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!

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