Thursday, November 29, 2012

Black Project Weed Speed - First Impression

Blame it on Dani: after he let me try several of his nice slalom and speed fins, I had to get a few myself. The first one I got was a 25 cm Vector Delta Weed Speed. I used this fin with a 90 l board and a 7.0 sail recently when we tried our new speed slick, and was pretty impressed. It made we want a smaller fin for my 62 l speed board, and a bigger one so that I could use bigger sails and (even) more back foot pressure. I would have bought a couple more Vector fins, but they had some problems with their computers and did not answer my email for a couple of weeks so I looked elsewhere.

Nina had gotten some Black Project fins from Mark Angulo for her wave board, so I checked them out.   Their Weed Speed fin is relatively new, with very few postings on Tom Hammerton, the original developer, had reported about 36 knots in his tests in Hawaii; considering that it's almost impossible to hit 40 knots there since they don't have speed slicks, that is pretty impressive. I also saw another post on the GPS Team Challenge, where Dan_P had hit 36 knots in his first runs on the BP Weed Speeds. That's about 5 knots faster than I have ever sailed, so I went ahead and ordered a couple of these babies. They arrived today by Express Mail - here is a picture of the "28 cm" fin with the 25 cm Vector fin:
The outlines are similar, but the Black Project fin has a different back side and more area. It is about 1/2 inch shorter than the 25 cm Vector fin - Black Project gives the length as "equivalent to a pointer fin of this length".

The fins arrived when we still had a couple of hours before sunset, so I fitted both fins and drove down to Kalmus. Meter readings were showing west wind with averages around 18 mph, with gusts in the low 20s, so I rigged my favorite old 7.0 m Matrix, and took the 28 cm long Weed Speed 34 for a spin on my RRD XFire 90. The chop was reasonably small for Kalmus standards, but speed-flat it was not.

It was a short 30-minute session because the sun went down a few minutes after I started. I was planing about 90% of the time, at times well powered, but never overpowered. The fin impressed me quite a bit. It got me going easily, taking a lot more back foot pressure early on than the smaller Delta 25. My top speed was 30 mph in averages of about 20, with gusts of about 25 (the wind meter readings are a tad low in west wind). For me, going about 20% faster than wind speed in chop is pretty good; even on very flat water, I typically go only about 25% faster than wind speed. Control was excellent, even after small chop hops. Even when putting a lot of pressure on the back foot, the fin refused to spin out. A couple of times, it warned me with a little bit of slipping that I should ease of; that's much nicer than a full spinout, and recovery happened automatically. I finally did manage to get one spinout, but that was at low speed and with a lot of effort; most other fins that I have sailed recently would have spun out a lot earlier. I am sure that sailing this fin with my 7.5 will be perfectly fine, even though the 7.5 has a lot more power than the 7.0,  and even though the Black Project web site lists 6.0 as the correct sail size for the Weed Speed 34.

I'd say that calling the 28 cm deep fin "Weed Speed 34" makes sense - I think it is quite comparable to good a 34 cm pointer fin. I think it is probably more powerful than the Tangent Dynamics Reaper 32 that I'd typically use with the 7.0 on my 110 l freestyle board, but that comparison is flawed since the boards are rather different.

As the title says, these are just my first impressions. Most wind addicts I know love new gear so much that the first impression is almost always very positive, and I think this applies to me, too. It will be interesting to see what the fin can do in flat water and when sailing fully powered - stay tuned!

