Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trip to the other side of Florida for REAL wind and waves

Saturday morning started in the typical way: sipping coffee and looking at the iwindsurf forecast to decide the if, what, where, and when of the day's watersports. The IF was easy. A strong Easterly wind had been ringing our wind chimes all night, and it was forecast to last all day. What, where, and when were more difficult. The options were:

1. Drive 15 minutes to sail from my usual launch on the Gulf of Mexico, where there would be no waves and the wind would be straight offshore and gusty. I do sometimes sail offshore winds, usually on a big board like my formula or the Exocet WindSUP. But it's always hard to tell what to rig, and it takes a long time to get back to shore, especially if you're on a smaller shortboard. Plus, you're screwed if you have a breakdown or injury miles offshore. So I wasn't super keen on that.

2. Drive 45 minutes in traffic to sail relatively steady sideshore winds and flatwater chop at the Sanibel Causeway. An upside of the causeway is that it's one of just a few places in Florida where you can regularly see other windsurfers. The downsides are that there are no waves, and there are some sharp rocks and shells at the launch that require booties.

3. Drive 2 hours across "Alligator Alley" (Interstate 75) to the windward, Atlantic side of Florida to sail in wild ocean conditions. The East coast launch that seemed to have the best combination of being close to I75 and having rideable waves was North Ocean Park in Pompano Beach.



I called my buddy Dr. Alex and he was up for a windsurfing road trip, so that set option #3 in motion. We carpooled over in my van and soon found ourselves staring at a raging sea through the wind-blasted, kiter-crowded parking area in Pompano Beach. The intimidation factor was enhanced by a wind-tunnel effect of the tall condominiums on either side of the parking area, which made it hard to even walk to the beach.

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Fortunately the wind was less insane once on the beach; 20-ish knots.

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The waves breaking on the offshore reef looked big and scary. The shorebreak looked challenging but not impossible- the straight-onshore wind is what would make it tricky.

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Alex rigged a 4.7 Hotsails for his 100 liter board, and I rigged a 4.5 Ezzy for my 83 liter board. In retrospect I should have rigged a bit bigger sail, or maybe used a floatier board.

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We both managed to get out through the shorebreak, after a try or two, and we took some cruising runs through the more sheltered inside area to the north of the launch. The picture with the lighthouse is the view looking North into the most sheltered part of the cove. There was an interesting eddy-like current at the North end of the cove, and some strange swells forming or re-forming near a jetty in the cove.

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We were making it work, but a lot of floating Sargassum was getting stuck on our fins and preventing us from planing consistently, so we switched to weed fins. The combination of being slightly underpowered and having inefficient weed fins made the conditions harder than they should have been, but we did OK. Where we really paid our dues was when we'd try to get into the outside break further south of Hillsborough Inlet. If you fell or stopped planing there, or had to run downwind to avoid an impassable head-high closeout wave, you'd get stuck in an area where the waves were breaking all the way to shore, with lots of surging current. It was nearly impossible to waterstart there and sail back North to the launch area while relentless walls of whitewater were hitting you broadsides. I went through the "rinse cycle" many times; holding onto a piece of my gear while the surging foam swept the whole mess towards shore.

On the last run or two out I avoided the trouble area and made it at least partially into the area I'd call the outside break. The waves were enormous by my standards, definitely over my head and looking mean and unpredictable (though beautiful Gulfstream blue). I didn't do any great waveriding turns or anything, but it was super thrilling to be out there. I'd like to try the spot again on a day with more sideshore wind and smaller waves.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New SUP: 404 14' Pintail Zeedonk

CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards is the outfitter / shop that organized the Imperial River summer race series that I did the last part of this fall. CGT recently opened a new brick-and-mortar shop in downtown Bonita Springs, just a few blocks from my house. When I heard that they had a line on some barely-used demo boards I called dibs on a 14' carbon fiber race sup. I'd had the bug to get a race-specific SUP since doing the summer races, but was waiting for the right deal to come along. This one was just $800, which is real cheap for that sort of thing.

