Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Foiling Jibe!

I am REALLY enjoying hydrofoil windsurfing, which I think is worthy of a big new branch on the growing tree of human- and nature-powered water sports. Since windsurfing was invented there have only been a few other "branches" of innovation that compare in terms of significance: the advent of shortboard windsurfing in the 1980s, the light-wind shortboard revolution around 2000, and the spread of kiteboarding and standup paddleboarding also in the early 2000s. Hydrofoil windsurfing (aka "windfoiling") is not just a minor advancement or change in style. It's a revolution in terms of how little wind/sail power it requires compared to shortboard windsurfing, and it's a revolution in terms of how it overcomes the catch-22 of conventional windsurf design, which was always that your setup could either be maneuverable or powerful but not both. (In this way hydrofoil windsurfing gains some of the advantages of kiteboarding.) ALSO, foiling above the water is just a very cool, different feeling from planing atop the water- it's super smooth and quiet.

My windfoil setup, which is a Slingshot Fwind 2019 hydrofoil mounted in an old "formula" style windsurfing board, can get going in about 8 knots of wind. That is similar to the planing threshold of the formula board when equipped with a conventional fin. The foiling setup can go upwind and downwind at angles similar to what the conventional formula setup can do. The amazing thing is that the windfoil does this with an 8 meters squared sail, whereas the conventional formula setup would need a much heavier and more awkward 11 meters squared sail to perform in 8 knots of wind. And whereas the conventional formula windsurf setup maneuvers like school bus, when levitating on a hydrofoil the same formula board maneuvers like a sports car. In full disclosure, the one remaining area where the hydrofoil, or at least my hydrofoil, doesn't match the conventional windsurf setup is in pure speed. I might close the gap as I get more experienced, but right now it's hard for me to get the foil going over 15 knots, whereas it's pretty easy to get to 20+ knots when powered up on a conventional windsurfing shortboard. That's OK with me though.

Anyway, as with my past explorations of new (to me) branches on the water sports tree, there have been fun/scary challenges and skill-acquisition milestones in my windfoiling journey. Just getting up on the foil for the first time was one. That was mainly a fear thing- once I tried it the board popped right up. The next milestone was being able to stay on the foil indefinitely without touching down. Then there were some minor things like being able to get going efficiently, use different sail sizes, use the footstraps and harness effectively, sail upwind and downwind in control, etc. Actually, learning to sail the foil deep downwind was a significant milestone, because you have to confidently carve through a scary "power zone" when going from upwind to downwind.

Definitely the hardest thing I've attempted on the windfoil so far, though, is the foiling jibe. The planing jibe on a regular windsurfing board is hard enough, but on a foil board it's harder still, because the board is so sensitive to where your weight is distributed when you're up on the foil. It's not that hard to carve the foil board when you're securely in the footstraps, but to carve it smoothly as you're stepping across it to the other side and flipping the sail around is tough. My first few dozen attempts all ended in me either touching down on the water or breaching out of the water (and then crashing down). But during a great foil session in smooth water on Thursday night, I finally made it around once or twice without touching (or with just barely touching) the water. Woo hoo! I still have a very long way to go get my foiling jibe completion rate from 1% to 100%, but this is a start. The good jibes are towards the end of this video:)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Race Report: Key West Classic 2019

Surfski finishers on the podium-

More photos on their facebook page- I haven't bothered to put them in my blog post.

Race: The Key West Paddle Classic, organized by the Lazy Dog, sanctioned by the WPA, and benefiting the Monroe County Special Olympics.

Date it happened: 4 May 2019

Location: Higgs Beach, Key West, Florida.

Distance: 20.67 km (12.84 miles); around the entire perimeter of Key West. This was about two km longer than usual because the Fleming Key bridge was damaged by a boat collision and we had to paddle all the way north around Fleming Key instead of just around Dredgers Key. In addition to the full rounding, there was the option to do it as a relay in three legs, so some of the racers were doing that.