Monday, November 26, 2012

First Encounter and Hardings Beach

Yesterday, we explored a couple of sailing spots that we had heard a lot about, but never sailed: First Encounter Beach in Eastham and Harding's Beach in Chatham. In the morning, the wind meter for First Encounter (called "Hatch Beach" on iWindsurf) showed WNW winds around 30 mph. I had read about kiters sailing in the marsh on the back, and it looked like a nice slick for speed runs on Google Earth:
The run in the marsh is a bit longer than 500 m, which should be long enough for decent speed. We hoped to get there shortly after high tide, when the water depth should have been sufficient. However, the temperatures that were just climbing above the freezing point slowed us down a bit, and we arrived an hour later than planned. Even though the channel is only about 50 m wide, there were plenty of white caps, so we decided to give it a try. However, by the time we had rigged and carried our gear down, very few white caps were to be seen, and the wind was very gusty. Sailing in the channel was almost impossible: close to the start, there was almost no wind, except for short gusts coming through above 30 mph. We also discovered that the water levels were getting low, with a sand bar blocking most of the channel in the middle of the 500 m run - no speed to be had here! 

Unwilling to derig, we walked to the bay side to sail there. The wind was a lot steadier when we got to the front, and the water looked wonderfully flat! But the reason that is was so flat was that it was extremely shallow, too shallow even for my 25 cm fin. I had to walk for about 15 minutes before it got deep enough to sail. I did one run over to the left, pinching upwind to get away further from the shore. I tried to keep things slow in case there were any hidden sandbars; but since I was using a 90 l slalom board with a cambered race sail, going slow proved to be rather difficult. I stopped a few times to check the water depth, and it was never deeper than hip-deep, often shallower - too shallow for my taste. So I went back as slowly as I could manage. Sometimes, when the water looked suspiciously shallow, I sailed with both feet out of the straps, since the 7 mm booties tend to work themselves tightly into the foot straps, which raises the risk of injury when running aground. I made it back to shore about 500 m north of where I had started and called it a day.

Nina had originally gone out with me on my 95 l Hawk. But after touching ground a few times with the 26 cm fin, she decided to switch to a 77 l wave board and a 15 cm fin. The short fin allowed her to sail the same areas that the kiters where using, much to their surprise. She loved how the small fin jibed, and had a blast in the shallow water. But after standing in just ankle-deep water when getting off several times, and having to walk a bit to be able to start again, she decided to call it a day, too. By then, most kiters had also called it a day - only one guy was still sailing in the puddles between the sandbars that by now had come out.

We came away with a much better understanding why First Encounter is primarily a kite spot, not a windsurf spot. The sand bars in front of the beach go out almost a mile, following an irregular pattern with deeper water in between. When the first sand bars near shore start to emerge, the sand bars several hundred meters out may be under just a few inches of water, with 3-4 foot deep water in between. This generates some neat little wave with very slick water in between. With a windsurf board and a regular sized fin, you would need to know exactly where the sand bars are, and how deep the water is, to enjoy this without danger of very sudden unplanned stops. In contrast, Skaket is much better suited for windsurfing, since the drop there is much more regular, and the sand bars do not go out quite as far. 

Relative to the day before, Nina and I had traded places - she had fun, I was frustrated. However, we still had three hours of daylight left, and I had read that Jerry and friends were planning to sail at Hardings Beach in Chatham in the afternoon. Hardings is supposed to be perhaps the best beach on the Cape for west wind, but I had never sailed there before, so I just had to go. When I arrived, Jerry was already having fun on 5.2, Hardie on 5.8, so I rigged a 5.5, grabbed my 3S, and headed out. When I was planing, I had an absolute blast. The wind was coming side-shore, but there were several rows of waves that were rolling in towards shore at a right angle to the wind. They barely broke, but ramped up very nicely, for some of the best jumping ramps that I have ever seen. This is definitely the spot to work in forward loops - you can actually hit a wave going a bit downwind! Of course, Jerry had to demonstrate, and Nina (who did not want to go out again) saw him throw a beautiful end-over-end forward loop, among other amazing tricks. Hardie took a nice picture of Jerry having fun jumping - check it out on Flickr. I was perfectly happy to just get a few simple jumps in, which felt pretty high to me (although most of that was probably due to the deep valley after the wave). 

