Friday, December 9, 2011

Windsurfing as anti-aging medicine

"The Time a Person Spends Windsurfing is not Deducted from their Lifespan..."
This is how noshuzbluz signs all posts on the discussion forum. I am currently in Germany, and have been spending a lot of time in hospitals and other areas where almost everyone you see is old, and this line is constantly popping up in my head.

There is a stark difference between the older persons I see here, and the windsurfers of similar age that I see on the local beaches or in ABK clinics. The picture on the left is from an ABK clinic earlier this year in Bonaire. Two of the windsurfers in the picture kicked my butt on the water - including Stew, the guy in the white shirt, who in in his seventies. When I assembled a little video from the clinic, he was the only one who had a completed 360 captured on video...

Stew is definitely not an exception - I have met many windsurfers in their 60s and 70s that are much better windsurfers than I am. Many of them play and work harder than I do on the water - I think noshuzbluz is onto something.

I read a little about the effects on exercise on aging, and I have come to the conclusion that noshuzbluz statement is probably an understatement - that the time spent windsurfing actually get added to your life span - probably with a significant multiplier. If you don't believe me and think that this is just a justification to sail a lot, do some reading - maybe start with this article from the Harvard Medical School. Plenty of studies have shown that regular exercise reduces the likelihood of all kinds of diseases, from cardiovascular diseases to osteoporosis,  dementia, and cancer. The best exercise regimens include cardio and strength training as well as balance training. If you have ever spent an hour on a windsurf board, you know that windsurfing is just about an ideal mix.

The biggest challenge with any exercise is sticking to it on the long run. Going to a gym is interesting for a little while, but most people stop going regularly after a few months - I have done that many times, with all kinds of different gyms, over the past 20 years. Obviously, windsurfing can be different, and keep you interested for decades. But that's not a given, and I have met plenty of (often former) windsurfers where the stoke has gone away over the years. Below are a few suggestions that may help to keep the stoke alive. They are organized by some of the tips given in the Harvard Medical School article I cited above.
  • Explore a variety of activities. I love the just going back and forth fast, but it does get boring eventually. Most windsurfers spend years getting learning to plane and jibe confidently in difficult conditions. Learning and struggling is part of what makes windsurfing interesting, and stopping to learn new things once you have mastered the jibe (or perhaps the duck jibe) can be the beginning of the end. There's a lot more to learn - just do an ABK clinic, or take some private lessons at a qualified instructor. If there is none where you sail, take a trip to new places, and experience new venues. Or just get a GPS, and learn how to sail faster and longer. Chances are that you'll be sailing at angles and speeds you never sailed at before soon! If you can find some other local sailors with similar interests, even better! Form an informal little club or a team on the GPS Team Challenge site, and multiply your fun!
  • Exercise regularly. If you are lucky enough to live at a spot where you have wind and waves all the time, you're probably doing this already. But for the vast majority of us who do not live on a spot like Maui, this probably means that we need to widen our horizons a bit. Perhaps get a sailable SUP and play in small waves when there is not enough wind to plane, or paddle around marshes and re-discover your inner Tom Sawyer. Learn some light wind freestyle, and there will be no more skunked days! It may seem a bit silly at first, but it can be a lot of fun once you get over the initial hump. Some of my best windsurfing days this year were light wind days - and my year included 123 sessions and 6 1/2 weeks on Maui.
  • Listen to your body. This is perhaps the most important thing as we get older. In your 20s, you can perhaps ignore your pain, because you will recover within a day or two. In your 50s, that's not such a good idea anymore. The two things that helped me the most here are (1) getting great instruction, and (2) long distance windsurfing. Great windsurf teachers like Andy Brandt and Matt Pritchard gave me the necessary technical basis. Going for top one-hour average speeds and maximum distances in a day forced me to recall anything they ever told me, and to listen to small complaints that my body was sending me which I could have easily ignored during shorter sessions. For example, really bending your knees and committing all your weight to the harness are essential to sail a hundred miles a day and get off the water without pain in your knees and hips, and blisters on your hands.
  • Use good equipment. There is nothing wrong with using old equipment that you know exactly how to sail - but if you have not sailed any new equipment recently, you absolutely should! Some of the new boards and sails that I tested during the last year just blew me away. I would have never believed that it's possible to combine speed, agility, and comfort the way that some of the newer shapes do. When I replaced a 10-year old sail that I though of as perfectly fine a couple of years ago with the equivalent new model from the same manufacturer, I was totally amazed by the improvement in performance. Of course, not every new board or sail is perfect for everyone, so try a few different new things. If you are sailing a newer shape or kind of board for the first time, give it some time - you probably will have to adjust your sailing style a bit, but you may end up with a lot more fun. Again, getting some qualified instruction may be a great idea. How about a week at WorldWinds in Texas, or at a Vela center in the Caribbean? 
  • Have more fun. That's the most important advice, and all the other things above are just ways to get there. Try new things, but don't get too serious about anything. Learning new stuff is great, but don't forget how to enjoy just blasting back and forth from time to time, without "working" on something! I am following the speedsurfing scene most closely now, and many of the greatest speedsurfers are also great wave sailors and/or freestylers. Just do what seems most fun at the moment! The more things you know how to do, the more fun you'll have. The best example is our friend Marty, and excellent freestyler, even though he does not get to spend nearly as much time on the water as I do. But when he makes it to the beach, he is always out there having fun, no matter if it's blowing 35 or 5.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Winterizing a Pro-Tec helmet

When it gets really windy, I often use a Pro-Tec helmet while windsurfing. It works great most of the time, but as the weather gets colder, the helmet has a number of little problems:
I am talking about the ventilation holes - they give me an ice cream headache when it gets cold. Wearing a hood underneath helps somewhat, but when the temperatures drop towards freezing, the ventilation holes are just a bad idea. And we are getting there now, especially when the wind comes from the north.

I could have simply spent $120 to buy another helmet, but since I have only one head and thus don't need two helmets, I decided to address the problem with a knife and a plastic pool noodle. Plastic pool noodles are an extremely valuable tool for windsurfers: cut of 10 cm pieces and put them in the foot straps so they don't get crushed when stacking boards; cut them in half and put them on the roof rack or trailer as a cheap cushion; or cut out little pieces to fill holes in the helmet during the colder seasons:
Here is the image of the final product:
I may also tape the holes close with some electrical tape, but I don't think its necessary. Now all I need is 35 mph winds to try it out :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sorry, waves, but I love slicks

Yesterday was an interesting day. The forecast called for SW winds in the low 20s, but this time of the year, that often brings winds around 30 mph. We decided to mix things up a bit and go wave sailing at Old Silver Beach. I can count the number of times I have been in waves on my fingers, so I'm not any good at it - but Old Silver Beach is supposed to be easy. Or so we thought...

When we got there, the wind did not look strong at all, and from the parking lot, the water looked quite flat. We rigged 4.5 and 5.7 m wave sails for Nina and me. I also spend quite a bit of time changing the foot straps on my Hawk - putting the front  straps in the inside position, and widening the back straps. When we were finally ready to go out, the wind had picked up quite a bit, and so had the waves. The wind also had turned from SW to WSW, and now was coming almost directly onshore.

I decided to leave the Hawk on shore and go out on the 77 l Goya One instead, since that board is just wonderful in chop. When trying to get started in the shore break with onshore winds, I finally understood why Matt Pritchard had called the board a bit too small for me. I can sail the board without problems in flat water and chop, but in in the waves, I had a bit of a hard time to get started. It did not help that there was a bit of a wind shadow near shore - my wind meter read anything from 11 to 20 mph. Several times when I got on the board, the nose would just sink, and with waves coming in, I'd be unable to get it straightened out in time. Well, I eventually made it out, and had a bit of fun. Between adjusting harness lines and checking on Nina, I had a few more opportunities to practice my launches. They did not get easier, since the incoming tide and increasing winds also increased the size of the waves. But at least, the water in Buzzards Bay felt warm (maybe 12 C).

Nina, who had sailed in something like waves maybe twice before, had a much harder time. She tried to take her Angulo custom out, but never made it through the shore break. After 30 minutes of trying, she got caught with the rig between her and the waves, and was rewarded with a big mast smack to the head.

