Thursday, September 22, 2011

Flooring-It on a Beginner Windsurfing Board

One of the best antidotes to windsurfing-gear-snobbery is learning to make good with less-fancy-than-your-own equipment while on vacation. I had a wonderful opportunity to do just that recently at my folks' beach house in Edisto Island, South Carolina. The gear that my dad keeps under the porch there consists of a 220 liter Fanatic Viper (85 cm wide beginner board with rubber-coated deck), an ancient 5.7 dacron sail, and a fairly modern 7.8 Aerotech Air-X that I left there a few years ago. I had used the stuff a few times before, but never in more than marginal-planing conditions. Monday, 19 September 2011, had 15 - 20 knots; definitely more than marginal-planing conditions.


Nevertheless, I opted to go for the bigger sail, since it's a better sail all-around, and since I figured the rather-heavy board would benefit from extra horsepower.


I also moved the board's footstraps from their inboard and forward positions to outboard and back positions more suited to well-powered blasting. I didn't move them ALL the way out and back, though, because I didn't think the 44 cm fin on the board would have enough lift to support a fully-outboard stance.


I put the u-joint fairly close to the back of the mast track because the water was rough and I wanted to be sure the nose was riding high enough not to stuff in the waves.


Things felt pretty good on my first run out- plenty of power, but the board was behaving well. A big double concave in the nose smooths out the ride. The footstraps felt like they were out and back enough to get good leverage over the rig and accelerate the board to full speed, but they weren't so far out and back as to cause problems with control in chop or spinning out the fin. The only tuning change I had to make was moving the harness lines back a bit to get the sail fully sheeted. Jibing was awkward compared to the shortboards I'm used to, but the board got around ok once I learned to be a little more patient with it.

I can't wait for the next South Carolina trip so I can ride it again!

PS- I should thank the photographer, Lady Notorious. It was her first trip to the South, not counting Disney World.


PPS- I should also mention some of the other fun parts of the trip. Such as getting to hang out with my Douglasses.


And such as getting up close and personal with South Carolina wildlife like these Littoraria irrorata marsh snails...



...these Uca pugnax fiddler crabs...


...and this Sciaenops ocellatus red drum...


...which I caught mostly by accident (and released) while trying to lure blue crabs to a piece of ham on a fish hook.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Whale Sharks Feeding Like Goldfish

Now and then I get solicited by strangers to blog about something that they want me to blog about. Usually it seems like a ruse for them to get free publicity, but occasionally they have something that I am actually excited to share. E.g., this photo from National Geographic, taken by photographer Michael Aw:


These are whale sharks looking for handouts from fishermen in Indonesia. It's funny to me to see these big, slow, cold-blooded animals, which I have always considered to be lazy, plankton-straining feeders, actively snapping at food from the surface like giant versions the goldfish in a pond. Cute.

Nat Geo's caption for the picture is: Vying for position under a bagan, male whale sharks—two of about twenty that visit this spot—scramble for a snack. Typically an adult shark might cruise night and day at a sedate one to three miles an hour, sucking in enough seawater to feed itself. This group likely spends a lot of time in Papua's Cenderawasih Bay, making it one of a few places where the species gathers year-round. Scientists hope to cooperate with locals to launch studies of the giants.

If you want to see the rest in this photo series, you can go to

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Good PSA for Deep Sea Conservation

In recent years there have been tons of cool discoveries from the deep sea, including bizarre new species, new biochemicals for drug development, and most interesting to me, entirely new types of diverse, reef ecosystems where we had previously assumed there were only plains of mud. The tragic irony of these discoveries is that they have been accompanied by a gold-rush kind of effort to harvest the new stocks of fish and crustaceans that we have found down there. Harvesting deep sea life is a terrible idea, for two reasons.

Reason #1- The method of harvesting, which is dragging a trawl net across the bottom, totally destroys the slow-growing corals and other non-motile organisms that form the structure of the deep sea ecosystems. It can take thousands of years for them to regrow, and in the meantime the fishes and other critters that depend on them have no place to live.

Reason #2- Deep sea organisms are sometimes abundant, but unlike shallow water organisms, they are very slow-growing and slow to reproduce. The Chilean Sea-Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish, aka Dissostichus eleginoides) and Orange Roughy (aka Slimehead, aka Hoplostethus atlanticus) that you buy in the grocery store could be 50 and 150 years old, respectively! They simply cannot be harvested sustainably.

This nice video from the Pew Ocean Trust shows this all in a much more interesting way than I can describe...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Childhood Phobias – Licked?

