Thursday, April 10, 2014

I am the wind sacrifice


It is beautiful, sunny weather outside. The trees are shaking. The wind meters already read 20-26 mph. It will probably go up more. The water temperature at the Nantucket Sound buoy has reached 42ºF for the first time this year. Close to shore, the water is a few degrees warmer. Air temperature is mid-40s F. It is warm enough to sail without a hood. If you have an Ianovated suit, you can remove the tubes now.

I can't go sailing. I'm traveling to Germany today to visit my mom and celebrate her 77th birthday. Nina can't go, either, because she's still fighting her cold. She'll need a few more days.

It will remain windy for the next week. The forecast has southerly winds at 20-30 mph for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. I am sure there will be more. According to iWindsurf, April is the windiest month here on Cape Cod. But I'm happy to be the wind sacrifice for the next week - it's nice to see the family again. Extending the sacrifice by going on a business trip right after I came back from Germany - now that's a different story. Every now and then, life interferes with windsurfing.

I hope a lot of you get to enjoy the wind, warmer temperatures, and sunny skies. Carpe diem!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Put it behind you!

In windsurfing, we often do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and the wrong thing for the right reasons.
Andy Brandt showing how to jibe


In the past two years alone, I jibed more than ten thousand times. Overall, the number is probably at least 25,000 times, maybe even 50,000. You'd think I jibe really well. Ha! You'd think wrong, sir!

After a recent session with mediocre jibes, I posted a few pictures here. My big question was: why do I pull myself up to the boom just before I jibe? I know it's wrong, so why do I keep doing it? Armed with my GoPro, Clew-View mount, and 5 Hz Flysight GPS, I set out to find out two days ago. Before I show you a video, I have to show you another picture, though:
Dasher showing how to jibe
This is Dasher in his "12 Step Jibe" video. I think this is a great instructional video. He teaches the jibe almost the same way as ABK does. But in many of his jibes on the video, he does not oversheet the sail nearly as much as Andy does in the first picture. The picture shows the sail when it is maximally sheeted in. He has another windsurfer in his videos who sheets in much more dramatically:
Another jibe from the Dasher video
This stance is much more similar to Andy Brandt's stance in the first picture. In the video, Dasher says that the more aggressive laydown style jibe is for smaller boards and really windy days. That's a bit different from what Andy says: he often tells me to push the sail down and fully out of my line of sight, even in mediocre wind. If I'd just listen to Andy and do what he says, this entire post would not be necessary... 

When I sailed two days ago, the wind was around 20 mph. I sailed around mid-tide at Kalmus, so there was some noticeable chop, but nothing terrible. I was well powered on my 7.0 m freeride sail and 110 l freeride board (I used a big 30 cm week fin). Here's a video of the one jibe I planed through nicely:

I planed out of it, but there are many things that I did wrong. Don't let that distract you! We will not be giving out prizes for the person who can find the most things to improve.

In the third, really slow showing of the jibe in the movie, it flashes and zooms in twice. The first time, it shows my surfing stance as I approach downwind. In my opinion, it is a reasonable good imitation of what Dasher does in the picture above. But a second later, I pull myself up to the boom! Bad idea. I know that the front arm must stay long. So why do I do the pull up?

When I looked at the GPS data for this jibe and compared them to the video, I got some important clues. Here's a picture of the GPS tracks:
The minimum speed in this jibe is when I am on a new beam reach, about 4 seconds after passing dead downwind. That was my first indication that I had flipped the sail too late. Looking back at the video, I saw that my feet switched a bit too late, too. Ideally, the new front foot should go forward at the same time as the clew opens up to clew first; in this jibe, there was a noticeable delay.

That means that I did my pull up when I was about to go dead downwind. The GPS shows that I was going about 19 mph, about the same speed as the wind, so there was no pressure in the sail. I knew it was switch the feet, but I obviously was still hanging to far to the back - I had to pull myself forward to get balanced over the carving foot. This must happen to me quite often, the pull up to get forward is something I do automatically, without even being aware of it.

Now, ABK Christopher's suggestion that timing is extremely important in jibes came into play. I did let the sail power pull me in from the hanging position to a more surf-like stance; however, I did not let it pull me in far enough, so I had to do some of the pulling afterwards. That extra pull then delayed the foot switch and sail flip.

Following the Dasher and ABK advice to "let the sail pull you in" is both scary and tricky. If you give in too fast, the sail will pull you into water; if you pull in too slow, you may find yourself a bit too far back, like I did. Getting the timing just right requires both experience and feeling; add some chop to the equation that changes your board speed and sail pressure, and you may just need a lot of experience.

So far, so good - I now had a pretty good idea why I was doing the stupid pull up thing. But how do avoid getting into this situation in the first place? Developing more "feeling" by practicing another 25,000 jibes does not seem like an attractive solution. But what about Pete's suggestion to pull the sail behind me, like Andy and Dasher's helper do in the pictures above?

