Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top 10 Session


Marty could not stop smiling. Not on the water. Not off the water. "That was one of my top 10 session ever!", he said.  Marty sails a lot, so that means something.

We had hoped to sail at Hardings Beach today. Hardings is perfect for loops - the waves come right at you for starboard jumps. But the wind turned WNW, which would have been really gusty.

So Cape Cod Bay it was. Hardie and I picked Linnell Landing in Brewster as the starting spot, since we planned to sail until 12:30, and the walk back would have been shorter than at Skaket. Ellis Landing is also a great low tide spot in Brewster, but Linnell is closer to where the fun waves are.

Then, Marty decided to join us. Marty likes long sessions. He had tons of fun, slightly overpowered on his favorite 4.7 m sail. Hardie and I said: "I don't do port jumps". Marty said: "Great, I wanted to practice port jumps". He did. And starboard jumps, too.

I put a GPS on Martin. If someone sails a lot, that's great for the "distance" category on the GPS Team Challenge. We sailed for a couple of hours, then Hardie had to leave. But it was just too nice to stop. Gentle rollers, big enough to be interesting, but harmless. Shallow water - standing room only, so to say. Steady wind. Balmy temperatures, considering it is almost Christmas (42ºF, 5ºC). A bit of sun every now and then? Who would not want to keep sailing?

We sailed from 10:30 am to 2 pm. We stopped because the wind dropped; but by then, the water surface had turned to mostly small chop, not as much fun anymore, so. Between Marty and I, we sailed almost 130 km - that's about 3 marathons (well, 1 1/2 each). That would be a good day in the summer. In almost-winter, it's outstanding.

One of the great things about the Skaket area in northwest winds is that you can sail forever in one direction, while staying close to shore. Our longest runs today were about 4 km long (1 1/2 miles), but we always were within 1/2 mile from shore, in chest-deep or shallower water and onshore winds. Sure, it would have been a long walk to shore in case of equipment failure - but not too bad. We know. We sailed until low tide, and had to carry our gear for more than 1/2 mile back to the car. Absolutely worth it!

Of course, both Marty and I wore Ianovated suits and open-palm mittens - the secret to long, fun cold weather sessions.
GPS tracks for today

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sun is overrated

Yes. Sun is overrated. When it's sunny, it gets crowded on the water. If you put on a 6 mm wetsuit because the water is getting cold, you end up sweating a lot. This late in the year, the sun does not really want to rise anymore. So if you're windsurfing and going towards the sun, the only thing you see is glare on the water.

Fortunately, sun was not a problem today. We had a perfect 100% cloud cover; rain that was "heavy at times" to keep spectators away; and plenty of wind. Most spots around here had wind averages gusts above 50 mph in the afternoon. That's a bit much for my taste, so I went in the morning. Alone. I guess I like rain more than the average winter windsurfer. Or perhaps they do not have a Gath helmet with an adjustable visor that keeps the rain out of your eyes.

The GPS tracks tell the story:
Gusty it was. Underpowered one second, overpowered 5 seconds later. And that's on a 90l slalom board with a 5.8 m speed sail that loves a lot of wind. I sailed at East Bay in Osterville because it's close to home, and because it's flat and perfectly safe. That's a great spot in east wind. But in the ENE wind we had today, there are two kinds of areas in the bay: areas with good wind; and areas where the water is perfectly flat. Unfortunately, these areas don't overlap, except once in a while when you catch a lucky gust.

But I had fun - lots of it. I windsurfed faster than I had for almost 5 months, and ended up with the third-fastest session of the year. Going into a jibe at full speed on flat water is just an amazing feeling. Who cares if you end the turn in a lull that makes it impossible to plane through most of the time?

I stopped when the wind picked up. Sure, the chop in the middle was fun. Fighting for control is always interesting. I even ignored my inner chicken that told me to slow down; slalom gear wants to be sailed at full power and speed. Feels good! But today, alone out in a rain storm, was not the day to push the envelope.

Did the rain bother me? No, sir! It kept the boom nice and wet for a better grip (ok, so my falls did that, too, but doppelt gemoppelt hält besser). I adjusted the visor on my helmet so that I could see underneath it, but put it low enough so that it kept the rain out of my eyes. Oh the luxury of being able to sail with both eyes open!

Some guys around here have stopped windsurfing for the season because "it is cold", but I think that's just plain silly. Air temperatures today were in the high 40s; water temperatures don't matter much if you (a) can stand every time you blow a jibe, and (b) you wear a thick wet suit. I admit that it was a great day to own an Ianovated suit - blowing warm air onto your hands while windsurfing is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Time for speed

The forecast was right: it was windy all day today. North wind with 30-35 mph, and no rain. Temperatures started out around 42ºF (6ºC), but dropped to 36ºF (3ºC) in the early afternoon. Still above freezing, so not a problem - but cold enough to not windsurf alone.

The plan emerged to go sailing at Corporation Beach in Dennis around noon. Jerry and PK rigged in no time at all, and were first on the water. Hardie and I rigged, too, but decided to watch the masters go out first. It looked a bit intimidating:
Jerry going out. Picture by Eddie Devereaux
Jerry made it out without problems, and could be seen throwing loops a few minutes later. PK was not so lucky. Two logo-high waves broke in his path, right after each other. He made it over the first one, but the white water from the second wave cleanly separated him from his gear. It then proceeded do push his gear to the shore, giving PK a chance to practice his swimming skills. The way back to the start did not look easy, either, with a constant onslaught of white water trying to keep him in the beach.

