Sunday, October 30, 2011

GPS Speed Talker

Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I like to know how fast I'm going when I am windsurfing. So I was quite intrigued when someone mentioned the idea of using a smartphone to not only measure your speed, but announce it to you while sailing. My biggest concern was that the "waterproof" bags I had been using for my GPS unit all started to leak after a few sessions. That's no problem with the GT-31 device I am using, since it is sufficiently waterproof to tolerate a bit of water in a bag (but not a high speed crash while windsurfing). But with an iPhone or android phone, the same amount of water would have ruined a pretty expensive piece of equipment.

Still, the idea stayed in my head. The fact that the windsurfer who mentioned, Roo, it had helped develop the "standard" GPS unit (the GT-31), helped keeping it there - as did the fact that Roo managed to get an average speed rating of 40.2 knots in the Gorge, and is currently listed as the 3rd fastest windsurfer in the US on  I actually got a little "Speed Talker" app for my iPhone that announces GPS speeds - but when I tested it while driving around, I noticed a 5-10 second delay between speed changes and the announcement of the new speed by the app. It seems like the app uses too much dampening to eliminate spikes in the GPS data. After that, I gave up on the idea for the time being.

But two weeks ago in Hatteras, I needed to buy a new waterproof armband for an extra GPS that I had brought along. I got lucky at Wind-NC, where Andy had a DryCase waterproof armband for $40, about the same cost as the the AquaPac armband I had been using. Here's an image:
Well, this bag had a headphone connector! I also liked the idea that it is vacuum sealed. This allows you to see if a bag has a leak before you hit the water. But perhaps more importantly, the vacuum creates a static cling between the plastic around the phone, and the phone and the plastic. When you open the bag after vacuum sealing it, you actually have to pry the plastic apart. I believe that this is a much better solution than regular waterproof bags that keep air on the inside: if you immerse a bag with air into water, the outside pressure will be higher than the pressure in the bag, pushing water into the bag through any little hole there may be. I think that the water intrusion in a DryCase bag will be a lot less even when the bag has a hole.

So for a GPS-loving windsurfing geek, the rest of the story is pretty predictable. I used the bag once or twice with my iPhone (which I had wrapped into a ziplock bag for extra safety). It worked, but I found the delay between actual speed changes and the announcements too irritating. Imaging having just fallen into the water, and the Speed Talker app tells you that you are still going at 20 knots!

So I did a bit of research for alternative apps, and discovered GPS Speed Talker. The great thing about this app is that it was developed by a speed surfer for GPS speed surfing. However, it is only available for android phones. But then, if you are really concerned about using an "officially approved" GPS unit, the app can actually tell you the speed that a GT-31 unit with bluetooth (a BGT-31) measures!

The next stop was to the local Best Buy. In the "No Contract" section, they had Android phones with GPS starting at  $89.99. I opted for an LG Optimus V for $129.99 because the provider (Virgin Mobile) offered a cheaper plan ($35/months for including web, messaging, and 300 minutes talk time). I don't have plans to activate the phone right away, but I might just do so in the future (and save about $30 per month compared to my current iPhone plan). Note that the phone is about $20 cheaper than a GT-31!

I tried the setup yesterday in a cold and rainy Nor'easter. Before going out, I had tied a piece of bright foam to the arm band - I have had arm band come off while sailing before, and the bag without any air in it would sink (or at least it did sink when I tried it in the kitchen sink). It worked quite well at first. But later, the wind picked up, and I had a number of falls, sometimes loosing the ear buds. It got pretty loud, too, between the wind, the small waves hitting the board, and the rain. After a while, I did not hear the announcements anymore, perhaps because some water had gotten into the earbuds. A bit later during a swim or waterstart, my arm caught the wire, and pulled the earbuds out of my ear, and the connector out of the housing. I just stuffed the ear phones into my neoprene hood, sailed to shore, and then put them into my dry suit. The ear buds I had used where also from DryCase ("DryBUDS", $29.99), because that't what Wind-NC had in store. They come with 3 different sizes of ear buds; one of these fit well enough on land, but eventually came out. I think I'll have to try different kinds of waterproof headphones - there are many available on, starting at $15, and the reviews from swimmers seem helpful.

When I got home, I wanted to compare the tracks from the GPS Speed Talker app with the tracks from the GT-31. However, I discovered that I had forgotten to press the "Start logging" button in the application, so there was nothing to be exported. I guess I am just to used to the GT-31, which automatically starts logging when you turn it on.

