Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks, Iain

It's Thanksgiving, and there are many people and things that I am thankful about. But I'll dedicate this to the man who made the picture above possible: Iain Smith, the inventor of the Ianovated wetsuit.

That's me in the picture above, getting ready to windsurf in Wellfleet Harbor earlier today. It was a lovely and sunny day, but air temperatures had dropped from mid-50s yesterday to 34ºF (1ºC) today. Wind meter readings were around 30 mph WNW - too good to not go windsurfing! Even last year, I probably would have stayed at home. Yes, I have sailed in similar temperatures before, but it's usually a gradual process - as it gets later in the year, we slowly get used to the lower temperatures.

Enter Iain. He is a dedicated British windsurfer who did not want to stop sailing in the winter, when the best winds come. Like many of us, Iain experimented with all kinds of gloves and mittens to keep his hands warm. He experienced the usual trade-offs: if gloves are warm enough to keep your hands comfortable, they will make your forearms very tired very quickly, cutting sessions short. But unlike most other cold-weather windsurfers, Iain has a "cold weather handicap" - Raynaud's disease. Wikipedia describes this as "excessively reduced blood flow in response to cold" - in other words, your hands get much colder, much faster.

But Iain did not give up. He experimented until he found a solution that works: a system to blow warm air onto your hands while you are windsurfing. In hindsight, it seems simple enough: blow into tubes through a snorkel mouthpiece; run the tubes through the inside of the suit to keep the air warm; and finally have the tubes emerge into mittens. After proving the concept, Iain then formed a company to manufacture and market the suit.

As many great inventions, the suit was met with a lot of skepticism and ridicule. On every windsurf forum where Iain posted about the suit, the vast majority of responses explained in lots of detail why such a system could never ever work (I have seen such posts on British, German, Polish, and US forums). But on each forum, there would also be a few windsurfers who tried it out, and reported back that the "tube suit" worked not just well, but amazingly well. I got one of the Ianovated suits last winter, and it kept amazing me  for many sessions in a row, even after I knew that it worked well. My lovely wife, who had no intentions of buying a new wetsuit, tried the Ianovated suit once, and bought it right away. We sailed through the winter using open-palm mitts, even when the water temperature was close to freezing (we did, however, only sailed on days where the air temperature was above, or at least close to, the freezing point).

Many of my windsurfing friends have told me that they stop sailing because their hands get too cold. So after trying and loving the Ianovated suit, I hoped that I might be able to get some of my friends to try it, and also enjoy some of the best windsurfing of the year - cold weather windsurfing. Yesterday, I was very happy to see two friends try their new Ianovated suits for the first time. Not surprisingly, they (a) were surprised how well the hand warming system works, and (b) loved the suit.  Today, my suit gave me the confidence to go out after a 22-degree temperature drop in 24 hours. As expected, it kept me nice and warm the entire time, and I had a blast windsurfing on a beautiful sunny, if chilly, day. So once again: thank you, Iain!

Below are a couple of pictures that my lovely wife took, and a short video from one of the runs today.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Plenty of wind

We got plenty of wind today - averages up to 42 mph, with gusts just below 50. We also got a lot of rain, but the wind was too good to not go windsurfing. After a few days with temperatures below freezing, today was outright warm, with air temperatures around 55ºF (13ºC).

With winds this strong, my first thought is to go for speed. The timing and wind direction were not quite right for Sandy Point, so I thought - why not try speedsurfing on Bass River, just behind West Dennis? Well, the GPS tracks show that this did not quite work out as planned:
The hoped-for speed track is the top right of the image. Dean, who started sailing just as we arrived, quickly reported that the wind there was way too gusty - "0 to 50 mph in a couple of seconds". That seemed hard to believe - we had checked out the spot the day before, and the obstructions (some small trees and shrubs) had seemed too far away to have a big effect. So I rigged my 5.0 m speed sail, grabbed my 90 l slalom board, and went to confirm Dean's findings. Bummer- he was right! Close to shore, were we had hoped to sail, the water was flat, but gusts were extreme. I never saw Dean fight for control so hard - and we are talking about a guy who'll sail a 6.2 m slalom sail in 30+ mph winds and big chop for hours. He's a much better slalom sailor than I am, so you can imagine how far away I was from any kind of control. Here's a picture that illustrates this:
Note that I was on perfectly flat water, simply trying to go straight - but the board is out of the water as if I was going for a new school freestyle trick. It was just a big gust hitting me...

