Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jibefest at Nahant

Woot! We finally had a big wind day in Massachusetts this summer, with 20 knots from the Southwest at Nahant. I got out after work and was joined by Scott from Michigan. I've never met anyone from Michigan who wasn't a delightful and genuine person, and Scott continues that streak. He sailed a 6.5 Sailworks Retro on a 108 liter RRD freeride board, and I sailed a 5.5 Aerotech Charge on a 106 liter Exocet Cross. I used a 22 cm weed-wave fin at first, but when I realized that the waves were mostly too small to ride I switched to a 32 cm MUfin "No Spin" to have better trim for flat water blasting and racing Scott.

I shot some boom-mounted GoPro camera video and edited it up with a Lou Reed song.

Nahant Waveless 7-17-12 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Looking at the video, I notice my regular jibes are pretty good, but my duck jibes need work to be able to exit with speed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Big Boards That Do it All

Like a lot of windsurfers I was baffled when the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) craze hit. My thinking was, “How is that even fun? It looks so slow and awkward.” Only after I tried it a few times did I start to see the appeal. SUP may not be the fastest way to navigate the water, but it’s pleasurable in its simplicity, and there’s something about standing on the surface that’s more fun than sitting in a kayak or sprawling on a surfboard. So I get it. SUP is legit.

What baffles me now is the unexploited potential in the design and marketing of multiple use windsurfer – SUP boards. Yes, there are SUPs with mast tracks that can be windsurfed, and yes, some windsurfing longboards can be paddled. But with few exceptions, the existing multiple-use boards are strongly biased towards either SUP or windsurfing, with limited capabilities for the other sport. I think that’s a shame, for two reasons:

1. There are a lot of things that a big board can potentially do well. Depending on its design, it can be a stable platform for beginner windsurfers, it can sail efficiently in light winds with the daggerboard down, it can carry a large sail for early planing, it can be paddled as a SUP in flat water or waves, or it can be used as a light-wind windsurfing waveboard. 

2. Big boards cost a lot of money and take up a lot of space. So, it’s hard for most people to own a separate big board for every possible big-board use. Hence, the desirability of multiple-use big boards.

I’m not exactly sure why board manufacturers have been so half-assed about adding multi-usability to their big rides, but I have some theories that I won't get into here. For now, let’s review what types of big boards are out there, and what kind of multi-use potential they each have. As I’m prone to do, I made a chart for that, and I’ll say a little bit more about the categories in the chart:


The columns are grouped by three basic types of big boards.

On the left you’ve got typical big windsurfing boards, which are designed for flatwater sailing. They optimize non-planing glide, early planing ability, or some combination of the two. They are not designed to be paddled or wavesailed, but some work OK as flatwater SUPs. The picture below shows me riding a big beginner windsurfing board in planing conditions. 


In the middle are windsurfable SUP boards. They are windsurfable because they have mast tracks, and occasionally a daggerboard or removable center fin, but they are otherwise shaped for uncompromised SUP performance. If they are intended for wave riding then they have soft rails and lots of rocker at the tail- features that facilitate catching waves with paddle power and longboard-style surfing but “stick” the board to the water and prevent it from reaching planing speed under normal sail power. See the figure below:


Given obscene amounts of sail power a surf-rockered SUP may be coaxed to plane, and in fact there is a video circulating around that shows a 12’6” SUP planing on flat water, but that’s with an expert speedsailor using a 6.6 sail in 30 knots of wind. With that much power even a bathtub would plane.  

SUP boards intended for flatwater cruising are rarely equipped with mast tracks (with some exceptions). That's too bad because a flatwater cruising SUP could really cut through the water fast in light winds. It also seems like it might be easier to design a “planeable” flatwater cruiser SUP than a planeable surfing SUP, because the former could have a flat rocker and hard rails. Still waiting to see someone make that board.

An unusual type of windsurfable SUP board is wide but very compact, often with a “fish” style tail and multiple fins. Some of these boards are able to plane, but awkwardly and with no footstraps. They also don’t paddle in a straight line or catch gentle waves very well, making them most useful for specialist light-wind wavesailors who have sideshore wind and good waves and favor a certain shortboard surfing feel. The most famous example of that type of board is the much-hyped AHD SeaLion.

Image of the AHD SeaLion from Bill's OBX Beach Life.

On the far end of the table are step-tail windsurf / SUP boards, the original and most popular of which is the Kona ONE, which was introduced by Exocet in 2005 then became it’s own brand with an associated one-design racing class. The Kona does a bit of everything, but it’s too heavy and boxy to windsurf great in the waves, and it’s too narrow with too abrupt a step-tail to SUP well in the waves- I’ve tried. 

Exocet later made some other Kona boards (now called the Curve 11’5”, 10’5”, etc.) with less volume and no daggerboards. The Curves have unequaled light-wind wavesailing performance  but are less appropriate as all-around windsurfing boards because they have no daggerboards and their “US Box” fin slots can’t support large fins. Some people SUP them, but they’re too narrow for most and the abrupt step-tail impedes their wave catching ability. Below, Florida's John Ingebritsen shreds a wave on a Curve 11'5". 


