Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring sessions

I have received thinly veiled complains that I don't blog about our sailing enough recently, so this is a catch-up post. It's long and boring, so let me start with how interesting things could have been:
That's Jerry jumping at Coast Guard yesterday. The waves were small, but that did not keep him from having fun:
Coast Guard is an ocean beach. Our home beach, Kalmus, is not - it's in Nantucket Sound. Two islands 30 km to the south, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, keep ocean swell away. The Hyannis Port breakwater about 1 mile to the southwest keeps the chop down. But in SSW winds like we had yesterday, the big difference is that the wind in Kalmus is straight onshore, but at Coast Guard, it's side-offshore. With water temperatures just above freezing, that matters to me. I think it should - Nina and I both managed to kill sails in our recent sessions. Offshore winds, equipment problems, and cold water don't go well together. Side-off wind is a little better, but just a little.

When spring comes, many windsurfers around here start feeling slightly schizophrenic. On one hand, we love it when we get warm southerly winds. On the other hand, cold water and warm wind means that we may sit on the beach and stare at windless water: the dreaded decoupling happens! If the temperature difference is too big, the wind "decouples": as it approaches the shoreline, it lifts up, leaving us windsurfers windless. This happens when the wind is onshore or side-one; on offshore and side-off beaches, it does not happen.

Yesterday's air temperature was near 50ºF (10ºC), but the water temperature was closer to 36ºF (2ºC).  Decoupling was a definite possibility. But around noon, the wind picked up to 25 mph. I was on the water 90 minutes later, and had some fun on a 5.3 m sail. For me, that counts as a small sail. Things were fine for half an hour. They even seemed to be getting better as the wind increased - until I forgot what I had posted here 2 weeks ago, and practiced my karate skills on a sail again. Well, it was really more a slow tai chi elbow during a really slow fall, but the sail did not like it, not one little bit.

Back to shore to re-rigg. I picked the 5.0 this time, only to see the wind go down. Tried the bigger board, but the wind was watching me, and went down even more. Just about then, Nina was ready to go out on here brand-new four point two. Nope! She took my 5.0 and her big Skate instead, and I rigged a third sail - 7.0 this time.

When we hit the water, the wind was just about perfect for our sail sizes. With a negative low tide, water depth was rather similar to Bonaire, so Nina went and did her thing - duck jibes, push tacks, a few duck tack tries, and donkey jibe tries. Her duck jibes looked great (as usual), and her donkeys were getting really close. I just worked on jibing (yes, again/still!). During a recent session at the Kennedy Slicks, I had a hard time planing out of my jibes, despite being nicely powered (albeit on 7.5). To figure out what was going on, I took some clew view GoPro footage. This is what I saw:
This is mid-jibe, shortly before the foot switch. Both arms are bent - it looks like I'm trying to pull the boom straight through me. This is not how your are supposed to do this! The front arm is supposed to be extended! My knees are bent just enough so that I did not hook in again (despite long harness lines), but this stance kills speed. Here's what the GPS showed:
All my jibes were dry; I often picked up speed as I entered the jibe; but I lost way too much speed mid-jibe. This picture shows why:
With both arms bent, I am pulling the sail back onto me. This makes the tail sink and the nose rear up, slowing the board down. Funny thing is - I did not realize I was doing this! But it's an old and recurring habit - here's proof from our Tobago trip:

Of course, this is absolutely, positively not my fault! I can find many others to blame for this. Maybe I am just mixing up a few different bits of advice here: "pull down on the boom during the jibe", and "to pull down on the boom, the elbows need to point down". Taken separately, these two pieces of advice make sense; put together in the middle of the jibe like I did, they are bloody nonsense!

I am doing this same stupid thing just about every single time I jibe, even though I know it's wrong. This is completely automatic - chances are I have done this for years without noticing. So in yesterday's session, my only focus in jibes was to keep the front arm extended. I tried to go for Dasher's advice: "the hips roll in, the mast moves to the outside", concentrating on keeping the arm long. That worked ok - but I'd still catch myself starting with extended arms, then quickly bending both arms, and then extending them again just before moving to the inside. Muscle memory from years of doing it wrong are hard to replace!

Towards the end of the session, I found myself getting ready for another beach start with the rig in hand, but no board attached. Seems the board had had enough of me and decided to go back to shore. Since the water was just knee deep, I caught it quickly and made sure to use a bit more force on the mast foot this time. I was, however, rather glad that I had not gone to sail in side-off wind! The board would probably be on its way to Europe now...

