Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Nose Job

A few months ago, my favorite windsurf board needed cosmetic surgery:
I had gotten a bit confused while having fun. I forgot that I was not a wave sailor. I also forgot that I do neither loops nor Grubbies. But when a lovely little wave presented itself, I tried to jump of the lip so that I'd land back on the wave. Which must have looked like a bad Grubby or loop attempt. At least so I think - I got thrown around, and the mast landed on the nosed of the board.

That was not the first (or second or third or ...) time the mast hit the nose. Nor was it the hardest crash. But the damage was much worse than ever before, with a big crack that went from the top to the bottom of the board. The main difference to previous crashes? My poor board was not wearing any protection! For three years before that, it had worn plastic protection where it mattered - on the nose. With double-density foam! That had not kept the nose from being hurt. In fact, I had it repaired twice at Fox in Buxton. The repair guy there stated that all the nose protector  did was making the repair more expensive, since he had to remove it and replace it. So the second time, I told him to leave it off.

Well, wrong he was. With the nose protector, the nose needed two repairs over 5 years. Both times, the damage was not nearly as bad as this time around. I was actually able to temporarily fix the board with ding stick, and keep using it until our next trip to Hatteras. But without the nose protector, the nose lasted only a couple of months, and the damage was much more severe than ever before.

I love my Skate 110 dearly, but it was showing signs of age and heavy use. The area under the foot pads was starting to get soft - damage that, according to the experts, was not worth fixing. So I figured - if the board is almost dead, maybe it is the perfect board to practice board repairs on!

I had never done any board repairs, other than using a bit of ding stick for small holes. This one clearly needed much more serious work, including some new fiberglass. Back when the concept of "pin tails" and "fully retractable daggerboards" was new and exciting, I had built a windsurf board. Not quite on my own - the university that I attended actually offered a course "Build your own windsurf board". A long time ago, but I remembered that working with fiberglass and epoxy was not that hard.

I started asking a few questions on the iWindsurf  forum, and got a number of useful tips. So I went ahead and bought a bunch of supplies:
  • West System epoxy resin, slow hardener, metering pumps, and filler from the local West Marine store
  • Fiberglass from
  • Polyurethane pour foam from a couple of different suppliers (since the first one I got did not work)
  • Sandpaper, gloves, dust masks, and masking tape from the local hardware stores
  • Epoxy mixing sticks from
  • Cups for mixing the epoxy from the local grocery store
  • Spray paint from a local car store
The electric tools I used for the project were:
  • A battery-operated Dremel tool (ca. $30 from Amazon)
  • An electric sander
I decided to do the fix in two parts, starting from the top of the board. I used the Dremel tool with a disc wheel blade to cut through the fiberglass and the PVC foam underneath, and removed some of the damaged foam underneath:
My original plan had been to fill the hole with polyurethane pour foam, and then glass it over. However, when I mixed some of the foam to get an idea how to work with it, it did not polymerize. The foam I had gotten said the mix had to be 1:1 by weight. I did not have an accurate scale, but I figured that mixing by volume should also work (many other PU pour foams suggest to mix by volume). Maybe that was the problem? I bought a scale with 0.1 g accuracy, and tried again a few days later, but still nothing happened. Obviously, the pour foam was bad (I later got a refund for it).

The local West Marine store had pour foam, but they wanted almost $200 for something that I could get for less than $50 online. I ordered from a different supplier through Amazon (for easy returns), but since the chemicals have to be shipped via ground, waiting for it to arrive would have added another one-week wait to the repair. Since it was the middle of the best surfing time of the year, I developed another plan.

My idea was to use epoxy to fill the hole. To reduce both the weight and the heat produced during polymerization, I added a lot of filler to the epoxy. I also added a lot of styrofoam bubbles that I made from pieces of packing material. I was concerned about things getting to hot, so I first let everything polymerize in a cup. Everything looked good:
So I made another batch and filled up the hole. Everything looked fine at first:
But a few minutes later, bubbles started forming, and I knew I was in trouble:
When I opened up the other side of the board a while later, this is what I saw:
The heat from the polymerization had melted a lot of the styrofoam, and produced a big hole! I had overlooked one thing in my test: in a cup, the heat from the polymerization can easily escape in all directions. But in the board, the epoxy is surrounded at most sides by styrofoam, which traps the heat! That starts a bit of a chain reaction: with no way for the heat to escape, things keep getting hotter, which makes the polymerization go faster, which makes things even hotter... until it's hot enough for the styrofoam to melt, and air bubbles form.