The wind had developed big holes by now, so I got to enjoy the schlogging characteristics of the board.  Between that, having too much fun to go in, and a few minor washes, I sailed longer than I usually do on my first run out in cold weather. By the time I finally decided to go in to warm up my hands, my fingertips were half frozen (air temperatures were around 40 F / 5C, water around 45 F / 8 C; I used open palm neoprene mittens). It took a while to warm them back up; the considerable pain that caused reminded me to take the first break sooner! Once you shake the blood back down into your fingers a couple of times, the fingers stay warm; doing it early enough avoids the pain.

Despite the little pains and holes in the wind, I had a great time at Hardings Beach, and I am looking forward to the next west wind day to go back there. It goes to show that speed is not everything - when trying to go slow at First Encounter, the GPS showed more than 25 knots several times; but while nicely powered at Hardings Beach on wave gear, my top speed was just 21 knots. For Hardings, a touch of south would be even better, so that the wind does not have to come over land and therefore can be steadier, like the NNW earlier the day on the other side of the Cape. When we get another northwesterly day and the tides are right, we'll be back at Skaket. There's still a lot of fun to be had before the daytime temperatures drop below freezing or there is too much ice on the water :-)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

That's better

Maybe my complaining worked - we finally got wind again, mid-20s gusting to low 30s. We went to sail Cape Cod Bay from Ellis Landing in Brewster. The spot is better than most spots in the area because the walk at low tide is short (~ 100 m). It's protected by shallow water at the left, so the water is pretty flat, until you get out about 2-3 km. There, at the end of the shallows, you get nice steep rollers, perfect for a little bit of wave play for beginners.

Nina was not so happy today. She was concerned that the many dark patches in the water might be rocks, and hated that the sun was blinding on the runs back in, so you could not see much. Well, all the patches on the outside were no problem, but we both hit the same patch of rocks close to the landing when we sailed back in. Nothing bad happened, we were going slow, and I had both feet out of the straps since I knew the area was shallow. I had not seen any of the rocks, though, because of the low angle of the sun. Judging by the marks on my short (19 cm) fin, the rock must have been very close to the surface. Judging by how abruptly it stopped me, it was not small, either.

On the bright side, I got to sail my Tabou 3S for the first time with a sail that's within its sail range (my Pilot 6.5). The sail definitely was a better fit than the 7.5 freerace sail I used the first time, and I had plenty of fun. The Naia 21 cm fin I used at first felt a bit small, so I changed to my 19 cm MUF Delta, which has a lot more surface area and can take more backfoot pressure. I did not like the spinouts I got with the Delta today, both when going for speed and when playing in the waves; recovery was a bit harder than I remembered. However, the fin was quite a bit faster than the Naia, and it was nice to ride such a short fin in very shallow (and largely unknown!) water. I'll definitely bring this one along for my next trip to Bonaire!

As happens often these days, the wind got really strong when the sun went down, and will remain strong for about as long as it remains dark. With are temps below freezing for the night, night sailing is not an option, but hopefully, we'll still get some 20s tomorrow morning. We'll have to decide what to do - the low temperatures make speed a good choice, but it may be a bit light for that, and bump & jump at Skaket can be lots of fun, too. Decisions, decisions :-)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bad fall

October and November are my favorite months of the year for windsurfing: no crowds, temperatures that are still decent, and plenty of wind. This year seemed different, though - I constantly find myself craving for wind. My session log from the last 3 years (10/1 - 11/23, excluding light wind sessions) shows why:
  • 2010: 22 sessions, 746 km sailed
  • 2011: 19 sessions, 1000 km
  • 2012:  7 sessions,   271 km
Only about 1/3 of the sessions this year! We missed a few windy days this year when it was too windy (Hurricane Sandy) or just too nasty, but that also was the case in previous years. This is the first year we live on Cape Cod, so I am sure we missed more windy days in previous years, when driving to a good NW wind spot took 2 hours instead of 30 minutes.

