Monday, November 26, 2012

First Encounter and Hardings Beach

Yesterday, we explored a couple of sailing spots that we had heard a lot about, but never sailed: First Encounter Beach in Eastham and Harding's Beach in Chatham. In the morning, the wind meter for First Encounter (called "Hatch Beach" on iWindsurf) showed WNW winds around 30 mph. I had read about kiters sailing in the marsh on the back, and it looked like a nice slick for speed runs on Google Earth:
The run in the marsh is a bit longer than 500 m, which should be long enough for decent speed. We hoped to get there shortly after high tide, when the water depth should have been sufficient. However, the temperatures that were just climbing above the freezing point slowed us down a bit, and we arrived an hour later than planned. Even though the channel is only about 50 m wide, there were plenty of white caps, so we decided to give it a try. However, by the time we had rigged and carried our gear down, very few white caps were to be seen, and the wind was very gusty. Sailing in the channel was almost impossible: close to the start, there was almost no wind, except for short gusts coming through above 30 mph. We also discovered that the water levels were getting low, with a sand bar blocking most of the channel in the middle of the 500 m run - no speed to be had here! 

Unwilling to derig, we walked to the bay side to sail there. The wind was a lot steadier when we got to the front, and the water looked wonderfully flat! But the reason that is was so flat was that it was extremely shallow, too shallow even for my 25 cm fin. I had to walk for about 15 minutes before it got deep enough to sail. I did one run over to the left, pinching upwind to get away further from the shore. I tried to keep things slow in case there were any hidden sandbars; but since I was using a 90 l slalom board with a cambered race sail, going slow proved to be rather difficult. I stopped a few times to check the water depth, and it was never deeper than hip-deep, often shallower - too shallow for my taste. So I went back as slowly as I could manage. Sometimes, when the water looked suspiciously shallow, I sailed with both feet out of the straps, since the 7 mm booties tend to work themselves tightly into the foot straps, which raises the risk of injury when running aground. I made it back to shore about 500 m north of where I had started and called it a day.

Nina had originally gone out with me on my 95 l Hawk. But after touching ground a few times with the 26 cm fin, she decided to switch to a 77 l wave board and a 15 cm fin. The short fin allowed her to sail the same areas that the kiters where using, much to their surprise. She loved how the small fin jibed, and had a blast in the shallow water. But after standing in just ankle-deep water when getting off several times, and having to walk a bit to be able to start again, she decided to call it a day, too. By then, most kiters had also called it a day - only one guy was still sailing in the puddles between the sandbars that by now had come out.

We came away with a much better understanding why First Encounter is primarily a kite spot, not a windsurf spot. The sand bars in front of the beach go out almost a mile, following an irregular pattern with deeper water in between. When the first sand bars near shore start to emerge, the sand bars several hundred meters out may be under just a few inches of water, with 3-4 foot deep water in between. This generates some neat little wave with very slick water in between. With a windsurf board and a regular sized fin, you would need to know exactly where the sand bars are, and how deep the water is, to enjoy this without danger of very sudden unplanned stops. In contrast, Skaket is much better suited for windsurfing, since the drop there is much more regular, and the sand bars do not go out quite as far. 

Relative to the day before, Nina and I had traded places - she had fun, I was frustrated. However, we still had three hours of daylight left, and I had read that Jerry and friends were planning to sail at Hardings Beach in Chatham in the afternoon. Hardings is supposed to be perhaps the best beach on the Cape for west wind, but I had never sailed there before, so I just had to go. When I arrived, Jerry was already having fun on 5.2, Hardie on 5.8, so I rigged a 5.5, grabbed my 3S, and headed out. When I was planing, I had an absolute blast. The wind was coming side-shore, but there were several rows of waves that were rolling in towards shore at a right angle to the wind. They barely broke, but ramped up very nicely, for some of the best jumping ramps that I have ever seen. This is definitely the spot to work in forward loops - you can actually hit a wave going a bit downwind! Of course, Jerry had to demonstrate, and Nina (who did not want to go out again) saw him throw a beautiful end-over-end forward loop, among other amazing tricks. Hardie took a nice picture of Jerry having fun jumping - check it out on Flickr. I was perfectly happy to just get a few simple jumps in, which felt pretty high to me (although most of that was probably due to the deep valley after the wave). 

The wind had developed big holes by now, so I got to enjoy the schlogging characteristics of the board.  Between that, having too much fun to go in, and a few minor washes, I sailed longer than I usually do on my first run out in cold weather. By the time I finally decided to go in to warm up my hands, my fingertips were half frozen (air temperatures were around 40 F / 5C, water around 45 F / 8 C; I used open palm neoprene mittens). It took a while to warm them back up; the considerable pain that caused reminded me to take the first break sooner! Once you shake the blood back down into your fingers a couple of times, the fingers stay warm; doing it early enough avoids the pain.

Despite the little pains and holes in the wind, I had a great time at Hardings Beach, and I am looking forward to the next west wind day to go back there. It goes to show that speed is not everything - when trying to go slow at First Encounter, the GPS showed more than 25 knots several times; but while nicely powered at Hardings Beach on wave gear, my top speed was just 21 knots. For Hardings, a touch of south would be even better, so that the wind does not have to come over land and therefore can be steadier, like the NNW earlier the day on the other side of the Cape. When we get another northwesterly day and the tides are right, we'll be back at Skaket. There's still a lot of fun to be had before the daytime temperatures drop below freezing or there is too much ice on the water :-)

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