Alas, the pour foam still would not arrive for a few days that I did not want to wait. So I started again with my epoxy-filler-styrofoam ball mix, but with two important modifications: 1. I made it even thicker (to "peanut butter" consistency), and 2. I added only small layers, instead of trying to fill the entire hole in one turn. I carefully watched for any bubbles, but did not see any. After about 4 or 5 layers, I had finally filled in the entire hole.

Sanding things down was pretty easy, since I had used so much filler. I started with the electric sander, but switch to manual sanding pretty quickly, since I had better control that way. On the top, I had to fill in the air bubbles with some epoxy-filler mix, and then sand again. Putting on three layers of glass was pretty easy:
After sanding down the glass, I sealed the region with a layer of epoxy without filler:
At this point, you can actually see a small area from a previous repair. One more careful round of sanding, and the area was ready for painting:
Here's what the bottom looked liked after painting it:
Not bad, I thought! I took the board out for a test session, and it behaved just like it always had. But when I inspected it closely back home, I noticed that there where bubbles coming out! Not in the region that I had fixed, but right next it, in the region that had been repaired before (or close to it). 

So the tools came back out. I cut out another section to make sure that the damage was limited, filled it, and glassed it over again. You can see the second section in this image:
This was a small repair, with much less drama than the first one. Good practice! Here's an image of the top after the final round of painting:
One concern I had about the repair was that the area I had repaired was now harder than the surrounding area. It would probably be more resistant than the original, but a hard hit with the mast could now break out the entire area! But as much fun as the repair was, I had no desire to repeat it any time soon, anyway, so new protection was in order. I bought a Dakine EVA traction pad at the local windsurf store, cut it up, and taped the pieces onto the new nose. The most endangered area is now protected by an inch of EVA. In a hard crash, the EVA will absorb some of the energy by deforming, and distribute the rest of the energy over a much larger area - not too different from an air bag in a car! On the sides of the nose, the EVA is thinner, but both impact angles and leverage are not as bad there. In really bad crashes, the nose may still take damage, but it is now nicely protected from most mast hits and catapults. 

I spent about $250 on all the things I bought for the repair project. I used only a small fraction of most things (like epoxy and fiberglass) for this repair, so I can do many more repairs at no additional cost (I actually did another small repair a couple of months later, when Kiri Thode's board got damaged on his flight from Bonaire). I have used the board more than 30 times since the repair, and it sails just like it did before the damage, so it was definitely worth doing. I thought it was a fun project, too - and I now know that I can easily repair any similar nose damage in the future. With Nina working on Vulcans and Flakas, that might come in handy sooner rather than later!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Truly Amazing

One of the things I love about windsurfing is that you meet amazing people. During our trip to Jericoacoara, there was one guy on the water who was truly amazing: Edvan Souza. I have watched many loop videos, but his loops are way above the norm. So are his other moves. And we only got to see him in the low-wind season.

Now, there's a wonderful short movie out about Edvan. Watch it and be amazed!

EDVAN - his life | his story | his passion from CCfilms on Vimeo.

What's just as amazing as Edvan's sailing is the fact that he currently has no sponsors. I really hope that this will change very soon!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Drew Must Listen

Drew must listen. To me. Very closely. And then do as I say.

You may wonder why, so here's the story:
Last Wednesday, Drew sends me an email, asking about where to sail on Friday. The forecast was WSW or W, so he listed the obvious choices - Kalmus and Hardings Beach. Kalmus can be great in WSW, but if the wind direction is too westerly, it sucks - and Hardings is great. But Drew cc'd Marty, and Marty loves Kalmus.

I suggested Hardings for Friday, and Skaket on Saturday - starting at 10 am, before the high tide. A bit later, I discovered that the dry zip on my Ianovated suit was broken. It is getting a bit chilly here, with air and water temperatures around 50ºF (10ºC). My fallback suit is just a 4/3 mm wetsuit, so playing it conservatively and closer to home made sense, so I said "maybe Kalmus".

Looking on iWindsurf on Friday morning, the first thing I noticed was that the wind was indeed quite westerly, and the readings at Kalmus were very low. The pro forecast predicted winds on the Cape to drop all day. But the meter readings in Rhode Island and Connecticut looked great, with mid-30s near Sandy Point. The water temperature there is about 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit higher than here, and Sandy Point is a fantastic spot. The computer models predicted a slight drop in the wind, but nothing dramatic. So Sandy Point is was!