I quickly decided that this was not a speed day for me, and walked back to rig a smaller sail and get my "comfort" board, the 3S 96. That took a while, but I eventually made it out and sailed in front of the parking lot, where Jerry was having a blast, throwing plenty duck jibes and speed loops. He inspired Nina to also go for duck jibes in the 40 mph winds - and she got at least one after just a few tries.

I had rigged down to a 4.5 m wave sail, which turned out to be a bit too big for my taste. Funny, though - Jerry, who weight about 40 pounds less than I do, was perfectly fine on a 4.2 the entire time! I added some downhaul, which made life a bit easier, but the real fun started when Nina called it a day, and I got to use the 3.7 she had rigged. Full power on 3.7 - that's something I see maybe twice a year!

Our friend Jonathen had picked today as his first day of cold weather windsurfing. While the air felt warm to us, it probably was 10 degrees warmer when he sailed the last time, several weeks ago. The water had definitely cooled off; the Nantucket sound buoy still gave readings around 45ºF, but it felt a few degrees colder than that. But Jon did not want to miss a 40 mph day, and he had his new Ianovated suit to try! So out he went, in what probably was the strongest wind, and definitely the coldest water temperature, he has ever windsurfed on. When he tried the tubes to warm his hands, a look of amazement came onto his face - "It really works". Nevertheless, the first few falls into the cold water came a bit as a shock to him. His session ended up being on the short side - but he stayed perfectly warm the entire time. He even sat around for quite a while in his suit to chat with Nina at the end of his session.

Just as everyone was getting ready to call it a day, Gary pulled into the parking lot. I decided to keep him company on the water for a while, and switched harness lines while he rigged. That involved de-rigging my 4.5 m sail, and taking two booms apart, so it kept me busy for a while. By the time we both were ready, the wind had dropped, and the 3.7s ended up a bit too small, so I called it a day after a few runs. Unlike Jonathen, Gary had sailed in cold weather a number of times before; but just like Jonathen, this was the first time he used an Ianovated suit. And just like Jon, he was amazed to discover how well the tubes work for warming your hands. It is pretty amusing to see these expressions of amazement. Even if have heard great things about the tube suit, and your mind believes that it will work, it is still astonishing when you feel it the first time. For me, this astonishment lasted for an entire winter season... but I am a slow learner :-)

In the end, it was a great day to be windsurfing, even though my hopes for a new speed strip did not pan out. It was nice to see a sizable group of windsurfers on the water on a rainy day at the end of November. I love sailing with windsurfers that sail better than I do, and today, there were two guys and one gal out there in this category. I also love that in our group of 6 windsurfers, a full two-thirds showed up in Ianovated suits. There's a lot more fun cold weather windsurfing ahead of us!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Failure to stay straight

My life used to be easy. When I windsurfed, I mowed the lawn: back and forth, back and forth, in nice straight lines. Turns were added only out of necessity - the beer is waiting where I started, so we must turn to get back. Many year later, Andy Brandt showed me that turns can be a lot of fun, but that really did not change much. My favorite thing to do is still to go in straight lines for miles. Adding a GPS and calling myself a "speedsurfer" is merely obfuscation, and anyone who looked at my top speeds will discover.

Here's what I am talking about:

Somewhere in the movie, you may notice Nina. She fully supports my lawn mowing habit. ABK's Brendon has explained to me why we make a great team: lawns need to be mowed and watered. Nina likes to try new freestyle tricks, which takes care of the watering, so that I can concentrate on the mowing.

