Monday, October 27, 2014

Working (and playing) in the Florida Keys

So... much... biodiversity.

Majestic Queen Parrotfish photo PA251413_zpseb1f7b03.jpg

I'm physically and mentally exhausted after five wonderful days snorkeling and marine biologizing at the Florida Institute of Oceanography's Keys Marine Lab. This was a required field trip for one of the FGCU classes I'm teaching this semester; Marine Ecology. Our class was quite large this year (31 students) so we broke the trip into two groups of 15 or 16 each, and each group spent two nights at KML.

When I did this trip in 2012 I didn't incorporate much lesson structure- We just put the students in the boat and took them out snorkeling. In 2013 I wanted to add a stronger scientific component so we did a "living laboratory" benthic habitat survey using a variety of transect and quadrat methods. Doing challenging species identification and complex in-water data recording at the same time was overwhelming for the students that year, so this year I tried a compromise between the unscientific snorkeling we did in 2012 and the overly ambitious benthic surveys we did in 2013.

We focused on building species identification skills and comparing species composition and abundance from site to site. Each student would make observations and take pictures at every site we visited in the field, then would come back to the lab and use field guides to help identify and write down every species they were sure they had encountered. Species included everything from fishes to corals, sponges, other invertebrates, algae, seagrasses, and mangroves. At the end of the last day I put pictures of 90 of the species we had encountered into a big powerpoint slideshow as a number-coded species identification quiz. To make the quiz less impossible I let students use field guides during the quiz. From my perspective it worked great, but we'll see what the students thought when they do their course evaluations.

The snorkeling sites that the KML staff took us to this year were a bit different from ones I've visited in the past, because the weather was rainy and windy. When the weather was OK we went out some spots on the reef: Coffin's Patch Special Protected Area, Long Key Ledge, and Elbow Reef. We visited an inshore seagrass and sandbar site near Grassy Key, and we visted two mangrove-seagrass sites: Zane Gray Creek and Koch Key. During the worst weather we just snorkeled from shore in the bay near KML. There was some overlap in the species we saw at each site, but there were unique critters everywhere we went. You can see a little of what we saw in the slideshow below.

My windsurfing followers will be happy to hear that I got some kick-butt sessions in front of my hotel before and after "work" during the trip. Friday night a big NE wind pushed out the low pressure system that had been hanging over us, and pumped my 4.5 sail with power for a wild ride over Florida Bay. Saturday morning the skies were clear and the wind was still strong enough for a powered 5.5 session before snorkeling. Woo hoo!

Windsurfing Launch in Front of Lime Tree Bay Resort photo 1024141621_zpse90c437b.jpg

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Making the most of small waves on a 10'4" WindSUP

Last weekend we had our first "cold" front of the year in Southwest Florida, which means we had a day of 15-20 knot West winds followed by a day of 5-10 knot North winds and a small but rideable West swell.

On the windy day I used a 5.5 sail and alternated between my 106 liter board and my 83 liter board. It wasn't really windy enough to justify the small board; I just used it because I was excited that I could for the first time in a long time. The song in the video is by Dr. No's Oxperiment.

First Cold Front 10-4-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

On the swelly day I used a 6.4 sail and my modified 10'4" Angulo Surfa sailable SUP. The light power from the sail and the light power from the small waves added up to something that was pretty fun to play with. The song in the video is by Pearl Jam.

First Cold Front 10-5-14 v2 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Gonna try a SUP race in Bonita Springs

I'm going to test my mettle next Saturday at a local paddleboard race. The race is part of a series hosted by "Calusa Ghost Tours," a local kayak/sup outfitter. The proceeds from the race fee will fund the Bonita Springs Historical Society, which is doing some things that I really like, such as helping raise money to preserve the old-timey Everglades Wonder Gardens zoo/park/art-gallery in my neighborhood.

The race is a 4.5 mile round trip down and back up a section of the black-water Imperial River. It's the same area I usually paddle when the wind and surf are down and I just need to get on the water.

I'll use the Exocet WindSUP 11'8" with a small weed-fin. Even though the WindSUP is heavy, it has good glide and I think it will paddle faster on flat water than my Angulo 10'4". I tried the course last night and finished in 1:08 paddling pretty close to as hard as I could. I would need to be finishing about 20 minutes faster to win the race, based on the previous winners times, but I think I'll at least be able to stay somewhere in the pack. I'm going to make it a personal goal (maybe a long term goal) to bring my time down to 1:00 even. To help me towards that end I'll need to practice my padding technique and improve my cardiovascular fitness and core strength. I'm also trying a technological fix, by shortening my paddle by about 20 cm. (Since I got the paddle it has definitely been too long, but I never bothered to adjust it because I wasn't trying to maximize by paddling speed or anything.) We'll see how it all works out.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mast-Mount Cam WindSUP Session

Last week we had a about a day and half where the Gulf of Mexico actually produced some 10-15 knot onshore wind and 1-2' waves. I made the most of it Thursday with a 6.4 sail on the modified 10'4" Angulo Surfa. The tide was ebbing, so there were some interesting gorge-effect swells blending with the breaking waves in and around the inlet at Wiggins Pass. I filmed the sesh with a mast-mounted GoPro. The song in the video is "Brother Sport" by Animal Collective.

