Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 review

98 sessions (including a few SUP cruising sessions), 3700 km sailed - a pretty good year, but a noticeable drop from last year's 124 sessions. The big difference was how we spent our summers: in 2011, we lived on Maui for 6 weeks, sailing almost every day; in 2012, we moved from the Boston suburbs to Cape Cod, and spend many days with preparing the house for sale, moving, unpacking, etc. But now, we live within 45 minutes of dozens of great windsurfing spots! Since we downsized the house and were lucky with our timing, we were able to finally get a windsurfing van and a bunch of new (or at least new-to-us) windsurfing gear. So 2013 should be a great year for windsurfing, and we hope to start the season tomorrow on New Year's Day.

The wind this year has been a bit disappointing. Even the fall season, usually the best season for windsurfing here in the Northeast, brought very few really windy days. It's not all bad, though - our light wind freestyle skills have improved significantly due to lots of practice, and we have started SUP wave sailing in light winds. Our new freestyle tricks are pretty much limited to light wind tricks, but things like duck tacks, back-to-back, boomerang heli tacks, and ankle biters are not too shabby, and plenty of fun to practice. For our planned 2-week winter vacation in Bonaire, we actually hope for light wind days! Although we probably won't complain too much if we get 14 days of planing conditions...

Here are a few highlights of the year:
  • Great ABK camps in Bonaire, Long Island, Cape Cod, and Hatteras
  • Picking up three trophies between the two of us at the East Coast Windsurfing Festival, including Nina's 1st place in women's freestyle
  • Warming up after chilly fall sessions in our jacuzzi and sauna
  • Discovering two new speed spots (we now know WSW-SW, NNE-E, and NNW-NW speed spots)
  • Sailing Harding's Beach for the first time - a place perfect for learning the forward loop, with steep ramps coming at a right angle to the wind
  • Discovering a wetsuit with an "integrated hand warming system" that allows us to enjoy places like Harding's even when temperatures are near freezing
  • Going for distance - sailing 473 km (294 miles) between the two of us in one day, which earned Nina the world record for women's distance on the GPS Team Challenge for a couple of months (she still has the #2 spot)
While we're at the topic of distance: I have wanted to include the video below in my blog ever since Brendon brought it to my attention a few months ago - so here it is, for all the distance speedsurfers out there:

With that, I wish you all a great and windy 2013. But prepare for the worst - maybe 2012 was a sign of things to come, so get a big board and brush up on your light wind freestyle ;-)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Beach pictures

Wellfleet Harbor
We had a little snow storm pass through last night that dumped about four inches (10 cm) of snow in our area. After it had passed, it brought lots of chilly northwest winds - meter readings were around 30 mph for Chapin, and 40 mph in Wellfleet Harbor. Air temperatures were just below freezing, but the wind chill was at 15º F (-10º C), so going windsurfing looked like perhaps not the best plan for the day.

Not ready to give up quite yet, we drove down to Barnstable Harbor to check out the conditions. Driving there was beautiful: the rain turning to snow last night had left lots of snow sticking to trees and branches, a veritable winter wonderland. Walking around outside, however, was a different story. After getting blasted by the freezing wind for a few minutes, we decided to cancel windsurfing for the day, and instead just drive around some more. Of course, we had to stop at a couple of beaches to check the conditions. Here's an overview and a few pictures:

First stop was Gray's Beach in Barnstable Harbor, behind Chapin Beach. It has a beautiful board walk:
Gray's Beach
The spot has some speed potential near high tide in N-NW winds.
Corporation Beach, Dennis
Corporation was the next stop. Pretty big waves rolled in that definitely would have kept me on shore, even if it had been warmer. Better waves sailors might have viewed this as fun conditions, but nobody was out. The tide was very high, the parking lot partially flooded.
Robbin's Hill Beach, Brewster
I had wanted to check out Robbin's Hill Beach because it is protected by an outer sand bar. My hope was that this might be a place where it would be easier to get out in nuking conditions. Indeed, the water did a look a lot more inviting, with rolling swells, but no white water on the inside. There were breaking waves visible at the end of the shallow section, maybe half a mile from the launch (at low tide, you can walk out all the way to the outer sand bar). This place almost made me want to go out.
Linnell Landing, Brewster
We has sailed from Linnell once at low tide, so I was curious to see what it looked liked at high tide. Plenty of waves to play with, but onshore winds and a shore break. Gurus would prefer Corporation, kooks like me one of the other spots.
First Encounter Beach, Eastham
This beach is home of the "Hatch Beach" sensor and a favorite of kiters. It's protected by half a mile of sand bars and shallow water, and unsailable near low tide. The wind here was noticably stronger than at the first couple of places we visited (the wind meter showed 10 mph more than for Chapin, but the Chapin sensor may read a few miles low in NW winds). The waves here looked interesting, with a few clean sections to go out, and a few gnarly sections that might have kept even decent wave sailors interested. The wind was side-on, with a starboard tack going out. I plan on revisiting this spot near high tide in a bit less wind.
Duck Harbor Beech, Wellfleet
Duck Harbor Beach is one of the few Cape Cod Bay beaches that can be sailed at low tide, which is why it made it onto our list. Waves here seemed to be similar in size to the waves in Corporation, definitely out of my league. The wind felt strongest here, even stronger than at First Encounter.