So yesterday's test of the GPS Speed Talker / android phone setup was only a mixed success. The conditions where at first too gusty, and then changed too quickly to survival-mode sailing, to allow me to try what I wanted to do: see how small changes in stance, angle, etc. would affect speed, with instant feedback. How crazy did it get yesterday? Well, let's see how the various members of the Fogland Speed Surfers team fared:

  • Nina went out on a 77 l board with a 4.5. At first underpowered in lulls and overpowered in gusts, then mostly overpowered. Had the smarts to stop before things got out of hand. Never made it all the way to the far shore where the water was flattest, so she did not get any good top speeds.
  • Dani had the bad luck of trying my 5.0 GPS sail, which I had rigged on a mast that just did not work for the sail. The sail was way too twitchy. Without a dry suit, Dani was quickly too cold and overpowered and stopped sailing. 
  • I made it to the other shore and did some speed runs in the flat water there. However, it was quite gusty close to shore, and the wind direction was a bit wrong - as the tide went out, the wind was partially blowing against the current, so it was not flat enough. When sailing away from shore, the swell/chop got bigger very quickly, so downwind runs were not really an option, either. My top speed was about 28 knots, which I found quite disappointing for the conditions. My nautical mile average of 24.17 knots was ok, though (my second-best ever). I later did a few runs on Dani's iSonic 86 with the GPS 5.0 sail, but with the wrong mast, it was harder to sail than the GPS 6.6, and I got nowhere close to getting near top speed on the board.
  • Dean is the fastest sailor in our little group, and often hits 35 knots if the conditions are right. He started late using his 6.7 m sail, but stayed out until dusk. He did not find any flat water for downwind runs, and was way overpowered towards the end, with half-frozen fingers since he had ditched his gloves early on. He did not reach any speeds that he found worthwhile posting.
  • Nikita is the second-fastest surfer in our group, and by far the best freestyler. He came even later, and rigged a beautiful 5.5 m GPS sail. Seeing his sail rigged made it very clear how badly the mast worked for my 5.0! Nikita is about 20% lighter than Dean and I are, so he was overpowered on the 5.5. He used gloves, which however killed his forearms in no time. He also did not reach speeds he found worthwhile posting.
  • Graham was the one windsurfer from our group that always seemed fully in control on water.  He was out on 4.4 at first, and later switched down to 4.0. He looked quite fast, but he was working on freestyle, and was not wearing a GPS. 
Recently, we got what we wished for - we wanted lots of wind, and got so much that even the best windsurfers in our groups were a bit overwhelmed. So maybe we have to formulate our wishes a bit more clearly: wind in the upper 20s, gusting into mid-30s, from NE or SW, without rain and with air temperatures above 50. Please?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Warm hands

We went windsurfing in a Nor'easter today - the start of the storm that will dump up to a foot of snow onto parts of Massachusetts. With predicted northeast winds, the spot was Duxbury. Temperatures were around 45F (7C), and as soon as we hit the water, the rain started. Over the next two hours, winds increased from the low 20s to mid 30s, with gusts in the 40s (mph).

For Nina, who really hates cold weather, it was the first cold session after the nice, warm winds in Hatteras. Still, she was nice and warm. So was I, but I had another cold windsurf session just a couple of days ago. Today, we were joined by quite a number of windsurfers: Dani, Graham (who has gotten a lot better over the summer), Dean, Nikita, and a few others. At least two of our friends today had problems with cold hands, which cut the session short, reduced the fun, limited speed, and/or let to bad crashes. They both did not sail with gloves (or ditched them after one run) because the gloves they have just did not work for them.

To me, this was quite frustrating, since I hate it if someone has no fun, or even stops sailing, because of cold hands. There are solutions to this problem! Nina and I have tried about 10 pairs of different windsurfing gloves and mittens in the past 2 years - and most of them did not work well. However, we found a few things that work well for both of us, even though we have different preferences, very different hand sizes, and differences in how sensitive we are to cold fingers.

There are two issues with most windsurfing gloves and mittens that cause problems:
  1. Bending the fingers also requires bending some material and therefore more force. This is most pronounced in thicker neoprene gloves.
  2. Loss of tactile sensation causes windsurfers to grip the boom harder. Gloves or mittens that do not fit well or slip on the fingers can make this problem worse.
Both problem cause sore forearms and reduced confidence when sailing. But for fall days like today, when the air and water temperatures are still quite a bit above freezing, the solution is easy:
get rid of the material between your fingers and the boom!

