Tuesday, October 30, 2012

15 or 37 cm?

When we were on Cape Hatteras recently, one of the regular rituals is to visit the many windsurf shops here. We came back from one trip with two new fins:
They're both weed fins, which is a must in Hatteras this time of the year - one 15 cm, one 37 cm. They are both for the same board, my Exocet WindSUP 10:
I got this board because we wanted to stand up paddle, SUP sail on the ocean in light winds, and have a board for light wind freestyle. Since we had only a couple of days with enough wind to plane, that's what I did most of the time.

Lightwind freestyle. We had a house right on the sound, and 4 days of light wind during the ABK camp, so that's what I did the most. In the past, I had mostly used two other boards for light wind freestyle: a Fanatic Skate 110, and a Kona Mahalo (12 ft, 280 l, also usable as a tandem). On the Skate 110, I often felt "balance-challenged", and foot positioning has to be very precise. The Kona was much easier to use, especially when learning new tricks, but turning it required big steps and plenty of patience. The WindSUP hits the sweet spot in the middle: plenty of stability to learn new tricks on, but turny enough that 360s are a matter of seconds and not minutes. After a few days, Andy Brandt told me: "I hate to admit it, but you are getting pretty good at light wind freestyle". Thanks, Andy, but the board is definitely a big help here.

Ocean SUP sailing. Anyone who has taken a few ABK camps has learned to take what Andy says seriously. In the past two years, his favorite sailing has been light-wind sailing in ocean waves. At this year's camp, pretty much every single intermediate or advanced repeat camper showed up with a sailable SUP. Some, like Randy, had done it a number of times, but most of us were eager to try it out with instructions from Andy. We did get a lecture on land, but conditions during the camp week were never right to go out in the ocean. But a couple of days after the camp was over, Nina and I finally made it out onto the ocean at the new cut. The wind was a bit light, about 8 mph - 10 to 15 mph are better, says Andy. The waves were small, perhaps knee to hip high, and the shore break just big enough to be a challenge to us kooks, but not a real danger. For once, I remembered a lot of what Andy had lectured, which was a big help in getting out. My favorite was the "nose dive" to get out through the waves. The WindSUP 10 does not have a lot of volume before the mast, so the nose dives easily when I put some weight on a foot before the mast base. That worked like a charm to get through breaking waves, which looked plenty scary to me.
I windsurf a lot, but never in waves, so I would not call what I did wave sailing. Like Nina, I sailed out through the waves and then back in, hoping that a wave would break where I was sailing so I could catch it. Surprisingly, this actually happened a couple of times, and I got the feeling of planing down a wave. More often, the wave would break a bit to early, and the white water washed me down the board when my board suddenly accelerated under me. Still, I'll count catching a few waves as a total kook in a short session as a success. The whole session was quite exciting, and I'm definitely looking forward to repeats on Cape Cod.

Stand up paddling. I paddled the WindSUP a few times on the sound, and tried to catch some small waves with a paddle instead of the sail once. Cruising along the sound on a windless day was fun. I saw several sting rays, plenty of gorgeous light-up jelly fish, a couple of turtles, and a variety of fish. I went around the little island near the ABK camp site to check out the water depth for speed runs on windy days - definitely a great way to do this. With a 32 cm weed fin, I had to switch sides every 4-5 strokes. I also tried the 15 cm weed fin, but the board turned way too quickly for cruising around.
While the flat water SUPing worked well, trying to catch waves on the ocean side was a whole different story. I'd love to blame the waves for not breaking properly, but I don't really believe that was the problem. At first, I could not even stand on the board without falling off as soon as the smallest swell cam along! This eventually got a bit better, but I never got close to actually catching a wave. The few times I was at the right spot, I could not get the board going fast enough, and/or simple could not keep my balance. This definitely was a lot easier with a rig to hold on to!
Nina had similar problems on her 9'2 SUP. She had done this once before last year, on a big (12 foot?) beginner SUP, and had actually caught a few waves back then. I finally tried to use the board as a regular surf board. Even though I got the board moving better than with a paddle, I did not get close to catching a wave, so perhaps we can attach some blame to the waves. We did notice that the waves were breaking nicer a few hundred yards away, but there were several people out there who looked like they knew what they were doing, and we did not feel like getting into their way.