Now if we could please have a repeat of today with 5-10 mph less wind, a few more degrees, and preferably no ice on the ground!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wind shadows

During my last session in Wellfleet Harbor, I noticed a pretty wide variation in the wind which seemed to be linked to where exactly on the bay I was. So I went back to my GPS tracks and compared them with a topographical map of the area:

The image on the left shows the GPS track from one of my two crossings (the other one was similar). At two areas, I had problems to stay planing, as indicated by red and blue colors in the tracks: about in the middle of the bay, and about 4/5th of the way to the lower left. In both cases, I was directly behind two land masses, relative to the wind direction: Great Island in the middle, and Great and Little Beach Hill at the bottom left. We can use the GPS data and the topo map to get an idea how far downwind the wind shadow extends.
  • I was about 1150 m (3,800 ft) downwind of Great Island. The map shows a maximum elevation of about 80 feet. The island has a dense tree cover which adds probably 40-70 ft to the height, giving us a total height of 120-150 ft, or about 40-50 m. At a distance that was 25 x the height of the island, the wind shadow was pronounced; I'd guess that the wind dropped from 25 mph to maybe 15-18 mph.
  • The distance to Great Beach Hill was only about 520 m. The maximum elevation is 60 ft, or about 100-120 ft with trees (30-40 m). At a distance of about 12-15 x the height of the "obstacle", the wind shadow was so strong that I was not able to stay on a plane. My guess is that the wind dropped to somewhere near 12-15 mph.
I am a bit surprised to see such large effects at a pretty considerably distance - about 25 times the height of the obstacle. From a bit of internet research I had done, I would have expected a smaller effect. From experiences with local speed slicks like Duxbury Bay, however, the larger numbers make sense. One more thing to keep in mind when searching for new speed slicks...

Friday, December 28, 2012

She likes it, too!

We had a bit of snow on the ground this morning, but wind meter readings around 30 - what better day to test the Ianovated wetsuit again! We drove to Indian Neck Beach in Wellfleet Harbor in the morning. It's a beautiful area of Cape Cod. This little iPhone snapshot may give you an idea, although it certainly does not do the place justice:
The first time we had sailed there was about a year ago, also in near-freezing temperatures. Back then, I used cutout gloves plus mitten shells plus re-usable handwarmers to keep my fingers warm; Nina had used mittens and the handwarmers. Today, both of us went out with just open-palm mittens, and Ianovated wetsuits. Sail sizes for the day were 4.5 and 5.5.

Once again, the "tube suit" worked beautifully. Both of us stayed nicely warm, and we sailed for almost two hours.  I used the tubes a lot in the first few runs, and felt comfortable enough to go for a 5-mile roundtrip to the other side. That ended up being a small mistake - due to a few areas of wind shadows, it took me almost 20 minutes, and my fingertips ended up getting a bit too cold. As I have mentioned before, my fingers tend to get cold very quickly, and my doctor believes that I have Raynaud's disease. I needed to take a break on shore and shake the blood back into my hands, which hurt a bit - I definitely should have done this earlier. After that, my hands were fine for the rest of the session, and the only time I used the tubes was when my hands had gotten wet after bad jibes.

Nina, who has more "normal" hands, used the tubes only at the beginning, and her hands stayed toasty for the whole session afterwards. This is probably what most windsurfers who test the suit will experience. I'd love to test this theory by letting others try my wetsuit, but I have one little problem with it: I really do not want to go back to my older semidry and drysuits that do not have tubes! And Nina has similar thoughts about the size medium suit that was intended for testing...

Well, after two hours of windsurfing on a sunny day and lots of fun, I'm happy. I am still amazed how well the Ianovated wetsuit works - for the most part, it simply makes the cold disappear. I admit to sailing a tad defensively today, but we are already talking about a wave session on Sunday. Not sure if it will happen - Nina's cold has to get better, the snow/rain has to stop in the morning as the forecast predicts, and the wind has to come in as predicted. But even a couple of months ago, we would have not even considered going out for a wave session when temperatures are just above freezing. What a difference a suit makes!
My apologies for sounding like one big commercial, but even though we have sailed through a couple of winters here, I never thought that winter windsurfing could be so much fun. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

No more cold hands: Ianovated wetsuit review

Keeping the hands warm in cold weather windsurfing is the critical issue for most windsurfers. Many of my friends who stop windsurfing sometime between October and December mention cold hands as the primary or even only reason (most of them have dry suits or very warm wetsuits). On the "Eastern and central USA" section of the iWindsurf forum, the "Which gloves are best" topic comes up every year when temperatures drop.

My lovely wife and I have found several solutions that have let us sail through the Cape Cod winter the last couple of years. She likes neoprene mittens, I prefer two-layer solutions like palmless gloves and nylon shells; but whatever we have used in the past, it has always made us sail conservatively: staying out of the water was way more important than trying fun stuff.

I believe that this is about to change! Several things have changed that make winter windsurfing easier: we finally got a van; we moved to Cape Cod, so that the drive to the best winter windsurfing spots is now only 40 minutes instead of 2 hours; and we have a jacuzzi and a sauna to warm up after a session. But the biggest difference will be the new wetsuit I recently received from Ianovated. I had an opportunity to test it in 38º F (4º C) weather two days ago, and it worked beautifully, keeping me and my hands nicely warm. Here's the full report.

The idea behind the suit
The idea behind the suit is nicely described on the Ianovated web site: breathe out into tubes which then go through your suit and into mittens or regular gloves. The warm air of your breath warms up your hands while you are holding your boom. This allows you to constantly blow into your hands to warm them up, without having to take breaks! After first reading about the suit, I had tested the idea with some tubing and a regular semi-dry neoprene suit. It worked well enough, so I ordered the Ianovated suit.

Getting the suit
Right after my test, I contacted Ian, the inventor of the suit. He offered me the same great deal that he offered on a German windsurf forum. He shipped the suit from the UK the next day (Monday), and I received the suit 3 days later (Thursday). I had asked him to also send me a second suit for anyone who wanted to try the suit, and he did! I received a large smooth skin suit that I use, and a medium double-nylon suit for anyone who wants to test in on Cape Cod. He even added some open palm mittens for the test suit.