We decided to cut our losses, and drive over to Hyannis for some easier sailing. Once at the Sea Street Beach, Nina was a bit cold and demotivated, and did not want to go out, but I took my Hawk and the re-rigged 5.7 m wave sail and went sailing. On the water, I found myself quite overpowered. The wind had picked up to averages of 32 with gusts of 38, so maybe the 5.7 was a tad big - I think I would have been quite nicely powered on a 4.5.

Well, what can a poor boy do who does not want to rig for the third time in 2 hours? Look for flatter water, of course! So up to the Kennedy Slicks I sailed. On the way, I constantly had Matt Pritchard's voice in my head: "Bend your knees! Put all your weight in the harness! Speed is your friend!" Doing all that made the sail quite manageable, especially after adding a bit more outhaul.

When I reached the harbor, I was a bit disappointed at first. It was close to high tide, and waves were crashing through the holes in the jetty near shore and at the far end. This made the water near shore, which can be ultra-smooth at lower tides, a bit choppy. But the middle section of the jetty is solid, and stood just 3-4 feet above the waterline, creating smooooth water without disturbing the wind. I made me think of the videos and pictures I had seen of West Kirby.

I did a few runs along the jetty, but sailing alone was not so much fun, so I decided to sail back to Sea Street and check on Nina. On the way there, whom did I see sailing up to the Slicks? Yes, Nina! Still on her 4.5, but now on the Goya One 77, she had gotten bored of being cold, and decided that rigging and sailing might just warm her up. So we sailed back up to the Slicks together, and the real fun started.

I still had my entire gear set up for wave sailing, from foot strap positions to the wave sail I was using, but that did not keep me from practicing sling shots right at the wall. Here is a short video from the GPS data from a few of these runs:

The replay is accelerated 10-fold. This time around, I actually did get a feeling for what the Slingshot is supposed to be. I tried a couple of them on most runs out, taking advantage of gusts and where the water was flat (closest to the wall, the "waves" were about 2 cm "high"!). Just from the tracks, it would seem that the last bend in the jetty would have been perfect for going downwind - however, the water was getting a bit rough back there, both from wind-driven swell and from some swell coming in from the end of the jetty.

When everything comes together - a nice gust, perfectly flat water, and good board speed to start with -, doing a Slingshot is a pretty amazing feeling. At least once, I had the feeling of being almost pulled out of the foot straps when pushing the rig forward and going downwind, which then translated into great acceleration (well, at least for my standards and gear). Here are the speed data from 5 seconds (speeds in km per hour):
That sure felt good! The other thing that just feels great is the jibing at the end of a speed run in perfectly flat water. Going into a turn at almost 30 mph is a feeling that I find just absolutely amazing - the board cutting through the water like a hot knife through butter, the sail going completely powerless, and coming out of the turn still fully planing. But while I had some decent jibes, I think the jibing is perhaps one of the weakest points on the Hawk. Over the last year, I have been on a number of boards that just want to keep planing no matter what. These include Dean's Manta, Dani's iSonic, the RRD Firemove and Firestorm, and several other freeride and slalom boards that I sailed at the board test in Hatteras. In contrast to those boards, my Hawk gets quite sensitive at the end of a jibe, and takes small handling errors as an excuse to fall off the plane. I think this is at least partially because it's a lot narrower than most of the other boards, and perhaps also because it's a tad slower (compared to pure slalom boards). But don't get me wrong - I love the board, and I'll just have to improve my jibes a bit more.

In the speed runs, I was gunning for 30 knots, but only got up to about 29.4. The wind was strong enough for more, and the conditions were ideal, but the wave-oriented setup definitely help me back a few knots. The Manic 5.7 was quite wonderful to sail once I got used to it, but it does not have the stability of a Matrix, or the slippery feeling of a cambered race sail. But on the other hand, perhaps it was a better sail for practicing Slingshots, since it does provide a bit more direct feedback. Still, the session made it into my top 5 session for 2 second top speed. Nina did even better - it was her second-fastest session ever, with more than 48 kmh top speed. That's despite being on wave gear - who knows how fast she would have gone on the Missile!

The was one other thing I was practicing during the entire session: to take it easy - have the most fun with the least effort. This might seem a bit strange when sailing overpowered in 30+ mph winds, but it is actually a great idea (someone else put it into my head a few years back). Just assume that it can be easy to sail in those conditions, and that you just have to find out how! Of course, I don't think I could have done it without all the tips I have gotten over the years from Andy and his crew, Matt, Tulpe, and all the other great instructors that have helped me along. With their help, though, I was not tired at all after almost two hours, when we had to stop because it was getting dark. My main incentive to practice the "easy sailing" thing was for long distance sailing. I may never be really fast, since my risk tolerance is quite low; but I absolutely love sailing for hours on end. I have sailed 160 km in about 6 hours, and I am looking forward to longer days and longer sessions. We may skip our annual trip to Bonaire this winter, but we'll be in Hatteras for two weeks next spring - and that is the perfect place to break personal bests for distance sailing. Anyone interested in joining me on the water there next April for 12 hours?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The case for Dry Case armbands

When using a Genie GT-31 for speedsurfing, you need a waterproof armband. This post explains why I think that a Dry Case armband is much better than the often recommended Aquapac armbands. Let's start with a picture of the Dry Case armband with a GT-31:
The Dry Case bags use a vacuum seal, which has several advantages over Aquapac bags:
  1. Without air in the bag, there is no excess pressure that pushes water into the bag when the bag is submerged. 
  2. The vacuum causes the plastic from both sides of the bag to stick together. They remain stuck together even when you open the bag - so if the bag developed a hole, water would not fill the entire bag.
Up until recently, I had always used Aquapac armbands to hold my GT-31 (either a medium or a large bag). However, I always noticed that the insides of the bags where getting wet after just a couple of uses, even if the bags were clean and did not show any cracks or holes. After using bags for a few months, they would often develop cracks which let a lot of water in. Since the GT-31 is waterproof for immersion (but not for high-speed windsurfing crashes), that was not a problem. I just put some clear tape over the crack, and the combination has worked fine for me. Eventually, I had to replace a bag or two, though, when the cracks got to big.

However, our fellow Fogland Speedsurfer Sabah has not been so lucky. After a recent session, he noticed that his entire Aquapac bag had filled up with water, and that the GPS turned off. He could not get it to turn back on even after drying it, and trying to recharge it. I took his GPS apart a few weeks later, and this is what I saw:
You can see a lot of corrosion on top of the battery pack and on different parts of the circuit board - apparently, a lot of salt water made it into the case. A close look at the housing reveals problems at the three top screws that hold the upper and lower part of the housing together: one mount is broken off completely, one partially, and the third on is cracked. Most likely, the GPS housing was damaged either during a bad crash where the arm hit the mast or board, or maybe when the GPS was dropped. That alone would not have been a problem - the GPS was still working fine at the beginning of the session. But together with the tendency of the Aquapac bags to develop leaks, it eventually killed the GPS. I tried to rescue it by rinsing with water, but I was way too late. By now, the corrosion as so bad that some parts of the electronics just fell off.

I think the GPS would still be working if it had been in a Dry Case bag instead. I found the Dry Case bag through luck when I needed a waterproof armband in Hatteras, and the only one I could find was a Dry Case armband at WindNC. I have since used the Dry Case several times to hold an Android phone so I could have GPS Speed Talker tell me my speed while sailing, and it has remained perfectly dry so far (I am sure that an Aquapac case would have let water in by now). The Dry Case has a microphone connector which is not needed for the GT-31, but the connector in the bag is actually useful: if you put it on top of the GPS close to the push buttons, you can prevent accidental pushing the buttons while sailing.

