Monday, March 23, 2015

SUP Racing, Jesus Lizards

I've really been having fun lately, albeit a masochistic variety of fun, with SUP racing and training. Yesterday I won another of the local Imperial River races put on by CGT Kayaks. A couple of the differences between this race and the last race were:

1) I'm now officially on the CGT "Race Team" so I have a cool blue jersey with the Caloosa tribal design on it. Being on the race team means that we're expected to do some out of town races this year, so I'll be reporting on that later.

2) We started in groups of four this time rather than being released individually, which made for tighter and more strategic competition. It definitely gets choppy with four people side by side all paddling as hard as they can. My fiercest competitor Ben Walker fell off in the cross chop and that helped me out early on. Of course later I fell, too, trying to weave through several German tourist kayakers blocking the upriver turn-around buoy.

After the race we did a Hawaii longboard surfer style photoshoot with some of the race team.

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Also, after the race we got to see a Jesus Lizard that shop owner "Caloosa" John had adopted. These are the famous water-walking lizards that can escape their predators by running so fast across the water that they don't sink in. Like many other tropical reptile species, they have been released into the wild and become a pest in Florida.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Pics of Windsurfing the 14' Fanatic Race SUP

The other day my wife Rhonda graciously came to the beach with me after work to take some pictures of me windsurfing the 14' Fanatic Falcon SUP that I recently converted into a windsurf. I would have gotten some onboard video, too, but I loaned my GoPro to my graduate student a couple months ago and haven't gotten it back yet. Anyway, the pics are below. It was a day with disorganized knee-high waves and 5-10 knot side-offshore winds, fading to 0-5 knots. I used a 6.4 sail.

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When the wind got to too light to get around with the sail I paddled for a bit. Man, trying to surf a race sup is hard. It's really tippy, it takes a long time to turn around, and when you do catch a wave it's hard not to crash. But it's fun.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Empress Game cover art- Deadly beautiful space woman

My wife Rhonda is a writer. Her latest book is called Empress Game. It's the first in a space opera trilogy that will be published by Titan Books. The book will be available in July, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The cover art has just been released and it looks like this.

I think it captures the badass spirit of the protagonist quite well. I'm not an unbiased reviewer, but I've read the book and I think it's awesome; fast-paced action and science-fiction intrigue with an unforgettable heroine. Needless to say I'm extremely proud of Rhonda.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SUP Race Results + Consecutive Days of Wind Awesomeness

While the weather gods have been smiting the Northeastern USA with blizzards, they have been blessing Southwest Florida with great wind and waves.

Friday 23 Jan- Caught the tail end of a warm SSW wind with a 6.4 sail and 106 liter board at Bonita Beach.

Saturday 24 Jan- Big NW wind and waves arrived at Wiggins Pass State Park. I sailed a 4.5 on my 83 liter Starboard Evo, keeping it conservative since I was out of tune after months with no high wind practice. Alex Owens and another windsurfer whose name I can't remember were there on 4.7 and 5.2, respectively.

Sunday 25 Jan- Did the CGT Paddleboard race in the morning. After that I was tired and the wind was light, but I knew the swell was good so I rallied and went to Wiggins to sup beautiful waves on the 10'4" Angulo Surfa. The only thing that was annoying was three @#$%@#$% jet-ski bozos bashing around in the best part of the break the whole time. Unfortunately with just two paddleboarders and no surfers in the water we couldn't really vote them out.

Monday 26 Jan- Big NW winds returned to Wiggins. Sailed late afternoon until sunset with a 4.2 on an 83 liter board. Yeehaw! I probably should have been on my 4.5 for a little more power, but the 4.2 is a newer sail with a much better feel than the 4.5. At some point I'll get rid of the 4.5 and get a quality 4.7 for better spacing- 4.2, 4.7, 5.5

Tuesday 27 Jan- Sailed 5pm until sunset on a 6.4 and 106 liter board in onshore wind and smallish waves. Good times.

I want to say a little more about the CGT paddle race because it actually went really well for me. There was a big turnout, with 30 people racing and a good bunch of spectators and supporters. I got second place overall, finishing in 0:45:00.

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The race committee ran the show in a "time trial" format, releasing one paddler at a time and keeping track of both start and finish times to calculate time elapsed. It was fun passing the paddlers who had started ahead of me, especially a few athletic-looking dudes on raceboards who had seemed intimidatingly fast at the starting line.