First impressions
The first thing I noticed when unpacking the suit was that the neoprene felt quite thick. I sometimes use an Ion 5/4 semi-dry suit; the Ianovated suit has neoprene at least as thick, but appears to use the same material for the entire suit, including arms and legs. The legs, upper body, and arms are cut quite wide. That makes it easy to get the suit on, and leaves plenty of space for the tubing, but raised the question how warm it would be.
I used the suit for the first time the next day, but air temperatures that day were about 50º F (10º C), warm enough that my open palm mittens were perfectly fine, even without breathing through the tubes into the mittens. I noticed that my lower arms getting tired, but that was at least partially because I had to use a wave sail on a slalom board in gusty conditions, and used my hands much more than normally. Still, I had seen similar problems with other suits when I first got them, and placed a couple of plastic bottles into the arms of the suit over night to stretch out the neoprene. That has always worked so far, and worked again this time

Testing the suit in cold weather
Two days later, on December 23rd, I got the opportunity to really test the suit. The air temperature was about 39º F (4º C), with 25 mph winds:

Due to a somewhat different forecast, we arrived at Hardings Beach in Chatham a bit too late. We initially saw two of the locals (JE and PK) planing on 5.2 and 5.3 m sails, but by the time we had rigged, the wind had come down quite a bit. I re-rigged from 5.5 to 6.5, and went out on my Tabou 3S 96. That turned out to be the right choice - I was powered for about 40 minutes, until the wind dropped further and I had to call it a day. Here is a short video:

I wore a short sleeve neoprene shirt under the suit, mostly because I find this more comfortably when changing into and out of the suit. I started to use the tubing when carrying my gear to the water, and it warmed up my hands nicely. During the session, I breathed out through the tubes about half of the time, and just left the tubing dangle most of the rest of the time. With the given temperatures, I normally would have had to take a break after a couple of runs to warm up my hands - but with the Ianovated wetsuit, I did not need any breaks, since I simply could breathe onto my hands to warm them up. That worked very well, and my hands were comfortable the entire time. I did fall several times, and had to swim after my gear once. When getting back up on the board, my hands would be a bit cold from the swimming (the water temperature was about 44ºF, 7º C). I typically started to use the tubing once I was comfortably planing again. After a swim, there would be some water in the tubes that had to be blown out first - but that turned out to be a great thing, since the water warmed up very quickly, so my fingers would get a warm water rinse. Nice!

When watching the video above, keep in mind that I am mostly a flatwater sailor - and I mean really flat. I usually don't jump, but rather try to keep the board on the water, and I don't do waves. In the short session, I did several jumps that were decent for my standards and the marginal conditions. I also played around with the little waves a bit (at least when I did not have to concentrate on going upwind or staying on a plane). For me, this was a playful session - very different from a typical winter session! The fear of falling, which had been pretty noticeable in previous winter sessions, was mostly gone, since I knew that I would be able to warm up my hands easily when back on the board. The suit kept the rest of my body very warm, too, including my arms and legs. I did feel tiny amounts of water entering the suit, mostly through the seams. However, the amounts were so small that they never were any problem - they may even have helped a bit once they were warmed up. I has definitely warmer than I would have been in my Ion 5/4 semidry suit: when wearing the Ion, my arms sometimes get a bit chilly, and water that enters through the back zipper can also feel cold, despite the back flap and a neoprene shirt.

My other winter suit is a baggy dry suit, the Boost from O'Neill. The Boost usually keeps me warm, but I try to avoid high impact crashes, which can force water into the suit. Once inside, water can make the suit feel clammy and cold. In contrast, the Ianovated suit is a typical wetsuit, where any water that enters warms up very quickly, and is not a problem. Like any neoprene suit, the Ianovated suit is definitely much better suited for swimming to catch up with your gear after a fall than the baggy dry suit.

Summary: A great winter wetsuit!
After reading about the Ianovated wetsuit and my own tubing tests, I had high expectations for the suit, but it has clearly exceeded my expectations. Even without the tubing, I think this would be my favorite suit amongst the three suits I own, because it is very warm and easy to swim in. With the tubing, which works wonderfully to keep my hands warm, the Ianovated wetsuit is simple a stroke of genius. In 39º F (4º C) weather, I used the tubings only about half the time to keep my fingers warm - this leaves plenty of room for the air and water temperatures to drop even further (although I usually only go windsurfing when the air temperature is above freezing).

The only bad thing about the Ianovated wetsuit is that I did not discover it in October, when some of my friends were still sailing who now have stopped for the winter. Had they been able to try the suit when they started to think about stopping because of cold fingers, I am sure many of them would have bought the suit and extended their season. But anyone who still is sailing and wants to try the Ianovated wetsuit on Cape Cod, let me know! As I said, I have an extra size medium suit for testing, and I'll be glad to let anyone I know try my size large suit, too. If you don't know how to get in touch with me, ask JE, or send me (boardsurfr) a private message on the iWindsurf forum.
Disclosure: I am not affiliated with or sponsored by Ianovated, nor will I receive anything from them if anyone decided to by a suit after reading this or testing a suit. But I do have to admit some self-interest: I would like to see more windsurfers sail through the winter, especially my friends who stop because of cold hands. The Ianovated worked so well that for the first time ever, I actually considered doing freestyle in the winter, something I have always shied away from since it involves frequent falling.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fin lesson

We had a southeast storm passing through yesterday that was supposed to bring gusts up to 70 mph and plenty of rain. Sounded like a great day to go windsurfing! Well, that is if you have seen a few Southeasters here, and know that the rain usually holds of for the first few hours while the winds build. However, the warm air arrives before the heavy rain - perfect to start the winter sailing! Here is a quick video:

The other windsurfer you see a few times is Jerry, who joined me since the ocean was just one big mess, and he still knows how to enjoy perfectly flat water. He was indeed having a blast, smiling from ear to ear every time I saw him. My session, which ended up great, had a much rougher start. Things started when the cam on my speed sail poked a hole through the mast sleeve while I was rigging. So I ended up rigging a 4.7 m wave sail, which was not quite a perfect match for my slalom board. I had sailed this board with a 25 cm Vector Delta Speed Weed fin and a 7.0 m freerace sail at the same spot a few weeks earlier. With the 7.0, the 25 cm fin felt a bit small, but other than having to watch back foot pressure at low speed, I had no problems. So I figured that the fin should be about perfect for the much smaller sail...