Solution 1: buy a pair of open-palm mittens. Open-palm mitts are available from several different manufacturers, and your local store should have some to try on. That's what Nina used for the first 30 minutes today. After that, her hands were warm enough to keep sailing without gloves or mittens.

My fingers are more cold-sensitive, but I still like to use open-palm mitts when it starts to get cold. One nice thing about them is that you can easily slip your fingertips out for rigging, or when you hands have gotten warm after sailing for a few minutes. I did not use them today, though, because they probably would not have been warm enough for me.

Solution 2: Cut out the material on the inside of neoprene gloves. Start with a pair of gloves that fit well, for example Glacier gloves (available for about $20 at L.L. Bean and many windsurf stores). Use scissors to cut out the material on the inside of the fingers. You'll notice right away that bending the fingers gets a lot easier. You can also cut out the material over the palm, if that's more comfortably to you (Nina does, I don't).

I find that the cut-out gloves are significantly warmer than the open-palm mitts, even if you start with a pair of gloves that are relatively thin. It's also easy enough to take the finger tips out for rigging etc.
Either of the two solutions shown above can keep your fingers nice and warm until the temperatures get closer to the freezing point. When you use them and you feel your fingers getting cold, make sure to take a quick break soon and shake your arms downward to make the blood go back into your fingers. If you wait too long, warming the fingers up again will really hurt! Another thing that helps is letting go with one hand while sailing, and hanging the arm down - this also will increase the blood flow in your fingers.

As air and water temperatures continue to drop, the two solutions I described above will eventually get too cold, and something warmer is needed. For some windsurfers (including Nina), pre-bent windsurfing mittens with a thin inner layer work well. I personally do not like them, and prefer two other solutions, which both add a layer to keep the water away from the skin: 
  1. Wearing thin kitchen gloves inside open-palm mitts.
  2. Using nylon mitten shells on top of neoprene gloves with the inside of the fingers cut out.
Here's a picture of the mitten shells I use, which I made by simply removing the stuffing from mittens, and glueing the seams to add some waterproofing:
Using nylon mitt shells (or neoprene mittens) also lets you use re-usable hand warmers to keep your finders warm and toasty.

Well, if you're thinking about stopping to windsurf soon because of cold fingers or sore forearms, I hope you try some of the things described above first!

Update (1/15/2015):
Someone asked why I had not posted anything new about gloves in more than 2 years. The reason is simple - since getting an Ianovated wetsuit in 2012, cold hands are not an issue anymore. I can now sail with open-palm mitts all winter long, since the tubes in the Ianovated suit allow me to blow warm air onto my hands when sailing. That works perfectly even if water and air temperatures are near freezing, and even though I have mild Raynaud's. Here are a few links:
I and several of my friends have ordered several suits directly from Ianovated, and always received them quickly and without any problems. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Staying warm and rigging right

Well, fall definitely has arrived. We sailed twice this week, Tuesday in Wellfleet and today in Duxbury (GPS tracks above). Wellfleet had typical NW winds: gusty and strong at first, then dying down even though the forecast had predicted the wind would stay all day. Air temperatures were around 60F (15 C), the water a bit warmer, and it was sunny - not a bad day, and nice being able to plane on a 5.3 m sail for a while.

Today's call was Duxbury: NE winds forecast in the low 20s, but arriving in the mid-20s early in the morning. The weather was quite different: air temperatures near 50F (10 C), and water temperatures that seemed to be almost as low. Instead of sun, we got rain - mostly light, but every now and then, it rained hard enough that I had to close the windward eye while sailing. Fortunately, watching out for other sailors was not required: Dani and I had the entire Duxbury bay to ourselves, and Dani had to stop after 20 minutes. He had over-estimated the water temperature and went out with thin summer boots, no gloves, and no hood. After a couple of runs, he had problems getting into the foot straps because he had lost all feeling in his toes. When I took a break almost an hour later, he was sitting in his van and still shivering, even though he had the heat on full blast, and had put on his 5 mm boots to warm his feet.

Dani is a pretty smart guy with lots of experience windsurfing in cold weather - so what made him go out today without the right protection from cold? Well, he sailed last Saturday in West Dennis, just 30 miles or so from Duxbury. There, he had used the summer boots and a thinner (3/2) wet suit, and was perfectly comfortable. The water in Cape Cod bay tends to be a bit colder than in West Dennis, but I had used a wet suit with short arms myself on Tuesday. It seems that the water has cooled down very rapidly since then.