The winner and fastest racer by far was a 63 year old triathlete named Rand Perkins, who I figured averaged 5.83 mph to my 5.47 mph. We never passed each other going the same direction, but from what I saw he seemed to have an extremely rapid "cadence," meaning he was doing many strokes per minute but the length of each stroke was fairly short. I'm not sure if that's a technique than can work for anyone, or if you need to have triathlete level quickness and cardiovascular fitness, but I'll give it a try. Of course I also checked out Rand's board and asked him about it after the race. He said it's 23" wide, which is a definite speed advantage IF you can manage not to tip it over. To make it more stable the standing area is deeply recessed like in a canoe, with some vent holes in the side to let out any water that splashes in. Rand had custom-dug even deeper holes right under his feet to maximize the low-center-of-gravity effect. As cool as that looked, I'm inclined to stick with my current board and try to make some gains with more fitness and technique development.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Practicing for a race, weighing in on Butt Buoys

It has been a long time since the last CGT paddleboard race I did, which was in September. There was another in October but I missed it because I was out of town. Anyway, the races are starting up again on Sunday. I think they're going to be a different kind of experience this go-around, for a couple of reasons:

1. The race course is actually different. It's still on the Imperial River, and it's still 4.5 miles. However, instead of going way downriver then back up to Riverside Park, we'll go upriver, turn, go downriver, turn, and then come back to the start. That should make for more variety of scenery, more time under the shade of the trees, and more strategically challenging curves and turns. Hopefully CGT won't use "butt buoys" again to mark the turns and finish lines. Don't get me wrong- I like butts. Butts are a beautiful and useful part of the body. But in my opinion butt-shaped plastic buoys wearing bikini bottoms are in the same a-little-bit-funny-but-quite-a-bit-offensive category as the plastic testicles that people hang from their truck trailer hitches. It's not worth alienating any prospective sup race participants over something like that.

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2. I'm going to use a different board. Since September I've actually tried out two different 14' racing SUPs and settled on a Fanatic Falcon 27.25" wide model. It's not the absolute fastest flat-water SUP out there, and it may actually be a little slower than the 404 Zeedonk Pintail that I traded back to CGT, but it's definitely faster than the 11'8" Exocet WindSUP that I used in the summer races. My best average speed over 4.5 miles on the WindSUP is 4.96 mph, whereas it's 5.58 mph on the Falcon.

3. I've been practicing pretty hard and getting in better shape. I've gained about 0.6 mph from practicing, which is about equal to what I gained from getting the new board. My times have kind of plateaued recently, but I still think there's room for improvement in my technique and conditioning that could help me go faster. The folks who raced last year have been practicing even harder than me, but I'm cautiously optimistic that between my fancy board and training I'll be close to keeping up.

Below are some pictures my dad took of the current SUP setup in action:

This is the little creek near my house where I walk the board to launch it and paddle to the Imperial River.
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This is the bridge that was the starting line for the course last summer.
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This is me looking cool.
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This is paddling pretty hard.
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Curse of the In-Laws

My family loves my wife's family, and I think the feelings are mutual. But we seem to have picked up a curse. Now every time a member of one family visits the other, a terrible medical crisis must occur. It started last winter when my parents arrived in Florida just as Rhonda and were hospitalized with mega flu. Then when Rhonda's sister and brother-in-law visited, bro-in-law had to go to the ER with creepy chest pains (which turned out to be nothing, thank goodness). I kept the tradition up by arriving at my New England in-laws' this winter with a bad cold that segued into an abominable vomiting thing that forced me to delay my flight home. The worst came last week when my parents drove down to Florida from North Carolina. This time is wasn't Rhonda and I who got sick, but my mom. Her appendix burst on the first night here and we had to rush her to the hospital in dire condition. Fortunately, Dr. Brockman at North Collier Hospital diagnosed it and operated pretty quickly, probably saving her life. Still, I'm sure it was a bummer for my mom to be laid up uncomfortably for days in the hospital when she would have been swimming under the palm trees.

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Let's hope this is the last of it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Using 14' Fanatic Falcon Race SUP for Windsurfing

As my wife Rhonda says, I am a notorious "min-maxer" when it comes to choosing and fine-tuning my watersports equipment. I proved this recently by swapping my nearly-new racing paddleboard (a beautiful blue 14' x 26" 404 Carbon Pintail Zeedonk) for a different model (a beautiful red 14' x 27.25" Fanatic Falcon).

