Monday, August 15, 2011

Better fall winds than no winds

Ok, I admit it: I'm addicted. Just back from 6 weeks in Maui, where I sailed a total of 37 days, mostly on a 77l board with a 4.5, I just could not stop myself from going windsurfing in Duxbury today.

Temperatures were just below 70, and it was raining hard. What made it really seem like fall, though, was the wind direction: east, later turning to northeast. That's what we typically get in October or November - but from what I have heard, the summer here in the Northeast was stinky, anyway, with the typical SW winds mostly being absent. So maybe the early arrival of fall winds is a good thing...

I arrived when the wind had just dropped from 28 to 23 mph, and the water looked incredibly flat. Since Nina was not yet ready to brave the rain and cold, I had not brought the trailer, and only stuffed the 117 slalom board into the car. With barely a white cap in sight, I rigged the 7.0, which got me planing nicely. Oh how sweet it was to be on flat water again! The outboard footstraps, however, felt funny, and I just could not get comfortable with the front straps. And then there was the needle-like pain from the horizontally flying rain drops which was just a tad distracting...

The wind picked up steadily, and the 7.0 sail was starting to feel a bit big when the gusts approached the mid-30s. Funny how flat water works - in similar wind on Maui, the 4.5 would have felt big, and there's no way I would have been out on a 71 cm wide slalom board. The fog got a bit denser, too, and I was still the only one out on the water, so I called it a day. Putting things away in 30-mile winds and rain made me really appreciate the hot shower when I got home later!

Well, I got my fix for the day. I really missed the flat water! I did not get any good speed today, but I'll blame the rain for slowing me down:) Did not matter, anyway, since nobody else from our speedsurfing team was out, and we need at least 2 sailors out for the results to count.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Euro pin base => Lost board

I remember reading a while ago in Jamin Jones' blog  about unintentional disconnects at the universal - specifically, unintentional disconnects with the "euro pin" system. Well, when we got to Maui, I had forgotten about this, and used the euro pin adapters that were in the van we got as part of the house exchange. It worked fin for about 32 days - but you can probably guess what's coming next.

Today, we sailed at Sprecks, at least in part to celebrate our 3-year wedding anniversary. The anniversary is tomorrow, but the wind forecast was better for today, so we decided to go a day earlier. I had a hard time on my first run out; things got a little better when I switched down from my 93 l board to my 77 l Goya One. In my third set of runs, I was finally feeling good again: getting nice speed on the runs in, planing through a jibe on the inside, and having some nice jumps going out. Then, a jump over a bigger wave went wrong, and I came down with a pretty steep nose-first landing. I had not planned it that way, so I crashed, and hit the mast with my head. As crashes go, this one was not bad at all - nothing hurt, as I discovered when sorting things out. So I prepared for a waterstart - and discovered there was no board at the end of my sail! Looking around, I say the board drifting downwind about 20 m away from me! I tried to swim after it right away, but it picked up speed quickly in the 25-30 mph winds, and I did not have a chance. I could see that the euro pin adapter was still attached and intact on top of the board. I swam back to the rig and checked the bottom of the adapter, and that looked just fine, too.

I think the board was going into the water nose-first at a pretty steep angle, maybe 60 degrees. Since this was unplanned, I had pressure in the sail, and was hooked in, so when I crashed, the adapter was pulled straight out of the euro pin. As Jamin Jones explains in the link above, there's just one little bit of metal preventing this - and it failed.

Some fellow windsurfers stopped by shortly afterwards and offered to help, but by then, the board was already out of sight. I was just 500 m from shore, with wind and waves pushing me towards Camp One, so I ended up just holding on to the rig and half swimming, half getting dragged to the shore. That took about half an hour, with a few interesting minutes in the breaking waves before Camp One, where the water was just about 4 feet deep. But eventually, I made it to shore with the rig intact. I walked downwind a bit to see if the board had landed at the same place, but was told by some fishermen that it had drifted by about 15 minutes earlier, on it's way to Kanaha or Kahului Harbor.

After a walk back to Sprecks and de-rigging, Nina and I walked the beaches from below kite beach to Camp One, looking for the board, but did not find it. It's sad enough about the board, because I really liked it, and had planned to take it home. It was old and not so pretty anymore, and we got it for $200, but it was very nice to sail. It took my freestyle fin from my Fanatic Skate with it which I had put in - no huge loss since I have plenty of big fins, and I'll need a smaller fin if I ever start the slidey tricks. But the board also took the 2-screw mast base and the euro pin connector with it, which I had borrowed and will need to replace. That will hurt double, first because it will cost close to $100, and second because I'll be replacing a system that is just obviously flawed.