Now back to the question what the wind did yesterday- did it decouple? Well, the wind was up and down, peaking at averages near 30 mph, and then dropping down to less than 20 mph. However, it did exactly the same thing at Chapin on the other side of the Cape, where winds were offshore. That indicates it was not decoupling this time - on a decoupling day, the Chapin meter would show stronger and more consistent wind. Looking at the other wind meters confirms this: both the Chatham (onshore) and the Hatch Beach (side-offshore) meter showed consistent winds; the West Island meter, which juts out into Buzzards Bay and is not prone to decoupling, showed wind patterns very similar to Kalmus, but a bit weaker. On many SW days, the West Island meter reads higher than Kalmus due to its exposed location. So it seems that what we had yesterday was something that is often seen in the wind forecasts: the wind simply was much stronger further out (eastward) on the Cape. The huge high that was driving these winds was a few hundred miles to out east, so this makes sense (kind of).

Well, I warned you that this would be a long post, so I'll just keep going. Edda needs to know all the details about our windsurfing, after all! Our last windsurfing session before yesterday was exactly a week ago. It was also a south wind session, and the wind was just as temperamental. It stayed around 30 mph for a bit more than one hour, and I got to enjoy some of that on a 4.7m sail, fully powered. Last week's forecast actually had predicted a quick raise and drop in the wind, and that's what we got. Martin arrived just as the wind was ramping up, and ended up rigging three sails, only to end up with just a couple of runs on his 4.2 before the wind dropped. After a short deep drop, the wind stayed around 25 mph for almost two hours, but by then, everyone had given up. Nina had a lousy day on her 5.3 - underpowered at first, and overpowered 20 minutes later. Her confidence was still a bit shaken from breaking a sail in the previous session, so that was not her day.

Two days before that, I had a short and sweet session at the Kennedy Slicks. I was on big slalom gear (117 l + 7.5 m) to practice for the ECWF Long Island in June, which was just perfect for the conditions. Once again, the wind was fluky, but I was lucky with my timing and got a nice one-hour session in. March started slow with no session in the first 11 days, but with 6 sessions since then, I can't complain. And there's still hope for one more session on Monday :-).


Pete commented that many problems in jibes being from bad entries, in particular not oversheeting enough. I agree that is is often true, but it is not what slows me down these days. Below is an image from one of the jibes from the Kennedy Slicks session. 

So far, so good - the sail is oversheeted and pushed out of the way, the front arm is still long. But two seconds later in this jibe, as I open up the sail, my front arm did indeed bend again, and I lost speed.


  1. For me if I don't start off my entry into the jibe right everything else goes bad. To me oversheeting and leaning the mast into the turn is the most important part. This should keep you leaning more forward.
    If you don't oversheet you will automatic lean back and since there is a lot of power in your sail you will pull it towards you. This is me with the 8.7 and 135l Angulo wind were picking up.
    I was running out of juice when this was taken.

  2. Pete, the entry is not the problem for me. Even if I start nicely oversheeted and in a perfectly balanced surf stance, I still often end up with both arms fully bent in the middle of the jibe. When I started ABK camps, my goal was to plane out of jibes more often. Andy just fixed the entry, which helped a lot, and then went on to other things. I think the front arm bending is still leftover from many years of bad habits. I have seen it often on my GoPro videos.

    In the Kennedy Slicks session, there was no reason to not plane out of most jibes. I knew my entry was fine, the wind was above 20, and the water perfectly flat. I stopped to put the GoPro on to see what I did wrong, and discovered the bent arms in the videos later at home. The pictures with the sail pulled backward are the most pronounced examples I found, but the "bent arm" problem existed in most of my jibes.

  3. OK a little more bent knees.
    Now looking from one pic to the other I think as you rotate the sail you get out of the way of the sail rotation by leaning back rather than throwing the clew around the nose and throwing your hips into the turn.
    If you can get the clip online I'll be able to tell a bit better.

  4. Yes, the knees always get too straight on flat water. The hip rotation thing is new to me. Dasher is the only one who really points that out, and I missed that the first few times I watched the video. I definitely had a tendency to just leave the hips in the middle of the board instead of moving them into the turn. That leads to bent arms and more bouncing, since you're more likely to loose the carve. I focused on moving the hips in and the sail out before the step and sail rotation (Dasher's step #9), and that did seem to help. Can't wait for some light and high wind sessions in Hatteras to play around with the rig rotation!

