Monday, October 12, 2015

GoPro Replacement Test

I got the original GoPro five years ago as a gift from my lovely wife, and have been using it ever since. I'm still perfectly happy with the video quality. Well, I mean the sharpness, color, and so on; not what I'm doing when I film myself windsurfing - I am still making some of the same mistakes that I made 5 years ago...

I never felt the need to upgrade my GoPro to a newer and fancier model. But with two windsurfers who dabble in freestyle a bit in the family, it sometimes would make sense to have two cameras. Spending another $300-$500 on a second GoPro seems excessive - even more so when you consider mounting the camera to the nose of the board, where it might get smashed by the mast at any moment. So I bought a cheap GoPro lookalike camera on for $55.

It came two days later in a box that does not even have a brand label. No big surprise here - there seem to be about 100 different "brands" available on Amazon that all look the same. The one I got has 1080p recording, a 2 inch LCD screen WiFi, and all the usual attachments, which includes a waterproof housing. It came with a little manual that is minimal, but has all the necessary information.

My inner geek was eager to see how easy it would be to use the WiFi to transfer data from the camera to my Android phone that I got to use with GPSLogit. Piece of cake, as long as you RTFM ("read the fine manual"). Transferring photos and videos to the iPhone or iPad is just as easy. Cool!

But the real test was on the water. With my GoPro, I'd usually shoot in 960p mode. That may be old-fashioned, but it gives me more height, so I can see my head and feet at the same time when I use the Clew-View mount. Some of you might be tempted to say that seeing the head is optional, and surely a sign of vanity - but there are some moves where it is important where you look and where you step. My little "eXuby X1000 Action Camera", however, does not have such a mode - I only can choose between 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 60 fps. So in my first windsurfing test, my head was missing from the picture (no jokes, please!).

But yesterday, I managed to put the camera into the right position, and got some decent videos. Here's one example:
Make sure to watch the movie in the highest quality (1080p). Even then, keep in mind that the quality of what you see on YouTube is significantly lower than the original quality, since YouTube down samples the movies to reduce how much data they have to stream. Nevertheless, I think it gives you at least an idea that the quality is decent. Here's another movie:
To give you a better idea of the quality, here are a couple of screen shots I took from the original movie:
You know you can click on the image to see a larger version, right?
The camera seems to have a bit of a tendency to focus on things that are close, like the water droplets, and leave things farther away a bit less sharp. But I'd say it's pretty good for a $55 camera. It's not quite as vivid as the original GoPro, and the dynamic range seems a bit lower, which is noticeable in scenes taken against a very bright background:
Sure, I am bright, but not that bright.

Overall, though, I have to say that I am impressed by the little camera. It's smaller than the original GoPro (I guess about the same size as the current models), and weight maybe half as much. The housing is a bit thinner, and the lens seems to be rather soft plastic that may scratch easily.

The camera splits the movies into 10-minute segments, which I don't see as a problem; even my GoPro would split movies, albeit into about 40-minute segments.  The one thing that is missing is a remote. None of the cheap cameras I looked at originally had one; some models that are closer to $100 in price have one, but the reviews say it does not work well, and the descriptions don't state that the remote is water proof. But disk storage is cheap - shoot a lot and pick the good scenes later works just fine.
Some of my avid readers may have noticed new colors in the videos and pictures above. Yes, I did get a new sail - a Gaastra Matrix 6.5 from 2015. My current 6.5 (a Gaastra Pilot) is falling apart and needed to be replaced. I have already had the Matrix in 5.5, 6.0, 7.0, and 7.5, so when I saw the 6.5 offered with a Fall discount, I just could not resist. I have sailed it a couple of times now, and I absolutely love the sail. My other Matrix sails are older, maybe 2010-2013, and this one has brighter colors and quite a few design changes. It looks racier, with an inset clew and a bottom batten that pokes downwards quite a bit. But it's still perfectly easy to duck jibe. It also switches quite well between old-school freestyle on my Fanatic Skate 110 and a bit of speed sailing on my RRD XFire 90, feeling perfectly at home on both boards. Nice! But the biggest surprise came in the jibes: somehow, this sail makes it really easy to plane out of jibes. I'm not sure what it is - the sail flip feels easy, and the re-acceleration is fast and smooth. But whatever it is, I like it! I even planed out of a duck jibe in marginal conditions. Another magical sail added to my collection! Let the fall winds come :-).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Windsurfing Nirvana

Windsurfing nirvana. That's what Bart said after sailing in Duxbury Bay for the first time. His words, not mine. He continued to write "I wish I had known/sailed this place before". Alex, who also sailed in Duxbury Bay for the first time yesterday, wrote "Gene and I both had an absolute blast". 