Another part of the problem, I think, was that Dani was already cold when he got on the water. He had changed into his wet suit and summer booties to rig, since it was raining. But wet suits tend to get cold really fast on land.

So, here's a short summary of things to do to stay warm when windsurfing on cold, rainy days:

  1. Stay warm when getting your gear ready. Wear rain pants over your pants; winter boots; a warm jacket (e.g. a neoprene rigging jacket); a neoprene hood or warm hat; and rigging gloves. If you break a sweat, great! 
  2. Overdress on the water. Wear booties that are a bit warmer than you think you need; wear a dry suit or a wet suit that you know is warm enough for the conditions; use a neoprene hood and gloves. If you discover that you are too warm while sailing, it's easy enough to ditch some of this gear to cool down. But if you discover you are not dressed warm enough, your body will have cooled down so much that you probably need to (or should) end the session.
  3. Stay warm in breaks. If you are using gloves and/or are wearing a wet suit with long arms, your lower arms will probably get tired much more quickly than during summer sessions, and you'll need to take breaks. Any wetsuit or drysuit that's warm enough when windsurfing will be too cold when standing on land! So put on a warm jacket like a neoprene jacket, or whatever else will keep you warm. You did remember to bring a thermos with coffee or tea, right?
Since I hate getting cold when windsurfing, I followed my own advice. I thought I had overdressed a bit, but ended up being just perfectly comfortable. For gloves, I used Glacier gloves with the insides of the fingers cut out. That minimizes the extra effort needed to bend the fingers, and perhaps more importantly, gives me direct contact to the boom, so I don't grip too hard without noticing. My hands, which tend to get cold very quickly, stayed perfectly warm, despite my usual frequent water start practice.

Being perfectly comfortable despite the cold, I really enjoyed the session today. We started sailing shortly before high tide, which allowed us to sail close to the sandbar that separates Duxbury bay from the ocean, in really flat water. At the water got higher, there was more and more stuff floating on the surface - mostly dead reeds, sometimes in form of little islands up to 5 feet wide. Running into one of these at full speed would have caused a major catapult, which kept speed runs interesting. 

Just after the tide turned and starting going out, I went to the north side of the Powder Point Bridge to check the conditions there. However, the reeds were so bad that sailing there was almost impossible, and I quickly returned to the south side. Sailing back to the sandbar on the far side, I discovered that the combination of wind and outgoing tide had moved most of the floating obstacles towards the land side of the bay, and the speed strip now was clear. I had a number of great runs along the sandbar, but then decided to keep the session short since I was the only one on the water, and I assumed that Dani, who was watching me, wanted to leave.

While the session was a lot of fun, I was pretty disappointed with my top speed of 32 mph (27.5 knots). I had gotten a number of downwind runs in very flat water, and although the wind near shore was a bit gusty, I am sure that I caught some gusts of around 30 mph on decent downwind angles. I was sailing my Fanatic Hawk 95 and my Hot Sails Maui GPS 6.6 m sail. Less than 2 weeks ago in Hatteras, I had reached 31 mph (27.2 knots) in substantially more chop and less wind (gusts were 26 mph or less). What gives?

One potential explanation is that the wind meters were wrong, and that the wind was actually very similar on both days. That, however, is not the case: in Hatteras, I had to work to get planing and stay on a plane, and rarely felt fully powered. Today, I was fully powered 90% of the time, and really nicely powered in some of the gusts. In recent months, I typically go about 25-30% faster than than the wind even in chop. Today, that would have meant a top speed of 35-40 mph, not just 32 mph. 

The one thing that was different today was that I used a different mast. In Hatteras, I had rigged the sail on a 460 cm Powerex 100% RDM mast. That required a scary amount of downhaul tension - the sail is spec'd for a 430 mast with a 36-38 cm extension. So today, I rigged the sail on a 430 cm Gaastra 100% RMD mast. The sail did not look quite right - the profile below the boom was noticeably shallower. Getting all the cams on also was a bit more challenging, another indicator that the mast may be a mismatch for this sail. And despited the shallow profile below the boom, I had to use a few centimeters of positive outhaul to keep the sail from touching the boom too much. The sail is spec'd for negative outhaul, and with the Powerex mast, I had sailed it with neutral outhaul.

