Sunday, March 31, 2019

Boom mount windfoiling video

I'm having some more luck at windfoiling, with my best session so far being today with an 8.0 sail in light winds not exceeding about 10 knots. Check out the video.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Coral Reefs and Hydrofoil Windsurfing- SO AWESOME

I was sitting at an open-air bar on a Friday night, March 22nd, 2019. I don't drink, but since I was dining alone at the only restaurant in the Florida Keys town of Layton, it was the place to sit. It felt cozy after a long day of snorkeling and a 10 km kayaking workout. The patron next to me was a sociable retiree, well in his cups. When he asked what I was doing in town I said I was a college professor from Florida Gulf Coast University, and I was leading a marine biology class field trip at the FL Keys Marine Laboratory down the block from the restaurant. The man paused for a minute then told me in a kind but serious way, "I hope you know, you're blessed."

I said I knew, because I do. It really is a great privilege to be able to do the things I love- not only in my free time, but also through my job. Likewise, it's a blessing to live in sunny Florida, to be married to stunning Rhonda Mason, to have loving, living parents and in-laws, to be "dad" to a cute dog, to have a shed full of water toys and friends to use them with, and to be fairly fit and healthy for a guy about to turn 40. This post will review two of my recent blessings: the Florida Keys Trip, and an early-birthday addition to the toy shed.

The Florida Keys trip happens every semester that I teach Marine Ecology. Though my own research has centered on seagrass and seaweed communities, not coral reefs, I've been learning as much as I can about Caribbean coral reef ecosystems since I first taught the class in 2012. My basic teaching goal is simple: to get the students to snorkel as much as possible and identify as many of the species they see as possible. They have already learned about the ecology of reefs through lectures and student reports in class, but learning to actually identify the species they see underwater makes it more "real." I don't want the students to see just a bunch of pretty colors- I want them to have some understanding of what each species is, what it does, and what its presence (or absence) indicates about the health of the environment. I want them to be aware of how special what they're seeing is so they can experience that same feeling of awesome wonder that I get when surrounded by this amazing ecosystem. Below is a facebook photo album of some of the pictures I took in the keys this year. The captions explain a little about what is going on in each. Feel free to ask me questions about anything else you see in the pictures, or what I think about problems facing reefs today, etc.

So, the other thing that is filling me with a heady sense of awesomeness is the new water toy: a windsurf-mounted hydrofoil. The "foil" is a Slingshot Hoverglide Fwind 2019. It's mounted in place of my fin on one of my windsurf boards- the Exocet Turbo Formula II. "Formula" boards are short and wide in order to plane across the water easily, and they have deep, sturdy fin boxes to hold the bases of large fins. So they adapt well to use with hydrofoils. A hydrofoil puts more strain on the finbox than even the largest conventional fins do, though, so the first thing I did after I decided to buy the hydrofoil was reinforce the top of the finbox with four extra layers of fiberglass. (They also make special, hydrofoil-ready boards, but I wanted to be frugal and try to use the board I already had.) In addition to reinforcing the finbox, I glued some foam blocks onto the nose, in anticipation of having hard crashes from altitude that would catapult my sail and body into the nose and damage it. It looks wacky, but it seems to be working so far. The other safety feature addition was a strong kite line tied from one of the footstraps of the board to the top of the hydrofoil's "mast" to hopefully catch it if it busted off because my finbox failed. Pics:

The maiden voyage of the hydrofoil was to be late in the afternoon on the Sunday after I returned from the Florida Keys. (I'd spent all day sanding the fiberglass, fussing with the nose pads, shopping for some longer stainless steel bolts to mount the foil, etc.) Unfortunately there was ZERO wind when I got to the beach, so all I managed to do was pose the board for a few glamour shots. Monday I teach until 6:20 so I couldn't get to the beach for another try. But Tuesday there was good wind, and I was free. The feeling I had before the first session was adrenaline-pumping fear. It was similar to the excited apprehension I felt leading up to my first kiteboarding session years ago, and I suppose before my first forays into high winds on my windsurfer even more years ago. Anyway, with the wind around 15 knots and the Gulf of Mexico looking pretty choppy, I made what I thought was a conservative rig choice: a 5.5 m2 sail. Normally I would use a 6.8 m2 sail in those winds, but Britt Viehman of North Beach Windsurfing in Tampa told me that with hydrofoils you should use a sail about 1.5 m2 smaller. My good pal Matt Kearney showed up at the beach to take pictures of the first outing. I also filmed it with a GoPro camera mounted to my helmet.

My first shock was how quickly and easily the board accelerated and popped up out of the water with the foil on it. My second shock was how sensitive the foil was to my weight distribution on the board, and how challenging it was to maintain a steady altitude and heading. I had the slingshot foil set up in the "C" configuration, which puts the front wing as far forward as it goes. This is supposed to make for early takeoffs and good jibing, but it can make it harder to keep the nose down and requires a front foot heavy stance quite different from what I was used to. I did a lot of "overfoiling," which is when the foil wings breach the water and suddenly lose lift, dropping you down instantly. Thankfully, the nose of my board was curved up enough that these crashes didn't usually cause me to fall off. I would just smack down, then bounce back up, then smack down again like a drunken porpoise. The relatively short foil mast that I was using (2 feet long; 61 cm), combined with the choppy water and my lack of skill, exacerbated the overfoiling problem. But I wasn't ready to run switch to the 90 cm mast that also shipped with the hydrofoil, because the idea of crashing down from a greater height was intimidating. Anyway, I finished my first foil session humbled, but encouraged by enough success to be VERY stoked.

Foil session #2 was the the next day, and it was quite windy with more of an offshore wind angle. That meant the waves weren't as high, which helped reduce my overfoiling. Two other things also reduced overfoiling were that I wasn't as overpowered (I used a 4.7 m2 sail), and I switched the foil to the "B" configuration which puts the wings a bit further towards the tail of the board and favors a stance with more weight on the back foot (more similar to the normal windsurfing stance). The more back-foot-favored stance allowed me to get in the footstraps more, including sometimes getting in the outboard back foostraps instead of just the inboard "chicken strap". My altitude control was OK, but I still felt frustrated with overfoiling too much in the chop, and decided it would be worth trying the 90 cm mast.

Foil session #3 doesn't count because the wind was so light that I mostly just slogged around, with only about 20 seconds getting up on the foil. It was my most relaxing foil session at least.

Foil session #4 (today) was my first time using it successfully with the 90 cm mast and an 8.0 m2 sail. The wind was only 5-10 knots, and more often at the lower end of that range. With a conventional fin on the formula board I would have needed my largest 11.0 m2 sail to have any hope of planing in those winds. But the foil showed amazing power to get the board up and cruising with just the 8.0 sail. Because of the room for error in altitude control afforded by the 90 cm mast and the flat water surface, I was able to get some wonderfully long runs without touching down. Silently whooshing over the sparkling blue sea, even slicing over boat wakes without the usual "smack smack" of the board contacting the waves, is SO AWESOME. Figuring out how to distribute my weight properly between my feet and the harness, and going upwind and downwind in varying wind strengths, is still quite challenging for me. I also haven't successfully foiled through any jibes. But I'm eager to get out there and work on that stuff.

Saturday, March 2, 2019