Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Foiling Jibe!

I am REALLY enjoying hydrofoil windsurfing, which I think is worthy of a big new branch on the growing tree of human- and nature-powered water sports. Since windsurfing was invented there have only been a few other "branches" of innovation that compare in terms of significance: the advent of shortboard windsurfing in the 1980s, the light-wind shortboard revolution around 2000, and the spread of kiteboarding and standup paddleboarding also in the early 2000s. Hydrofoil windsurfing (aka "windfoiling") is not just a minor advancement or change in style. It's a revolution in terms of how little wind/sail power it requires compared to shortboard windsurfing, and it's a revolution in terms of how it overcomes the catch-22 of conventional windsurf design, which was always that your setup could either be maneuverable or powerful but not both. (In this way hydrofoil windsurfing gains some of the advantages of kiteboarding.) ALSO, foiling above the water is just a very cool, different feeling from planing atop the water- it's super smooth and quiet.

My windfoil setup, which is a Slingshot Fwind 2019 hydrofoil mounted in an old "formula" style windsurfing board, can get going in about 8 knots of wind. That is similar to the planing threshold of the formula board when equipped with a conventional fin. The foiling setup can go upwind and downwind at angles similar to what the conventional formula setup can do. The amazing thing is that the windfoil does this with an 8 meters squared sail, whereas the conventional formula setup would need a much heavier and more awkward 11 meters squared sail to perform in 8 knots of wind. And whereas the conventional formula windsurf setup maneuvers like school bus, when levitating on a hydrofoil the same formula board maneuvers like a sports car. In full disclosure, the one remaining area where the hydrofoil, or at least my hydrofoil, doesn't match the conventional windsurf setup is in pure speed. I might close the gap as I get more experienced, but right now it's hard for me to get the foil going over 15 knots, whereas it's pretty easy to get to 20+ knots when powered up on a conventional windsurfing shortboard. That's OK with me though.

Anyway, as with my past explorations of new (to me) branches on the water sports tree, there have been fun/scary challenges and skill-acquisition milestones in my windfoiling journey. Just getting up on the foil for the first time was one. That was mainly a fear thing- once I tried it the board popped right up. The next milestone was being able to stay on the foil indefinitely without touching down. Then there were some minor things like being able to get going efficiently, use different sail sizes, use the footstraps and harness effectively, sail upwind and downwind in control, etc. Actually, learning to sail the foil deep downwind was a significant milestone, because you have to confidently carve through a scary "power zone" when going from upwind to downwind.

Definitely the hardest thing I've attempted on the windfoil so far, though, is the foiling jibe. The planing jibe on a regular windsurfing board is hard enough, but on a foil board it's harder still, because the board is so sensitive to where your weight is distributed when you're up on the foil. It's not that hard to carve the foil board when you're securely in the footstraps, but to carve it smoothly as you're stepping across it to the other side and flipping the sail around is tough. My first few dozen attempts all ended in me either touching down on the water or breaching out of the water (and then crashing down). But during a great foil session in smooth water on Thursday night, I finally made it around once or twice without touching (or with just barely touching) the water. Woo hoo! I still have a very long way to go get my foiling jibe completion rate from 1% to 100%, but this is a start. The good jibes are towards the end of this video:)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Race Report: Key West Classic 2019

Surfski finishers on the podium-


More photos on their facebook page- I haven't bothered to put them in my blog post. https://www.facebook.com/pg/KeyWestClassic/photos/?ref=page_internal

Race: The Key West Paddle Classic, organized by the Lazy Dog, sanctioned by the WPA, and benefiting the Monroe County Special Olympics.


Date it happened: 4 May 2019

Location: Higgs Beach, Key West, Florida.

Distance: 20.67 km (12.84 miles); around the entire perimeter of Key West. This was about two km longer than usual because the Fleming Key bridge was damaged by a boat collision and we had to paddle all the way north around Fleming Key instead of just around Dredgers Key. In addition to the full rounding, there was the option to do it as a relay in three legs, so some of the racers were doing that.



Conditions: It was breezy and choppy, but not to the extreme extent that it has sometimes been in the past. The wind was from the SE at 10-15 knots. The meant that the first 2.8 km of the course was roughly downwind, but everything else was side-wind or upwind. The tide was coming in the whole time, which gave us a boost going through the broad channel on the west side of the island, but slowed us down through Cow Key Cut on the east side of the island. The biggest nuisance part of the conditions this year was large amounts of floating Sargassum seaweed, which seemed to be getting stuck even on supposedly weed-shedding fins and rudders. This seaweed occurs naturally in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean, but it has been occurring in unprecedentedly large and increasing amounts since 2010. Scientists suspect that climate change and increasing amounts of man-made nutrients entering the ocean are stimulating these blooms.

