Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Back from Tobago

Tobago: warm water; wind; palm trees; beer on the beach; bake & salt fish for breakfast. We left it behind us to go back to the cold. Don't ask me why - I'm not sure I know.
We planed every day, but had to work for it on most days. But the view!
I love sailing over corals. It's so darn beautiful. I used a 6.6 m sail most often, sometimes 6.9-7.3. When I tried going down to 6.2 or 5.8, I ended up underpowered two out of three times.
We had just two or three days where the wind was light enough for light wind freestyle, and even then, at least the gusts were in the "pesky" category. That did not keep the lovely Nina from working on duck tacks and more. She kept nailing away at duck tacks even when planing, hoping to sail way dry from the second one and getting close.
I had better success with my newest trick - breaking fins. I pushed hard whenever the opportunity arose, and was twice rewarded with success.
The second time, I had not pushed hard enough - the fin remain attached by a few threads, you can see it hanging out to the side. Put sailing like this for a minute removed it completely:
The second time, I was close to shore, so I could just swim the gear in. Breaking fins off appears to be popular in Tobago - I saw at least two more examples that I had no part in. I think the corals are the problem - at low tide, there are many shallow spots. Stops are sometimes very sudden - the sound of windsurfers catapulting sometimes rivals the sound of beginner kites slapping down onto the water. Well, at least almost. Fins usually do not break off right away, but they loose their will to live, and give up at a random point in time a few hours, days, or weeks later.

The predominant wind direction in Tobago is east. That means the wind comes over land. Wind does not like land. It gets grumpy and gusty. On a typical east wind day, you will be underpowered to the point that schlogging becomes difficult, and then completely overpowered a minute later. If you're lucky enough for the wind to hold up from a few minutes and (like me) enjoy this without jibing, you end up in voodoo chop that can teach the famous voodoo chop in Kalmus a thing or two - the current from the tides can be very strong. It creates waves that almost seem to be standing still. Staying on a plane there with marginal power is hard; planing out of jibes harder; and re-accelerating without a lucky gust almost impossible. With time, windsurfers learn, and stay closer to the launch, or go upwind to smoother waters.

Northeast winds are different. The wind comes side-shore and is steady! What a treat! We got northeast winds for an hour on the late afternoon one day, and for two entire days after that. Nice! I sailed out to the reef. Waves were about 3 meters high. I don't sail waves. Still, I thought I might be able to sneak in from the side and catch something small. Then, my harness spreader bar broke. Maybe I am getting to fat. Back to shore it was once more. The lovely Nadia gave me a rental harness - a waist harness. Everyone who watch the Peter Hart videos knows that waist harness require a waist. I don't have one, unless I pull my ab muscles in really hard and hold my breath. That works beautifully for 5 seconds in front of the mirror. It does not work when windsurfing. Trust me, I tried. I ended up with a chest harness that compressed my ribs. Not fun. Back in once again. Desperate digging unearthed an old seat harness which worked better, at least for a while.

The gear that I had originally been assigned was a Fanatic Shark 120. I think that's a nice board, but a bit bigger and heavier than I am used to. The nose protector, which is absolutely essential here, did not help the weight, either. On the windiest days, I ended up using a Hawk 100 that was always available. On less windy days, I used a Gecko 105. I really liked the Gecko - at 69 cm wide, it planed up very quickly, faster than the Shark 120 (at least for me). But the front footstraps are so far outside that getting toes across the center line was impossible - not a board to learn new school freestyle on. The much narrower Hawk had better foot strap positions, but I could only pop it when powered on a beam reach. As soon as I tried to turn downwind even a bit, I could not get the fin out of the water anymore. There went my Grubby plans.

Nina had hoped to use the only freestyle board in the rental fleet, a Fanatic Skate 100 that was less than 3 months old. She had inquired about it before we booked, and we might have picked a different spot for our vacation if they had not had a freestyle board. But when she took it out the first day, she noticed that it had pretty substantial damage on the nose that needed to be repaired first. She was told that the repair would take 7 days. For the rest of our 11-day vacation, the board was just lying around in the back racks, without any attempts to repair it. It seems the only person qualified to repair was not around for most of the time we were there...

This was the second time we visited Tobago, after a 5-year break. The windsurf rental place has improved a lot in these five years - they now have new Fanatic & North gear, new changing rooms, a locked area to store harnesses and lycras overnight, and a lot more little things. We also had better wind than last time, partly because we were there in February instead of December, but maybe we also got lucky. Despite the little snafus, we definitely had a great time, and were glad that we had picked Tobago for this year's trip. It is a beautiful island, very different from Bonaire, and we will probably be back sometime. But we also came away with a bit more appreciation of the steadier and slightly stronger winds in Bonaire; the perfect freestyle conditions there and in Hatteras; and many other things that one starts taking for granted when always returning to the same place.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Harness Fin

We escaped the snow and cold and flew to Tobago. It's beautiful here, and we have had planeable wind for four days in a row, albeit with larger sails (up to 5.8 for Nina, 7.3 for me). Between lighter winds, surprisingly strong currents, and chop, working on new tricks is hard, but Caribbean water lawns have to be mowed, too.

