Friday, November 23, 2012

It's the Little Things: Tuning New Boards

"Tuning;" making small adjustments in the settings and setup of one's equipment, is an aspect of windsurfing that is both frustrating and compelling.

The right tuning can take you to a higher plane of ecstasy; a feeling of effortless oneness with the ocean elements. Equally, the wrong tuning can make you feel like you're trying to carry five bags of groceries while balancing on a log floating through river rapids.

I'll admit to experiencing a bit of the latter feeling when riding the Exocet WindSUP 11'8" in waves for the first couple times. Though I'd found the board to be very comfortable and well balanced for flatwater sailing, my first forays into the small, steep, closely-spaced, uneven waves of the Gulf of Mexico were somewhat disappointing. The only tuning I did for the first round was to replace the 44 cm upright stock fin with a 25 cm swept weed-wave fin. Clearly that wasn't enough tuning, or wasn't the right tuning. Part of the problem was me. My instincts for catching a wave with a longboard were developed with the Angulo Surfa 10'4" SUP in the ideal conditions of Nahant- weight forward to catch a wave, weight in the middle to ride a wave, weight back only fleetingly during a steep drop or sharp turn. With the WindSUP, weight forward didn't help- it just made me pearl the nose. And on a wave I couldn't get the thing to turn. Where I had the most success was on a fairly windy day, where I could get the board planing on the wave well before the wave was about to break, and then I could turn the board with an overdone caricature of the moves I would use to turn a shortboard windsurf in the waves. I was starting to think the board either wasn't all it was cracked up to be for waveriding, or was just too dang big for me to manage.

I told Exocet guru John Ingebritsen (see him in a rad youtube video here) about the trouble I was having, and he told me these three tuning tips for the WindSUP 11'8"-

1. Go small with the fin, but not too small because you need some fin length to get planing. A traditionally-rockered SUP like the Angulo Surfa sort of melts into the wave and turns with the whole body of the board, using the fins only for traction. In contrast, the WindSUP uses the wave to accelerate to planing or partially-planing mode, and then turns more from the tail like a shortboard windsurf. Lift from the fin is more critical for this type of waveriding.

32 cm MUFin
NoSpin MUFin

2. Move the mast track all the way back and keep your weight back to "unstick" the nose.
3. Put the footstraps in the inboard positions and make them as loose as possible.

Track back, straps inboard
WindSUP Tuning

The other day I implemented those suggestions and they made a huge difference, both for wave-riding and for pleasant easy-planing in the stronger winds outside the break. For the mast track position, I put it as far back as the two-bolt baseplate would allow. For the fin I chose a 32 cm Maui Ultra Fins "No Spin." Ingebritsen says that's good and that it's actually on the smaller side of the fins he usually uses in the waves- he'll often wavesail with a 38 cm freeride fin. With the centered footstraps and the 32 cm fin, the WindSUP was very non-technical to get planing, and I think it would be the perfect setup for someone trying to learn footstraps and planing for the first time. Very gentle feel with lots of room for error.

The other recent bit of tuning I did was with the Starboard Formula 135. I traded the 65 cm Curtis fin that was sold with it for a 58 cm Finworks fin that is more naturally suited to the board's 85 cm width. It felt great on my first time out with it in good winds around 15 knots, but in slightly less wind the second time out it felt a bit "sticky," i.e. it was bogging down in the chop a bit and sometimes sending water splashing in my face. Today I moved the mast base back as far as it would go on that. It was only a change of two inches or so, but it made a big difference as far as making the board feel more free, fast, and efficient. With perfect formula conditions of about 13 knots of sideshore wind, I rode it way upwind and way downwind, really jamming and enjoying the Florida sunshine.

Life is good when you're in tune. 
Wiggins Sunset

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Formula Board Test Run Video

Last week I got a new, used, "formula" windsurfing board- a Starboard Formula 135, model year 2001. I had been in the market for an early planing shortboard to match my new 9.5 sail, and this one was a steal at Ace Performer.

Ironically, this new toy is the oldest of the four formula boards I've owned during my windsurfing career, due to multiple cycles of quitting and restarting formula windsurfing. It's also the smallest, at just 85 cm wide and 135 liters volume. It probably wouldn't be competitive on the racecourse with a modern, 100 cm wide formula board, but I'm not competitive on the racecourse, anyway, and 85 cm is enough width to get quite good early planing. The dimensions and volume of the F135 actually match closely with modern light-wind slalom boards, which max at 85 cm wide and are similarly thin in cross section. So I've been thinking of the board as a poor man's light-wind slalom board.

The standard fin length for a 100 cm wide formula board is 70 cm, but that would be overkill for an 85 cm wide board. The F135 was originally marketed with a 58 cm fin, but the secondhand board I got came with a 65 cm fin, which I worried would be too long. I tried it for the first time (well, the first time in decent wind) on Sunday. The 65 cm fin wasn't unmanageable, but I think the board will be faster with a 58. I'm trading the 65 for another windsurfer's 58, which I think will be perfect. Anyway, here's a video of my test session at Wiggins Pass in Naples, FL. The sail is my 9.5 Ezzy Cheetah. The wind is side-offshore around 9-13 knots. The songs are by Tomas Walker and by the Ramones.

