Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Battle For First Place

Fangy's Weed Farm looked peaceful today:
Yesterday? A very different story! In the monthly rankings on the GPS Team Challenge, two local teams were tied for first place: the Mandurah Mob and the Pinnaroos. It was time for a showdown!

Our host Mike, team captain of the Mobsters, barely waited for the first white caps to show up on the ocean to head out to Coodanup, where Fangy's Weed Farm creates some of the flattest water I have ever seen. In 2017, this was perhaps the secret weapon that brought the Mobsters the victory in the battle for first place in Australia - but since then, large groups of "pesky Pinnas" have invade the weed farm on a regular basis. Yesterday was another invasion day - 6 Pinnas showed up hoping the good forecast would come true, matching the number of Mobsters.

But the Mobsters had a good plan: go for distance, and perhaps improve the 1-hours speeds at the same time. I tried to help with the only thing I could think off: distract the Pinnaroos' team captain by offering her jibe advice, and even showing her a bit of sail chi on shore. This kept her too busy to advice her team mates on strategy - although in all fairness, it might have been too late by then, since Mike and his team mate Slugger already had been on the water for a couple of hours.

My little sail chi distraction did serve a second purpose: it made me hit the water just as the wind picked up, so I was very nicely powered on my 7.0/112 combo right away. I had planned on giving some more jibe advice on the water, but had way too much fun on the flat water to stop. The wind direction (SSW) was perfect in that it created really nice long runs, so I changed my plans and went for 1-hour speed instead. Whoever invented this category for the GPS Team Challenge must love going back and forth as much as I. The "short" runs were about 1.5 km long, mostly right at the edge of the weed, but sometimes just below weed beds in "chitter-chatter" water, and a few times straight through the middle of the weed (made possible by the incredible Fangy Fins).

All the time, I saw Mike and Slugger go back and forth like the real speed machines they are. A few times, I followed Mike around, but I had to really concentrate on speed, or he would have left me behind very quickly. Impressive!

At the end of the day, the deed was done: the Mobsters had jumped to second place in the distance ranking for the month, and also improved their ranking in the 1 hour category, jumping way ahead of the pesky Pinna invaders:
I had a blast watching the action from the water, and got inspired to try harder. This time around, I sailed in my favorite conditions: lighter wind (perhaps 22 knots) and big gear (7.0/112/22). Jibing was just too much fun, and the wind direction also had the alpha markers in a perfect position, so it was no big surprise that Nina and I both improved our personal bests in the alpha 500 category a bit. When I looked at the postings from the Pinnas and the Mobsters, however, I was in for another surprise: of the 14 windsurfers from the two teams and the "USA" team, I ended up with the fastest 1-hour and 2-second numbers! The hour was perhaps not surprising, since that's perhaps my best category; but the 2-second "top speed" category was a big surprise. I'll blame it on the new "Stroppo's Curves" approach, which I tried many times in the middle of the runs. Big thanks, Stroppo!
Here's a table with the results from the 14 sailors from the 3 teams at Coodanup yesterday, with rankings in each category and an overall ranking (the sum of all categories):
Mark ended up in first place - well deserved, he set three personal bests that day! I ended up in second place overall, which makes me very happy. In conditions I'm familiar with, I'm not half bad after all! It's good that I did not get first place overall - that would have inflated my ego way too much, probably enough to have my head explode. Chances are I would not mind much since I'd die in a state of happiness, but I'd be really sorry for Mike and Dot having to clean up the mess!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

40 Knots Or Not

It was wicked windy a few days ago when a big storm system pulled through. We followed the local experts who drove an hour south to Australind, looking for the strongest wind and the best spot for westerlies. Once we got there, the rain and chop made it quite uninviting. After driving up and down the bay looking in vain for a spot that was both flat deep enough, the final straw came when Hardie sent a screen shot from his top speed at Mandurah: he had gotten a 40-knot reading on his GT-31!

Back we drove, and sailed in Mandurah Bay at Coodanup. For once, it did not deserve the name "Fangy's Weed Farm", since a high storm surge covered the weed completely. The there actually was some chop - although it should more correctly be labeled "mini-chop", since it was just maybe 5 or 10 centimeters high. To keep things interesting, the weed had ganged up at some spots, building "weedbergs" (the weedy equivalent of icebergs) which were big enough for birds to stand on. Sailing into these at speed created interesting "sudden drag" situations, but the high-rake fins we used parted the weedbergs without catapults.

