Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Starboard Gemini: twice as nice

I'm writing this on the balcony of our B&B in Hood River, Villa Columbia, and thought I'd share the view:

The picture is not great, it looks much nicer in real life.

Today was a low-wind day. We spent the morning visiting Vela, and then on a road trip to Mount Hood. Mout Hood is ~ 3.4 km high, gets about 10 m of snow a year, and is the only year-round skiing spot in the US.

In the afternoon, we went out on a Starboard Gemini tandem board that Big Winds has down at the Event Site. The board is about as wide as a formula board, but twice as long. Supposedly, Jim Drake designed it so he could take his wife out windsurfing with him; after sailing it for an hour, I can definitely believe the story. Compare to the Kona Mahalo tandem we have at home, the Gemini is huge and super-easy to sail.

It took us a couple of wet tries to figure out how to tack on it, but afterwards, tacks were dry and decent. Winds average readings were around 14 mph, with gust of 19. We had taken a 5.9 and 4.7 sail out because they were ready to take. We actually did get the board to plane for part of one run; the rest of the hour was nice and mellow low-wind surfing. Lots of fun, albeit of the low adrenalin kind. Maybe we'll get some more of the same tomorrow - unfortunately, the forecast predicts winds below 20 mph again.

If it was easy..

If it was easy, they'd call it kitesurfing, right? But it's windsurfing. Here is the report from our third day in the Gorge:

The forecast was great, the wind reading in the morning even better: 20 to 31 mph in Rowena, very nice and steady. We downsized our boards accordingly. Nina went for a 69 liter JP Wave, I picked up a Starboard 81 l Quad. I like most twin-fin boards I ever sailed better than single-fin boards, so 4 fins must be even better, right? I had read some reports that the quads are for expert wave surfers who want the ultimate in responsiveness in the waves, but still - when you have the chance to demo the newest thingies, why not take it? The guys working at Big Winds who helped us did not say anything that would have discouraged me, either (but then, the are 30 years younger and pro windsurfers...).

First run out at Rowena was ok. Rowena is a beautiful place, the wind was good, the chop & swell smaller than what we had encountered the last two days, and although I did have to adjust to the board, it was not to bad. Until I turned around, that is, and had to go somewhat against the waves. The fight of the day started, but I eventually made it back to shore. I was seriously thinking about exchanging the board for something a tad bigger and less radical, but the parking lot was filling up, and the exchange would have taken a couple of hours. So I gave the Quad 81 another try, which was similar to the first one.

After a longer break, I went for a third run, having upped my sail size from 4.2 to 4.7 (the wind had gone down a bit during the break, and had gotten a lot more gusty, as I learned a bit later). Going out was great - I started to get the board, and played around a bit in the swell. Yes, it's extremely turny - just thinking "go down that swell" would make it happen, even when a more conventional 85 l FSW would have said "too late - tell me 2 seconds earlier!". I started to have some fun - but unfortunately, I had to turn around. The run back started ok, until the gust hit me, and threw me off quite violently. One of these falls where it seemed the water entered through my nose and came out of my ears... Trying to get going again, the sail was ripped out of my hands after a second or two several times in a row. Looked like the wind had come back and brough some enforcements. After maybe 5 successive water starts, I discovered that I had drifted a few hunded yards downwind. The current was not nearly as strongs as in Maryhill, but probably still a few knots strong. I tried to fly the sail and butt sail a bit to get downwind and closer to the launch site, but the wind was too strong and gusty for that to work well. Somehow, I eventually got close to shore, and a couple of windsurfers in a private yard yelled down that I should take a break in their yard, which I did. I took a few minutes off, listened to encouraging stories that apparently every Gorge sailor has plenty off, thightened the downhaul and uphaul, and out I went again. My only goal was to get back to the lauch site, maybe 300 meters downwind. After a few deep downwind runs, without using the straps and the harness, I eventually made it back. Quite an interesting feeling to sail in an almost 90 degree angle to anyone else, planing on a small board while ging downwind.

Nina had watched part of my fight, but could not see me anymore after a while, so she started to get rather concerned. I thinked she probably burned more calories worrying about me than I did sailing back without using the harness. Too bad, she had been doing well on the smallest board that Big Winds had available to rent. She did love how the 69 l wave board turned when trying to jibe, and almost made it though her first attempt. Funny to think that she can't rent a real sinker in the Gorge - 69 l is just about the total of her weight in a wet suit, plus the weight of the the board and a small (3.4 m) rig.

