Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Flat and flatter

We went windsurfing in Fogland yesterday and had a blast. We love Fogland because the little bay is protected by a sandbar and shallow, so you get nice flat water. Runs are only about 500 m (1/4 mile) long, but that's plenty for freestyle, which Nina did yesterday. I like Fogland to try new gear, and took my newest board out for the first time: Little Black Beauty, an Exocet SL66, 105 l, that I recently bought used. Here is a short boom cam video:

After spending most of my time recently on freestyle boards, it will take a couple of sessions to get used to the outboard foot straps, and to get everything dialed in. Still, the board was a lot of fun to sail, and made it really easy to plane through jibes. If you look closely at the video, you'll see plenty of things I do wrong (e.g. bending the front arm); but the board just ignored the driver mistakes and stayed fast. I planed through my second jibe, which I found quite amazing; I might have planed through the first one, except that the wind was a bit too holey on the other shore.

One reason I am posting the video is to compare how flat the water is in Fogland to how flat it is in one of the best long distance speed sailing spots, Lake George in Australia. In the past couple of months, several GPS Team Challenge teams from Australia reported 40-45 knot runs by multiple team members from this location, and many nautical mile averages in the high 30s to low 40s. That's just amazing - until you watch a video that shows just how flat the water there can be:

Well worth a long drive - it's not unusual for the Australian speed surfers to drive there 6 hours, sail for 5 hours, and drive back 6 hours. But really dedicated speed sailors like Spotty even drive 39 hours and 2560 km (1600 miles) for a few sessions!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gusty Pleasure Bay

Yesterday, we sailed for the first time in Pleasure Bay in South Boston. It was a rather interesting day. For the second time in two months, I rigged my 5.8 KA Koncept while winds were around 30 mph, only to be greeted by 58 mph gusts as soon as I hit the water. 58 mph is a 10 on the Beaufort scale, described as "storm" or "whole gale". There's no chance that I could control a 5.8 m sail in that much wind!

A big part of the problem was that the wind was westerly, coming from the land across South Boston. That made it very gusty - within a few minutes, both Nina and I experienced being totally underpowered and totally overpowered. Here's a wind graph:
I think the wind sensor is at a pretty exposed location. Were we started, we definitely had some wind shadow from nearly buildings, and the lulls were definitely lower than the 20 mph the graph shows for 12 pm. But I'm pretty sure we got the full force of the gusts - at some point, I had a hard time even walking upwind, with the board getting blown out of the (rather flat) water several times.

After derigging my 5.8, I went for a run on Nina's 3.7. I was nicely powered on the way out, but had to schlog the entire way back - not exactly my idea of fun when air and water temperatures are just above 40 F (6 C). I saw quite a few other good windsurfers have problems, too. Scott was totally overpowered on a 4.7, and Martin ended up falling in several jibes - something I had rarely seen him do before. But shortly before we left, Gary went out and seemed to be doing fine; so did Jay, who went out again, after a very short initial set of runs.

What I saw did not really make sense to me - good windsurfers sailing without problems, while better sailors like Martin had a hard time. So I went and looked a bit more closely at the wind data. The graph below shows how gusty is was while we were there (measured as the increase in wind strength in the strongest gust, relative to the lowest lull, in a 30-minute period):
Nina and I sailed between 12 and 1 pm. During that time, the wind speed in gusts increased by about 200%. I am reasonably efficient, and not too bad at holding an overpowered sail; for example, I can stay planing on my favorite 7.0 in 17 mph winds, and keep it in control until about 35 mph. That a 2-fold range, or a 100% increase in wind speed in the gusts. With the actual increases of up to 250%, no sail would have worked...

Martin sailed until at least 1:30, during the time of the lowest lulls (15 mph) and the strongest gusts (58.5 mph). No surprise he had a few problems! By the time Gary went out, the wind had become a bit steadier - one could say it was only half as gusty as a bit earlier. I guess we just went out too early once again.

For comparison, the graph above includes the data for Point Judith in Rhode Island. Point Judith has a much better fetch in WSW-W winds, so the wind is a lot steadier. With increases mostly below 100%, planing the entire time with a single sail would have been possible. The only issue is that the averages were above 40 mph most of the time. We have sailed in 40+ mph gusts a number of times, but never in 40 mph averages. If it had been a bit warmer, we might have given it a try... perhaps we should have, anyway, since we still got the gusts in the high 50s, and the lower averages only made things harder.
Gary, about to go out.

Where's the wind?

Ah, there it is!
Jay & Gary
Jay showing us how to jibe
Nina, Jay, and Martin. No whitecaps in sight.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is it spring already?