I ended up with a top 2-second speed of 33.6 knots and 32.6 knots for 5x10 seconds, which is the 3rd-best I ever did. Nina got two new personal bests for 2 seconds (32.6 knots) and 5x10 (31.5 knots). However, we both ended up disappointed, since our top speeds were about 5 knots slower than the speeds many others got, and almost 10 knots slower that the 42.3 knots that Stroppo, speed king of the day, posted!

Here's a summary of the local speed surfers' top speeds (2 seconds):
  • Fastest speed: 42.288 knots (Stroppo)
  • Above 40 knots: 5 sailors
  • 37-39.9 knots: 8 sailors
  • 31-34 knots: 9 sailors
  • Spots with 40+ knot results: Coodanup (3), Australind (1), Melville (1)
The numbers may change a bit since not everyone has posted yet; I think we'll see at least one 40+ knot posting.

Seeing these numbers made me feel a bit better, because we're at least in the largest group. The spread of 10 knots is quite amazing - what causes it? There is probably a small contribution that the gear makes. For example, whenever a heavy gust hit, Nina was very overpowered on her 5.0 meter sail and 54 cm speed board. Stroppo, who is close to twice her weight, used a 6.0 and a 47 speed board - no surprise he was able to stay in control! Sail sizes should (in first approximation) increase of decrease in proportion to weight, so Nina's sail should have been somewhere in the 3.x meter range, or at least much closer to 4 square meters. I was on a 5.6 m sail, which is close to what most guys my weight used. My board was an 89 l slalom board, and about 10 cm wider than the speed boards used by most others, which might have slowed me down by a couple of knots. Indeed, when I got hold of Nina's speed board for a run, I did immediately got my best speed of the day. But looking at the faster windsurfers, there's still a 3 to 5 knot difference between the fastest guys and the next group.

Our host Mike, who did 37.7 knots on a 4.7/43 combo, gave me his GPS tracks to compare to ours. Here is a polar diagram which shows the maximum speed relative to the wind direction for Nina (in red) and Mike (in blue):
The left half of the diagram shows the starboard tack runs, the right half the port tack runs. On starboard, Nina's and Mike's speed were about the same for most angles; but Mike went deeper downwind, and reached a slightly higher top speed at about 137 degrees. On the port tack (right side), Mike's speeds were about 2-3 knots faster than Nina's over a wide range. Again, he went deeper downwind, and got his top speed at about 145 degrees. Going about 15 degrees deeper increased his speed by about 3 knots.
After the session, Nina said that she simple could not go deeper because she was so overpowered. She was on a 5.0 m sail and a 54 cm wide board; Mike was on a 4.7 and a 43 cm wide board. Seeing how deep Mike's top speed angles were, he was certainly fully powered even on the deepest angles, where the apparent wind is significantly lower than when sailing on a beam reach (90 degrees to the wind).
The difference between the starboard and port tracks points to another very important factor: being familiar with the conditions. There was enough chop to make both Nina and me "put on the handbrakes" - we were definitely not going all-out. We both felt more comfortable doing speed runs on starboard, even though port was the better (inbound) direction. I think that is because at our typical sailing spot, Kalmus Beach in Hyannis, we generally go out against the chop, and come in more parallel and over the back of the chop. So we are much more used to dealing with chop on the starboard track.

It is also interesting to compare Mike's track to Stroppo's tracks, since Stroppo was significantly faster than anyone else. Here is the polar diagram (Mike in blue, Stroppo in green):

Stroppo did not do any speed runs on starboard, so we can ignore the left half of the diagram. On the port side, Stroppo was going a few knots faster than Mike, with a bigger difference at deeper angles - up to about 127 degrees. Beyond that, Stroppo's speeds actually dropped, while Mike's speed still increased for another 20 degrees or so.
The reason for this can be found in the sail sizes: 4.7 for Mike, 6.0 for Stroppo. But Stroppo is about 60% heavier than Mike, and sail sizes scale (roughly) proportional with body weight. For comparable power, Stroppo should have been on a 7.5! That seems way too big for the wind, so let's do it the other way around: for comparable power to Stroppo's 6.0, Mike should have been on a 3.7!
Arguably, the linear sail size relation does not fully hold for race sails; however, a sail closer to 4 square meters would have been more similar in power to Stroppo's 6.0.
Watching the two of them on the water, it was quite apparent that Stroppo was on the (relative) smaller gear: Mike had a much easier time to get going, while Stroppo often had to wait for gusts. The (relative) bigger sail enable Mike to go deeper downwind; but the smaller sail gave Stroppo more control in the big gusts, which he skillfully converted to more speed. Looking at the fastest runs for both of them, the top-speed angles varied a bit, but in general, Mike's top speeds were reached at a roughly 15 degrees deeper angle.

