Thursday, September 29, 2011

First flight

Yesterday's forecast was for "mostly cloudy" weather with 17 mph winds. Forecasts this low often mean slim chances of planing, but when we heard that our friend Dani was on his way to West Dennis, we decided to join him. The day turned out much better than expected:

With ESE wind measured around 20 mph, and probably a couple of miles more once you got a bit away from the shore, it was a perfect day to take the Hawk out for the first time. We got to the beach around 1 pm, just as the wind picked up:
High tide was at 1:15 pm, so we had a little bit of chop to play in. This was also the first time I tried to rig my Gaastra Pilot 6.5 on a 100% skinny mast, but the sail is spec'd for a 30% SDM mast, so that did not quite work as planned. I downhauled so that the batten over the boom extended to the middle of the mast, which let me use the specified boom length - but the sail looked wrong, with too little leech twist. I took it out on the water for a few runs, but everything felt just wrong. It's easy to see on the GPS tracks that something was wrong:
The first set of runs were much slower than later runs. So I went back in and downhauled about 2 more inches. That pulled all battens clear away from the mast; required an additional 4 cm of outhaul (for about 1-2 cm of positive outhaul); and made the leech look quite a bit looser than I'm used to from my Matrix sails. But on the water, the sail now worked like a charm - I could basically just forget about it and concentrate on the new board.

Since I had sailed the 2011 Hawk 100 and loved it, my expectations were high. The first thing I noticed was a bit of side-to-side instability. That really was no surprise - the boards I sailed in the past month were 68-71 cm wide, so you'd expect some difference from a 58 cm wide board. I absolutely loved how the board handled the chop - it mostly seemed to disappear, and keeping the board on the water and at full speed was just easy. On my second set of runs, I planed through a jibe with a minimum speed of 10.7 knots, which I was very happy with, especially for first time on the board, and using a large weed fin. Going upwind was easy enough, too, so I went for a nice long downwind run, and clocked a 22.3 knot nautical mile. Not bad for 17-22 knot winds and chop!

One thing where the board behaved quite differently than the FreeWave 95 that I tried last year was when it came to playing with waves. The Hawk showed a clear preference for going straight - but then, I had mounted double footstraps, kept them tight, and used a long weed fin. The board is certainly no wave board, but with a single back strap and a smaller wave fin, there is some fun to be had playing with chop. I'll try that at some time in the future - but the more fun thing will be to test the speed potential on flat water on a really windy day (30 mph NE in Duxbury, please please!).

Back home, I looked at my earlier windsurf sessions in West Dennis. I had sailed there three times before in similar conditions, using my Skate 110. While the Skate can be quite fast, my top speed in the previous sessions was just 25-26 mph. This time, my top speed was almost 30 mph, 4 mph faster. I think the faster speed can be attributed to the board as much as to what I learned about sailing in chop this summer in Maui. There was just one time that I had sailed faster in West Dennis - 32 mph last December in a session with Dean. Back then, we had a nice low tide, which makes the water a lot flatter, and 30-36 mph winds. Just 2 mph faster in 10 mph more wind, despite using a speed sail then (KA Koncept 5.8) and a "low end" RAF sail (Pilot 6.5) now - it sure would be nice to see how fast the Hawk would fly under these conditions!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hawk rescue

Yesterday, I saw something that nearly made me cry: a hawk, kept outside, standing on its tail, unprotected from the rain and the sun, and covered all over with rust stains (I hope you realize that I am talking about a Fanatic windsurf board and not a bird!). Compare to the fancy designs on newer boards like Scott's  TExtreme NewWave, Jim's RRD FireMove LTD, or even my Black Beauty (Exocet Warp 71), the Hawk always was a bit of a wallflower - but this was too much! The board needed to be rescued!

Ok, in an ideal world, I would have just spent $2K+ and gotten a brand-new iSonic or Falcon. I loved the Falcon 111 at the Windsurfing Magazine board test this spring, and loved Dani's new iSonic 90 even more when he let me try it a couple of weeks ago. But all the traveling that Nina and I did earlier this year has depleted the fun-funds severely. Even a used iSonic or Carbon Art board was more than I could afford, especially if you add a couple of hundred dollars for shipping. So when someone expressed interest in buying my old Bic Nova 120, and said he had a 95 l Hawk to sell for cheap, I was hooked. I had sailed 100 and 120 l Hawks from 2011 at WorldWinds in the spring, and loved the boards. The size I was looking for was 90-95 l (to fit in between my 82 and 110 l boards), so a Hawk 95 sounded just perfect.