It remains to be seen how long the Dry Case really will remain dry. But as I said, I think it is already doing better than the Aquapac armbands. The plastic material seems sturdier and less likely to develop cracks; and using vacuum to get the air out of the bag and to make the sides of the bag cling together is a great idea. When I am using it with my phone, I'll keep double-bagging the phone in a little clear plastic bag. That has been overkill so far, but why risk a $130 piece of electronics that is not waterproof? I also added the little piece of brightly colored plastic. With the phone, the bag may sink in water, even though the armband itself is floaty. That should not be problem with the GT-31, since the GT-31 is "floatable". The armband on the Dry Case also is sturdier than on the Aquapac cases, but all armbands can slip off, especially when using dry suits or no suit. The brightly colored plastic may just make it easier to find the GPS when it's floating in the water. Of course, it would be even better if Dry Case would come with brightly colored (or at least white) arm bands in the first place...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Windsurfing Point Judith

Last Sunday, we went windsurfing in the Point Judith Harbor of Refuge for the first time. We had picked the spot because the weather forecast called for very warm winds, which often decouple in Kalmus and Fogland at this time of the year. Point Judith sticks out into the water and is surrounded by water from 3 1/2 sides, so decoupling is much less of a problem (as the wind graphs from warm days from the previous weekend showed).

The launch is at the Salty Brine State Beach, right next to the Block Island ferry. From the suburbs west of Boston, the driving time is about the same as to Kalmus in Hyannis, 75 to 90 minutes. Here are some pictures:
There's a decent sized paved parking lot, and more parking right next to it at George's Restaurant. The beach is sandy and more than a mile long - plenty of space for kiters and windsurfers:
The sailing area is surrounded by jetties, which create a protected triangular area that is about 2 km long:
In addition to the hope for steadier winds, we had been attracted by the jetties, hoping that they would create flat water for speed runs. But when I went sailing, I discovered that the harbor had a nice, long, rolling swell that was just too much fun, so I never bothered sailing up close to the jetties. I did go for a bit of long distance speed, and got some numbers that were pretty good for the conditions (22 knots for the nautical mile and 17.8 knots for 1 hour).

I thought that the place was amazingly easy and fun to sail, and the other advanced sailors all like the spot, too. However, pur newbie Jeff, who only started windsurfing about a year ago and is still working on getting comfortable in the straps, found the conditions not quite to his liking. It did not help that the shore break got the better of him when he came in, and broke his mast. I did not see this happen, but the shore break did not really look bad enough to break masts - I think he had a lemon, and some bad luck. Here are a couple of pictures that show the shore break a bit:

Like Sabah in the picture above, Dani had a lot of fun even though he arrived after the wind had started to go down:
Fred caught a wave on his way in and was smiling ear to ear about it:
The wind died down in the afternoon, and only the guys on the bigger gear were still planing. In the morning when we came, some of the very friendly local sailors had been out on 4.2 - 4.8 m sails, but the wind drop had been in the forecast. We did not get any of the huge ups and downs that Fogland and Kalmus had the same day, so the "no decoupling" definitely worked as expected. On the downside, this means that Pt. Judith won't get thermals in the summer - but then, the somewhat small parking lot would be filled with beach goers, anyway, and I am not even sure if windsurfing even is allowed during the summer season. But for the remaining 9 months of the year, Point Judith is a great spot! At some parts of the harbor, for example near the openings in the jetties, the swell ramped up to chest high, and got pretty steep; it also had a bit of cross chop there, great for jumping, but not nearly as "voodoo"-like as Kalmus can have.

It was great to once again see so many members and friends of the Fogland Speed Surfer team show up, including Fred, Bart, Dani, Sabah, Jeff, Graham, and of course the lovely Nina. The spot definitely has potential for long distance speed, and maybe even for top speed under the right conditions. The water felt quite a bit warmer than on Cape Cod, as can be seen on the sea surface temperature image:

 We will definitely be back!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Closer is faster

One of the great things about being part of a speedsurfing team is that you can examine the tracks of better team members afterwards and learn from them. The first time I went windsurfing with Dean, I learned that I needed to go a lot deeper downwind for top speed. Even now, a year later, I often discover that I did not go nearly as deep downwind as I thought when I look at my tracks in the evening.

Our great little speed session at Egg Island two days ago has provided some more material for learning to sail faster. Both Nina and I improved our previous top speeds by about 3 knots, but there is still a lot of room for further improvement. Here is a comparison of the GPS tracks from our fastest runs (my track has the blue label):
The biggest obvious difference is where we reached our top speed. My top speed was close to the sand bar, where the water was very flat; Nina's top speed was pretty far out in the bay, where the chop got sizable. The main reason why she stayed away from the sand bar was that she was afraid of hitting ground at shallow spots. I had walked the entire length of the sand bar at the start of the session, so I was comfortable getting closer to it, but I still stayed about 40 meters away from it. In most of my runs, I felt that the chop was limiting my speed - as soon as I approached top speed, the chop got so high that I throttled back to avoid crashes. I find it pretty amazing that Nina hit her top speed that far out. Yes, she was on a 49 cm narrow F2 Missile that handles the chop (even) better than my 58 cm wide Fanatic Hawk, but still. As for the top speed difference, keep in mind that Nina almost never goes for speed; that she weighs next-to-nothing, at least compared to me; and that she was using a 4.5 m wave sail instead of the cambered larger race and speed sails that Dean and I were using.

Now let's compare my runs with Dean's. Dean has been playing the speed surfing game a while longer, and he got a lot closer to the sand bar. Here is a comparison of my fastest run to his second-fastest run of the day:
He was about 1.6 mph faster than I was by staying closer to the sand bar. He reached his top speed right at the tip of the sand bar, where the water was flattest. He then kept close to his top speed for several hundred meters into the bay, which speaks for his skills and the chop-handling ability of his Tabou Manta board.

In my four fastest run, the top speeds were very close to each other (57.24 - 58.23 kmh). In contrast, Dean's fastest run was quite a bit faster (62.98 kmh) than his second-fastest run (60.64 kmh). Here is the comparison of our fastest tracks:
Dean was much closer to the sand bar for the entire run, and the smoother water enabled him to accelerate much faster and to reach a higher top speed. It is quite amazing what a difference 100 feet can make! It is quite unlikely that I would have beaten his speed even if I had sailed so close to shore, but I probably would have picked up another knot or two.

For Nina and myself, one goal for the day had been to practice the Slingshot. We definitely had this in mind while sailing, and played around with it somewhat. I don't think that I did one that was good, mostly because the chop on the approach to the sand bar made it seem advisable to start going a bit downwind earlier for more control. Looking at the tracks now, I think that might have been a mistake: holding a steeper angle longer to get closer to the sand bar before bearing off probably would have been faster. But I might need a few more days of practice before I approach a sand bar at 25 knots with the plan to Slingshot myself downwind just a few seconds before hitting it at full speed!
One thing worth mentioning is that I was using the GPS Speed Talker application the entire time that day. It sure was nice to here it telling me 30, 31, 32 knots! The top speed on the Android phone was 0.5 knots higher than from the GT-31, but overall, I think it was pretty accurate, and definitely helpful.

I had planned to use Nina's bluetooth-enabled BGT-31 with the Speed Talker app, but when I tried to set this up, I discovered that updating the firmware on the BGT-31 apparently has removed all bluetooth options from the settings - the menu items are simply missing! I know that they were there initially, because I tried to hook the BGT-31 up to my Mac when we got it. I tried re-installing the older firmware version from the Locosys web site, which worked - but it did not restore the bluetooth menu items! So if you have a BGT-31, think twice before "updating" the firmware version!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Egg Island Slingshot adventure

My lovely wife had recently posted a link to a description of the "Slingshot" manouvre in the Windsurfer International Magazine, and we were dying to try it out today. After hearing about how flat the water at Egg Island in Lewis Bay can be, we decided to imitate the freestylers who often sail to there from Kalmus. We were on the water just before low tide, where the chops is small and regular, so Nina decided to sail the F2 Missile. She had tried it only once before, with limited success, but her sailing has improved a lot since then, and she has been on small (72 and 77 l) boards quite often. So this time, she did just great.

The water behind the sand bar at Egg Island was beautifully flat. The wind was a tad more gusty, especially at the approach to the sand bar, but nevertheless, these were almost ideal speed conditions, with wind averages around 30 knots. Nina quickly broke her old personal bests, reaching almost 50 kmh. Dean got his best speed outside of Hatteras, with more than 34 knots. Your's truly sailed while listening to the GPS Speed Talker, and it quite often spoke of 30 and 31 knots. At the end of the day, my 2 sec top speed was 31.4 knots (58 kmh), and I even broke the 30 knot barrier in the 5 x 10 second average. Being on my 5.8 KA Koncept certainly helped - but Egg Island at low tide sure is a great speed spot. Now why again did I never sail there before in SW winds?

