Wednesday, August 15, 2018

ABK Camp Hyannis Questions

The ABK windsurf camp in Hyannis is coming up less than 4 weeks (Friday 9/7- Sunday 9/9/2018). This post contains some of the questions we are often asked about it, and (more importantly) the answers.
  • Is an ABK camp right for me?
If you are a windsurfer who wants to get better or learn new things, or if you want to learn windsurfing, the answer is "Yes!".
  • Will it be over my level?
No! ABK camps are for windsurfers at all skill levels, from "never before" beginners to experts working on freestyle moves and loops. There are typically 5-6 groups of different skill levels, and you'll be in a group with windsurfers of similar skills. There is usually  at least one group that works on jibes and tacks - be it to learn how to jibe without falling, or to tack a smaller board, or to plane through jibes.
  • What are the temperatures like? 
Typically, air temperatures are in the 60s early in the morning, and in the 70s during the day. It may get a few degrees colder if we have northerly winds, or on occasion reach the low 80s. Water temperatures are usually in the low 70s or high 60s (currently 75-80ºF).
  • Do I need a full wetsuit?
You may not absolutely need one, but it's probably a good idea to bring one, especially if the weather is on the colder side of the range. It may be warm enough for board shorts and lycras, but keep in mind that students typically spend time in the water in the morning and in the afternoon. Also, you may fall more often than usually since you'll be working on new things!
  • Will it be windy?
September is usually a pretty windy month on Cape Cod, so chances are high that you'll get at least one day with enough wind to plane during the three-day camp. In 2017, we had 2 windy days (5 m sail for lighter sailors, 6 m for guys like me). In 2016, we also had planing conditions on two days; in 2015, one day; in 2014, two days.
Note that there's tons of stuff to learn even in light wind that will help your high-wind sailing. For example, my lovely wife learned how to get into the back foot strap on a light wind day.
  • How big are the waves?
Kalmus has a reputation for being choppy, especially on very windy west-southwest days around high tide. However, the ABK camps usually use several options to allow campers to learn in less challenging conditions. Depending on wind direction and skill levels, some or all groups will often sail on the Lewis Bay side (which is not available for windsurfing in the summer, but becomes available after Labor Day). More advanced groups sometimes sail across the channel to Egg Island, where the water can be perfectly flat even in very strong wind - perfect for working on jibes, 360s, Vulcans, and more.
  • What can I possibly learn in 3 days?
That will depend a bit on you. Typically, windsurfers with less experience or those working on brand-new skills can progress more quickly than windsurfers who have sailed for many years without instruction, and then have to unlearn bad habits. I am a slow learner who falls into the second category, but nevertheless, I learned to plane through my jibes within a couple of days during my first ABK camp. My lovely wife, who learns faster and had fewer bad habits to unlearn, learned these things in her first ABK camp in Hyannis:
  1. The light-wind helicopter tack.
  2. Consistent water starts. She had done a few before, but usually would be totally exhausted when she got up. The ABK camp fixed this for good.
  3. Planing in both foot straps (she had learned how to get into the front strap at a previous ABK camp in Bonaire).
These skills were pretty solid - she had no problems sailing in 30+ mph wind on Maui and in the Gorge a few months later. As I said, she is a fast learner, and other campers may learn less, but usually, everyone goes home happy with new or improved skills at the end of a camp.
  • How many windsurfers and teachers will be there?
Typically, there are about 20-25 students in the ABK camp Hyannis, and 4-6 teachers.
  • How about food at the camp?
The Kalmus snack bar is right at the camp site, and offers surprisingly good food at reasonable prices. Theoretically, you'd also have enough time to drive 5 minutes into town, but I don't recall ever seeing anyone doing that.
  • When should I register? 
Register now! The ABK camp Hyannis usually fills up. Since the student-to-teacher ratio is fixed to ensure high-quality learning and teaching, Andy often has to turn people away who try to register in the last days before camp or on-site. But if everyone registers early, it is often possible to get another ABK teacher to come and to add another group. So register now! See you at the camp!




