Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Stinkbug Start

After returning from Oz, I finally bought a proper wingfoil board - a Starboard Wingboard 115. Most wingers, especially those who come from kiting, may regard the board as huge. But compared to my aircraft-carrier sized Stingray 140, it is tiny and tippy - at least for someone like me, who sports the unfavorable combination of considerable weight and poor balance.

On my first session on the new board, the wind was marginal, and I was happy to just get a few foiling runs. But the next session was in a lot more wind. When we left home, meter readings were 18 mph straight east. With the tide being low and the water still a bit chilly, I had little desire to walk out a long way at Kalmus, and figured the Sea Streat beach (Keyes Memorial Beach) would be a good option, perhaps even with steadier wind. But of course, the wind picked up as soon as we got out, and measured gusts were near 30 mph. Nina was fully powered with her 3.3 m wing, and reckoned she could have easily been on her 2.5. But at least, she was winging, while I spend most of my time in the water. At least 3 out of 4 times when I tried to start, the waves pushed me over when I lifted the wing and tried to get both handles. Once flying, I was fine, but starting was a different story. Until I had to turn around, that is - all jibe attempts in the chop ended wet. 

I had watched a couple of videos that explained a faster, better way to start a wing foil board: the Stingbug start. I tried it three or four times, but twice, the wing tip caught, and the wing flipped over. The one time it worked, it felt great, but I was clearly missing something. If you wonder where the name comes from, here's a picture of a Stinkbug as a clue:

Pentatomidae - Halyomorpha halys-001
Hectonichus, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

After posting a question on a wing forum that resulted in a few tips, and more digging there and on Youtube, I realized I had to change a couple of things. One was to orient the board with the nose pointing slightly into the wind before getting on; the other, and perhaps more important, one was that I needed to grab the front handle (not the leading edge handle) with the front hand before getting onto the board. 

I got to try these changes the next windy day, when we went for a flat water session in Wacky Bay. The wind was around 20 mph, with gusts in the mid-20s. The Stinkbug start worked the first time I tried it, and kept working at least 9 out of 10 times. Great! The water was flat, so I probably would have managed a regular start most of the times, too, but the Stinkbug start felt a lot faster and less tippy. But how would it work for me in chop?

I got a chance to find out today, when we went to Kalmus in a straight onshore (south) wind. Once again, the wind picked up a bit after going out, so my 6.5 m wing was not the greatest choice, but at least I never had to work to get on the foil. The swell was big enough to produce a big, fat grin on Nina's face after (and during) the session, so it was a good test. Indeed, getting up proved a bit more challenging, and I got tipped over a few times when trying to start; but overall, I managed to get up in about 4 out of 5 tries, something I was quite happy with. 

Most wingers reading this will either already do some version of the Stinkbug start, or perhaps be blessed with great balance and not need it. But for the few newbies who may be struggling with starts at times in choppy water, here's one tutorial I found useful:

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Oz Numbers

 We're back from Australia. Not much fun getting back (stuck on the tarmac in SF for hours, arrived on Cape Cod at 1:30 am, freezing in a snow storm waiting for a taxi or Lyft that never came, so forced to stay over night in a hotel in Hyannis, then emergency room next day for a DVT diagnosis). But we had a blast. I'll just put up some numbers here:

  • Days on the water: 36  (27 windsurfing, 9 winging); Nina had a few more days winging
  • Biggest windsurf gear used: 95 l board/ 7.0 sail/ 21 cm fin
  • Top speed (2 sec): 41.43 knots (47.7 mph, 76.7 km/h)
  • Longest session: 331.58 km (Nina)
  • Days with new PBs (personal bests): 16 (at 4 different spots)
  • Total number of new PBs: 32 (18 Nina, 14 Peter)
  • #1 rankings in the individual women's rankings on GPSTC: 4 (1 hour, alpha, distance, overall)
I lost my GoPro early in the trip, so I don't have any videos I made to post. But check out videos others made from Lake George:

There are a few more Lake George videos from this year at https://www.seabreeze.com.au/forums/Windsurfing/Gps/First-trip-to-Lake-George--WOW-

Here's a video from Albany, where Nina sailed 11 hours in a row to re-capture the #1 spot in the women's distance ranking with 331.58 km sailed (that's the distance of about 8 marathons in a row):

We sailed on the day the video was taken (January 5), and set a total of 4 PBs. It was quite a bit windier than the day that Nina set her distance record! On the distance day, Nina was on our biggest gear, and when the wind dropped in the late afternoon, she even slogged for a while before she made it back to the launch. It would be very interesting to see what kind of distance she could do on a really windy day - but will we ever make it back to the fantastic speedsurfing spots in Oz?