One potential reason for any disconnects like the one I had today is always operator error. However, we can safely exclude this today: I had take the board-rig setup out for two sets of runs before, carrying everything to and from the water, turning the board over (and having it turned over by the waves), crashing a few times, and so on.

Despite loosing the board, I was lucky in many respects - it was the cheapest of the boards we used here; it happened a few days before the the end of our stay; I was relatively close to shore in side-on winds; I was wearing a floaty crash vest which gave me peace of mind; the water was nice and warm; and I had plenty of offers for help. Even so, this was a very unpleasant experience that I do not wish to repeat - so I will not use euro pin bases in the future when I can avoid it. Even more so since jumps with nose-first landings are definitely on the things that I want to learn!

Many many thanks to all the windsurfers in Sprecks who stopped by and offered help, and/or went to search for my board. Even though I ended up just drifting in, I really did appreciate your offers to help! Knowing that you guys were out there watching me made the swim in a whole lot easier.

One of the surfers who stopped by to help said he had seen two similar board-rig separations in the last 2 days. So in the future, I'll make sure to always have 10 or 20 feet of thin line in my harness pocket, so that I can catch and drag a board if I'm close enough.


I did get the board back two days later - a windsurfer had seen it drifting between Camp One and Kanaha, put it on the beach for a while, and then taken it home when nobody came to claim it. He responded to our ad in the "Lost & Found" section on the Maui Craigslist, and his wife brought the board into town today on here way to the gym. Thanks again, Bob & Stella!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kanaha Wind Sensors

Warning: this entire post is kind of pointless. If you're not a geek, I suggest you don't bother reading it :)
During the past 5 weeks here in Maui, we have often wondered about the Kanaha wind sensor on iWindsurf/Windalert. Sometimes, it seemed to understand the wind by 5-10 miles; sometimes, it seemed accurate; and every now and then, the wind sensor readings seemed to high.

Yesterday was a day where the sensor readings were both too low and too high within a 3-hour period. This is what happened on the water:

  • 3:20 pm - 3:40 pm: First few runs on a 4.5 m sail, 77 l board combo. Very windy, I had to sail partially sheeted in quite often, which means gusts were above 40 mph.
  • 3:50 pm - 4:30 pm: Next set of runs - more comfortable, but still fully powered, at first, then the wind dropped. Towards the end of the 40 minutes, I did not plane the whole time anymore (nor was anyone else, except perhaps the racers on slalom gear and big sails).
  • 4:30 pm - 5:10 pm: The wind had dropped a lot, and almost everyone came off the water. Around 5, the wind picked up again a bit.
  • 5:10 pm - 5:45 pm: I switched to  bigger board (93 l FSW) with a big (30 cm) fin. I needed both the bigger board and some push from the waves to get planing. Towards the end, the wind dropped a little, so planing consistently became harder and harder.
Here's the Kanaha wind sensor readings for the day:
A few things here are very wrong:
  1. The drop shown is just 5 mph, and even less in the gusts.
  2. The graph shows that the wind supposedly picked up around 5 pm, and then was stronger than before.
That's not what happened on the water. The drop was at least 10 mph, and the wind after 5 pm was significantly weaker than earlier during the day, especially in the gusts. This is exactly what the (free) airport wind sensor shows:

The averages look a bit too low on the airport sensor, but the gusts look about right (perhaps a few miles low). What's easy to see on the airport sensor graph is that the wind direction shifted a bit, from ENE to NE. The Kanaha sensor is located "on the outer breakwater of Kahului Hbr", more than 2 miles from the Upper's launch spot. That's about half way to where the West Maui mountains start. Easterly winds would run straight into the mountains, so we'd expect a windward wind shadow. As the winds turn more northerly, the mountains redirect the wind (so that sailors in Kihei get the strong north winds). It seems that this can generate winds that are significantly stronger in the harbor than a couple of miles upwind at Uppers. 

Even sailing straight out at Uppers, there's quite a bit of local variation in the wind. Of course, there's less wind close to the shore, where the trees block the wind a bit. But at some days, there's also a very noticeable drop in wind strength when you sail out between half a mile and a mile; other days, the wind seems to keep going up the further out you go. Keeps life interesting...

So, as many locals have known for a long time, the free airport sensor appears to more accurate than the Kanaha sensor - just make sure to add a few miles to the averages, or go by the gusts. The one drawback it has is that the readings are updated just once an hour. If you'd rather use the Kanaha sensor, keep in mind that it probably will be low for ENE directions, and may be high for NE directions. But then, who uses the sensors here, anyway? In the summer, the question usually is whether to rig 4.2 or 4.7, with 5+ m sails reserved for the "low wind" days. Since I don't own a 4.2 here, the question for me is between 4.5 and 5.0; I've used the 5.3 and 5.7 sails here only 8 of the 32 days we've sailed. To pick between these to sails is usually easy enough, and any "mistakes" can easily be fixed with a bit of efficiency or high-wind technique. Well, I warned you that the post is pointless, did I not?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

4,5, 4.2, 4.5, 3.7, ...