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The Fanatic was on consignment at CGT Kayaks and I put my Zeedonk on consignment in its place. If you're in the market for a super-lightweight, all-carbon race sup for under $900 you can find my Zeedonk at CGT. Say you saw it on my blog and they might give you a discount. Here is why I did the switch:

1. I wanted to put a mast-track in the race SUP to mount a windsurfing sail, but I wasn't sure the 10 kg Zeedonk would hold up to the extra abuse it would take in windsurfing mode. The Fanatic is a few kg heavier with a thicker skin more like a standard windsurf, so I figured it would be a safer bet for windsuring use.
2. The noses on the two boards are different. The piercing bow of the Zeedonk works really well for paddling in flat water, but I could imagine it being tricky to negotiate through chop at higher windsurfing speeds. In contrast, the bow on the Fanatic is blunt and upturned, which I figured would make it more "self-trimming" in rough water. (Both boards are supposed to be good for open-ocean "downwinder" paddling and "catching bumps," but I think the Zeedonk takes a more active approach to fore-aft trim when doing that.)
3. When I borrowed the Fanatic for a test-paddle in the Imperial River I found that it was only a little slower than the Zeedonk. That was important, because I didn't want to totally sacrifice my hopes of keeping up with the faster SUP racers in the CGT race series this year.

So far I've been quite happy with the Fanatic Falcon. After pushing myself through some more training runs on the Imperial River, trying a new fin, and adjusting to the board's different style, I've got my course times down to where they were on the Zeedonk. The board is definitely an unusual shape, but it works. The bulbous nose is its most notable feature.

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The nose is supposed to help it bob over waves and chop that it hits at a straight-on or side-on angle, and help prevent it from "pearling" under the water when riding down a wave. I paddled the board one time in choppy waves on the Gulf of Mexico. Though it was a lot less stable and less maneuverable than my Exocet WindSUP and Angulo Surfa, it was pretty powerful for catching waves and getting long, fast rides.

Balancing out the bulbous nose is a long-tapered, narrow tail with the fin set unusually far forward. This makes the overall outline of the board a teardrop shape, like the cross-section of a fin. There's minimal wake behind the board when in motion which implies minimal turbulent drag.

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The weird straps on the front of the board are like suitcase handles for when you're running the board into or out of the water at the start or finish of a paddle race from the beach. I'm not sure I'll ever use them when racing, but they came in handy as tie-down points when I improvised a windsurf sail attachment system for testing purposes. (I wanted to see roughly if the board was sailable before I put any permanent holes in it.)

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For the improvised system I taped a foam block to the bottom of a universal joint so that it could rest on the deck of the board without denting it. Then I tied the universal joint in place with a line to each of the straps, and a line to a little block of wood that I wedged into the recessed carry handle of the board. The carry handle is about in the middle of the board, and I assumed that the mast base would need to be just a bit in front of that.

When I got the board to the beach to test it with the jury-rigged sail attachment it was windier than I had expected; about 10-15 mph with some chop on the Gulf of Mexico. I rigged a 6.4 sail and took off like a shot. The board definitely accelerates quickly and goes fast in a semi-planing mode. In gusts it would get into fully-planing mode, but with a rooster tail of spray behind the tail, indicating a less than optimal pattern of water release from the unusual tail. The board handled the chop very well and went upwind at a steep angle when railed to windward. It took some work to tack, as expected, but it did tack. Jibing was easy because it would keep gliding on the long, voluminous tail even when I stepped far back on the board to make it pivot around. Overall it exceeded my expectations as a windsurf board, so decided to go ahead with the mast track installation.

The first step was to peel away the deck pad where the mast track would go.
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The next step was to route out a hole a little bigger than the mast track. I filled the hole with a sandwich of high density pink insulation foam, with a layer of fiberglass between the two thin slabs of pink foam and a layer of fiberglass and filler between the pink foam and the foam of the board's interior.

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After that cured I routed a hole within the pink foam just big enough for the mast track itself. (I bought the mast track from Roy Massey at Ace Performer.) The next day I put the mast track itself in, in a manner similar to that used for the pink foam. The final phase was to fair the excess fiberglass and epoxy off the top of the mast track and lay three layers of fiberglass over the area, overlapping with the mast track, pink foam, and some of the original decking of the board. I topped it all off with the piece of deck padding that I'd saved so it will look good less conspicuous.

I'm now on vacation at my folks house in North Carolina, but I'm looking forward to testing the real mast track when I get home in the new year. I'm curious how the board will work in really light conditions with an 8.0 or 9.5 sail, as sort of a poor-man's Starboard Serenity / K15.

In other news, my dog gave me a scare the other day when she fell off the back of my WindSUP and took a moment to pop back up to the surface, swimming poorly. To be safe we're going to have her wear this lifejacket from now on. I think she looks good in it.

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