PK is a much better sailor than I am; he is a wave sailor, I am not. Seeing him struggle made me think twice about going out. Seeing Matt (?) struggle even more than PK a few minutes later, and hearing Jerry state that it was really hard to get out in this wind direction (NNE), sealed it. My swimming is just fine - absolutely no need to practice it in near-freezing water and thick wet suits!

Jerry and PK came off the water shortly thereafter. They decided to drive a couple of miles to Mayflower Beach, where side-on winds made launching a bit easier. Judging by Eddie's pictures, they had more fun there:
Jerry flying at Mayflower. Perhaps he thought he was kiting.
Hardie and I decided to try for some smoother waters instead, so we went to Barnstable Harbor. Unfortunately, the high wind had pushed a lot of water into the harbor, so tide levels were higher than normal, and coming down very slowly. The little grass island that create perfectly flat water when the tide is right were still under two feet of water, and the chop was pretty steep. Between the chop and the potential to discover one of the hidden islands rather abruptly with his fin, Hardie's fun was limited, and he kept his session short. However, I had just seen the tops of the first islands emerging, and kept sailing for another hour. The GPS tracks show how the water got flatter, and speeds increased:
Being alone on the water, I played it safe. With the original plan to sail in waves, I had not brought the slalom gear, anyway, and used my 96 l Tabou 3S and a 4.7 m wave sail instead. Even when I stopped, water levels were still high, with only parts of the islands emerging. Water levels would have been perfect an hour later, but I decided to call it a day early. For all my fellow Fogland Speed Surfers (and Drew), here's a short video from one of the runs:

 That was fun! Falling when trying tricks? Not so much anymore. So it's time for speed! Next time, with cambered speed sails and a slalom board...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tonky's Loop Advice

The forward loop is the dream of many windsurfers. For some young hot-shots, it's easy. They just "jump high, sheet in, look back", and get around. But unless you are young and heal fast, I do not recommend this approach. At the first loop lecture I heard, three guys had tried this; all three got thrown onto their gear and got hurt. In at least one case, it was a season-ending injury.

For the cautious rest of us, there is another approach to learning the loop. It's based on Remko de Weerd's "Loop in 4 steps" video, and has since been adapted by AKB. I have seen dozens of windsurfers getting started on the loop this way, and nobody got hurt; a bunch of guys actually did learn to loop this way. Not me, though. Every time wind and waves are right, I chicken out. I'm not the only one, either - I know several windsurfers who have been working on loops for years, without ever getting one.

So when I read what Tonky Frans had to say about the loop on thewavehobbit, I got excited. Many things Tonky suggests are quite similar to what others say, but there are a few things where he differs. Here's a very brief version of Tonky's advice:
  1. Pop the board at a slight upwind angle with a mostly depowered sail. Your body is centered over the board.
  2. Move the rig towards the wind (the mast to windward).
  3. Pull your back leg up to your butt.
  4. Keep the back hand close to your body, and the front arm relatively extended.
  5. As the nose of the board turns downwind, your sail will automatically power up. Speed up the rotation by extending your front leg (but keep the back leg and back arm bent).
  6. Keep this position as you get thrown around.
There's some more advice about the ending, but if you make it to step 6, the rest is easy. It's getting to this point that hard. Let's look at how Tonky's advice helps:

Pop the board at a slight upwind angle.
This is new to me (at least for flatwater loops). The more common advice is to go downwind, or at most at a beam reach. Tonky states that a slight upwind angle helps to get more height, and to reduce forward speed. That makes perfect sense to me. I like the idea of reducing forward speed, since falling back into the water after an upwind jump with minimal speed is definitely not scary. I can do that.

Move the rig towards the wind
This is a common suggestion for loops, seen in Remko's video and heard from the ABK folks. The idea is that the sideways pressure from the mast foot will move the nose of the board downwind. Since everything will be in the air, not a lot of pressure is needed to get things moving.
However, this advice is quite different from "jump high and sheet in". In it's purest form, this will have the mast vertical, and start an end-over-end rotation. That's fine if you're jumping full-speed over a big wave, and end up 15 feet above the water. Anything smaller, chances are that things go wrong big time. Maybe your nose will land on the water, and you and/or your rig will be thrown violently onto your board. Or maybe your mast will hit the water, and you'll break it or get stuck upside down.

Keep the back hand close to your body.
Tonky says "engaging the power is just keeping the back hand right close to your body". That's quite different from "sheet in hard", a very common loop advice. How could Tonky's advice possibly work? He does point out that not having enough power in the sail can cause under-rotation (a common problem for loop learners). 
The important thing is that moving the rig to windward will cause the nose of the board to turn downwind. Even if the arms don't move at all, this will cause the rig to power up - an "automatic sheet-in", so to say. Once the sail starts to power up, the nose will turn downward quicker, and the power in the sail will increase rapidly, until you get through around. If you extend your back arm at this point, that will take power out of the sail, and slow the rotation down - bad idea! 

If you're thinking about looping, or about teaching someone else to loop, please make sure to read the original article carefully. The different parts of advice go together - mixing parts of it with other commonly heard advice could have very bad consequences.  For example, if you do want to try a loop by jumping over big waves and sheeting in hard, you definitely should try this from a downwind takeoff to reduce the chances of falling onto your gear! 

But for me, Tonky's explanation makes perfect sense. I particularly like how he explains how various elements reduce the risks. For example, staying over the back of the board keeps you from getting thrown into your gear (assuming the other parts of your setup let you rotate horizontally); or how staying below the sail means that over-rotating is not something to be afraid of.