Friday, January 30, 2009

Potty Humor

Should men put the toilet seat down after doing #1?

My dad justifies his controversial view on this issue, here:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Marine Biology Talks in Fort Pierce

My boss, Dr. Anson Hines, is giving a free public lecture about crabs tonight at the Pelican Yacht Club in Fort Pierce. I just thought I'd put that out there in case any readers from the area are interested in marine biology and environmental issues. If you can't make this one, there's one on coral reefs at the end of February by Dr. Nancy Knowlton.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Safina's Windsurfing Quiver

When I was in grad school I gave a lot of free windsurfing lessons for the VIMS Sail and Paddle Club and the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater. Now that I'm a busy, working scientist, I still give some windsurfing lessons, but I charge. It's worth it for students, though, because when they're ready to fledge I hook them up with lots of cheap / free gear.

This student of mine got an F2 Phoenix longboard for $62 on ebay, and I gave her a mast, 3 sails, 2 booms, a harness, a u-joint and an extension for just $70. It was mostly gear donated to me for free by a generous kiter who used to windsurf.

Here's Safina with her 5.9 Ezzy-

Again with a 4.1 Aerotech-

And with a tiny 2.9 Gaastra that she can use if it's really nuking-

Anyway, the moral of the story is that there's a lot of gear languishing in garages out there that could make a beginner windsurfer happy if you take the time to teach and set them up.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An Open Letter to Lisa

President Obama has designated Lisa P. Jackson as the new head Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.


She has a pretty good record of enforcing pollution-prevention regulations and setting CO2 emissions reduction goals, although she has been criticized by some for caving in to pressure from industry lobbyists. Industry lobbyists combine the worst traits of lawyers, marketers, and corporate officers, making them some of the most evil people on earth, in my humble opinion. You better believe they're scrambling to sink their poisonous fangs into Mrs. Jackson right now.


You can help counteract the effects of lobbyist-venom by writing to Lisa and letting her know that you support serious efforts to protect the nation's natural ecosystems. The address is:

Lisa Jackson, Administrator Designate
Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20460.

Bill Baker, the head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, suggested in an email that CBF members write and emphasize the particular importance of restoring "the world's greatest estuary" (the Chesapeake), so that's what I'm doing. If there's another natural area or environmental issue that's near and dear to your heart (for example, Washington State's Puget Sound or Florida's Everglades or Indian River Lagoon) you could write about that.

Here's my letter:

Dear Administrator Jackson,

Congratulations on your recent appointment to EPA head! I hope that you will waste no time in strengthening the environmental protections that were weakened by your pro-industry predecessors from the Bush era. In particular, I hope that you will turn your attention to restoring the majesty and integrity of the nation's great estuaries, including the imperiled Chesapeake Bay.

As a marine biologist trained at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, I became well-versed in the tragic tale of the Chesapeake's degradation: 1) The loss of wetlands and forests in the watershed and the unmanaged effluent of a growing population turned the water from clear to brown and increased the frequency and severity of toxic algal blooms and anoxic events. 2) The overharvest of fish and shellfish lead to their near extinction and to the collapse of many fisheries. 3) The demise of oyster reefs and seagrass beds compounded the problems of pollution and fisheries losses by removing the Bay's natural filtration capacity and nursery habitats.

I remain optimistic, however, because I know all the Bay's problems have solutions, pending the political will to implement them. Curbing urban sprawl, funding modern wastewater treatment facilities, prohibiting the sale of synthetic lawn and garden fertilizers, encouraging organic farming and native plant landscaping, and strictly enforcing riparian buffer zones will all help to improve water quality.

Restoration of fish and shellfish stocks is also achievable. The example of the striped bass showed that a temporary moratorium on harvest, followed by strict, science-based management, can quickly restore the population and economic role of a once-threatened species. Similarly aggressive management is long overdue for blue crabs and oysters. With the oysters, in particular, a shift needs to be made away from "put and take" stocking / harvest programs, which amount to inefficient welfare for oyster harvesters and do nothing to permanently rebuild the oyster population or create a sustainable fishery. Wild-harvest of oysters is simply not sustainable on a large scale. To survive, the Chesapeake oyster industry must do as every other oyster industry in the world has already done, and shift to 100% aquaculture. Oyster restoration for ecological purposes (rebuilding natural oyster reefs for their habitat and water-filtration role) will then be able to proceed successfully, unbound from the harvest industry.

Seagrass beds will be a vital indicator of the progress of Chesapeake Bay restoration, because of their dependency on good water quality and a fully functioning ecosystem. The seagrass species "eelgrass" is also a canary-in-the-mineshaft for global warming, because it is near the Southern end of its range limit in Chesapeake Bay and is decimated by hotter-than normal summers.

In summary, because of Chesapeake Bay's historical importance, its proximity to the cultural, population, and political centers of the US, and its serious-but-solvable ecological problems, it should be a cornerstone of the EPA's activities under your administration.

