Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mechanical mast base for speed?

One thing leads to another, and sometimes, the outcome is quite unexpected. The story starts with this years East Coast Windsurfing Festival. With light winds on both days, I used my Kona Mahalo for both racing and freestyle. The Mahalo is long and big enough to work as a tandem, but it served me well enough to get a trophy for both events. Still, I got the impression that the more old-style longboards were a bit faster on the small chop we had. So two days later, I picked up a Fanatic Ultra Cat, driving 6 hours to get the board. Since the Cat has a different mast track, I had to cannibalize one of my mast feet, so I needed a new one to replace it.

Two days ago, we stopped by Sailworld Cape Cod, on our way to a SUP demo they had with Starboard on Monument Beach. I looked for a mast base, but the only single-screw base they had was mechanical. I read somewhere that mechanical bases have dead spots, so I did not want to buy it, but Jim Ballantyne quickly pointed out two advantages that the mechanical mast bases have:
  1. They make it easy to attach the rig without having to put the board on its side (and allow you to leave the board lying on it's back with the rig attached, without pushing the rig upwards).
  2. Unlike tendons and rubber joints, they have no give, which makes them great for speed: every gust is directly transferred into the board, similar to the way body tension will.
So I was sold, and the very next day, we finally got enough wind to get planing without having to use the biggest sails. Nina sailed a 5.3 the whole afternoon, and I took out my Pilot 6.5 (there still is a gap in my quiver where my beloved Matrix 7.0 used to be). It was rather gusty and up and down in Fogland, but we were planing most of the time. After about 2 months without decent wind, I stuck to speed, even though the Pilot is definitely not a speed sail - it's more of an entry-level / freestyle sail, light, powerful, and easy to rig.

I was pretty happy with the speeds around 25 knots that I got right away - it has been a while that I was this fast. Around 5 pm, though, the wind picked up, and we had gusts of 32 mph. I tightened the downhaul and outhaul a bit, and went out again. Despite being close to high tide, the water in the bay was nice and flat, making it easy to hold down the sail that would have been a bit big in chop. In one gust, I had the feeling that I was almost blown off the water - I think that is when I hit my top speed of  the day, 29.2 knots (54 km/h). I was quite amazed when I saw this top speed. It's not much to serious speedsurfers, but pretty fast for my standards. I have only 10 sessions where I have sailed faster, and that usually was under much better conditions and on more speed-oriented gear. That the 6.5 Pilot handled this much wind, and delivered this speed, still amazes me. The GPS tracks show that I hit the top speed at almost 90 degrees to the wind, not at a deep downwind run. The downwind speed runs I made were not nearly as fast, since I did not catch a good gust once while going downwind. 


Looking at the results, I have to conclude that the mechanical mast base is a great thing for speedsurfing. I have not done any side-by-side tests where I switched back and forth between mast bases, but such a test would require steadier winds, anyway. On the other hand, they can't be too steady, since one of the advantages of the mechanical base is the direct translation of gusts into speed. But doing this test is high on my to-do list.

A second part of my equipment yesterday that also performed really well yesterday was the fin - a 39 cm Tangent Dynamics Reaper weed fin. I always loved the smaller (26-32 cm) Reaper fins for my other boards, but for the slalom boards, I tried several other weed fins first, including a ~ 43 cm Curtis Race fin, a Select weed fin, and a MUF delta. On all these fins, I had problems going upwind or spinouts, and sometimes both. In contrast, the 39 cm Reaper has performed beautifully on my 71 cm wide Warp 117. I had no problems going upwind even when barely powered on an 8.5, and no problems whatsoever when powered on the 6.5. Spinouts where very rare, even in chop, almost requiring concentrated efforts to produce. Spinout recovery was surprisingly easy for a relatively large fin. One or two smaller sizes for windier days are definitely on my wish list.

I have to thank Jim from Sailworld Cape Cod for both the mechanical mast base and the TD Reaper fin (Tangent Dynamics is his own brand). I hope he can join us to sail in Fogland sometime soon on a windy day!

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