This could really be a frustrating windsurf vacation, since everyday seems to bring a new kind of fight. But the scenery here is just beautiful, the Bead & Breakfast we are staying in is just wonderful, the people we meet are very friendly and helpful, and the small town of Hood River has three brew pubs that offer excellent beer and food. Even the neighboring town of Mosier, with 430 inhabitants, has a brew pub - now that's culture!

First thing on the agenda tomorrow is to exchange the Quad 81 for something bigger and more conventional - the 94 l Kode seemed huge and easy in comparison. If I ever feel like wanting to turn a board with only my big toes, I'll try it again...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gusty defined

Second day of windsurfing in the Gorge, and the forecast was "gusty westerlies". After Maui last month, I though I had and idea what gusty is - or did I? We sailed in Mosier today from 3 to 4:30. Here's the iWindsurf chart from the nearest sensor in Rowena:
The readings range from 8.9 mph in the lulls to 43.4 mph in the gusts - a factor of almost 5! Readings at Doug's Beach were a tad more steady, from 15 to 43, but that's still a factor of close to 3. A great day at home has factors of 1.5 or lower, and the best day last fall had a factor below 1.2.
Plenty of locals volunteered that it was a very difficult day, and that even surfers who have surfed in the Gorge for many years had their problems today. Indeed, I saw some very interesting crashes.
I went out on a 4.2 North Ice, Nina on a matching 3.7. After the first quick run, we trimmed both sails ultra-flat, way beyond specs, effectively reducing their size by at least half a meter. Still, they were almost impossible to hold onto in the gusts. In the lulls close to shore, on the other hand, I (and many others) had no chance of planing.
I had not bothered to change to a smaller board this morning, so I was out on a Starboard Kode 94. Usually, I'd call this a small board, but in the swell in the middle of the river when the gusts hit, it felt more like a formula monster. The only thing I worked on was keeping the thing in the water instead of flying away with me it as if I was kite surfing - with limited success, as the next picture shows:

Plenty of more like this on the few minutes of good video I took (I put the GoPro Hero HD back into action, after getting some kite string from the great Gorge Surf Shop to use as a safety line).

Another very interesting day, with little milage sailed, but some permanent memories formed. I did manage a couple of dry jibes - still don't know how. Nina had a better day, too. She went out for a couple of runs, and even tried a jibe in the middle of the river where she made it through 75% of the turn - really not bad for these conditions.

Ironically, the wind got a lot more steady after we stopped, settling down to 18-35 miles. For tomorrow, clearer skies and "better quality winds" are in the forecast. Stay tuned..

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Strong currents

Our second day in the Gorge started with a lot of rain in Hood River. The wind forecast for the afternoon was good, though - for the eastern part of the Gorge. So we loaded the car and drove east - about 40 miles to Maryhill. No more rain, and the air was warm.

The Maryhill State Park is nice, with plenty of grass and shade for rigging. The wind did not quite follow the forecast, though. The first surfer out did not plane; it was amazing to watch him go downwind at a 45 degree angle, while actually staying in place because the current was very strong (maybe 6 knots). Eventually he fell, and was quickly carried hundreds of feet downstream. When he made it back to shore, he had to walk downwind - a somewhat unusual thing at most other places, but a sing of things to come.

After seeing the first guys planing half an hour later, I did go out on a 6.0 sail and a 94 l board. With all the new equipment and conditions, I managed to fall three times on the run out and back, which meant a downwind walk for me, too. A couple more followed when the wind died down a bit, and I did not manage to plane on the next couple of runs.

Eventually, the wind did pick up, and so did the swell. I rigged down to a 5.3, and Nina finally decided to go out on a 4.2 and a 78 l JP FSW. I was fully powered on the 5.3. Sailing there was like nothing I ever had done before - the swell and chop was similar to Maui on one of the windier days, but I was pointing downwind at a 30-45 degree angle the entire time to compensate for the current and the inevitable waterstarts. It took me until the last run, when the wind had gone down a bit, before I got comfortable with the conditions, and managed to turn around with a half way decent jibe. Still, I was happy enough to adapt to rather different conditions reasonably well within a day, even though my GPS told me that I was going slow the entire time.

Nina's experience was somewhat less positive. She waited a while before windsurfing because she was worried about the barges and the current. When she finally did go out, she just made a single run out and back, with a quick waterstart in between. While things did not look too bad from the shore, she was rather unhappy about here experience, and decided to not go out for a second run. That helped me discover a benefit of tracking your speed with a GPS, and trying to go fast: you will often go for deep downwind runs, an experience that comes in handy when you need to go deep downwind to compensate for strong currents and occasional falls. Of course, GPS speeds today were terribly slow. I dropped the boom cam when I took it out of the car, and broke off a small piece of plastic from the mount, so there won't be any movies, unfortunately.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hawaii trip summary

We've been back from more than a week from our trip to Hawaii, and I finally got around to looking at all the movies we made with a Canon SX 20 from shore, and a boom-mounted GoPro Hero HD.