Since out last time here 5 years ago, Radical Sports Tobago has become a Fanatic Center. Besides nice Fanatic boards, a lot of other things have improved, too. New bath and changing rooms, storage areas, SUPs, lines to dry stuff - many little things that make life on the beach a bit better. The best new thing, though, is I think the beer-filled fridge :-)

A couple of days ago, I finally got the opportunity to test how well a harness works as a fin replacement. I was about a kilometer away from shore in deep water when I suddenly had a rather dramatic spinout. When I turned the board around, I saw that the fin had cleanly broken off right at the board. On the 100 l board, sailing without the fin did not work for me, so I strapped the harness around the rear foot strap and tried again. That worked surprisingly well - I was able to waterstart and head back towards shore. Work it was, though! I had to take breaks every few minutes, and even tried to sit on the board and practice the emergency signal. Alas, nobody noticed, so back to drag sailing it was. After I had made it about half the way, I managed to get the attention of another windsurfer, who sailed to shore and told the Radical Sports guys. He came back with instructions: I should sit on the board so they could see me, and also to conserve energy. I did so for a few minutes, only to drift towards the reef and open ocean, without any sign that they were getting one of their boats ready - so back to sailing it was. A bit later, I was able to reach ground, and walked in. One of the kitesurf instructors came by to check on me, and offered to keep me company - much appreciated. But by then, I was close to shore, and made it back soon after.

The warm waters here are certainly a great place to practice sailing with a harness fin. I think I ended up getting a bit better at it towards the end - at the beginning, I probably muscled it a bit. This could have been a lot less pleasant if it had happened at home, in almost freezing water (although we always sail in onshore winds when it's that cold). Still, I think I will retire fins early in the future, hopefully before they break apart on the water. A new excuse to buy new gear is always welcome!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

10 Reasons to learn the Grubby

It's the coldest time of the year - lots of snow, but not much opportunity to windsurf. So the mind games start... even more so since the annual trip to the warm Caribbean waters is coming up. Nina says this is the year that we need to learn new school freestyle - pop, slide and spin instead of just back and forth. Perhaps I agree with her. Or maybe I'll remain in my old mental state - the  "lawn-mowing chicken".

I don't want to remain a chicken. I need motivation. Here's the move I'm thinking about:

It's the Grubby. I need motivation to try it. So here are 10 reasons to try the Grubby:
  1. The Grubby is one of the easiest new school moves.
  2. You don't need to switch hands or feet.
  3. It looks cool.
  4. It can be planed through.
  5. You can do it when you're just barely planing (as Danielle and Maxime show).
  6. Crashes hurt less than Loop or Vulcan crashes, because you're always holding on to the sail.
  7. You can add a jibe at the end for a really cool, fully planing turn.
  8. Fellow blogger Fish has been doing Grubbies for 10 years.
  9. When Andy Brandt tried to do Grubbies, he ended up looping. That's a perfectly acceptable outcome.
  10. I blogged about it again - time to do it!
I like steps to measure progress. The Vulcan makes this difficult, since you need to pop, turn, and flip the sail, all within less than one second. To complicated for my simple mind. Here are steps for the Grubby:
  1. Pop the board, fin nicely out of the water.
  2. Push the nose down to create a rotation point.
  3. Turn the board 90º downwind. Try doing that by sheeting in at take off. 
  4. Turn the board 180º.
  5. Keep the weight forward so that the board slides backwards.
  6. Push out with the sail hand, let the mast hand come in, to complete the rotation.
  7. Sail away dry.
  8. Plane through.
  9. Add a jibe, sail duck, or downwind 360 at the end.
The only part I've done before was step 1, but it's been a while (chop hops are different!). I'll be quite happy if I make it to step 5. Maybe I'll spend some time on step 3, trying to get a feeling for different ways of turning the board. I think that some new school moves primarily use sail steering, while others rely more on twisting and unwinding the body to rotate the board while in the air. Playing around a bit with this may be worth the effort. For all those crashes, Tobago has a definitive advantage over Bonaire: much less sand in the board shorts afterwards, since the water is deeper! But it will be just as warm and sunny :-).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Fogland Speedsurfers January Challenge Results

The Australians have brought us the GPS Team Challenge (GPSTC), and one of the Australian team has come up with a clever format for a monthly internal competition: every month, each team sailor that has posted sessions to the GPS Teach Challenge site gets ranked against all other team sailors that have posted - with a twist. Most teams have a wide range of sailors, some very fast and some not so fast, and a straight competition based just on speed would usually not be interesting, with the fastest guys always winning. So the Burrum Heads M.O.B. team decided to normalize each sailors speed relative to the personal best from the year before. So if Hans Fastmeister had a 2-second top speed of 50 knots last year, and reached 40 knots in his fastest session in January, he'd get a score of 80 (percent) for January. Scoring can be done for one of the GPSTC categories, or for several or even all six categories.

In effect, each windsurfer is competing only against himself or herself. Anyone who sails close to his or her personal records can beat the fastest guy in the team! For any team members who are competitive, a little monthly competition like this can give extra incentive to go sailing, and try a little harder. Since I'd love to see more sessions posted by members of our Fogland Speedsurfers team, we'll copy the idea and run a monthly challenge for the Fogland Speedsurfers. January in the northeast USA is perhaps not the best month to start, but we had four sailors posting sessions. Here are the January results:

I decided to exclude distance for January, since it was a bit too cold to go for distance (although the results would have been very similar). The winner in every single discipline and overall is Nikita - congrats! Here are the top speeds posted for January:

In all fairness, I have to say that neither Martin nor Nina actually went for speed in January; both were working on freestyle tricks, but humored me and put on a GPS when asked. Martin beat me in the rankings because he never goes for speed; Nina placed last because she has gone for speed before, and has sailed about 50% faster on slalom gear than she usually does on freestyle gear.

We'll keep this challenge going for the entire year. I think we'll add one modification, though: scores will be normalized to the personal bests at the end of the preceding month. At the end of the year, we'll sum up the 10 months with the highest scores for each sailor, and crown a winner for the year. So, my Fogland Speedsurfer friends, get ready to hit the water in March (or, better yet, February)!