Monday, March 25, 2013

Back in cold water

Two days after returning from two weeks in Bonaire, I just had to go sailing on Cape Cod again. No way I'll get the little bits of snow on the ground deter me! Air and water temperatures, after all, are above 40º F (5º C) - plenty warm! So what if Bonaire was 40ºF warmer..

I hooked up with Hardie, the one local windsurfer who is definitely even more addicted than I am. He hit the water in his back yard before I got there, and was zooming along nicely on his 5.8. That fooled me into rigging my 5.5, completely ignoring that (a) his sail has a lot more profile and power, (b) I have a few pounds on him, and (c) that I was going for speed and should have rigged bigger, anyway. So I ended up schlogging most of the time, getting going only a few times in big gusts, and with too little sail for downwind speed runs. It was still fun to be out in water that was definitely flatter than in Bonaire. My Ianovated wetsuit kept me nice and warm, as usual, and the water did not feel quite as cold as I had expected.

Back to Bonaire. I think I've been going to the same spot too many times in a row. This being the first two-week vacation there, I had come with high hopes on improving and learning new tricks. But in high winds, I struggled with simply things like duck jibes and 360s that I had done decently before, and did not learn anything new. There were a few annoying gear issues - week one was overbooked, so when I had a late start after a lesson and looked for a 6 m sail, my choices were either 4.9 or 7.5 - everything else was on the water. Maybe I have simply gotten too spoiled; after a couple of years of buying decent new and used gear, I'm now used to light sails, carbon booms, and 100% RDM masts.  So getting aluminum booms like this one did not brighten my mood:
Sorry, but I do not like holding on to a stripped boom. Nor do I understand why $2,000 boards or $800 sails are new, but $200 booms, $80 mast feet, or $1 lines are old, to the point of failing on the water. Or why I get told "you cannot have this board, we need it for teaching", only to find exactly the same board still standing in the shed when I get back to shore an hour later. Or why one of two identical sails feels great, but the other is rigged on the wrong boom (with 18-24" harness lines on one side, and 22-28" lines on the other side), and feels like a heavy piece of sh*t on the water. And no, it's not just me who had these problems - other sailors (who had no problems adjust outhaul, boom height, and harness lines) had the same issues. This year was also the first year that Jibe City did not allow to reserve gear the evening before. That hurt the ABK campers, since the best gear was in use by the time the morning lessons had ended. The list goes on, but I think you get the idea. So if we go back, it's probably time to bring our own gear, or perhaps try the Bonaire Windsurf Place (although the mast deflectors they use can be a real pain).

But on the bright side, it was nice to see lots of familiar faces, and meet new people like fellow blogger Carl, the German racers Manu and Rainer, and many others. I also discovered a new piece of equipment I liked a lot (the NP Wizard 5.4 m 4-batten sail). Light wind sailing in week two was a welcome change, and I picked up a couple of new cool tricks. The SUP sailing excursion to the reef with Andy, and a second trip with Nina, was just great. The waves on the reef there are easy and gentle, great for kooks like me even if they are waist high - and the reef below is just beautiful. Snorkeling in the mangroves was another highlight (even if "earned" by a very long kayak trip) - how different the world can look from below! I hope to have some video footage in one of my next posts.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Broken lines, lost customers

This is about my 7th trip to Bonaire, but it's the first time I feel the need to write something other than "I love this place". The reason is a silly little $2 item - an inhaul line (for my non-windsurfing readers: that's the piece of rope that attaches the boom to the mast). During 10 days of windsurfing on Bonaire, an inhaul line broke twice, forcing a long walk back to Jibe City. Today's break was especially frustrating, since it (a) happened just as the wind was finally picking up, and (b) it was the second time this happened.

I fail to understand why this happened. I have rental at various centers more than a dozen times, usually for two weeks; the only time ever that a line broke before this vacation was last year, also at Jibe City. At home, I sail between 100 and 150 sessions per year, and don't recall ever having a line break. I exchange lines when they start looking old, maybe about once a year. The sails I have been using here at Jibe City are mostly brand new - sometimes a few weeks old, sometimes a few months old, rarely older. However, the same is not true for the (aluminum) booms - some are new, others are beat up and badly in need of re-gripping; one boom I used had the end pieces taped, probably because it started opening up while sailing. The first time the lines broke, they looked ancient; the remaining pieces were very hard to get out, apparently after having had a long time to get pulled deeper and deeper in. Obviously, the lines were not changed when the new sails were rigged on old booms.