Another observation from Stroppo's tracks was that he did not do "slingshots", where the angle suddenly changes. Instead, Stroppo's angle changed very gradually to deeper and deeper angles - here is an example (from his second-fastest 2-second run, 41.18 knots):
The near-constant acceleration over the entire run is quite impressive. His fastest run look very similar, but he apparently caught a good gust near the end of it, which gave him the extra boost to reach a 1-second top speed of 42.4 knots. Very impressive! Since the technique is quite different from the slingshot, it deserves its own name - how about "Stroppo Curves"?

I must admit that I find Mike's speeds, and the speeds in the high 30s to low 40s many others had, almost as impressive. Mike is more than a decade older than I am, and must have been quite overpowered in the gusts, but had way more control to convert the gusts to speed than I did. Perhaps the more appropriate board (43 cm speed vs. 59 cm slalom) helped, but there's definitely a skill difference, too. But whatever the causes were, it was very fascinating to be able to share a great day on a fantastic spot with so many good speedsurfers!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Wave Sailing at Avalon

On Sunday, we left Geraldton and drove back to Mandurah, where Mike and Dorothy kindly offered us to stay in their home right at the beach at one of the wave spots, named Avalon. Yesterday, we got a bit of swell and just enough wind to plane, so Nina and Mike went out from the launch across the street (Nina on 4.7, Mike on 5.3). The wind was light enough to allow my little drone to fly. Since the break was close enough to the beach, I managed to get a bit of video footage. The breaks between the sets were large, and with my limited drone skills, I did not catch them on any decent wave rides, but I think the scenery and colors are quite beautiful:
I did not have wave gear to join them, but I later had a lovely flat water session at Liptons. I love the spot - perfectly flat water for jibing fun at both ends, with a mile-long run in between. The wind varies a bit, often being light in the middle and stronger towards shore, which is clearly visible in the GPS tracks:
The wind was a bit on the light side for my 7.0/112 combo, so no great speeds - but finally getting a relaxing session in flat water was fantastic!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Shark Bay and Lancelin

After Cervantes, we drove one hour south to Lancelin. Nina had booked us a very lovely apartment about 200 meters from the ocean. A couple of times, I rigged on the front lawn and carried my gear down to the beach for a quick session. That was fun the first time, but the second time, the wind direction had changed, and the runs were very short - after 400 meters (a quarter mile), a reef forced me to turn around. Jibing the 7 meter slalom sail every 30 seconds makes for a good workout, but gets old quickly. So the next time the wind was up, we went to the Ledge, where the Lancelin Ocean Classic marathon race starts. The start is nice and protected by a reef about 100 meters from shore. Once past the reef, there's big ocean swell; the place most similar that I have sailed is Jericoacoara past the point on a 4.5 m day. I generally sail my slalom gear only on flat water, so being out in head-to logo-high swell was quite interesting - but also fun. However, I certainly had no desire to sail a 22 km downwinder in a crowd of 100 windsurfers in these conditions!

Nina was thinking about participating, but there were a couple of issues. Once was that the race organizers announced two or three days before the races that they would require proof of liability insurance, and charge an extra $25 if you did not have it, bringing the total entry fee for the race to $125. In past years, Nina would have had a decent chance to recover some of the fee in prize money, but the organizers did not post any information about prize money anywhere. "No worries"?
The other thing that kept Nina from signing up was that her biggest wave sail was a 4.7, and she definitely did not want to do the race on a slalom sail. After pulling a muscle yesterday at Coronation trying to water start my 6.3 Racing Blade in the waves, I can understand that! Getting the sail out was hard enough, but then the next wave would come and kill the wind, dropping the sail right back onto my head. On the bright side, this keeps me from trying to go out again today with slalom gear on a wave spot, and gives me a bit of time for blogging while Nina is having fun on the water.

Back to the sail choice: one problem at Lancelin is that it's unpredictable when the wind will pick up - sometimes it is there for the race start around 2 pm, sometimes it comes half an hour or an hour later. Furthermore, some of the legs are very deep downwind, so bigger gear is needed - the winner (former PWA World Champion Matteo Iachino) was a 7.8. So there was a good chance that the 4.7 would have been too small - not something Nina wanted to bet $125 on.

While we did not race ourselves, we watched the start, and then drove back to the finish to see the first racers cross the finish line. It was quite a spectacle to see about 100 windsurfers and 90 kites at the starting lines! 