Participants: 147 people completed the race, including 129 who did it not as a relay. Of the 129 there were: 52 14' SUPs, 24 12'6 SUPs, 8 non-race SUPs, 15 prone paddleboards, 15 one-person outrigger canoes, 4 two-person outrigger canoes, 1 three-person outrigger canoe, 5 surfski kayaks, 3 sea kayaks, 6 regular kayaks, 1 special rowboat for someone who used a wheelchair.

Results and Gear: The top six finishers overall were-
1:51:01 South African Kevin McLellan on a Fenn Elite S surfski with an over-stern rudder
1:54:31 Tahitian Tetauira "T" Putoa on a rudderless Va'a outrigger canoe
2:00:00 Darian Hildreth on a standard outrigger canoe
2:04:40 Garrett Fletcher on a standard outrigger canoe
2:05:01 James Douglass (ME!) on a 610x46 cm Stellar SEI surfski with an 18 cm "weedless" rudder
2:07:00 Mark Athanacio on a Puakea Kahele outrigger canoe with a small rudder

The top six SUP finishers were-
2:18:39 Brazilian Eri Tenorio on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:20:43 Steve Miller on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:28:15 Tim Warner on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:32:16 Zach Rounsaville on a 14x?? Infinity Blackfish
2:32:23 Kimberly Barnes on a 14x22 Flying Fish (first female SUP)
2:32:35 John Batson on a Starboard?

Other notable finishes included-
2:12:54 Floridian William Miller, first non-surfksi kayak by a large margin
2:13:04 Floridian Bill Mussenden, outrigger canoe, a buddy of mine who is getting pretty darn fast
2:16:25 Floridian Matt Kearney, outrigger canoe, a good buddy who I carpooled and camped with
2:24:29 South African Murray Hunkin, my surfski mentor who is usually much faster than me but had capsizing issues
2:52:34 Floridian Cindy Gibson, first 12'6 SUP, a frequent training buddy
3:06:41 Floridian Meg Bosi, 14' SUP, a big promoter of paddling in SW Florida

Play by play: This was the third time I've done the Key West Classic, but it was a "first" in multiple ways. 1) First time doing it on a surfski kayak instead of a SUP. The race is horribly long and brutal on a standup paddleboard, especially in the upwind sections, but it's not that bad on a fast, sit-down watercraft. 2) First time camping. Matt Kearney and I stayed Friday and Saturday night at Boyd's Campground on Key West, which was economical and convenient. Since we weren't rushing in and out, we did a nice snorkel outing on the way down Friday, and another on the way back Sunday. Friday we paddled out to moor and snorkel at Cheeca Rocks off Islamorada, and Sunday we snorkeled from shore off Bahia Honda State Park in the lower keys. 3) First time getting a "podium" result in my division, though that's mainly due to the field not being so deep in surfski as it is in SUP.

The last two times I've done the race I've gotten screwed at the start, which is disorganized and spread out. This time I made sure I was ready early, and I stalked the starter boat to be sure I was ready to go the moment they dropped the flag. I had a lot of adrenaline at the start, increased by the excitement of having a lot of wind swells to ride. The angle of the wind and swell was about 45 degrees off from true downwind, but it was close enough to still take advantage of the ocean's energy, and I actually made it to the western corner of the island in first place. Woo hoo!

Shortly after turning north along the western side of the island, I saw eventual winner Kevin McLellan appear between me and the shoreline. I tried to keep pace with him and inch over to maybe get in his draft, but he was simply too much faster than me, so I gave up on that by the time we reached the cool shadow of a moored cruise ship on the western side of the island. I was dimly aware that various other paddlers might be creeping up on me, but I didn't see any sign of them until I got near the tip of Fleming Key, at which point I was caught by a drafting pair outrigger canoes: Tetauira Putoa and Darian Hildreth. They had better speed than me, especially as I began to feel the drag of a shallow water section, and even more so when we turned east and into the wind. Heading through the upwind sections they pulled away, especially Tetauria. Kevin had become just a dot in the distance, too. Approaching Dredger's Key, Garrett Fletcher got ahead of me, and I watched as he caught up to Darian.

After a brief respite from the wind in the lee of Dredgers Key was the worst grind of the race, straight upwind, up-current, and through shallow water towards Cow Key Cut. I realized that these flat water, high-resistance sections were my weakest spot, where the paddlers who were stronger and had better technique were kicking my butt. I need to work on efficient surfki paddle technique so that I'm properly using whatever muscle I have, and I probably also need to work on developing more strength through weight training. Equipment-wise, it might help for me to get a narrower, lighter surfski, but don't tell my wife I'm thinking about that. Can't afford it right now, anyway.

