Monday, September 27, 2010

Forecasts, thermals, and inversions

September has been great this years - 12 days of sailing, 10 of them in nice strong winds, so far. That's not bad for someone who (a) should work 40-hour weeks, and (b) has to drive about an hour to get to a nice sailing site.

The forecast for last Saturday looked great - more than 20 mph for the entire day, warm temps, and sun. Last Wednesday, we had windsurfed in Fogland - that turned out to be the wrong choice, since winds were just so-so, while Kalmus had great, steady winds above 30 for the entire afternoon. No big surprise here - in late summer, Kalmus often gets thermals which boost the winds 5-10 miles higher than the forecast (and also higher than other sites on the Cape).

Saturday was just 3 days later, the setup was very similar, so I was really hoping for upper twenties in Kalmus. We decided to book a hotel room so we could start early, and sail until we dropped, without having to drive back to Boston. Since the wind was supposed to pick up early on Saturday, I even thought about going for a 12-hour GPS marathon session. Alas, the wind did not play along.

On Friday afternoon, after visiting the local windsurf stores to pick up warm gear for the fall and winter, the wind readings were much better for West Dennis than for Kalmus, so we windsurfed in West Dennis. I had not sailed there in ages, and Nina had never sailed there. I loved it - the wind was just perfect for my favorite 7.0, the swell nice and gentle, perfect for working on chop hops, and plenty of space for nice long runs. We had dawdled a bit getting there, so we sailed only a couple of hours until the fog got too dense, and the wind line moved out further onto the water.

Saturday morning, I got up at 6, only to see that we wind was not as good as promised. Nevertheless, we had an early breakfast and headed to Kalmus. As we arrived, a couple of guys were out having fun, but then, the long wind tease began. From 10 am to 3 pm, even the gusts refused to go above 20, and averages often sank below 15. Every now and then, a few puffs came through that almost had me planing on my 7.0. I was not the only one attracted by the forecast - a lot of the ABK campers showed, including Ed, Mike, Jonathen, Peter, Cliff, Jeff, Graham, and Martin. When I finally gave up and rigged my 8.5 m V8 to have some fun, the wind finally picked up. So instead of much fun, I was fighting for 20 minutes, before I went back in and got the 7.0.

The wind stayed nice for a couple of hours. The chop was not so nice, though, so I tacked up to the wall that protects Kalmus and went for some flat water speed sailing. With gusts still below 25, I did not get any great speed, but I still had a blast until the wind decided to take another break, and I headed back downwind without getting the great downwind speed runs I had hoped for. Still, first time I made it up to the wall, and I had the entire little harbor to myself. Without the expectations of 12 hours of great wind, that would have been a rather decent day.

So - what had happened? Apparently, we had a mixing problem, also called an inversion. The water is starting to cool down, the winds coming in were very warm, so they did not mix down well. This was worst in Kalmus - West Dennis, Chapin, and even Ned's Point had better winds, unusual for SW. I think this time, the fact that Lewis Bay is exactly in the wind direction increased the mixing problems, instead of helping the wind to be nice and steady. What a difference three days and a few degrees can make.

We had seen some indications of mixing issues the day before in West Dennis, when the wind line moved away from the shore as it got later. Fogland had had similar issues last Wednesday, with gusty & weak winds in the cove, but better winds on the south side and on the far side of the river.

The forecast for Sunday was not great - NE near 20 mph for Chapin and Duxbury for a brief period, below 20 most of the day. Of course, computer models and metereologists often under-predict the N and NE winds in Duxbury, so we stopped by there on the way home. At noon, the wind did not look convincing - some kiters on the ocean side had a hard time to get going. We almost drove home when we saw a brave windsurfer go out on a 7.5 with a 90 cm wide Fanatic board. He said he was working on getting in both straps, but he sure was doing fine. After his first run, he stated that this was the best run he had ever had, so we decided to also go out on our 7.0 and 5.0 sails. Gonzalo, whom we had met at a conference in Hawaii the first time and who had been in Kalmus the day before, also came while we were rigging. He was a bit disappointed that the water was so flat, but went out anyway.