The first thing to do, of course, was to look for test results. I found the 2006 test report from the German "surf" magazine, where the Hawk 95 got very high scores almost everywhere. More importantly, it scored very high in the speed, planing, and upwind categories, where it trailed only the fastest board in the test, a JP Super-X. Reading the report for the Super-X was even more fun. Here are a few descriptions from the Super-X writeup (with my approximate translations):

  • "sauschnell" (wicked fast)
  • "extrem hartes Fahrgefühl" (extremely hard ride)
  • "Wie man dann einen Spock zelebrieren soll, ist dem Testteam ein Rätsel" (its a mystery to the testers how to do a Spock on this board)
  • "Kontrolle ist keine Stärke" (control is not a strength of this board)
  • "In der Halse muss das Wasser spiegelglatt sein" (for jibes, the water has to be as smooth as glass)
I found it very refreshing to read such "clear" language in a test - you'd never see that in a US magazine. It made it easy to see that the Hawk was a better board for mixed conditions that sometimes might include serious chop.

After reading the test, I just had to drive out to swap my old Nova against the old Hawk at the next opportunity. Seeing the board in such poor cosmetic shape almost made me drive back without it - but the seller quickly drove to the next hardware store, got some rust remover, and slapped the pink acid stuff onto the board. It removed all the rust stains from the pads right away, and made decent progress on the rest of the board. After a second application and some brushing (don't ask about the brush!), the board started to look better, and I decided to take it home. The one advantage of all the stains was that I had to pay only $60 (plus the Nova). 

I spend a considerable part of Saturday afternoon cleaning the board up some more. On the bottom of the board, wet sanding with 1000 sand paper did the trick; on the top, I used some more rust remover. The ding stick also came out to fix a small harness-mark near the mast, and some wear on the nose - but now, the board is as good as any 5-year old board that has seen a bit of use. When I put it on the trailer, I discovered that the width of the board under the foot straps is rather narrow - narrower even than for the JP Super-X 82 which used to have its place on the trailer. I can't wait for the winds to pick up so that I can try it!
Disclaimer: It's been 7 days since I windsurfed the last time, 11 days since I was able to use something smaller than an 8.5 m sail, and 46 days since I planed on small gear, so withdrawal symptoms are setting in. I know that the situation has been even worse for some of my friends who had to spend the summer in New England, and hope that this post helps them forget their wind frustrations for a few minutes. Well, maybe I should not have added this disclaimer to remind them of their misery...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Going for distance

Yesterday was a great day for windsurfing in Duxbury Bay. I have rarely seen more windsurfers in Duxbury before - we had speed surfers (Dani, Sabah, Fred, and I), ABK alumni and trick surfers (Nina, Martin, Graham, Jeff, Jonathen, and Jeynaba), and quite a few folks that I did not know, including beginners, folks working on getting into the straps, and several advanced windsurfers. Nice showing!

The one thing that did not show quite as I had hoped for was the wind:
Averages remained between 16 and 18 mph for most of the day, and gusts remained below 22 mph. A bit low for the trick surfers, who often had to schlog or pump - but enough for the speed surfers on big boards and big sails.

Here are Sabah's GPS tracks from yesterday:
Sabah started out a 7.5 m sail and a 122 l board, and was a bit underpowered. He also had problems with  seaweed and seagrass, which slowed him down a bit from time to time. Even so, he got a top speed that was about 30% higher than the wind speed, and sailed a total of 74.2 km (46 miles). Sabah set 3 personal bests for 1 hour (11.35 kn), nautical mile (19.38 kn), and total distance. On almost any other day, that would have scored on the GPS Team Challenge - but not yesterday.

Fred also went out on a 7.5, and was underpowered a bit- but that did not keep him from setting personal bests for the nautical mile (20.28 kn) and total distance (44 km). He "only" sailed 2 1/2 hours, while the other speed surfers sailed for 5 to 6 1/2 hours.

