Sunday, March 3, 2019

Lake George

One of the things that had drawn me to Australia were windsurfing videos from Lake George in South Australia. In a good year, you can windsurf Lake George on glassy water in 25 knots, without any chop. So we ended our trip with a couple of weeks at Lake George.

But things did not seem to work out quite as planned. Before we even got there, we saw multiple reports that the water levels were much higher than ideal. In good years, the chop-killing weed reaches the surface; but in February 2019, the weed was covered with about 2 feet of water.

The trip from the Perth region in Western Australia to Beachport in South Australia took us a few days (partly because we did not drive at night, when there is a high chance that you hit a kangaroo). When we arrived in the afternoon, we drove to the launch light away, and it looked beautiful - very flat, with about 20 mph of wind. Unfortunately, we did not get to sail that day. The next day was quite windy - but cold! Temperatures dropped to about 14 C (57 F), and it rained a bit at times. Our summer wetsuits proved to be a bit too light for the wind, which also was very gusty. We started to question how smart is was to leave Western Australia for that. The last spot we had visited, Albany, had been fantastic, and rewarded us with several personal bests each; but we only managed low 30-knot numbers this day. Frustration again, similar to the first really day at Fangy Land: the better windsurfers got speeds in the high 30s, and one or two even got 40-knot top speeds.

It got a bit warmer the next couple of days, but the wind remained light. We got to meet a number of Australian speedsurfers in the local pub and on the beach, including the holder of the official 24-hour world record, "Kato". Kato saved me from rigging in dying winds one day by letting me use his gear in the last few gusts, and let me use his Mistral IMCO longboard another day where the wind again was light and gusty. In many parts of the lake, the weed was too close to the surface to fully extend the daggerboard, but I still had a blast, even though I had to use the 6.3 m sail, since Nina was using the 7.0 on the big slalom board. But another advantage of the light wind was that I was able to get some drone footage, without having to worry about the drone getting blown away. Here's some footage of Nina on the 7.0/112 l combo:

Unfortunately, our friends Mike and Dot had to leave a few days later, and the three "Teletubby Brokeback Speedsurfers" from Mandurah who shared the cabin next to ours also left when the wind forecast was very poor for several days in a row. That meant that we lost some of the gear we had used (or hoped to use) in very light or very strong winds: Mike's 4.4 m sail and 39 cm speed board for Nina, and the 112 l slalom board (a loaner from Jonski - thanks again!). On the bright side, it prompted us to switch to a lovely AirBnb place with lots of space, a super-friendly host, free loaner bicycles, and frequent sightings of kangaroos right next to our place - nice!

The wind finally returned for the last two days of our stay. Here is a GoPro short video that I took at the beginning of the first day:

This was in about 5 knots more wind than in the first video above, about 18 knots. At almost all windsurf spots, 5 knots more wind would have also created more chop - but not so here! The heavy weed limits how big the chop gets, and the water was very smooth. The wind picked up during the day, probably reaching averages near 25 knots before I stopped sailing, but the chop never seemed to get any bigger. Sweet! Well, I should be more specific: the chop did not get noticeably bigger in the middle lake, which is shallow and weedy. We actually ended up sailing a bit in the big lake, which is deeper at parts, and has substantially less weed; in the deeper parts, the chop is more comparable to the Hatteras Sound (think of the area near Avon, in the middle of the long distance race).

Here are my GPS tracks for the day (click on the image to see a larger version):
We started at the bottom-left corner, from a launch known as "5 Miles". The mast mount video above was taken right in front of the launch. We then sailed up to "The Spit" - a sand spit that separates the middle lake from the big lake above it. The sand bar is just perhaps 10 meters wide, and a meter tall, so the water behind it is perfect for speed sailing. I spent most of the day on the Falcon 89, and got a top speed of 34.8 knots on it - the fastest I had ever been on a slalom board. After a couple of hours, when Nina took a break, I got six runs on the Isonic W54 speedboard in. Three of the runs were above 35 knots, and the fastest had a 2-second top speed of 37.09 knots (68.7 km/h) - that's the second-fastest I have ever sailed, and only the second time I have sailed faster than 35 knots.

After hearing about my speeds, Nina wanted a few more runs on the Isonic. I ended up getting quite cold waiting for her, so I started to sail back to the launch, which was about 1.5 miles upwind. Since the wind kept picking up, getting back was reasonably easy and quick. I later looked at the GPS tracks of Hardie, who did more than 40 knots that day, and they confirmed that the wind picked up a few knots during and after our trip back. However, we were quite tired by the time we sailed back, and not quite sure how easy it would be to sail back upwind. I was definitely happy to have a few reserved left to manage the 7.0 m sail in gusts that must have been above 30 knots!

For the next day, the wind forecast had predicted a few more knots of wind, so we decided to drive out to the spit. It's just a 5 kilometer (3 mile) drive from the 5 Mile launch - but the road is "very interesting", with sand, huge potholes, and rocky areas. It took us 30 minutes to drive the last 3 miles!  But at least we now had the option to change gear whenever we felt like it.

I went out first on the 7.0/89 combo, and quickly got a top speed of 34.5 knots. The wind seemed to be picking up, and both local expertise and the forecast predicted an increase, to I quickly rigged down to the 6.3. Unfortunately, the wind had other plans, and stayed perhaps 5 knots weaker than the day before, so I had a hard time even getting 34 knots again. But the water in front of the speed (below in the image above) was just a few inches above the weeds - tons of fun to go back and forth in! I tried to improve my 1 hour personal best, but had a few problems jibing, so ended up 0.8 knots short of my PB. Nevertheless, these three hours of going fast for a couple of kilometers each run in "chop" than ranged from about 1 inch to maybe 3-4 inches were some of the best hours I even spend on a windsurf board. The SSE-SE wind was a lot steadier than the gusty SW-WSW wind we had on our first day of sailing at Lake George! Even Nina, who usually gets bored going in a straight line after a minute or two, sailed back and forth with a big grin on her face for hours, and ended up improving her 1 hour PB without really trying. After these two days, we both understood why windsurfers from all over Australia come to Lake George!

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