The rest was just great - 3 hours of pure fun. The wind made it up to just above 20, with gusts of 25 - nice & steady. Perfect for long runs, so I worked on improving our mile and one hour postings on the GPS Team Challenge. Here's the GPS tracks:

Nina used the flat water and great wind to work on duck jibes for the first time, and had a lot of fun crashing into the water over and over again (although she did get close on a few). I sailed 86 km in 3 hours, with just a short break to switch boards. But even when I thought I was going fast on Nina's Mistral Screamer 116, Gonzalo passed me all the time. Not a surprise - he was on a Fanatic Ray 125 with a 7.3 m North cambered sail, a much faster than my freeride, camberless setup. And maybe the fact that he once trained to windsurf in the Olympics also had something to do with it :)

While I had a blast in Duxbury, the air temperatures were a bit chilly, and my 3 mm steamer was a bit thin for the weather. Time to get out the warmer gear - I surely would have been sweating in my 5/4 semidry.

So, one good day and two great days of windsurfing - I just love fall windsurfing in New England. South winds now can get a bit gusty with mixing problems, but N and E winds are typically super-steady and make for great flat water sessions in Duxbury. Hope to see more members of the Fogland Speedsurfers there next time!

Monday, September 20, 2010

I love Duxbury!

One great thing about the Boston area is that we have many excellent windsurf spots to pick from. Kalmus and West Dennis on the Cape are favorites, but in the spring and summer, I usually prefer Fogland - the winds are often almost as good, sometimes even better, you have a choice between the river and the shallow and flat bay, and the people there are great. Yes, there are very nice people at other places, too, but Fogland somehow lends itself to being more social than the other places.

But when fall approaches and the winds tend to come from the north or northeast, Duxbury becomes my favorite spot. N and NE winds are typically very steady there, often with averages that are higher than at most other spots. Just look at today's wind:

The range today was between 19 and 28, or 17 and 26 - not bad. On the best days, I have seen lulls of 27, with gusts of 33 - that's incredible steady, at least for around here. For comparison, here are the readings for Kalmus:

Gusts were a lot higher, averages sometimes a bit higher, lulls lower - the range was from 15 to 40. The sensor readings from Fogland were even gustier:

Ok, in both Kalmus and Fogland, there are spots where the wind will be a bit steadier than the sensor shows - but not as even as in Duxbury.

For speedsurfing, Duxbury also has several spots where the water is really flat. NE winds are better for sailing south of the Powderpoint bridge, where mile-long speed runs are possible. In N winds as today, the North side has some very flat spots behind some small islands. The flat area is barely long enough for 10 second runs, but the chop behind it is still pretty small. Here's a short video that shows the north side at low tide:

Speaking of tides - before heading out to Duxbury, make sure to check the tides. Within 1-2 hours of low tide, both sides can become unsailable, depending on how low exactly the tide is.

Duxbury has one more disadvantage to remember: non-residents can park & launch only on the land side of the Powderpoint bridge without risking an expensive ticket, even after Labor day. However, the is quite a bit of wind shadow on this side which can make launching on small gear challenging. Today, there were three windsurfers who had a lot of fun blasting around, and one poor fellow who came late, close to low tide, when the north side had become unsailable. The south side was still ok, but the wind shadow from the bridge in N winds like today is nasty, and he never made it out into the clear wind before he gave up.

I had a similar problem when I tried to sail my F2 Missile. The boards a bit small for me - 62 liters don't carry my 90 kg, plus rig. The wind near shore was too weak to get me planing, and the wind direction did not allow me to go downwind from the launch site. For fun, I stood on the board once, and sank until the water was past my hips. Nina tried, too, and for her, the board just barely sinks, but she also did not get going on it because the wind direction forced her to go upwind right away. There'll be another day with more wind and a slightly different direction.