This winter has been very warm, and today was no exception, with temperatures up to 57 F in Boston - 17 degrees (10 C) more than normal. With a decent wind forecast, we obviously had to go windsurfing, but did not take into account that spring rules, not winter rules, should apply. So we went to Kalmus, only to stare at flat water without any white caps. Here's the wind graph:
The rather chaotic wind is typical for days when the air is much warmer than the water, which is still near 40 F (4C). A SW wind in Kalmus with a small temperature difference is wonderful - the wind couples with the sea breeze, and we often get 5-15 mph stronger winds than the computer models predict. Forecasts today called for about 16 mph winds, and the spike at 12:30 shows what could have happened. But as the land warmed up more, the wind "decoupled" - it did not reach down to the ground anymore.

That was perfectly predictable, but it has not happened much in the last few months, so we forgot the rules that apply to spring windsurfing: if decoupling is an issue, Fogland is often windier! Here's the wind graph for Fogland from today:
Fogland had 4 hours of pretty decent wind - but why? It's a combination of several factors:

  • Water temperatures: the water in the Sakonnet river is several degrees warmer than the water near Hyannis, so the temperature difference is lower. The very shallow water in the northerly bay in Fogland can warm up several degrees on a single day.
  • Geography/channeling: the river channels the wind, and the layout reduces decoupling in spring and early summer days. 
  • Thermal additions: just like Hyannis, Fogland can get a boost from thermals, when the air over the land heats up and rises, and pulls colder air from the sea. 
The combination of these factors can bring stronger winds to Fogland if the circumstances are just right, like they were today. This happens a number of times in spring and early summer; but in the fall, the opposite often happens, and winds in Fogland are weaker and gustier than winds on Cape Cod. Well, things have changed, and Fogland is definitely worth a shot on those warm SW wind days!
We ended up not windsurfing today, but it was not all bad - we had plenty of time to chat with our friend Martin, and we were still a bit sore from ice surfing on Monday. Our friend Dean and his friend Jeff had broken 50 knots on the ice there a week before, and talked about almost perfect ice sailing conditions, with miles and miles of uninterrupted, smooth ice. So Nina and I asked if we could tag along, and Dean let us use two of his ice sleds. A bit simplified, these are oversized skate boards with two sets of ice skating blades at the front and the back, and a mast track to mount a windsurfing rig. 

This was only the second time we went ice sailing, and the last time was about a year ago. Without holes in the ice, my legs did not shake this time around, but it was still plenty scary. At first, the wind was light, which was perfect for us beginners. Since there is almost no friction on ice, it is easy to go much faster than the wind, so jibing becomes a whole different thing. Even in a very drawn out jibe, chances are good that you'll get backwinded from apparent wind. I saw one of the better sailors doing a downwind 360 to slow down before actually jibing - cool! A few minutes later, I found myself doing an involuntary 360, when I got backwinded during a jibe, and just turning another 180 degrees seemed like the natural thing to do.

In the light wind conditions, duck jibes were the more natural thing to do. However, since the ice sleds turn a lot slower than windsurf boards, the timing is a bit different. I found myself sailing clew first after the sail duck for rather extended periods. Thank Andy for all that light wind clew first practice!

After one of these jibes, I suddenly found myself sliding of the ice sled, and relying on the dampening properties of the largest muscle in the human body when making sudden contact with the ice. Looking at the sled, I noticed that the rear blade assembly had come of - the screw that attached them to the board (the "king pin") had broken into two pieces. Apparently, they do this after a year or two of use. No big deal - Dean just sailed back, got a tool box and spare parts, and replaced the king pin on the ice. But when everything was ready to go again, the wind had picked up quite a bit. I did a few more runs, at one point climbing up a 2 inch high ledge in the ice at full speed - did I mention that ice sailing can be quite scary? With the winds now whipping up white caps in the one small (100 ft wide) area of open water, I did not even try to go for any more jibes - by then, the fall absorbing capacity of my gluteus maximus was about used up. Still, going wicked fast was wicked fun!

