Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crabs - Dying from Pollution and Overharvest

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation just released a report today describing the dire situation for blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) in the Bay. The problem is two-fold:

1) Pollution from the land has damaged the Bay, so it produces fewer crabs. The picture below shows crabs forced to crawl out of the water to flee an oxygen-depleted "dead zone".


2) Large numbers of crabs are still being harvested; more than the damaged ecosystem can replenish.

Some of the "executive summary" of the report is pasted below. If you have adobe acrobat you can read the full version here. There's a picture of my postdoc advisor, Dr. Anson Hines, on page 7.


Bad Water and the Decline of Blue Crabs in the Chesapeake Bay


Blue crabs are not only the most economically important fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. They are also a powerful icon of the whole mid-Atlantic region— a symbol of our cultural roots in the Chesapeake. And they are an essential strand in the web of life that forms the nation’s largest estuary. For all these reasons, it is a matter of grave concern that the blue crab population has fallen to near record lows. Scientists say there are two causes of the problem: pollution and overfishing, especially of female blue crabs. (Overfishing means catching crabs faster than they can reproduce.) Here are some key facts:

° Less Crab Food- Low-oxygen “dead zones” on the bottom kill the food that crabs eat, wiping out or preventing the growth of 75,000 metric tons of clams and worms a year. That is enough food to support about half the commercial crab harvest, more than 60 million blue crabs annually.
° Less Crab Habitat- Sediment from runoff and algal blooms caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are darkening the Bay’s waters, killing the underwater grasses that young crabs need as shelter from predators. More than half of the Bay’s eelgrass has died since the early 1970s.
° Overfishing- Because a diminished Bay can support fewer crabs, overfishing has become an even more urgent problem. Watermen have caught an average of 62 percent of the Bay’s blue crabs each year over the last decade—well more than the 46 percent that scientists say is sustainable.
° Regulation- If the Bay were cleaner and crabs more plentiful, watermen could continue to catch the same number of crabs they are harvesting today without exceeding the 46 percent threshold. Then, additional government regulation of watermen—and relief for them—might not be necessary.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Windsurfing, Babe



The windsurfing is being done in nice, 15-20 mph NE winds in front of my folks' beach house at Edisto Island, South Carolina. The air and water are in the mid 50s (Fahrenheit) - not too bad with a wetsuit and booties. The babe is my niece, Ayla Ojanen. It's interesting comparing the Ojanen family photo from this year with that from last year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Out of the Horse Latitudes?


Yesterday I drove up to South Carolina for a family Christmas at Edisto Island. I awoke this morning to 20 knots of SW wind, and ended up getting a good session on my smallest board (87 liters).

That really scratched an itch for me, since I hadn't sailed the little board, at least not for a full-on session, since early fall. There just weren't many, if any, 20+ knot wind days in East Central Florida. At least not many that occurred while I was there, healthy, and able to "adjust" my work schedule, which was most of the time.

I think it's because where I live in Florida is in the so-called "Horse Latitudes"; a region of crappy wind between the Westerlies of the temperate zone and the Easterly trade winds of the tropics. The region is also called the subtropical high, as shown on the global wind patterns map below. Wikipedia explains it better than I could.


I haven't seen this written, but I think that where the Horse Latitudes are located varies with season and with shorter term weather patterns. I.e. in the summer, Central Florida might usually be below the HL, and thus get more Easterly trade winds. And in the dead of winter, it will (hopefully) be enough above the HL to get more Westerlies and frontal systems. We'll see.

BTW- Does anyone know where I could find wind statistics for Central Florida? I know the (excellent) New England Windsurfing Journal publishes average wind stats for various locations from Cape Hatteras - Cape Cod, but I don't know of anything similar for Florida.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Inlet to Inlet Race Report

Last weekend's "Inlet to Inlet" long-distance windsurfing race, organized by Ron and Sue Kern of Fort Lauderdale, was the first race I ever did in Florida. Not only was it a great challenge, but it was a great introduction to the groovy community of sailors in South Florida.


I almost didn't make it down from Fort Pierce because of car troubles. As it was, I limped into the Fort Lauderdale Beach parking lot with the battery light flashing and a weird humming coming from the dash. I scrubbed the battery terminals and tried to put car-anxiety out of mind to make room for race anxiety.

There were 19 other competitors at the beach, mostly formula racers, but with Mike Rayl on a Kona longboard (like me), and Beth Powell on a mistral one-design longboard. The winds were light from the NNW at first, but at noon they clocked around to NE and surged to a generous 20 mph. The chop and waves also swelled to formidable size. Amidst the pre-race excitement I realized I'd forgotton my harness back in the shower at home. Damn! Luckily, Alex Morales, who is famous for escaping from Cuba on a windsurf, lent me one, and Peter Ifju, a famous University of Florida professor and high-tech fin maker, lent me a harness hook.

I set up my Kona with the 46 cm stock fin, and rigged a 7.8 Aerotech Air-X, which is currently my largest sail. I left the footstraps in the inboard position where I keep them for freeriding / waveriding, but tightened them a lot to put my heels further out on the rail. I screwed two u-joints into the mast track in case one broke and so I could switch the position forward or backwards depending on conditions.

