Saturday, December 30, 2017

Minor rant about hard-to-rig windsurf sails

First let me say that I am in awe of modern sail designers. Windsurf sails of this century are beautifully-shaped, three-dimensional wings that deliver crisp, controllable power over a wide range of wind and water conditions. And even within this century, sails have continued to improve. For example, I used to have a 2008 model year Aerotech Phantom 6.8 m2 sail, which I recently replaced with a 2015(?) model year Aerotech Phantom 6.8 m2 sail. The latter was equal in power, but significantly more stable, lighter weight, easier to power on/off, and more aerodynamically efficient for sailing at a variety angles to the wind.

However, the new sail has a feature that I find aggravating as heck, which contributed to my breaking the attachment head for my favorite boom while struggling to rig up the sail today. That feature is actually a combination of two aggravating features that work in concert to be extra aggravating. #1 is the tight mast sleeve and stiff-edged sail cloth in the boom-cutout area. #2 is the protruding batten end smack in the middle of the boom cutout. (Exhibit A)

Exhibit A- The offending boom-cutout area of the Aerotech Phantom 6.8

Every time I've rigged the sail it has been a major headache to snap the boom head onto the mast because the stiff, tight sailcloth and inconveniently-placed batten in the boom cutout effectively block it. The effect is worsened by the rubber shim that I must use to adapt the skinny diameter mast to my wide diameter Fiberspar brand boom clamp. The semi-stiff carbon-fiber-plastic-composite Fiberspar boom clamp may have been a particularly bad clamp to use with this awkward sail sleeve. I wasn't surprised that it broke; just bummed because it was the only boom I had that would fit my 6.8 m2 and 8.0 m2 sails, and I don't have any money to replace it now because my wife's and my motor vehicles also keep expensively breaking.

Exhibit B- the busted boom clamp.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Basic Responsibilities of a Civilized Society to its People

I feel compelled to express some thoughts on what kind of social services a wealthy and civilized country ought to provide for its citizens, because I think the scrooges of the world have successfully brainwashed many of us into thinking social services are somehow a disservice, and I want to counteract that nonsense.

For one, I think a civilized country should ensure that anyone working a full-time job (40 hours a week) is compensated with a living wage. That should be enough to cover the following basic human needs:

*A secure dwelling providing shelter from the elements
*Utilities including electricity, HVAC, and potable water
*An adequate supply of healthy food
*Full, no-worries medical/dental coverage
*Transportation appropriate for the area. In a rural area that would include a car
*A phone and/or internet-connected device
*A little extra (maybe 10% more) that can be used for savings or discretionary spending

If the job itself doesn’t cover all that, then tax-funded government programs ought to fill the gaps, but my preference would be to rest most of the responsibility on the employers to simply pay their workers enough. Another way a civilized government should help is to keep costs down by regulating businesses to make sure they don’t greedily overcharge for housing, utilities, medical care, etc.

For two, I think a civilized country should provide all that same basic stuff for kids, the elderly, and sick or disabled people who can’t work. There’s archaeological evidence that even ancient cave peoples took care of their injured and elderly who could no longer hunt or gather, so there’s no excuse for a rich modern society not to do the same.

For three, I think a civilized country has a particularly important responsibility to kids, which includes ensuring that they have a safe environment to live in, and access to quality food, medical care, and education from preschool to at least 12th grade, if not further into college or vocational training. It’s nice when parents take the primary role in providing that stuff, and of course we should encourage them to do so. But if the parents can’t or don’t provide that stuff, for whatever reason, then a civilized country’s government needs to step in and help. Because kids can’t choose their parents. Also the investment in kids pays off by making sure that the next generation is healthy, productive, and not criminal.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stop Bad Tax Bill That Could Kill Postgraduate Science Education

Graduate students (people studying for their masters and PhD degrees) are a huge part of the workforce of modern science. They run the experiments, maintain the laboratories, enter and analyze the data, write up the results, etc. They also help their professors with teaching. And of course, they eventually graduate and use their expertise working in important fields like research, business and industry, government, and academia. Thus, graduate students contribute immensely to the progress and promulgation of science, allowing our scientifically informed, technologically advanced, economically productive society to flourish. Our graduate students ought not to be messed with.

It's not easy being a graduate student, though. For one, it's hard to even get into graduate school. First, you have to do four years of college to get an undergraduate degree, and you have to do it with excellent grades, GRE scores, and lots of extra research internships to get the experience and recommendations needed to secure a spot in graduate school.

A reason there are few spots in science graduate school is that most professors take on graduate students only when they have enough research grant money to pay those students' tuitions and stipends. Some professors are science superstars who manage to bring in enough money to fully support several graduate students at a time. But most are like me and struggle to get enough grants to support even one or two graduate students, even with help from small scholarships and tuition waivers that some lucky students get for themselves. It's rare for graduate students to pay their own way through school, and they shouldn't be asked to, because: A) they're doing real scientific work, which should be paid for, B) they're already in debt from their undergraduate years, and C) unlike kids paying for law school or medical school, they don't have lucrative jobs waiting for them when they're done; they're just doing it for their love of science.

Unfortunately, a provision in the US Senate's new tax bill will make it much harder for graduate students to make ends meet, if the bill passes. Currently, the students are taxed on their stipends (the money they actually get paid), but because they're paid so little ($15k/year is common) they're in a low tax bracket that allows them to keep enough money to survive. Students are NOT currently taxed on the grant money that directly pays their tuitions; a large amount that the students never see. This new bill would start taxing students on the value of their tuitions in addition to the value of their stipends, forcing them to pay a middle-class-sized tax bill with a poverty-class-sized income. That would basically make it impossible for students to survive the 2-6 years of postgraduate study that it takes to get a masters or PhD degree, and/or would require colleges and professors to somehow find vastly larger amounts of grant money to support the students that they can barely support as it is. Not cool.

This tax change would be devastating for students, professors, and those who benefit from science (which is everyone). That said, the provision affecting graduate students is just one part of the much larger tax bill, which happens to be awful in many other ways, as well. It basically amounts to a "Reverse Robin-hood" strategy of stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Look it up on a reliable news website like, then, if you haven't already done so, please contact your senator to complain. You can look up your senator's contact info here:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

SUP Race Report: Englewood Beach Paddlefest 2017

Race: Englewood Beach Paddlefest 2017

Date it happened: 11 November 2017.

Host/Sponsors: Hosted by "Hooked on SUP Paddlesports" and a bunch of other sponsors and volunteers listed on the race's paddleguru page.

Location: The Gulf of Mexico off Englewood Beach, Florida, and into Stump Pass inlet.

Distance: There were three race courses- a 9.2 km one, a 4.8 km one, and a 2.4 km one. The long one went south along the beach and briefly into Stump Pass inlet, before coming back out and going north along to the beach to the start / finish. (See my GPS track.) The 4.8 and 2.4 km courses were 2 and 1 laps, respectively, around a triangle course in the ocean centered around the start / finish and marked with interesting animal-shaped buoys, like a unicorn and a peacock. I did the long race.

Conditions: It was sunny and pleasant with temps in the low to mid 20s (Celsius). The wind was significant (5-15 knots), but since the wind direction was offshore the water was flat for most of the course. The only spot we had to paddle upwind and into chop was entering Stump Pass, where we also fought current from the outgoing tide and skirted shallow shoals. Though the Gulf of Mexico was mostly flat, subtle, shin-high swells running from north to south were just big enough to provide little boosts and to confound some racers' attempts to draft each other.

Participants: There was a good turnout of about 120 people of all ages, with participants spread out among the short, medium, and long distance races. Most were on race SUPs, but there were a lot of recreational SUPs in the short race, and several surfski kayaks and outrigger canoes in the long distance race. Two of my CGT Tribe buddies did the race on surfskis- veteran South African paddler Murray Hunkin, and Justin DiGiorgio, for whom this was his first surfski race. Other CGT crew included Donna Catron, Bryan Herrick, and Phil Trudgeon in the medium race, and Mark Athanacio, Cindy Gibson, Meg Bosi, Bill Mussenden, John Weinberg, and me in the long race. Other tough contenders included Cuban hulk Yensys Loyola in the short race, and Sunova Boards sponsored paddler Brad Ward in the long race. An increasingly tough competitor for me, Travis Kindt, dealer of ECS boards and proprietor of the Zeke's Surf Shop in Stuart, FL, was also there with his partner Leisa, who took some good pictures.

Gear: I used "Minty," my 2017 14x23 Riviera RP. Brad Ward was on a 14x23.5 Sunova Flatwater Faast Pro. Mark Athanacio was on a nameless custom 14x23 board that he helped develop with a shaper and glasser in California. Travis Kindt was on a 14x25 ECS Stealth. Yen Loyola was on a 14x27 Starboard Allstar.