But recently, I have often been confused on the water. I expect water to either be perfectly flat, so that I can mow faster, or full of irregular spaced bumps (often called "chop" or "voodoo chop"). Chop slows you down, but it sailing in chop for 2 hours is a great cure for constipation, so chop is good. When I can't sail a straight line through it anymore, I simply jump a bit. But I am German, and there have to be rules. Rule number 1 in jumping is that I only jump starboard, when my right had is closer to the mast. I really tried to stick to this rule when we went sailing in Cape Cod Bay last Saturday, but I failed:

That was just the beginning. At my home spot, Kalmus Beach in Hyannis, I have to turn around after sailing 500 meters, or face the dreaded ferry line. Even when crossing the ferry line, runs are rarely longer than a kilometer (or half a mile for my metrically challenged readers), mostly because the water ends and my boards are not suited for sailing on the beach. But where we launched in Brewster, you can sail for miles and miles without having to turn around. It's perfectly safe, too, since you're always within half a mile or so from shore. So I went in nice straight lines for a mile or two, until I remembered that I should turn around and check on Nina.

Well, that was the plan, at least. But when I sailed past the end of the long shallow region, the chop suddenly started to organize, slowly turning into swell and then into something that looked like waves to my untrained eye. This upset me - I am a lawn mower sailor, not a wave sailor! Turning around early would have cut the runs short, but simply sailing in straight lines might have led to more against-the-rules port jumps. Since speed is your friend (or at least mine), I tried to accelerate by going down the bigger waves - but after a couple of seconds, I'd end up going up the back of the wave in front of me, slowing down again. So I turned back - only to see the next wave forming behind me! I went down again, and repeated this game a few times until I finally reached sections where order disintegrated into unruly chop. Familiar territory again! But very quickly, weird thoughts crept into my mind, like "that was fun not going straight all the time!". Here is a short movie from this period:

Having been raised as a proper lawn-mowing catholic boy, I had my doubts about not going straight all the time, but it was kind off fun - especially when I went up one wave and turned just a bit too late at the top, getting a little bit of air while turning:

If you stop the movie just after I landed, you will notice a look of great confusion on my face - what just happened? A second or two later, you can hear what I thought about it if you have the sound turned on..

This was almost too much fun. Sure, we had gotten up before 7 am on a Saturday to be at the beach early, so that we would get the strongest winds and the best water levels. Sure it was sunny, and the water was nice and clear. But air temperatures were in the low 40s, and water temperatures not much higher - sure we were not supposed to have this much fun? I went to check with Nina. She had stayed out of the deep water the entire time, being perfectly happy that she was able to stand every single time when she fell. She had initially been overpowered on her 4.5 m sail, but the wind dropped just a little to make the sail a perfect choice, so she was having a blast. We had been on the water for almost 2 hours by then. But the wind seemed to be dropping a bit, and I really wanted to get home to see my daughter, who was coming for a rare visit, so we decided to stop soon.

I have to apologize to my regular readers, who are probably very disappointed by all these not-so-straight videos without any of the expected freestyle or speed action - but I just have to show one more video. As I was sailing in, I was able to sail much closer to shore than before, since the water level had risen 2 or 3 feet while we were sailing. Check out the GPS tracks:
The last two runs were the runs towards the lower right. This was in the shallow area after a deeper shipping lane. With the wind coming from NW (top right), this created a water surface that was just about perfect: lots of knee-to hip-high waves to play with that ramped up nicely, but did not really break; and perfectly flat water in between. See for yourself:

As much fun as this was, I ended up worrying: have I been infected with the wave virus? Will I follow the path of so many windsurfers before me who decided that flat water is boring, and only sail in waves? Maybe I should not worry too much, because a full-speed jibe on perfectly flat water is still something I dream about all the time. Maybe we will know more in a couple of days, if we indeed get winds in the high 30s, and our plans to explore a new speed venue pan out...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Flat pictures

Yesterday: NW winds near 30 mph. Checked out Skaket, sand blowing, almost high tide, did not look inviting. First Encounter looked easy enough, but had chop instead of the little waves that you might see at low tide. So we went to Indian Neck in Wellfleet for some flat water. Flat water we got, but the wind was very much up and down. Some pictures:
Nina planing in the background
Flat and sunny :-)
Nina saw about a dozen seals; one of them jumped out of the water all the way. On the way back, we stopped at Skaket and Corporation. The wind seemed steadier at Skaket, with 22-27 knots. The wind was about 5 knots lower at  Corporation, but the waves looked nice:
The entire day, we only saw one kiter on the water. Air temperatures were just above 40ºF (5ºC).