Here are my GPS tracks for the day:

 It was nice to see Nina work on speed for once, and she found sailing the Missile "very interesting" (in a good way). After I short break, I borrowed the 4.5 m wave sail that she had sailed all day for some bump and jump fun.  Graham and Martin were still out, and they both worked on loops. I saw some very nice tries, and at the end of the day, Graham actually made it around and water started out of a loop attempt - congrats! The pain on the back will eventually go away :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why wind forecasts drop

In recent weeks, the wind forecasts on have often shown this annoying pattern:
  • the wind predictions 5 or 6 days out look great, and remain great for a few days
  • about 2 days before, the forecast suddenly drops and looks a lot less impressive
For example, the forecast on Monday may predict 30 mph winds for the weekend. This stays more or less the same until Wednesday - but on Thursday, the forecast drops to the low 20s. This happened a lot in the last few weeks. Almost every time when we went sailing, though, the actual wind was much stronger than the most recent forecast, and closer to the stronger forecast from a few days before. 

What is going on? Well, let's have a look at the iWindsurf forecast tables for Kalmus from this morning. The default tables show the "Quick Look":
Until yesterday, the forecast for Saturday called for wind in the upper 20s to low 30s; now, it shows mostly low 20s. Sunday is still looking a lot better in the table above, but dropped a few miles later during the day.

A look at the different computer models sheds some light on what's happening. Here are the tables from the GFS model:
The tables from the NAM model don't look quite as good:
Both are run by NOAA. The NAM model has a finer geographical resolution (12 km vs. 35 km for GFS), but gives predictions only for 84 hours, compared to 7 days for the GFS model. The "Quick Look" table on iWindsurf will use the NAM model if it has data for the entire day, and the GFS model otherwise. So in the example above, it shows NAM data for Saturday, and GFS data for Sunday.

This time of the year, it seems that the GFS model always predicts stronger winds  than the NAM model, at least for the Cape Cod area. So when the iWindsurf "Quick Look" tables switch from the GFS model to the NAM model, it seems that the wind forecast has suddenly dropped. In reality, however, the wind prediction from the GFS model may not have changed all all, or even gone up!

I do not know why the GFS model seems to make better wind predictions than the NAM model at this time of the year, but I'm glad it does. As I am writing this, the latest NAM model runs predict 23-25 mph for Saturday (that's 5 Beaufort for our European readers), while the GFS predicts 27-29 mph (6 Beaufort). My bet is that we will see 30+ mph again!

So, if you are making plans for windsurfing on Cape Cod for the weekend, check the GFS tables! Just keep in mind that when it gets too warm, decoupling at onshore beaches may cause winds to be a lot lower than predicted. That will hopefully not be an issue on Saturday, but it could be a problem in Kalmus on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Four funtastic days

We just had four fantastic days of sailing - here are the wind graphs:
We sailed three different spots to catch the best wind each day; the only spot we sailed twice, Skaket, had very different conditions on the two days we sailed. Here are the three spots on a map:
It's easy to see why we chose Skaket for the WNW wind on 11-11, Kalmus for SW on 11-12, and Fogland for SSW on 11-13: they are the spots with the best fetch for the given wind direction. In addition, Kalmus typically has thermals that increase the wind in SW, and Fogland can have thermals and channeling in SSW. Why we picked Skaket on 11-14 is explained below.

Day 1: Skaket, WNW, 30-40 mph
We had good memories of gentle waves at Skaket in NW winds, and when we arrived about 90 minutes after high tide, the waves looked perfectly manageable for us flatwater sailors, despite the strong winds that sandblasted us and made rigging a bit more difficult. We rigged the smallest sails we typically use (3.7 for Nina, 4.5 for me), and used the smallest boards: the Angulo custom 72 for Nina, and the Goya One 77 for me. We were soon joined by Ron, who lives just a few minutes away. By the time we hit the water, the waves had gone down a bit, and were just perfect for wave newbies like us. Despite the wind being almost straight onshore, getting out was easy. I absolutely loved how flat the water was between the waves! After mostly sailing bigger boards in the last couple of months, it took me a few attempts before my jibes were dry - but one of the nice features at Skaket in WNW winds and medium water levels is that you can go for mile-long runs parallel to the shore, and still touch ground when you fall in. The boom cam video below shows how flat the water was between the waves:

We had to stop after 90 minutes because it was getting quite shallow, but it was almost getting dark, anyway. We stayed overnight in Hyannis, where we met up with Jeff, Graham, and Manish. They had sailed in Chapin, and reported gusty conditions with some voodoo chop - it seems we had picked the better spot.

Day 2: Kalmus and Kennedy Slicks, 35-40 mph
The forecast for the day called for SW wind in the low to mid 20s, but sun and swarmer temperatures. Based on recent weather patterns, I expected a significant thermal boost, and was not disappointed. We hit the water at 11:30 am, and I did a few runs with my Skate 110 and a 5.5 m sail, but that combo quickly got to big, and it was time to go down to 4.5 and 95 l. As we were getting close to high tide and wind averages picked up to 35 mph, the famous Kalmus voodoo chop came. Here's a picture of young Master Graham having fun:

In the steep waves with lots of cross chop, jibing and even controlling the Hawk 95 became a challenge, so I decided to cruise upwind a mile to the Kennedy Slicks, where Dean was going for speed runs. By now, it was getting a bit crowded on the water, anyway, and I really wanted to be on the nice, flat water next in the Hyannis Port harbor.

Getting upwind was easy enough, since I had plenty of power. On my last run out towards the jetty, I heard a snapping noise, and my harness lines suddenly seemed a bit longer. When I jibed and tried to hook back in, I noticed that one side of my harness hook had broken off! I hooked in, anyway, but it took only about 10 seconds for the other half to snap, too. Sailing without the harness is something I just don't do - lazy me usually hooks in first thing, and accelerates later. So I chickened a bit and sailed back to shore without even getting into the foot straps - stupid idea, that just resulted in things taking 3 times as long, with a lot more pressure in the sail. When I finally made it to the shore, my lower arms were burning.

Dean did not have a second spreader bar, but he was nice enough to offer me to take turns with his harness. Fortunately, that was not necessary, since a local windsurfer who was just taking pictures offered me a ride to Kalmus to pick up the spreader bar I had bought two days before, but foolishly not used. Thanks so much for the ride and the ride back (and sorry that I forgot your name)!

So I finally made it out onto the "Kennedy Slicks" right next to the jetty in the Hyannis Port harbor - and slick they were! About 100 feet from the jetty, the chop was about 2 inches high - chitter-chatter chop, my favorite kind. What's better than waterstarting in the foot straps, going up to 25 knots in a few seconds, going downwind and accelerating to almost 30 knots, and then entering a jibe at full speed on perfectly flat water? Carving a nice, wide arc at 50 kmh is something to dream about!

Once at the Slicks, I wished that I had the 5.5 non-cambered race sail that was still lying in Kalmus, rather than the 4.5 m wave sail. Dean was on a 6.3 m cambered race sail and slalom board, and hit almost 33 knots (61 kmh). I barely managed to break 30 knots, and that only for one second. Still - this was the first time I hit 30 knots, so it counts! I also managed to make my second-best jibe ever, with a minimum speed of 12 knots - not bad for a mid November day:)

Dean let me use his equipment for one run, and that was just wicked scary. By then, I was getting tired, and I neither wanted to get catapulted at full speed, nor did I want to break his gear, so I sailed as slow as seemed possible. But there's only so much you can slow a slalom board and sail down in 35-40 mph winds, and my speed was still about 28 knots. With a bit more practice on this gear and fresher forearms, 10-second averages above 30 knots should have been no problem. Next time...

