Saturday, March 19, 2011

Speedsurfing in Hyannis

This is our tale from a day of windsurfing in Hyannis on March 18, 2011.

View Sea Street Beach, Hyannis in a larger map

7:05 am: 23 mph winds (20-28)
Getting ready to leave. The forecast predicts the best wind at 11 am, with a drop afterwards. The best forecast is for the Cape, but tides are very high, so we have decided to go to the Sea Street Beach in Hyannis, with plans to tack up to the "Kennedy slick" - the pier in Hyannis Port harbor that stops the waves and creates really smooth water. The parking lot of Ocean Avenue is large enough, and starting at the Sea Street Beach instead of Kalmus should cut the effort needed to cruise up into smooth water by more than half.

8:40 am: 29 mph (24-33)
We stop for a short coffee break in Hyannis. The wind is still picking up :)

9:10 am: 22 mph (18-25)
At the beach, ready too rig, but the wind has dropped. According to the wind readings, we'd have to rig big, which we don't want to do. We drive to Kalmus to check it out - more white caps, but similar wind. We decide to rig my 5.8 race sail and a 4.2 for Nina, hoping that the wind picks up.

11:00 am: 38 mph (33-47)
Finally on the water! The wind has picked up so much that the 5.8 is a bit big for the chop at the launch site. I go for one run out, then head back on the beach to warm up the hands.

Nina seems to have problems with waterstarting about 1/4 mile out, where the chop gets bigger and irregular. After almost 10 minutes, she finally makes it back to shore. She does not look happy. The open-palm gloves she was wearing are not warm enough for long stays in the water. As her fingers get warm again, they start to hurt badly. I carry her gear upwind while she screams into the wind.

With her 4.2 sail on a 76 l wave board, the sailing was ok, but she was totally overpowered when trying to waterstart. Wind gusts hit 47 mph, and she just got pulled straight over the board a number of times. We decide to rig the 3.7 sail for her. Here's a video from her run out:

11:45 am: 36 mph (32-40)
I hit the water again, this time with the 4.2. I still got plenty of power, but it's a lot easier to hold than the 5.8. I then watch Nina as she goes out. The 3.7 North Ice is not just smaller, but also easier to depower than the 4.2 Expression, and she's doing ok. I try to convince her to tack up to the pier to get some really flat water, but she looks sceptical and tells me to go ahead.

12:00 pm: 35 mph (30-42)
I sail upwind to the wall, hoping for some nice speed runs. The water is a lot rougher than it was last Saturday, since (a) the wind is stronger and (b) the tide is higher. Still, I make it up into the harbor inside of the boat ramp within 15 minutes. Launching at the Sea Street Beach makes the trip up to the wall a lot easier.

12:20 pm: 34 mph (29-42)
Time for a few speed runs at the wall. Today, the harbor is not really as smooth as I have seen it before. At high tide, some of the waves makes it through the holes in the pier. Furthermore, the wind is more WSW than SW, which gives the waves a bit more space to form. Once past the initial section of the wall, the water gets smoother, although the chop starts to form 100 feet from the wall. My speed runs are up to 300 or 400 meter long, although just half of this is downwind. Rather than running into the chop past the cover of the wall, I start my jibes well before the end when the water is still prefectly flat. Here's a video:

The video shows how much smoother the water gets closer to the wall. Is also shows that the tail of the board seems to constantly away in the speed runs. However, I think that's just an illusion from the boom-mounted camera, caused by sail movements. My stance was definitely not locked in enough.

Since Nina is not following me, I decide to cut the session at the wall short and sail back. Playing with the increasing chop on the way back is a lot of fun. Back at the beach, we chat with a few other sailors that have arrived, including Martin. Nina says she was sailing ok, but had some problems with waterstarts, and just could not make it upwind to the wall. I think it was a combination of the strong winds, the chop, sailing just once in the last 4 weeks, and the frustrating start with the too-big sail.

1:15 pm: 30 mph (25-34)
The wind seems to be dropping, but I go out for a few more runs on the 4.2. Not planing all the time, I go back in to switch sails.

1:30 pm: 25 mph
Sailing with the 5.8 again is fun at first, but within 20 minutes, the wind drops to below 20, which is just not enough from my 82 l board, so we call it a day. Back at the beach, a number of windsurfers have arrived by now, but they need to use bigger sails. After a short drop, wind averages stay above 20 mph until almost 4 pm, but we've had enough playing in the 35+ wind earlier.