Without wind, we did go stand up paddling a few times. The SUP is a great way to check out new spots. On the bay side and the outer Cape, we have 8-12 foot tides, to getting to know a spot from the SUP at low tide can be a fin and boom saver. Yesterday, we went to Barnstable Harbor shortly before low tide. At first, we had to paddle against the outgoing tide in the channels, which was nice exercise. The way back was easier, with a wind and tide pushing us back to our starting spot. Most of the area we checked out is unsailable at low tide, with plenty of sand bars and shallow, narrow channels. It is, however, a beautiful spot for SUPing, and was quiet and peaceful. Here are the tracks:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Light WindSUP sailing

Weekend, some sun, almost warm with temps around 50 (10 C) - lots of good reasons to hit the water. The wind forecast was marginal (15-18), actual readings a bit lower still, and the wave forecast predicted small swell, so we packed the SUPs and drove to Coast Guard. PK was there early, I think we saw him leave, but when we got there, no surfers, windsurfer, or kiters in sight.

The waves looked respectable, perhaps a bit too high. Nina did not feel like sailing, so I decided not to go out. PK later reported waist to overhead waves, and limited success in getting out and catching waves. Since he is an experienced wave sailor and I am a complete newbie, not going out at Coast Guard Beach now seems like the right choice.

However, my addiction needed to be fed, or my mood would have been lousy all weekend, so we drove to Dennis. I ended up going out at Mayflower, since Chapin did not have any more promising waves, just a longer walk and a crowded parking lot. By the time I made it out, there were no more breaking waves, other than a little bit of shore break. I took my WindSUP 10 and my Pilot 6.5 m sail, my favorite light wind combo. Although no waves were breaking, the water surface was quite "structured" - non-breaking waves were forming at several spots, sometimes getting perhaps hip-high and racking up steep enough to have some fun.  Being used to flat water, I ended up falling a lot at first, but eventually got the hang of it, with mostly dry jibes on the inside and heli tacks on the outside. After learning to step forward far enough on the board (like in long board wave surfing), I caught a wave on almost every ride back in. They were slow enough that I could not do much but go straight down, trying to stay on as long as possible, but even that was a lot of fun (it surprised me how much fun it was).

Nina, who was watching from the shore, was approached by a lot of beach goes with the usual comments - I was either brave or crazy for going out in the cold temperatures. Well, I am sure that I was warmer than most beach goes in my 5/4 semi dry suit with an extra neoprene shirt, 5 mm booties with polypropylene socks, neoprene hood, and open-palm mittens. The only part that got remotely cold were my fingers - but that's because I never took the time to go back in and shake the blood back down. Doing this a couple of times in the first 15 minutes of cold weather windsurfing is the trick to get the fingers warm for the rest of the session - but it was not necessary today. I had my fingers out of the mitts about half of the time, anyway, only putting them back in when they got cold after a fall.

Great fun on a marginal day! Even as a complete kook, I am starting to understand why Andy Brandt views SUP sailing in light winds and smallish waves as one of the most fun things to do on a windsurfer. Don't get me wrong, I'll go back to speed as soon as the wind is strong enough and the direction is right for one of our speed strips - but I'm also looking forward to wave sessions on the WindSUP and the 3S.

Friday, November 16, 2012

New toy, new playground

We tested our newly discovered speed slick two days ago, and it was quite fantastic. So what that it was a bit chilly (mid 40s F, about 7 C), and that we had to carry our gear about 1/4 mile to the water? Nor did it really matter that the spring tide had flooded the march completely when we started - the water still remained plenty flat. The wind seemed a bit light, so I rigged my old Matrix 7.0, and Nina chose the 5.5. It just seemed safer to try out a new spot with an easy sail, even if it's a bit slower and maybe a bit small.

We started out carefully, taking frequent breaks on the sides where we could stand. Dean, out on a 7.0 race sail, hot something big soon that drove the fin into his board, and made a pretty substantial ding (which he discovered after the session). He thought is was a rock, but even though the water went down by about 2-3 feet while we were sailing, we never saw the rock emerge. It could have been a buoy that was barely submerged, although the impact seemed to hard for that. Perhaps it was a big log that was so soaked full of water that it barely floated - at least a log would explain the damage at two different spots on his board.

