Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is it spring already?

This winter has been very warm, and today was no exception, with temperatures up to 57 F in Boston - 17 degrees (10 C) more than normal. With a decent wind forecast, we obviously had to go windsurfing, but did not take into account that spring rules, not winter rules, should apply. So we went to Kalmus, only to stare at flat water without any white caps. Here's the wind graph:
The rather chaotic wind is typical for days when the air is much warmer than the water, which is still near 40 F (4C). A SW wind in Kalmus with a small temperature difference is wonderful - the wind couples with the sea breeze, and we often get 5-15 mph stronger winds than the computer models predict. Forecasts today called for about 16 mph winds, and the spike at 12:30 shows what could have happened. But as the land warmed up more, the wind "decoupled" - it did not reach down to the ground anymore.

That was perfectly predictable, but it has not happened much in the last few months, so we forgot the rules that apply to spring windsurfing: if decoupling is an issue, Fogland is often windier! Here's the wind graph for Fogland from today:
Fogland had 4 hours of pretty decent wind - but why? It's a combination of several factors:

  • Water temperatures: the water in the Sakonnet river is several degrees warmer than the water near Hyannis, so the temperature difference is lower. The very shallow water in the northerly bay in Fogland can warm up several degrees on a single day.
  • Geography/channeling: the river channels the wind, and the layout reduces decoupling in spring and early summer days. 
  • Thermal additions: just like Hyannis, Fogland can get a boost from thermals, when the air over the land heats up and rises, and pulls colder air from the sea. 
The combination of these factors can bring stronger winds to Fogland if the circumstances are just right, like they were today. This happens a number of times in spring and early summer; but in the fall, the opposite often happens, and winds in Fogland are weaker and gustier than winds on Cape Cod. Well, things have changed, and Fogland is definitely worth a shot on those warm SW wind days!
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We ended up not windsurfing today, but it was not all bad - we had plenty of time to chat with our friend Martin, and we were still a bit sore from ice surfing on Monday. Our friend Dean and his friend Jeff had broken 50 knots on the ice there a week before, and talked about almost perfect ice sailing conditions, with miles and miles of uninterrupted, smooth ice. So Nina and I asked if we could tag along, and Dean let us use two of his ice sleds. A bit simplified, these are oversized skate boards with two sets of ice skating blades at the front and the back, and a mast track to mount a windsurfing rig. 

This was only the second time we went ice sailing, and the last time was about a year ago. Without holes in the ice, my legs did not shake this time around, but it was still plenty scary. At first, the wind was light, which was perfect for us beginners. Since there is almost no friction on ice, it is easy to go much faster than the wind, so jibing becomes a whole different thing. Even in a very drawn out jibe, chances are good that you'll get backwinded from apparent wind. I saw one of the better sailors doing a downwind 360 to slow down before actually jibing - cool! A few minutes later, I found myself doing an involuntary 360, when I got backwinded during a jibe, and just turning another 180 degrees seemed like the natural thing to do.

In the light wind conditions, duck jibes were the more natural thing to do. However, since the ice sleds turn a lot slower than windsurf boards, the timing is a bit different. I found myself sailing clew first after the sail duck for rather extended periods. Thank Andy for all that light wind clew first practice!

After one of these jibes, I suddenly found myself sliding of the ice sled, and relying on the dampening properties of the largest muscle in the human body when making sudden contact with the ice. Looking at the sled, I noticed that the rear blade assembly had come of - the screw that attached them to the board (the "king pin") had broken into two pieces. Apparently, they do this after a year or two of use. No big deal - Dean just sailed back, got a tool box and spare parts, and replaced the king pin on the ice. But when everything was ready to go again, the wind had picked up quite a bit. I did a few more runs, at one point climbing up a 2 inch high ledge in the ice at full speed - did I mention that ice sailing can be quite scary? With the winds now whipping up white caps in the one small (100 ft wide) area of open water, I did not even try to go for any more jibes - by then, the fall absorbing capacity of my gluteus maximus was about used up. Still, going wicked fast was wicked fun!

Even though I was using a 4.2 m non-cambered crossover sail that was wide open most of the time to keep my speed in regions that I was marginally comfortably with, I still managed to get a top speed of 32.5 knots - about a knot faster than I ever sailed on non-frozen water. Not bad for the second time of ice sailing - but Jeff, Dean, and the other fast guys reached speeds close to 50 knots that day. Plenty of things left to learn! Now I almost hope that the next winter will be colder, so we can ice sail on the nearby lakes. Once again, many thanks to Dean for exposing us to this sport, and letting us use the gear! It was also very nice to meet Jeff, the reigning World Record holder, and the other ice sailors.
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Just two days before the scary and fun ice sailing adventure, we had sailed on non-frozen water in Pt. Judith. Winds were steady 25-30 mph, water and air temperatures in the low 40s F (about 5 C). I had been dying to windsurf with gloves again after reading James' report about how hypnosis may help to reduce lower arm fatigue. I had bought the mp3 and listened to it a couple of times; Nina listened to it once, but she had to laugh through the entire introduction, when Andy Steer counts down from 10, so I had doubts that this would work on her. We ended up sailing only a bit more than one hour, but we both spend almost the entire time on the water, without the more frequent breaks we often take when sailing in cold weather. Except for it being a bit chilly, the conditions were great - perhaps a bit too much wind for the 7.0 I had rigged because I did not quite trust the wind. While sailing, I often had to think of parts of the hypnosis tape, and it definitely helped me relax. At the end of the hour, my lower arms were starting to get a bit tired, but I don't think it was much worse than it would have been without gloves. 

Nina reported that the hypnosis did not make any difference for her. I'm not sure I fully agree; the last time we sailed with gloves, she had reported cramps right away, and she took more and longer breaks. However, the conditions that time had been more difficult, and she had used different gloves, so a direct comparison is impossible. Maybe things will get better if she can listen to the entire recording without laughing... But for all of you windsurfers out there who have problems sailing with gloves, I'd suggest that you check out the forearm hypnosis recording. Maybe all you get out of it is a few good laughs, but it is quite possible that you'll end up with more fun on the water during the cold months. And you can't loose money by trying - Andy Steer promises to return your money if it does not work for you! I hope you try it - I'd love to see more windsurfers on the water during the winter. The only time I got cold at the water this winter was today - and that's because we were just standing around instead of going sailing.

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