Sailing from the Sea Street Beach was definitely a good idea. Right at the shore, the wind is perhaps a bit weaker that in Kalmus, but it picks up to full strength a short distance from shore. The chop at the launch area is nicely organized and smaller than in Kalmus, making it easier to get out on a very windy day when the tide is high, and allowing some fun wave rides. As you sail out for half a mile in SW, you loose the protection of the Hyannis Port harbor pier, and the chop becomes very similar to what you get sailing out from Kalmus. For speed runs in the "Kennedy Slicks" next to the harbor wall, this is a much better launch than Kalmus, since (a) you have to sail upwind only for 1/2 mile instead of a full mile, and (b) you avoid the worst chop, making it easier to get to the slicks with a larger sail. The parking lot is not as large as in Kalmus, but big enough for a number of windsurfers, and there is plenty of grass for rigging. That said, I'd probably pick Kalmus over Sea Street on a less windy day, especially when I am not planning to tack up to the wall for speed runs.

My top speed for the day (53 km, 28.8 knots) was a bit disappointing. The wind was definitely strong enough to go past 30 knots. The only thing that was apparent while I was on the water was that the sail was not quite as well-behaved as last Saturday, when I reached similar speeds in less wind. The different was probably the boom: I used an aluminum boom instead of my regular X5 hybrid boom with a carbon tail piece. Even though the boom was near it's shortest setting, I think it flexed more than the hybrid boom. The more interesting thing was the movements of the board tail ("mini spinouts") that I did not notice while sailing, but which are easy to see on the video. I'll make sure to use a large fin next time, and will check the videos to see if that helps. Trying out my old Mistral slalom board is another thing I'll try - it's not as wide, but has higher and sharper rails, and is still the board that I have set my personal records on.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kalmus Season Opener

I went for the first windsurf session in Kalmus yesterday. Jeff, Graham, Chris, Martin, and a few other windsurfers also showed up, so we had almost a crowd, considering that the water temperature was about 38 F (4C), and the air about 42 F (6C). But it was sunny, and we had great wind:
The averages were between 30 and 35 mph for almost 5 hours, with gusts below 40 and lulls that stayed above 25 for a long time. That's nice, steady wind!
We all missed the first 2 hours; most of us hit the water shortly before 11 am, just when the tide was low. Chris and Graham went out on 3.5s and were nicely powered. I wanted to go for speed, so I rigged my 5.8 KA Koncept. But despite the low tide, the water was just to choppy for me to keep the sail controlled and sheeted it, and the wind was still picking up. I just was not comfortable enough to try and tack up a mile to the Hyannis Port harbor for speed runs, so I rigged down to a 4.2 m NP Expression.

Back out on the water, I was still fully powered on the 4.2, and tacked up to the harbor, which took about 30 minutes. Here are the GPS tracks:

The harbor is nicely sheltered by a stone wall, which makes for great flat water for speed runs. The wind direction was just a bit too westerly for totally flat water and top speeds, but I had a total blast everytime I got near the fall and went on downwind speed runs. Here, I paid for my caution: the 4.2 that had made getting there easy enough was a bit small for deep downwind runs. Of course, it's also a bit slower than the double-luffed, cambered speed sail, so my top speeds staid close to 50 kmh. Still, entering jibes at this speed in perfectly flat water is an absolute blast!

After a bit more than an hour of 700 m runs in the harbor, I decided to take a small break and then head back to Kalmus beach. Just in time, too - the wind was going down, and I was able to plane only about the first half of the way back. After that, the 82-l board was just a bit too small for my 200+ pounds (counting all the layers under the dry suit) and the Kalmus voodoo chop. The last 15 minutes were more work than the hour before that! By the time I made it back, my arms were starting to cramp up, so it was time to call it a day.