**12 Sept UPDATE: Just added #0- Pain / Doctor Phobia**

I had a good childhood, full of more happy memories than I could ever begin to count. My parents were wonderful, I got along with my little sister, I had cool hobbies and interests that I shared with best friends, and I was generally praised by adults for being smart, creative, and well behaved. Yet, from kindergarten age until after high school I was a champion worrier, handicapped by some major phobias. I’m actually happier now as an adult than I was as a kid, due in no small part to the process of getting (mostly) over those phobias.

For my own sake, and because it may interest a few readers, I’ve decided to make a partial list of the phobias and to say a little bit about each one. The phobias range from completely silly to somewhat serious, but are in no particular order. Also, I had a little bit of trouble with the list, because certain phobias were sort-of offshoots or amalgams of other phobias. Anyway…

Phobia #0- Pain / Doctor Phobia.
When I was a kid I had to get frequent allergy shots, which I hated. It was a long drive out to the Doctor’s office and a long time in the waiting room, which gave me ample time to worry and obsess, anticipating the coming shot. The shots themselves weren’t that bad- I just couldn’t relax when I knew that there would be pain in my future. As my capacity to anticipate and worry grew, I started to dread all the blood tests, immunizations, suffocating-feeling orthodontic plaster impressions, etc. that I knew awaited me when I turned certain ages. I felt like a kid in one of those tribes where every boy knew that on his 13th birthday they would tie vines around his feet and hang him upside down from a bamboo tower while they circumcised him with a stone knife. Perhaps even more worrisome were the things that I knew MIGHT happen to me at any time, like getting a cavity or needing a tonsillectomy. I remember asking my dad one time when we were driving in the car whether I would ever need my tonsils out. He said that I probably wouldn’t need them taken out, but I wanted him to PROMISE me that it would never happen, and I was extremely distressed that he couldn’t guarantee it. From my perspective it was like being told that there probably wasn’t a werewolf in my closet, but there might be, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Getting over the pain / doctor phobia was gradual, but at some point I realized that it was fruitless to worry about things that I couldn’t prevent, and instead I should view those things as positive opportunities to develop and display my stoicism and toughness. So now I’m happy to give blood or get shots, or whatever, and I didn’t even flinch (much) when, as a 21 year old, two burly nurses had to shove a fiber-optic camera up my wee wee to prospect for bladder stones. I would say my pain / doctor phobia is licked.

Phobia #1- Bee Phobia.
I had a normal fear of bees as a young kid, getting maybe one sting a summer. But then I stepped on yellowjackets’ nests two years in a row and got lots of terrifying and painful stings that swelled up badly, especially the second year. So for a while anything that buzzed would send me sprinting in the opposite direction, and I was deathly afraid of picnics and bbqs where sweet sodas and sauces would attract the sugar-hungry yellowjackets. Anyway, there was no special insight or bolt of maturity that got me over that phobia- it just kind of faded as I realized bees wouldn’t usually sting unprovoked, and even if they did it wasn’t any worse pain than I could handle. I got stung in Florida when I was packing up my kiteboarding gear about a year and a half ago and it was no biggie.

Phobia #2- Sports Phobia.
I was as active and playful as a normal kid, and I don’t think I was out of shape, uncoordinated or small for my age. Yet, I absolutely dreaded sports. (As I dreaded most other kinds of competition and evaluation.) Instead of seeing sports as play, enhanced by fun challenges and exciting opportunities for personal improvement, I saw sports like a slave in Rome would see the gladiator arena; as a miserable trial leading to inevitable doom. So I just tried to avoid the arena at all costs. When I couldn’t avoid it (my well-meaning parents always signed me up for soccer and basketball camps and little league and stuff) I slinked around half-heartedly, doing the bare minimum needed to avoid shame and quitter’s guilt, but always focused more on escape than on personal development or victory. I was extremely aware of the negative external pressures and stresses of competition and comparison, and extremely out-of-touch with the positive internal drivers that make sports fun and gratifying for most people. That is, until windsurfing.

Of course, my INITIAL reaction to windsurfing, at age eight, was the same as it was to all other sports- terror, crying, and praying to God that my dad wouldn’t make me try it again. But each summer I did try it a few more times, and it got a little less intimidating each time. It helped a lot that there were no coaches and there was no peer pressure or audience other than my family. As I got bigger I realized that I could lift the small “grown up” sail, which was satisfying, and I had opportunities to go windsurfing just by myself or with my friend Erik who was at the same level as me. By the time I was in junior high I could rig my own sail and go scooting around Puget Sound whenever I wanted, which gave me a big ego boost and feeling of independence. Around the same time, my parents backed away from their attempts to get me to do regular sports, in exchange for my pledge to do biking and jogging and stuff for fitness. In high school I started working out at the fitness club my mom went to, and I was stoked to see how much progress I made being able to lift more weights, develop cool-looking muscles, and run faster, longer. At some point it dawned on me that I was actually a perfectly capable athlete. Though I still felt no urge to join a sports team or anything, I could give a good, albeit unskilled, hustle in a pickup game of soccer, softball, badminton, or whatever, and maybe even have a little bit of fun at it. (The most recent time I played kickball I got on base a few times with line drives and surprise bunts, and I even caught some pop flies, which I’d never had the go-for-it attitude to do back in little league. The go-for-it attitude seems to be a really huge part of sports, and life.) In windsurfing when I do regattas my results are all over the place, depending on who I’m sailing against and how dialed I am, but I always have a good time, and I find that a bit of the competitive element now increases rather than decreases my stoke for the sport. So I’d say that my sports phobia is mostly licked.