Thursday, August 9, 2018

Bad Behavior

Let me start with a story. A bit more than a week ago, we were sailing in the late afternoon in a typical southwest wind at Kalmus. A beautiful, windy day. I'm standing in the water near shore, trying to get reoriented after a failed 360 or some such thing, when suddenly I hear a loud bang, a splash, and an "Oh no!".  One of the Kalmus regulars had been de-rigging in the water, as she often does. Another Kalmus regular had not seen her there, and jibed near shore. He just noticed her in the middle of the jibe, and his boom hit her board hard - hard enough to require a proper repair, ding stick would not have done.

The jiber was a guy who is (a) a pretty good windsurfer, (b) usually stays out of everyones way, and (c) is a nice guy. He's definitely not an aggressive windsurfer, and was very sorry about the accident. There may be a guy or two who sail Kalmus often where you might expect such a thing to happen, but definitely not with him.

Why did it happen? Quite simple: he was coming in against the setting sun, which severely limits visibility. He simply did not see that there was someone standing in the water. Nor did he see the board in the water until it was too late.

Why am I telling this story? Just to illustrate that accidents can happen, even with competent and careful windsurfers. Poor visibility against the late afternoon can be a big contributing factor. Note that in this instance, the person was standing in the water, and a board and sail were next to her. She was definitely a lot easier to see than the head of a swimmer in choppy water.

This (finally!) brings me to the real topic of this post: do not windsurf (or kite) through the swim area at Kalmus! This rule applies even when there are no life guard on duty. Looking at the accident I described above, it is actually more important in the late afternoon after the life guards leave, since the visibility is worse than during the day. If there is anybody in or near the water in the swim area, or even a chance that someone may want to swim, the entire swim area is a definitive no-go zone.

Most windsurfers who sail at Kalmus on a regular basis know this rule, and act accordingly. When the wind is straight onshore, it can be a bit hard to clear the buoys that mark the swim area, but almost everyone understands that safety is more important than avoiding a tack. Every now and then, someone who has not sailed at Kalmus does not know about the rule, but they are usually quickly informed about it by the regulars, and then stay out of it.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some thing has encourage some people to behave badly and aggressively in the past year or two, and there have been several instances where the person asked to not go through the swim area started arguing, and simple refused to listen, regarding his own convenience higher than the safety of others.

The first instance happened a few days ago. In this case, it was a kiter who routinely went through the swim area, and in at least one instance also kited very close to a beginner windsurfer (less than 2 feet away). This was quite threatening to the windsurfer, and definitely not safe. When her husband later ask him to keep a safe distance, the kiter denied sailing close to the windsurfer (despite this being witnessed by at least 2 people). When asked not to kite through the swim area, he insisted of having a right to do so. When other windsurfers in the neighborhood confirmed that he should not kite through the swim area, he started complaining about "harassment", and "threatened" to call the police. The windsurfers encouraged him to do so, since the outcome was predictable: the police came when he called them, and informed him that he is not allowed to sail through the swim area. They also mentioned that he would be banned from the beach if he continued to do so.

Just a couple of days later, a similar thing happened, this time with a windsurfer. It was a windy SW day, and about 30 windsurfers were on the water during the day. All of them avoided the swim area the entire day, except for one guy who showed up shortly after the life guards had left, and promptly proceeded to sail through the swim area. Several of the locals asked him to stop doing that; one of them was my lovely wife. When I jibed close by, I heard him yelling at her, so I walked over, and also asked him not to sail through the swim area. We tried to explain to him that endangering swimmers could get the only windsurfing beach in Kalmus closed for windsurfing, but he insisted that he had been sailing at Kalmus for 30 years, and had the right to go through the swim area. He also complained about having had a bad day at work, as if that gave him special rights. Eventually, he stated that he'd sail through the swim area even more now because of the "nagging" - which he then did, for several hours. During that time, he proved that he definitely was a good enough windsurfer to go upwind to avoid the swim area - he nailed fast tacks on a board that barely had enough volume to keep him above the water. He also proved that he was quite willing to aggressively defend his "right" to go through the swim area, at one point choosing to hit me with his boom rather than changing his angle to the wind when we were on a collision course at low speed. I was the downwind sailor and verbally asserted my right of way, but I think it is safe to assume he does not know or care for right of way rules (another Kalmus regular, Don, had an almost-collision when the guy refused to change his course, coming out of the swim area on port, while Don was pinching upwind on starboard to avoid the buoy).