11-18-12 F135 Test Run from James Douglass on Vimeo.

One thing I notice looking at the video is how much the bottom of the sail flexes, twists and flaps. I think part of that is the product of it being a camless sail with durable rod battens instead of stiff tube battens. Another part may be the way I'm using a pulley hook through the clew grommet for my adjustable outhaul. I've ordered another kind of pulley system that's integrated with the grommet, and I think that may help stabilize the back end of the sail. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Windsurfing Breaks 50knts, Breaks Back into Olympics

This was a darn good week for windsurfing! Anders Bringdal and Antoine Albeau both broke the previous world record for average windsurfing speed over a 500 meter course. They did it in a special channel carved into a tidal flat at a notoriously windy spot called Luderitz, on the desert seashore of Namibia, Africa. They only broke the record by about 1.6 knots, but in doing so they passed the seemingly impenetrable 50 knots barrier for speed.This puts windsurfers a little closer to the absolute record of 55 knots, set by American Kiteboarder Rob Douglas at the same spot two years ago. (Douglas broke a bunch of bones setting that record.) Most sailing theory and physics people predict that kites will retain their lead in the ongoing quest for speed, but you never know.

Zara Davis broke the women's windsurfing speed record, as well.

Also, the International Sailing Federation reversed its earlier decision to replace windsurfing with kiteboarding at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. I'm glad windsurfing is back in, but I'm sad that kiteboarding is out. Kiteboarding promised to be the first Olympic class to compete under a "production" rule, which would let competitors choose from a variety of off-the-shelf equipment, rather than under the restrictive "one-design" rule that binds windsurfers to using the same board and sail regardless of the conditions.

There's more on both these windsurfing news stories at DaNews blog.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

4.7 Sail Lives Hard, Dies

The cold season has begun in Southwest Florida. That means the weather is like summer in Washington State, but with warmer water- pretty much perfect. The cold season here is also the windy season, so the sweltering heat, single-digit offshore winds and fickle seabreezes have given way to cycles of frontal passage associated with a nice variety of windsurfing conditions. In an earlier post I described an amazing two-in-a-row of high-wind 4.7 meter squared sail / 83 liter board sessions at Wiggins Pass. The streak continued last Wednesday when I arrived at Wiggins expecting to rig a 5.5 or a 6.8 but ended up doing 4.7 AGAIN, though this time on my mid-sized 106 liter board.

I felt nicely dialed-in on the sail. So nicely, actually, that I started to get that nagging feeling of, "Hmm, I ought to get up the nerve to try a forward loop or something." Fortunately, I suppressed that feeling and instead just focused on trying to ride the lumpy onshore-wind waves with some style. It went well until the wind fizzled at the end of the session and I went down in the impact zone. I got rolled by a wave that didn't seem like it had much power, but somehow it busted one of the main monofilm panels on the sail. (See the end of the video.)

Wiggins Side-Onshore Wavesailing from James Douglass on Vimeo.

I ended up replacing the 4.7 North Instinct with an older 4.5 Ezzy Wave SE from AcePerformer. It's not a perfect match, but the price was right, and the grid construction on the Ezzy should hopefully survive a few more awkward washings. Rhonda tried it on the WindSUP yesterday at Sanibel Causeway and made it look good. I'm proud of how she's been sailing lately- first dealing with very gusty offshore wind and flat water at Bonita Beach, then dealing with choppy onshore conditions at Sanibel. Plus, the other day at Wiggins she was using the Angulo SUP as a giant boogie board, riding waves for the first time in her life. And she can flatwater SUP like nobody's business.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Justice is SERVED! Angulo SUP Recovered

Sweetwater Paddlesports in Bonita Springs is the SUP shop closest to my house. After my board was stolen earlier this week I asked them to be on the lookout in case the thief tried to pawn it off on them. They were very helpful, and in fact reported that a suspicious young guy had come into the shop after the theft, asking strange questions about the resale value of a paddleboard, and asking what was the "round thingy" on the deck. We figured he was referring to the windsurfing mast-base attachment still on my board.

So it didn't completely surprise me when Sweetwater called me again this afternoon, announcing that they had just seen the perp carrying my board towards the beach along the sidewalk across from their shop. Both they and I called the Bonita Springs Sheriffs, who zipped out to the scene and caught him red handed. The Sheriffs interviewed me on the phone to verify that they had the right board, then I drove out there to pick it up. The bad guy was still being interrogated at the scene when I arrived. Apparently he confessed, and now he's going to jail.


It was strange being right there 10 feet from the thief, although we didn't make eye contact or talk to each other or anything. In a weird way I felt sorry for him, just because he was so pathetic in that moment. I would have been more purely angry if he had been trying to sell the board, or vandalize it, but since he was on the way to try to paddle it I had just the tiniest bit of sympathy for him. I've had a wonderful life with lots of cool toys and ocean adventures. He probably has not. Maybe one day after he's paid his dues he'll make it straight and get to ride a SUP that he has actually acquired legitimately. Or maybe not. Whatever...