The day before had been much warmer, with temperatures close to 60ºF (15ºC). Lots of wind early in the morning, but it came with rain. Drew talked me into sailing after the sun came out. We were at Kalmus around noon; Martin also showed up, but the wind did not look that great, and was predicted to go down. With high tide and strong winds earlier, there was lots of chop, so we drove over to Kennedy Slicks. Indian Neck was pretty flat, but Kennedy Slicks was really flat. Unfortunately, the wind died after a few runs; Drew never got planing. Martin stayed out and practiced light wind freestyle - it was a beautiful warm day, and he'd probably been way too hot if he had not fallen often :-). Here are a few pictures:
Martin on the left, Drew close to shore
That's flat!
Drew almost got going..

Marty water starting in10-12 mph winds
You-know-who going for a duck tack

Even though I am German, I can't really complain about two nice days of windsurfing in a row. So what if the wind was not perfect? We were out playing in the sun! I was perfectly warm both days in my Ianovated suit (the new double-nylon one with a "relief zipper"). The only difference was that I needed a hood on the colder day, wore a neoprene shirt under the suit, and used my open-palm mitts and the heating tubes. With that, I was as warm and comfortable as any day in the summer.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hardings Beach

Sunshine. Lots of white caps. A deserted beach. It must be November!

The forecast had called for wind all day long, but it took almost until noon before the air had warmed up enough to let the wind get down to the surface. Optimistically, I had planned on a morning speed session at the Kennedy Slicks, and an afternoon session at Kalmus. But the wind came more westerly than predicted, and was stronger in Chatham than in Hyannis, so off to Hardings Beach I went. Nina had to take care of some things and could not join me; Martin had to work; and Hardy, who certainly would have joined me if he had been around, is currently not on Cape Cod.

I ended up sailing alone. Not a big deal, since the wind was side-onshore, and air and water temperatures were a bit reasonable; but being alone on the water made me sail a bit more cautiously. Here is a little video from my 90 minute session that shows the conditions:

I was perfectly powered on 5.5, a welcome change from 6.5 or larger that I had to sailed most days this fall so far. The wind was steady all afternoon, with averages near 25 mph - 5 mph more than in Kalmus, which also looked a lot gustier on the wind meter graphs. Here are a few things I love about Hardings:

  • Friendly little waves, perfect for a non-wave sailor like me (although they are good enough to occasionally attract "real" wave sailors like JE & PK).
  • Very safe - safer than Kalmus, since there is no shipping lane with active ferry traffic nearby. A sand beach extends for about a mile from the launch for those who have to practice the "walk of the conquered hero" (renamed from the "walk of shame" by Coach Ned).
  • Long reaches - I like to sail longer on one reach than many windsurfers, and Hardings allows runs of about 2 miles in WSW. 
  • Waves and lanes on the inside, big orderly swell on the outside. Fun to sail in!
The next day, I went to sail Kalmus in 16-18 mph winds on my big slalom board and 8.5 m sail. Also fun, although quite different. But it made me appreciate the absence of ferry traffic in Hardings even more. Again, I was the only one on the water; with relatively light winds, the water was pretty smooth. That is, until the high speed ferry came steaming through. Even 10-15 minutes after the ferry had passed, the water surface anywhere close to the shipping lane could only be characterized as "voodoo chop". 

This time of the year, it is quite common that the forecast predicts much higher winds further out on the Cape. Wind meter reading often confirm that this really happens. Even after correcting for known biases (Hatch Beach reads 3 mph high in most directions; Kalmus reads low in S and SW, Chapin reads low in many directions), beaches in Orleans (Skaket) and Chatham (Hardings) often get 5 mph stronger winds than Hyannis (Kalmus) or Dennis (Chapin). That's especially the case at the beaches with the clearest fetch for the given wind direction - Hardings for W and WSW, and Skaket for W to NW (and possibly even N, but that's just speculation). It's definitely worth driving an extra 20 minutes (relative to Kalmus) on such days! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

30 great minutes

I wanted fall to come. October is good, November is better, December great. I remember many wonderful sessions where the wind blew all day, three days in a row.