Dani was on fire yesterday, planing all the time. His low weight was a huge advantage in the light winds, and his fast board and (relative to his weight) big sails certainly did not hurt. Here are Dani's tracks:
Despite some problems with seaweeds, Dani set personal bests for 1 hour (12.37 kn), nautical mile (20.48 kn), and distance (96.73 km). Every single time I saw Dani on the water, there was a huge smile on his face. Gotta love the attitude!

Nina refuses to even think about speed while the water is still warm, and worked a bit on vulcans and other tricks. The wind was a bit low for her 5.3, but at least she had other trick surfers to keep her company, including Martin and Graham. Last fall, Nina and I often were the only windsurfers in Duxbury.

I was on a mission yesterday, so when I saw that the wind was a bit lower than I had promised, I rigged my 8.5 m V8 sail onto my new Aeron V-grip boom and hit the water at noon. The wind direction was perfect for crossing the entire bay length-wise - that's about 5 km (3 miles) each way. On my first run, I snagged up some seagrass, so I went back in to switch to the my Select Weed Eliminator L fin. That turned out to be a mistake - the fin was just to small for the marginal conditions, and I had a really hard time going upwind without falling off the plane. It took me an hour and many tacks just to get back were I had started.

While switching back to the 44 cm slalom fin, I chatted a bit with some of the new arrivals, but soon was back on the water. I had a good idea now where the seagrass was in the water - it was mostly limited to one stretch in the middle of the bay. Finally being able to kick the fin again felt so good! After another hour on the water, I finally needed to eat something. When I checked the trip meter on shore, I saw that I had sailed 93 km already - and it was only 3:35 pm, with the wind just picking up a bit! So I went back out for another 90 minute sessions, which was enough time for 4 complete and 2 partial bay crossings. By now, it was 5:30 pm, and I was starting to get just a bit tired. My hands also started to hurt a bit, mostly because this was my first time sailing the V-grip boom, and different parts of my fingers made contact than on my other boom. But back at shore, I saw that I was only about 10 or 15 miles away from sailing 100 miles - so back onto the water it was!

I just did 2 1/2 more crossings, and then stopped so that I could use the remaining daylight to derig and load the trailer. Here are my tracks for the day:

Overall, I spend 5 hours and 20 minutes on the water, with an additional hour of breaks in between. My average speed was mostly around 20 mph, with just a few minutes of schlogging, and a few faster downwind runs for fun. I set new personal bests for 1 hour (17.92 kn) and total distance (163.51 km). That's more than 100 miles, and 52 km more than my previous best. Together with Dani's 1 hour and distance, we pushed the Fogland Speed Surfers up a few ranks in the GPS Team Challenge rankings, and got into the top 10 for the distance ranking (albeit only for a day - we're down to #11 today).

It was great to see so many friends in Duxbury yesterday. Everyone I talked to who sailed there for the first or second time loved it, despite the somewhat light wind. I really appreciate the efforts of the team mates on the water yesterday - seeing Dani, Jeff, and Graham sailing late really helped to push through the last few crossings. This was great fun, and we should do this again soon - maybe with a bit more wind! Maybe we get lucky and get real northeast wind next time, like mid-20s gusting to low 30s. The water would still be wicked flat, and we could work on short distance, nautical mile, and alpha.

One day later, I'm very happy with yesterday's effort. I pushed myself further than I had before, and had a blast doing so. Ok, walking up the stairs yesterday evening was a bit slow, but with all the Maui training, my body has learned to recover quickly, and I could definitely go for a repeat tomorrow if the wind played along (and there was not this thing called work which keeps me from windsurfing every now and then). It's been a big ego booster when the friendly folks at the GPS Team Challenge site pointed out that I now hold the US record for distance traveled on the site. So ok, there are only 13 windsurfers from the US registered, but that includes a few wicked fast guys: Roo, who's hit 40 knots in the Gorge and helped develop the GT-31; Dean, who's hit 36 knots in Hatteras, after sailing out to the reef for a couple of miles; and Boro, who holds the top spots for 1 hour, alpha, and the nautical mile (with 30.72 knots - I have yet to hit that speed for 2 seconds!).  The international rankings illustrate that the US is not exactly a hot-spot for speed surfing (yet): there, my 163.51 km put me on the 95th spot. Not that I am unhappy with that ranking - but I got 5 more disciplines where I need to climb up the ladder :)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Duxbury in northeast winds