The next day, we got up very early (just about when the guys across the street finally ended their party), and drove 800 km (500 miles) to Shark Bay. We thought that we had picked great days to check out one of the best speed spots, with a wind forecast of around 22-25 knots and the tide levels being just right. However, after we had already made the decision to go and booked the hotel, we received a warning that the wind at Shark Bay tends to be 10 knots above the forecast! When we got to the beach in the afternoon, it did indeed look like at least 30 knots. We went for a quick test run just to verify that we could control our smallest speed sails in these conditions, but considering the lack of sleep and late time, we did not do the 2 km bay crossing to get to the speed strip. Instead, we decided to come back earlier the next day, before the wind got really strong.

That was a good plan, except that the wind did not quite play along. It kept blowing all night, and still was around 30-35 knots, with stronger gusts, when we got back to the launch around noon. The water level did not seem right, either: it was supposed to be a foot higher, but looked exactly the same as the day before. 

We cautiously made our way to the speed strip. We walked more than we sailed since we wanted to stay away from the deep water, as Nina was not sure she'd be able to water start or flip the sail. We were sure we had discovered the speed strip when we discovered the alpha markers - but the water levels were so low that sailing near the marker was not an option, even though our fins were just 18 and 20 cm short. Typically, the speed strip allows for a 600-800 m long approach in shallow and flat water, before the final "speed up" strip close to a sand bar and a deep sling shot close to the shore. But  given the shallow water, our approach was cut down to perhaps 50 or 100 meters, not enough to get settled and pick up speed - at least not with our limited skills. By the time we got back to the launch, the tide had gone down even further:
While we did not get to sail much, and did not get any speed runs, it was still a fun day. The area and the water was just beautiful - definitely one of the prettiest spots I have ever sailed.

The next day, we drove back south to Geraldton, our temporary home to check out Coronation Beach, one of the most famous wave spots in Australia. Shortly after leaving, we saw a family of emus right next to the street - cool!

The next stop was Eagle Bluff, which offers a great view of Shark Bay:
On the way to Geraldton, we stopped at Port Gregory, a small town best known for it's Pink Lake:
The pink color is due to carotenoid-producing halophine micro-algae, Dunaliella salina, which is used for cosmetics and dietary supplements. The town also spots a large reef-protected harbor:
One of the speedsurfers from Perth recently windfoiled there, and called it "foiling heaven". For speedsurfing, it's not quite as ideal, since the typical wind direction is at about a 45 degree angle to the reef, and waves break over the reef, creating some small chop and considerable current. But I certainly can see how this could be a great spot for foiling!

The next two days are predicted to be light wind days, which seems to be the typical pattern here: 2-3 days of light wind, then 4-5 days of good wind. When the good winds return, we'll be back in the Mandurah region for some speedsailing at the various Mandurah Bay spots. I can't wait!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Cervantes Windsurf Challenge

One of the things we had been looking forward to as part of our trip was the Cervantes Windsurf Challenge. A 7 km downwind course with "super-flat gybe locations" sure sounded like fun! So thought 75 windsurfers, most of them on full slalom gear. Here's a picture to part of the group approaching a jibe mark:
I think this was taken at the first jibe mark after the fastest guys had already passed it. I don't really fancy jibing around in a crowd, so in the first race, I let just about everyone else start before I took off, and then sailed the first mark wide. Plenty of others had similar intentions, but with a few crashes at the mark, the field was sufficiently drawn out afterwards to have plenty of space, making the sailing fun. Fun of the slightly scary side, since I was fully powered on my 7.0/112 l slalom combo. Normally, I probably would have sailed a 96 l freeestyle-wave board with a 5 meter sail in these conditions.

The wind kept picking up. Even though I rigged down to a 6.3 in the break before the second race, the race ended up in the "more scary than fun" category. Of course, that was mostly my fault, since I did not wait long enough at the start, and ended up being surrounded by tons of other sailors for a while. It took several crashes and longer swims around the marks before things quieted down a bit around me.

Up until this day, the wind had always kept picking up after lunch, so I needed smaller gear for the two afternoon races. Unfortunately, our 90 l board had a ding that needed fixing, and Nina was using the speedboard with the 4.7 m wave sail. The only "smaller" option would have been to rig a 5.6 m slalom sail for the 82 l wave board, using the mast we had gotten for the wave sails and never tested for the slalom sails. But since the wave board only had a little 20 cm wave fin, that did not seem like a viable option. By the time I had de-rigged the 6.3, all the vegetarian sandwiches had been taken, anyway, so it was time to walk back to the apartment and get some food instead of racing in the afternoon. Nina stays on the beach and raced all four races. In the evening, there was a fun party at the Lobster Shack, where we got to meet a few of the speedsurfers that I had read about for years. Cool!