As you can see in some scenes on the video above, that was an incorrect assumption. Especially when starting, I was constantly fighting spinouts. It did not help that the wind was not nearly as steady yesterday. After a few runs, my forearms were getting really sore, a problem that I have not had for at least a year. I was trying my new suit, and the tight neoprene on the forearms probably contributed to the problem. I have had similar problems with my old 5/4 semi dry suit until I stuffed bottles into the arms to stretch the neoprene, so I'll just have to do the same with the new suit. With yesterday's air temperatures near 50 F (10 C), it was too warm to test the suit, anyway - I was hot the entire time, despite regular breaks to let my arms recover.

I took me about an hour before I got reasonably comfortable, and to finally get a 30-knot run. It ended up being my third fastest session ever, and the fastest with a wave sail, so I was happy enough with the speed. Nevertheless, I left with the feeling that I could have been at least two knots faster had I been properly dialed in. A faster sail would have help, but a bigger fin would properly have made even more of a difference. Interestingly, Nina was using the same fin when she had problems going upwind while sailing her new Falcon 89 recently.

So why did the fin not work as well as before, when I had been using a bigger sail that should have been a worse fit? The chop was very small to non-existent both days, so that was not the issue. One big difference was the steadiness of the wind: on the 7.0 day, the NE wind had been very steady. But yesterday, the wind was gusty and up and down, especially when starting near the dunes. Steady winds allow smaller fins - I have read that before, but I guess I had to discover it for myself. Variably winds and a hiked out position lead to foot pressure changes, which then can cause spinout. I think using a wave sail (and a rather flat one) exaggerated these issues. So next time on a slalom board, it's back to bigger fins and bigger, better matching sails.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Barnstable Harbor

The fall winds have finally arrived. Yesterday, we had NW winds with readings in the mid-30s, gusting  to upper 40s, in Skaket. We love sailing there, but that seemed a bit too much a somewhat chilly (low 40s) day, especially since the Skaket Beach cam showed rain. Here in Barnstable, it was mostly dry, and the forecast had predicted slightly lighter winds. The closest wind meters in Chapin seemed to confirm this, with averages in the mid-20s and gusts "only" in the upper 40s. But a wave sessions for us wave rookies in these conditions did not seem like the best choice, so we decided to try sailing in Barnstable Harbor.

We had checked out Barnstable Harbor on SUPs a few weeks ago during low tide. Lots of small marsh islands and sand banks made the place look interesting, although sailing at low tide would be limited to the deep water that extends from the Millway Beach northeast towards Sandy Neck. But since we had originally planned on a Skaket session in the afternoon, we did not get onto the water until mid-tide, with water levels about 5 feet above low tide levels, and rising rapidly towards a 10-foot high tide. Seeing plenty of wind and chop, we went out on small sails and wave boards - my 3S 95 with a 4.5 Manic, Nina on the Goya One 77 and a 4.0.

The first run out felt ok. The chop was bigger than expected, but doable; the wind was gusty, but that's expected for NW winds. Not really thinking much, I crossed over to the other side, about a one mile run, and Nina followed me. The run back was a bit more challenging - I had pinched upwind, so now it was time to go downwind. Most of the time, I was overpowered, and the sail was pretty wide open. A few minor spinouts were no problem, since my 21 cm weed fin was easy enough to pull back in. An involuntary  jump that I landed flat could have been more of an issue, but it was not high; a catapult or two (something I had not done for quite a while) also were no problem. Back where I started, I looked for Nina, and did not see her at first. Eventually, I saw her coming, looking good as usual - but she was several hundred meters upwind. I sailed out again a few times, not going as far anymore, and noticed that Nina spent more time in the water than on the board. She clearly was way overpowered now, with a 4.0 to my 4.5, even though I outweigh her by about 1/3. I later learned that she had a hard time going downwind. Her little 15 cm fin spun out a lot going downwind, and that typically let to plowing straight into chop and catapults over the front. When she finally made it to the shore, her first words were rather negative. We called it a day, even though we had spent only 30 minutes sailing - it had seemed longer, though. Kind of a bummer, especially for Nina, who has had several bad sessions in a row now. I had a few of these, too, but I also had some fun sessions in between, so my bottom line was pretty positive. Well, we know that windsurfers have to be stubborn and frustration-tolerant...

Tomorrow, we have a big storm coming through. Computer models predict averages going into the 40s, and gusts into 60s and 70s. Winds are expected to increase until 1 pm, and then drop as the wind turns to the south. I hope to get a session in either in the morning before things get too crazy, or in the afternoon after the front pulled through. The air temperature should be fine, around 50º F (10 C), but it will be raining a lot. Rain driving by 35 mph winds is pretty horizontal, tends to hurt, and makes seeing things a bit difficult - if I go out in the morning, I'll be sailing with swim goggles for the first time. That may look funny, but there won't be anyone around to see me, and looking funny sure beats not seeing where you're going because you have to close at least one eye! The timing of the storm will require an early start, which is one reason why Nina probably won't be sailing. I briefly thought about also wimping, but then two things happened that really make me want to sail: I got my new Ianovated wet suit that I want to try, and Nikita sent me an email that he is planning to sail tomorrow. Nikita is one of the two fastest guys on our speed surfing team; so if I get some decent runs in tomorrow, we'll improve out standing in the GPS Team Challenge. As if I really needed excuses to go sailing in balmy 50 degree weather with horizontal rain!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Windy Outer Cape Cod

In recent weeks, we have had a peculiar wind pattern here on Cape Cod: spots further out on Cape Cod (Chatham, Eastham, Wellfleet) get substantially more, and more consistent, wind than the mid-Cape (Hyannis, Chapin) or main land locations like Duxbury. There have been several days when Chatham and/or Skaket had great wind, while locations closer to the main land were stuck in low teens. 

