Monday, May 13, 2019

Foiling in Hatteras

We had not planned to go to Hatteras this spring, but after the last cold water swim session, we made a last-minute decision to drive down for the ABK camp. We got a windy day on the Sunday before camp (3.4 for Nina, overpowered 5.0 for me) that showed us how out of shape we were. The camp was fun, as usual, although I spend most of the time trying to remember how to do things I had done before, with varying success. For me, the highlight of the ABK camp was the windsurf foiling on the last day. The wind increased to about 18 mph in the afternoon, which made getting onto the foil very easy - but controlling the power once up in the air was a very different story! I had only foiled a handful of times before, and I probably doubled my air time in this session. Fun!

Today was another day with warm SW winds. Meter readings were around 20 mph when we rigged, so I thought I'd have plenty of power on my 6.0/Skate 110/WeedDemon 29 combo. But of course, the wind dropped a couple of knots as we got out, and I only planed in the gusts. Perfect for foiling! The friendly ABK folks had left 4 foils out on the lawn at Barton's, and Tom and Brendon confirmed that it was ok to take my favorite combo out - a Slingshot Flyer with the 84 cm Infinity wing. Since the water depth here is limited, the mast was a bit shorter - 28 or 30 inches.

Once I reached the deep water and got on, the board wanted to get out of the water right away - it seemed the wind had increased by 5 knots! I made a bit of progress keeping the board flying a foot above the water, and had a bunch of fun crashes when the short periods of control ended. My favorite time was going upwind on the foil, but with the board just barely out of the water, so that the skinny nose of the flyer would still touch the chop. This ended up being my first foil session where I tried to sail at different angles to the wind. Upwind was reasonably easy, but any little bit of downwind angle made things very interesting and "lively". More fun crashes! At one point, I must have placed my foot a bit wrong, and the board/foil kept carving downwind until I noticed that I had gone past six o'clock. A quick sail flip, and I had completed my first jibe on a foil! Well, only the start was up on the foil, the end was with the board in the water, but it was fun. I even managed to do a second jibe later in the session, this one on purpose.

For this session, I wore a GPS, which showed a few interesting things:
The first thing to notice is the low speed. My fastest 2 second average was 13.7 knots - about 10 knots slower than an average session on my freestyle gear, and less than half of the speed of a light wind slalom session. But it sure felt plenty fast to me! Interestingly, my old Mistral Equipe raceboard probably would have reached slightly faster speeds with the same sail today (and 20 knots with a larger sail). I love sailing old longboards because the feeling of railing up on the daggerboard in intermediate winds is really cool. This is a bit similar to foiling - but the foil adds a completely new sensation with the foil push that's directed fully upward, without the heeling momentum from the daggerboard. Once the foil pushes the board completely out of the water and everything goes completely quiet, it's a feeling unlike any other on a windsurf board. When that happens, I need to concentrate 100% on keeping the board at an even flight height - I automatically get pushed into "the zone". Well, at least for a few seconds until everything comes down again, and I may end up getting thrown into the water.

The GPS tracks also show that many of the "foil runs" were very short. Perhaps 2 out of 3 times, I'd still be on the board after a touchdown, but the board had lost most of its speed. One out of three times was a dismount - sometimes getting thrown off by a bucking board, sometimes jumping off to make sure I'd stay clear of the foil after the exit. Fortunately, the water was warm, and the depth was perfect - deep enough for foiling, but shallow enough to stand.

Another interesting thing the tracks show is that my angles to or off the wind were not nearly as deep as I thought. In fact, the sailing was closer to typical shortboard sailing angles, which are mostly just going back and forth across the wind, than to raceboard tracks, which often include right angles. But then, I'm still a (slow-learning) beginner on the foil :-).

The longest steady run was about 750 meters over 2.5 minutes, with an average speed just above 10 knots. I probably was "semi-foiling" for the first half the run, with the foil pushing the board just almost out of the water. The second half of the run is at a lesser angle, so the board probably was completely above the water most of the time, with just a few gentle touch-downs every now and then. Amazing how much fun you can have at 10 knots, going slower than the wind speed! Big thanks to ABK Boardsports, Andy, Tom, Brendon, and Slingshot foils for making this possible.

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