The wind on Sunday was very light; one race was started, but not scored since most sailors did not plane through the course. Results were announced in the afternoon - Patrik Diethelm and Karin Jaggi had won the Men's Open and Women's racing. Kellie Tusler, with whom Nina had had several close races, often trading places at the jibe marks (where Nina was faster thanks to her easy-handling wave sail) and the straights, where Kellie's large race sail was faster, finished second.

A day or two later, Cervantes Windsurf Challenge posted the race results on Facebook - here's the second page (click on the image to see the larger version):
Something was obviously wrong: they had scored me in four races (red box), even though I had done only two. Worse, they had no score at all for Nina in any of the races! The results in the two races I had done did not seem right, either - I had done reasonably well in race 1, probably finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack, but had done a lot worse in race 2, with just a few windsurfers coming in behind me. But the spreadsheet showed me coming in as 42nd and 47th.

I sent the race organizers a message though Facebook, and got back a number of messages about "misinformed data", "no number no result", but also stating that the 4 judges on the beach had problems reading the number on Nina's NP sail. Here's a show of her and my sail near a mark:
Nina is on the green-purple sail with sail number "N", I am two spots behind on the orange sail with sail number "NI" (the numbers are on the other side of the sail, towards the beach were the judges were).

Apparently, the judges had misread Nina's number as "NI" in every single race, and assigned here ranks to me. The did not score our second sail at all. They were aware that they had a hard time reading Nina's sail number (possibly because of glare from the sun), but at no time did they try to check with Nina to double-check (and everyone was standing on the beach for about 30 minutes between the races). That was quite different from the long distance race in Hatteras, where a guy on a jet ski was assigned to verifying any sail numbers that were hard to read, and the president of US Windsurfing was running along the beach for the same purpose. Habits are different in Australia, it seems - many windsurfers went straight to the judges after finishing to check their rankings. At most races in the US that we have been to, that would not have been welcome at all; instead, preliminary results were often posted soon after the races so everyone could check for problems.

So, how well did Nina do? We cannot know with absolute certainty, since there was confusion with here and my sail number. However, we can be 99% sure based on our GPS tracks for the first two races:
Nina's tracks are in red, mine are in blue. I had a better top speed since I was on a race sail, while Nina was on a wave sail. I finished the first race ahead of her, and saw her come in as I was going to shore. In the second race, I came in a couple of minutes after her. This supports that the scores shown for me in the table above were indeed Nina's scores in all four races: it would put me in the mid-to-high 30s in race 1, and low 50s in race two. If you look at how much time I spent fooling around near the third mark in the second race, you can see where I lost about 15 spots between the two races! Nina sailed much more consistently.

So, Nina ended up with 124 points after one discard, two points ahead of Kellie. Correctly scored, Nina finished the second in the women's racing, beaten only by multiple world champion and current speed record holder Karin Jaggi. But she got neither the medal nor the cash price, nor the applause at the ceremonies. She did not even get a proper apology for the mistake when I had contacted the organizers by message - she only got one after she posted a "Don't recommend" review on the Cervantes Windsurf Challenge facebook page (quickly followed by a request to remove the "unfair" review).

For me, this was the last slalom race I ever entered, simply because I just don't care for sailing in big crowds at the edge of control. Unfortunately, this entire episode has also demotivated Nina a lot. She had originally considered to participate in the Lancelin Windsurf Marathon this Saturday, and possibly at a Safety Bay slalom later this month, but why would you do that if you end up with nothing but a bad aftertaste?

For any other non-Australians thinking about racing at the Cervantes Windsurf Challenge, I would not necessarily discourage that - just make sure that check your rank with the judges right after every race. Also, you should be comfortable sailing your gear in 4-5 ft swell and chop, and in being in a slalom starting line with more than 70 other windsurfers - the announced goal for next year was 100.  The often-used strategy of overshooting marks by a wide margin to avoid the crowds is also somewhat limited, since there are either shallow reefs or the shore within about 50 meters of most marks. Some comfort with not knowing the exact rules also helps - there is no official "notice of race", and I still wonder whether we sailed a PWA-style "no rules" slalom or one where regular right-of-way and racing rules apply; true to the "no worries" philosophy, that issue was never touched upon in the skipper's meeting. But a large majority of participants seemed to be just fine with that, and had fun.

Here are a few more pictures:
Fighting for control (I think I lost..)
GPS Challenge Winners - Nina was 3rd in Women's

The Pinnacles, 17 km from Cervantes