Results: The full results are posted on paddleguru. Here are some highlights-

Long race- Murray Hunkin was first overall in his surfski, finishing in 0:49:53. Brad Ward was the first SUP in 1:00:31. Mark Athancio was second SUP overall and first in the 50+ class with 1:02:19. Travis Kindt, Chris Moylan, and me were 3rd-5th in 1:02:44, 1:02:51, and 1:02:57, respectively. Twelve year old Dylan Geiger on a 12'6 404 board was the first male 12'6 in 1:10:07. Lizi Ruiz was the first female in 1:11:09, with Cindy Gibson second in 1:12:03, and Meg Bosi third in 1:12:54.

Short race- Yen Loyola won it in 0:36:36 after overpowering second place Bryan Herrick. Mary Ann Boyer was first woman and first 50+ in 0:38:47.

Play by play: Since the race was only 90 minutes away, I woke up early and drove to the site instead of staying over the night before. I felt good in the morning, with no coffee jitters since I've cut back on caffeine over the last two weeks to avoid the buzz/crash phenomenon that I have hypothesized interferes with my performance in SUP races and life in general.

My good feeling continued as the SUPs lined up on the beach for the start, and the surfskis and outrigger canoes lined up behind a piling about 100 m out. When the siren blared I started clean and fast enough that I had no "traffic" problems on the way to the piling. Rounding the piling there were just a couple guys ahead of me, though Brad Ward and Mark Athanacio almost immediately caught up and passed me, despite Mark falling near the piling. I briefly attempted to draft each of them, but it was hard because they were so fast. Another thing that made drafting hard was the tiny swells moving down the course from the north. A little swell would reach the guy in the back first and start to run him into the guy in front, then when it reached the guy in front he would ride it away from the guy behind. Basically, drafting wasn't helping me, so I tried to just go fast and catch little bumps when I could. Ahead, Brad Ward pulled away to a major lead, and Mark Athanacio worked his way towards powerfully-built Chris Moylan who was in second place at that time.

Close by me was Travis Kindt. I can't remember if he was initially ahead or behind, but I remember him gradually catching up to me as we both paddled south. I knew from July's Flying Fish Paddle Challenge that we were closely matched, and I didn't want to make the mistake I'd made then of killing myself to stay just ahead of him then getting passed later when I burned out. So I paddled a normal pace and when he caught me I alternated between drafting him and just keeping pace alongside him. Both of us were finding it hard to draft in the open water, but drafting became more favorable as we turned into the wind to enter the inlet at Stump Pass. It benefit me a lot to draft Travis there, with the help of both his wake and the wind-break effect. Midway through the inlet I took a turn pulling the draft train and did my best to power through the upwind, up-current section. Heading toward the turn-around buoy inside the inlet there was a weird shallow spot where the current was against us but some wind chop was helping. I got through with less trouble than Travis, who dropped off my draft for a while. I gained a little on Chris Moylan in front of us, who seemed to have slowed down after getting passed by Athanacio.

Exiting the inlet I got on Chris Moylan's draft for a while, then took a turn pulling. Travis caught up with us on the northward return leg. I started to worry that I'd tire myself out and get passed if I kept pulling, so I slowed and let Chris lead. Drafting him and Travis was not the relief that I'd hoped it would be, because Travis was weaving in and out of the other guy's draft and I had to weave even more to stay in Travis' draft. I did my best to concentrate on saving energy and getting my heart rate down, but I don't think I was very successful. (I ought to get a working heart rate monitor again so I can remove the guesswork from these kind of things.) Anyway, after a while of that I got discouraged and decided to break off the train and try to keep up on my own. I took a more inshore path than them and stayed abreast, but gained no ground. This situation continued until near the end of the race, when Travis kicked it up a notch and got two or three board lengths ahead of Chris. As is often the case for me at the end of a race, I didn't have the physical or mental strength left to make a big move, but I tried to edge closer to Chris and hoped to maybe squeeze around him at the final piling turn into the beach finish line. I did not manage to do that, so I wound up staggering out of the water a few seconds behind him.

Though I didn't make it to the podium this time, I had a good race where I paddled hard and mixed it up with some closely-matched competitors, which was fine by me. After the race I tried out some other folks' boards, including John Sekas' Sunova Ocean Pro 14x25, a pintailed dugout design. It was nice and stable but felt slow after being on a 14x23. Next I tried Mark Athanacio's new custom board, which has similar characteristics to the Hovie GTO. It was super lightweight and felt fast and frisky.

The post-race socializing was nice, and the lunch was really good. Although I didn't stick around for the awards and the raffle, I was really proud of my CGT Tribe friends and their racing achievements.

What's next: I think this was my last race of the year. I'll keep doing SUP training, but may spend more of my limited time and energy for working out on strength training in the gym and other fitness activities. I have some pain developing in the joints and tendons of my thumb and palm where it presses the paddle handle, and a twinge in my right rotator cuff that could stand to be rested for a while.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Race Report: CGT Imperial River Challenge

Robert Norman and Matt Kearney celebrating their win in the doubles canoe class.

Race: The Imperial River Challenge

Date it happened: 21 Oct, 2017

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page. The event was also supported by the Imperial River Conservancy, the Bonita Springs Lions Club, and other local businesses, civic, and environmental organizations. More about the impetus for the event, and some cool video, is included in the local TV news and newspaper coverage-

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Course / Distance: Normally, the annual Imperial River Challenge starts far up the Imperial River, on the East side of I-75, and winds down through the twisting jungle of cypress trees and vines towards the finish line at Riverside Park in downtown Bonita Springs. This year, however, due to Hurricane Irma, the upriver section of the course was blocked by debris in many places. Therefore an alternative course had to be set up, starting at Riverside Park, going downriver a short distance, around a buoy, then back upriver to the finish (2.9 km total distance). This course was familiar to most of us as the "short course" in the regular CGT race series.

Conditions: The floodwaters of Hurricane Irma have subsided now, so the river level was normal, if not a bit lower than normal, due to low tide and a strong East wind pushing water away from the coast. The river current was still strong, though- 1.7 kph according to my paddling in current calculator. The combined effects of the current and a headwind made the second half of the course a lot slower than the first. The weather was warm but partly cloudy and not too hot.

Participants, Results and gear: Money prizes and conch shell trophies were offered for the the first through third place finishers in several classes: SUP, single kayak, surfski kayak, doubles kayak, and doubles canoe. There were also prizes for a costume contest. The usual local SUP racers were there, along with some ringers from out of town such as Packet Casey from Ft. Lauderdale (JP boards) and Brad Ward from Sarasota (Sunova boards). There were also some hotshot kayakers from Miami on fancy "K1" kayaks like they use in the Olympics. Some who usually race SUPs, like CGT team members Matt Kearney and Robert Norman, slummed it in the doubles kayak and doubles canoe classes to increase their chances of money prizes. That worked out well for them, although they couldn't wrest first in doubles kayak from Patrick Scheele and his beau. I haven't obtained the list of full results and times yet, but I'm posting the ones I remember.

Racer ** Class ** Board Width and Model ** Time
Packet Casey ** 14' SUP ** 23 JP Flatwater ** ~18:50
Mark Athanacio ** 14' SUP ** 21.5 Hovie GT ** ~18:55
Brad Ward ** 14' SUP ** 23.5 Sunova Flatwater Faast ** ~19:05
James Douglass ** 14' SUP ** 23 Riviera RP ** 19:24
Bryan Herrick ** 14' SUP ** 23.75 Riviera custom ** ??
John Weinberg ** 14' SUP ** 25 Riviera RP ** ??
Cindy Gibson ** 12'6 SUP ** 25 Hovie Comet ZXC ** ??
Meg Bosi ** 12'6 SUP ** 25 Bark Contender ** ??
Beth Schadd ** 12'6 SUP ** 24 Riviera RP ** ??
Donna Catron ** 12'6 SUP ** 26 Bark Vapor ** ??

Play by play: Prior to the race I had worse nervousness than usual, thinking about the tough out-of-town competitors like Brad Ward and Packet Casey. I was also feeling uncertain about my level of health and fitness, since this was my first race after a combination poison-ivy + antibiotic resistant infection required me to be on strong antibiotics and steroids for two weeks.

Lesson learned- do not go in the water if you have a wound or weeping rash. It can easily get horribly infected.

I also felt over-caffeinated and under-hydrated pacing around the park before the race, wishing I'd brought some water. And my right eye was itchy from where I got a bug in it while jogging earlier in the week. All told, I entered the race with less than full confidence and commitment, and that mental state probably affected how I paddled.