The fall winds are finally arriving - here is the wind forecast for Duxbury for Sunday September 18, 2011:

Perhaps the numbers do not look very exciting - unless you consider this:

  • The predicted wind direction is northeast.
  • In northeast winds, the last obstruction that the wind saw was in Nova Scotia, Canada - that's a clean fetch of 250 miles!
  • Computer models usually underestimate NE winds in Duxbury - winds are often at least 5 mph stronger than forecast.
  • With the long clear fetch, NE winds in Duxbury tend to be very steady.
  • Duxbury bay is separated from the ocean by a small strip of sand that barely obstructs the wind, which creates very flat water.
  • Duxbury bay is 3 miles long, and the entire length is protected by the sand strip - making it the perfect place for long distance speedsurfing.

Here are GPS tracks from a similar setup last year (9/26/2010):
I set my personal best for 1 hour that day (17.4 knots), even though the wind averages were only 20-22 mph:

My top speed for the day was not great, but I was on a freeride board (Mistral Screamer 116) and a non-cambered sail (Matrix 7.0) that was a bit small for top speed. Gonzalo, who was on a Ray 115 and a 7.5 m race sail, passed me all the time at will, and was probably going 20% faster than I was.

So, flatwater lovers and Fogland Speed Surfers: come to Duxbury tomorrow, Sunday 9/18! Lets set some personal records for long distance and alphas! The other US speedsurfing team, the Speedsters, have just passed us in the monthly ranking. We need only small improvements in the 1 hour averages and alphas to pull even! In the international ranking, we are ranked 46 of 50 teams for the month - it should be pretty easy to move up a few spots! For once, the tides in Duxbury are good, with a low tide of 1.6 ft at 10 am - meaning we can sail all day! I am hoping to get some serious distance tomorrow! Ok, maybe I am fighting a cold right now, but I am sure it will be mostly gone tomorrow, and I should be able to get at least 3 or 4 hours of sailing in. Last year, I sailed 86 km in 3 hours. With better gear (and better jibes) this year, I'll be shooting to break my personal best for distance (111.8 km). I sure hope another Fogland Speed Surfer will back me up so that it counts!

Below is a map that shows the public parking lot just before the Powder Point Bridge where we will launch. Hope to see you tomorrow!

View Duxbury public parking lot in a larger map. If you need directions, use "400 Powder Point Ave, Duxbury, MA" as the target.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Light wind freestyle on small boards for ... speed and planing jibes!

Nina and I attended the ABK Clinic on Cape Cod last weekend. It was a great clinic - we learned lots of new things, met old friends, and made new friends. The weather was almost perfect - sunny, with air and water temperatures in the low 70s. Warm enough to be comfortable, cold enough so we could wear long wet suits to reduce scrapes and bruises from climbing back onto the boards. And that we did a lot - except for the morning of the first day, we had light wind for the entire camp.

I had discussed here before what finally convinced me to practice light wind freestyle on my 110 l Skate, instead of big monster boards: the amazing progress I had seen others make within a year. This time, my Skate initially felt big, after spending most of the summer on a 77 l board. But when the wind dropped and it was time to practice heli tacks, upwind 360s, pile drivers, and their various fin-first and clew-first variations, the board got small again very quickly. It took me a few hours of practice before I could do the tricks I had done last year - but then, I had not practiced any light wind freestyle for months. But the board grew on me again, and I did a few tricks I had never done before - nice! Not surprisingly, Nina picked up a few more tricks than I did, and can now do a few variations that I can't. That was just of time, anyway..

We stayed an extra day on Monday, since the forecast promised planing winds, and I really wanted to work on the spin loop. Alas, the wind remained light again - so Nina and I practiced  sail chi. We eventually got the ducking for switch duck jibes and duck tacks on land, definitely progress (which, however, did not translate to the water, which was a bit choppy for my taste).

As Andy has correctly predicted, we went sailing again today. One reason was that the forecast and the early wind readings looks good; a second reason was that I needed to get away from work after having to deal with a rather saddening task this morning. We decided to go to Fogland because the drive is shorter, and the wind readings there looked better when we left.

