Friday, October 7, 2011

Rocktober .. or not?

Here near Cape Cod, October can be the best month for windsurfing, with great wind, warm water, and decent air temperatures, which is why many windsurfers call the month "Rocktober". In the last few weeks, we often saw wind forecasts that looked great a few days out, only to go lower and lower with every update. So we got quite excited when we finally got a forecast for cooler northwest winds in the mid-20s that remained the same for several days in a row, all the way up to the day before.

For the best NW winds, we usually drive about 2 hours to Orleans or Wellfleet on Cape Cod. With 2 successive days of promising forecasts, we planned on one day of exploring new beaches, a night at a local motel, and a second day for a downwinder. The forecasts looked good enough for Dean, the fastest guy on our GPS Team Challenge team, to join us. Well, those of you who know about NW winds around here can probably guess what happened... by the time we made it to the beach at 12:30 pm, the wind had dropped:

We went out, anyway, and had some fun in the gusts for a while until even the gusts did not get us planing anymore. Ok, so the latest forecast had included a dip to 20 mph around 2 pm, but also a rise back to 26 mph at 5 pm. We remained hopeful and waited a while... until finally, a squall came through, and we had 45 minutes of nice winds. We had picked the launch spot (Sunken Meadow Beach in Eastham) because it was right next to an area that was only 2-4 feet deep at low tide - but when the wind hit, the tide had already added about 4-5 feet more water, so we had plenty of chop for a nice bump & jump session.

We checked the forecast again during dinner, and the computer models still predicted 24-27 mph for the entire day. Indeed, things looked great in the morning, with averages in the upper 20s. But with all-day winds, we had a nice breakfeast first, and made it to the beach around 11 am - when the wind had once again died down:
Well, some whitecaps were still to be seen, so we decided to rig big: 5.3 for Nina, 7.0 for Dean, and my 6.5 Pilot for me (since I had discovered the day before that my trusted 7.0 Matrix needs to be repaired, and I had left my 8.5 at home to make space for the smaller race sails). Bigger boards, too: the Falcon 111 for Dean, my Warp 118 for me, and the Hawk 95 for Nina. By then, the forecast had finally changed, and it predicted steadily decreasing winds.

On the water, it became clear that the wind was not good enough for a long downwinder or even good long-distance averages. The gusts were nice, and Dean got a few runs above 30 knots - but the lulls were much too lully, and I did not always manage to live up to my favorite nickname. The water up in Indian Neck was quite flat, though - much better suited for speed runs than the day before, and we got higher speeds despite less wind. Here are my GPS tracks:

My top speed was just barely above 30 miles, a bit disappointing. The Pilot is definitely not a speed sail - it had plenty of power to get me going, but it was sometimes hard to control in the gusts. With the relatively high foot cutout, I never managed to close the gap, either. That's very different from the Gaastra Matrix, which is more speed- and topend-oriented; I have sailed the slightly larger Matrix in significantly more wind without any stability problems. Not really a surprise - I did buy the Pilot primarily as a freestyle and light wind sail.

On both days, Dean was a lot faster than I was. Here are his GPS tracks for the second day:

He did point out that he had rigged too small - his 7.0 race sail just barely got him going. The tracks show that it definitely got too small towards the end of the run, when the wind had dropped a couple of miles. However, his acceleration and top end in gusts was much higher than mine - he beat my top speeds by about 5 mph, about the same as the day before. I found it rather interesting to see that the 0.5 m larger race sail had less power than the "price point" sail - but if the wind had increased by 15 mph, Dean would have been perfectly fine, while my sail would have become impossible to control. I think the larger part of the speed difference is still due to his better skills, not to equipment differences - but that will not keep me from looking for a cambered sail to fill the gap between my 8.5 and 5.8 m race/freerace sails.

Of the three of us, Nina used the smallest sail and board, but had the fewest problems to plane. That is, until you take body weight into account: relative to weight, Nina's sail and board were actually larger than Dean's and my equipment, since Dean and I both outweigh her by 50%.

On most other days, I'm faster in all the speed rankings that are used on the GPS Team Challenge, but yesterday, Nina beat me on the 1 hour averages and the alpha. She improved her new personal best by 3.6 knots, and now ranks 23 of 82 women on for the 1 hour (and 2nd of 12 female US windsurfers!).

Dean followed Nina around a bit and filmed here with his GoPro headcam:

After 2 days of not-quite rocking winds, I finally remembered why we usually don't go sailing in the colder seasons unless the forecast is into the 20s: that gives us room for the wind to come in below the forecast, and still get a nice planing session in, without having to use the biggest gear. So, while the winds were not as good as forecast, we still had plenty of fun on the water. And with Dean the speed machine being out there with us, we even managed to get a decent ranking on the GPS Team Challenge for the month: #30 of 46. That's better than most months, and not bad for a couple of days with just so-so wind. But Rocktober is still young and has plenty of time to live up to its name .. and November often is even windier. We'll definitely be back to Indian Neck and Sunken Meadow!

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