Phobia #3- Girl Phobia. I used to be real shy around girls. Except for some family friends who lived an hour away, most of my friends were other boys, so I was slow to realize the whole, “girls are people, too” thing. For a long time I was stuck with the notion that the only way a girl would want to talk to you would be if you did something really cool or impressive, like kicking ass in sports, which seemed out of the question for me, or rescuing her from a dragon, which seemed a little more realistic.

Here, international soccer star David Beckham fights a dragon to impress Princess Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty.

I can’t put my finger on exactly how or when it happened, but at some point I realized that my energy was much better spent casually chatting with the girls, building familiarity and confidence, than it was hoping to dramatically impress them. I had some nice sweethearts as an adult, and now I have the best girlfriend in the world, so I’d say my girl phobia is licked.

Phobia #4- School Phobia. I never totally hated school, except maybe for a little while in the 6th grade, but it definitely gave me a lot of stress and anxiety. It took me a long time to develop the, “I’m here because I want to learn” attitude enough to replace my earlier, “I’m here because my only route to eventual, non-disgraced freedom is to suffer through round after round of increasingly painful challenges” attitude.

It's a long road.

Fortunately, it all gelled together around my senior year in college. By then I had realized that I wasn’t a genius or anything, but that I was smart enough to be able to learn even the real hard intimidating stuff if I worked at it and didn’t let a few little failures discourage me. That confidence allowed me to actually enjoy the heck out of grad school without getting too uptight about the pressures of dissertation writing and stuff. I would say that my school phobia is totally licked, although I may need to remind myself of some of the lessons I’ve learned as I go through real world career challenges.

Phobia #5- Center-of-Attention Phobia. I used to be shy, and used to prefer for others to take the lead in any group. But getting more confident in my various abilities, seeing that other leaders didn’t necessarily do any better than I could do, and (most importantly) getting de-sensitized to embarrassment after frequent embarrassments, has allowed me to become more extroverted and in-charge. This phobia is definitely licked, and I may have even gone too far in the opposite direction, what with this self-named blog and everything.

Discussion Questions: Were you happier as a kid or are you happier now that you’re an adult? Did you have any childhood phobias that you’re now proud to have licked? If you knew me when I was a kid, can you think of any phobias that I might have forgotten to write about, or that I might still have?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Intertidal Insects, Etcetera

I'm up at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine doing some seaweed ecology work. Today we took readings from our wave force dynamometers, which were quite "sprung," indicating the recent passage of Hurricane Irene. The waves were big today, too, from Katia.


Higher in the intertidal zone there were unusually high numbers of one of the weirdest little critters that we encounter in the field.


They are Anurida maritima springtails, one of the very few species of insects that can live in a saltwater environment. Their tiny blue bodies are covered with water-repellent hairs that allow them to trap air and float on the surface of quiet tide pools. When the tide comes in they hide in cracks and under seaweed.


For a gross close-up picture of one, click here.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My New Stand-up Paddleboard

I bit the bullet last week and bought myself a S.U.P. It's an Angulo 'Surfa,' 315 cm long x 80 cm wide, 170 liters volume, thruster fin setup, 2/3 deck pad, with a full mast track for windsurfing. It has a lot of tail rocker for maneuverability on the waves, so it's not going to plane with a sail in flat water, but it should be able to wavesail well. So far I've had it out a couple times with the paddle in small to medium waves, and it's really great. I can tell that there is a lot of performance potential in the board that I'll be able to unlock as my surfing skills develop, so I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time on the water with it. Here's a video from Saturday at "Short Beach" in Nahant...

The board is also wide and stable enough to accommodate new-paddlers and windsurfers. It even floated my sweetheart's 66 pound English Bulldog "Buri," who, despite not being able to swim, seemed to take naturally to SUP. We had one doggy SUP session at the flatwater "Dog Beach" in Nahant, and then another doggy SUP "photoshoot" at the pool at Rhonda's mom's house.