Talking about voodoo chop: my little cruise yesterday helped me understand why it is so disorderly in Kalmus. Since last fall, we took advantage of the the plethora of sailing sites in the area, and encountered nice swell in Duxbury, Skaket, West Dennis, and the Sakonnet River. In comparison, the chop in Kalmus yesterday was very chaotic, with almost no discernible patterns: the typical Kalmus voodoo chop. As I was sailing back from the wall in the harbor, I noticed that the swell picked up (no real surprise here :). At first, the swell was 100% driven by the wind, and therefore going in the direction the wind was going. I was a bit amazed how fast it built up - just a few hundred feet from the wall, the swell was perhaps a couple of feet high. But as I was leaving the shelter of the wall and approaching Kalmus beach, a second set of waves came into play: waves that were coming from the open ocean. These were parallel to the shore, and almost at a right angle to the wind and the wind-driven waves. As the two sets of waves intermingled, things became chaotic and unpredictable. I had actually made a somewhat similar observation in West Dennis recently: with a wind direction more parallel to the shore, the swell pattern there also became a bit more chaotic (although not nearly as voodoo-like as in Kalmus).

Still, I think Kalmus is one of the really great places to windsurf. If you don't feel like improving your chop hops or other skills in the vood chop, just sail out to the point for nicer waves (something I still have to do), or sail over to the harbor or Lewis bay for some nice flat water. Hope to see you there soon!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fogland, south side

One of my favorite windsurf places is Fogland in Tiverton, RI. Up until today, I have always sailed on the north side. The water in the little bay area is shallow, between knee and shoulder deep (depending on tides and exact location). In S-SW winds that prevail in spring and summer, the water in the bay is very flat - flatter than Bonaire. Since the bay is only about 500 m (1/4 mile) wide, you get to practice jibing a lot. On occasion, I have ventured past the little island into the river, but when starting on the north side, the little island can cast quite a bit of a wind shadow.

When deciding where to go windsurfing today, I picked Fogland, since it's a safe place to surf when you are alone, and I could not get anyone else to commit to a place before I left this morning (my lovely wife is visiting her family). However, the tide was really low in the early afternoon, and I was in the mood for longer runs, so I wanted to try the south side. The runs there are more than a mile long - unfortunately for GPS sailing, a bit shorter than a nautical mile.

When I got to Fogland, the winds looked so low that I considered rigging small and practicing light wind freestyle. However, with air temps around 5 C and water temps a bit lower, I was not really motivated. After a few minutes, another windsurfer (Dave) pulled up, and while we were chatting, the wind picked up. We rigged big (Dave 6.5, I 7.0), and soon were out on the water. The wind was gusting at first, and Dave, who sailed for the first time since November, struggled a bit, although his jibes were dry and did not look bad to me.

Following his example, I waded out a bit to the point where the wind line was, and soon was planing. After a few adjustments, I started having some serious fun. The water is pretty flat on the launch site, but as you get further out into the river, small swell forms and becomes bigger and bigger as you approach the other shore. Even though the winds were not very strong (low to mid 20s), the swell near the far end was big enough for some little wave rides and jumps. Fun! At the same time, the swell was nicely organized so that staying on the water when you did not want to jump was really easy - not like the voodoo chop in Kalmus on a windy day!

I sailed a bit more than 2 hours, with a couple of small breaks to drink some hot tea and change gloves. The wind got steadier, and I nailed most of my jibes thanks to help from the swell on the far side, and nice flat water on the inside. I really like windsurfing on the south side of Fogland - you can pick the level of swell you want by picking where you jibe, or do long runs and enjoy the gradual change.

As much fun as the south side is, the flat water on the north side is definitely better for top GPS speeds. Wind meter readings show gusts above 30 miles today, but my top speed was only 27 mph. I was in my Fanatic Skate 110, which is a bit slower than the my smaller boards, but I have hit more then 30 mph on it several times on the north side in similar conditions. However, for nautical mile runs, one hour averages, and total distance, the long runs on the south side are a definitive advantage. Indeed, I got ok reads in these three categories today - if only one of the other Fogland Speedsurfers had been there, too! Well, it's getting warmer now, so we'll hopefully enjoy their company before the end of the month.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fast Fogland

Spring is close, and the winds are starting to change - south winds now are often better than the north winds that dominate fall and winter here. We scored a couple of nice S and SW sessions in Fogland today and two days ago.