The very high tide also meant that there was a lot of dead reeds floating on the water, so weed fins were a must, and slowdowns sometimes happened even with weed fins. Still, all three of us had a blast, doing sling shots right at the emerging edges in water that later became chitter-chatter flat. I saw 30 knots on the dial of my GPS several times, and ended up with my third-fastest session ever. My top speed was within about a knot of my fastest sessions, but the wind was at least 5 mph lower than in those previous sessions - this spot has potential! Nina set new personal bests for 2 seconds and the 5 x 10 second average, beating her old bests by more than a knot. She mostly sailed an old JP SuperX 82 yesterday, and complained that it felt slow! She did a few runs on the XFire 90, and liked it better, but the speeds were comparable. I did a few runs on the JP while she was on the XFire, and found the old shape with the high-riding nose quite amusing. The board, which is heavier and a few cm narrower than the XFire, rode a lot quieter and seemed slower, but the GPS showed that I was within 0.5 knots of my top speeds on the XFire. I think this shows that a narrower speed board like the Missile would have gone a few knots faster, especially with a cambered speed sail. Dean did indeed beat my top speed by 2 knots, but this is much less than the 5 knot difference that we see at less ideal locations. We all left happy and eager for more, but the fantastic forecast for next Monday that had held stable for a few days sizzled in the evening. well, it's only a question of time until the next Nor'easter comes - and this spot is sailable in 40+ knots!
When I came home, I got an email that a new board I had ordered had arrived. It's a Tabou 3S 96l, intended for waves and crazy chop days. I sailed the board once this spring, and was extremely impressed how lively it was, while making the Hatteras chop disappear. I just had to pick it up the next morning, and try it out in the slowly dying NNE winds in Duxbury. When I arrived there, Jeff just came of the water. He had sailed his 110 Skate with a powerful 7.0 sail and a big fin, and reported that he'd been planing about 2/3 of the time. We typically plane about the same when on the same size gear, and the wind was forecast to go down slowly, so I rigged my new Matrix 7.5. I felt like I had to apologize to the board for taking it out on flat water with a sail that's a meter above it's spec'd sail range! I had, however, put a bigger fin in to help the board out.

It worked - once I got away from the terrible wind shadow that the Powder Point Bridge throws in NNE winds, I started planing. I stayed downwind for more than an hour, planing nicely most of the time. The board definitely showed its wave roots, though. When I wanted to get planing, it accelerated a lot slower than the slalom, freerace, and freestyle boards I usually sail. On the XFire in nicely powered conditions, I often start planing while still going upwind; the 3S rather wanted to be pointed downwind to really get going. When it came to staying on a plane, though, the 3S excelled - it can plane about as slowly as any freestyle board - to the point where I wanted to yell "You call this planing?". With enough wind and a little bit of help, though, it reached a decent speed - 23 knots in 17 knot wind averages, with gusts of maybe 21 knots.

We typically go to Duxbury because it is flat, but it was too flat yesterday to play around much. The board ate the little bit of chop that was there, even when going upwind straight into the chop; it jumped the small chop easily when powered; at it turned at the slightest thought, despite the large weed fin, which was great to avoid the various reed isles on the water. Jibes were effortless, and it took me 14 attempts to get my first wet jibe. My best jibe was as good as the best jibe on slalom gear in more wind and on even flatter water the day before, so that's great. But for the first time, I started to understand why some windsurfers get bored with flatwater after a while - the board made sailing almost too easy. well, that's perfect - I got the board for really challenging conditions (like 35 mph winds and voodoo chop in Kalmus), where I need all the help I can get.