James Douglass, Ph.D.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It was a great day, BUT...

...I think I might have killed a sea turtle with my windsurfing fin. A baby sea turtle. :(


I saw one in the water and veered well around it, but right as I was passing there was a "TCHKUNG!" and I hit something else; probably one of his buddies. I jibed and when I was passing by again there was a stunned / dead turtle bobbing at the surface with his head down. :(

I can barely bring myself to write about how great the windsurfing was (4.2 all afternoon!) because I feel so bad about the turtle. :(

Actually I think that inadvertently killing / maiming lots of cute sea creatures is sort-of the dirty secret of windsurfing in Florida, since several other folks I've talked to have also mentioned striking turtles or manatees. Formula sailors, especially. I could go back to using raked weed fins all the time to help deflect the blows, but that might not help much. One time in the James River of Virginia I sailed right through the back of a large gizzard shad, and that was with a weed fin. At least gizzard shad aren't cute.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Windsurfing Mag Board Tests - "Light Air!?"

STOKE! Today I got to do something I have dreamed about ever since I got my first issue of Windsurfing Magazine in 2002; I got to be in a board test! I'm not allowed to say what I thought about any of the particular boards. So if you want to know which ones are "WOOHOO!" and which ones are "meh...", you'll have to subscribe to the magazine.

I AM allowed / encouraged to write about the general experience and post pictures and stuff, so that's what I've done in this post...

The tests are run at the Banana River Resort (hereafter the "BRR") in Cocoa Beach, which is right on the Banana River Lagoon (hereafter the "BRL"). The lagoon setup is a lot like North Carolina's Outer Banks, except that the sound it isn't quite as wide - you can see the other side. The BRR is a charming, small hotel / campground / windsurfing school / commune.


It was abandoned for a couple years, but recently reopened under the dual management of Karen Marriott and Dominique Vallee. Dominique is a French-Canadian Olympic contender who is a pretty, amazing windsurfer. When an ultra-windy squall hit in the middle of the already-very-windy day, most people got blown off the water. I didn't even want to go out on my 5.2 and waveboard. It felt like 3.5 conditions. But Dominique grabbed a 5.0 and somehow held it together in the blast.


In the second picture you can really see how she's maximizing the leverage of her petite body against the sail. Dang.


It was ironic that we were supposed to be testing big boards for light and medium winds, because the first half of the day was so windy most of us were scared to ride any board bigger than 100 liters. Only the expert, heavyweight speed demons John Ingebritsen and Steve Gottlieb did much testing until early afternoon when the wind backed off. I have probably never seen anyone windsurf as fast as they were going. Dang.

Eventually the conditions were good for the boards we had to test, and I rode a bunch of them, always with the same 7.2 sail to keep things fair. We were testing 110 - 125 liter shortboards, and extra large shortboards around 140 - 160 liters. It was interesting to see the differences, even within one genre of boards. Definitely some cool stuff out there. Also, it was fun to ride big, "freeride" shortboards again after not having had that type of board in a while.


Windsurfers who get hooked on sailing in waves or doing tricks tend to scoff at those who just do back-and-forth freeriding on flat waters, but the simplicity of freeride windsurfing is deceptive. There's actually a great art to "dialing in" the speed and performance of a freeride board. The feeling of speed and the power of board, sail, and fin working in harmony is all you need, really. That and maybe the ego boost of blasting by your buddies once you're dialed.


I didn't get to ride all the boards, but the test period goes for another couple months, so I'll be back a few more times. Life is good.


PS- Thanks Clyde G. for the photos.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Polls, Fins, Gebi, Clam Sandwich

FYI, I just posted two new polls in the sidebar. I'm testing the theory that most windsurfers are engineers named John, Dave, Scott, Chris, or Mike. If your name is a close variant, like "Jon", "David" or "Michael", that's good enough; don't get persnickety and mark "other".

WARNING- Before you read any further in this post, be aware that it is mostly boring, technical windsurfing stuff. So if you are NOT an engineer named John, Dave, Scott, Chris, or Mike, you might want to think twice.

Begin post-

Guess what? I got to windsurf around sunset today with Mike Gebhardt, the OLYMPIC CHAMPION. Actually, he was kiting, and kicking my ass in terms of jumps and speed. He did that thing where you ride up alongside, just downwind, and reach out to lean on the nose of the other guy's board. Pretty cool.

It didn't bug me that he could jump higher, because everyone knows kiters can jump higher, but I wanted to be faster. Some of the speed discrepancy may have been due to the fact that I'm not an Olympic Champion who spent the last six months in Namibia working to break the kiteboarding speed record. Nevertheless, I think I could eke out a few more knots if I tuned my gear differently. I.e. if I matched my sail and fin better. The weed-wave fin I was using today (left) has a large surface area and low aspect ratio, which give it good grip and maneuverability but make it a bit sluggish. The sluggishness is pronounced when the fin is used with smaller sails, like the 5.8 I was on today. I should have used the narrow, efficient fin on the right.


