Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Beautiful Val

Vallisneria americana, aka "tapegrass," aka "water celery," aka "Val" is a lovely vascular plant that lives its entire life beneath the water's surface in lakes, rivers, and slightly brackish estuaries.

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In Florida, Val is threatened by declining water quality and (in estuaries) by fluctuating salinity levels. It can tolerate up to about 1/3 the salinity of seawater, but it dies if it gets saltier than that. Another threat to Florida Val is grazing by the huge, non-native, aquatic snail Pomacea insularum, aka the Island Apple Snail.

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This year at Florida Gulf Coast University I have my first graduate student, Shannan. She's going to do a project looking at the interactions between salinity, snails, and Val. It's going to be awesome. Today we scored big when my colleague David Ceilley offered to share with us his personal stash of Val, which was growing in a cattle tank behind one of our academic buildings.

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So cool.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Bigger the Boom the Bigger the Break

I love formula windsurfing but it's kind of a boondoggle. Sailing overpowered on oversized, over-tensioned, overpriced, over-complicated gear is just asking for something to go wrong. First you hear a "Pop!" "Crunch!" or "RRrrip!" of failing carbon fiber and plastic, and then you hear a "cha-ching! cha-ching!" of cash pouring out of your bank account to replace the broken gear.

So beautiful, so powerful, so fragile.
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The pop I heard yesterday was my Chinook Carbon 230-310 cm boom breaking just behind the harness lines. It happened when I was just sailing along with my 11.0 after doing some filming with my GoPro camera (see below). Fortunately, I was upwind when it happened and was able to bag out the sail and plane downwind back to the launch with just one half of the boom supporting the sail.

The rubber skin of the boom was the only thing holding the arm together.
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Fixing a broken boom arm is apparently pretty tough. The part is under so much load when sailing that a less than perfect fix will just break again. I'm going to try it, though. The guys on the forum say the way to go is to epoxy a smaller diameter tube into the broken part of the boom, and then wrap many layers of carbon fiber cloth around the outside of the wound, too. For the inside tube I'll cannibalize part of the tailpiece of the same boom that I'm trying to repair. I won't be able to extend the boom as long anymore, but I'll still be able to extend it enough to fit my 11.0 with some space leftover. Best case scenario is that it holds up great, and the boom is just a little heavier than before. Worst case scenario is that it immediately breaks again and I have to pay several hundred dollars for a new boom. I'll keep y'all posted. In the meantime, the video of my windsurfing session (not including the boom break) is below. The song is heavy metal, so turn the sound off if you don't like heavy metal.

Boom Break 17 Aug 2013 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

PS- Though there wasn't much wind today, my buddy and I got a surprisingly good SUP session in smoothly breaking waves at Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples. I think these waves may have been generated by the tropical storm on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

This quiver goes to 11

Moving from New England to Southwest Florida last year I gained year-round warm water in exchange for giving up regular strong wind and waves. I also gained a storage shed so I started accumulating windsurfing gear tailored to the light-winds and crummy waves of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Here's a rundown of the quiver I started with and how it has changed over the past year.

New England Wave-Centric Quiver-
Big Board: Angulo Surfa 10'4" sailable SUP with center-fin added for Rhonda
Med Board: Exocet Cross II 106
Small Board: Starboard Evo 83
Sails: 3.5, 4.2, 4.7, 5.5, 6.8, 8.0
Masts: 400 rdm, 430 rdm, 490 sdm
Booms: Aluminum small, Carbon medium

1. In August 2012 I got a huge carbon formula boom from my friend Brandon, who was ironically moving away from the Florida on the same day that I arrived. Also ironically, it was the same boom that I had given Brandon when I moved from Florida to New England in 2010. At that point I had no sails that needed the huge boom, but I figured I'd need it sooner or later.

2. In October 2012 I bought an Exocet WindSUP 11'8" longboard from Ace Performer in Ft. Myers. After one barely-planing session with my 8.0 sail on the WindSUP, I decided I needed a bigger sail to unleash the full power of the board.

3. A week after I got the WindSUP I went back to Ace Performer and got a 9.5 Ezzy Cheetah. One nice thing about the 9.5 is that it rigs on the same 490 mast that I already had for the 8.0. Also, it gave me a reason to use my huge formula boom. With the 9.5 I could get the WindSUP planing in pretty light winds, somewhere in the 10-12 knot range. However I was most often using the WindSUP for wavesailing with my 6.8 sail, which required having the footstraps in the inboard positions. Those positions are awkward when using the 9.5 in flat water, and it's a big pain to move footstraps every time you want to convert your board for a different style of sailing. Screwing and unscrewing the straps also wears out the board. So I started looking for a big shortboard that could be my dedicated ride for flat water light wind blasting. (Another reason I was looking was so that I'd have something to ride in the December "Inlet to Inlet" ocean race.)

4. The first board I auditioned for the dedicated light-wind planing role was a 2001 Starboard F135 85 cm wide formula board, which I got used for $400 from Ace Performer. It worked fine, especially after I swapped the oversized fin it came with for a just-right-sized 58 cm Finworks fin. Probably the high point for that board was when I sailed it in the Sarasota Winter Classic Regatta in February 2013.