I live just 15 minutes from Kalmus, and 40 minutes from Hardings. Sandy Point is a 2 hour drive away - that's 4 hours total. I do not like driving much. So there have to be very good reasons to drive there. But there were. I sent an email to Drew and Marty, and another one to Dean, who was with us when we sailed there the first time, and loved it. I also posted on Facebook. But of course, Drew and Marty ignored me, and got skunked - first at Kalmus, and then at Hardings, because the wind dropped shortly past noon.

Sandy Point was, once again, very lovely, but challenging. We got there around 12:30, just as Dean came in to get bigger gear. The wind had dropped, and he reported that he was sinking on his 89 l board with a 6.6 m sail. I usually sail one sail size smaller than Dean, so I rigged my 6.5, and took out the 110 l board. A quick test run showed enough power to switch to my 90 l slalom board, and off to the sandbar we went. Here are the GPS tracks:
In the westerly wind, getting to the sand bar was very easy. The swell on the way was small and orderly. But at the bar, wind and tide levels did not quite play together. Going very close to shore required a mutation in the fear gene, which I do not have (or perhaps just balls several sizes bigger than mine). Where I found it safe to sail, the wind created quite a bit of staccato-chop. That slowed me down, but it did not keep Dean and Bart from going wicked fast - both reached top speeds of about 35 knots. I barely scratched 30. But I got one good pointer from Bart when I asked why he was so much faster. He had noticed that my front arm was bent a lot, even after I had downsized my sail to a 5.8 m speed sail. Here's a picture that illustrates the problem (while I was still on the non-cambered 6.5, which I could barely control after the wind picked up):

Thanks to Dean and Bart's amazing speed, the Fogland Speedsurfers for once are not fighting for the second-to-last place on the GPS Team Challenge - we are right there in the middle of the monthly rankings! This was also the first time our team had 4 windsurfers posting speeds above 30 knots in the same session. Did I mention that is was much warmer than on Cape Cod? Temperatures near shore where around 60ºF (15ºC), and even I was perfectly comfortable without gloves or a hood.

I think Drew would have liked that. He would certainly have liked the flat water and orderly little swell.

On Saturday, the wind turned to NW, which dropped temperatures into the 40s. I had tried to suggest Barnstable Harbor and the Providence Breakwater as possible flatwater avenues, but nobody showed any interest. So Skaket it was! Nina needed a break, so I went alone. A bunch of windsurfers had said they'd also come, but nobody paid any head to my suggestion to start at 10. Drew showed up about 10:30, just as I was ready to go onto the water (yes, I was late, too).

I hit the water with my 4.7, and had a few good runs - but then the wind dropped. I rigged up to my 5.0 (which is more like a 5.5 with respect to power). The 5.0 was good for about 20 minutes, but then, the wind increased to mid-30s (mph), gusting into the high 40s. Back to shore I went, re-rigging the 4.7. Just as I was ready to go out again, two guys came in, reporting that 4.7 was way to big. One of them was Marty, and he usually holds on to his 4.7 way past the point of sanity. Nevertheless, I tried to go out a little later, but even carrying the gear to the water was  a big challenge. Rigging down to 3.7 would have been the call, but I was getting quite cold in my 4/3 wetsuit. The tide was high, creating nasty shore break and big swell with lots of chop on the waves - that's survival sailing, not fun.

By then, only Ken's son Michael, who had rigged down to a 4.2 (with the help of a few others who held the sail down in the blowing sand), was out. I suggested to Marty and Drew, who had not even made it out onto the water, to join me for a jacuzzi warmup and then a session in Barnstable Harbor, but got no takers. However, I did exactly that. Here's a short video that shows the conditions:
A lovely session it was, indeed. Drew certainly would have had fun...

Today's forecast again called for WSW, but with a rise just before sunset. The iWindsurf pro forecast kept the range to 15-19 knots, so nobody from the Boston area bothered to drive to Kalmus. However, the meter readings for Pt. Judith jumped to high 20s WSW before noon, and the meters in Buzzards Bay soon followed. It was only a question of time until the wind made it to Kalmus! Once the meter here read 20 mph, we were on our way to the beach.

We opted for an Egg Island session to get some nice flat and shallow water despite the high tide. Nina tried a few Vulcans and Duck Tacks, but I stayed away from any freestyle: when getting off near shore early in the session, I had discovered that my baggy drysuit had a few leaks, and let quite a bit of water in. What a great excuse for lawn mowing (aka back-and-forth sailing)!

