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.


  1. Sounds interesting. A few years ago I read about a heat-exchange hand-warming system that heated liquid around armpits then circulated it to the fingers. This would be particularly good for folks with Raynaud's syndrome, like me. Alas that contraption does not seem to have been commercialized. Got the mitts but haven't tried them yet. So, waiting till OBX in April, alas.

  2. I know about this blog because Peter has just ordered one of my suits.
    I started to suffer from Raynaud's syndrome two years ago which is why I ended up inventing this wetsuit. The suit will keep you sailing comfortably through the winter, you will just have to exhale down the system a bit more than most others. However as we are breathing in/out through our nose and you have free head movement when it is in your mouth you are in fact totally indifferent to the extent to which you need to use the system.
    email me to agree the terms under which you start sailing through the winter -
    Iain (Inventor)