I lost a good chunk of two nice sailing sessions because of that. That's not too terrible - but would you keep trusting the equipment afterwards? I usually sail in the deep water between the mangroves and the harbor, because it's much less crowded there, and the water is a lot nicer and less choppy. A line break somewhere in the middle of the bay would require a really long swim and/or walk.

I can perhaps understand why a rental center may keep using booms that are still sound, even if they'd need a re-gripping; but why anyone would rig a new $500 - $800 sail without replacing the lines completely escapes me. For this trip alone, the three of us are spending more than $1,500 just for gear rental; over the years, our rental fees at Jibe City have totalled more than $5,000. So far, we have always preferred renting gear instead of bringing our own, even if it costs a bit more. We probably would have kept doing this in future trips, even though getting the gear I would have liked sometimes was difficult. But now, it is much more likely that I will bring my own gear to my next trip to Bonaire, especially if we stay at the Sorobon or go from more than one week. That should drive costs down by quite a bit for longer trips - not just from saved rental fees, but also from significantly lower bills at the Hang Out bar.

But perhaps it is time to visit other places for our winter vacation again. This year, it has been very crowded in the water here in Bonaire. But Margarita always was lovely and is windy at this time of the year.; just a little later in the year, the wind in Corpus Christi tends to be fantastic; and new places like Brazil, Costa Rica, and Egypt deserve exploring (although perhaps during a different time of the year).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Winter storms are fun

Would you go sailing in a winter storm if you have a trip to Bonaire, the windsurf paradise in the Caribbean, in the near future? That's the question we had to answer today, and the answer was a "YES". We could blame it on our friend Martin, who needed to test and then maybe buy the Ianovated wetsuit I had bought for him; or on the wind direction and tides, which aligned nicely for a local speed spot that we had never sailed in the promised ENE winds. But I'd probably blame the need for speed - our Bonaire trip will be dedicated to freestyle, so getting a speedsurfing in before just seemed right.

Air  temperatures were forecast to be around 40º F (5º C), and water temperatures are now about in the same range, so this "winter storm" did not feel so wintery anymore. We saw a few snow flakes on our drive to the launch, but most of the water coming down was unfrozen. Not that we liked the rain much, either, but it fortunately mostly stopped by the time we were ready to go out. The water looked quite choppy, with lots of white caps everywhere. The previous few times we had sailed the same spot, the water always seemed to understate the actual wind; the nearest wind meter with readings around 32-35 mph seemed to confirm that. So we rigged small - 3.7/90l for Nina, 4.2/95 l for Martin, and 4.5/82l for me. If not for the upcoming trip, I might have chosen to go out on slalom gear and a larger sail, but today's primary objective was not to get hurt. Since the tide was going down, we all went out on small fins, ranging from 18 to 26 cm.

The winds were a bit gusty, so the two real freestylers in our group paid for their tiny fins by not always being powered, and having to fight a bit to go upwind. I was a bit more fortunate with the largest fin and sail on the smallest board; I was pretty much always able to plane, although the sail ended up being a bit small for downwind speed runs. Nevertheless, I had a blast, and eventually even got the jibes dialed in after having gotten used to the conditions. I think it helped that the water depth on one side was less than two feet - enough to plane through jibes, but when I lost to much speed, my 200+ pounds sunk the tail of the board straight into the mud. So I just had to plane out of the jibes :-)

Martin and Nina actually played around a little with freestyle. I saw some duck jibe and 360 attempts. As usual, Martin had a big smile on his face every time I saw him. The wetsuit was a tad large for him, but he liked it so much that he did not want to give it back to me. He was amazed how well the hand warming system worked (which Nina did not need at all today, but which I used a lot at the beginning of the session and after falling). This should be the end of painful finger warmups after winter windsurfing sessions for Martin! I think the Swedish speedsurfer Anders Bjorkqvist is correct with his prediction that "all winter surfers (also kite) will buy this or a similar suit within a few years".