Getting out through the breaking waves was tough, especially for the formula riders with their long fins that would snag on the sandbar. About 50% of the attrition occured during that stage, before the race even started. Poor Farrah Hall had a brand new 9.0 KA formula sail rigged but broke her mast in two places and was really bummed that she didn't get to race. I think something similar happened to her Olympian rival, Nancy Rios, who had rigged her RS:X Olympic board and sail. I got off the beach ok, but immediately had control problems with my sail because one of the boom cuffs was slipping. I jumped off in the water and fixed it, but was still jittery and uncomfortable using my big gear in the heavy conditions.

Once away from the chaos of the starting line I got a better feel for the conditions and my gear, and got dialed in to the routine of taking long tacks upwind towards the barely-visible Hillsboro lighthouse. The surviving formula sailors were way ahead, but I was close with the other longboard riders, whose presence motivated me to keep pushing. I'd never before raced a Kona in conditions where sailing without the daggerboard was the most efficient way upwind, but it seemed to work pretty well in the strong breeze. I started to get ahead of Mike, but Beth was blazing a high-line with the daggerboard down on her raceboard, and she pulled away from both of us.

Getting to the upwind mark was actually kind of fun, working past row after row of cartoonish hotels and condos, and watching flying fish scatter away from the crashing bow of the Kona board. Finally, I rounded the Hillsboro Inlet marker, jumped off to move my mast base all the way back, then went barreling downwind. The waves were really getting huge, and when you were sliding obliquely down a swell the acceleration from both wind and water power was crazy. I saw Beth Powell struggling not far south of the Hillsboro marker and gleefully zipped past. Mike Rayl caught up with me, and we traded places a few times as each of us fought fear and fatigue to stay speedy. Eventually, I opted for a slower, deeper downwind line with my back foot in the leeward strap, and watched Mike dissappear ahead of me and further out to sea. That helped me rest my legs and stay in control, but I still had a couple of oh-shit moments coping with the lumps and bumps out there. I found the Port Everglades Marker right where it was supposed to be, 11.5 miles South of the Hillsboro Inlet marker and about 2 miles from shore. I rounded with relief, and made the final beeline for the beach. A bunch of guys jumped into the water to help save my gear from destruction in the break, thank goodness. Onshore I learned I was the fourth finisher, having somehow made it past Mike on the downwind. Mike arrived a few minutes later, but said he had been really smacked-down by the conditions far offshore and had opted to come straight in instead of rounding the Port Everglades buoy. That meant I was 4th overall and the only longboard rider who finished the whole course. YES! The good vibes continued though the prize-giving ceremony, the miraculous temporary recovery of my car battery, and the sweet pizza party at Ron and Sue's house. Woo hoo!

I'll definitely be back.

Full Race Results and Times: http://www.ronkern.com/2008_Results.htm

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Water Resistant 50 Meters" My Butt

As an unsupervised postdoctoral researcher, it can sometimes be tough to self-motivate. To help maintain a productive and efficient schedule, I decided to invest in a wristwatch. So when I was in West Marine last week I picked up a Timex 1440. I checked to make sure it was water resistant, and it was, to 50 meters depth, supposedly.


Well, I went windsurfing today and the dang thing got water in it. Now it's chirping like an epileptic sparrow and flashing nonsensical messages in an alien language.

Turns out "Water Resistant 50 M" watches can tolerate a static pressure equal to 50 m depth for 1 hour, but are actually not suitable for swimming at ANY depth, because the real-life forces experienced by a watch on a wrist are much worse than what it feels when motionless in a pressure chamber. Here's the the industry standards for water resistance, along with the real meaning, from wikipedia.

Water Resistant 30 m or 50 m - Ok for fishing, but not for swimming
Water Resistant 100 m - Ok for swimming, but not for "serious surface water sports", i.e. windsurfing
Water Resistant 200 m - Ok for anything besides scuba diving*

*There are other standards for scuba watches, but I'm not going to get into those.

Anyway, the point of my rant is that I think it's an evil marketing trick to display the misleading test rating (i.e. WR50M) on a watch, instead of its actual water resistance. I know they probably mention the practical usage recommendations in the fine print, but nobody reads that. It has to be something intuitive, right on the label. Any ideas?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Death Race, Fort Lauderdale

**UPDATE - The death race has been postponed until next weekend, December 13-14.**

Original post-

Windsurf racing is fun because it involves individual, man-vs-wild type challenges in addition to the peer-to-peer competition you have in all sports. Sometimes just finishing a race is victory enough, even if you place last.

I think that will be the case in the 2008 Inlet to Inlet Race taking place next weekend in Fort Lauderdale.

It's a 23 mile round trip from Port Everglades Inlet to Hillsboro Inlet, as the seagull flies. As the windsurf tacks, it could be significantly farther, depending on the wind direction. Also, the sailing will be way the heck out in the ocean, in offshore winds, with the competitors perhaps not even within sight of one and other. We're all supposed to bring cell phones in waterproof cases in case we can't finish and have to be picked up from the beach somewhere in no-mans land, or worse, break down and can't even get to shore.


The forecast is for 5-10 knots NW on Saturday and 10-15 knots NW on Sunday, so the race will probably be held Sunday with Saturday as a practice. I'll ride my Kona ONE longboard with a 7.8 meter squared sail. I think most of the other competitors will be on formula boards, so if the wind holds up they will finish much sooner than me. The record course time, set by race organizer Ron Kern, is 1:12 - 21 mph average speed! This year it will probably take everyone a lot longer.