The race starts were staggered in groups of a few paddlers, and I started in the tough guys group with Mark Athanacio, Packet Casey, and Brad Ward. Athanacio had tried to suggest that we start in different groups so as to not confound each others' performance with drafting and blocking moves in the narrow river, but somehow we all clustered together anyway. Our start was fairly even. I didn't go all-out because I had a tentative plan to get in somebody's draft to save energy. Packet ended up being the one to take the front position, and I probably could have gotten in his draft, but I didn't fight Athanacio hard enough for it, so Athanacio got it instead and I ended up struggling with their wakes and barely making it into the 4th place of a sloppy draft train, behind Brad. Sometimes I felt like I was in a good spot in the draft and managed to catch a breath between strokes, while other times I fought against overlapping wakes and had to spend a lot of energy just to stay attached. About 800 m down the river Brad made a move to pass Athanacio, but Athanacio blocked him. After another move or two like that Brad slipped back by a board length or two, then I slipped back a few board lengths from Brad. Packet had the fastest buoy turn, which detached Athanacio from his wake. Brad broke the rules by rounding the buoy on his right side instead of his left side, which made me have to go wider around the buoy and put me a little further back. Going upriver I tried to keep a solid pace, and managed to hold but not close my distance behind Brad. Ahead of us Packet and Athanacio were in a serious duel, with Athanacio making frequent passing attempts, but always being thwarted by the strong currents of the river or other paddlers on their way downriver. I tried to hug the edges of the river and look for the most efficient path at all times, and occasionally I was able to get a boost from the residual wakes of the three guys ahead of me. But I was physically tired, and mentally resigned to 4th place so I never advanced my position. I was close enough at the finish to see Packet win it, with Athanacio right behind, Brad a bit further back, and me about the same distance behind Brad as Brad was behind Packet and Athanacio.

Here's my GPS track from the course:

Us SUP dudes had only barely made it across the line when the first place single kayaker finished. I don't know what his time was but it must have been FAST. Others who came across the line soon after us were Cindy Gibson, Meg Bosi, Bryan Herrick, and John Weinberg, who had started a bit later. It was a nice, lively scene at the finish line with so many different crafts and competitors crossing. Robert Norman and Matt Kearney definitely looked like they were having a good time in their kayak, first, and then the canoe later. Although my own performance in this race wasn't stellar, it was definitely a good workout and a good race experience, and it was cool having so many really good paddlers on our own little Imperial River. For the future I want to keep my paddling skills and fitness at a good level, and work some more on the mindset and mental toughness to do well in a competitive race. The next big race coming up is the Englewood Beach Paddlefest race on November 11th.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

(Belated) Hurricane Irma Story

Hurricane Irma passed directly over my town of Bonita Springs, FL on September 10th 2017 as a category 2 or 3 storm with winds in excess of 160 kph and ~30 cm of rain. It was a big deal. Some people lost everything. I was lucky to suffer little more than the disorientation of a 1.5 week “pause” in my life. This is my Irma story.

Phase 1: Weather watching- I have loved weather-watching and weather-hoping since I was a kid in Washington State. Back then my psychic efforts were concentrated on hastening the arrival of spring and summer sunshine, particularly willing the waters to warm to swimmable temperatures, and, in the winter, wishing the rain to turn to school-cancelling snow. When I got hooked on windsurfing as a young adult, the weather-watching centered on wind. I also began to mix science with my wishing. I would pore over the forecasts and sensor readings, and carefully strategize which beach to go to at what time to catch the best combination of wind strength and direction, tide level and flow, etc. Having by then moved to the East Coast of the US, I also started paying attention to tropical storms and hurricanes, which regularly influenced the weather of Virginia. Most of those brushes with storms in Virginia were harmless windsurfing fun, but Hurricane Isabel of 2003 was a category 1 direct hit that really messed up the Virginia Institute of Marine Science where I was studying, and left the area without power for several days. I regretted my decision to storm-watch from VIMS’ waterfront campus after my car window was smashed out by flying debris. Where I live now in Florida, hurricanes and tropical storms are the only kind of weather that’s interesting, so you can bet I do a lot of hurricane tracking and speculating, largely at the site, which has a good science blog discussion section along with their severe weather reporting. One of the things that concerned me this summer was how incredibly hot the water temperatures were in the Gulf of Mexico, much of it over 30 degrees Celsius. That’s hot enough to make you sweat while you swim. Hotter ocean waters give more energy to strengthen the winds and rains of tropical storms. The sea surface temperature “anomalies” (how much hotter or colder it is than normal) were skewed remarkably hotter, a trend becoming the new normal around the world, no thanks to man-made global warming.

The climate change stuff was definitely on my mind as I watched the terrible destruction brought to Texas by Hurricane Harvey. Then, before Texas had even dried off, a new storm developed in the Eastern Atlantic with a projected track that put Florida in the bullseye: Irma. I watched Irma get bigger and stronger, but thought it likely that she would curve out to sea; that the early track forecast of a direct impact to Florida would be wrong. However, each day the storm was stronger, and closer, and the westward track of Irma was narrowed the “cone of uncertainty” on South Florida. Remembering how beat up I’d been by category 1 Isabel in 2003, I wanted nothing to do with category 4 or 5 Irma.

Phase 2: Evacuation planning- It was hard to concentrate at work during the week of September 4-8, as I wondered whether, when, and where to evacuate. It didn’t seem like any of Florida would be a good place to go, since the whole state was in the “cone,” and even places not in the direct path of the storm would likely lose power (and precious air conditioning) for days. We considered two types of evacuation- 1) a short hop to more inland and northerly location in Florida, like a hotel in Orlando, or 2) a long journey to my parents’ house in Asheville, NC. Pros of the short evacuation would be less driving, and less time away from normal life if the hurricane damage turned out to be minor. Cons of the short evacuation would be finding a place that could take our dog, the expense of the hotel, and possibly needing to move again if our house was unlivable after the storm. Also, our geriatric bulldog-mutt Grace could suffer and die in a non-air-conditioned environment, so we needed the evacuation spot to be a guaranteed-cool place that we could afford to stay for a while. That argued strongly for Asheville. Thankfully, Florida Gulf Coast University (my employer) cancelled Thursday and Friday operations, which gave us plenty of time to make the long drive to NC before the bad weather. Rhonda and I packed up Wednesday night after my last class at FGCU (only three students attended the class), and prepared to leave early Thursday morning.

I was queasy thinking of how vulnerable our little rental house was: Lousy old windows that the wind whistles through. A poorly anchored aluminum shed in the back, leaned against a mahogany tree with branches enveloping the power and cable lines from the street. A decaying detached screen porch half-wrapped in Bougainvillea and Virginia Creeper vines. A palmetto palm tree that grew up too close to the house with its stiff fronds batting at the gutter and eaves. Towering pines and ungainly Ficus trees in the adjacent lot. I was fairly sure that the shed and screen porch would be destroyed by the wind alone, and that the house windows would break or leak enough rain to rust the electronics and rot the walls and furniture. I also thought it likely that all Rhonda’s fish would die and stew in their aquariums, even if the storm missed us. Wanting to get out on Thursday we didn’t have much time to prep the house. We didn’t board up windows or doors, but we did move the outdoor furniture into the shed, took the desktop computers to a friend’s safer house, and shifted a few things up off the floor and away from the windows. At the last minute, after sunset Wednesday night, I decided to hack all the fronds off the palmetto palm so they couldn’t bang into the eaves. While I was doing that I forgot to move the expensive gas barbeque grill into the house.

Phase 3- Evacuation. When we left at 6:30 am Thursday morning, all we had with us was our laptop computers, a box of personal identification documents, a week’s worth of clothes and toiletries, and the dog and her food. We drove Rhonda’s car, and left my “sport utility” minivan in the driveway stuffed with my windsurfing gear.

Leaving it all behind, was actually a kind of relief. I felt as if I had already said goodbye to the material things, and knew that the most precious pieces of my life were in the car with me or at our destination in Asheville. The adventurous feeling of escaping kept my mood more positive and energized than it would normally be on such a long drive. I enjoyed watching the natural scenery change from perfectly flat with tropical vegetation to gently-rolling with oaks and pines. At the same time the cultural scenery changed from “uniquely South Florida” to “kind of like the rest of the rural South”. It was nice to trade driving duties with Rhonda, and to make lots of little rest stops with the doggie. At those stops, and soon on the roads, as well, it became plain that we were not the only people evacuating from Florida. It was a dog and human ZOO at every gas station and McDonalds.

Traffic was slow between Tampa and Gainesville, and fairly excruciating from there into Georgia. After 16 hours on the road, in the dark of night, we were gridlocked well south of Atlanta. It looked grim and we debated stopping for the night. However, a turn onto the backroads opened up uncrowded territory, and we pressed on into a hilly land of big trees and small towns that was beautiful by moonlight. A Redbull caffeinated energy drink helped me stay awake for the last few hours through the northwest corner of South Carolina and into the western mountains of North Carolina. Finally, at 5 am, we pulled into my parents’ Asheville driveway and stepped out into the shockingly chilly September night air.

Phase 4- Asheville. My parents moved to Asheville from Washingon State a few years ago, but somehow I had only ever visited them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. So when I finally woke up it was a delight to see the scenic mountain town with all the green leaves on the trees and the pretty flowers blooming in my mom’s garden. Of course it was also great to see my folks, and my biologist Aunt Mary Garland and Uncle Tom who live in the same neighborhood. My dad had a heart attack earlier in the summer and has been on a strict “Ornish” diet and lifestyle program since then to get his weight, cholesterol and blood pressure down.

Dad making Ornish balls.