In Hatteras with the Powerex 460 mast, the sail felt both powerful and very slippery. Most of the drive seemed to be forward and translated directly into speed. I had sailed a Pilot 6.5 m sail earlier that day, and the GPS was about 3 knots faster, despite feeling a lot lighter (except when water starting it...).

Today on the Gaastra mast with positive outhaul, the sail felt heavy and slow. There was a substantially higher amount of sideway pull, and I had real problems getting comfortably until I moved the boom down about 2 inches. But even after that, the sail never gave the slippery sensation that is typical for a race sail.

The mast itself is not a problem - it works beautifully with a couple of Gaastra sails. However, it appears to have a bend curve that really does not go well with the GPS sail. The sail looks ok when rigged on land, but it performs poorly on the water when rigged on the Gaastra mast. I had read about problems from mismatched masts, but we usually mix & match sails and masts pretty randomly, and never noticed real problems. However, we usually also do not know what a sail would feel like on the proper mast! Still, seeing such a big difference between the two masts was somewhat surprising. I can't wait to try the sail in similar conditions in Duxbury on the Powerex mast!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Windy Thursday video

Last Thursday was day 4 of the ABK Clinic in Hatteras, and I will remember it as "Windy Thursday". Wind averages were in the mid-30s, gusts in the low 40s. Still, every single camper went out on the water and tried to master the conditions. Here is a short video with some clips from the afternoon, when most of us where pretty tired already:

Most windsurfers in our group worked on jibes, fall jibes, and jump jibes. The fall/jump part in the fall/jump jibe was reasonably easy, but  the clew-first waterstart in 35-40 mph was something rather different, even with the 3.7-4.5 m sails we were on. After a few failed tries, I remembered that Andy had called the Shove It a great move for overpowered conditions, so I decided to work on that instead. I did not make much progress, although my tries got me to the point where I can start making theories about the move. For once, however, I'll wait until I have tested my theories before I blog about them. At least I'm not alone with not getting the Shove It right away - other windsurfers have needed several months of practice or more to learn it. I also found some nice hints on the Windsurf Canada forum that explain the importance of front foot carving and the similarity to the laydown jibe. The same posts include a link to a Shove It by Taty Frans which is not as tweaked as most other Shove Its, and therefore probably more similar to the Shove Its a beginner would do.

The last day of the ABK Clinic was another light wind day. Nina and I worked on Reverse Duck Jibes and Duck Tacks. I managed to complete one of each on my Skate 110, although the Duck Tack included a duck rather than a nice throw. Andy made me sail on a 140 l board with a 5.6 Loco rig that was ridiculously light, and I made a Duck Tack on that combo within the first few tries, and also a few Reverse Duck Jibes. Maybe the 6.5 m sail is a bit big for learning new light wind freestyle moves after all.

We had 3 planing days in our week in Hatteras (plus one crazy day with winds from 20-50 mph and rain where we did not sail). If we had stayed home, we would have had about 6 planing day instead. But we definitely would not have learned as much here as we did there, so I'm definitely glad we went. Now I just hope that the water up here stays warm enough to practice freestyle for a while longer!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Light wind day

The second day of the ABK clinic in Hatteras once again had plenty of sun and warm water. The wind was light today, so there was a lot of backwind sailing, heli tacks, and upwind 360s to be seen - and a lot of improvement over the course of the day. Nina worked on some fin-first upwind 360s, duck tacks, and a few more things Andy suggested. I learned the clew-first upwind 360, which took me a couple of hours, spread over the morning and afternoon sessions. The initial tries where quite frustrating - slicing the sail forward clew-first, and then controlling pressure to turn again, was not exactly easy. But having light side-off wind with really flat water definitely helped, and I eventually got the trick. The clew-first heli tack, which is just the first half of the trick, came as a "free" bonus from learning the 360. Afterwards, I played a bit with the duck tack / switch duck jibe. My initial attempts were rather sad, even though I had gotten a few duck tacks in January in Bonaire - but that was on a huge board, and today, I was sailing my Skate 110. When Andy demonstrated the trick for me, it (of course) looked easy and elegant - but he explained a few key points, and I did make some progress afterwards. While I did not complete a duck tack today, another light wind day might be enough.