The reason I didn't was that the weed-wave fin was already in the board and I was in a hurry. Before grabbing that board I had been sailing my newly-salvaged "Clam Sandwich", but I wanted to do a cross-comparison with my main ride, which is actually called the "cross". Check out the differences in the tails and fins of the cross (top) and the clam (bottom).


The clam sandwich is a lot thinner, huh? That really helps it slice a turn. Also, the fins are the same length (25 cm), but because of the area difference, the one on top is good with a sail around 7 msq and the one on bottom with a sail around 5 msq, I think.

I'm pretty stoked about the clam, especially since I got it for free and did the refurbishing myself this weekend. It was in decent shape to begin with, except for a botched rhinoplasty and bad back footstraps. The first thing I did was to move the good, front footstraps to the back, and replace them with some ok extra straps that I had lying around. Then I sawed off the pointy part of the nose and filed it into sort-of a blunt, trapezoid shape. I fiberglassed two layers over the area, then filed and sanded the worst lumps out of my glass job. I made a jaggedy, sunburst-shaped stencil and spray painted gold over the exposed fiberglass for beautification and UV protection. To integrate the sunburst aesthetic with the rest of the board I added some gold stars with more stencils. The result is "unique", IMHO. Perhaps I should call the new board the "Glam Sandwich".


PS- I was going to sell the Clam Sandwich for $90, but now as the "Glam Sandwich", the price has gone up to $100. (The epoxy and stuff I got from @#$%! West Marine cost $100.)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bugs and Birds

I meant to work these pictures into other blog posts but I never got around to it. Anyway, here's a very brief show-and-tell...

Picture 1- A funny float from the Christmas Parade at Edisto Beach, South Carolina. The man in the cockroach suit was throwing out candy to the kids, but most were too scared to approach.

Picture 2- A brown pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis) at the Fort Pierce South Jetty.

Picture 3- Some white ibises (Eudocimus albus) on the powerlines over my car. Yeah, they crapped on it, but they were too majestic for me to want to shoo away.

Picture 4- Close-up of the majestic ibises.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2008 Windsurfing Review

Last year I revealed myself as an obsessive compulsive record keeper when I posted a statistical analysis of my 2007 windsurfing sessions. Well, I've done more or less the same thing for my 2008 sessions, though I've experimented with some different ways of presenting the data.

Highlights and Trends-

1) 133 windsurfing sessions, not counting 5 times I just instructed. This is down from 154 sessions in 2007. I attribute the drop to dissertation writing, traveling, meteorological conditions, and a slight increase in wind-snobbery. Most of my sessions were shortboard sessions on 7.0 or smaller sails, but about a third were longboard sessions, which were also fun. On any given day, there was a 36% chance that I would windsurf at all, a 24% chance that I would ride a shortboard, and an 8% chance that I would ride a shortboard smaller than 100 liters. That works out to windsurfing once every 3 days, shortboarding once every 4 days, and high-wind shortboarding every 13 days, on average.


2) I started and ended the year with 3 boards and 6 sails, but there was some turnover. In the spring, I updated my highwind shortboard from a ProTech ATC (77 l) to an F2 Style 250 (87 l), and replaced my 6.9 and 8.5 Ezzy sails with 6.6 and 7.8 Aerotech sails. In the summer, I had a fling with a Fanatic Ultra Cat longboard, but sold it and kept my trusty Kona longboard. In the fall I sold my Fanatic Skate 63 (114 l) and got a brand new Exocet Cross (106 l). The boards currently in my quiver are in bold in the table below.


3) I sailed from 26 different beaches in 5 geographic regions.


Each region had its own character in terms of weather. The most extreme and variable winds and temperatures were in the winter and springtime in the Chesapeake Bay and Outer Banks.


The temperature chart shows some cold days in August, corresponding with windsurfing in chilly Puget Sound during my post-PhD trip home to Olympia, WA. A pair of windy sessions around the same time reflect my trip to The Columbia River Gorge.


4) Every session was a blessing in its own way, but there were five that really stood out for having especially thrilling, satisfying, and/or spiritual qualities.

Feb 10th - A nuclear W wind solo session on 3.5 at Carmines Island, VA.
Jun 13th - Perfect summertime SE wind and swells at York River Seafood, in the good company of my friends Sam and Heather.
Aug 8th - A brisk SW wind from the Pacific let me go on a long longboard journey through the Eld Inlet fjord and around to Budd Inlet, where I could see the WA State Capitol building and snow-capped Mount Rainier.
Aug 12th - It was 20-30 knots at Doug's Beach in the Gorge. There was the smell of desert dust and sage, and the invigorating majesty of the rock cliffs and roaring swell-trains.
Sep 24th - The biggest, smoothest waves I've ever sailed, in 25 knots of warm NE wind at the Fort Pierce Jetty.

All in all, 2008 was a fantastic year of freedom and adventures, both on and off the water. I count myself a dang lucky guy. :D