Even though I was using a 4.2 m non-cambered crossover sail that was wide open most of the time to keep my speed in regions that I was marginally comfortably with, I still managed to get a top speed of 32.5 knots - about a knot faster than I ever sailed on non-frozen water. Not bad for the second time of ice sailing - but Jeff, Dean, and the other fast guys reached speeds close to 50 knots that day. Plenty of things left to learn! Now I almost hope that the next winter will be colder, so we can ice sail on the nearby lakes. Once again, many thanks to Dean for exposing us to this sport, and letting us use the gear! It was also very nice to meet Jeff, the reigning World Record holder, and the other ice sailors.
Just two days before the scary and fun ice sailing adventure, we had sailed on non-frozen water in Pt. Judith. Winds were steady 25-30 mph, water and air temperatures in the low 40s F (about 5 C). I had been dying to windsurf with gloves again after reading James' report about how hypnosis may help to reduce lower arm fatigue. I had bought the mp3 and listened to it a couple of times; Nina listened to it once, but she had to laugh through the entire introduction, when Andy Steer counts down from 10, so I had doubts that this would work on her. We ended up sailing only a bit more than one hour, but we both spend almost the entire time on the water, without the more frequent breaks we often take when sailing in cold weather. Except for it being a bit chilly, the conditions were great - perhaps a bit too much wind for the 7.0 I had rigged because I did not quite trust the wind. While sailing, I often had to think of parts of the hypnosis tape, and it definitely helped me relax. At the end of the hour, my lower arms were starting to get a bit tired, but I don't think it was much worse than it would have been without gloves. 

Nina reported that the hypnosis did not make any difference for her. I'm not sure I fully agree; the last time we sailed with gloves, she had reported cramps right away, and she took more and longer breaks. However, the conditions that time had been more difficult, and she had used different gloves, so a direct comparison is impossible. Maybe things will get better if she can listen to the entire recording without laughing... But for all of you windsurfers out there who have problems sailing with gloves, I'd suggest that you check out the forearm hypnosis recording. Maybe all you get out of it is a few good laughs, but it is quite possible that you'll end up with more fun on the water during the cold months. And you can't loose money by trying - Andy Steer promises to return your money if it does not work for you! I hope you try it - I'd love to see more windsurfers on the water during the winter. The only time I got cold at the water this winter was today - and that's because we were just standing around instead of going sailing.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dry Case armband and Boost drysuit problems

In a couple of previous posts, I said good things about the Dry Case armbands and the O'Neill Boost drysuit. But while my initial impression was very good, I have recently had problems with the armbands and the drysuit.

What I liked about the Dry Case armbands is that they use a vacuum which (a) prevents water from coming in, and (b) indicate if the case has a hole. Unfortunately, one Dry Case armband stopped holding the vacuum after just a few uses. Here's a picture:
The hole is hard to see on the picture. It is where the extra piece of plastic that holds the armband is attached to the main case. Pull on the armband, perhaps during a crash, opened a hole in the case that lets the vacuum out and water in. Fortunately, that happened when I was using the armband for a GT-31 GPS, which is also waterproof, so nothing got damaged; if this had happened with a phone, this could have been a costly failure.
Another Dry Case armband that I had ordered recently failed right away - here is the picture:
Here, the piece of plastic that is glued to the case to push the arm band through came off right away - apparently, is was not glued on properly. If that had happened on the water, I would have lost the armband and the GPS or phone in it! Fortunately, this happened at home, and I was able to return the defective arm band to amazon.com.

So, as wonderful as the vacuum idea is, the attachment of the armband to the Dry Case is a major weak point. Any stress, for example from a crash while windsurfing, can cause the little piece of plastic glued to the back of the case to either come off, or to rip a hole. I have bought a total of 3 Dry Case armbands in the past 6 months, and all three failed quickly (although in one case, I cannot rule out "operator error", since I had lent the GPS to a freestyler working on loops). In contrast to the Dry Case armbands, the Aquapac armbands have the attachment integrated into the case, so it cannot fail in a similar fashion. Until Dry Case changes their design, I will go back to Aquapac armbands.

Now to the O'Neill Boost drysuit. I bought one of these "baggy" drysuits in November 2010, and used it perhaps 10 times since then. It's main attraction was the price - at about $420, it was quite affordable. But when I used the suit again last fall, there seemed to be more and more water coming in. A close inspection showed air bubbles under most of the tape that sealed the stitches, and immersing the suit into water showed that water was indeed coming in there. Fortunately, this happened just before the one-year warranty expired, so I was able to return it back to the shop and get it replaced. However, the replacement took about 6 weeks! Not sure why simply sending a new suit would take so long. I was able to keep sailing in a semidry suit since it was unusually warm. But if this had happened a few weeks later, the suit would have been out of warranty, and I would have missed a lot of sessions.

