Monday, January 20, 2014

Gear to stay warm

Yesterday was a beautiful day for a swim in Nantucket Sound. Ok, I admit that I tried to stay on the windsurf board, but I was not always successful. I'll assign some of the blame to the strong wind:
The forecast had predicted only 28 mph, with a pronounced drop after 1 pm, so I started (somewhat) early, shortly past 10 am. The wind looked perfect for a 5.0 wave sail at Kalmus, and I had a bit of fun. Fortunately, the snow shower that had surprised me while rigging was short-lived, and gave way to sunshine later. With the sun came more wind, and the 5 square meters became a bit much. The incoming tide and strong winds made for some growing chop, disorganized as usual in Kalmus. Having to go in anyway to rig a smaller sail, I decided to hop into the van and switch to the flat waters in Hyannis Port Harbor: the Kennedy Slicks, one mile to the west.

The initial plan was to go for speed, so I rigged my 5.0 speed sail and took my 90 l slalom board for a spin. Or perhaps it was the other way round... As much as I love the Kennedy Slicks, the wind does get a bit gusty near shore. Trying to get into the back footstrap with my 7 mm booties ended up as split practice - a failure by other means, since I neither got into the straps, nor did I do a split. Instead, I got an ice cream headache from the cold water. Fortunately, pulling the head out of the water helped.

I gave it a few tries and eventually got into both straps, but never felt comfortable. I started hearing little voices inside my head - "do you really think it's a good idea to sail out here alone, out of control, in almost freezing water, 35 knot winds, 20ºF wind chill?". Where ever that voice came from, I agreed that the out-of-control part perhaps was overdoing it. So I switched to my trusted Tabou 3S 96, with its nice, big, center-mounted footstraps that I could get into in my sleep, wearing ski boots (to answer the inevitable question: no, I have not tried that yet). That did the trick - I was finally having some fun, doing little speed runs on the perfectly flat water next to the stone pier. Here's a little video that shows the conditions at Kalmus and the Kennedy Slicks yesterday:
Overall, I was out for almost three hours, although that includes switching spots and a bunch of short breaks. I was perfectly warm the entire time, despite air and water temperatures just above freezing, and strong winds. There were two critical things that made that possible: my Ianovated double nylon suit, and my Xcel surf hood. Both deserve a closer look.

The double nylon Ianovated suit

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love my Ianovated wetsuit that I bought in 2012. The tube warming system is pure genius, and allows me to sail with open-palm mittens all winter long. When I bought the original suit, I got the one that had a smooth outer surface, rather than the "double nylon" suit that has a fabric-like outer surface. My rationale was that the smooth outer skin eliminates evaporative cooling, and thus would be warmer. However, my lovely wife tried and immediately bought the double-nylon version of the same suit, and was plenty warm in it all winter long. So when Ianovated came out with a "two zipper suit" that included a relief zipper, this middle-aged male got himself a double-nylon, double-zipper suit. What could be more fun than looong winter sessions?

But until yesterday, I had worn the double-nylon suit only on relatively warm days; air temperatures often were near 50ºF (10ºC). Even on these warm days, I noticed that the arms and legs got a little chilly when I was standing around during breaks; in contrast, the smooth skin suit was perfectly warm even in breaks. I was a bit skeptical about how warm the double-nylon suit would be in cold conditions. Yesterday was the perfect test day - air temperatures of 34ºF (1ºC), water about the same, clouds initially and intermittently, and 35 knots, for a wind chill of 20ºF (-7ºC). I wore a short-sleeved thin neoprene shirt and neoprene bike shorts underneath, as I always do when it gets cold.

I wore the suit for almost 5 hours, which includes the drive to the beach; rigging during a snow shower; the first 40 minute bump and jump session at Kalmus; de-rigging, driving to the Kennedy Slicks, and re-rigging; about 2 hours windsurfing with frequent breaks at the Kennedy Slicks; and the final de-rigging and drive back home. I was perfectly warm the entire time. The water was cold enough to give me brief ice cream headaches a couple of times after crashes. I wore open palm mittens the entire time, and needed a couple of breaks at the beginning of the first session to shake the blood back down into my hands. After that, my hands were fine, and I used the warming tubes only occasionally, mostly after crashes. So the double-nylon suit is definitely warm enough for winter sailing.

The Xcel surf hood

The second piece of "winter equipment" that impressed me yesterday was the "Surf Hood with Bill and Neck Dam" from Xcel Wetsuits. Until recently, the hoods I had used where the ones that the local windsurf stores had in stock. The warmest of these was a 3 mm "Coldwater Hood" from O'Neill. That one kept me warm, but it always felt very tight and restrictive. The Xcel hood is made from thinner (2 mm) "superstretch" material, and is much more comfortable. But the really great feature about the Xcel drylock hood is the "double flap neck dam".  The neck has two pieces of neoprene over each other - one goes inside the wetsuit, the other one on top. That creates a perfectly waterproof seal. It works beautifully with the Ianovated suit, which has a relatively loose (and comfortable) neck. Whenever I wore a regular cap, some water would get in at the neck during crashes. No big deal, since the suit is a wetsuit, and the water warms very quickly. But still, I definitely preferred have absolutely no water entry with the Xcel drylock hood. Despite the thinner neoprene, it was warm enough yesterday, so I highly doubt that I will ever sail when the hood does not feel warm.


Today was a few degrees warmer than yesterday, and it was windy in the morning, so I just had to be greedy and try to get one more session in. As often before, my greed got punished. I ended up playing the rigging game: wind 19, rig 6.5, wind increases to 30; optimist thinks it will stay there (as it did yesterday), de-rigs 6.5, rigs 5.0, goes out, too small. Carry the 5.0 back, rig the 6.5 once again, the wind sees me and drops even more. Overall, I ended up with maybe 4 planing runs in 30 minutes on the water, and 45 minutes rigging. But it was still great to be out!
The lovely Nina, who had joined me today, picked a more sensible strategy, and was planing most of the time today on her 4.7. As long as at least one of us has a good day on the water, we'll call it a win.

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