We're in  the middle of a windy week here in Maui. It did not start out this way - on Sunday, I was on my "big" 5.3 m sail / 93 l board combo, and had to work to get planing. Monday was supposed to be even worse, so we took the day off - with no regrets when the wind picked up after 5 pm, since the forecast for the rest of the week looked great.

Indeed, the summer wind machine was turned on yesterday. Wind meter readings were in the upper 20s most of the afternoon, with gusts in the low 30s. I sailed my much-loved 4.5/77 l combo, Nina used a 4.2 and her custom Angulo board. I was fully powered, but very comfortable - amazing how 4 weeks practice here will get you used to chop and high winds.

Today, there were a lot more white caps than yesterday, but the meter readings were only a couple of miles stronger. I stayed with the 4.5, downhauling it a bit more and moving the boom down a bit for control; Nina switched to the 3.7. Wind meter averages during the time we were sailing were steady at 29, with gusts to 34; actual wind on the water was probably a bit higher, especially on the outside. I probably would have been powered on a 4.0, but the Manics are really nice, light, top-end oriented wave sails. I have the feeling I can sail them at any point between 0 and 100% power, and I definitely was sailing half-open a few times today in the gusts. Had a perfect blast, though - playing with swell and waves, practicing jumps, and going downwind on the inside for speed runs. I had my first planing inside jibe on the 77 l board today, which felt great, and set a new personal top speed for Maui (30.7 mph, just below 50 kmh). Yes, I have definitely gotten used to the chop and high winds here.

Nina had a bit of a hard time, though. It seems every time she takes out the 3.7, she's not having much fun - somewhat of a surprise since the 4.2 (same kind, same year) works well for her. Today, she hard a hard time going upwind, until she finally moved the harness lines back an inch. That worked, somewhat to her surprise - she had expected some back hand pressure with the harness lines to far to the front, but did not notice anything. Why? I think it's a combination of several things:

  1. The Manics are really light-feeling sails, which don't deliver a lot of "grunt" - so whatever extra pressure might be on the backhand would be small. 
  2. Going from the 4.2 to the 3.7 makes it even easier to have the sail at the wrong angle - either not fully closed, or oversheeted and partially stalled. Since the sail is specifically designed to make killing power in it very easy, it still behaves very well at "wrong" angles, giving little indication that something is wrong. 
The Manics are also top-end oriented, and very easy to control when overpowered - to the point where I sometimes don't even think I'm overpowered, even though I'm on 5.0 when everyone else is on 4.2 (and smaller boards). This made it easy for Nina to hold on to larger sails than necessary here. She was often on 4.2 when I was on 4.5, while at home, I'd typically use a 5.5 when she is on 4.2. On the lighter days here, I'd have to concentrate fully on efficiency to get planing on a 5.3 or 5.7 sail, while she was still powered on a 4.5 or 5.0 (I weigh about 1.5 x as much as she does, so in first approximation, my sails should be 50% bigger). So she missed out on opportunities to learn how to finesse the sail... Anyway, I found it very interesting to learn that her problems could be solved by moving the harness lines a bit.

After finally fixing the "power problem" (and successfully avoiding all turtles for the day), Nina discovered a new thing that can go wrong in Maui: timing when to breathe. Now, this may sound like a trivial issue, but when falling during jibes on the outside, some stupid big wave may just decide to break right where you are, and fall onto your head. Well, if you did not see this coming and happen to be breathing in at the same moment, you'll be breathing water - which, as Nina discovered, is a very unpleasant experience. But on the bright side, it gave her an opportunity to sail one-handed after starting again - she needed the other hand to wipe the tears and water out of her face. By the time she reached the shore, she was fine again, albeit still somewhat upset about the stupid wave.

We windsurfers are rather stubborn people, willing to take many days of learning and many bad days for a few great days of windsurfing. In the past 4 weeks here in Maui, it seems that on most days, one of us had a great time, while the other had a day of the "I'd rather forget about it" kind. In the last few days, I was mostly the lucky one, but overall, it's been a pretty even mix. I just hope that, after several great days in a row, it's not my turn again for a bad day! We should be even more wind for the next two days, so we'll just have to see.
This note is for Monika: Nina is perfectly fine, and has promised to not try any water breathing again while we're on Maui, so you need not worry.