I have sailed my Fanatic Hawk 95 for 1 and 1/2 years now, and loved the board - but now I have replaced it by two more specialized boards, the XFire 90 and the 3S 96. So the Hawk is now looking for a new home. It's the first model of the Hawk that Fanatic made; it's great for anyone who wants to get more serious about speed, but on a board that's more versatile than a pure slalom board. It's plenty fast - I set my top speed of 31.4 knots on the Hawk (although that will tumble once we get the right conditions on the new slick). I'm selling it for $400 - that price is firm, unless you're a Fogland Speedsurfer who I have sailed with already this year.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Perfect Speed Strip?

At least one of our local speed surfers puts the blame on our lack of great speeds onto the speed strips we are using. Certainly, none of our local strips compares to spots like Sandy Point in Australia, where the wind blows across a nicely curved sand bar, with perfectly flat water right behind it.

We have been looking for similar spots in the area. Nina and I spend the afternoon walking out to a big sand bar in Cape Cod Bay that had a promising stretch of water on the inside. Perhaps the spot has some potential, but it is far from ideal. It is a long walk from the beach, maybe 30 minutes without gear; the sand bar drops of very gradually; and it will be useful only in a narrow tidal range.

One of my favorite spots for speed around here are little reef islands in Duxbury bay. In the right wind direction, the water behind the islands is perfectly flat, and the islands are low enough so that they do not disturb the wind too much. Alas, "Long Island" in Duxbury Bay is only 200 meters long, and the chop increases rapidly one past the island. We'd need something at least 2-3 times this long, so the search continues.

In the last 2 weeks, we have done a bit of driving around on Cape Cod. Today, we checked out the bay behind Nauset and Coast Guard Beach. From the town landing we stopped at, the grass islands in the middle of the bay looked very similar to the ones in Duxbury - just bigger! Going back to Google Earth, I found one spot that looks just about perfect for speed runs in NE winds:
The strip in the image above is 1000 meters long, and nicely curved for sling shots. It should work in NNE and NE winds, perhaps going up in NE and down in NNE. The fetch looks pretty good: the nearest dunes are more than one kilometer to the NE, and they are less than 20 feet tall (not nearly as tall as the area at the nearby Coast Guard Beach or Nauset Beach). A public town landing is close enough to reach the strip with a 10 minute walk and short sail. Definitely something worth trying out! Maybe next Wednesday - the forecast predicts NE winds in the mid-20s. Some long stretches of chitter-chatter water would be lovely...

NW Cape Cod Bay Launches

Fall is my favorite season for windsurfing in New England. A typical storm brings 3 days in a row of winds in the upper 20s to low 30s which shift from NE to NW, with some rain in the middle. The storm we just had this week followed this pattern, except that it was stronger, with wind averages around 40-50 mph for two days. We had missed the first day and opted for now sailing on the second (rainy) day, but when the sun finally returned on day 2, we needed to get some.

The winds had turned to NNW, which presents the challenge of finding a good launch. Corporation Beach in West Dennis would be great for wave sailing - but since we are complete beginners in the waves, and winds were still in the low 30s in the morning, that was not an option. Skaket Beach in Orleans would have been great, except for the tides: like Chapin in West Dennis, Skaket is sailable about 2 hours before and after high tide; at lower tides, the walk back to the beach is half a mile (almost 1 km) long. Yesterday's low tide was at 1:20 pm, so that was not an option.

Looking at Google Earth and nautical charts, I noticed another launch just 2 miles further west that seemed looked like it had a much shorter walk at low tide, Ellis Landing in Brewster:
There's a channel with deeper water that lines up nicely with NW winds going almost all the way to Ellis Landing, so we decided to check it out. But when we arrived there, we saw a bunch of trucks and bulldozers moving sand around. It seems Hurricane Sandy and the Nor'easter the week after had changed the shore line a bit, and they were busy moving sand from the next beach over to this one.