Day 3: Fogland, SSW, 20-35 mph
Our friend Dani made the call to go to Fogland, and that turned out to be the right call - Fogland was windier than Kalmus (probably because of the more southerly wind direction and channeling in the Sakonnet river). Again, it was sunny, and warmer still than the day before - almost 60 F (15 C). Quite a few windsurfers showed up, including many team members from the Fogland Speed Surfers - Dani and Sabah, Dean, Jeff and Graham, the two Freds, and a few others. Nina and Graham were working on freestyle the entire day. Nina's duck jibes are getting good, she is now making most of them dry, and she also work on Vulcan pops and body drags. I'm not sure about all the things that Graham worked on, but I saw some nice Willy Skipper tries, and here's one that was caught on camera:
I spend an unfortunate amount of time fiddling with my equipment. My first runs were with a 7.9 m North S-Type sail from Dani and my 118 l slalom board, but just then, the wind was picking up, with gusts of 35 mph. So I switched to my trusted old Hawk 95 and my Matrix 7.0 sail, which worked beautifully the rest of the day (after putting the second back foot strap on again that I had taken off for all the recent play in choppier waters). Even though the winds were a bit gusty, everyone was having fun, and the Fogland Speed Surfers set 5 new personal bests - Fred and Sabah for the nautical mile, Dean and I for 1 hour, and Dean also for alpha. Nice to see so many friendly and happy faces on the water!

Day 4: Skaket, SW, 25-35 mph
The wind forecast for the day was calling for SW in the low- to mid twenties again. We had not planned to go sailing, but when I saw perfect meter readings of 24-33 mph in Kalmus, we just had to go. Dean joined us, but just before we got to Kalmus, the meter readings had dropped to mid teens - bummer! By now, the air had gotten too warm - the warm winds did not reach the surface near shore anymore. It was plenty windy inland, and about 10 miles out at sea, but not on the south-facing Cape Cod beaches.

When decoupling like this is an issue, the beaches on the north shore of Cape Cod often do better, since the land warms up more, and the wind gets all the way down to the ground and then does not lift quickly enough when the offshore breezes hit the cold water. Indeed, the Skaket sensors were still showing averages near 30, so we drove half an hour to Orleans.

At the shore there, it did not look very windy - a few white caps on the water, but in Kalmus, this amount of whitecaps would have indicated maybe 20 mph winds. So Dean and I rigged 7 meter sails again and went out, while Nina was still rigging her 4.5. What a nice lesson in not trusting your eyes in unfamiliar conditions! As soon as we left the shore, the wind almost blew us off the water, and we were back in within 5 minutes to rig down. I sailed the next 90 minutes on my 5.5, at first fully powered, and still planing 90% of the time when the wind dropped towards the end of the session.

It was very interesting to see how different the ocean surface was in the side-shore winds near high tide. Instead of the regular waves with flat water in between that we had had a few days before in onshore winds, we now had high chop with some cross-chop. It was enough to make things interesting, and for Nina to have a lot of fun working on her wave riding skills; but it was not nearly as bad as the voodoo chop in Kalmus in similar conditions. I had no problems jibing my Hawk 95, and to my surprise, actually made most out my outside jibes dry. I always thought that my outside jibes were worse because of the chop, but maybe it's more of a "which hand is in front" thing - the chop was coming from the opposite direction compared to almost all other places we sail. The chop also had a slight angle to the wind - going out meant hitting the chop straight-on, while sailing back in allowed for some nice speed runs more parallel to the chop. Dean actually managed to hit 30 knots, and both of us got nautical mile averages that were close to the ones from the day before. Skaket definitely has some speed potential, at least for long distance!
So we sailed 4 days in a row in 20-40 mph winds, in a variety of different spots and different conditions. Even the same spots offered very different conditions: Kalmus a choice of voodoo chop right in front, or flat water at Egg Island or the Kennedy Slicks; Fogland perfectly flat water in the bay, and nice rolling swell in the river; and Skaket very different waves and chop in different wind directions. All this with lots of sun, and temperatures that ranged from fine to "too hot for 5-4 semi dry" on day 4. IMHO as a non-wavesailor, the Cape Cod - Rhode Island areas definitely has a big advantage over Maui when it comes to variety of sailing conditions. Pick your spot right, and mix it up, and the fun will be endless!

Fortunately, the forecast for the next few days shows very little wind - but it looks like it will pick up again on Saturday, for another windy and warm weekend. November rocks!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Summer winds in November

In the summer, Cape Cod is often the windiest place on the US East Coast, with southwest winds that are boosted by thermals. This summer was an exception, with very few windy days. But it looks like the summer winds are finally coming - in November! Here is a wind graph for Kalmus from the last two days:
Sunday was nice enough, with averages near 20 mph for about 5 hours. Monday was even better, with averages above 20 the entire day, and 3 hours with winds between 25 and 30 mph. Both days, the actual averages were 5-10 mph higher than the forecast. Looks like we got a nice thermal boost, despite the short days! All that sun made the temperatures of around 50 degrees F (10 C) for both air and water quite tolerable. Sunday's low forecast and moderate winds drew only about 6 windsurfers to Kalmus; Monday better forecast and higher winds attracted a several more, including Martin, Drew, Bruce, and a few others.

I think the crowds will get even bigger next weekend, which starts on Friday with Veteran's Day. The weather has been so warm that the water temperatures are going up a bit, and the wind forecast looks great:
The predicted winds of 25-30 mph would be lovely enough - but with a 5 mph thermal boost like earlier this week, we may see low 30s. Even Sunday, which looks a tad weak in the forecast, could end up being very nice with a bit of thermal boost.

Friday is still 3 days away, and wind forecasts this time of the year have the annoying tendency to look good a few days away, only to go down the closer we get. However, this seemed to be more the case for NW winds, and less so for SW winds, so I'll remain optimistic. Hope to see you all on the water this weekend!

Monday, November 7, 2011

GPS Accuracy: GT-31 vs. Android Phone

I finally managed to get some recorded GPS tracks from my Android phone for comparison with the GT-31 data from the same run. Just listening to the GPS Speed Talker app, I knew there were some spikes in the GPS data from the phone. Here is an example:
According to the GPS data from the Android phone, I hit 30 knots here. I wish! Within one second, the speed jumped from 24 to 29 knots, and stayed around 30 knots for 3 seconds. That's using the Doppler data - according to the GPS position data from the phone, I actually hit 40 knots!

The tracks show that the GPS points from the phone are not accurate here. I was going straight - I did not suddenly go upwind and accelerate 5 knots within one second. The jibe in the lower right corner also shows that the GT-31 is much more accurate: the blue curve from the GT-31 shows a nice curve; in contrast, the red curve from the phone GPS wiggles all over the place.

I have seen spikes in GT-31 data, too, but they tend to be rare (as long as you look at the Doppler results), and are usually very easy to identify. Most of the time, it's just a single value that's wrong, which gives a very sharp peak. Also, GT-31 spikes tend to be linked to crashes (although that's not always the case). Either way, they are easy to see and remove.

The 4-second, 5-knot spike shown above it the worst in the 2-hour recording, but there are a number of other spikes, too. Many of the other spikes affect only one point, which seems to be off by 1-2 knots (an example is in the track before the jibe). More than 98% of the time, the speed values from the GT-31 and the phone are very close.

So using an Android phone with the GPS Speed Talker app can be helpful, although one has to take the announced speeds with a bit of skepticism. Perhaps other phones are more accurate, although the only thing I have seen was a description that some other phones have less accurate GPS units. Posting results from Android phones to sites like or the GPS Team Challenge is, at best, questionable. The standard filters in GPS action replay did NOT remove the spike above, and my 2-second speed for the day would have been 4 knots to high. There are obviously good reasons why these sites suggest to use GT-31 units.

If you want to hear how fast you are going while sailing with the highest possible accuracy, you can always use a bluetooth-enabled GT-31 (a BGT-31), and have the GPS Speed Talker app use the BGT-31 data for the announcements.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Did Andy jinx me?

Some of my fellow windsurfers see me as a freestyler. I can't totally blame them, since I have taken 10 ABK Clinics in the past 3 1/2 years, and I actually work on freestyle thingies during the clinics. In my heard, though, I and a BAFer (that "Back-And-Force" sailor for the non-windsurfers). Ok, I put on a GPS and call myself speedsurfer, but that seems to be just a ruse, considering that I have not even broken 30 knots yet.

The one thing in my windsurf quiver that's not compatible with freestyle is my 8.5 m V8 sail. With its 2 cambers and huge mast and boom, it's about 3 x as heavy as a nice freestyle rig. I love this rig, but this year, it has given me a really hard time - I am sure that Andy Brandt has put in a jinx to get me to stop using it.