I know this looks cool, but I rarely ever did it before. Andy says I should do it, so I should; but I never bought the reason he gave me: that this interrupts the laminar flow of air over the sail. If I am going downwind at the same speed as the wind, there is no more air flow over the sail, no matter where it is!

But now, I see a much better reason: when you push the mast down and pull the clew up behind your back, you can completely take the power out of the sail when you want. You can let the sail pull you up rapidly without having to fear that power remains in it longer than you thought. This allows you to get into a fully balanced, forward-oriented position not only sooner, but also more reliably.

Having all this figured out, I was dying to test it on the water. Yesterday's wind forecast was horrible, but fortunately, nobody told the wind, and it picked up to low 20s around noon. I had some extra motivation to go sailing: Dean, the fastest guy on our speedsurfing team, is currently on Cape Hatteras, and he's alway producing wicked fast speeds. I so wanted to be able to get a session in to back him up, so his speeds would count for the monthly ranking!

So I packed the slalom boards into the van and went. No windsurfers at Kalmus, so I started at Sea Street Beach, closer to the Kennedy Slicks. The tide was not ideal - just about 1 foot, and coming in slowly due to a neap tide, so the Hyannis Port Harbor breakwater looked extra tall. But the chop near the launch was too big for speed, so I cruised up to the Slicks, anyway. I was on my 177 l slalom board with the 7.5 m Matrix sail, exactly the same gear as what I had used in my recent "mediocre jibes" session. Same spot, same flat water, very similar wind - what better test?

I focused on making sure to move the clew hand back far, and really sheeting in during the jibe entry. Very quickly, I learned about another reason to pull the clew hand up behind you: when just sheeting in normally, the clew would drag in the water during the jibe, creating interesting situations. Pulling it up behind my back solved the problem nicely. Pretty soon, I was planing out of many jibes - a definitive improvement! Runs were about 600 m long, so I got to practice a jibe about every minute.

When the wind picked up a bit and the gear felt big and draggy, I sailed back downwind to the van and de-rigged. I wanted to go out on smaller gear, but had no desire to sail 1/2 mile upwind through chop again, so I drove to the harbor, and rigged there. Out came the XFire 90 and my old Matrix 7.0, which feels at least a meter smaller than the (newer) 7.5.  Back on the water, the fun continued for another 40 minutes. It seemed I was planing out of most of my jibes on the smaller gear! I stopped when I started making typical "getting tired" mistakes.

The GPS track analysis at home showed a rather large improvement. I used the "jibe analysis" feature in GPS Action Replay Pro, looking at minimum speed in jibes. Any jibe with a minimum speed of at least 8 knots is one that cleanly planed through. I also used a second cutoff of 6 knots, which are jibes that often appear to be planed through when watched from afar. During the "mediocre jibe" session in March, I had cleanly planed out of just one jibe, and only two jibes were above 6 knots. In the second session today, 9 of 29 jibes had a minimum speed of 8 knots, and 16 had a speed of at least 6 knots. The results for the first session were a tad worse, but still substantially better than for the March session.

Trying to figure out what's going wrong with my jibes sure has been fun. I think I have a bit deeper understanding of jibes now. Maybe I can now keep my plane-through rate up without having to do ABk camps every 3 months! But I have also come away with a deeper appreciation of the skills of the ABK teachers, and in particular Andy Brandt's teaching skills. It took me several hours to identify the many mistakes and deviations I made in the jibe in the video above, and to sort out what's important. In my experience from more than a dozen camps, Andy always sees the one most important thing right away, and the gives clear instructions for one thing to change that will let you make progress. If you have taken ABK camps before, you know what I am talking about; if not, sign up for an ABK camp! Maybe I'll see you in Hatteras in a few weeks. Apparently, there are still rooms available in a rental house very close to the camp site.

Let me end with the GPS tracks from yesterday's second session. These tracks are from the Flysight GPS. The superior accuracy and measuring rate of the Flysight compare to the GT-31 is really great for jibe analysis.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fights colds and vampires!

Colds suck. They keep you from windsurfing. They wake you up in the middle of the night with a splitting headache when the cold medicine wears off.

Fortunately, I don't get colds very often anymore. I always thought sailing through the winter was the reason. All those 200 different kinds of cold viruses were actually afraid of the cold. Or so I thought. But I was wrong.

Three days later, Nina finally remembers that she brought some cold medicine from Germany. It's plant based. But I believe in chemistry! Unfortunately, all the medicine you can take for sinus pressure says "stop after 3 days". I'm approaching 3 days. That sucks! I also know from experience that you should indeed stop after 3 days. If you don't, your body just gets used to the medicine. First, the medicine does not really help anymore; but when you stop taking it, your body misses it, and you're miserable again.