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Power + Speed + Lucky Gust = Speed

 We drove four days to get to Lake George, including one stretch where we drove 27 hours straight through because all the "road houses" near the Nullabor were fully booked). Getting to the launch requires driving several miles on a dirt road and sand, and crossing a little stream. At the launch, you are greeted by a very special smell that makes you question why in hell you wanted to go here. To start sailing, you first have to walk through a stretch of mud. When you get off the board, more often than not you are in knee-deep mud that wants to keep you, or at least suck your booties off your feet. When you finally manage to get your feet onto the board, they are covered in mud and/or weed that is so thick that your feet won't fit into the foot straps. The same question pops up again and again: why???

But despite all this, there are dozens of windsurfers from all over Australia who come to Lake George every year. A picture from our last trip gives a clue why:

That's Nina sailing Lake George in February 2019. The water level was almost a foot higher than this year, and many speedsurfers were complaining how choppy it was. We really did not understand what they were talking about - it looked plenty flat to us! 

This year, though, the lower water level means there are very large stretches where the water is glassy, even in 30 knot gusts. I thought that the super-flat water, together with some strong wind, is all it takes to break the magic 40 knot barrier that separates wannabe speedsurfers from "real" speedsurfers, and got quite frustrated when that was not the case. I ranted about my frustration in my last post, and fortunately, the post was read by Boro, who decided to give me a bunch of tips on how to go faster. Boro has done more than 40 knots many times in the US at much less ideal locations, and went on to get a top speed above 50 knot at the speed channel in Luderitz. 

Some of the things he suggested were similar to things I had heard many times before, and already tried to do, like going very deep downwind. But he made one suggestion that went against what I had heard from multiple sources before: to move the mast base far forward in the mast track. The common advice I had in my head was "mast track back for speed". On my borrowed Mistral 95 speed board, I had so far put the mast base in the middle of the track, and only moved it a couple of centimeters back and forward, without seeing a big difference.
Boro and I had a longer discussion about this (and his other tips) via Messenger, and he explained his rationale in detail. He summarized what it boiled down to a simple formula:

Power + Control = Speed

My two recent "fail" session, where many others went faster than 40 knots but I was stuck in the mid-30s, helped me really understand this. In the first session in Albany, I had plenty of control, but no power: I had rigged a 5.5 m sail, added a bit too much downhaul, and never released the outhaul to bag the sail out. I was perfectly in control in speed runs, but could not get the board to reach the speed I had gotten the day before, in several knots less wind. 

In my second "fail" session here at Lake George, I had plenty of power with my 6.2 m sail, but I was constantly fighting for control. I was holding back the entire time, doing just 25 knots when I should have done more than 30 on beam reaches. So when I did a few deep downwind speed runs in gusts, I started out too slow to reach top speeds, and was still too freaked out.

Interestingly, with our slalom boards at home, I generally had the mast base all the way forward. We had enough sessions in Texas over the last few years that I knew that this was the position that gave me the best control, and the most speed. But compared to here, Corpus Christi is quite choppy, and I am using a very different board, so I never had even tried the mast base all the way to the front.

Fortunately, it got windy the same day that Boro and I had the enlightening speed discussion. The forecast had only predicted 18-20 knots, but averages were closer to 25, with some stronger gusts. I pinched my way up from the Cockies launch to the glassy water near 5 Mile, and then further upwind towards Packing Point to the start of the speed run. I had headphones on that were connected to a phone running GPSLogit and announced my speed every 2 seconds. On the very first speed run, I heard the magic "40" announced three times in a row, and started woohooing out of the top of my lungs. When I got of at the end of the run, there was a small disappointment, though: the ESP GPS loggers showed a 2 second top speed of only 39.96 and 39.97 - so close! But that was already more than a knot faster than my previous PB, I was still fresh, and the wind was supposed to increase.

