Saturday, March 10, 2012

The perfect training ground

Fogland Beach in Tiverton, Rhode Island, is one of our favorite places to windsurf in the spring and summer. So when we got two warm, sunny, and windy days last week, Fogland was were we went. With the rising temperatures, we were joined by other windsurfers both days: Tom on Wednesday, out for his first session of the year and looking good; and Jeff, Graham, and Chris on Thursday.

The northern bay in Fogland is only knee to hip deep and about 500 m wide - perfect for working on jibes and freestyle. There was plenty of ducking, popping, and sliding to be seen on Thursday - here are a few pictures (thanks to Corey for taken them!):
Nina and Chris


My lovely wife did not want me to show any pictures of her, because she felt that compared to Chris and Graham, she only did "boring" stuff. Well, she did use the two days to work on her jibes and duck jibes, and made a lot of progress in gusty conditions. GPS tracks are great to get an objective assessment of how good jibes were - and she did her best jibe ever that day. Here's the GPS track:
Her minimum speed of 10.6 knots in the jibe is very good; but even better is that she kept at least 67% of her entry speed during the entire jibe (usually, keeping 50% is pretty darn good). I filmed her a bit from the shore while I was taking a break:

Here's some GoPro HD footage, filmed with a Clew-View mount:

I just love the way she drops down and re-accelerates with a straight front leg. Her jibes are definitely better than mine now. On Wednesday, I still managed a couple of jibes with a faster minimum speed than Nina had, but only because I was going into the jibes with a lot more speed (being on a speed-oriented board with a cambered race sail, instead of a freestyle board with a waves sail as she was). But on Thursday, she easily beat my minimum speed several times. To add insult to injury, one of her fastest jibes was a cleanly planed-through duck jibe - her first. I can duck jibe, but I have yet to plane cleanly out of one...

It is pretty amazing to see the quite dramatic improvements in Nina's jibing in two days at Fogland. But one reason for these improvements is that Fogland Bay is simply a perfect training ground for jibing and freestyle. The water stayed flat, even when the wind gusted into the high 30 and low 40 mph ranges; runs are short, forcing you to jibe or try something else every minute or so; and the shallow water means you don't have to waste energy on waterstarts, or worry much about getting cold from falling often. It's also easier to come in and take breaks than at many other placing, since the distance from the shore to your car is about 20 feet.

So much for the interesting part of these two days. I was much more boring than anyone else, mostly going back and forth and trying to go fast. The one bright thing was that I got to try out my new Delta Freeride fin from Maui Ultra Fins. This fin has a radically different shape from most other fins:
It is only 18.9 cm long, and replaces a 29 cm regular weed fin, or a 32-34 cm standard fin. Here are my first impressions after 2 days of sailing it:

  • Easy to sail. Given the radically different shape, I had expected that some things would be quite different, but I did not have any noticable problems.
  • Fast. I got my second-best ever speed (30.38 knots) on this fin on the first day, and similar speeds the second day. That was despite less-than-perfect conditions: the water was so shallow that I had to sail in considerable chop, and the usual downwind speed strip on the tip of the island did not get enough wind to be fast.
  • Great to jibe. I planed through my second jibe, and might have planed through the first one if I had not jibed in a lull. On the 95 l board that I used, I'm pretty happy about every jibe I plane through, and I had a bunch of those on Wednesday, and a few on Thursday.
  • Gentle spinouts. Whenever I sail a fin first, I try to spin it out in different conditions (starting, full speed, jibing) to get a feel how much pressure the fin can take. Once planing, the Delta took about as much pressure as a 29-32 cm weed fin to spin out, which is quite good for the short depth. Spin outs were gentle, similar to weed fins, and recovery was pretty easy - much easier than with a 32 cm slalom fin.
  • No problems in chop. I have sailed a few fins that worked perfectly in flat water, but were uncontrollable in chop. The short length of the fin had me worried, so I did not venture out onto the river until the second day - but there was no need to worry. Spinouts were no problem whatsoever - the fin showed the forgiving characteristics of a much longer weed fin. But please read the update at the end of this post!
So the first impression of the fin is simply very good. With just minor adjustments to the board trim and my sailing style, it was easy to sail and fast. It seemed to be going upwind better than a large normal weed fin, but that's a guess, since I was fully powered most of the time, and did not do a head-to-head comparison. I do have a second MUF Delta fin to try, a Delta Slalom 212 (21 cm deep) for my 105 and 118 l slalom boards; I'll post here what I think about that one when I get to try it (maybe tomorrow :). But without any doubt, the Deltas from Maui Ultra Fins would be perfect for a shallow water place like Bonaire, since they can be about 30-50% shorter than other fins.
Update October 1, 2012: A few people have contacted me about the MUF Delta fin, so I need to add some more information. I did take both fins with me to a 3-week long trip to Hatteras (Avon) in the spring. I did have a lot of spinout problems with the fins in Hatteras chop, with both the 19 cm fin on my 95 l Hawk and with the 21 cm fin on my 105 l slalom board. I ended up not using the fins again after a couple of hours, since I had a lot more fun with regular weed fins. Perhaps the difference to my first test is that the chop on the river in Fogland tends to be much more orderly - it's really more swell than chop on most days. At least for me, the fin does seem to become problematic when the chop gets to big or chaotic.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A few good finds