For the next two days, however, high wind stuff is on the schedule - the wind forecast calls for averages between 25 and 34 mph for tomorrow and Thursday. There may be some thunderstorms tomorrow, and probably a lot of rain, but Thursday should be sunny and windy :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

ABK Clinic Hatteras, day 1

The first day of the ABK Clinic in Hatteras was great. We had great wind this morning, and fun in light winds in the afternoon. The weather was just perfect - sunny, air temperatures in the seventies, water warm enough for shorties. Since the road that had been taken out during hurricane Irene was only re-opened last week, the clinic is not full - we have just 11 campers, all of them repeaters.

This morning, Nina got her first planing duck jibe, after trying them for about a year. Nice! After that, I had to try them again, too. I had done a few a long time ago, so I the first few tries ended in crashes. It was great to have Andy around for help - as usual, he pointed out the one thing that was most wrong. At first, it was ducking rather than standing still. Then, I stayed stiff - including my knees, a bad idea. Bending the knees in the next try led to carving to tight, leaving not enough time for the hand work. In one try, I ducked too late - but then, I finally got one. Without Andy's help, that would have required a lot more tries...

Nina proceeded to work on Vulcans and Flakas. I tried slam/fall/jump jibes, with decent success rate and a lot of fun. The entire morning, I tried some trick every time I turned around, usually after a 1/2 to 1 mile run. Fun!!

The wind had dropped off after lunch, so our group worked on heli tacks, with a few push tack attempts and upwind 360s thrown in for variation. The "no-handed" heli tack proved to be quite a challenge, even though it's just a second or so that both hands leave the boom. But even the falling was plenty of fun, and a lot of progress was noticeable, until everyone started to get tired. Shortly before 5, just as the clinic ended, the wind finally picked up again, and I got a few more planing runs is.

Tomorrow looks like it's going to be a light wind day, and I'm looking forward to that. But Wednesday afternoon and Thursday should bring us winds in the upper twenties to low thirties. Since there will be no camp on Wednesday afternoon, we might see some great action by the ABK instructors on the water - including some flat water spin loops by Andy, perfect to get us motivated for trying them on Thursday!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Facebook & Makani fins

After hearing a lot of good things about Makani fins from freestylers, I bought a Makani Auku slalom fin a couple of months ago. It was intended for my Warp 71 slalom board with a 7.0 m sail. I followed the Makani fin guide to pick the right size, a 38 cm fin.

I got to use the fin only a few times, but the results were mixed. On perfectly flat water (in the cove at Fogland), the fin worked like a charm - it felt very slippery and fast, and delivered great speed. But as soon as I went out into choppier waters, I got one spinout after the other, forcing me to switch to a different fin.

Today, Makani fins announced on their Facebook page that
"Our first blend of slalom fins are not working to our standards so we are liquidating them on eBay at $79 with Free shipping".  
Following the link to the eBay auction, they state:
"This AAUKU is designed for free race boards and slalom boards with TUTTLE BOXES for LIGHTWEIGHT RIDERS in the larger sizes especially as they are very soft. "
A little Google search quickly confirmed that soft fins cause more spinouts. Well, hats of to Makani fins for recognizing a problem and acting on it. Anyone buying the fin on the eBay auction now has the information that the fins won't work well for middle- and heavyweights. Still a bummer, though, that I spend $120 on what turned out to be a useless piece of plastic (unless I magically loose 50 pounds..).

Another thing that bugs me is that Makani has not updated their web site yet. On the web site, the Auku fin is still described with terms like "The power of Speed", having a "powerful shape" that "permits using fins 2 cm smaller than regular slalom fins", "the best slalom fin", and "a winner from the starting line". No mention whatsoever that the fin is designed for " LIGHTWEIGHT RIDERS"!

So, dear Makani fin people, please update the web page for the Auku fin ASAP, unless you want to loose a lot of trust. And while you're at it - how about offering anyone who purchased the Auku and found it a poor performer a replacement?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Trailer work

For the last 5 years, we have been towing our windsurf gear on this trailer:
It's light enough to be towed by a Honda Civic, but fits about 10 sails, 5 booms, 8 masts, and (as shown) 4 boards. In theory, there is enough room for more boards on the top - but big, rusty pieces of metal have been falling off the top for a few years now. I have not trusted it enough to tow the trailer with boards on top for quite a while... So finally, I decided to just take the top level off. After a few exhausting hours of sawing, off it was:
As you can see, the top frame was pretty much rusted through, even though the metal was originally rather solid (the previous owner of the trailer had put a roll of carpet around the top, which kept the metal wet & steamy for weeks). Fortunately, the lower parts of the frame are all fine. Here's a picture of the trailer now, about 50 pounds lighter and more aerodynamic than before:
Astute observers may also notice new wheels, which we put on so that we can tow the baby to the ABK Clinic in Hatteras next week without worries. The trailer also has a couple of new stickers - here's a favorite (thanks, Andy!):
Here's one of my other favorites:

Hope to see a few of you in Hatteras next week! There's still lots of space in the ABK clinic. Coach Ned has rented a big house right on location again, and there's probably still room in there, too. The road repair should be completed within the next 2 days, so there is no reason not to come! Rocktober is a great time to be in Hatteras - last year, I ranked our two weeks there as the "vacation of the year", ahead of Bonaire, the Gorge, Maui, and Cabarete (all spots that I love, too!).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rocktober .. or not?

Here near Cape Cod, October can be the best month for windsurfing, with great wind, warm water, and decent air temperatures, which is why many windsurfers call the month "Rocktober". In the last few weeks, we often saw wind forecasts that looked great a few days out, only to go lower and lower with every update. So we got quite excited when we finally got a forecast for cooler northwest winds in the mid-20s that remained the same for several days in a row, all the way up to the day before.

For the best NW winds, we usually drive about 2 hours to Orleans or Wellfleet on Cape Cod. With 2 successive days of promising forecasts, we planned on one day of exploring new beaches, a night at a local motel, and a second day for a downwinder. The forecasts looked good enough for Dean, the fastest guy on our GPS Team Challenge team, to join us. Well, those of you who know about NW winds around here can probably guess what happened... by the time we made it to the beach at 12:30 pm, the wind had dropped:

We went out, anyway, and had some fun in the gusts for a while until even the gusts did not get us planing anymore. Ok, so the latest forecast had included a dip to 20 mph around 2 pm, but also a rise back to 26 mph at 5 pm. We remained hopeful and waited a while... until finally, a squall came through, and we had 45 minutes of nice winds. We had picked the launch spot (Sunken Meadow Beach in Eastham) because it was right next to an area that was only 2-4 feet deep at low tide - but when the wind hit, the tide had already added about 4-5 feet more water, so we had plenty of chop for a nice bump & jump session.

We checked the forecast again during dinner, and the computer models still predicted 24-27 mph for the entire day. Indeed, things looked great in the morning, with averages in the upper 20s. But with all-day winds, we had a nice breakfeast first, and made it to the beach around 11 am - when the wind had once again died down:
Well, some whitecaps were still to be seen, so we decided to rig big: 5.3 for Nina, 7.0 for Dean, and my 6.5 Pilot for me (since I had discovered the day before that my trusted 7.0 Matrix needs to be repaired, and I had left my 8.5 at home to make space for the smaller race sails). Bigger boards, too: the Falcon 111 for Dean, my Warp 118 for me, and the Hawk 95 for Nina. By then, the forecast had finally changed, and it predicted steadily decreasing winds.

On the water, it became clear that the wind was not good enough for a long downwinder or even good long-distance averages. The gusts were nice, and Dean got a few runs above 30 knots - but the lulls were much too lully, and I did not always manage to live up to my favorite nickname. The water up in Indian Neck was quite flat, though - much better suited for speed runs than the day before, and we got higher speeds despite less wind. Here are my GPS tracks:

My top speed was just barely above 30 miles, a bit disappointing. The Pilot is definitely not a speed sail - it had plenty of power to get me going, but it was sometimes hard to control in the gusts. With the relatively high foot cutout, I never managed to close the gap, either. That's very different from the Gaastra Matrix, which is more speed- and topend-oriented; I have sailed the slightly larger Matrix in significantly more wind without any stability problems. Not really a surprise - I did buy the Pilot primarily as a freestyle and light wind sail.

On both days, Dean was a lot faster than I was. Here are his GPS tracks for the second day:

He did point out that he had rigged too small - his 7.0 race sail just barely got him going. The tracks show that it definitely got too small towards the end of the run, when the wind had dropped a couple of miles. However, his acceleration and top end in gusts was much higher than mine - he beat my top speeds by about 5 mph, about the same as the day before. I found it rather interesting to see that the 0.5 m larger race sail had less power than the "price point" sail - but if the wind had increased by 15 mph, Dean would have been perfectly fine, while my sail would have become impossible to control. I think the larger part of the speed difference is still due to his better skills, not to equipment differences - but that will not keep me from looking for a cambered sail to fill the gap between my 8.5 and 5.8 m race/freerace sails.