Things started in April, when I hit a fishing line at full speed, and put a big hole into the sail (check the video on YouTube). Fortunately, Gerda from WindFixes was able to fix this, and the sail was as good as new again. But then, the boom snapped during a late summer session. Ok, it was a few years old, and I always wanted to try the Aeron V-grip boom, so not all was bad.

The final  part of my big rig broke last week, when the mast snapped while sailing. I knew I had downhauled it a bit much, the cambers really did not want to rotate - but I was still about 5 cm below specs. Well, the mast was pretty old, too, and it has gotten a lot of use over the years. Still, it made me wonder if I'd been jinxed by one of the freestylers - maybe Andy Brandt himself :)

But within a day of posting about my misfortune on Facebook, two of my windsurfer friends offered me a replacement mast for free. Do you need any more proof that windsurfing makes people nicer? I got to sail my 8.5 today using a nearly new mast with a $559 list price that Dani lent me - thanks, Dani! It was quite a perfect day, too - the 8.5 got a bit big at times until I had sailed up to the flat water at the Kennedy Slicks. Lots of sun, and the air and water was not too cold: Sabah and Nina sailed without gloves and hood today, and were perfectly fine. Dani was in his new dry suit, which kept him warm and smiling from ear to ear for the entire afternoon. Great day! And the forecast for tomorrow is even better! Maybe it's a good thing that my drysuit does not deserve its name anymore - all my clothes were soaked today when I got of the water. Since I had to change out of everything, anyway, I'll probably use my 5-4 semidry wetsuit the next few times I go out. I think the semidry lets less water in than the "dry suit"! I'll have to check this baby for obvious problems soon.

A Google Earth overlay of my tracks from today can be seen here. Once again, looking at the tracks brought some big surprises - I would have sworn that my angles at the upwind runs to the Kennedy Slicks, and during my speed runs at the wall, were much steeper.

I also used the GPS Speed Talker app again today. It worked really well, except that the stupid Android phone started playing music all the time. I think it has a "music" button that got pressed accidentally by the bag all the time. Also, the phone GPS is definitely more prone to spikes than the GT-31: at one point, my speed jumped from 29 mph to 35 mph according to the phone, and stayed around 34 mph for a few seconds. I knew this was an artifact while sailing, though - I may have sped up by one mile, but definitely not by 5 mph. The GT-31 tracks don't show the spike at all. Nevertheless, I found hearing the speed all the time quite useful. The new waterproof headphones I ordered for $16 worked much better than the ones I used before, too - no pain in the ears at all, and they stayed in place for a couple of hours, despite a few crashes and near-acrobatic jibe and tack saves. Now I just have to find the stupid music button on the phone, and figure out how to disable it!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

GPS Speed Talker

Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I like to know how fast I'm going when I am windsurfing. So I was quite intrigued when someone mentioned the idea of using a smartphone to not only measure your speed, but announce it to you while sailing. My biggest concern was that the "waterproof" bags I had been using for my GPS unit all started to leak after a few sessions. That's no problem with the GT-31 device I am using, since it is sufficiently waterproof to tolerate a bit of water in a bag (but not a high speed crash while windsurfing). But with an iPhone or android phone, the same amount of water would have ruined a pretty expensive piece of equipment.

Still, the idea stayed in my head. The fact that the windsurfer who mentioned, Roo, it had helped develop the "standard" GPS unit (the GT-31), helped keeping it there - as did the fact that Roo managed to get an average speed rating of 40.2 knots in the Gorge, and is currently listed as the 3rd fastest windsurfer in the US on  I actually got a little "Speed Talker" app for my iPhone that announces GPS speeds - but when I tested it while driving around, I noticed a 5-10 second delay between speed changes and the announcement of the new speed by the app. It seems like the app uses too much dampening to eliminate spikes in the GPS data. After that, I gave up on the idea for the time being.

But two weeks ago in Hatteras, I needed to buy a new waterproof armband for an extra GPS that I had brought along. I got lucky at Wind-NC, where Andy had a DryCase waterproof armband for $40, about the same cost as the the AquaPac armband I had been using. Here's an image:
Well, this bag had a headphone connector! I also liked the idea that it is vacuum sealed. This allows you to see if a bag has a leak before you hit the water. But perhaps more importantly, the vacuum creates a static cling between the plastic around the phone, and the phone and the plastic. When you open the bag after vacuum sealing it, you actually have to pry the plastic apart. I believe that this is a much better solution than regular waterproof bags that keep air on the inside: if you immerse a bag with air into water, the outside pressure will be higher than the pressure in the bag, pushing water into the bag through any little hole there may be. I think that the water intrusion in a DryCase bag will be a lot less even when the bag has a hole.

So for a GPS-loving windsurfing geek, the rest of the story is pretty predictable. I used the bag once or twice with my iPhone (which I had wrapped into a ziplock bag for extra safety). It worked, but I found the delay between actual speed changes and the announcements too irritating. Imaging having just fallen into the water, and the Speed Talker app tells you that you are still going at 20 knots!

So I did a bit of research for alternative apps, and discovered GPS Speed Talker. The great thing about this app is that it was developed by a speed surfer for GPS speed surfing. However, it is only available for android phones. But then, if you are really concerned about using an "officially approved" GPS unit, the app can actually tell you the speed that a GT-31 unit with bluetooth (a BGT-31) measures!

The next stop was to the local Best Buy. In the "No Contract" section, they had Android phones with GPS starting at  $89.99. I opted for an LG Optimus V for $129.99 because the provider (Virgin Mobile) offered a cheaper plan ($35/months for including web, messaging, and 300 minutes talk time). I don't have plans to activate the phone right away, but I might just do so in the future (and save about $30 per month compared to my current iPhone plan). Note that the phone is about $20 cheaper than a GT-31!

I tried the setup yesterday in a cold and rainy Nor'easter. Before going out, I had tied a piece of bright foam to the arm band - I have had arm band come off while sailing before, and the bag without any air in it would sink (or at least it did sink when I tried it in the kitchen sink). It worked quite well at first. But later, the wind picked up, and I had a number of falls, sometimes loosing the ear buds. It got pretty loud, too, between the wind, the small waves hitting the board, and the rain. After a while, I did not hear the announcements anymore, perhaps because some water had gotten into the earbuds. A bit later during a swim or waterstart, my arm caught the wire, and pulled the earbuds out of my ear, and the connector out of the housing. I just stuffed the ear phones into my neoprene hood, sailed to shore, and then put them into my dry suit. The ear buds I had used where also from DryCase ("DryBUDS", $29.99), because that't what Wind-NC had in store. They come with 3 different sizes of ear buds; one of these fit well enough on land, but eventually came out. I think I'll have to try different kinds of waterproof headphones - there are many available on, starting at $15, and the reviews from swimmers seem helpful.

When I got home, I wanted to compare the tracks from the GPS Speed Talker app with the tracks from the GT-31. However, I discovered that I had forgotten to press the "Start logging" button in the application, so there was nothing to be exported. I guess I am just to used to the GT-31, which automatically starts logging when you turn it on.