There were several of our windsurfing friends on the beach who witnessed his behavior, and got rather upset about it. Someone had a camera, so pictures were taken of him sailing through the swim area on almost every run, and of the license plate on his car.

After two such incidences in about as many days, I must admit that I was starting to be confused: did the water really convert to a "no rules" area as soon as life guards went off duty? That did not make sense; was not what the police had actually said; and was not what almost everyone I talked to on the beach thought, but it deserved a check. So I place a call to the Director of the Barnstable Recreation Department, whom we know from organizing the East Coast Windsurfing Festival, to double-check, and perhaps ask for advice how to handle such situations.

But before I received a phone call back from the town, I had talked to this incident with another windsurfing friend who sails Kalmus about as often as I do, Joanie. She reported that she had a similar frustrating conversation a week earlier, where the guy also ignored the request not to sail through the swim area, and claimed to have sailed Kalmus for 30 years. Sounded like the same guy, and a quick email exchange of pictures confirmed it. So this was definitely not the first time the guy had been asked.

Funny thing is that Joanie has been friends with Patti Machado, the Director of the Barnstable Recreation Department for several decades, and that they ran into each other the next day by chance. They talked about the "Bad Behavior" incident. Patti, who bears responsibility for safety at Barnstable beaches, confirmed that sailing through the swim area when people are in the water is an absolute no-no. She suggested that we'd get the license plate numbers, and send them to her, so she could send a formal letter to the offender; repeat offenders would face a ban from all Barnstable beaches that would be enforced by the police and the Harbormaster. Since we already had the relevant pictures, I simple send them along by email, and a letter was sent the same day.

Hopefully, it will never be necessary to actually issue a beach ban, but it is nice to know that such selfish and potentially dangerous behavior will not be tolerated. Note that this is not about someone accidentally drifting into the swim area because they are beginners, or the wind suddenly dies, or some such thing - that can happen to anyone. It's quite obvious if someone is trying to stay out of the area, or if he just ignores rules because he regards them as inconvenient.

So, what should windsurfers do when they see someone sailing through the swim area? Simply inform them that the swim area is off limits for windsurfing, even if it is inconvenient, the life guards are off duty, or no swimmers are in the water at that moment. The vast majority of windsurfer will say "I did not know" and follow the rules. If someone is curious about the rule, go ahead and try to explain it. But don't get into an argument with someone who thinks the rule does not apply to him, or states you should not "nag" him or talk to him, or gets aggressive or loud. Perhaps point out that the town is perfectly willing to enforce the rule, all the way to a complete beach ban. If someone ignores the requests and repeatedly sails through the swim area, feel free to take pictures and send them to the Department of Recreation, so that they can help clarifying and resolving the situation.

Of course, there is also the issue of swimmers being outside of the swim area on windy days. When the life guards are on duty, they usually walk over and ask the swimmers to move to the swim area; but what if they are off duty? I suggest to politely inform the swimmers where the swim area is, and to suggest to them to move over there for their own safety. Of course, windsurfers have to avoid swimmers even outside the swim area, but on a windy day, it can be hard to impossible to see a head among the whitecaps, especially against the setting sun. It may be necessary to explain that windsurfers may be traveling at up to 30 miles per hour; may not see swimmers; cannot always stop suddenly; and may loose control of their gear. At times, I have turned over my board and pointed to the fin to explain that they probably would not want to be hit by such a thing, even accidentally; that worked quite well with large pointer fins.

Asking swimmers to move to the swim area really only works when windsurfers stay out of the swim area. Even a single windsurfer who goes through the swim area on a regular basis can make the request to move seem rather non-sensical - which is a good reason to stay out of the swim area even if there is nobody in the water at a given time. During a summer like this one, when the water is warm and the heat and humidity sometimes seems unbearable, it's just a question of time until someone wants to go for a swim.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vulcan Theory

It's been a while. It's overdue. I must write another post about freestyle theory. There are many reasons for it:

