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.

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