So yesterday's test of the GPS Speed Talker / android phone setup was only a mixed success. The conditions where at first too gusty, and then changed too quickly to survival-mode sailing, to allow me to try what I wanted to do: see how small changes in stance, angle, etc. would affect speed, with instant feedback. How crazy did it get yesterday? Well, let's see how the various members of the Fogland Speed Surfers team fared:

  • Nina went out on a 77 l board with a 4.5. At first underpowered in lulls and overpowered in gusts, then mostly overpowered. Had the smarts to stop before things got out of hand. Never made it all the way to the far shore where the water was flattest, so she did not get any good top speeds.
  • Dani had the bad luck of trying my 5.0 GPS sail, which I had rigged on a mast that just did not work for the sail. The sail was way too twitchy. Without a dry suit, Dani was quickly too cold and overpowered and stopped sailing. 
  • I made it to the other shore and did some speed runs in the flat water there. However, it was quite gusty close to shore, and the wind direction was a bit wrong - as the tide went out, the wind was partially blowing against the current, so it was not flat enough. When sailing away from shore, the swell/chop got bigger very quickly, so downwind runs were not really an option, either. My top speed was about 28 knots, which I found quite disappointing for the conditions. My nautical mile average of 24.17 knots was ok, though (my second-best ever). I later did a few runs on Dani's iSonic 86 with the GPS 5.0 sail, but with the wrong mast, it was harder to sail than the GPS 6.6, and I got nowhere close to getting near top speed on the board.
  • Dean is the fastest sailor in our little group, and often hits 35 knots if the conditions are right. He started late using his 6.7 m sail, but stayed out until dusk. He did not find any flat water for downwind runs, and was way overpowered towards the end, with half-frozen fingers since he had ditched his gloves early on. He did not reach any speeds that he found worthwhile posting.
  • Nikita is the second-fastest surfer in our group, and by far the best freestyler. He came even later, and rigged a beautiful 5.5 m GPS sail. Seeing his sail rigged made it very clear how badly the mast worked for my 5.0! Nikita is about 20% lighter than Dean and I are, so he was overpowered on the 5.5. He used gloves, which however killed his forearms in no time. He also did not reach speeds he found worthwhile posting.
  • Graham was the one windsurfer from our group that always seemed fully in control on water.  He was out on 4.4 at first, and later switched down to 4.0. He looked quite fast, but he was working on freestyle, and was not wearing a GPS. 
Recently, we got what we wished for - we wanted lots of wind, and got so much that even the best windsurfers in our groups were a bit overwhelmed. So maybe we have to formulate our wishes a bit more clearly: wind in the upper 20s, gusting into mid-30s, from NE or SW, without rain and with air temperatures above 50. Please?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Warm hands

We went windsurfing in a Nor'easter today - the start of the storm that will dump up to a foot of snow onto parts of Massachusetts. With predicted northeast winds, the spot was Duxbury. Temperatures were around 45F (7C), and as soon as we hit the water, the rain started. Over the next two hours, winds increased from the low 20s to mid 30s, with gusts in the 40s (mph).

For Nina, who really hates cold weather, it was the first cold session after the nice, warm winds in Hatteras. Still, she was nice and warm. So was I, but I had another cold windsurf session just a couple of days ago. Today, we were joined by quite a number of windsurfers: Dani, Graham (who has gotten a lot better over the summer), Dean, Nikita, and a few others. At least two of our friends today had problems with cold hands, which cut the session short, reduced the fun, limited speed, and/or let to bad crashes. They both did not sail with gloves (or ditched them after one run) because the gloves they have just did not work for them.

To me, this was quite frustrating, since I hate it if someone has no fun, or even stops sailing, because of cold hands. There are solutions to this problem! Nina and I have tried about 10 pairs of different windsurfing gloves and mittens in the past 2 years - and most of them did not work well. However, we found a few things that work well for both of us, even though we have different preferences, very different hand sizes, and differences in how sensitive we are to cold fingers.

There are two issues with most windsurfing gloves and mittens that cause problems:
  1. Bending the fingers also requires bending some material and therefore more force. This is most pronounced in thicker neoprene gloves.
  2. Loss of tactile sensation causes windsurfers to grip the boom harder. Gloves or mittens that do not fit well or slip on the fingers can make this problem worse.
Both problem cause sore forearms and reduced confidence when sailing. But for fall days like today, when the air and water temperatures are still quite a bit above freezing, the solution is easy:
get rid of the material between your fingers and the boom!

Solution 1: buy a pair of open-palm mittens. Open-palm mitts are available from several different manufacturers, and your local store should have some to try on. That's what Nina used for the first 30 minutes today. After that, her hands were warm enough to keep sailing without gloves or mittens.

My fingers are more cold-sensitive, but I still like to use open-palm mitts when it starts to get cold. One nice thing about them is that you can easily slip your fingertips out for rigging, or when you hands have gotten warm after sailing for a few minutes. I did not use them today, though, because they probably would not have been warm enough for me.

Solution 2: Cut out the material on the inside of neoprene gloves. Start with a pair of gloves that fit well, for example Glacier gloves (available for about $20 at L.L. Bean and many windsurf stores). Use scissors to cut out the material on the inside of the fingers. You'll notice right away that bending the fingers gets a lot easier. You can also cut out the material over the palm, if that's more comfortably to you (Nina does, I don't).

I find that the cut-out gloves are significantly warmer than the open-palm mitts, even if you start with a pair of gloves that are relatively thin. It's also easy enough to take the finger tips out for rigging etc.
Either of the two solutions shown above can keep your fingers nice and warm until the temperatures get closer to the freezing point. When you use them and you feel your fingers getting cold, make sure to take a quick break soon and shake your arms downward to make the blood go back into your fingers. If you wait too long, warming the fingers up again will really hurt! Another thing that helps is letting go with one hand while sailing, and hanging the arm down - this also will increase the blood flow in your fingers.

As air and water temperatures continue to drop, the two solutions I described above will eventually get too cold, and something warmer is needed. For some windsurfers (including Nina), pre-bent windsurfing mittens with a thin inner layer work well. I personally do not like them, and prefer two other solutions, which both add a layer to keep the water away from the skin: 
  1. Wearing thin kitchen gloves inside open-palm mitts.
  2. Using nylon mitten shells on top of neoprene gloves with the inside of the fingers cut out.
Here's a picture of the mitten shells I use, which I made by simply removing the stuffing from mittens, and glueing the seams to add some waterproofing:
Using nylon mitt shells (or neoprene mittens) also lets you use re-usable hand warmers to keep your finders warm and toasty.

Well, if you're thinking about stopping to windsurf soon because of cold fingers or sore forearms, I hope you try some of the things described above first!

Update (1/15/2015):
Someone asked why I had not posted anything new about gloves in more than 2 years. The reason is simple - since getting an Ianovated wetsuit in 2012, cold hands are not an issue anymore. I can now sail with open-palm mitts all winter long, since the tubes in the Ianovated suit allow me to blow warm air onto my hands when sailing. That works perfectly even if water and air temperatures are near freezing, and even though I have mild Raynaud's. Here are a few links:
I and several of my friends have ordered several suits directly from Ianovated, and always received them quickly and without any problems. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Staying warm and rigging right

Well, fall definitely has arrived. We sailed twice this week, Tuesday in Wellfleet and today in Duxbury (GPS tracks above). Wellfleet had typical NW winds: gusty and strong at first, then dying down even though the forecast had predicted the wind would stay all day. Air temperatures were around 60F (15 C), the water a bit warmer, and it was sunny - not a bad day, and nice being able to plane on a 5.3 m sail for a while.

Today's call was Duxbury: NE winds forecast in the low 20s, but arriving in the mid-20s early in the morning. The weather was quite different: air temperatures near 50F (10 C), and water temperatures that seemed to be almost as low. Instead of sun, we got rain - mostly light, but every now and then, it rained hard enough that I had to close the windward eye while sailing. Fortunately, watching out for other sailors was not required: Dani and I had the entire Duxbury bay to ourselves, and Dani had to stop after 20 minutes. He had over-estimated the water temperature and went out with thin summer boots, no gloves, and no hood. After a couple of runs, he had problems getting into the foot straps because he had lost all feeling in his toes. When I took a break almost an hour later, he was sitting in his van and still shivering, even though he had the heat on full blast, and had put on his 5 mm boots to warm his feet.

Dani is a pretty smart guy with lots of experience windsurfing in cold weather - so what made him go out today without the right protection from cold? Well, he sailed last Saturday in West Dennis, just 30 miles or so from Duxbury. There, he had used the summer boots and a thinner (3/2) wet suit, and was perfectly comfortable. The water in Cape Cod bay tends to be a bit colder than in West Dennis, but I had used a wet suit with short arms myself on Tuesday. It seems that the water has cooled down very rapidly since then.

Another part of the problem, I think, was that Dani was already cold when he got on the water. He had changed into his wet suit and summer booties to rig, since it was raining. But wet suits tend to get cold really fast on land.

