesting, and when that happens, I often sail upwind or downwind half a mile to the nearby slicks - Egg Island downwind, and the Kennedy Slicks upwind. If we look at only sessions where I used slalom gear, and then sort by the percentage of sessions where I did 30+ knots, a different image emerges:

Now, Sandy Point is on top, followed by Egg Island and two other slicks on Cape Cod. Of the spots on the list, I would indeed rank Sandy Point as the spot with the highest speed potential when wind, tide, and wind direction all come together. But that does not happen often; furthermore, Sandy Point requires a 3-hour drive, while all the other spots are a lots closer (with Salvo being a vacation spot, and Corpus Christi a winter spot). So we sail at Sandy Point only when we can be darn sure that it will be really windy!

The table above includes sessions with large slalom gear like my 117 l slalom board. When I use the large gear, the wind is typically around or below 15 knots, which makes is darn near impossible for me to reach 30 knots. To get a better idea of the "real quality" of the speed spots, let's look at only sessions on slalom boards below 100 liters:
Now, Egg Island and Barnstable Harbor jump to the top - two of my local favorites. Kennedy Slicks also looks better, with 5 out of 8 sessions above 30 knots. Overall, there are now five spots where sailed faster than 30 knots more than half of the time - cool! The four spots within a 45 minute drive work in a variety of different wind directions: SW-WSW, NW-NNW, and NNE-NE-ENE. You just have to know where to go...

Of the other spots, some indeed make it hard to go faster than 30 knots, at least at my skill level. But some spots are not quite as bad as they seem, for a variety of reasons. Of the 40 sessions that I hit 30 knots, I had wind gusts above 23 knots 38 times. But in Corpus Christi, only 10 of the 26 speed sessions had wind gusts above 23 knots; counting just these 10 sessions would give a much better ">30 knot percentage".

Fogland is another example of a spot that looks worse in the tables above than it really is. The first time I broke 30 knots was in November 2011; the next two 30-knot session were in early 2012 in... Fogland. But after we moved to Cape Cod in the summer of 2012, we stayed on Cape Cod, and went to Fogland only on rare occasions - usually for Dani's BBQ.

Have you ever played a multi-level video game where it took a while to get to the highest level, but once you got there, the lower levels seemed much easier? I think speedsurfing is similar: once you reached a certain speed, reaching what used to be your top speed before becomes much easier. This applies to many different speedsurfing categories: top speed, alpha 500, even the nautical mile. I have often seen speedsurfer "unlock" new speed levels, and afterwards post sessions where there numbers where much higher than they would have been before the "unlock" event. Sometimes, there's an obvious reason for the new "top level", like new gear; at other times, it's a trip to a much faster speed spot like the L├╝deritz speed channel or La Franqui, or the opportunity to sail with better speedsurfers; and sometimes, there is no obvious reason. But whatever the cause was, reaching a new top speed level can definitely have an "unlock" effect. So go pick a spot and play a lot!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Wheelie Stop

The one thing that surprised me most in yesterday's speed session was that Nina had problems getting dialed in, and stopped early when her forearms started hurting too much. Nina has become a better windsurfer than I am. She mostly does freestyle, but we have had several speedsurfing sessions where she has beaten my top speed. So what happened?

One thing I noticed yesterday was that she was staying relatively far away from the shore than I was - check the GPS tracks:
Nina's tracks are red, mine are light blue. With wind around 30 mph and stronger gusts, every mast length away from shore meant a lot more chop. Nina's average distance in the middle of the tracks was about 100 meters (350 ft); mine was closer to 30 meters (100 ft). Being closer to the shore meant not only more speed, but also a lot easier sailing.

I was puzzled why she stayed so far away from shore. Perhaps fear? No, that makes no sense - she is rather fearless when she goes through endless crashes while working on new freestyle moves, and keeps trying them when it's so windy that many windsurfers find jibing scary.

When we looked at our GPS tracks today, things became clear. The easiest way to make it back to the start is by stopping right at the edge of the reed islands, where the water was about hip-deep. But nobody ever taught Nina the Wheelie Stop on a slalom board! Her only way of stopping was to go upwind until she ran out of speed. But on a fast speed board with a cambered sail, that takes a long time - so she stayed far away from shore.

So, let's review the Wheelie Stop. If you're ever on a slalom or speed board, you absolutely should have this way of stopping dialed in; it can also be very useful on freeride (and other) boards. Let's start with a picture:
That's me stopping (probably 2 seconds before my fin hit the only big stone far and wide). I have sheeted out - my front arm is bent, the back arm long. But the cambered sail still keeps a bit of power, and the speedboard would happily coast for a long time, so I also put all my weight on the back foot to sink the tail and raise the nose up - putting the brakes on with a wheelie. The picture is from when I am just starting to brake - usually, the nose goes even higher, and there's more spray flying. But it should be good enough to get the idea.

Here's a short section of the GPS track where I slow down this way:
I want to stop at shore at the end of a 34 knot speed run (the wind is from the top-right). Just opening up the sail a bit got me down to 30 knots, but that's still pretty fast. But 10 seconds later, I have come to a full stop, exactly where I wanted to be. The track shows the third element of the wheelie stop: going upwind as you put on the brakes. With the nose of the board high in the air, the apparent wind from the front helps slowing you down .. a lot. You just may want to be careful using this technique when it's choppy and crazy windy, or you might find yourself jumping onto shore!
If you are a want-to-be-looper, there's and additional reason to practice the Wheelie Stop: Andy Brandt and the Tricktionary teach it as one of the pre-exercises for the front loop. But even if you're not interested in looping, it's a useful stopping technique that should be in every windsurfer's arsenal. Have fun trying it!