Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sorry, waves, but I love slicks

Yesterday was an interesting day. The forecast called for SW winds in the low 20s, but this time of the year, that often brings winds around 30 mph. We decided to mix things up a bit and go wave sailing at Old Silver Beach. I can count the number of times I have been in waves on my fingers, so I'm not any good at it - but Old Silver Beach is supposed to be easy. Or so we thought...

When we got there, the wind did not look strong at all, and from the parking lot, the water looked quite flat. We rigged 4.5 and 5.7 m wave sails for Nina and me. I also spend quite a bit of time changing the foot straps on my Hawk - putting the front  straps in the inside position, and widening the back straps. When we were finally ready to go out, the wind had picked up quite a bit, and so had the waves. The wind also had turned from SW to WSW, and now was coming almost directly onshore.

I decided to leave the Hawk on shore and go out on the 77 l Goya One instead, since that board is just wonderful in chop. When trying to get started in the shore break with onshore winds, I finally understood why Matt Pritchard had called the board a bit too small for me. I can sail the board without problems in flat water and chop, but in in the waves, I had a bit of a hard time to get started. It did not help that there was a bit of a wind shadow near shore - my wind meter read anything from 11 to 20 mph. Several times when I got on the board, the nose would just sink, and with waves coming in, I'd be unable to get it straightened out in time. Well, I eventually made it out, and had a bit of fun. Between adjusting harness lines and checking on Nina, I had a few more opportunities to practice my launches. They did not get easier, since the incoming tide and increasing winds also increased the size of the waves. But at least, the water in Buzzards Bay felt warm (maybe 12 C).

Nina, who had sailed in something like waves maybe twice before, had a much harder time. She tried to take her Angulo custom out, but never made it through the shore break. After 30 minutes of trying, she got caught with the rig between her and the waves, and was rewarded with a big mast smack to the head.

We decided to cut our losses, and drive over to Hyannis for some easier sailing. Once at the Sea Street Beach, Nina was a bit cold and demotivated, and did not want to go out, but I took my Hawk and the re-rigged 5.7 m wave sail and went sailing. On the water, I found myself quite overpowered. The wind had picked up to averages of 32 with gusts of 38, so maybe the 5.7 was a tad big - I think I would have been quite nicely powered on a 4.5.

Well, what can a poor boy do who does not want to rig for the third time in 2 hours? Look for flatter water, of course! So up to the Kennedy Slicks I sailed. On the way, I constantly had Matt Pritchard's voice in my head: "Bend your knees! Put all your weight in the harness! Speed is your friend!" Doing all that made the sail quite manageable, especially after adding a bit more outhaul.

When I reached the harbor, I was a bit disappointed at first. It was close to high tide, and waves were crashing through the holes in the jetty near shore and at the far end. This made the water near shore, which can be ultra-smooth at lower tides, a bit choppy. But the middle section of the jetty is solid, and stood just 3-4 feet above the waterline, creating smooooth water without disturbing the wind. I made me think of the videos and pictures I had seen of West Kirby.

I did a few runs along the jetty, but sailing alone was not so much fun, so I decided to sail back to Sea Street and check on Nina. On the way there, whom did I see sailing up to the Slicks? Yes, Nina! Still on her 4.5, but now on the Goya One 77, she had gotten bored of being cold, and decided that rigging and sailing might just warm her up. So we sailed back up to the Slicks together, and the real fun started.

I still had my entire gear set up for wave sailing, from foot strap positions to the wave sail I was using, but that did not keep me from practicing sling shots right at the wall. Here is a short video from the GPS data from a few of these runs:

The replay is accelerated 10-fold. This time around, I actually did get a feeling for what the Slingshot is supposed to be. I tried a couple of them on most runs out, taking advantage of gusts and where the water was flat (closest to the wall, the "waves" were about 2 cm "high"!). Just from the tracks, it would seem that the last bend in the jetty would have been perfect for going downwind - however, the water was getting a bit rough back there, both from wind-driven swell and from some swell coming in from the end of the jetty.

When everything comes together - a nice gust, perfectly flat water, and good board speed to start with -, doing a Slingshot is a pretty amazing feeling. At least once, I had the feeling of being almost pulled out of the foot straps when pushing the rig forward and going downwind, which then translated into great acceleration (well, at least for my standards and gear). Here are the speed data from 5 seconds (speeds in km per hour):
That sure felt good! The other thing that just feels great is the jibing at the end of a speed run in perfectly flat water. Going into a turn at almost 30 mph is a feeling that I find just absolutely amazing - the board cutting through the water like a hot knife through butter, the sail going completely powerless, and coming out of the turn still fully planing. But while I had some decent jibes, I think the jibing is perhaps one of the weakest points on the Hawk. Over the last year, I have been on a number of boards that just want to keep planing no matter what. These include Dean's Manta, Dani's iSonic, the RRD Firemove and Firestorm, and several other freeride and slalom boards that I sailed at the board test in Hatteras. In contrast to those boards, my Hawk gets quite sensitive at the end of a jibe, and takes small handling errors as an excuse to fall off the plane. I think this is at least partially because it's a lot narrower than most of the other boards, and perhaps also because it's a tad slower (compared to pure slalom boards). But don't get me wrong - I love the board, and I'll just have to improve my jibes a bit more.

In the speed runs, I was gunning for 30 knots, but only got up to about 29.4. The wind was strong enough for more, and the conditions were ideal, but the wave-oriented setup definitely help me back a few knots. The Manic 5.7 was quite wonderful to sail once I got used to it, but it does not have the stability of a Matrix, or the slippery feeling of a cambered race sail. But on the other hand, perhaps it was a better sail for practicing Slingshots, since it does provide a bit more direct feedback. Still, the session made it into my top 5 session for 2 second top speed. Nina did even better - it was her second-fastest session ever, with more than 48 kmh top speed. That's despite being on wave gear - who knows how fast she would have gone on the Missile!

The was one other thing I was practicing during the entire session: to take it easy - have the most fun with the least effort. This might seem a bit strange when sailing overpowered in 30+ mph winds, but it is actually a great idea (someone else put it into my head a few years back). Just assume that it can be easy to sail in those conditions, and that you just have to find out how! Of course, I don't think I could have done it without all the tips I have gotten over the years from Andy and his crew, Matt, Tulpe, and all the other great instructors that have helped me along. With their help, though, I was not tired at all after almost two hours, when we had to stop because it was getting dark. My main incentive to practice the "easy sailing" thing was for long distance sailing. I may never be really fast, since my risk tolerance is quite low; but I absolutely love sailing for hours on end. I have sailed 160 km in about 6 hours, and I am looking forward to longer days and longer sessions. We may skip our annual trip to Bonaire this winter, but we'll be in Hatteras for two weeks next spring - and that is the perfect place to break personal bests for distance sailing. Anyone interested in joining me on the water there next April for 12 hours?

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