  • It's been so hot that I want to spend as much time in the water as on the water. Freestyle is called for!
  • The ABK camp in Hyannis is coming in less than 5 weeks! (You have registered to reserve your spot, right? It often sells out!)
  •  Rumors have it there may be an ECWF-style event in Hatteras in October. Unlike the ECWF Cape Cod on September 15-16, I should be able to compete in Hatteras.
  • I've watched Nina for more than two years hacking away at the Flaka, with very slow progress. But she recently started to try Vulcans again, and progress seems a lot faster.
  • I recently tried to try Grubbys again, and was quickly rewarded with a sail-damaging catapult. I learned what the dreaded "loop crash" in the Grubby is!
So, taking everything together, there was plenty of reason to look at the Vulcan again. The final straw was when I looked at some videos on Continent Seven to check on a question that had come up from Nina's Vulcan tries - especially Yentel Caers Spock into Culo

Let me start with what I remember from previous lessons and videos about how to Vulcan:
  1. Twist your body and your feet.
  2. Move your hands into a rather uncomfortable position on the boom.
  3. Carve and S-turn, and pop the board out of the water, while at the same time flicking the boom, looking back over your shoulder, and letting go with the back hand.
  4. While most of the board is in the air, except maybe the nose, push down and pull on the boom, and move the rig around so you can grab the other side of the boom.
  5. Land sliding backwards, throwing your weight forward so you don't get ejected backwards.
  6. Sail away switch, or somehow change your feet and sail away.
All that sounds rather complicated - perhaps well suited for big-brained windsurfers, but too much to fit into my head. Then, there's the motivation issue: the Vulcan was the "must learn first" new school freestyle move, but in itself not much fun. It takes most freestylers between 200 and 1000 tries to learn; since I learn tricks a lot slower than others, my number would likely be in the several-thousands. Are we really surprised that I stopped after playing around with just popping the boards a bit? That I looked for alternative "first" moves like the Flaka and the Grubby? Even the loop has gotten more tries on the water, despite the fact that I try loops only once in a blue moon.

But now let's look at a screen shot from Yentel's Spock (for those not familiar with freestyle: the Vulcan is the first part of the Spock; you remember that Spock was half Vulcan, right?). Here it is:
This is just as Yentel takes off. Note that his front hand is close to the harness lines; his front arm is extended; and the sail is sheeted in (check the movie if you want to verify this). This is actually how most instructions for the Grubby start! Having the sail forward and powered after takeoff makes the nose of the board turn downwind, and starts the board rotation. Then, when the nose is in the water, it creates a rotation point, and the momentum of the board makes it turn around all the way to a backwards slide. 

In contrast to what we see in the picture above, most Vulcan instructions focus on turning the board with the body. That includes pre-twisting feet and body; looking back; and pulling and kicking the board around with your feet. All that "active board movement" happens while you also switch hands on the boom, and move the rig around so you can grip the other side! Did I say "complicated"?

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that the Vulcan can be done in different ways. It is perfectly possible to rotate the board with your legs and body. It's also possible to start the board rotation by pulling the mast backwards, and pushing down on the boom; or with "sail forward" pressure, similar to the loop, like Yentel appears to be doing.

Let's look at Yentel half a second or so later:

The nose of the board has touched the water. The board has rotated about 45 degrees. Yentel is leaning to the inside (away from us), and the board is tilted so that the leeward edge is closer to the water. The front arm is still long, and the tip of the mast is over the nose of the board. At this point, the weight of the rig is pushing the nose of the board into the water, supported by Yentel pulling up with his back leg. One more picture a bit later:
At this point, the board has turned 180 degrees (which is as far as it needs to turn for the Vulcan). Yentel's head is over the mast foot, and all his weight is over his front foot and on his arms to keep the nose of the board in the water, allowing the board to slide backwards. 

"So what?", you ask? Let me explain! 