What Nina brought was the #1 selling cold medicine in Germany. The stuff has been sold for 80 years. If it did not work, I think the Germans would have figured it out. We are sometimes slow, but not that slow. Anyway, Nina said it worked really well for her. That's good enough for me. You can also take it for a couple of weeks. Considering that a cold usually takes 1-2 weeks and not just 3 days, that seems much more reasonable.

So I took it this morning. I started feeling better an hour or so later. Promising. I took another pill at lunch (you're supposed to take 3 a day). In the afternoon, I was able to stop taking pain killers. I also was able to work the whole day. Compared to just lying around and feeling bad, work is wonderful!

It's been 8 hours since my last pill, and I feel my stuffiness approaching again. I'll hold off a little while before I take my third pill, so that I can sleep through the night. But I think this stuff is absolutely fantastic. It's just a freeze-dried extract from 5 different plants. The company web site has a lot of information about it. Scientists are slowly starting to understand why it works. I won't bother you with the details; but one of the things I liked is that it the active compounds activate chloride channels, which in effect thins mucus, letting it drain instead of clogging your sinuses and creating pressure headaches. I also really like that the company controls the entire production, from seeds to extract. I like chemistry, but do I trust quality control in Chinese manufacturing plants? Hmmm.

You can probably tell that I was already sold. But then, after reading the German web site for a while, I read the English version, and discovered that the name of one of the five plants used in English is: vervain! Now that is absolutely fantastic! Anyone who ever watches TV knows that vervain is what you need to keep vampires at bay. Vampires don't like the taste of your blood if it has vervain in it, and they cannot compel you. I'm not really that afraid of vampires sucking my blood. But compelling could be a different story! After a recent blog post about where my jibes are less-than-perfect, two Long Island windsurfers ganged up on me, posting comments that my mistakes were in the entry. Maybe they are just trying to help - but can we be certain that they are not vampires, trying to compel me to work on the wrong part of my jibe? How could we be certain?

Well, I have taken my first vervain pills, and I can see straight through their attempts! Another couple of months, and I'll see them at the East Coast Windsurfing Festival in Long Island. They'd certainly benefit if I screw up my jibes there. So what if Pete usually competes in a different class? So what if the Peconic Puffin has kept me from falling the first time I competed there? We can never be paranoid enough! They could be windsurfing vampires (with daylight rings, I guess)!

I realize that I may have lost a tiny bit of credibility with my little blurb about vampires. Your loss! I openly admit I'm not certain about the vampire bit, and that even if vampires exist, the idea about compelling me through the internet seems a bit far-fetched. But next time you have a bad cold and approach the 3-day maximum on your cold medicines, remember this post!

I guess I should tell you what exactly I am talking about. The good stuff is called Sinupret, and manufactured by Bionorica. In Germany, they sell "Sinupret extract", which is 4 x concentrated. In the US, the only thing I found was "BIONORICA Adult Strength Sinupret", which I guess is the less concentrated version. I'll order it soon to find out.

Hope to see you all on the water soon, vampires or not!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Grounded


3 days of wind. I did not sail once. Bummer. I suggest you stop reading now.

The wind started Sunday afternoon. The north wind was eager. It was supposed to arrive at night, but came early. It surprised us - he had our eyes out for Monday, with a forecast near 30 for the entire day.

Monday came, and the wind was still there. It was a bit rainy and cold, but not quite freezing. We packed the van and drove to Duxbury. Lots of snow showers on the way could not discourage us. Neither could the cold that I was coming down with, but it was still in the early stages - some pain in back of the throat, not at the "I need 5 boxes of tissues" stage yet.

As we approached Duxbury Harbor, the water seemed unusually high. It was a spring tide day, with a difference of 12 feet (3.6 m) between low and high tide. But we were still a few hours before high tide. The tide did not care. 24 hours of wind gusting 40-50 mph (80 km/h) had pushed all the water to the shore and into Duxbury bay. The little grass islands we had planned to sail next to for some flat water speed already were under water. Parking was a problem, too - the lot across the bridge was closed for repairs. The overall nastiness factor was just too high - neither Nina nor I wanted to go out, so we turned around.

The weather go slightly better when we got back to the Cape. A short afternoon session in Barnstable Harbor would theoretically have been possible - but Nina never sailed the nice parts of the harbor. She still remembers a rather horrible session where we started in nasty chop a mile downwind from the "correct" launch. I was in absolutely no shape to go sailing alone in near-freezing temperatures, so we sat out the day.

As if to taunt us, the wind was still around this morning. Nina never checked the wind until the sun came out (which was, of course, shortly after the wind finally left us). I was to busy blowing my nose and taking cold medicine. The storm was quite typical - three days of great northerly wind, with some rain thrown in every now and then. We have sailed such storms many times, often three days in a row. Not this time, though.