Apparently this Ornish thing is the only diet and wellness practice that has been scientifically studied and determined to actually clean out (rather than merely stabilize) clogged arteries. Old Johnny Douglass was looking studly and svelte for a 73 year old, and was in great spirits for a guy forbidden from eating any of his former favorite foods like BBQ pork and chocolate sundaes. I am extremely proud of him for sticking with something so difficult, and delighted that he’s doing something that greatly increases his chances of being alive and healthy for a good while longer. Rhonda and I went to Johnny’s “graduation” from his Ornish support group at the medical center, where we met some nice people who had also been prescribed the drastic lifestyle change at the same time as my dad. The graduation was an Ornish luncheon, some parts of which were wholesomely delicious and other parts of which gave me a greater appreciation for the adherents’ commitment to the program.

Some just-for-fun stuff that we did in Asheville included great walks and hikes in the mountains. I was especially stoked to drive to the high elevation areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway that are closed off when I normally visit in the late fall and winter. We even went to the highest spot of all, 2037 m Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern United States. Above 1600 m elevation in the southern Appalachian Mountains there is a shift from familiar eastern deciduous forests to unique evergreen spruce and fir forests similar to those found far to the north in Canada. I had never been in that elevation zone before, and I found it remarkable to be bundled for warmth and surrounded by dark green fir trees in summer in a southern state. Mary Garland explained that one of the reasons Mt. Mitchell was so tall is because it was made of exceptionally hard rock, which had resisted erosion while the softer portions of the ancient Appalachians had worn away over the hundreds of millions of years since the Ordovician period.

A pensive moment atop the Craggy Gardens overlook.

Another feature of the time in Asheville was a streak of social dinners. Rhonda got to experience one of the hallmarks of my parents’ lifestyle- that they love to have company over, especially when sons and daughters-in-law are around. I hope my own circle of friends is similarly full and entertaining when I get to retirement age. It would also be cool if I can somehow live near my sister or Rhonda’s siblings like my dad lives near Aunt Mary Garland, since it’s a holiday-like treat to have them around, even if we’re not doing anything special. On this visit I got to hear Mary Garland play the banjo, which she appropriately learned after moving to the southern hills. She plays “old time” music, which is similar to bluegrass, and she’s really good! My mom has also learned to play the dulcimer. Someday maybe I’ll try playing the piano again. One thing I did entirely too much in Asheville was stare at Hurricane Irma news and forecasts on my laptop. The projected track shifted east (good for my town, bad for Miami) but then shifted west again to put Bonita Springs directly in its sights. As it looked like devastation of my home was highly likely, I persuaded my SUP racing buddy Justin DiGiorgio to break into my place and transfer my SUP boards from the vulnerable aluminum shed into the living room of the house itself. While he was at it he moved in the BBQ grill that I’d stupidly left out. Thank you Justin!

Phase 5- The Hurricane Hits. After devastating some Caribbean Islands at full category 5 strength, Irma spent a long time traversing the north coast of Cuba. While that was bad for Cuba, it degraded the storm’s strength and organization, particularly weakening its southern half, where the west winds resided. Irma re-strengthened to a marginal category 4 as it turned north and surged across the Florida Straits to the Florida Keys. It was dreadful to see it on the radar images, with the fluorescent violence of the eyewall smacking straight into middle/lower Keys. The next spot the eye came ashore was Cape Romano, where the dome homes I’d recently paddled to were. (Most of the domes are still standing, but two “sank” in the storm.) From there the eye went straight over Naples and my house in Bonita Springs, but that may actually have been a better scenario than if it had stayed a offshore where the winds would have pushed more of a storm surge to the north and west. As it was, only the barely-populated, south-facing coast of the Everglades got a big surge. The west-facing beaches from Naples and northward had a big NEGATIVE storm surge (the water went way out) due to the strong offshore east winds of the upper half of the hurricane, and had only minor positive storm surge from the weaker west winds of the lower half of the storm that passed over later. However, even that puny surge was enough to overwash the narrow dunes along the beaches in my town, salt-killing some of the seashore vegetation like the Sea Grape trees. The storm surge could have been MUCH worse, and we really were lucky that it wasn’t. What was bad was the wind damage. Even though the storm rapidly weakened, winds still reached over 160 kph where the eye passed over in SW Florida, which was enough to knock down TONS of trees, strip leaves and limbs off others, damage roofs, tip over fences and signs, etc. By some miracle, my shed survived, and I only lost one section of trim from my roof and one screen from my detached porch. (This was reported by Justin DiGiorgio when he inspected my house the next day.)

One part of the storm that was not merciful to Bonita Springs was the rain. About 30 cm fell onto soggy ground and drained into rivers and canals that had only partially recovered from flooding rains just two weeks earlier. The water quickly reached unprecedented highs and flooded lots of people’s houses. Some lower-lying neighborhoods on the east side of town had totally devastating flooding, and many of the houses I paddle by in the Imperial River had the river in their garages and living rooms. In fact, the AirBnB that my parents rented when visiting this January had a foot of water in it and all the furniture was moldering out on the curb when we got back to town.

Though it was a huge relief to hear that my house wasn’t destroyed, I had to suppress my urge to drive back right away. Reports from friends who stayed indicated that it was hellish and they wished they weren’t there. Not only was it horrendously hot and humid with no electricity, stores weren’t open, or didn’t have anything to sell. For example, it was nearly impossible to get gasoline for a few days. Plus, lots of roads were impassible because they were flooded and/or full of downed trees. There was no great urgency to return, anyway, because my work was cancelled until Monday the 18th.

Phase 6- The Return. Our unplanned vacation to my folks’ house in Asheville coincided with their planned seasonal migration to the Edisto Beach, SC house that they rent out in the summer but occupy for parts of the off-season. The timing and logistics of that migration were knocked askew by our visit, and by Irma, which caused some flooding, damage, and power outages on Edisto. Rhonda and I adapted by making Edisto an intermediate stop on our way home. I love any chance to visit Edisto and appreciated that it split the drive home into smaller segments. We left Asheville on the afternoon of Thursday the 14th and arrived at Edisto just after dark. There were lots of tree limbs down and sand and puddles in the road at Edisto, but the damage was minor relative to the major whallop the island received after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Mainly Irma just made for more interesting beach combing there, with lots of strange shells and debris washed up.

After one restful day at Edisto, Rhonda and I bid my folks adieu and made an early morning departure for Florida. Traffic wasn’t bad, and as with the evacuation, the sense of adventure and excitement made the time shorter. Whenever I wasn’t driving, my eyes were scanning the roadsides for hurricane damage, expecting it to increase steadily the further south we got. At first the damage did increase. We noticed more trees down and billboards damaged as we headed down I-95 through Jacksonsville and St. Augustine. There was a fair amount of damage even as we turned inland on I-4 through Orlando. But oddly enough, there wasn’t much damage (at least not visible from the freeway) as we drove south on I-75. Even as far south as Punta Gorda things didn’t look bad. It wasn’t until we got to Fort Myers that we saw a major increase in damage, with many broken and uprooted trees, busted signs, etc. We took an earlier exit than unusual because it was reported that there was still water over the roadway near our usual exit. Once off the freeway there was a spectacle of chaotic damage. On our own street it was incredible. The entire vista was transformed by the knocked-down fences and absent tree canopies. It felt like there was more sky. Also incredible was the level of the little creek across the street from us than runs into the Imperial River. It was rushing and swollen and as wide as the Imperial itself, even days after peaking. I put on boots and walked to our friends’ house in a neighborhood along the creek, and sadly saw their house surrounded by the rushing water, which had clearly been in the house, as well.

A short walk to the Imperial River revealed it to be entirely filling Riverside Park where our SUP races take place, with only the tops of the park benches showing above the surface.

Though everything in my Bonita Springs looked damaged, perhaps the worst-looking disaster was the Everglades Wonder Gardens, and old-timey reptile house and botanical garden where it seemed all the giant tropical trees planted in the 1930s had come down and crashed on each other and over and through the tall wooden fences around the gardens. (I hear they’re selling the lumber though, which makes sense. There ought to be a fortune’s worth in timber, firewood and pulp just from all the giant piles of yard waste on everyone’s street front now.)

Inside our house it was 31 degrees Celsius and dank, but blessedly there was no serious water damage- just a tiny puddle in one closet where sideways rain had penetrated the hole drilled in the wall for the tv cable to come through. By some miracle, Rhonda’s freshwater aquariums still looked healthy and had some living fish. I think the ones that died probably nourished those that remained. The refrigerator and freezer were somewhat disgusting, but the fact that the power had been on for a day or two before we got back at least meant that the oozes had congealed enough to be easy to clean up.

On the second day of cleanup we dealt with the yard waste. My buddy Matt helped me chainsaw our downned mahogany limbs in exchange for me helping him out with a bunch of fun chainsawing at his house, including disassembling an entire huge avocado tree. I like chainsawing.

