Sunday, November 15, 2015

New spot for windsurfing in East Winds near Bonita Springs, Florida

It's hard to windsurf in winds that are blowing "offshore" with respect to the general orientation of the coastline. Offshore winds tend to be gusty (variable in strength and direction) and tend to be very light along the shoreline, especially if there are trees, building, or hills blocking and swirling with the wind as it bumps over the land on its way out to sea. You can deal with offshore winds by using a floaty board and delicately shlogging/drifting away from shore until you're far enough out to be in the strong and steady wind unaffected by the obstacles on land. But that's dangerous because it's hard to get back, and can be impossible to get back if the wind strength changes or some part of your gear breaks.

So the better way to deal with offshore winds is to go to a different spot to windsurf- a spot where the shoreline is oriented differently with respect to the wind, so the wind is coming towards shore (onshore wind), or sideways to the shore (sideshore wind). Sometimes that means driving a long way, though. In Florida, it can mean driving all the way across the state.

This brings me to one of the big challenges to windsurfing in SW Florida: It does get windy sometimes, but as often as not the wind is from the NE, E, or SE - blowing offshore. What you need in those conditions is to launch from an east-facing beach on an island or peninsula that is west of a large embayment of some sort. Until recently I was under the impression that the nearest suitable embayment was San Carlos Bay, between Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. Windsurfing from the Sanibel Causeway bridge definitely works well in east winds, and also in every other wind direction, which is probably why the only windsurfing shop in the area (Ace Performer) is located near the Sanibel Causeway.

Since I live in Bonita Springs, though, the Sanibel Causeway is 45 minutes to 1 hour away, and there's a $7 toll for the bridge. I have things to do and I don't like to spend more time driving than windsurfing during a session. So mostly I've just been risking my life and sailing in offshore winds from the west-facing beach launches near Bonita Springs.

However, while practicing for a SUP race around Lovers' Key, just ~15 minutes from my house, I realized that Estero Bay, on the backside of Lovers' Key, could have some pretty strong, steady east winds. The only trick would be finding an OK launch spot. Well, I found one today. It's a free dirt/grass parking area at the north end of a big field near the Carl Johnson Boat Ramp. It's next to a small bridge over a tidal creek called Little Carlos Pass.

There are some shallow spots near shore that you have to watch out for, but once you're 50 m out you're in relatively deep water with a good 1 km or so of fetch from the east, interrupted only by some small mangrove islands. Today I sailed it with a 106 l Exocet Cross and 6.4 KA sail with a 26 cm fin. It was awesome flatwater conditions good for practicing jibing and generally hauling ass. I reckon it will be my go-to spot now for strong E & NE winds. It wouldn't be so good for light-wind shortboard windsurfing because shallow spots would be dangerous with longer fins.

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