Planing. Most sailable SUP will not plane on flat water, unless extremely overpowered, because they have a ton of rocker. The WindSUP has a tail cutoff instead, similar to the original Konas:
I like the fish tail design - it traps the water from pushing waves, which probably helped in catching the waves when we went SUP sailing. The cutout also allows for a flat rocker, so the WindSUP does plane easily. I had sailed it once before, and compared it directly to my Skate 110. While the Skate planes early, the WindSUP 10 planed even earlier - nice! I got another chance to test it's planing when the wind picked up for a short sunset session. The 32 cm weed fin I was using was a bit too small - I could tell that the board wanted more fin pressure, but the fin could not take it. Nevertheless, I did get the board planing fully, and had a little drag race with my friend Danny. Well, Dani won, but he was pulling away from me rather slowly. That might have bothered me on most other days - but this time, Dani was actually using a bigger, fully cambered race sail (8.5 m Koncept), while I was using a non-cambered sail (7.5 m Matrix). You need to know that Dani weighs in at about 60 pounds less than I do, so the comparable sail size for him would have been a 5.0! And as always, Dany was on his slalom gear - a Fanatic Falcon 101 or 121 that he has nicely trimmed. I was rather amazed that the WindSUP with an under-dimensioned fin and no front foot straps could almost keep up with him! Dani later confessed that he had night mares about me catching him with the WindSUP :-)

The 37 cm fin on the picture on top are for marginal days when I want to plane on the WindSUP. It should be interesting to see what kind of speeds the board can reached when properly trimmed. The 15 cm fin if for light-wind ocean sailing, so that I can ride the waves in all the way to shore. I might try it for light wind freestyle, too - that is, if Nina lets me, who wants to use the fin as here regular fin on her Skates on windy days.

After 2 weeks with only 2 days of planing conditions, we had to flee Hatteras when Hurricane Sandy approached. The repeat breach at the S-turns was quite predictable - while there were some new 10-15 ft high dunes next to the new asphalt, it was possible to see straight through to the ocean from the street a bit further towards Rodanthe, where no dunes protected the ocean front houses. After driving Friday and Saturday, we finally got some great wind here in Duxbury on Sunday, just before Sandy came by with 70+ mph gusts on Monday. We lost electricity for about 12 hours, and the yard needs a bit of a cleanup now, but otherwise, we did not see much damage around here. The little house at the end of the pier in Hyannis Port harbor did not survive the storm intact, and it seems that the only boat in the harbor that was not removed before the storm now is swimming upside down - but otherwise, the 20+ boats that still blocked the Kennedy Slicks two weeks ago are gone now, and we can look forward to some speed sailing sessions in SW winds. One of the things I want to test there is my new 25 cm Vector Delta Weed Speed fin. I got to try it a bit last Sunday in Duxbury, but I was getting tired by then. Nevertheless, I improved my top speed for the day a bit, and saw 30 knots on the dial in Duxbury for the first time. The fin felt very different from the 28 cm Blade Weed I had used before: it could take almost no pressure at low speeds, so that my first tries to get into the back straps must have been quite comical; but at higher speeds, it could take very large amounts of fin pressure without spinning out. This makes sense, since the profile of the speed fin is made for high speed - but it still was very interesting to feel. Some of my other, more freeride-oriented fins can take much more pressure at low speeds, but then get sensitive at higher speeds; for example, they may spin out when pressuring them a bit too much at jibe entries. In contrast, the Delta Weed Speed gave me the feeling that the faster I went, the more pressure it would take. Basic physics say that the lift should increase with the square of the speed. So all I have to do now is go faster and get smaller fins!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Join the ABK Camp in Hatteras 10/26 to 10/28!

It is finally getting chilly in New England, so it's time to head towards warmer climates: Cape Hatteras in North Carolina! Up here, I have already seen dry suits come out, but in Hatteras, I expect at least a few days in board shorts and/or shorties.

Hatteras is definitely one of my favorite spots for ABK camps. The water is shallow for half a mile or so, but you can do runs that are several miles long if you need a little break from instruction. We usually have a room in one of the gorgeous houses right on the water, about 150 feet away from where the camp takes place. Video reviews in the evenings are done right in the house - warm, comfy, and usually with well-earned beers.