Phase 7- Moving on. Life is gradually getting back to normal now. I survived my first week back at work with only about double the level of disorganization and absent-minded professor confusion that I usually have. I tried to avoid the river because of stinking germ concerns, but I couldn’t stop myself from getting a nice 20 knot windsurfing session at Bonita Beach on Monday night. After that, and it may have just been coincidence, I got a cold that dampened the rest of the week, but it’s passing now. The morning I wrote this was the first time I got on a paddleboard since before Irma, and I did a loop around Big Hickory Island on Estero Bay with Justin. The ocean water is a little brown but has been certified swimmable by the Lee County organization who tests it. I am somewhat skeptical of that safety certification. The Estero Bay water is far more suspect. It looks like black coffee and smells like wet garbage. My graduate student Lisa was actually out in the Bay measuring its salinity and optical water properties on Thursday the 14th just a few days after Irma. Incredibly, she found nearly fresh water throughout the Bay (0 – 7 ppt salinity), even in areas that are normally near marine salinities (35 ppt). The combination of black water and very low salinities bodes ill for the seagrasses that Lisa and I are studying, which depend on clear, sunlit water and salinities >20 ppt. Compounding this “natural” disaster will be the extremely high concentrations of Nitrogen and Phosphorus washed into the water from all the overflowing septic and sewage systems, golf course ponds, farms, and other human sources of excess nutrients. They’re likely to cause harmful algal blooms that will negatively impact any remaining seagrasses. It’s an ugly situation, for sure.

While hurricanes are a natural phenomenon, their frequency, severity, and destructiveness are all increased by things that humans do. Global warming is the big one because it soups up the wind power and rain content of storms, and raises the sea level making storm surges go further. Another category of things we do that increase the destructiveness of storms includes removing or degrading the natural ecosystems that block or buffer the storm effects. For example, by letting coral reefs die we remove those natural breakwaters from our shorelines. Replacing beach dunes, marshes, and mangroves with coastal development removes those natural barriers and puts human structures in harm’s way. Inland, sprawling developments increase flooding problems by preventing the ground from absorbing rainwater, and concentrating all the water into overloaded and poorly-designed artificial drainage systems. To plan for the future we should take strong action to curb global warming, we should put the brakes on developments that are themselves vulnerable to flooding and storm surges and/or make other areas more vulnerable, and we should protect and enhance the natural ecosystems that process and store rain and floodwaters. In a best-case scenario, I imagine the wave of urban sprawl cresting about now, then tactically receding from the most vulnerable areas by not rebuilding the same way in the same spot when things are destroyed, instead shifting population density to sturdier structures on higher ground and yielding the beaches and floodplains to parks and nature.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Race Report: Clearwater Beach Classic

Brad Ward on SUP chases the surfski kayaks in the long race.

Race: The Clearwater Beach Classic

Date it happened: There were clinics 28-29 Sep, 6-person outrigger canoe races 30 Sep, and all the other paddlecraft races 1 Oct, 2017.

Host: Clearwater Beach Classic and Outrigger Zone.

Location: The Clearwater Community Sailing Center and in the waters of St. Joseph Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

Course / Distance: There was a 12.9 km course that went from St. Joseph Sound into the Gulf of Mexico and back, and there was a 6.4 km course that just did three upwind/downwind laps in St. Joseph Sound.

Conditions: It was sunny with an East wind increasing to 10+ knots by mid day, creating moderate chop on the bay. There was also a lot of boat traffic, increased by the fact that there was an offshore speedboat race in the afternoon. Lots of detached seagrass blades were floating on the surface and forming dense paddies along areas where the tidal currents sheared together. If your fin or rudder didn't have sufficient rake angle to shed the weeds you were screwed. There were also numerous small Chrysaora (sea nettle) jellyfish drifting around, so you didn't want to fall in.

Participants, Results and gear: There was an impressive turnout of sit-down paddlecraft, including surfski kayaks and OC1 and OC2 outrigger canoes, who mostly did the longer 12.9 km race. OC1 professional paddler Kai Bartlett ran the clinics and also did the races. Legendary South African kayaking coach and competitor Lee McGregor, now 65 years old but still competing at an elite level, was also there. MacGregor coached my CGT race team buddy Murray Hunkin, with whom I traveled to this race. It was neat meeting the old coach I'd heard so much about. On the SUP side of things, only 7 SUP racers did the long race, but a respectable 40 SUPs did the 6.4 km race. During the registration period there was some confusion about which course was intended to the "elite" SUP course. I saw on the signup page that Sarasota SUP hero Brad Ward (Sunova boards) was doing the 6.4 km, so I signed up for that, as did SUPerman Robert Norman, Jason Casuga, John Sekas, John Weinberg, and all the other fast folks whose names I recognized. The evening before the race, however, Brad tried to tell us on facebook that he had switched to the long race, and we should too. We didn't get the message in time, so it ended up being that Brad was the lone fast dude in the long race, and the closer competition was in the short race. Brad would have almost certainly beaten all of us in either race, but if we had been in the same race it might have at least looked like he had to work for it. Oh, well. Another very good SUP racer, Garrett Fletcher (Yolo boards) was also there, but he was racing an OC1 so we didn't have to worry about him. Oddly enough, the handful of prone paddleboarders (those who paddle with no paddle) all signed up for the long race, proving the stereotype that prone paddleboarders do it because they love to inflict pain on themselves. I should have asked if any ran afoul of the jellyfish as they hand-paddled for miles. That would have been like a bonus for them. Anyway, the results haven't been posted yet, but these are the top finishers that I remember:

Racer ** Class ** Board/Boat ** Course ** Time
Nate Humberston ** surfski ** Epic V12 ** 12.9 km ** ?? About an hour
Lee McGregor ** surfski ** ?? ** 12.9 km ** ?? About an hour
Flavio Costa ** surfski ** ?? ** 12.9 km ** ?? About an hour
Kai Bartlett ** OC1 ** ?? ** 12.9 km ** ?? A little over an hour
... Murray Hunkin was 6th overall on a borrowed Nelo surfski

James Douglass ** 14' SUP ** 23" wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:46:30
Robert Norman ** 14' SUP ** 23" wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:47:00
John Sekas ** 14' SUP ** MHL Custom ** 6.4 km ** 0:48:ish

Play by play: Murray and I arrived just in time the evening before the race to do a warmup paddle and check out the course. It was apparent that the seagrass was going to be a big issue for Murray's straight-up-and-down surfski rudder, which was soon towing a clod of weeds the size of an eagle's nest. I could almost keep up with him on my SUP! Murray had brought along a smaller, raked rudder designed for river racing, but his huge, sausage-like fingers couldn't operate the tiny allen-head screws to change the rudder. I saved the day with my little scientist fingers and got the weedless rudder installed before the race.

On race morning we got to the site early and had plenty of time to warm up and schmooze with the other competitors. The long race started first, from knee deep water. When those racers had finished the first leg of the course, the short (mostly SUP) racers lined up for a running start from the beach. I picked the northeast end of the line, which I figured would be favored based on the wind direction. Robert Norman and I got similarly good starts and were roughly parallel to each other for a while, but with him further downwind. It was somewhat slow going into the wind. Even paddling very hard I could only average 7.8 kph on that first leg, and Robert rounded the upwind buoy several board lengths ahead. (If I'd been smart I would have cut over and tried drafting him.) On the first downwind I caught some small bumps, but so did Robert, and I didn't gain much distance on him. On the second upwind he extended his lead, and I feared my streak of not being defeated by my younger teammate was finally coming to an end. I kept him in sight, though, hoping I'd get a second wind or he'd tire out. On the second downwind I got an extremely lucky break, when I was able to ride a huge boat wake and regain all the ground I'd lost to Robert, plus some. Seriously, I think it was the longest, fastest ride I've ever gotten on a non-breaking wave. I started the third and final lap with a small lead, and Robert tucked into my draft. I didn't try to shake him from the draft on the upwind, but paddled steadily with a quicker bursts when I could paddle a few strokes with my fresher left side. For the final downwind leg I focused hard on catching every little wave I could, without doing anything super risky that might cause me to fall and blow my lead. It worked. I finished a small but safe distance ahead of Robert and was happy to get my first "first" in a while. Yeah! I used to be able to keep Robert a lot further behind me, but he has improved RAPIDLY this year, and is starting to develop the "seasoned waterman" skills to take full advantage of his young and ultra fit physique. There's really no limit to how fast the guy might get. I wouldn't be surprised if this was my last time finishing ahead of SUPerman, but I'll certainly still work hard to make it as difficult as possible for him to pass me.

Here's my GPS track from the course:

The top finishers from the long race were coming in around the same time as Robert and I, but the mid-pack and back-marker folks took a long time to trickle back, having to fight increasingly rough and windy conditions. I think it was quite a battle for some, and a reminder that some of the best competition is the individual-vs-the-elements kind that every paddle racer confronts, regardless of where they are in the finishing order. The seagrass element was definitely a tough one for a lot of people, seriously handicapping Garrett Fletcher on his straight-ruddered OC1 and Lee McGregor on his surfski. It's possible that Lee would have beaten much younger Nate Humberston if not for the fact that Nate had a weed-shedding rudder and Lee didn't. I heard that Nate generously pulled the weeds off Lee's rudder in the middle of the race when they were paddling next to each other, but after that, of course, there were no more favors.