The most recent step-tail offering from Exocet is the WindSUP 11’8”, which looks like a Kona ONE with a wider, thinner shape and a more refined step-tail design, as seen in the picture from Chuck's blog.


Supposedly it has improved light wind planing ability and SUP ability compared to the Kona ONE. It’s considerably larger than I would ideally want, but I’m encouraged by the mere fact that it exists, proving that it IS possible to have a fully-planing windsurfing board that SUPs well in waves. I really need to test one for myself, I mean, uh, for my fiancĂ©.


Most SUPs and windsurfs on the market are good for their own sport but have very limited utility for the other sport. Fortunately, recent designs like Exocet’s WindSUP show that it's not impossible to have a board that SUPs well in waves AND planes well as a windsurf. Hopefully continued evolution will refine and diversify those designs, and maybe come up with some as-yet-unseen designs like a flatwater racing SUP that’s also an efficient planing and displacement windsurfer.

PS- Late breaking news- Exocet just introduced a 10’0” WindSUP for 2013! They must have read my mind. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

So Long Little Buddy :'(

Rhonda cuddling Buri while he noms her ear.

This 4th of July was a very sad day for Rhonda and me, and for anyone who knew Buri, Rhonda's irresistibly lovable English Bulldog. If you don't want to get sentimental, don't read the rest of this post.

Buri started out the morning at my apartment on Nahant, enjoying lots of petting and attention from his mumma and me, per his customary routine. Then I took him down to Nahant's "dog beach" where we waded and played fetch in the water to stay cool.

Buri didn't want to leave, but I was getting sunburned, so I took him back to the house for a fresh water bath and shampoo. After that he was content to lounge around the house and charm guests arriving for our beach day and BBQ. We kept him inside in the afternoon, but let him out on the porch again in the evening while we were grilling. He seemed to be fine temperature-wise, but when fireworks started going off in the neighborhood he got riled up with barking, panting and pulling on the leash.

Tragically, we were slow to realize that Buri's agitation could bring on heatstroke- even in the temperatures he had been OK in before the fireworks. If we had realized the imminent danger we would have cooled him down in a drastic way, like dunking him in the ocean or a cold shower, but instead we figured he would chill out sufficiently in the air conditioning of Rhonda's car when she drove him home. The little trooper hopped right up in the backseat like usual, but when he fell asleep on the drive he wasn't able to wake up. Rhonda rushed her baby to the closest emergency veterinarian but, heartbreakingly, it was too late. He had died of heatstroke. I met Rhonda and her mother at the vet in the middle of the night and joined them in bawling my eyes out while petting and hugging poor peaceful Buri one last time.

I'm not real religious or anything, but I have to believe that Buri's loving spirit endures, perhaps waiting and watching with other loved ones from a place of timeless transcendence.



Rhonda and I are still having a tough time getting through feelings of heartache, regret, and plain old missin' the Buri, but we take comfort in each other, and we have been moved by some nice things that friends and family have said or shared with us since Buri's passing. I'll end this post with two of those.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Lubec: Worth The Drive

As my remaining time in New England dwindles I'm taking bittersweet note of certain things that I might be doing for the last time. This week it was my work trip to Lubec, Maine for a final round of seaweed experiment maintenance.


Lubec is rugged, remote, and chilly- as far North and East as you can get on the US Atlantic Coast. It reminds me more of Washington State than of anywhere else on the East Coast, with rocky cliffs, spruce trees, moss, and kelp.


The place we stay there is an old restored Coast Guard Station near the lighthouse at Quoddy Head State Park. Our first day had pouring rain and temperatures in the 50s, but that made the next days' mix of cool sun, mist, and clouds seem delightful by comparison. The work that we do on the rocks is always a race against time, because our plots are only exposed for four hours per tidal cycle. Between tides, however, we have some unstructured time to catch up on email, hike, etc. On this trip up I brought windsurfing and snorkeling gear and had some good sessions.

The first spot I snorkeled was at the base of a cliff chasm near one of our seaweed experiment sites. I didn't stay there long because I got spooked by the deep dark water.
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The next snorkeling spot was more sheltered, near the Coast Guard boathouse.


At high tide the Fucus and Ascophyllum rockweeds were floating at full vertical extension, making spooky green curtains and corridors that you could swim through.


It's quite a contrast with their "piles of old laundry" appearance at low tide. Seeing my study organisms underwater like that gave me a better appreciation for their true seaweed selves, if you will.

I'm not quite sure what you call the body of water I windsurf on in Lubec- maybe Quoddy Channel? It's a broad inlet between the town of Lubec and the Bay of Fundy, bisected by the US - Canadian border. The launch point is a pull-off of South Lubec Road.


It had been blowing about 20 knots on the Bay of Fundy when we were at our experiment site on Wednesday, but it was more sheltered at the windsurfing launch, and there was a strong tidal current going in the same direction as the wind, so I rigged big - 6.8 on a 106 liter board. I had some good overpowered runs, buzzing by the mid-channel lighthouse and flirting with the Canadian border, until I thought I saw lighting and beat it back to the US shore.