Over at Egg Island, conditions were perfect. The wind also played along, picking up to low 20s with gusts in the low 30s. Jibing heaven! Once again, we sailed until the sun went down and the wind dropped, but still made it back mostly planing. Here are today's tracks:
Four sessions three days - 3 sessions in the A to A+ range, and one in the "very interesting" category. I just love windsurfing on and around Cape Cod in the fall!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Slick Adventure

Rain, mostly horizontal due to 36 mph wind, 51ºF (11ºC) - who would not want to go windsurfing? Maybe a person who claims to be sane, but I never make this claim. So windsurfing we went. There was hope that the rain would let up in the afternoon, so we took a few hours to decide which of the many great spots to go to. The local abiding wave gurus went to play in waves. Not sure if they survived, the usual reports on Facebook and iWindsurf have not yet surfaced. But they probably did.

We picked flat water instead. Slick, flat water, just like I like it. The spot we picked tends to be gusty, so Nina decided she wanted to do speed,  too - on the 62 liter F2 Missile speed board. Cool!

When we got to the slicks, we saw that the strong wind had pushed several extra feet of water into the bay. The beach was completely flooded - way too much water to go sailing. But that was not all bad - we got to go to our favorite little cafe, and have some hot chocolate and coffee. After all, coffee is known to help your muscles work better. When we got back to the beach and launched (after answering about 50 questions like "Are you really going out in this?"), Nina needed her muscles to work well! I had somehow managed to loose a camber in my favorite 5.8 m speed sail, so I picked a 5.5 m uncambered freeride sail. That would normally put Nina on a 4.2 or 4.5 m sail, but all our small sails are wave sails, which don't go well with the speed board. So she went our on the 5.0 m KA Koncept. What followed was a little adventure.

I went out first, and quickly discovered that my sail was just the right size for speed surfing - in other words, way too big to be comfortable, and definitely not what I would have picked to sail in chop. A 4.0 would have been just fine for me, and a 3.4 for Nina. But we wanted speed! Let me show you the GPS tracks so you can follow the story:
We had to get upwind about 1/2 mile to get to the slicks. Fortunately, there were plenty of little islands where we could stop every time we needed to turn. Nina, who rarely sails the Missile, sailed straight back to the launch after our first stop. It was her first time using this sail (and only the second time in at least a year on any cambered sail), so she had to adjust things a few times. She reported that she was way overpowered, but looked in control. I suggested that she should change down to a smaller sail, but she wanted none of that. So we slowly tacked up to the slicks, and made it there 30 minutes later. By then, the wind had dropped 5 mph, so the sail sizes seemed a bit more reasonable.

Our timing had been perfect - the water level had dropped just enough for the marsh islands to emerge, creating perfectly flat water along the edges. I did a few speed runs, and eventually managed to feel somewhat in control even in the gusts. The reward were repeated speed readings above 30 knots, which is fast for me - even more so on a freeride sail. Nina also started having some fun, and looked pretty fast, despite not being fully dialed in.

After an hour of fun, I finally revealed my evil plans: I made Nina switch boards, so that I could sail the Missile. In full winter gear, my weight is close to 100 kg, and a 62 liter board is just a bit small for me. If the wind drops unexpectedly, which happens quite often on Cape Cod, I'd sink to my belly button on that board! Very nice of Nina to sail it upwind, indeed.

I did have a bit of a hard time to get the board going at first - but once I was planing, it was so much fun! In the very first run on the Missile, I saw a top speed of 31.66 knots on the GPS. Considering that my personal best for 2 seconds is 31.68 knots, that was fast! I did a few more runs, and got better at getting going, but with the wind slowly dropping, I did not get to set a new top speed. But fun it was! Only the approaching sunset (not that we saw any sun!) finally made us sail back. When analyzing the speed data at home, I discovered that I had improved my 5 x 10 second average speed by 0.2 knots over my previous best. Nice! Nina's speed were her 4th-fastest every, within a knot of her personal bests. Not bad for the first speed sailing session in a long time, and on unfamiliar gear!

Normally, I'd stop here, but November is jinx-proof, so I may as well tell you what's coming: two more days with wind of 25-30 knots. WSW wind tomorrow calls for a Kalmus session. With plenty of sunshine, it is quite likely that the wind will come in stronger than predicted; it is quite possible that we'll sail over to Egg Island for some flat water. I'll have to make a difficult decision - another speed session, or freestyle?  Then on Saturday, the wind should shift to WNW, which will send us to Skaket in Orleans - another one of my favorite spots. The forecast continues to look good into Sunday, but we'll probably need some rest by then...