The Monday session started a bit crazy. The weather forecast called for "showers", which did not sound too bad. But when we arrived in Tiverton, it had been raining cats & dogs for an hour straight, and there was no indication that the rain would end any time soon. We stopped at the Coastal Roasters for a coffee and cookies, and then drove to Fogland. The rain had created a little lake at the entrance that looked like it was about 4-6 inches deep - or so I hoped. Well, it was not much deeper, my little Civic made it through just fine, pulling out trailer. Winds were very much up and down, but the rain was constant. With temperatures just a few degrees above freezing, we seriously considered just driving back home. But my iPhone and the NWS radar maps saved us - looking at a few successive maps, it became apparent that the worst of the rain had already passed us. Indeed, the rain stopped 20 minutes later, the wind became more stable, and we decided to give it a go. The goal was to get some speed runs, so that the Fogland Speedsurfers would not end the month of February at the bottom of the GPS Team Challenge Ranking.

Nina went out on her 76 l wave board with a 4.2, I used my 82 l Super-X and a 5.5. Winds were rather gusty and dropped a bit after a while, so we were a bit underpowered most of the time, but fully powered in the gusts. Nina set a new 2-second speed best, and I got some ok runs in, too, that moved us out of the last place in 2 and 5x10 second ratings. However, the short runs and gusty winds did not allow us to get good long-distance speeds or total distance, so we remained in last place on the team challenge.

Well, today was a new month, early morning wind readings were in the mid-20s, and the forecast predicted even more wind around noon. It was also sunny, so we just had to go back to Fogland. On the way, we saw more white caps on the river than I had ever seen before, and the meter readings showed gusts in the 40s - nice! We rigged our smallest sails (3.7 and 4.2), and went out on the same boards as two days before. It was definitely windier! Alas, it was also low tide, which shortened runs even more, and created some unwanted ground contact a few times. After an hour, the wind dropped a bit, and we were underpowered again - so I rigged my KA Koncept 5.8, and Nina switched to the 4.2. She was nicely powered then, and so was I, with gusts still in the upper 30s.

I played around with a few things today. The first one was a switch from a 28 cm slalom fin to a 26 cm Tangent Dynamics Reaper weed fin (while I was still sailing the 4.2). That gave me an immediate speed boost, and a more controllable ride - nice. Indeed, the small Reaper almost looks like a modern speed fin with a lot of rake. When I switched to the 5.8 later, the fin was a bit small to go upwind well; but the short runs (400-450 m) did not help, either.

I rigged the 5.8 m sail when the wind had gone down a bit. Of course, as soon as it was ready, the wind came back as strong as it had been when the 4.2 had been big enough. This was an interesting test - how would the cambered speed sail handle the gusts? Not surprisingly, it did great, and handled gusts close to 40 without any problems. My top speeds started to go above 50 kmh in almost every run, which is pretty fast for me. The wind was definitely strong enough for faster runs, at least in some gusts. I could blame my limited speed on the short runs or the bad timing of the gusts, but it probably was mainly just me not putting the pedal to the metal.

But on the other hand, this was my third-fastest session even (based 5 x 10 second averages), and my fastest session ever in Fogland - so I'm really not unhappy. I got a nice jibe in, too, where I was standing on the board without power in the sail and saying to myself "I can't believe the board kept this much speed!". Unfortunately, all my good jibes today were at the end of long downwind runs into low-wind regions, so I did not get a good alpha. Nina beat me on the alpha today, and by quite a margin, too!

Nina's jibes are definitely looking ever-better. She still has not planed through one yet, but she is getting close, and the GPS readings confirm this. She made most of her jibes dry today, too, and overall looked great on the water. Her top speed readings were very close to her personal bests, even though she did not do any speed runs until the wind had gone down a lot towards the end of the session.

Air temperatures today were about 5 C (41 F), and water temps probably a few degrees lower. We were nice and warm the entire time; it probably helped that we mostly stayed where we could stand, but we also did have a few falls where we could not touch ground. The dry suits and 7 mm boots are definitely great; for hands and heads, open-palm or open-finger mitts and gloves and light neoprene hoods were good enough. Just to stay really warm, I also tried my NRS Reactor gloves again today, and loved them. They have pre-bent fingers which makes holding onto the boom pretty easy, with minimal lower-arm fatigue, and were plenty warm today.

Today was just a great day, and for once, the wind forecast was right on target. Looking at the iWindsurf sensors, Fogland had higher average winds and gusts today than West Dennis, which will happen more often as it gets warmer. Winds in West Dennis were steadier, but again, as it gets warmer, southerly winds in Fogland will get steadier, too. Hopefully, we'll see more of the Fogland windsurfers on the water soon!