So, if you're going to Duxbury and you're not great at sailing your sinker while sinking/schlogging, think about bringing a slightly bigger board and/or sail. In N or NE winds, it's flat enough for bigger boards, anyway. Hope to see you in Duxbury next time!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tricktionary on your iPhone

The Tricktionary is a great resource for windsurfers, and in particular freestylers, as I had previously discussed. For geeks like me, a great thing about the Tricktionary DVD is that it is easy to copy movies for the tricks that you're working on onto the iPhone or iPod, and review at them at the beach. One of the ABK campers asked me for detailed instructions, so here they are:

  1. Find the disc and "title" number of the trick you want to work on. You can find the title number using the VLC media player, or you can look at my PDF file with the numbers for the first two discs.
  2. Insert the disc in your computer. Quit the DVD or media player if it starts automatically.
  3. Start the video converter program HandBrake (free downloads at
  4. In HandBrake's "Open" dialog, select the DVD as the source, then press "OK". Handbrake will spend a minute or so to analyze the DVD.
  5. From the "Title" pulldown near the top, select the number for your trick from step 1.
  6. Choose the format of the video you want to create. The easiest way is to use the "iPhone & iPod Touch" preset (click the "Toggle Presets" button on the top right if you don't see the presets).
  7. Click on the "Browse" button to select the destination file (where the new video will be saved).
  8. If you'd like to have the German audio rather than the English, click on the "Audio" tab, and select "Deutsch" as the source. If you do this, but don't speak German, stop here and go kitesurfing.
  9. Click on the "Start" button to start the encoding, and wait until it's done. If you want to encode several tricks, you can instead use HandBrake's queue.
When you're done encoding the tricks that you want to work on, open iTunes, drag & drop the movies you just encoded onto the iTunes window, then synch your iPhone or iPod, and your done.

Please do not post any of the movies you encoded as above to YouTube or other web sites. That would be a violation of copyright laws, and you'd be screwing Rossi and the others who put a lot of work into the Tricktionary.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Three great days

We just returned from a wonderful three-day ABK camp in Hyannis on Cape Cod. The weather participated only partially. On the upside, we had two sunny days and one cloudy and cooler day; but we had planing-level wind only on one day, and there mostly in the morning.

The camp was quite a bit bigger than last year, with about 20 campers and 4 instructors (Andy, Brendon, Tom, and Ed). It was nice to see two other Foglanders there, besides Nina and myself. Compared to last year, the skill level in the top group was a lot higher. Four surfers (Cliff, Niko, Martin, and Graham) were doing tricks I had never even tried - great to watch.

For me, the highlights of the camp were:
  1. Meeting old and new friends.
  2. Andy Brandt's loop lecture .
  3. The guest lecture by Chris Eldrigde.
As the title of this blog might suggest, I have been thinking about the loop for a while. I've looked at plenty of YouTube videos, online and magazine articles, discussion forums, and so on. I must give Andy credit for getting me to think about the loop - before last year, I thought that was way out of my reach and/or my level of risk tolerance. The first loop lecture I heard from Andy then convinced me that (a) my concerns about getting hurt while trying the loop were justified (several campers who had tried it had gotten injured), and that (b) it is possible to learn the speed loop without getting hurt, given the right approach.

However, all the approaches I looked at seemed to have some shortcomings, as I discussed in a previous post. So I was in for a nice surprise at the newest ABK loop approach. It combines the best elements of previous approaches into three steps, marked by learning to crash in a specific way. It keeps Andy's focus on using sail steering to turn the board, but adds very specific directives. I did the first two steps during camp - the first one non-planing, the second one planing. This is about as far as I had gotten with Remko's approach - but when trying to follow Remko's approach, I ended up being pulled out of the straps in a catapult that did some minor damage to the board, no fun. It's quite possible that this was because I did not have the perfect wave that Remko had for his movie. But with the couple of details that Andy has added, the planing pre-loop crash ended perfectly harmless and fun. I did not quite get all the parts together, but it seems that just a few more tries will get me ready for the third crash, which then gets pretty close to the real thing with a waterstart ending. Judging from just the lecture and the first few tries, Andy has really done magic here by removing (most) risk, adding clear steps and landmarks, and making the loop seem very attainable even for more cautious surfers.