On the second speed run, I only got 37 knots: I had jibed at the end of the upwind leg, and forgotten to release the outhaul for the speed run. So just having the outhaul pulled in for going upwind made about 3 knots difference!

On the third speed run, with the outhaul released, I got lucky. I was in glassy water in the middle of the speed run, hearing "38" announcements, when a nice gust hit. Thanks to the forward position of the mast foot, I was in control, and the board accelerated until I heard "41" on the headphones. I finally had broken 40 knots! I was so happy that I momentarily forgot I was still going fast and let my attention slip, so the board did a huge wheelie, with the nose pointing up at a 45 degree angle and only the fin in the water. The head phone was still announcing "41", so a crash might have hurt, but I was too happy to be scared. Fortunately, I got things back under control without crashing. When checking the GPS units, both showed a top speed of 41.4 knots - I had smashed the 40 knot barrier!

I stayed on the water for another hour or two to get some more runs to improve my 5x10 second result, and ended up with 38.5 knots - almost exactly the same speed as my previous 2 second best. What a great day! I also played around a bit with the mast foot position, and concluded that about 3 cm from the front of the track seemed to work better than all the way in front. Nina also set two PBs for 2 and 5x10 seconds that day, but was a tad disappointed that she was several knots slower than I had been. When we later checked what speeds the other sailors had posted, there were a total of 51 postings from Lake George on the GPSTC site. Only a small number of sailors had posted 40 knot speeds for the day, and Nina had beaten quite a few of the other speeds. My speed ended up within about one knot of the top speed for the day, and only four speedsurfers posted speeds faster than mine - quite an amazing result, considering that a lot of guys here have previously done 44 to 49 knot top speeds! But despite the lucky gust I got, which must have been at least 30 knots, it was a "lighter" wind day compared to what a lot of these guys are used to. I also had just one run with 2 second averages above 40 knots (although a few others were very close), so I must have gotten a lucky gust. So we'll have to modify Boro's formula:

Power + Control + Lucky Gust = Speed

Here are my GPS tracks for the day:
The entire region in the bottom left where the tracks are green, which indicates a speed above 30 knots, was glassy even in the 30+ knot gusts - a stretch about 600 m long. In the approach, the "chop" was somewhere between a couple of centimeters and at most 10 cm high.

Besides moving the mast foot, a few other tips and lessons also helped getting faster. That includes using the adjustable outhaul to really bag out the sail on speed runs. But perhaps the next most useful thing for me was to use ear plugs to tune out the noise of the wind. In the past, I had used in-ear earphones that did that, but all of these "waterproof" earphone died of corrosion sooner or later. Now, I am using bone conduction earphones that have held up very well, but leave me exposed to wind noise. Several people, including Peter "waricle", said that ear plugs helped, so I tried them for this session, and they made a big difference. The "the wind is really loud so it must be crazy windy" factor fell away, and so did one reasons to "be careful" (read: slow). I am generally quite sensitive to noise, and very easily distracted by it, so maybe the earplugs worked better on me than they would for others - but whatever it is, I'll take it.

Yesterday, I was a bit tired, partly from the previous day's effort and partly from fighting a cold, so I decided to take it easy. It looked quite windy at the lake, but only a few 40s were to be had yesterday, with the top speed requiring a 7.0 m sail and 63 cm board. I used a 5.5 m, which had me comfortably powered. Since the sail was easy to jibe, and the speed strip was quite crowded, I decided to go for an hour. I was inspired by Kato, who has done a 29.2 hour the day before. Not that I can compare myself to him, he sails in a different league, but at least I could copy his approach. Here's what my tracks for the hour looked liked:
The tracks show that I made a bunch of mistakes. I had a wet jibe near the beginning, where it took me almost a minute to shake of the weeds and get started again. I also started going upwind again too early, thinking I had sailed long enough. Next time, I'll need to set up the GPS to track the hour! In the best 45 minutes of the run, my average speed was 26.5 knots. With my mistakes, the hour came out at 25.66 knots - a 0.6 knot improvement over my previous PB. Not bad for an easy day!