So, here's a short summary of things to do to stay warm when windsurfing on cold, rainy days:

  1. Stay warm when getting your gear ready. Wear rain pants over your pants; winter boots; a warm jacket (e.g. a neoprene rigging jacket); a neoprene hood or warm hat; and rigging gloves. If you break a sweat, great! 
  2. Overdress on the water. Wear booties that are a bit warmer than you think you need; wear a dry suit or a wet suit that you know is warm enough for the conditions; use a neoprene hood and gloves. If you discover that you are too warm while sailing, it's easy enough to ditch some of this gear to cool down. But if you discover you are not dressed warm enough, your body will have cooled down so much that you probably need to (or should) end the session.
  3. Stay warm in breaks. If you are using gloves and/or are wearing a wet suit with long arms, your lower arms will probably get tired much more quickly than during summer sessions, and you'll need to take breaks. Any wetsuit or drysuit that's warm enough when windsurfing will be too cold when standing on land! So put on a warm jacket like a neoprene jacket, or whatever else will keep you warm. You did remember to bring a thermos with coffee or tea, right?
Since I hate getting cold when windsurfing, I followed my own advice. I thought I had overdressed a bit, but ended up being just perfectly comfortable. For gloves, I used Glacier gloves with the insides of the fingers cut out. That minimizes the extra effort needed to bend the fingers, and perhaps more importantly, gives me direct contact to the boom, so I don't grip too hard without noticing. My hands, which tend to get cold very quickly, stayed perfectly warm, despite my usual frequent water start practice.

Being perfectly comfortable despite the cold, I really enjoyed the session today. We started sailing shortly before high tide, which allowed us to sail close to the sandbar that separates Duxbury bay from the ocean, in really flat water. At the water got higher, there was more and more stuff floating on the surface - mostly dead reeds, sometimes in form of little islands up to 5 feet wide. Running into one of these at full speed would have caused a major catapult, which kept speed runs interesting. 

Just after the tide turned and starting going out, I went to the north side of the Powder Point Bridge to check the conditions there. However, the reeds were so bad that sailing there was almost impossible, and I quickly returned to the south side. Sailing back to the sandbar on the far side, I discovered that the combination of wind and outgoing tide had moved most of the floating obstacles towards the land side of the bay, and the speed strip now was clear. I had a number of great runs along the sandbar, but then decided to keep the session short since I was the only one on the water, and I assumed that Dani, who was watching me, wanted to leave.

While the session was a lot of fun, I was pretty disappointed with my top speed of 32 mph (27.5 knots). I had gotten a number of downwind runs in very flat water, and although the wind near shore was a bit gusty, I am sure that I caught some gusts of around 30 mph on decent downwind angles. I was sailing my Fanatic Hawk 95 and my Hot Sails Maui GPS 6.6 m sail. Less than 2 weeks ago in Hatteras, I had reached 31 mph (27.2 knots) in substantially more chop and less wind (gusts were 26 mph or less). What gives?

One potential explanation is that the wind meters were wrong, and that the wind was actually very similar on both days. That, however, is not the case: in Hatteras, I had to work to get planing and stay on a plane, and rarely felt fully powered. Today, I was fully powered 90% of the time, and really nicely powered in some of the gusts. In recent months, I typically go about 25-30% faster than than the wind even in chop. Today, that would have meant a top speed of 35-40 mph, not just 32 mph. 

The one thing that was different today was that I used a different mast. In Hatteras, I had rigged the sail on a 460 cm Powerex 100% RDM mast. That required a scary amount of downhaul tension - the sail is spec'd for a 430 mast with a 36-38 cm extension. So today, I rigged the sail on a 430 cm Gaastra 100% RMD mast. The sail did not look quite right - the profile below the boom was noticeably shallower. Getting all the cams on also was a bit more challenging, another indicator that the mast may be a mismatch for this sail. And despited the shallow profile below the boom, I had to use a few centimeters of positive outhaul to keep the sail from touching the boom too much. The sail is spec'd for negative outhaul, and with the Powerex mast, I had sailed it with neutral outhaul.

In Hatteras with the Powerex 460 mast, the sail felt both powerful and very slippery. Most of the drive seemed to be forward and translated directly into speed. I had sailed a Pilot 6.5 m sail earlier that day, and the GPS was about 3 knots faster, despite feeling a lot lighter (except when water starting it...).

Today on the Gaastra mast with positive outhaul, the sail felt heavy and slow. There was a substantially higher amount of sideway pull, and I had real problems getting comfortably until I moved the boom down about 2 inches. But even after that, the sail never gave the slippery sensation that is typical for a race sail.

The mast itself is not a problem - it works beautifully with a couple of Gaastra sails. However, it appears to have a bend curve that really does not go well with the GPS sail. The sail looks ok when rigged on land, but it performs poorly on the water when rigged on the Gaastra mast. I had read about problems from mismatched masts, but we usually mix & match sails and masts pretty randomly, and never noticed real problems. However, we usually also do not know what a sail would feel like on the proper mast! Still, seeing such a big difference between the two masts was somewhat surprising. I can't wait to try the sail in similar conditions in Duxbury on the Powerex mast!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Windy Thursday video

Last Thursday was day 4 of the ABK Clinic in Hatteras, and I will remember it as "Windy Thursday". Wind averages were in the mid-30s, gusts in the low 40s. Still, every single camper went out on the water and tried to master the conditions. Here is a short video with some clips from the afternoon, when most of us where pretty tired already:

Most windsurfers in our group worked on jibes, fall jibes, and jump jibes. The fall/jump part in the fall/jump jibe was reasonably easy, but  the clew-first waterstart in 35-40 mph was something rather different, even with the 3.7-4.5 m sails we were on. After a few failed tries, I remembered that Andy had called the Shove It a great move for overpowered conditions, so I decided to work on that instead. I did not make much progress, although my tries got me to the point where I can start making theories about the move. For once, however, I'll wait until I have tested my theories before I blog about them. At least I'm not alone with not getting the Shove It right away - other windsurfers have needed several months of practice or more to learn it. I also found some nice hints on the Windsurf Canada forum that explain the importance of front foot carving and the similarity to the laydown jibe. The same posts include a link to a Shove It by Taty Frans which is not as tweaked as most other Shove Its, and therefore probably more similar to the Shove Its a beginner would do.

The last day of the ABK Clinic was another light wind day. Nina and I worked on Reverse Duck Jibes and Duck Tacks. I managed to complete one of each on my Skate 110, although the Duck Tack included a duck rather than a nice throw. Andy made me sail on a 140 l board with a 5.6 Loco rig that was ridiculously light, and I made a Duck Tack on that combo within the first few tries, and also a few Reverse Duck Jibes. Maybe the 6.5 m sail is a bit big for learning new light wind freestyle moves after all.

We had 3 planing days in our week in Hatteras (plus one crazy day with winds from 20-50 mph and rain where we did not sail). If we had stayed home, we would have had about 6 planing day instead. But we definitely would not have learned as much here as we did there, so I'm definitely glad we went. Now I just hope that the water up here stays warm enough to practice freestyle for a while longer!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Light wind day

The second day of the ABK clinic in Hatteras once again had plenty of sun and warm water. The wind was light today, so there was a lot of backwind sailing, heli tacks, and upwind 360s to be seen - and a lot of improvement over the course of the day. Nina worked on some fin-first upwind 360s, duck tacks, and a few more things Andy suggested. I learned the clew-first upwind 360, which took me a couple of hours, spread over the morning and afternoon sessions. The initial tries where quite frustrating - slicing the sail forward clew-first, and then controlling pressure to turn again, was not exactly easy. But having light side-off wind with really flat water definitely helped, and I eventually got the trick. The clew-first heli tack, which is just the first half of the trick, came as a "free" bonus from learning the 360. Afterwards, I played a bit with the duck tack / switch duck jibe. My initial attempts were rather sad, even though I had gotten a few duck tacks in January in Bonaire - but that was on a huge board, and today, I was sailing my Skate 110. When Andy demonstrated the trick for me, it (of course) looked easy and elegant - but he explained a few key points, and I did make some progress afterwards. While I did not complete a duck tack today, another light wind day might be enough.

For the next two days, however, high wind stuff is on the schedule - the wind forecast calls for averages between 25 and 34 mph for tomorrow and Thursday. There may be some thunderstorms tomorrow, and probably a lot of rain, but Thursday should be sunny and windy :)