The flat and somewhat wind-sheltered waters of Cow Key Cut were still a grind because of the tidal current and shallow water. To avoid the current I hugged the edge of the channel as much as possible, but this was also where there were huge wracks of floating Sargassum. It's quite likely that I acquired some Sargassum at this stage, but I can't be certain how much of my slow-down was due to the current, how much was due to my fatigue, and how much was the weeds.

I looked forward to emerging from Cow Key Cut into the open Atlantic, and hopefully having a great final downwind leg, maybe even stealing back a place or two. Unfortunately, the angle was significantly worse on the final ocean leg than it was on the initial ocean leg. Almost directly sidewind with bad shallow water and reflected seawall chop and horrendous Sargassum. I did manage to catch up to Garrett Fletcher, but only because he was having to stop periodically to shed weeds from his rudder. I stopped once to shed weeds, too, but I think I regained them in 10 seconds. It was frustratingly hard to catch bumps that I thought I'd be able to catch, and frustrating to still seem speed-limited even when surfing down a bump, so I'm pretty sure I did have weeds on the rudder. Anyway, Garrett powered harder than me through that last unpleasant stretch and finished a few seconds ahead.

When I got out of the boat at the shallow, weedy water of the finish line I was so unsteady on my feet that I needed to hold one of the race organizers' hands to walk out of the water. But I was still super stoked to have finished 5th overall and 2nd in the surfski class. My goal for next year is to try to finish in less than 2 hours.

There was plenty to eat and drink and good vibes and pageantry after the race. This is one of those races that is a major achievement to finish even if you don't finish it fast, especially for the SUP paddlers. The organization and adminstration of the race is also top-notch. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

40th birthday wavesailing session video

I turned 40 yesterday. Among the things I had to be grateful for was breeze and bumps suitable for a Gulf of Mexico wavesailing session. I launched from an unusual spot because I assumed my usual beach (Wiggins Pass State Park, parking lot #5) would be too crowded with Easter weekenders. The unusual spot was Dog Beach, on Lovers Key State Park. It gives access to the Gulf of Mexico through a tidal inlet called New Pass, which can be tricky to negotiate because of strong tidal currents and wind somewhat blocked by the mangrove trees. This was the first time I have made it through on a shortboard. Once out of the pass, there is a long stretch of sandbar making for interesting bump and jump / wavesailing conditions.


Here's the GPS track from the sesh.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Boom mount windfoiling video

I'm having some more luck at windfoiling, with my best session so far being today with an 8.0 sail in light winds not exceeding about 10 knots. Check out the video.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Coral Reefs and Hydrofoil Windsurfing- SO AWESOME

I was sitting at an open-air bar on a Friday night, March 22nd, 2019. I don't drink, but since I was dining alone at the only restaurant in the Florida Keys town of Layton, it was the place to sit. It felt cozy after a long day of snorkeling and a 10 km kayaking workout. The patron next to me was a sociable retiree, well in his cups. When he asked what I was doing in town I said I was a college professor from Florida Gulf Coast University, and I was leading a marine biology class field trip at the FL Keys Marine Laboratory down the block from the restaurant. The man paused for a minute then told me in a kind but serious way, "I hope you know, you're blessed."

I said I knew, because I do. It really is a great privilege to be able to do the things I love- not only in my free time, but also through my job. Likewise, it's a blessing to live in sunny Florida, to be married to stunning Rhonda Mason, to have loving, living parents and in-laws, to be "dad" to a cute dog, to have a shed full of water toys and friends to use them with, and to be fairly fit and healthy for a guy about to turn 40. This post will review two of my recent blessings: the Florida Keys Trip, and an early-birthday addition to the toy shed.

The Florida Keys trip happens every semester that I teach Marine Ecology. Though my own research has centered on seagrass and seaweed communities, not coral reefs, I've been learning as much as I can about Caribbean coral reef ecosystems since I first taught the class in 2012. My basic teaching goal is simple: to get the students to snorkel as much as possible and identify as many of the species they see as possible. They have already learned about the ecology of reefs through lectures and student reports in class, but learning to actually identify the species they see underwater makes it more "real." I don't want the students to see just a bunch of pretty colors- I want them to have some understanding of what each species is, what it does, and what its presence (or absence) indicates about the health of the environment. I want them to be aware of how special what they're seeing is so they can experience that same feeling of awesome wonder that I get when surrounded by this amazing ecosystem. Below is a facebook photo album of some of the pictures I took in the keys this year. The captions explain a little about what is going on in each. Feel free to ask me questions about anything else you see in the pictures, or what I think about problems facing reefs today, etc.