The videos are not overly exiting - we spend most of the time getting used to the high chop & swell, and to sailing smaller boards and sails than usually. Never got comfortable enough to work on loops or Vulcans - I did not even try a duck jibe, since most of my jibes were wet. One thing that comforted me in my fights was what Tulpe, a windsurf instructor in Cabarete, had told me a few years back: plenty of windsurfers who had learned in Margarita and other flat water locations got really frustrated when they came to Cabarete, since they had to learn everything all over again in the chop & waves there.

The good news is that we had 8 days of wind. Many of these days were on 3.6-4.0 sails. Here's the video:

Unfortunately, I had a little accident on the last day that required a substantial board repair. I'm still not sure what caused me to run into a stationary board. Perhaps a gust or wave pushed me to the side; or maybe the problem was that I was looking at the guy in the water, and we always go were we are looking. Next time, I'll definitely stop or turn much earlier, and won't rely on "I'll be a mast length to the side". Nobody got hurt, and only my (rented) equipment got damaged. Still, it put a big damper in my mood on the last day. Just when I was starting to get used to the conditions and have fun...

A week after coming back, we sailed at our favorite home spot in Fogland, RI. 25 mph wind, temperatures in the 70s, really flat water - nice! Used a 5.0 sail on a 110 l Freestyle board - that combination would have been impossible to sail in Sprecks at 25 mph winds. It actually took an hour to get used to the flat water, board, and gear again, but then the fun started. I did my best (highest min speed) planing jibe ever, set a new PB for speed on the board (47.5 kmh), worked a bit on getting popping, and had a blast. I sailed more than on my best day on Maui, even though I took a few longer breaks to rig a second sail and change fins, and had a lot more fun. I just love flat water!

The next trip to the Gorge is coming us soon. Usually around this time of the year, we should have even more wind than on Maui, so it should be an interesting trip.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Plenty of wind

The last couple of days here in Maui have been really windy. I have been sailing a 4.0 m sail on an 85 l board, my lovely wife used a 3.6 m sail and was sometimes overpowered. Yesterday, we also had quite a bit of waves. I got washed by a nice one that was perfectly timed with a hole in the wind - here's the video:

I was still hooked in when the wave got me, and took a nice tumble. Held on to everything, though, and got going again once I unhooked and figured out which direction the air was.

With wind and waves, it was a great day to go to Ho'opika to watch the action. Here are some pictures:

Sorry, don't know the names of any of the sailors.

Back at Spreckelsville later, a friendly stranger walks across the lawn, looking for Craig. I told him he looked familiar, and he said "I'm Matt" - Matt Pritchard! He was delivering rental gear to a customer. We chatted for a couple of minutes - he's a really nice, laid back guy, and actually gave us flatwater sailors a couple of hints to adapt to the waves here ("keep your knees bent and the harness lines long"). That actually helped a bit when I went out later :)

Today, the waves where largely gone, and the water was what counts as "flat" here - "flat" for 30+ mph winds, that is. Nina tried a 74l Thommen board, but got really frustrated trying to waterstart it out where the swell was high - the board was so light that it got turned and thrown around about 30 times. Waterstarts here can sometimes take 5 minutes if the sail falls wrong and the waves mess things up, but I got really concerned when I could not see here anymore, even with a 20x zoom lens or binoculars. It did not help that she had hit the board twice in the previous days - with here shins and elbows, but what if it was the head this time? Just when I was ready to sail out and look for her, she finally gave up trying to turn the board the right way round, and waterstarted with the board upside down. Nice! She had never done that before, or seen the ABK low wind waterstart lesson where this is used.

I tried the same board later, too, but decided to turn around before the big swell. This was the smallest board I have ever surfed (net volume -16 l, or about to -30 l if you count the weight of board & rig). Needed a few technique adjustments and a small walk back upwind - not too bad.

When Nina went out again on my 85 l JP board later, she did another first: waterstarting while in both straps and hooked in, after she had collided with a wave during a chop hop. I caught that one on video:
I'd say the one day of waterstarting during the ABK Cape Cod camp last September definitely paid off! She was a bit frustrated because she had hoped to get great jibe success rates and work on the speed loop. But I'd say she rocks, sailing the smallest boards and sails in the biggest chop & swell she's ever sailed!