Of the three of us, Nina used the smallest sail and board, but had the fewest problems to plane. That is, until you take body weight into account: relative to weight, Nina's sail and board were actually larger than Dean's and my equipment, since Dean and I both outweigh her by 50%.

On most other days, I'm faster in all the speed rankings that are used on the GPS Team Challenge, but yesterday, Nina beat me on the 1 hour averages and the alpha. She improved her new personal best by 3.6 knots, and now ranks 23 of 82 women on for the 1 hour (and 2nd of 12 female US windsurfers!).

Dean followed Nina around a bit and filmed here with his GoPro headcam:

After 2 days of not-quite rocking winds, I finally remembered why we usually don't go sailing in the colder seasons unless the forecast is into the 20s: that gives us room for the wind to come in below the forecast, and still get a nice planing session in, without having to use the biggest gear. So, while the winds were not as good as forecast, we still had plenty of fun on the water. And with Dean the speed machine being out there with us, we even managed to get a decent ranking on the GPS Team Challenge for the month: #30 of 46. That's better than most months, and not bad for a couple of days with just so-so wind. But Rocktober is still young and has plenty of time to live up to its name .. and November often is even windier. We'll definitely be back to Indian Neck and Sunken Meadow!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Creating background maps for GPS Action Replay

This post explains how to create background maps for GPS data in GPS Action Replay. It also contains a few downloadable maps I made (mostly for Cape Cod) at the bottom. Making a map is pretty straightforward and takes maybe 5-10 minutes.

Step 1: Create an image file in Google Earth.
  1. Open Google Earth, and navigate to the region that you want to create a map for. It helps to have a big monitor and to make the Google Earth window as large as possible.
  2. Make sure that you see the scale legend (in the bottom left corner). If you don't see it, select "Scale Legend" in the "View" menu. Also make sure that north is straight up.
  3. Save the image from Google Earth, using "File" => "Save" => "Save Image As". I suggest that you create a new folder called "Maps" or similar where you put all the images and the maps you'll create.
Step 2: Calibrate the map in GPS Action Replay
There are different ways of doing this. The one I found easiest is described below: we will use a GPS track to give us the starting point, and use the scale legend from Google Earth on the image to scale the image (using  the "Measure distance" function in GPS Action Replay).
  1. Start GPSAR, and open a track from the location you want to use.
  2. If necessary, switch to the view that shows only the track. Make the window as large as possible.
  3. Click on the "Parameters" button, and make sure that the two checkboxes at the bottom ("Rotation control" are not checked.
    Click on images to see larger versions

  4. In the "Maps" menu, select "Create a new Map from JPG". Open the file that you just created in Google Earth. The background now will change - most likely, the image is zoomed in or out way too much.
  5. Change the zoom level so that you can see the entire background image (a mouse with a scroll wheel is really useful here). Then, click on the "Move Map" button. You should now see two handles ("Anchors") in the image (yellow, crossed circles).

  6. Move the anchors to move the map, and make it larger or smaller. You may want to use the "Slide" button to move your view point. Keep using the zoom, "Move Map", and "Slide" functions until the tracks seem to be at about the right place (we'll fine tune later).
  7. Click on the "Move Anchors" button, and move one anchor to the start point of your traces, and the other one on the same height in the image.
  8. Use the "Measure Distance" function to measure the length of the scale on the image. Use the "Move Map" function to adjust the size of the map so that the distance measured is the same as the distance shown on the scale. Use only the anchor that's not at your start point, so your start point remains fixed. Make sure the image remains straight, not tilted.
  9. Double-check that the starting point is correct, and that the image is straight. Once the entire thing looks right, save the map using "Maps" => "Save Map". Make sure to save the map in the same folder as the image that it's based on.
Once you created and saved a map, you can load it and re-use it in the future through the "Maps" menu. After creating a map a couple of times, creating a map for a new spot will only take a few minutes.
If loading a map that you saved does not work, it's probably because the map and the image file are not in the same folder. If they are, it sometimes helps to quit GPSAR, and start it again - every now and then, the program gets confused.

Finally, here is a ZIP file with some GPSAR maps that I made. It includes map and image files for Duxbury, Fogland, Kalmus, West Dennis, Ned's Point, Avon, and Maui. (You may need to right-click and choose "Save linked file as" to download the file).