When we got there, the wind had just picked up, and we could see some white caps in the bay. Nina was excited to try Vulcans, switch planing, and Flakas, but I just wanted some speed. So I cut the chatting with Fred and Sue short, and went out on my Warp 118 l and Matrix 7.0. Then, something pretty amazing happened:
If you look at the speed graph at the bottom, you can see that I planed through my first 7 jibes - I don't think I have ever planed through 7 jibes in a row before. On a regular day, I'd be perfectly happy with 7 dry jibes in a row! The conditions were quite nice, with flat water near low tide, but the winds were not so strong that planing through jibes was trivial: according to the iWindsurf sensors, wind averages during the runs were 17 mph, and gusts 21 mph. I think the meter readings may have been a couple of miles low - but I'm still very happy with the top speed I got on the one downwind speed run I did. On a "normal" good day in Fogland, I typically get speeds that are maybe 30% faster than the wind speed. This is the first time I got a speed that was 50% faster - cool!

I stopped after a few runs to talk to Fred (that's the other Fred), who had just arrived. By the time he left, the wind was going down, and the rest of the day was a mix of schlogging and mostly marginal planing, with a little basic light wind freestyle mixed in.

Still, these first 10 minutes today were just fantastic. I have no doubt whatsoever that the 2 days of light wind freestyle practice were responsible. The Skate 110 for me is an "almost sinker" - I really have to watch where I put my feet and weight to not drive the board completely under water. Working on tricks like upwind and downwind 360s in light wind for hours has hugely improved my feeling for the board trim and my sail handling. That has paid off big time in better jibes and better top speed for the given conditions. Did I mention that I was pretty amazed about todays top speed for the relatively low wind? I just could not wait to get home and plug the data into the computer to make sure they were no artifact.

One thing that amazes me is how fast and dramatic these improvements were. In total, I probably spent less than 8 hours practicing light wind freestyle last weekend. During our 6 weeks in Maui, were I sailed 37 days and perhaps 2 hours each day on average, I was constantly working on more control and better speed, but my overall gains there were maybe similar. I probably should have taken a lot more time to work on freestyle, and in particular light wind freestyle, there!

So, next time you have the opportunity join an ABK Clinic, stop worrying about the wind and sign up already! You'll definitely learn a lot of new stuff, and maybe some light wind freestyle is exactly what you need to get faster and better at your jibes.

So, once again, thanks to Andy, Brendon, Ed, and Meredith for a super clinic, and for working their obscure, but highly effective magic to create better windsurfers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fogland Speed Surfers

It took us one year, but finally, the Fogland Speed Surfers were out in force this last weekend. We had typical Fogland summer winds - upper teen (mph) averages, gusts in the low to mid-20s, a bit more on Saturday and a bit less on Sunday.

For most of us, this was the first time sailing in Fogland after hurricane Irene. Afraid that we might get stuck on the road to the bay on the north side, almost everyone sailed the south side on Saturday. I was out on a 7.0 sail on my 118 l slalom board and the 110 l Skate; Nina was on her 100 l Skate and a 5.7; most other sailors were out on 6-7 m sails, nicely powered most of the day. Dani was nice enough to let me try his new iSonic 90 for a few runs, and I increased my top speed for the day within a few minutes on the board by 2 knots. The board jibed amazingly well, too - I wish I had one!

Of the Fogland Speed Surfers I saw on Saturday, only Cesar decided to drive to the bay. With his jeep, he did not have to worry, but mostly, he just wanted the flat and shallow water for speed runs. That worked for him - he got the fastest 2 and 5 x 10 second speeds of the day on his iSonic 122. At the end of the day, he stopped by again and assured us that the road was in good enough shape, so the next 2 days, most of us sailed the bay again.

Sunday and Labor Day has a similar SSW-SW setup, but the wind was a couple of miles lighter and a bit gustier. I started out with my 8.5 V8 sail on Sunday and a Makani 36 cm slalom fin. The combo worked great on the first runs in the flat water on the bay, although the fin was a bit small for the sail. That almost became a problem when I went out on the river, and the wind picked up at the same time - can you say "frequent spinout"? But before I could sail back to change fins, I heard a loud "boom" from my boom. I thought that a clamp at the end had opened up, even though I had taped it, and schlogged slowly back to the shore. While adjusting things there, the boom boomed again - this time completely breaking apart about 20 cm from the front. That meant a 60 minute walk back along the shore, followed by some paddling and a tow from Cesar (thanks again!). The rest of the day, I was a bit underpowered on my 7.0.