Fall came. It's getting colder. Some friends stopped sailing on the colder days, and talk about stopping for the season soon. We should get our first snow tonight or tomorrow. Days are short - it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon.

But it seems nobody told the wind. Maybe the wind is exhausted, after blowing a lot during the summer. It has lost its stamina - on a good day, we may get a few hours of wind before it drops. Then nothing the next day. Or maybe the wind has developed a sun allergy - it's windy a lot at night. When we see wind during the day, it usually rains.

I have perfected mistiming the wind. It started on November 1st, when I missed most of the wonderful warm 35 mph winds. After that, I had three more similar sessions. Twice, the forecast was fantastic for the entire day, but the wind got tired after an hour or two. Of course, I started sailing as soon as the wind got tired. All that schlogging made me tired, too. The third time, the wind picked up earlier and faster than predicted. I went from underpowered on my 6.5 m sailed to fighting for control in overpowered conditions. With less than an hour left in the day, and Nina reading in the van instead of sailing, I did not rig down, but called it at day. Well, at least I got some planing that day. Yesterday was a different story...

But windsurfers must be optimists. So when the forecast predicted 16 mph WSW at 4 pm this afternoon, I kept my eyes on the wind meter readings. On sunny days, we often get a few miles more than forecast, so I kept dreaming of 20. At 3:10 pm, the meter readings hit 17 mph, gusting to 20. A bit more than an hour of daylight left - was it worth going? Sure it was!

I made it onto the water at 4:15. The wind had picked up a bit, at times gusting into high 20s. In the happy zone between powered and slightly overpowered, I had 30 minutes of fun as the sun went down. I had the water all to myself. No other windsurfers of kiters to create chop - the little wind swell was all mine to play with. One half hour of bliss. It's great to live on the Cape!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Warm in the cold

Overcast skies. Persistent drizzle. Temperatures in the low 40s (7ºC). I think fall has arrived!

In fall, we windsurf a lot. It was Sunday today, and windy, so we windsurfed. Driving to Duxbury through the rain and cold, I wondered if staying in front of the fireplace might not have been a better idea. I should have had more faith!

Duxbury looked good - not super-windy, but meter readings were around 25. Nina sailed her 4.5 in her semi-dry, no gloves, no hood. I wanted to be warm, so I used my tube suit (with the tubes), open palm mitts, and my new Gath visor helmet. Almost overkill - the water was still warm. So was I. Nina had to take a break after a few minutes to warm up her hands. I just blew through the tubes a few times. I like toasty hands a lot.

Sailing was interesting. Lots of kiters were in the bay, which is unusual. One of them explained to me that it was due to the very high tide - they sailed straight through the marsh, which apparently is a lot of fun. Not a thing to do on a windsurfer, though, so we stayed on the open water.

We had a nice obstacle course laid out for us. The high tide flushed out the dead reeds. Single stalks, up to 2-3 feet long, were not a big issue for our weed fins - unless you collected them before you had picked up speed. But apparently, dead reeds love company, and often form what I call "reed islands" that can be 6-8 feet across. Running into one of those at speed will slow you down big time, even with weed fins. I tried, just to confirm my suspicion. Confirmed. I was not going really fast, though, so no catapult.

Going around the reed islands was definitely a better idea. With the clouds and light drizzle, you'd typically have about 2 seconds from first seeing to hitting them, unless you changed course quickly. Fun. Maybe too much fun - I went back to the van and got my 21 cm MUF Delta fin. With a 55 degree rake angle and shallow depth, this fin sheds just about anything. Sailing was a lot more relaxed afterwards. Hitting a reed island would still cause a slowdown, but without any catapult danger.