In the first picture, Yentel starts the board rotation with sail steering, similar to what many Grubby instructions suggest. I've tried that a bunch of times. Most of the time, I held back, and got just a little rotation, with the nose of the board under water for just a fraction of a second. But the one time I really committed, I got a lot of pull in the sail, and got catapulted very nicely. The sail hit the water so hard that a top panel ripped just from hitting the water. My neck was sore for a couple of days. So there's definitely enough power for a rotation that can be generated this way! I know at least 4 people who actually learned to loop while trying to do a Grubby this way. For me, though, the idea of letting go with the back hand to avoid the catapult seems like a great idea,

In the middle picture, Yentel uses the weight of the rig, pushed forward by his extended front arm, to get the nose of the board into the water. In many of Nina's Flaka tries, and in my few Grubby tries, getting the nose into the water briefly was easy, but keeping it in the water was very hard. The common advice is to "lean forward" or to use "more commitment", but that's very hard to do. Using the weight of the rig on an extended front arm seems a lot easier. It's even similar to what you can do in a jibe to keep the board from bouncing! But perhaps the more relevant tidbit is that Nina reports that she had her best Vulcan tries when she acted on a tip to keep her front arm long and forward during Vulcan attempts.

From all this, a simpler approach to the Vulcan emerges:
  • Sail on a beam reach with decent speed and power
  • Widen the grip a bit by moving both hands
  • Pop the board while extending the sail arm forward and pulling in with the back arm
  • Let go with the back hand, pull up with the back leg
  • Keep the front arm long and lean "into the turn" as the board slides around
  • Extend the back leg, bend the front leg to keep your weight forward for the backwards slide. Grab the mast (or go directly to the new side on the boom).
  • Get both hands on the boom on the new side, pull down on the boom to stabilize, sheet in, and sail away switch (or switch your feet to sail away normally).
I don't have a clue if these instructions really work, but at the very least, they are simple enough to fit inside my head. I've done some similar things in the past, and the differences make complete sense ("let go with the back hand when the pressure gets too much") or are quite natural ("grab mast and boom so you can sail away"), so chances are pretty good that I'll actually try this. Maybe I'll just try a few until I have crashes that discourage me. Or maybe I'll have to try this a thousand times before I make a Vulcan, but as hot as temperatures are these days, crashing a thousand times seems like fun. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Summer Heat and Winds

Stupid weather. It completely ignored the so-called president's declaration that there is no global warming! It's been hot, even on Cape Cod. Temperatures have been in the 80s for weeks now, with humidity levels around 70-80 percent, going up into the 90s at night.

The southerly wind pattern that pushes the hot, humid air north has been good news and bad news for the wind. The good news: we got quite a few windy days. The bad news: the wind has been unstable and unpredictable. Here's an example that shows yesterday's wind at Kalmus:
For a couple of hours, we got nice and steady wind around 25 mph. After that, it dropped to anywhere between 15 and 23; if you look at lulls and gusts, it's 11 to 29. I had some fun with a 6.5 on my old F2 Lightning and with a 5.6 on my Skate; but since they both rig on the same mast, I still found myself without the right gear size on the beach a few times.

The day before was similar, except that the strong wind was in the morning, from 8:30 to 11:30. We got at least some of that for a 5.0/4.0 session, though. As soon as it got really warm on the beach, and hot in town, the wind dropped. The wind patterns can be quite localized: when I tried to escape the crowds by sailing less than a mile downwind to Egg Island yesterday, the wind there was at least 5 mph lower. Bad idea...

Today was different. Clouds and an incoming rain front meant steady wind of 19-22 mph from 8 am to 1 pm, when the rain arrived. This coincided with low tide shortly before noon, which made Kalmus into a lovely flat water playground. A big soccer tournament was going on which used up most of the parking spaces, but fortunately, the lovely parking attendants had reserved a number of spots just for windsurfers - big thanks for that! The GPS tracks show how steady the wind was:
I was nicely powered on 6.0 the entire time. Water temps around 75 F (24 C) and air temps near 80 still made we want to fall a lot, so I did a bit of old-school freestyle, which does the trick of getting me wet. Fun! I sailed until my GPS watch battery was exhausted (it still had not fully recovered from yesterday, where it also died on me). Just as I wanted to stop, Drew told me to try his Blast 115, which I eagerly did. I even went and got another GPS to see how fast the board was (it felt plenty fast), but the wind had dropped a bit, so I did not get a good comparison in the few runs I did. The initial impression was (once again) that Fanatic managed to create a board that combines fun and excitement with comfort and plain "easy" in the Blast. I definitely want to try it again! Since the Blast was not an "outstanding winner" in the tests in the German Surf magazine, I'd also be curious to try new shapes from other companies. Hopefully, we have at least some demo boards at the ECWF Cape Cod on September 15-16!