Conditions on Monday were similar, with less sun and just a tad more wind. Interestingly, I got my top speeds on Sunday and Monday on the river, not in the bay. The bay has smoother water, but runs are only about 500 m long, often with a wind drop in the middle - not the best thing if you're just marginally powered. Going out onto the river gives mile-long runs, and the swell on the river is often very smooth, with nice, long rollers and very little cross chop. Furthermore, the wave direction varies about along the run, so there are typically longer stretches that allow decent downwind angles for speed. I'm pretty happy with the 26 knots I got on my 118 l Warp on days there the maximum wind meter reading was 23 mph (in gusts). The 6 weeks in Maui definitely paid off here: last year, I always thought of the river chop as challenging; but now, it seems more like a flat speed strip to me.

The forecast for Monday had been quite good, so Nina had brought the 77 l Goya One along. She actually got planing on it with a 5.3, but just barely so. After switching to her 100 l Skate, she worked on Vulcans the whole day. She's definitely ready for the upcoming ABK camp in Hyannis!

Here's a short video from the last two days that shows quite nicely how flat the water in the bay is:

BTW, the Fogland Speed Surfers is an open group and welcomes new members. If you like sailing fast and have a GPS, join us! If you have any questions, a good way of contacting the team is through the "Fogland Windsurfers" group on Facebook.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wind for the ABK Camp Hyannis!

It looks like the wind is returning just in time for the ABK Camp in Hyannis next week (Friday 9-9 to Sunday 9-11):
I know that a lot of windsurfers hesitate to sign up for the camp because they only want to do the camp if it's windy. Well, it looks like the fall winds are back - sign up quickly! Last year, the camp was full, and I think some windsurfers who had wanted to sign up late had to be turned away. If all of you who have been waiting for a wind forecast sign up now instead of waiting until a couple of days before the camp, this also gives Andy the chance to expand the camp if necessary: he can ask an additional local ABK instructor to come to teach, and let additional windsurfers join the camp. He cannot really do this if the camp fills up just a day before. And a larger camp is actually a good thing, since it gives campers more options to choose what to learn (and you meet more local windsurfers).

The predicted wind direction for the first day is northeast, which is a great wind direction in Kalmus. In NE winds, we will be sailing in Lewis Bay - either near the small beach at the Lewis Bay side, or across from the channel at Egg Island:
We have sailed these spots during the last 2 camps, too. They have a good fetch across Lewis Bay, so the winds are surprisingly good for northerlies on the south side of the Cape. Spot 1 has plenty of shallow water for beginners and to work on waterstarts; spot 2 also has shallow areas that are great for instruction. We have had at least one day with plenty of wind to work on planing jibes, duck jibes, and other planing tricks the last 2 years.

Of course, it is possible that we'll have one or two days with less wind. I actually hope that we do! We'll be working on light wind tricks like helicopter tacks, push tacks, 360s, geckos, loop exercises, and more. There's a lot of things that can be learned in light wind which really translate into better high-wind sailing. That includes sail control and board control; I have seen many examples of windsurfers who practiced a lot in light winds, and improved way more than others who shunned light wind practice. In our  6 weeks in Maui, the only thing I really learned was how to deal with chop and high winds better; so far, I have always learned more new things in 2 days of light wind practice during ABK camps. Nina, who  often chooses to work on light wind freestyle in marginal conditions when I try to plane, has improved a lot more than I have in the past year. That has paid off even in the high winds on Maui: during our last few sessions there, she generally had the better jibes, both with respect to success rate and to minimum speed. But most importantly, learning light wind freestyle (and getting over the initial hump) means an end to the dreaded "no wind" days! There's almost always enough wind for light wind freestyle, and it can be a lot of fun. Don't just take my word for it - look at what other campers had to say after the ABK Camp in Bonaire this January:

So, what are you waiting for? If you windsurf and live anywhere close to Cape Cod, sign up for the ABK Camp! See you there!