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!

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