Thursday, December 31, 2015

Safe Windsurf Travels

This is not really a post about windsurfing. If you are not a geek, stop reading now.

But some windsurfers travel a lot, and may sometimes worry a bit what's going on at home. Maybe that happened to us a bit last year, when we spent 6 weeks in Texas just as Cape Cod had record snow falls.

We sure won't give up traveling. So how about being able to see what's going on at home while traveling? Easy enough, with IP security cameras. After spending countless hours exploring options on Amazon, we spend about $100 for a nice IP camera - 720p, motion detection, infrared, pan, tilt, zoom, control from anywhere with you smart phone, and about 100 more features that can keep geeks occupied for days (hint: alarm relay out for voice alerts, bright LED lights, and who knows what else...).

We set up the camera before Nina and I left to visit family in Germany over Christmas. Did it work? No, of course not! The wifi-enabled light switches were not accessible, either. The DDNS provider logs showed no contact after the first day. Seems the network was down. I suspected the cable modem/router combo, which had acted up a few weeks earlier.

For almost two weeks, we worried a bit. Just a bit, but more than we would have without the camera. Back home, we discovered that the cable modem was indeed to blame. Or maybe the cable company. It seems that they had upgraded the firmware in the cable modem just after we left. Since we were using the modem in a non-standard way (just as a modem, with the router disabled), that apparently screwed up things. It required a reset to default settings and a few reboots before it worked again.

Obviously, we needed to add more geek toys to our system! The cable modem was replaced with a newer, faster model. The ancient router went back into hibernation, being replaced with a sleek new model. The new router now has a tethered Android phone that serves as a backup internet connection. If the cable modem acts up again, the router automatically switches to cellular data.

That's just part of the story. I won't bore you with security details like what happens when the camera detects motion, but it includes emails with snap shots as well as FTP and cloud uploads of videos and additional snapshots. Chances are that will never happen. The more relevant thing is that we will be able to see our beloved home from afar, and that we definitely will be able to turn up the heat before we get back.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 Was Great

Today was probably my last windsurf session for the year - I'll be flying to Germany tomorrow to visit family. A great ending to the year it was - a new spot, flat water, sunshine, and warm - mid-50s (12ºC) even on the water. I was hot the entire time I was sailing, but I'm not complaining!

Dean and I tried a new potential speed spot today - the Provincetown Breakwater. Here are the tracks:
The wind played games - it dropped for an hour, and it was a tad to northerly, making it hard to return to the launch. I sailed two different sails and three different boards, slogging at times on big gear, overpowered at other times on small gear - but it was fun! The spot definitely has potential in a straight west near high tide.

2015 was great:

  • 172 sessions 
  • 6600 km sailed (that's about the diameter of the earth)
  • 3 ABK camps
  • 4 weeks in Hatteras, 16 days in Brazil, and winter in Texas
  • New tricks, new personal bests, new friends
  • A great ECWF Cape Cod - the 3rd in a row, this year with the 2013 PWA Freestyle World Champion and really nice guy Kiri Thode
  • Nina's first Shove Its, first steps towards the Vulcan, and countless Duck Tacks
Since we moved to Cape Cod 3 years ago, it's gotten better every year. So I'm looking forward to 2016! See you on the water :-).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Shell Bank Encounter

It was a beautiful day: temperatures were warm for December (46ºF, 8ºC); the rain was only light and then stopped; the wind started at 19 mph, and then increased to 25. Who would not want to windsurf on such a great day?

NE wind and more rain on the Cape meant a trip to Duxbury Bay. The GPS tracks tell the story:
Lots of sailing - 94 km, more than 2 marathons. Three boards: 117 l slalom, then 110 l freestyle, then 96 l FSW. We needed to improve our distance numbers for the monthly ranking on the GPS Team Challenge. Drew came out to play and strapped on a GPS, so we'd have the required two postings. Distance it was!

On the smallest board, I was having a ball with my brand-new weed fin from CNCFins - the best weed fin I ever sailed. I could not get that baby to spin out, and I am good at spinning out. Loved it. Then I killed it. Or perhaps I should say the "Shell Bank" killed it.

I thought I knew Duxbury Bay - after all, this was my 59th windsurf session there. But I completely forgot that we usually sail at medium to high tide - say, water levels between 4 and 12 feet.
After sailing for 3 hours, though, the water level had dropped to 2 feet. I had sailed here only 4 times when the water was this low. The last couple of times, I had not problems, which I remembered. What I had forgotten was that I had broken a boom when sailing near low tide there the first time.

In NE wind, the water next to the barrier sand bar on the far side can be very flat. I like flat, so I sailed there. I stayed about 250 feet from shore; I'm not as crazy as some of my friends who go really close... but too close I was, it turned out.

I had never sailed this particular region near low tide. Everything seemed just fine, but all the sudden, the fin made loud, scratchy noises. Before I could start worrying about dinging the new fin, I heard a loud "clonk", and the board drifted sideways. I had lost the fin!

I spent the next 30 minutes walking through ankle- to knee-deep water, searching for the fin. After a while, Nina joined me, until I asked her to sail back and bring me a new fin and a screw driver. While she was gone, I found the fin, and almost broke into tears. I had ruined the best weed fin I had ever sailed! In the first session I used it!

When the lovely Nina arrived with a screw driver, I put the damaged fin back in, and sailed back slowly. Yes, I was bumming. But I also realized how lucky I was. Very close to were I had run into the shell bank (imagine a sand bar, but made of stones and covered with shells), several big stones just started to peek out of the water. There were barely visible, but even if I had noticed them when sailing, I would not have had enough time to avoid them. Hitting one of these stones at full speed certainly would have done major damage to whatever hit it - the board, or ever my head.

The next lucky thing in all this was that CNCFins had licensed the fin design to Tectonics Maui. Fortunately for me, Tectonics does not use the usual round brass nuts to hold the fin screw; instead, they just put a thread into the hard plastic that the fin box adapter is made of. That allowed the fin to come off the board cleanly. Much better than ripping the while fin box out! And much better than catapulting me onto my gear, which probably would have resulted in a hole in the sail, a broken boom, or hitting the ground really hard. Amazingly, I was even able to screw the fin back into the board without any problems! Must be Wonderthread.

The fin was not cheap, so I won't be able to just buy a new one right away. The damage is too deep to just sand it out. So I'll try to first add material (marine tex), and then sand it back down to the original profile. We'll have to see how that works. It's something I wanted to learn, anyway - just not with a brand new fin!
On a brighter note: everybody else had a fun, damage-free session. Nina waited until the wind picked up and the tide dropped before going out, and then did her usual freestyle magic. Drew mowed the lawn quite nicely, even beating my 5 x 10 sec average speed, and helped up jump 6 spots in the monthly GPSTC ranking. Nice way to go for the first "real" posting on the GPSTC!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Will It Be?

Check out the wind forecast for Chapin for tomorrow:
The pictures shows two computer model predictions: the NAM model on the left, and the GFS on the right. The interesting time is around 1 pm. NAM predicts 19 mph. GFS predicts 29 mph, which would be fantastic. Which will it be?

The NAM model is intended to be more accurate - it calculates the weather at a higher resolution than the GFS model. Let's check the forecast map for tomorrow at 1 pm. Here is the NAM map from
There's a "low wind bubble" where Cape Cod extends out into the ocean. The GFS model does not have this bubble:
Does it matter which model is right? Sure it does! Many reasons:
  • 19 mph is barely worth rigging; any less, and we'd need huge sails; but 29 mph is prefect
  • We can't wait until 4 pm, when both models predict wind - it gets dark at 3:30.
  • It will be warm (50ºF, 10ºC) and sunny tomorrow after noon.
  • It has not been windy for a while.
So, which model will turn out to be right? Often when we see such discrepancies, the GFS model is closer to the truth, especially in the fall. Sometimes, the wind comes in even stronger than the GFS model predicts. But sometimes, the "light wind bubble" that the NAM model predicts actually happens. For tomorrow, my bet is on the GFS - but windsurfers have to be optimists. So watch the meters!