Today, we had easterly winds, which usually are great in Duxbury. However, winds averages in Duxbury barely made it above 20 in the morning, and then dropped below 15 shortly after noon. In contrast, the Wellfleet sensor showed averages between 20 and 27 the whole day. This was not just a meter artifact - we sailed in Eastham today, and the wind on the water was close to the Wellfleet readings.

This does not seem to be dependent on wind direction, either - I've seen it on days with southerly winds, with today's easterlies, and the forecast calls for a similar scenario with northwest winds on Wednesday (low 30s in Skaket, but only mid-20s in Chapin, about 10 miles to the west). It's worth noting that recently, we had several days where the forecasts predicted wind for the entire day in Hyannis, but we only got a few hours - while the wind in Chatham or Skaket stayed up all day.

As I mentioned, we did the 40 minute drive east today. We wanted to finally sail our newly discovered slicks in east wind, and Nina wanted to try her new Falcon 89 that she bought from Dani this morning. Alas, our timing was less than perfect. Today's tide was very high (7 ft at the closest forecast spot, compared to typical levels below 6).  We were also running a bit late, and did not get onto the water until 3:15 pm, shortly before high tide. So the slicks were not quite that slick - but worse, the entire marsh and all little islands were completely covered with water. It was quite cloudy and drizzling a bit, so it was hard to make out where in the water the shallow areas began - and some of these areas must have been under just a few inches of water, raising thoughts of bag high-speed catapults. Speed runs right at the edge of the reeds were out of question since we could not see the edges! Instead, we encountered many floating islands of dead reads on the water, some big enough to cause sudden deceleration even with weed fins.

We did not quite appreciate this when we decided to rig. Since it was quite warm (50 F, 10 C), we thought it would be a great day for Nina to try a "proper" speed sail on her Falcon - my KA Koncept 5.8. She had sailed the Falcon (or slightly larger ones from Dani's collection) a few times before, but usually, she sails a freestyle board with a tiny fin and a non-cambered freestyle/wave sail. So between trying to dial in a very different sail and a new board, and worrying about things lurking inches below the surface, she positively did not have a good time. I tried to help a bit with adjustments to the sail and mast foot position, but the only effect of this changes was that some of her frustration was now directed at me. Well, this ended up as a short and non-so-fun session. Too bad, since the wind direction was perfect - a few hours earlier, and with more moderation in trying new things, this could have been a wonderful session. 

But at least, we finally see plenty of drool-worthy wind forecasts: plenty of red, brown, and pink shades for wind from the low 20s to the 40s. One has to be careful not to drool too early, since forecasts usually go down the closer we get to the promised wind; but if the forecast starts high enough, we sometimes end up with wind in the 20s or even 30s (mph). This time of the year, the most common wind direction for windy days seems to be west to northwest, which means bump & jump instead of speed surfing - but I'm not going to complain about wind if we get it! And in a few days, I should get my new tube-suit to keep my hands nicely warm even after frequent falls :-)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The cold hand problem has been solved

It's the time of the year where a lot of windsurfers in New England stop sailing, even if they own dry suits. The common reason: cold hands. A few extraordinary windsurfers like JE can sail with thick gloves, and still throw in a loop or shaka when they feel like it; but thick gloves kill the forearms of lesser windsurfers, like your's truly.

I have experimented with various gloves, mittens, and combinations, and found several solutions that work well. Around here, open-palm mittens work fine until about mid-December; but when air and water temperatures drop below 45 F (7 C), I need more warmth. I have blogged about several options that work,  but all of them have their draw backs, which make winter sessions shorter and less playful.

So when I read "The cold hand problem all the way down to 0°c / 32F has been solved" in a thread about "Gloves/mittens for winter sailing", it peaked my interest. I followed the link to, and liked what I saw: a suit with built-in tubing that enables you to blow warm air into open-palm mittens while sailing. But the suit is made in the UK and not cheap, so I just had to follow Ian's suggestion to try this by stuffing some tubing into my suit. I used 10 feet of clear 1/2 inch OD tubing and a T connector as the mouth piece, and took some silicon to make soft patches where the tubing enters the arms of the suit to minimize water entry. Here's the result:
Today's wind forecast looked marginal, but it predicted WSW wind and sun. In previous years, this often meant winds that were 5-10 mph over the forecast, but this year has been so bad that I did not want to get my hopes up. Well - the wind came! Around 11 am, meter readings for Kalmus and Chatham were around 20 mph, trending up a bit - oh the excitement! Bad old wind addict that I am, I left my lovely wife at home, since she had to deal with an electrician who double-checked the hookup of our new outdoor sauna. I hopped into the van and drove to Harding's Beach in Chatham to try the spot in WSW winds.

Once there, I noticed that the water state did not look that different from the last time I was there, when I was barely to rarely planing on my 7.0. However, the wind felt stronger, so I went out on my 5.5 and the 3S 95, but with the big old 32 cm weed fin in case the wind dropped. No need to worry, though - I was planing right away, and stayed nicely powered the entire time I was out. Air and water temperatures were around 45 F (7C), perfect for trying out Ian's tube idea. As soon as I was hooked in, I grabbed the mouth piece, and breathed out through it a few times. My fingers in the palmless mitts got warm right away - nice! I kept sailing for half an hour, using the tube to warm up my fingers every few minutes. Without the tube, I would have had to go in after a few minutes to shake the blood back down into my hands and warm up my fingers, but since I could blow warm air onto my fingers anytime I felt like it, I did not have to go in today! Having nicely warm fingers did wonders for my confidence, and I started jumping a bit, playing with waves, and simply having a blast. After 30 minutes, I went in to grab the GoPro for some movies, but discovered that I did not have it in the van. I got pretty hot during this short stop (in a 6/4 semi-dry neoprene suit, 2 mm neoprene shirt, 7 mm booties, and a 3 mm neoprene hood), so when I went back out, I took my fingertips out of the palmless mittens. I sailed for another 20 minutes, but then caught myself messing up and swimming around quite a bit. Since I was the only one on the water, and in view of the temperatures, I decided to keep the session short and call it a day.