Ok, I liked it too. No big surprise for me, since I have had many great sessions in Duxbury. But before you all get excited, let me put things into perspective. Check my GPS tracks from yesterday:
Did you notice that runs are 3 miles (almost 5 kilometers) long? Most windsurfers I know would die of boredom halfway through the run. So sue me, but my idea of fun is a bit different. Maybe I had a good reason to like the long runs. I was aiming to get a good 1-hour average speed for the GPS Team Challenge. My jibes are currently a bit broken - not wet, but rarely planed through. So I needed long runs with few jibes to get a good average. If came out reasonably well - 20.78 knots, a new personal best. For me, that's fast. 

But Dean also showed up. He has the annoying habit of sailing 3-5 knots faster than I do, even if we are on very similar gear. He set a new personal best for the hour, to, at 23.1 knots. But that's great - at least for a little while, the Fogland Speedsurfers have the #1 ranking in the 1 hour category for the month. Only 23 teams have posted sessions so far, and we will probably slide down a few spots before the end of the month, but for now it's great.

Another thing that can be great in Duxbury Bay is that the outer sandbar minimizes the chop. In the area where we were sailing, the chop ranged from a few inches to a foot or so, and it was quite orderly. Here's a short movie just to show the conditions:
I was on a 6.0 m sail and a 96 l board. I later switched to my 90 l slalom board to go a bit faster.

A lot of windsurfers I know probably fell asleep trying to watch the video - no waves, not even decent chop. What can I say - Duxbury Bay is for flat water lovers! Well, at least the part closer to the outer sandbar is, when the wind is NE-ENE. The one time that I ventured closer to the main land, about a mile away from the sandbar, I found some sizable chop that could compare to Kalmus on a typical SW day. There's even a launch there, close to the harbor, for those who love chop. But I like my water flat.

If you also like flat water and consider checking out Duxbury, let me give you a few warnings. The "nirvana" conditions that we had yesterday happen only if the wind direction is just right, between NE and ENE (it was 50-55ยบ yesterday). In NNE wind, the bay on the south side of Powder Point Bridge can be much less pleasant. Then, the bridge throws a surprisingly long wind shadow, so you'd have to sail away from it. And while the chop lines up nicely parallel to a beam reaches in NE-ENE, you will head straight into it in N-NE wind directions. We're talking about short, steep chop here - no fun at all!

So in more northerly wind directions, the smaller part of the bay on the north side of the bridge is better for sailing. But for the north side, you really need to watch the tide levels. At water levels below 4 feet, many parts of the northern bay are too shallow for windsurfing. I proved that repeatedly by running aground at full speed a few years ago; fortunately, the only thing that broke was a boom. Even at intermediate tides, the marsh islands stick out of the water and disturb the wind, making it quite gusty. Later, near high tide, the same islands are fully covered by water, which can make normal fins dangerous. But freestylers with mini-fins and kiters love it.  Finally, when the high tide goes down, the current can get strong - I and others have been swept under the bridge when falling close to it, and the wind near the bridge was not strong enough to waterstart. Not a big problem with a windsurfer, but kites can get stuck. Also, as we get later into the fall, the outgoing tide will flush out a lot of dead reads, which can stop you dead in your tracks even with a weed fin. That gets better towards low tide, but keep in mind that most of Duxbury Bay can become unsailable if the tide drops to very low levels. The nominal water depth even on the south side is often just 1-2 feet, and spring tides (near full or new moon) can drop the water level to -2 feet.

But when the conditions are just right, the northern part of the bay can be a lot of fun in N-NNE wind. Here are some GPS tracks from last Thursday:
The little grass island in the middle create some perfectly flat water just behind it that is good for some short speed runs when the water level is just right. It let me finally reach 31 knots again, for the first time in almost 2 years! Fun! A short trip to the southern part of the bay, however, was misguided - very gusty winds and nasty chop drove me back to the northern part right away. Nina was smarter and stayed on the north side, playing with freestyle and having a blast.

The windiest day of the 4-day nor'easter was last Friday, but we decided to stay inside - too much rain! Our bodies also wanted a little break before two more days of sailing. On Saturday, we went to Orleans for a speed session with Dean, Alex, and Gene. The wind was a bit lighter and gustier than expected, but still fun on 4.2-6.2 m sails. The 6.2 was Dean's sail, who set a new personal best for the spot with 35.94 knots. In most months, we count our rankings by how far away from the bottom we are - 5th from the bottom counts as a good result. But together with yesterday's numbers, the Saturday session put us into the top half of the monthly ranking (9th of 23 teams). Four different team members contributed - Dean, Al, Bart, and Peter. Great to see three of the fast guys on the team sailing at the same time! For the rest of the month, I plan ignore the GPS TC rankings, since we'll only get pushed down as the other teams get good conditions. Unless, of course, we get another nor'easter - I bet that Dean and Bart can improve their nautical mile numbers for the month by a few knots!