After Brad Ward finished (he was the first SUP by a lot) he let me try is 14x23.5 Sunova Flatwater Faast. It's a cool looking dugout design with a recessed standing area and drain holes. The water was not at all flat when I tested it, but it seemed to handle fine even with the disorganized chop and whitecaps. The nose pierced into the waves and floated up again without slowing down too much, and the low center of gravity kept it stable even with chop hitting it at odd angles. I did fall once trying to get the feel of how it behaved downwind, and it was a little awkward to get back in compared to a flat-decked board. After that first fall, though, I got the feel of it's downwind reactions a little better and I felt like it could catch bumps just fine for a flatwater board. Brad says the "all water" Sunova design is significantly easier in rough water and great for catching bumps, so that sounds like it would be a good one to try, too.

I really liked the format of this race. They gave out nice shirts, had plenty of food and beer (although I don't drink), and they had a beautiful and convenient launch site. There was an awards ceremony, but no trophies- just usable prizes like hats and insulated lunch boxes. I actually prefer that, since I have no use for dust-collecting medals and trophies from every little race. T-shirt and a photo-opportunity with the other winners is just right for an amateur race, IMO.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

SUP Adventure to Cape Romano "Dome Home" Ruins

Last week's events offered a preview of future climate change and sea level rise. Whilst Houston was suffering unprecedented, tragic flooding from Hurricane Harvey (which was strengthened by abnormally high ocean temperatures and atmospheric moisture levels related to anthropogenic global warming), Southwest Florida was deluged by a separate tropical precipitation system, resulting in significant flooding in my area, the likes of which hadn't been seen in decades. After the rains my graduate student measured salinity levels in our local estuary, Estero Bay, and found no salinity levels higher than 9 anywhere in the Bay. The normal salinity level of seawater is 35; I fear many marine organisms such as the brittle stars that carpet the bay bottom will perish at < 9 salinity. Extreme precipitation events like these are likely to increase in both frequency and severity as climate change progresses, especially if the nations of the world are slow to transition from unsustainable fossil fuels (which create the CO2 pollution that is the primary driver of the current warming trend) to renewable energy. The consequences of extreme precipitation, e.g., flooding, are also likely to be exacerbated by land development trends. As we replace forests and wetlands (which are pretty good at absorbing rain and transferring it to the groundwater) with impervious surfaces like roads, malls, and sprawling urban/suburban development, floodwaters are less able to soak into the ground and more likely to flow fast over land. We need to build less, and build smarter, to prepare for what's coming.

In keeping with the week's "climate catastrophe preview" theme, some buddies and I made a difficult pilgrimage to a unique Southwest Florida site that epitomizes the folly of building along the eroding shores of a rising sea: The "Dome Homes" of Cape Romano. The history of the homes is described in detail on Wikipedia and other easily-googleable websites so I'll be brief here. Basically, the dome homes were one of several "off the grid" homesteads built on remote Caxambas Island, south of Marco Island, as far south as you can possibly go on the west coast of Florida before reaching the vast, uninhabited "10,000 islands" region where the Everglades wetlands meet the Gulf of Mexico in a maze of mangroves, sandbars, and oyster beds. The dome homes and the other weird off-the-grid houses on Caxambas Island (one was a pyramid) were actually pretty cool examples of sustainable living, with features for collecting rainwater, heating and cooling naturally etc. They just weren't in a safe location, as shifting sands and rising seas ate them away in the late 20th and early 21st century. As the shoreline retreated, the Dome Homes went from being in a dry sand dunes area, to being awash on the beach, to now being over 100 m offshore, permanently surrounded by water.

It's a long paddle from the nearest SUP launch to Cape Romano, and my buddies chose an even longer route to make sure they got enough distance training for the ultra long distance "Chattajack" race they are doing in Tennessee this fall. The Chattajack team is Matt Kearney, Robert "SUPerman" Norman, and Bill Mussenden. I'm too chicken to do the Chattajack myself, but I couldn't resist this chance to join the guys today and see the Dome Homes. We intended to launch at 7:30 am, but delayed until 11:00 am to let some storms pass through. The launch site was a bridge near Goodland Florida, a tiny outpost in the mangrove fringe of the Everglades.

We all brought 14' boards. Bill's was a 14x27 custom Indigo sup with a green leprechaun theme. Matt brought his new 14x23 Starboard Allstar. Robert and I were both on 14x23 Riviera RP raceboards. We all brought backpacks full of water, snacks, and various energy / electrolyte drinks and goos. The route was around 26 km, which is less than the Chattajack, but still a lot farther than I had ever paddled or wanted to paddle. I figured we'd be going at a relatively slow pace, though, and with a long stop for lunch the paddle wouldn't be too challenging for me. Ha!

Almost immediately after we started paddling we got our first warning that things might be more difficult than imagined. Very shallow water and an incoming tide kept our speeds slower than expected despite our working together in a draft train, trading leaders every 800 m. Then, about 2.4 km in, Matt announced that he wasn't feeling quite himself and couldn't keep up with our pace. He hypothesized that he'd slept on the wrong side of the bed, or mixed the wrong kind of energy powder into his water, or filled too many sandbags to protect his house earlier in the week. Things got worse as we left the sheltered waters near Goodland and entered a long sidewind/upwind stretch in the choppy waters of Gullivan Bay. Matt and Bill stayed near to shore and made directly for the cut through Caxambas Island, while Robert and I were feeling peppy and impatient and paddled more into the wind for a while so that we could take a direct downwind line to the cut, practicing our bump-riding skills. The fastest part of the route was the cut through Caxambas Island, where the water was flat and the current was now ebbing and in our favor. Robert, Bill and I regrouped there and made good progress in a draft train.

When we emerged into the Gulf of Mexico we turned south along the eroded western shore of the island, facing some headwind and some tricky currents where tidal inlets gushed out of inner passages in the island. I tried to hug the coastline and duck into little bays to get out of the wind, and I picked up the pace, figuring if I lost the other guys I'd just wait up for them when we got to the dome homes. The landscape was beautiful, with jade green water, white beaches, and rugged piles of driftwood where the receding coast was scouring away the mangrove forest. Coming out of one of the minor bays I caught my first glimpse of the dome homes in the distance. It was rough getting to them, though, because the wind and chop had increased and they were straight upwind. I was happy to finally arrive, take a few pictures, then retreat to a small patch of beach to rest and recover. Robert and Bill were just a little bit behind me, and Matt wasn't much further back. We had paddled approximately two hours.Below is the GPS track from the trip to the domes, and some pictures.

I felt OK, but as I ate my lunch I started to worry that I hadn't brought enough water, because I'd more than half drained what was in the pouch in my camelback. After another round of selfies and stuff we started the return journey, this time rounding the southern end of Cape Romano and crossing Gullivan Bay instead of cutting through the island. The outgoing tidal current was ripping hard at Cape Romano, and didn't diminish much as we turned north into Gullivan Bay. Even with the wind and chop at our backs we were going about 2 km slower than normal pace, and had to cling to the shoreline where the current was less. Eventually, though, we had to veer into the open water to get to where we were going. Around then is when I ran out of water and started to feel various kinds of unpleasant soreness and fatigue that increased through the rest of the paddle. At least I didn't have to go fast, because the other guys were also slowed down by the fatigue and side-chop.

The shoreline to the west of us was a series of mangrove islands punctuated by points and inlets that all looked alike. It was hard to tell which one would be our turn to get back towards Goodland. The last thing I wanted to do at that point was paddle even longer than necessary because I was lost. In the distance I spotted a boat that was drifting along, fishing, and I decided to ask them for directions. Unfortunately the boat was about a kilometer away across a bay with lots of current and side chop, so it took me a while to get there and put me a little off course. Thankfully, the friendly fishermen pointed me in the right direction, and the other paddlers behind me saw which way I went after that so they didn't have to paddle quite as far before turning. The final phase of the paddle was frustrating, as the ebb tide current coming out of Goodland was quite strong, the mid day sun was blazing, and we were totally sore and fatigued. For me, that part was worse than any of the rough open water stuff had been. All my muscles felt like they were right on the verge of cramping, and even getting off and on the board for cool-off dip in the water was a delicate operation. Robert and Matt both had to spend some time just sitting on their boards and trying to talk themselves out of giving up, but eventually we all made it back to Goodland. Here's the track for the return trip.

Bill, thank goodness, had tons of extra water bottles in his truck, and I chugged two of them before laying down in the bed of Robert's truck almost in a coma of soreness and exhaustion. Gradually, after more water, and some gas station snacks and gatorade, the feelings of whole-body stiffness and misery diminished. But I'll need a while before I'm ready for another crazy long paddle like that.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Race Report: CGT Summer Series #8

The river was crazy high. This picture was from the day before the race, but the park was just as flooded on race day.