Despite the short sail, I did take several opportunities to waterstart and swim around a bit. I did get quite a bit of water into the arms of the suit when water starting, and some also came in around the neck. More flexible tubing and better silicone pads probably could reduce this; even as it was, I'd definitely rather have a bit of water in the suit than cold hands (or thick gloves, glove-mitt shell combos, etc.). I'm not sure that would still be the case when the temperatures drop much further; but I am sure that Ian's tubing idea would still work very well. His idea to build tubing connectors into the suit is definitely a great one, because it will keep the suit as dry as any similar semidry or dry suit; the loose-fit upper body is also a great match to the tubing inside idea. I currently have both a very warm semi-dry neoprene suit and a baggy dry suit, but I am seriously tempted to get the Ianovated suit. After my tests, I believe that Ian has indeed solved the cold-hand problem.

For all my GPS-addicted friends, my tracks for the day are below. No bigs speeds today, though - the theme was wave-play rather than speed.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Exocet WindSUP 10 - not for surf?

As I briefly posted before, I damaged my Exocet WindSUP 10 last Sunday. Today, I heard back from Exocet (through Sailworld Cape Cod) that "there is no warranty when the board is damaged in the surf".

Do they mean that the WindSUP should not be used for wave sailing? The conditions last Sunday seemed easy enough, here are a few pictures from the time that we sailed that the Coast Guard Beach cam took:

Wind was around 10-15 mph. I am a beginner at wave sailing, with about three previous wave sailing days (two in planing conditions, one in light wind on the WindSUP). Last year, we spent six weeks on Maui during the summer and sailed almost everyday, including a number of days at Sprecks when small summer waves were breaking. Yes, those were summer waves, but they sure were bigger than the waves last Sunday.

However, I am a pretty decent light wind sailor (3rd in freestyle at the 2012 East Coast Windsurfing Festival). After reading lots of posts of the iWindsurf forum, I had gotten the impression that the WindSUP 10 would be a great board to get into light wind wave sailing, and bought one at full price at the local dealer. But nothing prepared me for the board breaking the second time I tried it in waves.

I have occasionally damaged windsurf gear before: in the last 3 years I bent two booms when running aground during speed runs; poked holes into maybe four sails during various crashes; and dinged the nose of my Skate when a gust hit me in a loop exercise catapult. I positively hate breaking equipment, but with about 100 sailing sessions a year, the level of damage was tolerable. I also understand that waves will increase the chances that something breaks, which is why we decided not to go out on two previous visits to Coast Guard Beach, when the waves were higher. Last Sunday looked manageable, though...

The first time I went out, I did everything right - I watched the waves for a while, picked a spot where few waves broke, and followed the advice of a local wave surfer to just get through the shore break and then swim as fast as I could into cleaner water. It worked like a charm, and I had a blast. The second time, I spent too little time observing the waves, and went out to early and perhaps at the wrong spot, which is why I got washed. I recovered the gear within maybe a minute or at most two, and made it out of the water without any problems. When I saw the damage to the board, I was quite surprised - it definitely looked like way too much damage what happened. Here are two more pictures of the board:

The top of the board actually has three long lines in across the board, which extend to the sides. It appears that the board buckled, and then kept bending at a couple more places.

I have owned four Exocet boards in the past few years, and still have three of these. Two of the boards have had structural problems that seemed out of proportion to what happened to them. When I bought the WindSUP 10, I got the AST version because I hoped that it would be more durable than the wood version - but it seems that did not help at all. For a board that is almost twice as heavy as my wife's Fanatic SUP, it seems way to fragile, at least for beginners in moderate waves. I thought that maybe I got a lemon, but Exocet's reaction does not support this - maybe they have seen a lot of similar problems? After this experience, it is extremely unlikely that I will by another Exocet board in the future. I can't really recommend the WindSUP to friends anymore, either, quite the opposite. I will get this board repaired, but I do not think that I will let anyone else try it in the future.

The broken board has added to the windsurfing frustration this fall, which has been the least-windy fall in years. Light wind SUP sailing might be just what helps to get through this wind-less time, but I don't have a SUP right now. Even when I get it back, I will be hesitant to go out with it in any interesting surf - it might just break again! So I started looking for a more robust alternative, and discovered the 10'6 Ace-Tec Wind SUP from BIC. The board has about the same length, volume, and width as the Exocet WindSUP 10. It does not have a daggerboard, but the daggerboard on the WindSUP is disappointing, anyway: it wants to come out of the board when trying to move it into the "down" position; and when the wind gets stronger, so that a traditional longboard (or even my Kona Mahalo) would rail up, the WindSUP does not rail, and instead just feels quite unbalanced.

One argument often used for the Exocet WindSUP is that it planes quite well for a windsurfable SUP. However, the BIC Wind SUP also seems to plane well and early - just look at the this video (from 3:45 on), where the guy planes without any whitecaps in sight. BIC mostly downplays the wave suitability of the board, but at least one top SUP racer and windsurfer seems to think it's plenty of fun in waves.

The biggest reasons to go for the BIC, however, are durability and price. For the longest time over the past 10 years, my go-to boards were made by BIC: a Techno 293 and a Nova 120. Both boards took lots of abuse over the years without any problems whatsoever, and the SUP uses very similar technology. The older boards were a bit heavy, but the weight of the BIC (13.5 kg) is actually a bit lower than the weight of the Exocet (13.9 kg). The BIC is also a lot cheaper, with a list price of $1,100, compared to $1,600 for the Exocet. Paying $500 extra for a boards that weighs the same, but is more fragile, just does not make sense. I may get the BIC just to have a board that I do not need to worry about as much!