  5. looking at that last picture ,everything from your straps forward is out of the water. That means your weight is on the tail of the board going into the jibe.
    You need to get more into your knees and keep the sail and weight forward, even in flatt water.

  6. Yes your arms are wrong, but your hips need to be at least a foot further forward to get your weight over your front footstraps. See the Dasher video. Cheers!

  7. Pete, how can the weight not be on the tail on a slalom board with outboard footstraps? The front foot is pulling up - any pressure on it would kill the carve. The only way I could see putting more of the edge into the water is by carving harder. I don't think that would help. Andy is usually quite happy with my "superstar" entry, but often wants me to increase the radius. The other thing he suggests is to push the sail even further behind me.

    PeconicPuffin, which of the 4 images are you referring to?

  8. All of them. You don't just need to bend your knees more, you need to bend forward at the ankles so that your hips/butt are not over the tail of the board, but instead over the carving rail. In your photos a line drawn straight to the board from your butt would go through your needs to go through your upper calves. Peter Hart talks about the difference between bending your knees to fornicate vs defecate (gotta love the English). For jibing we want the should feel like you're driving the harness hook forward.

    Getting your hips more forward will translate into more weight coming through the board via the front foot and the mast foot. Arm position and sail sheeting alone is not going to keep the nose of the board down in a jibe unless you are going like a bat out of hell. If you were doing a duck jibe (which in some respects are easier to plane through) there are no elbows to bend or not enter with speed, and then hold a beautiful carve. It's done with posture and weight positioning.

    This needs to be practiced on a simulator. Review it with Andy the next time you're ABKing.

  9. As I said in response to Pete's comment, having "more weight coming through the board via the front foot" will not work on the slalom board I used. That's fine on a freestyle or FSW board where your toes cross the center line, or are at least close to it. With a small freestyle fin, you may even have to use a lot of front foot pressure to avoid spinouts. But with the outside straps on a 71 cm wide slalom board, any pressure on the front toes would only flatten the board.

    My hips generally are forward enough in the jibe entry. You can actually see that if you take into account that the Clew-View mount gives you an angled image. If you'd straighten out the image so that the horizon is horizontal, you'd see that my hips are over or in front of my toes in the first and last image. In the middle images, I'm stepping, and things have gone wrong already because I bent my front arm.

    Guy Cribb has "bending the front arm" as the first common mistake in his "jibe entry" section. I'm not (usually) bending the front arm at the entry, but rather just before the foot switch. I think this is partially due to a misguided attempt to put pressure on the mast foot (something that Guy also advocates), but probably mostly due to habit.

    While not oversheeting and other entry errors are causing most of the problems in jibes, there are other things that can go wrong, too. A nice entry can often mask these problems, especially in well-powered and flat-ish conditions. That definitely happened to me - I came out of the first ABK camps with a decent plane-through rate on flat water, and a very high "wet" rate in chop. Focussing on the "boom shaka" alone made a huge difference in the dry percentage in chop; another session or two with focus on "drop your guts" got me from "dry if I'm lucky" to "mostly dry". There are a few more things to fix, though.

    1. My big slalom board is 84 wide start vid at 50sec
      My mistake on this jibe is that I didn't reach back with my sail hand and muscled it through the jibe. In all your pics your sail hand is quite forward. Reach back with your sail hand before you unhook droop the mast and pull the clew up into the wind NOT back like if you were doing a carving 360. I know you're in denial about your entry but it's ALL about the set up into the jibe.
      Your gracius vampire Pete

    2. Dear vampire Pete,
      After a session yesterday where I used the 5 Hz GPS and the GoPro, and countless minutes of detailed analysis, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that you might be right. I focused on moving the hand and oversheeting today, and my jibes were a lot better, in virtually identical conditions.

      I always wondered why Andy and some other great jibers pull the clew behind them, and I have now come up with a theory. The same theory explains why I often do the pullups as I enter the transition phase (the first picture). Details will be inflicted on you and the rest of my loyal readers in a future blog post.

      Thanks for showing some nice German stubbornness in your responses!

  10. I submit for your consideration that those great jibers are pulling the clew to the same place (for the most part) that you would if you pulled the clew up, but that because their hips and torso are so far forward (in comparison) that spot is now behind them. Pete is right about it being all about the set's why freestylers can plane through all manner of jibes and tricks if they start with the solid base of power and speed. .02