Monday, January 3, 2011

The secret to warm hands

After 4 weeks without a good windsurf session, we just had to go sailing today - who cares that the temperatures were a bit below freezing? They were supposed to go above the freezing point, and it was sunny and windy.

We planned to sail at Skaket Beach in Orleans, a great spot for NW winds. When we got there, the wind was indeed great - and so were the waves. There were not very big, maybe chest to head high, but they were breaking everywhere. Not really surprising - Skaket does not have single break point like a reef, but instead lots of little sand banks, and the drop off is pretty slow. We arrived near high tide, and the wind averages were probably in the low thirties - two things we had not seen in Skaket before. As flat water sailors, we were a bit intimidated. It did not help that the wind was straight onshore; who knows if we would have made it out if we had tried. But the final nail in the coffin were large chunks of wood and trees in the shore break. I saw only a few, but I had no desire to run into one of these babies on the water.

So we decided to drive up towards Wellfleet to explore other options. The waves at First Encounter Beach looked a bit more managable, and the wind was side-on, but there was even more stuff floating in the water. We checked out a few ponds and inlets, but the road to the spot that look most promising on the maps was completely under water. You could see where the road was, because there was a bridge in the middle of the bay - rather funny, now why did we not take a picture again? Oh yes, we had windsurfing on our mind, and severe withdrawal symptoms after 4 weeks without.

We ended up at Indian Neck Beach in Wellfleet Harbor. Here's a picture of where we sailed:


The wind there was side-on, and lots of white caps could be seen a bit further out. However, the water was pretty flat, since the wind had only a mile or so over the water to build up chop. So we decided to go out. In view of the wind shadow near shore, we took the big boards and somewhat bigger sails - a 4.2 for Nina, and the 6.2 for me. As expected, the wind near shore was weak and gusty, but it cleaned up and got stronger after a few hundred feet. It actually got a bit too strong for my 6.2, but I kind-of managed.

After maybe 15 minutes on the water, my finger tips started to hurt from the cold. I was wearing neoprene gloves with the inside of the fingers cut out for a better grip, and mitt shells on top for warmth. But since I spend quite a bit of time in the water practicing my waterstarts, water temperature was maybe 39F (4C), and the wind chill was somewhere around 15F (-10C), that was not warm enough. So I went bag in and put re-usable hand warmers into my mitts, after activating them by twisting the little metal plates on the inside.

That worked beautifully! My hands were nice and toasty for the rest of the short session (maybe another 30 minutes), without ever having to stop and shake the blood back into my fingers. The heating pads were still nice and warm at the end of the session, and probably would have worked for another half hour.

Nina also used the re-usable hand warmers inside here Dakine mittens. She had complained about cold fingers in a variety of different gloves and mittens she had tried before, but today, she was toasty and warm the entire session. Needless to say, she looked great as usual while sailing, and did not get as much waterstart practice as I got because she just did not fall in when tacking. Oh well, as long as she'd having fun :)

Today's session was the coldest windsurf session ever for both of us, but we stayed nice & warm and had fun. Ok, I did get a bit cold at the start, but once I figured out that the beginning of January is not a great time for being in the water under the sail (at least here in the Northeast), and after I used the hand warmers, things got a lot better. We sailed cautiously because of this was a new spot for us, and because of the cold; and then, we had to cut the session short because Nina had an important appointment in the afternoon. But nevertheless, this was a great day of sailing.

For all of you who might be interested in trying re-usable hand warmers, here's a bit more information. We used the HotSnapZ reusable handwarmers, purchased from Amazon.com. They cost $20 for 3 pairs, and can be re-used many times. They contain a over-saturated solution of sodium acetate and a little metal plate. When you bend the metal plate, the sodium acetate starts to crystallize, and the bag gets really warm. It stays warm for about 30-60 minutes, depending on the size (we used the 4-inch red round bags). They can be re-used after putting them in boiling water for 10 minutes, which dissolved the crystals again. This process can be repeated hundreds of times if you are careful enough. And if the bags should burst, not really a problem - the stuff in them is food grade (not that I suggest that you eat it!). You may see some reviews where people complain that re-heating the bags was too much trouble - but that was probably a couch potatoe or maybe a kite surfer :-}
The one thing that's less than perfect about the re-usable hand warmers is that they get hard when the sodium acetate crystallizes. Here, the HotSnapZ warmers are better than a cheaper brand I have tried - they keep some flexibility for quite a while, and they also seem to be generating heat a bit longer.
Before trying the re-usable hand warmers, Nina first thought about using the cheap, non-reusable hand warmers. However, these have several problems. The non-reusable hand warmers are iron-based, and require oxygen to work (basically, you're just converting iron to rust). So you could not put the reusable hand warmers in a ziplock bag to keep the water out. But if you put them in water, they don't work, either. Even if you would figure out how to keep them dry and in air contact, you'd still have to worry about the bag breaking. If that happens, more oxygen can reach the iron, and the temperature can get really high really quick. That's not an issue at all with the reusable hand warmers.

So, if you have a dry suit or winter wetsuit, good booties, and a hood, but cold fingers kept you from windsurfing (or from windsurfing longer), get some mittens or mitt shells, put some re-usable hand warmers in, and go have fun on the water!

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