Let me end this post by repeating what Exocet seems to be telling me:

Do not take the WindSUP into the waves, unless you are an expert,
or at least willing to replace the board!


Shortly after posting this post, I got some pretty emotional feedback from David, a fellow ABK student. He suggested that I "just get over it", and blamed "absurd warranty and liability claims" for rising prices of windsurf equipment, and predicted that windsurf shops would blacklist me for the post. Just in case someone else has similar feelings, let me clarify and add a few things:

The warranty claim
The board broke on Sunday. I also use the board for SUP touring, so I needed to repair or replace it as soon as possible. I contacted a local board repair guy who also builds custom surfboards on Monday morning. His response was that I first should check with the manufacturer , because he had seen many boards replaced after this happened.

On Monday afternoon, I drove the board to Sailword Cape Cod, where I had bought the board. Jim looked at it and said that he would contact Exocet, though he was not optimistic about their response. He also showed me a SUP that arrived in two pieces at his shop, and had been repaired by his local repair guy (a boat builder and windsurfer). It looked good, so this was the fallback option.

It then took until Friday afternoon to hear back from Exocet, who denied the claim. Jim wrote: "Exocet says that there is no warranty when the board is damaged in the surf". If that's their policy, why does it take them 4 days to answer?

Jim also gave me a quote for the repair ($280), and I told him to go ahead. The repair will not include painting (unlike the excellent repairs Donny Bowers does in Hatteras), but I plan to use the board many times before we get to Hatteras again in the spring. I asked Jim to go ahead with the repair. Jim has been really friendly and helpful in this whole thing. I am glad that we still have a local windsurf shop, and I will continue to support him by buying my gear locally when possible, even if I could get it a bit cheaper on the internet.

The liability claim
There never was one. I have not heard about many liability claims, either. Perhaps David has to deal with these things in his corporate life in other business areas, so he simply assumes it's a problem in windsurfing, too. But for windsurf boards, the general consensus seems to be that higher prices are caused by lower volumes. 

Product durability and warranty policies
I had hoped that the WindSUP would be more durable than very light SUPs. I think it is with regard to light wind flat water sailing and freestyle. Nina's very light SUP got dinged the first day she used it when the boom hit it; the Exocet WindSUP has taken similar things many times without problems. However, it was obviously not as durable as I had hoped for in the waves. Maybe I got a lemon, or maybe it was just bad luck, we'll never know. What I do know, however, is that the washing did not look bad enough to cause anything like the damage that happened.

At least here in the US, it is entirely up to a company how they deal with warranties. We could argue about legal terms, but it's pointless - nobody will sue a company because a board breaks. What this boils down to is reputation. Exocet never gave me anything about warranties, nor can I find anything on their web site. In stark contrast, North sails come with a 5-year warranty, and they also sell a boom with an "unconditional" warranty. When I recently spent $700 for my first carbon boom, the 1-year warranty that Chinook offered was very important, and the dealer (Jim again) assured me that Chinook would definitely honor it if something happened.

For some brands, high durability and good warranties are why they are successful - Ezzy is one company that comes to mind. Other companies are known for less durable products and non-existing warranties; I, for one, mostly stay away from them. But this brings another French company in the windsurfing industry to mind: Select Fins. When I started GPS speed surfing a few years ago, Select was the fin brand. Most top speeds were posted on Select fins like the Caspar. Then, several speed surfers had problems with Select fins disintegrating after very few uses, and not getting helpful responses from the company. Now, three years later, I rarely see anyone posting GPS speeds with Select fins. Everyone has seems to have switched to different brands.

Other Exocet experiences
I had eluded to other problems that I have had with Exocet boards above. Since I have also been accused of unfairly blasting Exocet, I think it it necessary that I expand on this. 
In the last two years, I have bought 2 used Exocet Warp slalom boards. I am still using the Warp 71 as my go-to board when I want to plane in light winds. The colored dual layer footpads on the board are coming off, so it's not that pretty anymore, but otherwise the board is fine. However, the Warp 66 that I bought this year was a bit more problematic. It arrived with a long scratch that the previous user had considered harmless; however, it did penetrate to the core, as I discovered when I fixed it up. I'd blame the previous user for this issue. The bigger problem was the fin box: it was a lot bigger than the box on the Warp 71, so switching fins was simply not possible. I have often borrowed fins from my friend Dani, who uses Fanatic Falcons and Starboard Isonics, and never had a problem with the fins fitting in my RRD XFire 90 or the Warp 71. Similarly, my regular tuttle fins all fit my F2 Missile, the XFire, and the Warp 71 without problems. The Warp 71, however, required it's own fin; instead of sanding the fin to make it fit, I had to add layers of tape. I ended up selling the Warp 66 the same year I got it, and the different fin box sizes where one big reason for selling it. It seems that Exocet had some quality control problems when they build the Warp 66 and 71 which resulted in very different tuttle box sizes. 