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The sup is a "Pintail Zeedonk" from the brand "404 Paddleboards." It's 427 x 67 cm, with a very pointy nose, a long flat section, and some slight vee and rocker in the pintail section. "Zeedonk" is supposed to mean it's fast as a zebra but stable as a donkey. I'm not familiar with donkey stability, but I did notice that it was a lot more stable than the only other race sup I've ever tried- a 61 cm wide Starboard.

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Of course the Zeedonk was less stable than my 360 x 80 cm wide Exocet WindSUP (right side of picture), but it's also significantly faster.

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I took the Zeedonk for a practice run on the 4.5 mile Imperial River SUP course yesterday and finished in 0:51:27, which is about 6 minutes quicker than my best ever time on the WindSUP. Having to change out of my wetsuit top during the course, and getting some pine needles stuck on the non-weed fin I was using might have slowed me down, so I'm thinking that with some more tuning and training I could break the 50 minute barrier. That's going to be my goal for the time being.

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One of the things that I gather is important for getting the max speed from these race sups is standing in the right spot; not too far forward to or too far back. In the picture above it looks like the middle of the board is low and the nose and tail are high, but when it's in motion its own wake wraps around it in such a way that the bow entry and tail release seem pretty good.

As one might imagine, I'm already contemplating putting a mast track on the board to see how it works as a windsurf. I think the rocker is flat enough that it could plane, or at least glide really fast. My only hesitation is that the construction is quite light and I'm not sure the board would stand up to bouncing through chop at windsurf planing speed. I'll enjoy it as just a SUP for a while before I decide if I'm going to do a conversion or not.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Goodbye Gertie

Our sweet doggie Gertie passed away swiftly from a heart attack yesterday. We are heartbroken as can be, but we know we did everything we could to make her life as long and happy as we could.

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We adopted Gertie in 2012 from the same Florida English Bulldog foster home where we adopted her "sister" Grace. We knew Gertie was already 9 years old and had some heart conditions, and we didn't expect her to make it all that long. However, with lots of love and expensive medications and vet visits, she had a really good life for two years. Though angelic Gertie has gone on to the "rainbow bridge" as they say, impish Grace is still holding down the fort and we expect her to be cutely causing trouble for some time to come.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lazing a Trail to Sustainability

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Many of the things we’re supposed to do to “save the earth” fall into the category of onerous tasks requiring more time, money, and effort than their less eco-friendly alternatives.

For example, we know it’s good to bike to the food co-op to fill our reusable hemp bags with local organic produce, but we’re more likely to just hop in the car and grab some plastic-wrapped Chinese take-out.

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Indeed, even among those who care deeply about the environment, most are too busy or too lazy to consistently perform out-of-the-way eco-chores. Here’s the unfortunate reality: If saving the environment depends on a majority of the citizenry voluntarily doing things in more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming ways, it won’t happen. I see three ways to get around that:

1.     By making it the LAW to be green. We already have environmental laws that apply to industries and organizations. Perhaps in the future we’ll have more laws governing individual behavior as well, like fines for not recycling. I can’t imagine this being popular, but who knows?
2.     By having economic INCENTIVES to be green, like extra taxes and fees on products and services that are bad for the environment combined with subsidies for products and services that are good for the environment. (Currently a lot of our laws do the opposite of this, like subsidizing eco-nasty fossil fuels, meats, and sugar while putting fees on eco-friendly solar power, etc.)
3.     By emphasizing how some kinds of LAZINESS can actually be greener than industriousness. This would get us away from the stifling notion that being green always requires extra work, but it would require removing existing taboos against certain types of laziness.

In this blog post I’ll focus on eco-friendly laziness by giving examples of specific ways that less work can accomplish more good for the environment.

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Examples of eco-friendly laziness that we should embrace:

1.     Cleaning Less. Cleaning the house consumes a lot of electrical energy and pollutes the environment with nasty detergents, disinfectants, and disposable cleaning implements. And it’s a pain in the ass. Save the environment by cleaning less often and less thoroughly.