5. I was never crazy about the low volume (~130 liters) of the F135, which I felt limited it's all-around light wind ability. So when I had the opportunity I swapped it for another vintage formula board- a Bic FV1.2 with 160 liters volume and 87.5 cm width. The Bic was a real nice board, especially in 12+ knots. It felt more like a big slalom board than a formula board, and it was real fast and comfortable reaching and on downwind runs in choppy water. The only frustrating thing was that it didn't seem to have quite enough power to get planing in the most typical SW Florida summer seabreeze strength; about 8-10 knots.

6. My quest for more light-wind planing power lead me next to Dr. Don Wagner and one of his home-built 100 cm wide formula boards. The Dr. Don board is super powerful- definitely a winner for light winds. So I went ahead and sold my Bic FV1.2. Of course, even a super wide board won't get you planing in 8-10 knots unless you supply it with lots of sail power. My 9.5 wasn't quite up to it.

7. My FINAL (I promise) light wind power play was to buy a used 11.0 Gaastra Nitro IV sail and matching 550 cm mast from Dan Weiss in Connecticut. The absurdly long and narrow package arrived via Fed Ex yesterday afternoon and was rigged and on the water at Bonita Beach by 6:30 pm. The conditions for sailing were challenging, with squally 7-17 knot winds spanning the range from not-enough-wind-to-plane to too-much-wind-to-hang-on. I also probably hadn't tuned the sail well. I.e., the boom was too high, I didn't have enough slack on my adjustable outhaul, I needed more downhaul, the mast-base was too far back, etc. Nevertheless, it was obvious that the sail had a lot of power on tap. Rhonda was swimming with her waterproof camera and took some pictures.

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Anyway, here's the Southwest Florida Light-Wind-Centric Quiver-
Primary Sailable SUP: Exocet WindSUP 11'8"
Secondary Sailable SUP: Angulo Surfa 10'4"
Super Light Wind Planer Board: Don's Lab wide-tailed formula board
Med Board: Exocet Cross II 106
Small Board: Starboard Evo 83
Sails: 3.5, 4.2, 4.5, 5.5, 6.8, 8.0, 9.5, 11.0
Masts: 400 rdm, 430 rdm, 490 sdm, 550 sdm
Booms: Aluminum small, Carbon medium, Carbon huge


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Automeris io, the Painapillar

There are some cool plants in my yard- some leftover from earlier tenants, some feral invaders, and a few that Rhonda and I have added ourselves. In the leftover from earlier tenants category, on the south side of our shed, are some scraggly Ixora coccinea aka "jungle geranium" bushes. Ever since I moved in I've wondered why our Ixora look like crap compared to the Ixora in other people's yards. Yesterday I may have solved the mystery.

Ixora coccinea, looking like crap.  photo DSCN1907_zps349338da.jpg

On a routine dog-defecation supervisory expedition, I noted a patch of lighter green along a bare stem of the Ixora. Upon closer inspection it was revealed as a very large, bristly, neon green caterpillar. The bush turned out to be infested with about half a dozen of the whopper insect larvae, gluttonously chowing the foliage.

Gluttonous caterpillar.
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Chowed foliage.
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I knew that some bristly caterpillars could make you itch if you touched them with bare hands, but I wanted to pick these ones off so I could save the bush. As a precaution, I wrapped my hand in one of the plastic grocery bags I was carrying for doggy doody duty, then I gleefully set about plucking the fat worms from the bush. About three caterpillars into the plucking I realized something was not right. My hand hurt. Badly, like it was on fire. I dropped my incomplete caterpillar harvest on the ground and ran inside to the sink, while the pain in my hand increased alarmingly. The pain was more like a burn than an itch, but there was an element of itch involved. The closest thing I can compare it to is a jellyfish sting. Scrubbing my hands with dish soap and a sponge might have helped a little, but the damage was done, and the affected spots itched, throbbed and swelled up like bad mosquito bites or mild bee stings.

Now it wasn't just about saving the bush. I wanted personal vengeance against the nasty arthropods who had dared challenge my notion of Homo sapiens dominance. I would need barbeque tongs.

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As mad as I was, I couldn't quite stomach squishing the caterpillars, so I just put them in a grocery bag and threw the bag in our open-top trash can. I know, that's not really any more humane a treatment. But I doubt I'm the first person to consign some small creature to a slow death by starvation, thirst, or suffocation because he didn't have the guts to do a speedy euthanasia.

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The garbage can detention treatment for offending caterpillars didn't work so well. The tenacity of the caterpillars and the easily-escapable nature of the garbage can lead to a high recidivism rate for nuisance grazers. Most were back on the bush the next day. For the re-offending larvae I used garden shears in lieu of non-lethal removal methods. This proved effective, albeit disgusting.

Since these events occurred I have learned a little more about the species of poisonous caterpillar encountered. It's Automeris io, the larval stage of a beautiful, large moth that exhibits marked sexual dimorphism. The female is camouflaged, while the male uses owl eyespot mimicry as a defense from predation. The species is not restricted to Florida. In fact, Florida is the southern end of its range, and you might find in any temperate part of North America. So watch yourself, or you too might run afoul of the "Painapillar."

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Something I ought to think about for the future is whether I should manage my garden to maintain plant biomass or to enhance animal diversity. If the latter, I ought to be nicer to the caterpillars.