We ended up sailing from the next beach over, Linnell Landing. Just as we got ready, the wind dropped from 28 to 21. The forecast and other wind meters in the area indicated that it would drop even further, so we rigged big - 6.5 for me and 5.0 for Nina. As soon as I carried my gear a few hundred meters to the water, though, the wind picked back up, gusting into the low 30s. We had an hour of overpowered sailing before the wind dropped again. Our friend Dani, who had to spend some time to get the zipper on his dry suit working again, unfortunately missed the best winds, and ended up with just a few marginally powered runs.

When we stopped after a couple of hours, the walk back had gotten a bit longer - about 1/4 mile. Here's a picture of the beach at low tide:
On the way home, we drove by Ellis Landing to check it out. Indeed, the walk here would have been a lot shorter:
What looked even more interesting was the sand bar that formed a little protected bay, and a possible speed strip for NW winds. In the nautical maps, the water depth in this area was shown as too low for windsurfing at low tides; but it seems that the recent storms may have moved just enough sand to create a half-mile flat water strip. Definitely worth exploring the depths with a SUP sometime soon! From reading session reports on the GPS Team Challenge, I got the impression that a lot of the speed areas in Australia are also very tide dependent, with the best sailing usually confined to a small tidal range when the sand bars and water depth are just right. Maybe we will be able to find a similar spot around here, after all.

So it was a bit chilly at the start; the wind played games with us; and the water surface was not perfect: swell too small to play with, but to big for real speed - but we had a great day sailing at a beautiful spot on a sunny day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


For once, I need to rant. Here's what today's wind meter reading for Duxbury:
Do you know any windsurfers who like strong, steady winds coming from the perfect direction at their favorite spot? I do.

We were there at 9. Whitecaps everywhere, but the low water levels limited the wind-driven waves to about 1 foot high, with very little cross chop. It looked perfectly doable, so we decided to go out. To play it safe, we decided to start on our 76 and 77 l wave boards with 3.4 and 3.7 m sails, with some hope to switch to speed gear later during dead low tide. But just as we started pulling boards out of the van, the Duxbury Harbor Master stopped by to tell us that the bay was closed. Bummer!

The reason was that the NWS had issued a storm warning. They explain: "A storm warning means winds of 48 to 63 knots are imminent or occurring". Well, we got 48 knot gusts after 1 pm, but I think the less than 40 knot averages until noon would have not been a problem. The water, already flat when we came, got visibly flatter while we packed back up to leave; the tide was low enough to stand in most of the bay; there was no debris on the water, not even reeds; and it had not even started raining yet  - except for the slightly chilly temperatures, this was the perfect day to sail in 40 knot winds.

We drove around the neighboring towns a bit to look for alternative launches, but nothing looked to promising, so back to the Cape it was. We checked out our local lake on the way home, but it looked way too gusty (like 5-55). After lunch, we actually did discover a sailable spot about 3 miles from our house - a local bay with 500 m runs and a pretty decent fetch, with the option to sail out into the ocean through a narrow channel. Water on the ocean looked ok, too, but it would have been offshore, a bit risky given the wind and temperatures. But no need to go out - runs inside the bay are comparable in length to runs in the bay at Fogland, one of our favorite spots.

However, by then the rain had gotten pretty nasty, and it was getting dark soon, so we just gave up on sailing for the day. There is a bit of hope left for tomorrow, but the wind will turn N and then NNW, which means gustier and more chop in Duxbury Bay. Tides also don't play along nicely - in N winds, the north side of the bay is better, but it will be to shallow there. Sailing on  the south side of the bay means that you have to get away from the Powder Point Bridge, which throughs a nasty wind shadow in N winds. With the wind then turning more westerly and going down a bit, getting back to the launch side means going upwind for a mile in chop while barely powered. All that in driving rain - nope, no comparison to today, I think.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Too Much Wind?