2.     Lazy Laundering. Doing laundry is also a big environmental burden, which wastes water and energy and contaminates the water. Embrace your lazy distain for laundry by re-wearing clothes until they start to actually look and smell dirty, then re-wear them one more time as your working-out or fixing-the-car clothes. Underwear and t-shirts may not last more than one or two uses, but pants or an outer shirt could go for a week. Another lazy aspect of eco-laundering involves washing all your clothes in big, unsorted loads on the cold setting. Yes, some of your whites may turn strange colors, but that just marks you as a true earth-saver.    

3.     Letting the Lawn Go. Lawn care is labor intensive, energy-intensive, water-intensive, and chemical intensive. Fresh water, in particular is a precious resource that should be reserved for drinking, irrigation of food crops, and supporting natural wetlands and waterways. Also, lawn fertilizer is notorious for leaching into streams and groundwater and then causing harmful algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Even if the costs of maintaining a “perfect” lawn weren’t so high, the lawn itself is an eco-loser: It has very low biodiversity (only 1 plant species) and provides only a fraction of the beneficial functions of a naturally-vegetated area. Lawns give little food or hiding places for animals, no energy-saving shade or wind protection for your house, and minimal runoff and erosion control. So you should let your lawn be taken over by the natural vegetation that grows in your area, which doesn’t require watering or fertilizer. Trade your mower for a machete, and just cut a path through the brambles to your door. Caveat: I recognize that communities and individuals have a legitimate need to maintain certain open areas for sports fields, public assembly grounds, etc., and that mowed lawn is better for these areas in comparison with alternatives like pavement or bare dirt. I'm just saying that if something doesn’t NEED to be lawn, the best thing we can do for the environment is to be lazy and let nature take it over.

4.    Working Less. Working less is good for the environment because it means you’ll be driving less, using less gas and creating fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Also, since you won’t be making as much money you’ll be buying less; eschewing the goods and services that you don’t really need. (See #5)

5.    Not Bothering to Shop. Being too lazy to shop for food and stuff is good for the environment because not buying as much means that less will be produced. This reduces the consumption of energy and raw materials and reduces pollution. Also, your being too lazy to shop forces you to efficiently use up every last bit of what you have, so there is less waste accumulating in your house or going to the landfill.

6.     Giving Up the Fight. Much is made of the irrepressible, industrious spirit that inspires men and women to rebuild after a natural disaster, or to invest millions and billions in engineering projects to fight the destructive forces of nature. Sometimes, though, that spirit is foolishly applied to losing battles; situations where a tactical retreat would lead to a better outcome for both humanity and the environment. So instead of praising those who go the hard way to rebuild and maintain their increasingly vulnerable holdings, we should praise those who take the “lazy” way and cede their land to nature.   

Well, that’s about all that I can think of for now. Do y’all have any of your own ideas of ways we could apply laziness to sustaining the environment?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Day 2 of the cold-front: mellow SUP-sailing session

On Sunday there were some small swells left over from the previous day's big wind event, and there was enough sideshore wind to catch them with sail power rather than paddle power. The song in the video is by the Strokes.

Windsup 11-2-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Classic 4.2 Windsurfing Day at Wiggins Pass

A strong cold front hit South Florida this weekend, bringing North and Northwest winds and dropping nighttime lows below 10 C. At Wiggins Pass State Park on Saturday the windsurfing conditions were as good as I've ever seen in SW Florida. I first went out on a 5.5 sail with my 83 liter Starboard Evo, but soon decided to rig down to my rarely-used 4.2 sail. Even with the 4.2 there was plenty of power to get jumps and to ride the waves. There were lots of kiterboarders and a handful of other windsurfers, including some talented riders from out of town. I saw one guy do a "tabletop" jump that was super rad, and the same guy was doing quick duck-jibes and fast-tacks. It reminded me that I should keep challenging myself because there's a lot more cool stuff to learn in this sport.

I made a helmet-camera video and set it to the song "Orgasmatron" by Sepultura.

Big Cold Front 4.2 Windsurfing 11-1-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.



I have some more video from the 5.5 sail part of Saturday, and a WindSUP session on Sunday, which I may append to this post later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Working (and playing) in the Florida Keys

So... much... biodiversity.

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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!

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