Our friend Jeff also bought a Boost suit, although in his case, the suit had been hanging in the store for a couple of years, and was on sail. His suit also developed a leak within about a year, which Jeff decided to fix himself (apparently quite a messy procedure). I guess you get what you pay for - the top-of-the line Kokotat drysuits that our friends Dani and Sabah bought cost more than $900, but they come with a lifetime warranty, and Kokotat seems to be very good about honoring warranty claims.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shock to the system

We just got back from a week in Bonaire a few days ago. It was just wonderful, as usual, except that the wind was even better than before - we were planing every single day without needing big sails, and had only half a day of light winds (too little for Nina, who would have liked to practice light wind tricks for a couple of days). We met old friends and made new friends at the ABK camp, and learned a few new tricks. Here's a short video:

I finally "got" the carve 360. I had completed one a few times before, but I finally reached the point where I can do a bunch of them in a row, with a success rate above 50% - well, at least on one tack and in the flat Bonaire waters. But the most fun day was day 4 of the 5-day camp, when we finally worked on the loop. Once again, Andy's lecture (this time on the water and short) was successful in:
  1. getting everyone in the group to try the loop exercises, even at least 2 windsurfers who said they did not want to; and
  2. avoiding injuries and board damage.
On the downside, nobody in our group actually completed a loop. Conditions were not ideal - I needed a 6.1 m sail to plane, and the chop where Andy was standing was small and (for starboard jumpers like me) coming from the wrong direction. However, I did make some progress, and had several nice crashes where I was hanging under the sail, with the sail catapulting me around while being almost horizontal. In one of the crashes, the tail even broke free and the board turned around, but the nose was buried deep into the water - that was more a Gecko loop than a loop. Still, the "catapult rides" under the sail were fun, the crashes onto the back soft and painless, and I got a bit of the impression what a spin loop might feel like. More motivation to keep working at it!

One thing I noticed in both my own crashes and when watching others was that the timing was wrong. We usually get the nose out of the water nicely, and sometimes the fin, too; but rotation / catapult / nose down part almost always starts way to late, when the tail of the board (or even the entire board) is already back down in the water. I think the initial jumps are high enough, compared to completed flatwater loops I have seen live and on video; but something is missing. Nina, who was a bit frustrated with her crashes, even developed the theory that she should learn the vulcan first, since that requires learning the tail - nose exchange. I think a decent sized chop or waves would also solve the problem, since that would give more time to pull the back leg up; maybe the flatwater loop will become easier after learning the loop in higher chop first.

Coming back from the ABK camp, Nina was all fired up to keep working on tricks. So when the wind forecast for Monday looked good, with SW winds in the mid 20s and plenty of sun, we just had to get out. Yes, there was the small issues that both air and water temperatures were about 40º F (20º C) lower than a few days before in Bonaire ... but it was sunny, above freezing, and windy! We were also dying for some really flat water - Bonaire is lovely, but compared to the slicks near Kalmus, it's still choppy. Our friend Martin decided to join us, and Jeff, who will be in Bonaire soon, predicted that this would be a shock to the system.  Well, Jeff was right - but not as we expected it to be.

Since Martin did not want to join us at the Kennedy Slicks, we decided to launch at the back beach in Kalmus and sail over to Egg Island (the winds where a bit too westerly, and the chop looked to gnarly, for a front launch). Rigging and getting into dry suits and thick boots took forever, but we eventually hit the water. At the launch site, the winds are offshore and very gusty. Foolishly, we sailed in the shallow waters near the launch for a while, and soon discovered what part of our system was getting shocked: the forearms! After just sailing 5-6 hours a day for 7 days in a row, you'd think that the hands and arms are in good shape - but having to sail on gloves or mittens again was almost too much. Nina got arm cramps within a few minutes, and got out of the water. Martin and I decided to sail over to Egg Island to search for steadier winds. The crossing was easy enough, with a couple of downwind legs and a bit of walking in the shallows in front of Egg Island. We were rewarded with very flat water and steady winds - except when we sailed all the way to the far side shore, where trees and houses made the wind gusty again.

I absolutely hated sailing with 3 mm gloves, even though I had cut out parts on the insides of the fingers to reduce the resistance to bending the fingers. The feeling is just so different that I was probably gripping way to hard most of the time. But just as I was about to sail it back, Nina finally joined us, after having changed from closed mittens to open palm mitts. That inspired me to do some decent sailing, staying in the area with steady winds and keeping the jibes dry about 10 times in a row. The sail back as the sun started to go down was a bit tedious for Martin and especially for Nina. I was lucky because I was nicely overpowered on my 5.8 m race sail in 30-35 mph winds, but Nina got too close to shore and was stuck for a little while in shifting and gusty winds. Just when I had walked out to her to bring here my larger board, she finally caught a decent gust that let her sail the rest of the way in.

So - was sailing here two days after returning from Bonaire a shock to the system? Only for the forearms, I'd say. Otherwise, we were perfectly warm the entire time, and sailing the Egg Island Slicks was tons of fun. None of us really got fully into the groove, but by giving Martin a GPS and putting him on my gear for a few runs, we still managed to pick up a few spots in the GPS Team Challenge. Can't wait to sail here again when the next "warm" southwest winds come!