The van still had all the small gear that we had put in recently for 35+ mph winds, so I sailed my 90 l slalom board - the big board stayed at home. So when the wind dropped a bit, I had a hard time to get planing. I did not really like schlogging the small board, so I kept the session short - barely longer than an hour. By then, the tide had started to go down, and the kite surfers went over to the ocean side.

So it was just a short session in light rain - but it was totally worth it. It reminded me that it is easy to stay perfectly comfortable and warm even when it gets colder outside and when the sun does not shine. Some of my windsurfing friends have started to get picky about the days they sail, sticking to the warmer days only. They don't have the right suits! I can't wait until Jon finally gets a few days off again so he can try his Ianovated suit. I really want to see the amazement in his face!

Tomorrow, I should get my second Ianovated suit. This one will be double nylon, and have a pee zipper - what a wonderful invention for older guys who like long windsurfing sessions! Since I'll have two Ianovated suits then, I'll be glad to let anyone try one of them. You just have to let me know, and come sail somewhere on Cape Cod!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Barn Good Island

Here a few things that I had heard and read recently:
  • "We need a good speed spot for south winds!"
  • "Sandy Point is one of the best speed spots in the world!"
  • "... sailed just downwind of Sandy Point. Man that was flat and fast"
  • "I always wanted to sail Sandy Point"
  • "South winds 35 mph, gusting to 60 mph"
No, these were not voices in my head - they were conversations with windsurfer friends, and things I picked up on The astute reader will realize that we are talking about two different Sandy Points here - the famous one in Australia, where Australian speedsurfers regularly break 45 knots; and the other one at the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, a 2 hour drive from Boston and Cape Cod. Here is a picture of our Sandy Point that I found on Google:
One big sandbar, perfect for speed! We just had to go check it out. I got so excited several days before that I could hardly sleep...

When the big wind day came, we were in the van at 9 am. The last forecast I had looked at predicted wind the whole day, with just a minor drop in the afternoon. The drive in our high roof van was quite interesting - the 40+ mph gusts were constantly trying to move the van off the lane. Nina slept for most of the trip, but I sure was wide awake!

When we arrived at the Barn Island boat ramp at 11, a number of local windsurfers were on the water, or already coming off from an early session. Some said they were other overpowered on 3.7, so we went small - 3.7 for Nina, and a 5.0 KA Koncept for me. I had only rigged this sail once before, and since forgotten a couple of things to watch out for, so it was 12 by the time I hit the water. No problem, the wind was still going strong! First order of business was sailing about 1200 meters upwind to the sandbar. The beginning was easy and flat, with only small and very orderly wind swell. But once I reached the deeper parts in the middle, the wind suddenly picked up, and I had to fight to keep my 90 l slalom board on the water. Even the 5.0 m speed sail felt a bit big at times!

As memorable as the upwind trip in 40 mph gusts was, it was no big deal in hindsight - I reached the sandbar in less than 20 minutes. After a short break to check it out a bit, I sailed across to where Dean was standing in the water. Just about then, the wind suddenly dropped - from 35 averages to less than 20:
That gave us a bit of time to chat. Dean loved the spot, and had already reached 36 knots in his first speed run, just before the wind started to drop. For a while, the only one of us who had a chance to plane was Nina on Dean's 6.2 m sail - and even she had to pump! But after a while, the wind returned a bit, just enough for me to get planing. I got one decent speed run in, where Dean served as the slingshot marker, and I caught a lucky gust just at the right time. That gave me a 2 second top speed of 31 knots - for me, that counts as very fast, even more so since I was just-so powered. But a few runs later, the wind dropped again, and we ended up schlogging back downwind to the start.

We all liked the spot a lot - it definitely has the potential for 40-knot runs when the conditions are right. Dean reached a new 2 second top speed, at least on one of his two GPS units. Here are his tracks for the day (check his blog for his report):
He got to the sandbar in time for some powered speed runs right next to the sandbar. I later compared our GPS tracks, and his speeds after 12:30, when I arrived, were very similar to my speeds. That really made me regret not getting there an hour earlier! But it was still a great day, with air temperatures in the high sixties - warm enough to sail in a short-sleeved 3 mm suit. We'll definitely be back!

Here is a short video: