Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Amazing Sail

That's what she said.
Nina on a Loft Racing Blade 7.0 in 14 knots
I agreed. That's pretty much the story. The impatient can stop reading now.

For the patient reader, we'll go back in time. Ever since I owned more than 2 sails, I had a mix of different styles and brands. At some point, I came close to have a collection ranging from 5.5 to 7.5 square meters of the same model .. only to discover that the manufacturer had totally changed the character of the sail, but kept the name, when I bought the last missing size. Bummer!

When I started to dabble in speedsurfing, things got worse. The first sail I bought was the sail that had held the top speed on for years: a 2007 KA Koncept 5.8. The fact that the sail was about 5 years old and a real bargain made the purchasing decision easier. Even though the sail was supposedly developed for light weight surfers (which I am certainly not!), I liked it. Over the years, the 5.8 Koncept got larger and smaller speed sail companions - some where gifts (thanks, Dani!), the others were bought used and cheap. They were all decent sails that had a well-established fan base - but they also all rigged and behaved differently, and I can't say I loved any of them.

In stark contrast, my lovely wife approaches windsurfing in a much more orderly way. Once she discovered that (a) freestyle was her thing, and (b) she liked North Idols, she made sure she had the whole quiver: 4.0, 4.2, 4.5, 4.7, and 5.0. I also bought a 5.6, but she never uses that one. So she can use a sail that feels pretty much the same, regardless if it's blowing 18 or 30. Maybe that has something to do with her being so good.

While freestyle is Nina's first love on the water, she also likes slalom and speed on occasion (for example when she can leave tons of guys behind at a Kashy/WET slalom regatta). When it was time to replace my old Koncept 5.8, we ended up buying a "barely" used Loft Racing Blade 5.6 from Boro. I have not yet had a chance to use it, but Nina sailed in both both light and strong wind, and loved it both times. That alone is quite unusual - the other racing and speed sails we sailed usually did not behave well in light conditions if they were great in strong wind, and vice versa. But I had an opportunity to sail a Loft Racing Blade 7.8 last year, when Boro visited, and liked the sail a lot.

We had also bought a used Loft Switchblade 7.8 earlier this year. That's not a full race sail, since it has only 3 cams and a narrower mast sleeve, but it has plenty of low-end power and top-end stability. More importantly, both Nina and I like it a lot (Nina especially if I rig it and then the wind drops, so she does not have to rig it or carry it to the water).

So when our fellow speedsurfer Al from New Jersey reported that he had bought several Loft racing sails from Poland, Nina started talking - "wouldn't it be great if we also had the same sail for speed in all different sizes"? Who am I to disagree? So we placed an order for 3 sails (5.0, 6.3, and 7.0), one mast, and a few more things. That included a couple of mast bases and extensions, since the racing sails need 3 pulleys, and all RDM extensions sold for the "US" 2-pin system have only two pulleys. This ended up being the biggest order for windsurf gear we had ever placed - with a shop in Europe that we had never done business with!

But within less than 2 weeks, everything arrived in perfect shape. Even the weather played along: yesterday was windless but nice to allow for some practice rigging and batten tuning; today, we got perfect wind to try the 7.0.

At first glance, today looked less than perfect. It was rainy and cold (57ºF, 14ºC) in the morning, and the wind meter readings were just around 20 mph. That may sound good, but the Duxbury meter tends to read high, since it's sitting on a very tall pole that has a much better fetch than a windsurfer in the bay. For my older MS TR-7 race sail, that would have been marginal wind - I would have chosen to rig the 7.8 instead. But the new sail needed to be tested, so out I went. Here are the GPS tracks:
A few things to note:

  • I was planing the entire time until the wind dropped near the end of the session (when averages dropped to 17 mph, then 15).
  • I planed through a whole bunch of jibes. That's amazing since I often have problems when jibing cambered sails.
  • At the end, I switched gear with Nina, who had a total blast on the slalom gear (117 l board, 7.0 sail) in 15 mph wind. I had somewhat less fun sailing her 90 l board / 5.0 m sail back to shore. The board plaid submarine most of the time - U-Boot windsurfing is not so much fun.
I was quite amazed how much power I had in the relatively light wind. At the same time, this was "easy power" - the sail never felt heavy. Nina said it felt "like a freestyle sail", and I have to agree. On land, the sail feels a lot heavier than a freestyle sail - on the water, not so. Even the slogging, which can be a pain on some race sails, was nice and easy. The wind was too weak to test top end stability, with gusts never exceeding 24 mph, but the "locked-in" feeling was superb - substantially better than in the Switchblade 7.8, which does already feel very stable. My 2-second top speed today was 33 mph- that's 13 mph faster than the average wind speed, and 9 mph faster than the strongest gusts during the session, quite decent by my standards. I can't wait to see how the sail does in strong wind and on my speed board!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Surprise Fun

The wind has been pretty light this summer, so when I saw gusts above 20 mph today, I just had to go sailing. Despite a few light wind freestyle and longboard sessions, my withdrawal symptoms were strong enough to overlook a few minor issues. Kalmus was the only spot showing halfway decent wind, but the wind was from the northwest - offshore and not a good direction for Kalmus. According to the iWindsurf meter, it was rather gusty:
Gusty, offshore, best wind probably in Lewis Bay: a longboard day! When I got to the beach, I could see lots of white caps a few hundred meters from shore, so I rigged the Loft SwitchBlade 7.8. That's usually not my preferred longboard sail, but 3 cams and tons of stability meant I did not have to worry about strong gusts. What followed was more than 2 hours of fun in what felt like my most-powered longboard session ever. Here are the tracks:
At times, I was in both back foot straps on holding on with all I had, 10 feet of board fully out of the water in front of me. At times, I briefly thought that a slalom board might have been fun too, but almost every time, the wind would drop to sub-planing within a minute or two. The speed graph shows the variability quite well - I was mostly just going back and forth on a beam reach, where the board speed is typically close to the wind speed. On a slalom board with the same sail, I probably would have slogged often, which is no fun; on the longboard, I felt lightning fast most of the time. In gusts, the wind was strong enough for deep downwind runs, but the chop was about a foot high, which slowed the longboard down with every little wave I crossed. Threading the chop on a course close to a beam reach ended up a lot faster, and less scary.

As much fun as that was, I am looking forward to September, when the crowds are gone, all beaches are open for windsurfing again, and the wind (hopefully!) returns. Just three more weeks! Lots of fun action in September, too:

  • The ABK Camp Hyannis from September 8-10. I hope all you local windsurfers have signed up already - the camp has sold out every year in the last 4 or 5 years!
  • The East Coast Windsurfing Festival Cape Cod on September 16-17. Fun races, freestyle competition, GPS racing, and probably some cool demo gear - sign up and join the fun! We'll start this year with a "Beer Social" at Kelly's on Main Street in Hyannis on Friday, September 15, at 7 pm.