Compared to Kato's hour tracks, several things pop out. His average speeds were about 2 knots faster than mine, and more consistent. He also did fewer jibes, even though he sailed more than 3 miles further, since he got closer to the lake edges in many runs. But the biggest difference is the quality of his jibes. His jibes are more consistent, and his minimum speed is several knots higher. Even if we consider that he used a GT31 which records filtered data at 1 Hz while I used a u-blox based logger that records at 5 Hz with a lot less filtering, his minimum speeds were a couple of knots faster. So before trying another hour, I will definitely need to work on my jibes! Thanks to discussions with Mike (Decrepit), I already have a plan on what to do. I'll leave you with another 4 year old picture, jibing on Lake George:


Sunday, February 5, 2023

Faster Down Under

 We've been speedsurfing in Australia for a few weeks now - here's Nina in Coodanup (aka Fangyland):

The trip was made possible by the generosity of Australian speedsurfers, who offered to loan us speedsurfing gear when United Airlines suddenly stopped accepting windsurf gear. In the picture above, Nina is on a board and sail from Mike (Decrepit); both of us are also using gear from Andrew (Pacey):
Others have contributed many essential tidbits, from footstraps to very useful tips how to get faster. With all that help, and thanks to the fantastic flatwater conditions in Western Australia, both Nina and I have improved our speeds in most GPSTC categories several times already. Nina managed to get the #1 spot for women in second GPSTC category (alpha 500) and also got the #1 spot in the overall women's ranking - impressive. 

But speedsurfing is windsurfing, so it naturally comes with large doses of humility on a regular basis. Even after sessions where she set new speed PBs, Nina usually points out that many of the male speedsurfers on the water were several knots faster. There also seems to be a rule that only one of us can have a great day on the water - if Nina has lots of fun and/or sets PBs, I have a mediocre (or worse) session, and vice versa.  After a great day on the water, it's always quite likely that the next day clearly shows our limitations. Our second trip to Albany in January was a good example: on the first day there, I set PBs in 4 different categories, and my top speed was closer to the speeds of other speedsurfers than usual; but the next day, when the wind picked up a few more knots, I sailed slower than the day before, and could not figure out what was holding me back. It was a day where many sailors (including Nina) set speed PBs, but I was stuck in the mid-30s, not even getting close to the 40-knot barrier that many others passed easily. But we had Nina's PBs to celebrate, and a local speedsurfer threw a BBQ in the evening where we had a chance to meet many of the locals, so it was a great day, anyway. The next morning, while waiting for wind, we got a very interesting rigging lesson from one of the fastest speedsurfers in Australia, which helped to to set a couple of new top speed PBs a few days later, in a session at the third fantastic speed spot we visited in Western Australia (Peel Inlet/Point Grey).

We are now at Lake George in South Australia, along with a few dozen speedsurfers from all over Australia, and the "get faster or get humiliated" game continues. On a day with very gusty and strong west wind, Nina caught a huge gust and got above 38 knots for the first time. As for my performance, I'll be quiet, and just point to the rules outlined above, which were in full force. That day, multiple Australian teams has several speedsurfers set multiple PBs and/or go well above 40 knots, with top speeds above 44 knots. The next day, when it was again cold and very windy, one of them even set a new spot record of more than 48 knots - an amazing speed to most natural speed spots. But frustration about once again not reaching 40 knots aside, there were many lessons to learn from both days, and several things to try that should help us get faster. There also were some interesting observations to be made, for example that PB improvements are often quite small - typically just a fraction of a knot. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and a few lucky guys improved their speeds by several knots. In these cases, the common theme was that (a) they caught one gust were they were at the right (read: very flat) place, and (b) that they windsurfed a lot on that day, which helped to increase their chance to be at the right place at the right time. 

Tomorrow looks like a winging day, and hopefully it will get strong enough so that I can join Nina on the water (yes, winging in Oz also handed me plenty of humility doses, along with some fun days). She really wants to play with a huge wave that is in the middle of the bay, about a mile from shore but easily visible. According to some descriptions, it's a mast and a half high, but in deep enough water for foiling, and crumbles slowly instead of breaking. Sounds like quite an adventure ... one that I will watch from a safe distance.