Mast Mount Angulo WindSUP 7-29-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summertime Single-Digit Winds in SW Florida

The Gulf of Mexico is vast body of water; 1.6 million km2; more than 6 times larger than all of the Great Lakes combined.

The beaches of Southwest Florida are utterly exposed to the vastness of the Gulf; open to 180 degrees of wind from North to West to South and up to 1600 km of fetch for the buildup of waves.

And yet, during our long, hot summer, the ocean is *literally* as flat as a pond. We're too far south to get the West winds of the temperate zone, and we're facing the wrong way to get the East winds and waves of the tropics. Check out the wind forecast for my local beach. Single digits as far as the eye can see.

 photo julywind_zps2090aa47.jpg

But there's always hope! You never know when the afternoon thunderstorms might develop slowly enough for a sticky seabreeze to break that 10 knot threshold for formula windsurfing fun, or when an unusual frontal system or nearby tropical storm might turn the winds onshore and raise some choppy swells. In the meantime, I'm getting a lot of work and reading done.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I'm Married - Woo Hoo! + Snorkeling Videos

About three years ago I met Rhonda Mason on a date in downtown Boston. I knew almost instantly that she was the one for me, but it naturally took some time to convince her that I was the one for her. When we were dating, Rhonda helped me find my current marine biology professor job in Florida. After I interviewed and got the job I asked her to marry me and move South. She said yes! We were fiances for two years, then on the 21st of June, 2014 we had a big, wonderful wedding near her hometown in New Hampshire. I am SO HAPPY!

For our honeymoon we decided to do it by car, since we already live in the tropical paradise of Florida, and we could take more water toys with us that way. (Shortly prior to the wedding we had replaced my red rusty minivan with a fresh blue minivan with working AC - luxurious!) The first couple nights we stayed at the Hampton Inn at Manatee Bay, Key Largo. In seagrassy Tarpon Basin behind the hotel is where I shot this snorkeling video. We also snorkeled on the reefs near Key Largo from the charters at Pennekamp State Park.

Keys Tarpon Basin 2014 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

For the second part of the honeymoon we stayed further west at Parmer's Resort on little torch key (see hammock picture).

 photo 10382327_10204394261082498_6730461576568736967_o_zpse39bece3.jpg

We snorkeled near shore at Bahia Honda State Park, on Looe Key Reef via a charter boat, and at Fort Jefferson after riding out to that Historic Fort island on the Yankee Freedom II ferry. This video, mostly shot by Rhonda is a compilation from all our reef snorkeling trips.

Florida Keys Honeymoon Reef Snorkeling 2014 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ingebritsen's Favorite Board (of all time, by far)

It's the Exocet Kona/Curve 11'5, ridden here by Exocet Boss Patrice Belbeoch...


Two important types of people in the windsurfing world are "team riders" and "gear reps."

Team riders are highly skilled professional windsurfers who travel around to competitions, video and photo shoots, etc. Their "team" is the windsurfing equipment manufacturer that sponsors them with free gear, stipends, etc.

Example of a team rider, Venezuelan Jose "Gollito" Estredo, for Fanatic Boards and North Sails.  photo GollitoSum_zps6cdfce3d.jpg

Gear representatives (reps) are usually amateur aficionados who get discounts from the windsurfing gear manufacturer they represent, in exchange for helping show-and-tell and sell the gear.

Example of a gear rep, John Ingebritsen for Exocet Boards and Aerotech Sails.

Among the average Joes and Janes of windsurfing, there's a slight suspicion of gear reps. We figure the reps are likely to present a positively biased view of the gear they represent, and a negatively biased view of other manufacturers' gear.

One of the more recognizable reps in US windsurfing scene (i.e. in the forums) is John Ingebritsen (pictured above) from Florida. Ingebritsen reps for Exocet boards (based in France and run by Patrice Belbeoch) and Aerotech sails (based in Daytona Beach, Florida and run by Steve Gottlieb). John is outspoken and opinionated about windsurfing gear and styles, but his biases don't always fall in line with Exocet and Aerotech's offerings. He loves some of their stuff, but complains about their other stuff no less harshly than he would a competitor's gear. Likewise, if there's something from another brand that he likes, he won't shoot it down. While I don't always have the same gear preferences as John, I definitely trust him to say what he really thinks.

One thing he says is that the Exocet Kona 11'5 carbon was the best light-wind waveboard ever- fast in both planing and non-planing mode, light and stiff, able to catch small mushy waves but also able to shred big heavy waves, etc.

Ingebritsen doing a backside aerial on the 11'5 carbon.

Ingebritsen wasn't as excited about the successor to the 11'5; Exocet's 10'2 WindSUP, which he says was too SUP oriented to work well for wavesailing in light, onshore winds. (Although some other riders seem to really like the feel of the 10'2; particularly those who sail in stronger sideshore or side-off winds.)

Anyway, Ingebritsen recently begged Exocet to make some more Kona 11'5 carbon editions. They said they'll do it, but only if they get 15 orders. Ingebritsen himself has ordered 3 (a "lifetime supply," he says), so that leaves 12 more. I'm not going to get once since I have a new minivan and college loans to pay off, and I already have two step-tailed longboard waveboards that work fine. But you should think about it. There's a discussion thread on the board on iwindsurf: To put your name on the order list, contact Steve Gottlieb,