Race: The eighth race in the CGT Spring/Summer Series.

Date it happened: 27 Aug, 2017

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Course / Distance: For this series there are two courses: a short one that goes downriver to a buoy and back (2.9 km), and a longer one that goes downriver to the US 41 bridge and back (6.4 km).

Conditions: It was the third day of heavy rain in SW Florida from a tropical weather system called 92L. The river was higher than I have ever seen it before, overflowing its banks into Riverside Park. The rain continued during the race and actually made things nicely cool. Nevertheless, the strong current made for slower times than usual. The current was 2.3 kph according to my paddling in current calculator.

Participants, Results and gear: Most of the regulars were undeterred by the rain. We also had one new member of the team, Gregory Zasinets, from Naples by way of Belarus. Greg is an avid sup surfer and downwind paddler who recently started doing Mark Athanacio's sup training program with us, in early preparation for some downwind sup races in Hawaii that he plans to do next year. Flat water racing isn't really Greg's thing, but he was a good sport to paddle with us anyway. Most of us did the long race, but the fastest guy, Athanacio, did the short race, which meant there was less direct competition for me in the long race. Below is a table of who raced and what they used. I'll add times when I get them from the race director.

Racer ** Class ** Board Width and Model ** Course ** Time
James Douglass ** 14' SUP ** 23 Starboard AllStar ** 6.4 km ** 0:41:50
Justin DiGiorgio ** 14' SUP ** 25 Hovie ZXC ** 6.4 km ** 44:10
Matt Kearney ** 14' SUP ** 23 Starboard AllStar ** 6.4 km ** 44:11
Greg Zasinets ** 14' SUP ** 24.5 Starboard AllStar ** 6.4 km ** 47:36
Bill Mussenden ** 14' SUP ** 23.5 Hovie GTO ** 6.4 km ** 51:56
Devin Turetzkin ** 12'6 SUP ** 25 Hovie GT ** 6.4 km ** 54:13

Mark Athanacio ** 14' SUP ** 21.5 Hovie GT ** 2.9 km ** 20:11
Bryan Herrick ** 14' SUP ** 23 Hovie Flatwater Dugout ** 2.9 km ** 25:47
Meg Bosi ** 12'6 SUP ** 25 Bark ** 2.9 km ** 26:20
Jared Hamilton ** 14' SUP ** 24 Hovie ZXC ** 2.9 km ** 27:41
Tony Walz ** 12'6 ** 24 Naish Maliko ** 2.9 km ** 31:29

Play by play: The first starting wave was me, Greg, Matt, and Justin. Everybody sprinted off the line fast. It was more thrilling than usual because while paddling all-out we had to duck a railroad bridge and a foot bridge that usually have plenty of clearance (but not when the water is so high). As we sprinted, Greg was nose to nose with me, until I cut a corner close to the mangrove foliage and forced him to drop back into the draft. The four of us stayed linked in a draft train for a while, which was tricky with the strong current swirling around. A few times I bobbled and had to jam the paddle in the water to catch myself. By about 800 meters down the river I had managed to drop the other three off my tail, and at that point I just focused intently on paddling well and staying in the fast water. We made it downriver to the turn-around point in record time; 16 minutes 20 seconds. When I turned around I saw that Greg, Matt, and Justin were still in a train, and were only about 100 meters behind me. I knew that if I slacked off on the way upriver they would catch me, so I made sure to keep the pace up. More so than usual, I clung to edges of the river on the way up, and made many tactical switches from one side to the other in search of slow current and eddies. Looking at my Speedcoach SUP GPS readout was very helpful for that. If I was getting 8+ kph I knew I was in a good spot, but if it dropped below 7 kph, I knew I was caught in the "treadmill" of strong current and needed to find a better route. When the strong currents were unavoidable, I tried to briefly sprint until I was in better water again. In the last 400 meters or so I mustered all the energy I had remaining and picked up the pace a little. Race director Nick Paeno called out my time as 40:14. I was like, "Wha...? YEAH!" because that would have been a record time for me. I was smug about that until later when I looked at my GPS track and found that my actual time was 41:50- exactly what I got last time. Oh, well.

Here's my GPS track from the course:

For the other three that started with me, there was a lot of good drama in the upriver leg of the race. Though they rounded the bridge together, Greg and Matt separated from Justin soon after. However, Greg, who had never paddled on the river before was taking a slow route against the current, and Justin was able to pass him and Matt by taking a different route. Matt switched from drafting Greg to drafting Justin, and Greg slowed down a lot as his endurance suddenly gave out around 4 km into the race. He said everything started feeling incredibly heavy and he just couldn't maintain the quick pace he'd set earlier. Matt was still drafting Justin as they approached the finish line, and he made a last minute move to pass. Justin was totally tired then and almost wasn't able to hold him off. But the nose of Justin's board was still the first to cross the line, giving him a strong second place.

After the race we had good eats in the shop at CGT, and then a bunch of us went sup surfing or windsurfing at Wiggins Pass State Park. Greg and Matt surfed especially well. I saw Greg in particular go down the line on some good waves, making multiple turns. I sailed a 6.8 sail on my 106 liter board; my second day in a row of good shortboard windsurfing in the ocean. This was a rare treat for August.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Race Report: CGT Summer Series #7

Race: The seventh race in the CGT Spring/Summer Series.

Date it happened: 30 July, 2017

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Course / Distance: For this series there are two courses: a short one that goes downriver to a buoy and back (2.9 km), and a longer one that goes downriver to the US 41 bridge and back (6.4 km).

Conditions: It was hot but not as bad as the previous few races, since there was some cloud cover and a moderate to strong breeze from the West. The river water level was very high, and the current was 1 kph according to my paddling in current calculator.

Participants, Results and gear: There wasn't a huge turnout, probably since a lot of us were tired from the long race Saturday, but 12 hardy racers showed up anyway. Donna Montgomery and her son Lloyd both did the long course on 9' surfstyle boards, so they probably worked harder than anyone. Some of the usual racers used different from their usual boards, for example Mark Athanacio brought his 12'6x22 Hovie GT instead of the 14'x21.5 Hovie GT that he usually uses. I borrowed a 14'x23 Starboard AllStar from the CGT rack to test that out on the course. The most shocking thing was that CGT owner Nick Paeno made his racing debut, winning the short course with a very impressive time on a secondhand 14x25 Hovie ZXC that is for sale in the shop. With speed like that he might be able to challenge our regular racers Matt Kearney and Justin DiGiorgio. Hmm. In the long course, Mark Athanacio was the fastest overall despite the disadvantage of being on a shorter board (more on that later). I was second. The full results are below.

Racer ** Class ** Board Width and Model ** Course ** Time
Mark Athanacio ** 12'6 SUP ** 22 Hovie GT ** 6.4 km ** 0:41:40
James Douglass ** 14' SUP ** 23 Starboard AllStar ** 6.4 km ** 0:41:52
Justin DiGiorgio ** 14' SUP ** 23 Hovie Flatwater Dugout ** 6.4 km ** 0:45:02
Devin Turetzkin ** 12'6 SUP ** 25 Hovie GT ** 6.4 km ** 0:47:51
John Weinberg ** 14' SUP ** 25 Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:48:08
Lloyd Montogomery ** 9' SUP ** 31 Naish ** 6.4 km ** 1:06:37
Donna Montgomery ** 9' SUP ** 31 Naish ** 6.4 km ** 1:08:28

Nick Paeno ** 14' SUP ** 25 Hovie ZXC ** 2.9 km ** 0:20:12
Bryan Herrick ** 14' SUP ** 23.75 Riviera RP ** 2.9 km ** 0:22:21
Jared Hamilton ** 14' SUP ** 24 Hovie ZXC ** 2.9 km ** 0:23:57
Igor Krasnov ** 14' SUP ** ?? Something big ** 2.9 ** 0:25:07
Jen Hayes ** 12'6 SUP ** 24 Hovie GT ** 2.9 km ** 0:25:39

Play by play: On the water there was last minute changing around of who had been planning to do the short versus the long course. I think my stated intention to do the long one persuaded Mark Athanacio to do it, which persuaded Justin DiGiorgio to do it. The three of us plus Bryan Herrick all started at the same time. Those guys, especially Justin, sprinted off the line faster than I expected, maybe because a newspaper photographer was there and they wanted to be sure they looked good. Nevertheless, by the 200 m mark I had edged into the first position, with Justin drafting behind (breaking his pre-race pledge not to draft), and Athanacio behind him. I settled into what felt like a normal pace, trying to carefully gauge what kind of shape I was in after the previous day's big race. I felt OK, just a little less peppy, and with some soreness in my triceps and lats. About halfway through the downriver leg of the course I looked back expecting to see Justin behind me, but realized he'd been replaced by Athanacio. I thought a little about slowing down and making him lead but decided to just go my steady pace and see what happened.