I stumbled upon a couple of things on the web recently that I really liked. One is a guide to basic tuning of your gear from Eric Loots, based on recommendations by Kean Rogers. It is intended for speed gear, but I think a lot of the steps make sense for freeride and other windsurf gear, too. The one thing I found most interesting is step 10, which Eric explained in a separate picture:
The point here is that the harness lines should be in the middle between the footstraps to get a balance setup which will make the board loose and fast. This position should allow even pressure on both legs, which is ideal. Having the harness line further towards the back strap means more pressure on the back leg, which can (a) be tiring and (b) lead to more spinouts from excessive back foot pressure. It might also lead to leaving the sail a bit more forward and not closing the gap, which will also be slower.

One thing that is interesting about this advice is that it somewhat contradicts another piece of advice that I have heard often: "mast foot back for more speed, forward for more control". The idea is that moving the mast foot back will reduce the wetter surface of the board and thereby make you go faster. There may be some truth to that, but I think that control is more important - top speeds require full control. So in my next few sessions, I'll ignore this rule, and instead adjust mast foot position (and boom height) to center the harness lines between the footstraps.

The other interesting tidbit I found was an instructional video for the Vulcan from the folks at Here it is:

What I like most about it is that it is simple. I have heard a few Vulcan lectures, read about it, and watch other instructional videos, but they all made the move look terribly complicated. For example, the Tricktionary states that at or right after the takeoff, three things have to happen at the same time. I'm sorry, but when learning a new move, I only can concentrate at one thing at a time. If I need to do three things, tell me what to concentrate on first, then the next one, and finally the third one. After I mastered the first one, I'll probably mess it up again when I concentrate on the second one - but eventually, I'll get the first two, and then can go on to the second one. Here is how I get the successive steps from the above video:

  1. Learn to pop the board. They have a nice separate video for this step. Two things to learn hear are (a) to get the body over the board at take off, and (b) to pull up the back leg so the tail comes up.
  2. Before take off, move the front hand to the mast and the back hand back.
  3. When taking off, look down at your back leg. This will turn your body and initiate the board rotation.
  4. At the same time, pull you back foot up into your butt. Ok, this sounds like two things at the same time, but it's actually what we learned to do in step 1. The difference is that we don't extend it for the landing, but instead wait for the nose to hit the water. With a bit of rotation from step 3, we should now turn the board 45-90 degrees before falling backwards into the water.
  5. Now add the sail handling: at takeoff, move the mast forward and quickly pull in with your back hand, before letting the boom snap out of your back hand (like you'd do in a fast tack). This will help to get the nose rotating downwind more.
  6. In the air, pull the front hand across you, leaving the arm quite extended and pushing down on your front hand. Grab the boom on the other side with your new hand.
  7. As you are landing, extend the back leg, and keep the weight forward over the bent front leg.
  8. Sliding backwards now, put your back hand on the boom, and move the front handback. Keep the arms extended so that the weight of the rig is towards the nose to help the slide.
  9. When you slow down, sheet in slowly to reverse direction. Switch your feet when the board stops or after gaining some speed again.
All this happens in the space of about 3 seconds, so each individual step will have to be automated so it happens without thinking. I'm guessing I'll need 20-50 tries for each step, plus some more to go back when concentrating on the next step messes up an earlier one. So it will still be several hundred tries in total, but with a Clew-View mounted GoPro, I should be able to monitor progress along the steps above. So, many thanks to Phil and Danielle from for their video - it's the first Vulcan video that really made me want to learn the Vulcan.