It's beautiful and sunny, if a tad chilly, today on Cape Cod, but this will change tomorrow. Clouds and then rain will come; temperatures will rise a bit, but it will feel colder because it will be very windy. Here's what on computer model predicts:
Winds of about 50 MPH, gusts up to 60 mph - that's would be enough for the professional storm chasers, but it's too much for regular windsurfers. Fortunately, other computer models predict a bit less:
Winds "only" in the high 30s, with gusts below 50 until 1 pm - I have sailed in similar conditions. But which prediction will be closer to the truth?

The first chart if the GFS model for Chapin on Cape Cod; the second chart the NAM model for Duxbury. The NAM model has a higher resolution, and is often more accurate - but for Duxbury in the fall, if often under-predicts the wind. I think the actual wind will come in somewhere in between the two charts, perhaps like the NAM model for Chapin predicts:
To be clear - I have no intention to sail at Chapin, I am just using the forecast because in the past, the Chapin forecast has often predicted winds in Duxbury Bay quite well.

With the winds coming from the northeast, it will be chilly (mid-40s F, about 7 C) and cloudy. So why am I thinking about going sailing? Well, for one thing, the water is still relatively warm (above 50 F / 10 C). Then, the predicted NE wind direction is ideal for Duxbury Bay, which is protected by a large sand bar. At high tide, NE winds in the 30s still can create a lot of chop in the bay, and make sailing very challenging. During a similar storm last year, two of our local speed surfers who both sail orders of magnitude better than I went out, but neither got any speed they deemed worth posting. But tomorrow morning, the tides will line up just right:

Low tide will be at 11:17 am, with a water level of +1.79 feet. At a normal low tide ( 0 feet), Duxbury bay becomes unsailable, because the water levels are too low; but at +1.8 ft, most of the bay will have water deep enough for windsurfing - here's the depth chart:
Green areas can be dry at a normal low tide, and might be too low for sailing tomorrow. But in the blue areas, the water depth between 9:50 am and 12:50 pm will be mostly between 3 and 5 feet - taller windsurfers should be able to touch ground at most spots. When we recently sailed Duxbury Bay in 25-30 mph winds, the water got very flat as we approached low tide; unfortunately, we had to stop about 2 hours before low tide, when the water levels dropped below 2 feet (that day, low tide was slightly negative). Tomorrow, however, should a perfect setup of strong and increasing winds and sailable low tide.

If you think about joining us tomorrow in Duxbury, there are a number of things to remember:

  • Boots are an absolute must when sailing Duxbury Bay. There are lots of sharp shells on the ground that will cut your feet if you try to sail barefoot.
  • Helmets are definitely a good idea, if not a must, in the expected 40+ mph winds. 
  • Bring warm gloves or mittens! Open-palm gloves should be warm enough.
  • The wind may come in stronger than the models predict, and/or increase faster. Even at low water levels, walking through the muck to get back may be very difficult.
  • The dept chart shown above is a few years old, and water depth may have changed. There are rocks in the water, so there is a chance of very sudden stops from hitting something! Also, there may be piles of reeds in the water that can stop you dead. Two more reasons to wear a helmet..
  • The tide may come in higher or lower than forecast. During the last storm, tides at other places were about 2 feet higher than predicted because the wind was pushing the water towards shore. This might happen in Duxbury Bay, too!
  • The harbor master may tell you that you cannot windsurf. He takes his job seriously, and will generally not let you go sail in really strong winds if you are alone. However, he has let two of us (Nina and me) sail in 35+ mph winds before after checking that there were at least 2 windsurfers going out. We hope to be there tomorrow morning before 10 am, but if the wind comes in even stronger than forecast, we may cancel.
  • If you have never sailed in 35+ mph winds and 45+ mph gusts, I suggest that you wait for a warmer day. Sailing in winds this strong is dangerous!
For those who go out tomorrow, it will be a day to remember. I still have vivid images in my head from an overpowered 3.7 day in Tarifa 30 years ago! We hope to sail our smallest sails (3.4 for Nina) and boards (the F2 Missile will come along), and if it's flat enough, personal speed records will be broken.