So, the other thing that is filling me with a heady sense of awesomeness is the new water toy: a windsurf-mounted hydrofoil. The "foil" is a Slingshot Hoverglide Fwind 2019. It's mounted in place of my fin on one of my windsurf boards- the Exocet Turbo Formula II. "Formula" boards are short and wide in order to plane across the water easily, and they have deep, sturdy fin boxes to hold the bases of large fins. So they adapt well to use with hydrofoils. A hydrofoil puts more strain on the finbox than even the largest conventional fins do, though, so the first thing I did after I decided to buy the hydrofoil was reinforce the top of the finbox with four extra layers of fiberglass. (They also make special, hydrofoil-ready boards, but I wanted to be frugal and try to use the board I already had.) In addition to reinforcing the finbox, I glued some foam blocks onto the nose, in anticipation of having hard crashes from altitude that would catapult my sail and body into the nose and damage it. It looks wacky, but it seems to be working so far. The other safety feature addition was a strong kite line tied from one of the footstraps of the board to the top of the hydrofoil's "mast" to hopefully catch it if it busted off because my finbox failed. Pics:





The maiden voyage of the hydrofoil was to be late in the afternoon on the Sunday after I returned from the Florida Keys. (I'd spent all day sanding the fiberglass, fussing with the nose pads, shopping for some longer stainless steel bolts to mount the foil, etc.) Unfortunately there was ZERO wind when I got to the beach, so all I managed to do was pose the board for a few glamour shots. Monday I teach until 6:20 so I couldn't get to the beach for another try. But Tuesday there was good wind, and I was free. The feeling I had before the first session was adrenaline-pumping fear. It was similar to the excited apprehension I felt leading up to my first kiteboarding session years ago, and I suppose before my first forays into high winds on my windsurfer even more years ago. Anyway, with the wind around 15 knots and the Gulf of Mexico looking pretty choppy, I made what I thought was a conservative rig choice: a 5.5 m2 sail. Normally I would use a 6.8 m2 sail in those winds, but Britt Viehman of North Beach Windsurfing in Tampa told me that with hydrofoils you should use a sail about 1.5 m2 smaller. My good pal Matt Kearney showed up at the beach to take pictures of the first outing. I also filmed it with a GoPro camera mounted to my helmet.





My first shock was how quickly and easily the board accelerated and popped up out of the water with the foil on it. My second shock was how sensitive the foil was to my weight distribution on the board, and how challenging it was to maintain a steady altitude and heading. I had the slingshot foil set up in the "C" configuration, which puts the front wing as far forward as it goes. This is supposed to make for early takeoffs and good jibing, but it can make it harder to keep the nose down and requires a front foot heavy stance quite different from what I was used to. I did a lot of "overfoiling," which is when the foil wings breach the water and suddenly lose lift, dropping you down instantly. Thankfully, the nose of my board was curved up enough that these crashes didn't usually cause me to fall off. I would just smack down, then bounce back up, then smack down again like a drunken porpoise. The relatively short foil mast that I was using (2 feet long; 61 cm), combined with the choppy water and my lack of skill, exacerbated the overfoiling problem. But I wasn't ready to run switch to the 90 cm mast that also shipped with the hydrofoil, because the idea of crashing down from a greater height was intimidating. Anyway, I finished my first foil session humbled, but encouraged by enough success to be VERY stoked.

Foil session #2 was the the next day, and it was quite windy with more of an offshore wind angle. That meant the waves weren't as high, which helped reduce my overfoiling. Two other things also reduced overfoiling were that I wasn't as overpowered (I used a 4.7 m2 sail), and I switched the foil to the "B" configuration which puts the wings a bit further towards the tail of the board and favors a stance with more weight on the back foot (more similar to the normal windsurfing stance). The more back-foot-favored stance allowed me to get in the footstraps more, including sometimes getting in the outboard back foostraps instead of just the inboard "chicken strap". My altitude control was OK, but I still felt frustrated with overfoiling too much in the chop, and decided it would be worth trying the 90 cm mast.

Foil session #3 doesn't count because the wind was so light that I mostly just slogged around, with only about 20 seconds getting up on the foil. It was my most relaxing foil session at least.

Foil session #4 (today) was my first time using it successfully with the 90 cm mast and an 8.0 m2 sail. The wind was only 5-10 knots, and more often at the lower end of that range. With a conventional fin on the formula board I would have needed my largest 11.0 m2 sail to have any hope of planing in those winds. But the foil showed amazing power to get the board up and cruising with just the 8.0 sail. Because of the room for error in altitude control afforded by the 90 cm mast and the flat water surface, I was able to get some wonderfully long runs without touching down. Silently whooshing over the sparkling blue sea, even slicing over boat wakes without the usual "smack smack" of the board contacting the waves, is SO AWESOME. Figuring out how to distribute my weight properly between my feet and the harness, and going upwind and downwind in varying wind strengths, is still quite challenging for me. I also haven't successfully foiled through any jibes. But I'm eager to get out there and work on that stuff.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

To Freak Out or Not to Freak Out

To freak out or not to freak out? That is the question. These are the answers.