This year, we are renting the "Getaways" house from 10/20 to 10/30. It's actually not right on the water - it's set back perhaps 150 feet. Still, that's closer to the water than almost any parking lot on Cape Cod, and we can leave our gear rigged the entire time. This is in Waves - I actually like the sailing in Waves better than in Avon. A couple of our friends will join us in the house, but we still have two rooms available for ABK campers. The rooms are $120 for just the camp period (3 days/nights), extra nights $40; it gets cheaper for anyone who stays longer. If you are interested, send me an email or Facebook message, or ask Andy Brandt for my contact info if you don't have it.

In past Hatteras camps, we have had nice mixes of light wind, planing conditions, and usually one or two days of crazy winds in the 30s. I really like this mix - light wind exercises prepare for things like planing jibes and duck jibes; planing there is usually great since the chop stays small and I can usually stand when I fall; and the crazy conditions keep the ego from getting to big, and create lasting memories. On a crazy windy day last year, even working on tricks for overpowered days like Shove Its required some guts - but even the total beginners stayed out the whole day and learned a lot. So, come on down to Cape Hatteras to join us, and add a few days to warm up before the camp if you can!

Monday, October 1, 2012


Today, October showed why it's called Rocktober in New England: we had SW winds with averages up to 35 mph, and gusts in the low 40s. This is the first time in months we saw this much wind: the summer seemed rather windless, with my 8.5 m sail being the most used sail; September got better, with 7 days on mostly 5.5 m; but today's call was for the 5.8 m speed sail and some Slicks sailing.

High tide around noon and WSW winds would have called for sailing the Kennedy Slicks, but there are still at least a dozen boats anchored in the harbor, so we went to Egg Island instead. It seems the sand bars have changed a bit since we sailed there last year - the second sand bar that's ideal for speed was fully submerged, even 3 hours after high tide. So we had to sail inside the little bay that is formed by the two sandbars, one of them submerged. The problem with that is that at the end of the speed run, you are sailing full speed towards the tip of the first sand bar that wraps around. Jibing there is possible, but the radius has about 50 meters or less, or you hit sand again...

Needless to say, the first few runs were scary. We missed the strongest winds in the morning, since we had to wait for our sauna to be delivered (which arrived with fork lift damage and had to be sent straight back to Canada). But gusts were initially still in the mid-30s, plenty for the first real speed session of the fall season. When I arrived at Egg Island, Dean had already been playing there for a while, and gave me some helpful pointers where to sail. By the time I had finally gotten comfortable with speed again, though, the water level had dropped enough to keep maybe 50 meters away from the sand bar, and therefore in a bit of chop.

Nina came a bit later on her  90 l freestyle board and a 3.7 m sail. The wind had gone down a bit, and she was underpowered and under-happy at first, until the wind picked up a bit again. She did some nice duck jibes ("boring", she says), but got blown off the board in donkey jibe attempts, and did not get enough pop in the small chop during her flaka and vulcan attempts. Still, she ended up having fun in the relatively smooth water.

With a total run length of only about 400 m, which included a rather gusty start area, it was more a day for 2-second top speeds than for 10-second averages. I saw 30 and 31 knots on the dial of my GPS many times, which made me quite happy - I'd seen 31 only once before, about a year ago at the same spot. I ended up being only 0.07 knots below my personal best for 2 seconds, despite shorter runs this time and a couple of mph less wind. Not bad.

Dean managed to get 36 knots on his dial (35.94 knots for 2 secs), beating my speed once again by almost 5 knots. Some of that is probably due to his earlier start that allow him to catch some gusts into the 40s. But I am not sure that I would have managed to go much faster in stronger winds - I'll need a few more days in the 30s to get used to overpowered speed sailing again. I cannot blame his gear for his faster speeds anymore, since I finally was out on a 90 l slalom board and a cambered speed sail today. But I may catch up a bit by using better fins in the near future (I was on a "regular" 28 cm weed fin today). I tried several of Dani's Vector speed and slalom fins recently, and they felt a lot faster. Actual speed differences where only about a knot or less, but that was in a lot less wind - I think the faster fins will really start to shine in stronger winds.

So Rocktober is living up to its name on the very first day of the month. We're back to a pattern where SW/WSW winds on a sunny day come in much stronger than forecast, which should remain with us for the next couple of months. Oh, did I mention that we had plenty of sun today, and water and air temperatures in the upper 60s (near 20 C)? Fall rules!