Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Marginal winds

May has not been great for wind here in the Northeast, with lots of rain and fog. During the last week, we went windsurfing three times in Fogland, which lived up to its name and greeted us with fog two of the three days.

The first day had a decent forecast, and we went hoping for some thermals and tunneling up the bay, which can create wonderful conditions. Alas, the fog never really lifted, and we ended up doing light wind tricks. I had brought my good old Bic Techno 293 to work a bit on duck tacks. However, I got to try my new Gaastra Pilot 6.5 m sail for the first time, and loved it. No real surprise here, I bought it because I had liked it a lot in January on Bonaire, where it became my go-to sail. Still, I just loved how light it felt - definitely a great sail for freestyle. Nina loved it too when she tried it, which makes this sail really exceptional - usually, she does not like the sails I love, and vice versa.

Towards the end of the session, when the wind became a bit too light for duck tacks, I decided to work some more on heli tacks. I have been doing heli tacks for a while now, and they are easy enough now on a big board in light winds. Nevertheless, when I concentrated on the foot work, I finally understood something that I heard in many lectures for different tricks: minimize your body movements. That's a big element in Andy Brandt's duck jibe lecture ("don't duck!"), but also a part of the planing tack, where steps that are too big carry you right past the mast and into the water. When I focused on where I stepped during the heli tack, I discovered that bringing the feet close together before the final steps allows you to keep the body much stiller. That makes the whole trick easier, and easier looking, since there's little movement, except for the sail. Most likely, "discovering" this is based on sub-conscious memories of something that Andy or one of the ABK instructors told me a long time ago when watching my heli tack attempts. I often learn this way: at first, not understanding or perhaps pretending to do what I am told, and then understanding what it's all about a year or two later. It's really good that the ABK instructors have so much patience...

The next day of windsurfing was last Saturday - a late decision when we saw the wind pick up above the forecast. Again, I grabbed my Techno 293 since I did not want to waste time digging my slalom board out of the shed. We made it to Fogland in time to catch the tail end of two hours of decent wind (averages 17-18 mph, gusts up to 22). But while I had loved the Techno for light wind the day before, I really did not like how it felt when planing. The GPS speeds where ok for the conditions, but it felt like I was dragging a parachute in the water behind me. All the sailing on fast and lively freestyle and slalom boards has spoiled me, I guess. I even went and put a big fin into my Skate 110 so I could put my 8.5 m sail on it. That worked even better than I remembered, but the wind had dropped too much, so I only got a few planing runs in gusts in. Still, it was a lovely day in Fogland, seeing old friends again and even some sun (finally!).

The prospect of sailing with friends again was one reason we went back to Fogland the next day. Another reason was that this was predicted to be the last windy day of the month, and we were hoping to  improve our standing in the GPS Team Challenge a bit. The first thing we noticed when driving to the beach was a light wind freestyler, a rare sight in Fogland. This turned out to be Nico, out for his first session of the season, working on 360s, duck tacks, switch duck jibes, and a few tricks I don't even know the name for - nice!

Dani showed up again with his new Ray 115 and his Maui Sails TR7 8.4, and this time, I brought my Warp SL 71. Dani is about 50 pounds lighter than me, so he planed most of the day; I often needed gusts to get going (which maxed out at 20 mph), but had about one hour where I was planing most of the time. I took the Warp out onto the river, and was amazed how well it handled the river chop. I actually did get my top speed out in the middle of the river, rather than in the flatter water of the bay. For the conditions, I was happy with my top speed of 28 mph. Dani and Sabah also got some good nautical mile runs on the river, so we managed to improve our ranking in this category by a few spots - not bad considering that we were just barely planing most of the time. Cesar, Fogland's great speed sailing motivator, also showed up for his first season of the year, but he'll need a bit more wind before his speed machines leave us in the dust again.

Compared to planing on the Techno the day before, surfing the Warp was a entirely different world. Despite being 9 cm narrower and a lot shorter, the Warp planes up just as quickly; pumping it onto a plane is a whole lot easier, since it's so much lighter. Once on a plane, it is and absolute blast to sail - my hands wanted to leave the boom all the time to drag in the water or wave to other surfers. I can't wait to sail this board in 25-30 mph winds on perfectly flat water!

With marginal winds and short runs in the bay, I had to tack most of the time to get back to where I started. With 8 more liters than my Skate 110, the Warp feels big when tacking, even though I still managed to push the nose under water during most tacks. But then, it seems easier to push the nose through the wind when it's under water - whatever works! With so little good wind recently, I sailed for more than 4 hours, and my tacks got wetter and wetter as the day progressed. It will be interesting to see how my windsurfing develops when I will have the luxury of being at a place where it's windy every day for several weeks in a row. With just an hour or two of sailing every day, maybe I'll try more new things, and spend less time trying to hang on as longs as possible...

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