Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Florida Summer Wind- 50 Shades of Not All Bad

Florida summer is not like normal summer. For those unfamiliar with the difference, I shall explain it...

First, let's define "normal summer" as those months of the year where the average high is between 75 - 85 Fahrenheit (24 - 29 Celsius). By this definition a normal place like New York City has summer from June through September, and by the same definition Florida has summer from November through April.

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What Florida has from May through October is not summer. It's something above and beyond summer; a season of consummate heat and saturating humidity, boiling over every afternoon with thunderstorms from horizon to horizon. Indeed, the May through October period in Florida may be more properly called "the wet season" than "summer." The scientists I work with at the South Florida Water Management District actually do divide the year into Wet Season / Dry Season because there's such a strong difference in the amount of rain we get during our summer-like winter and our rainforest-like summer.

Anyway, temperature and precipitation are alright, but what really matters here at James' Blog is WIND. The winds during Florida's overheated wet season are notoriously light. Perhaps it's because there's little difference between the air temperature over the land and the ocean. Perhaps it's because no cool fronts can penetrate from the north. Perhaps it's because the thunderstorms mess everything up before a consistent wind pattern can take shape. It's probably all these factors and more.

That said, there IS some wind during Florida summer. It's most consistent in far Southeast Florida and the Florida keys, which dip into the zone of tropical Caribbean tradewinds. The rest of the Atlantic Coast of Florida also gets some easterly and southerly wind flow, but not with the strength and consistency of far southern Florida. I initially thought that the West Coast of Florida would have the least wind of all during Florida Summer since it's on the wrong side to get the tradewinds. But we actually do ok with our little seabreezes- maybe even better than some of the Atlantic side of Florida.

As evidence, I present two short (I tried to keep them under 2.5 minutes) videos of my summer windsurfing in SW Florida.

Summer Wind 6-30-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

WagnerBoard POV 7-13-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Florida Jungle SUP Ridiculousness

Where's the water?
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Florida is a labyrinth of little waterways; both natural creeks and man-made drainage canals. A few are established routes for kayaks and paddleboards. For example, there is Lee County's "Great Calusa Blueway," which winds through freshwater rivers, salty lagoons, and everything in between. Rhonda and I often paddle the "Imperial River" section of the blueway, which runs through our neighborhood. The Imperial River is wide and slow enough to be easily navigable yet narrow and "jungly" enough to be pleasurably scenic at the slow speed of a SUP.

With the summer wet season now in full swing, however, some of our lazy paddleways are looking not-so-lazy, and some un-navigable trickles are looking temptingly navigable. The nameless canal across the street that takes us to the Imperial River is usually a stagnant flow of brackish water that reverses at high tide. Now, though, it's a strong, entirely freshwater river that we can only travel one way. Last week Rhonda and I parked a car at the Imperial River boat launch and "shot the rapids" of the canal to make a quick journey downstream. It was so much fun that I started scheming ways to extend the route by putting in at a more upstream locale.

I had to rule out our neighborhood canal, because it goes through a scary culvert right above our usual put-in. The next possibility I saw on Google Earth was "Leitner Creek," which I would be able to access from some abandoned property on Matheson Avenue about a mile Northeast of our house. (X out the pop-up box in the Google Maps window to get a better view.)

View Larger Map

I bicycled around to the spots where I knew the creek passed under a roadway and verified that there was room to paddle under. Then I geared up with some water, a cell phone in a waterproof bag, and my helmet camera. Rhonda dropped me off at the launch on a Monday evening.

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Here's a video with some highlights of the next hour...

Jungle SUP 7-22-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Long story short- despite close encounters with hobos, spiders, leeches, and manatees, I made it all the way to the Imperial River. I'll probably never do it again, but I challenge any other would-be Huckleberry Finns to try to retrace my journey. ;)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Wisconsin Family Stuff

Every summer when I was a kid we would leave Washington State for a few weeks to visit either my dad's family in South Carolina or my mom's family in Wisconsin. The routine became less regular as my sister and I grew up and moved out. Also, my parents retired to the Carolinas, which biased our family visits in that direction. The upshot is that I don't get to Wisconsin much anymore... but when I do it's extra special. This year I went over 4th of July week for a little Enge family reunion and for the traditional "Witwen Parade" near the farm that my mom grew up on.

We stayed the first few nights at a rental house on Lake Wisconsin, near the town of Sauk City / Prairie du Sac. The lake sometimes had good wind but there was nowhere to rent a windsurf. Primitive as can be.

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Most days we would pick up my Grandma Dorothy from the retirement home and bring her to hang out with us. Grandma is nearly deaf now but she can play cards better than anyone in the younger generations.

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The Witwen parade is one of those "slice of Americana" things that Norman Rockwell would have loved to paint. There's a procession of little floats and marches by small town civic organizations, followed by a big chicken barbeque. "The Living Flag" has apparently been a staple of the parade since its inception.

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My favorite float advertised the state cow chip (dried manure) throwing contest. It was a fake cow, but they had it rigged up to dispense real cow chips onto the roadway. Nice touch.

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Some of the Enges are still real farmers, like cousin Delorman's sons Tim and Greg (pictured). I should have posted this blog earlier, because now I can't remember if this was Tim or Greg. Delorman told a funny story about one of the harvesters (silos) in the background. Farmers have mostly stopped using silos, because they have discovered that it is easier to just pile the feed on the ground and shrink wrap it in giant sheets of white plastic. So Delorman's silo sat for several years with just a few tons of old feed rotting in the bottom. Then one day smoke started coming out the top. They opened the valve at the top and ran a water hose into it for a couple hours to try to drown out the fire. It seemed to work, so they went to bed. Then in the middle of the night... KABOOM! The top of the silo exploded into the air with a concussion that knocked knick knacks off shelves of farmhouses miles away. The silo lid shredded into jagged chunks of metal that perilously scattered all over the farm. Fortunately, no one was injured.

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At the family reunion at Delorman's house I felt like I needed a laminated reference chart to keep track everyone and how we were all related. All I could remember for sure was that we had the same great grandparents. The picture below is my cousin Chuck who came up from Nebraska. He could have been in the living flag, too.

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Wisconsin isn't all flat land and corn fields. It's actually very hilly and scenic, with a mosaic of forests, fields, lakes, and rivers, and a scattering of tall rocky outcroppings where you can view the landscape. Here I am with my folks and some cousins on the top of "Gibraltar Rock."

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My Wisconsin relatives are mostly politically liberal "gentleman farmer" types, but Wisconsin has all types, including beer and gun loving hunter fisherman types. I got to see a bit of the other side of Wisconsin on this visit when we went to "Sprecher's Tavern" in Leland, Wisconsin. Junior Sprecher, who is 81 years old, still tends bar in this place, as he has for most of his life. In addition to pickled eggs and pigs feet, Junior sells guns to go along with his alcohol.

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