After turning around the bridge at the halfway point of the course, Mark intentionally left my draft and paddled abreast of me. I reckon that was a sportsmanlike move, since he knew he COULD draft me the whole way back, but it would be kinda lame and unchallenging. Upriver was against the current but with the wind at our backs, and I changed my stroke a little to be more upright with a faster cadence, which I thought would help fight the current and take advantage of the tailwind. It seemed to work OK. I gradually pulled a few board lengths ahead of Mark, but that was unsurprising given the inherent advantage of my 14' board versus his 12'6. What WAS surprising was when, 1/3 of the way back upriver, my fin hit some massive, solid obstruction near a dock (maybe a log or a barely-submerged piling?). It instantly stopped the board, and because I was plunging my paddle into the water at the time, I went headfirst straight into the water. My board scooted off towards the shore, being blown by the wind, while I struggled lamely to swim against the current while holding my paddle. Meanwhile Mark zipped ahead, and had a ~100 m lead by the time I got back on the board. Damn! As Mark was passing he shouted, "regain your composure and sprint back up!" I never quite managed that. Though I partially caught up with Mark, he paddled hard and fast and preserved enough of the post-fall lead to finish 12 seconds ahead of me. SIGH. My final time was over a minute slower than in the previous CGT race. I reckon about 30 seconds of that was being slower due to post-race fatigue and the wind, and another 30 seconds, at least, was due to the fall and swimming for my board.

Here's my GPS track from the course:

What's Next: Next major race is August 12th in Fort Lauderdale; the second of the Sunshine SUP series.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Race Report: Flying Fish Summer Paddle Challenge

Race photos taken by Jen Hayes.

Race: The Flying Fish Summer Paddle Challenge 2017

Date it happened: 29 July, 2017

Host: The Flying Fish Paddle Sports

Location: The event was at the River Palm Cottages resort on the Indian River Lagoon in Jensen Beach, Florida. I liked that it was near where I used to live in Fort Pierce, and I was able to go to a Cajun restaurant I liked the night before the race with my CGT race team buddies. We didn't sign up soon enough to get a room at the cottages, but we found other hotels in the Stuart / Jensen Beach area.

Course / Distance: There was a long straight course for the kayaks and outrigger canoes, and a more complex multi-lap course for the SUPs. The SUPs could either do a short course (2 laps, 3.8 km) or an "elite" course (5 laps, 9.5 km).

Conditions: It was hot and humid as hell, with a modest breeze from the SW shifting to the NW. The water was shallow enough to hit the paddle blade in some parts of the course, demanding tactical decisions about whether to take a longer path to avoid it or just bust right through it. Even if your paddle blade wasn't hitting, you would still be slowed down by hydrodynamic effects that increase drag on displacement vessels in water depths less than 1/2 of the vessel length.

Participants, Results and gear: 47 people did the short SUP course, 36 did the elite SUP course, and 11 did the canoe/kayak course. For the elite SUP course there were $500 prizes for first place men's 14' and first place women's 12'6, which drew many of Florida's best paddlers. On the women's side was international pro Seychelle Hattingh (SIC boards), who races all over the world but is based in Key Largo. Seychelle had significant competition from teenage phenomenon Maddie Miller, and SW Florida's Meg Bosi (Bark boards) was also vying for the podium. Long time top female contender Kimberly Barnes was there volunteering but couldn't race because she's recovering from a sports-related surgery. On the men's side was last year's Flying Fish champion Sam English, now riding NSP boards. Sam faced a deep field of tough competitors this year. Looking at the names on the registration list I had trouble predicting the likely winner. I mentally sorted the familiar names into guys I KNEW were significantly faster than me (Kieran Grant [Hoviesup], Steve Miller and Tim Warner [Starboard]) and those who I figured were tough but I might be able to beat if I paddled well (Mark Athanacio [Hoviesup], Packet Casey [JP], Jake Graham and Joey Huemphner [Flying Fish boards], Reid Hyle [very fast guy but with a slow board]). My categorization was off, though, and several people I hadn't even thought I needed to worry about got the better of me, including Travis Kindt (ECS boards) and David Slemp (Hoviesup). I was the 11th SUP over the line in 1:10:07, but I consoled myself that at least my time wasn't TOO far behind the leaders. The top three in the major categories, along with their board types and widths if I remember them, were:

14' Men
Steve Miller 1:06:16 (Starboard Sprint 21.5)
Joey Huemphner 1:07:26 (Flying Fish allwater 23)
Kieran Grant 1:07:37 (Hovie Comet GT 23)

14' Men 50+
Mark Athanacio 1:09:45 (Hovie Comet GTO 23)
David Slemp 1:10:02 (Hovie Comet ZXC 25)
Gary Roethe 1:12:09 (?)

12'6 Women
Seychelle Hattingh 1:11:05 (some kind of narrow SIC flatwater board)
Maddie Miller 1:13:57 (JP flatwater) [1st in 17 & under class]
Jessica Ventura 1:16:13 Meg Bosi 1:17:30 (Bark Contender 25)

12'6 Men
Matt Kearney 1:15:38 (Starboard Allstar 24.5). Matt was the only man on 12'6- time to get a 14.

The full results are posted on paddleguru.

Play by play: They ran the short course first, which was nice because there was a pier over the water I could watch that race from to mentally picture my own route around the buoys. In the short race, those who could do efficient buoy turns put a lot of distance on those who couldn't in the 3-buoy "slalom" section at the end of each lap. I was glad I'd done some buoy turn practice in the preceding week, and gotten some good buoy turn tips at a clinic taught by SUPerman Robert Norman.

When the short race was over it was around 10 am, and it was HOT. All the racers knew the heat would be a major factor, so we were dunking in the water, wetting our shirts, skulking in the shade, etc. For the starting lineup, the race director requested that those in contention for the podium line up on the south end of the beach closer to the first buoy to minimize traffic between faster and slower racers. Considering myself one of the "slower of the faster" guys I lined up more towards the middle of the beach. My strategy for the start was to run with my board until the water got too deep, rather than jumping on the board early and having to paddle a long way through the very shallow water. It worked terribly, because people who threw their boards down earlier blocked off my running path and put me behind them. I ended up in bad traffic in chaotically mixed waters, watching those who had started better instantly extend a long lead. But there were so many wakes surging through the water that I was easily swept along, even through the speed-killing shallows after the first buoy. I weaved my way around and by the second buoy I was in an OK position again. I managed to catch up to and pass Jake Graham, but that wasn't surprising because he'd told me he was taking this one easy after not paddling for a long time.

In the slalom section of the first lap or two I seem to remember sticking the nose of my board onto the tail of the boards in front of me and/or in front of the paddlers' legs to help make tight turns. I was close to Reid Hyle and David Slemp, and I think I drafted them some but was mostly on my own, trying to gradually catch up with Mark Athanacio, who wasn't drafting anyone at that time, either. Mark slowed down to hasten our catching up, and was then eager to have someone else pull the draft. After catching my breath, I pulled for a good bit, sometimes going in the side-draft of Mark or Reid but always trying to stay near the front of the train. I ended up pulling ahead of the other guys when I made a better-than-usual buoy turn at the far end of the course on the third or fourth lap. At that point I thought I might be able to just paddle away from them. But what actually happened was that I stayed only a few board lengths ahead, tiring myself out, while they continued paddling efficiently and drafting. They seemed to close in on me in the buoy turns sections, since as I got more tired I was worse about re-accelerating after the turns. On the final lap Mark Athanacio passed me, and soon all the guys who had been near him did, too, along with Travis Kindt who must never have been too far behind us. I was tired and flustered, and had trouble keeping up with the draft group, especially since they were now accelerating the pace to try to edge into leading positions. My problems keeping up were exacerbated when I fell in knee deep water struggling to stay in the shifting draft wakes in the dang shallows near the end of the last lap. I kinda knew it was over for me then, but I hopped right back on and still stayed with the group, at the back.

Our little group of five all finished within a 22 second period, with Mark at the lead and me at the back. Although I was satisfied with my overall time, speed, and physical output, it burned me a little to lose all those places in the finishing order. It was a good lesson in the importance of drafting and strategically budgeting energy. For example, my pushing hard in the third and fourth lap was probably counterproductive because it left me unable to fend off the wolf pack at the end.

Here's my GPS track from the race. If you're registered on Strava you can click into it and see the details:

Other race intrigues: A young Australian man working the ECS boards tent at the race was stung by an American wasp and had an allergic reaction. He was fine after some Benadryl and a nap. Fortunately he was well long enough that I got to try out some of the ECS boards. There was a narrow dug-out flatwater one and an 25" wide "allwater" (Travis Kindt's board). I like Travis' best. It seemed to have really good water-slicing characteristics for a relatively wide board. Next time I'm on the east coast I'd also like to try the Flying Fish boards, which are a new small brand designed and distributed by the shop of the same name. As evidenced by Joey Huemphner's 2nd place finish in this race, they're capable of top-level speeds with the right paddler.

What's Next: Tomorrow morning is a local CGT Kayaks sup race. Nothing like following up a race with a race!