Another highlight of the camp was a guest lecture by Chris Eldridge. Chris is one of the best non-pro windsurfers in the East Coast - check out his videos if you have not seen them yet. He talked about how to learn the Flaka, and also briefly talked about a few other tricks when they came up in the discussion. In his opinion, learning the Flaka and the Grubby is a lot easier than learning the Vulcan, so it makes sense to learn them first. That's quite different from what Andy Brandt and many others think, who are convinced that the Vulcan should be the first new school freestyle trick. Both sides present many good arguments for their view - the difference in opinion may be caused by a difference in attitude, risk tolerance, and patience. It seems that the Vulcan is better for patient and technical windsurfers, while the Flaka may be better for the impatient who'd rather commit to something a bit wilder than try something many hundred times before it works. The best advice seems to be to try it both - some windsurfers may be better of with the Flaka, others with the Vulcan as their first trick.

With just half a day of good wind, I did not get a chance to try the Flaka (I should do the upwind 360 on a freestyle board first, anyway). Instead, I worked on carving 360s, and did get closer than before. The video analysis was really helpful here - it showed clearly that I did not push the rig far enough to the back (just like Andy said...). On the first lightwind day, I learned the push tack the ABK way - that is, one-handed, left-right-left. Much easier this way that what I had tried before, worked great on the big board.

On the last day, I tried to do some lightwind tricks on my freestyle board - tricks that I can do in my sleep on my huge old board. Very frustrating - took many tries just to do a heli tack without falling, and the few I did were ugly and out of control. Andy first send me to downsize my sail, and then sent me back to the basics - practice backwind sailing before the heli tack. That took a few tries and help from him, but I eventually figured it out.

So, why do lightwind tricks on a small, sinking freestyle board if you're not Andy Brandt? Many reasons - here a a few:
  • Two guys in the camp, Martin and Graham, who only use small boards, improved a lot during the last year, even though they sailed less than I did. Graham is young, so he'll learn faster, but Martin is almost my age.
  • After sailing small boards in Maui and the Gorge, where big board were just not an option, I noticed that my skills on big boards had improved a lot. For example, I can now plane on perhaps a meter less sail than before in the same conditions. Looking at the really good guys who can plane on much smaller boards and sails, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
  • It's not really that hard. Ok, I pretty much did start from scratch, pulling the sail out like a beginner and sometimes falling while doing so. But less than 2 hours later, I was getting used to the board. The sailed popped out of my water and into my hands almost like on a big board, backwinding was almost easy, and other things started to work better, too. For a couple of hours, that was quite a bit of progress.
  • Andy says so. Funny reason, but experience tells me that doing as Andy Brandt says is a good strategy, even if I something seems counter-intuitive. A lot of times, the understanding comes a few minutes or days later.
  • Speedsurfing: Since dedicated speed boards are wicked small (my F2 Missile is 62 liters), balance practice on smaller boards for the non-planing moments seems like a good idea (even if freestyle board are huge compared to speed boards).
So, if you happen to see me doing lightwind freestyle on my small freestyle board and looking like a fool, be patient - there is hope that at some point in the future, I may be able to do the things that better surfers like Martin or Cliff can do now. And while the water is still warm, falling a lot is really not a bad thing. The most fun-falls where the pre-loop crashes, though, which can't even be done on a big board.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fogland Speedsurfers

Now that Cesar has gotten many windsurfers in Fogland thinking about speedsurfing (and doing lots of fast deep downwind runs), we have decided to start a team to participate in the GPS Team Challenge. Here's a picture of most of the initial team members, with one of Cesar's vintage speed boards:

Right now, most of us don't have any dedicated speed equipment. But Cesar is generous, offering to share his many speedboards freely; Bill has an old Mistral Electron, a board that has been clocked at more than 40 knots; and I should be getting a used F2 Missile, also good for 40+ knots, any day now. Quite a few of our team will have to order a new GPS or even their first GPS, but they all promised to do so soon.

So, from now on, we don't have to speed-compete against each other anymore - we can compete against the rest of the world! Speed is fun, and can be quite useful, too. Nina found that her jibe entries have gotten a lot better since she started speed runs - extra speed sure helps planing through jibes, and she is getting so close. With a little wind luck at the upcoming ABK camp in Hyannis and some tips from Andy and his crew, she'll be planing through in no time. A few others from the Fogland Windsurfers group are also planning to attend the camp - who knows, maybe we can form a "Fogland Tricksurfers" group soon.