SUP sailing in waves
My light wind SUP wave sailing days are over - but only for now, until I have a new board or the repaired WindSUP. It's too much fun to give it up. Windsurfers have to be optimists, and I seriously hope I won't break a board every second time I go out into waves. But there are a few things that I need to keep in mind when SUP sailing on waves. Most importantly, a SUP board is a lot bigger than a short board, so the forces on it will also be a lot bigger. I am 99.9% certain that a 100 l wave board would not have taken any damage in the washing that broke the WindSUP; but I think there is a higher chance that another SUP would also have gotten damaged. Some things to do to avoid damage in the shore break are:
  1. Take time to study the waves before deciding whether to go out. If in doubt, don't go out (this rule applied a few times before last Sunday, but Sunday looked harmless enough).
  2. Before going out, take the time to study the wave patterns and the currents. Wait until you get a good idea about the sets. This will probably take longer than you think if you are a newbie to waves. I did this the first time I went out, but not the second time.
  3. Pick your spot carefully. Go out where the current goes out, not sideways, and where the breaks are smaller. Again, thanks to PK for the tip about the currents. That's still a bit hard for me to see, though.
  4. Never, ever even think about going in with your back to the waves. It's always a bad idea, but turning a big SUP around in shore break takes way to long.
  5. Keep the nose pointing straight into the wind - not just when sailing out, but also when going into shore break. If the board is partially sideways, the wave will want to turn it more, and you have no chance of holding on to it once the wave hits the side of the board.
  6. Pick the right time, and get out quickly. You should have a good idea when to start from point #2 - if not, look longer. Then, don't dawdle - if you wait long enough, something bad will happen. Don't try to be cool - if necessary, simply swim for your life to drag the board into a safe zone (another helpful tip from PK).
  7. When coming back in, ride the back of a wave onto shore, then grab the handle a the back quickly and drag the board all the way up.
I wrote this mainly as a reminder for myself, but maybe it will help other wave SUP sailing newbies, too. For me, I just have to remember to do all these things...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

No more SUP wave sailing

Very unhappy, will keep this short. Warm today, long-promised winds showed up briefly in the morning, then went away. Decided to go SUP sailing at Coast Guard with Nina and Jeff. Waves were initially small, then got a bit bigger, but looked doable. I had no problem getting out the first time, caught a few waves, back in upwind without a problem.

Nina fought hard, got through the shore break eventually, only to be thrown off and not being able to hang on to the equipment in the waves. Had to swim back in, but I caught the equipment in time, no problem.

Let Jeff try my board, he looked good and liked it. Did not study the waves before I went out again. Got punished for lack of respect. When I thought I had made it through, a big one piled up behind me and ripped the gear out of my hands. Got it back a short while later, retreat. PK came over with some useful tips.

Pulled the board further up the beach, noticed major damage on both sides and top. Almost broken through, except no damage to underside, and rocker line seems unchanged to the eye. PK said he has repaired similar damage before, but my repair experience is very limited. Will probably have to wait until the next Hatteras trip, unless Exocet takes this as a warranty case. Bought the board at full list price about 3 months ago - the first board I bought new and full price in decades.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Windsurf gear to reach 50 knots

The windsurfing world record attempt in Lüderitz is over. In about 4 weeks and 12 official windsurfing days, many records have been broken, and the official windsurfing record now stands above 52 knots. Several sailor have posted GPS 2 second top speeds above 53 knots, and the record holder Antoine Albeau sailed faster than 100 km/h. All top 10 spots in the GPS ranking  are now from runs in Lüderitz:
All 10 sailors in this list have 2 second speeds above 50 knots - previously the holy grail of windsurfing. I find it amazing how close together the top 5 are.

Since they were so kind to post their sessions, we can analyze what kind of equipment they used. Details are below, but here is what really jumped out at me: there are many different board and sail brands that have reached 50 knots, but all top 10 speeds were reached on asymmetric fins - the top 9 speeds from only two brands, Gasoil and mXr. Theoretical, asymmetric fins can go several knots faster than symmetrical fins, and I think we can now accept this as a proven fact.

I followed the daily postings about the event on Facebook. One thing that was very obvious that all windsurfers improved after the first and second day of sailing in Lüderitz - often by 3 knots. After the first 3 days, most sailors kept improving, although less dramatically. Of all the entrants, Bjorn Dunkerbeck reached the highest speed on his first day with 49.53 knots. He only got two really windy days during his stay there, leaving me wondering if he would have beaten Antoine if he also had spent more time in Namibia. But now to the detailed gear analysis.

The boards used by the top 10 sailors, listed sorted by GPS ranking:

  • RRD Custom
  • Patrick Custom
  • Mistral (3 x)
  • Starboard (3 x)
  • Tabou Custom
All boards for which the width was listed were 40-44 cm wide, mostly 40-42 cm. It seems that the Mistral and Starboard boards are regular production boards.

  • Neil Pryde (3 x)
  • Loft Custom
  • Severne (2 x)
  • Gaastra Custom
  • North
  • Simmer
  • Hot Sails Maui
Sail sizes were 5.2 to 5.6 m. 

  • Gasoil (7 x)
  • mXr (2 x)
  • Black Project (1 x)
All fins were asymmetrical and 16-21 cm long (16-20 for the top 9).

A wide variety of different gear was able to reach 50 knots - 7 different sail brands, 5 different board brands, and 3 different fin brands. The fins show the highest concentration towards one brand, which also was used by the top 3 sailors. Looking at the overall GPS ranking, the top 14 speeds (12 from Lüderitz this year, 2 from Sandy Point Australia in 2007) were reached on asymmetrical fins. The first symmetrical fin shows up at #15, a 20 cm C3 Slingshot. The C3 Slingshots have dominated the GPS ranking for this year before Lüderitz. I believe that they are only available as symmetrical fins right now - but I bet that asymmetric C3 fins will be available soon. I have already heard from one top fin manufacturer that they will come out with asymmetrical fins soon. I am just wondering: can asymmetrical fins be used to sail back upwind to the start? That was not an issue at the canal in Lüderitz, but at all the places we sail here, we have to sail back upwind.

Given that the top 12 spots in the GPS ranking were all set last month in Lüderitz, is seem logical that the spot itself is largely responsible for the top speeds, with its man-made canal at a perfect angle to the wind, and many days of "perfect" wind. But I wonder how much some other factors contributed to the new tops speeds:

  • A large number of top speed surfers together in a friendly, but competitive  atmosphere who learned from one another, and pushed each other to new heights.
  • Many days of sailing at the same spot, with breaks to recover in between, but otherwise a singular focus on top speed.
  • Not having to spend lots of energy by sailing (or walking) back upwind.
  • New and better gear, in particular better asymmetric fins.