Conditions: It was breezy and choppy, but not to the extreme extent that it has sometimes been in the past. The wind was from the SE at 10-15 knots. The meant that the first 2.8 km of the course was roughly downwind, but everything else was side-wind or upwind. The tide was coming in the whole time, which gave us a boost going through the broad channel on the west side of the island, but slowed us down through Cow Key Cut on the east side of the island. The biggest nuisance part of the conditions this year was large amounts of floating Sargassum seaweed, which seemed to be getting stuck even on supposedly weed-shedding fins and rudders. This seaweed occurs naturally in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean, but it has been occurring in unprecedentedly large and increasing amounts since 2010. Scientists suspect that climate change and increasing amounts of man-made nutrients entering the ocean are stimulating these blooms.

Participants: 147 people completed the race, including 129 who did it not as a relay. Of the 129 there were: 52 14' SUPs, 24 12'6 SUPs, 8 non-race SUPs, 15 prone paddleboards, 15 one-person outrigger canoes, 4 two-person outrigger canoes, 1 three-person outrigger canoe, 5 surfski kayaks, 3 sea kayaks, 6 regular kayaks, 1 special rowboat for someone who used a wheelchair.

Results and Gear: The top six finishers overall were-
1:51:01 South African Kevin McLellan on a Fenn Elite S surfski with an over-stern rudder
1:54:31 Tahitian Tetauira "T" Putoa on a rudderless Va'a outrigger canoe
2:00:00 Darian Hildreth on a standard outrigger canoe
2:04:40 Garrett Fletcher on a standard outrigger canoe
2:05:01 James Douglass (ME!) on a 610x46 cm Stellar SEI surfski with an 18 cm "weedless" rudder
2:07:00 Mark Athanacio on a Puakea Kahele outrigger canoe with a small rudder

The top six SUP finishers were-
2:18:39 Brazilian Eri Tenorio on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:20:43 Steve Miller on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:28:15 Tim Warner on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:32:16 Zach Rounsaville on a 14x?? Infinity Blackfish
2:32:23 Kimberly Barnes on a 14x22 Flying Fish (first female SUP)
2:32:35 John Batson on a Starboard?

Other notable finishes included-
2:12:54 Floridian William Miller, first non-surfksi kayak by a large margin
2:13:04 Floridian Bill Mussenden, outrigger canoe, a buddy of mine who is getting pretty darn fast
2:16:25 Floridian Matt Kearney, outrigger canoe, a good buddy who I carpooled and camped with
2:24:29 South African Murray Hunkin, my surfski mentor who is usually much faster than me but had capsizing issues
2:52:34 Floridian Cindy Gibson, first 12'6 SUP, a frequent training buddy
3:06:41 Floridian Meg Bosi, 14' SUP, a big promoter of paddling in SW Florida

Play by play: This was the third time I've done the Key West Classic, but it was a "first" in multiple ways. 1) First time doing it on a surfski kayak instead of a SUP. The race is horribly long and brutal on a standup paddleboard, especially in the upwind sections, but it's not that bad on a fast, sit-down watercraft. 2) First time camping. Matt Kearney and I stayed Friday and Saturday night at Boyd's Campground on Key West, which was economical and convenient. Since we weren't rushing in and out, we did a nice snorkel outing on the way down Friday, and another on the way back Sunday. Friday we paddled out to moor and snorkel at Cheeca Rocks off Islamorada, and Sunday we snorkeled from shore off Bahia Honda State Park in the lower keys. 3) First time getting a "podium" result in my division, though that's mainly due to the field not being so deep in surfski as it is in SUP.

The last two times I've done the race I've gotten screwed at the start, which is disorganized and spread out. This time I made sure I was ready early, and I stalked the starter boat to be sure I was ready to go the moment they dropped the flag. I had a lot of adrenaline at the start, increased by the excitement of having a lot of wind swells to ride. The angle of the wind and swell was about 45 degrees off from true downwind, but it was close enough to still take advantage of the ocean's energy, and I actually made it to the western corner of the island in first place. Woo hoo!

Shortly after turning north along the western side of the island, I saw eventual winner Kevin McLellan appear between me and the shoreline. I tried to keep pace with him and inch over to maybe get in his draft, but he was simply too much faster than me, so I gave up on that by the time we reached the cool shadow of a moored cruise ship on the western side of the island. I was dimly aware that various other paddlers might be creeping up on me, but I didn't see any sign of them until I got near the tip of Fleming Key, at which point I was caught by a drafting pair outrigger canoes: Tetauira Putoa and Darian Hildreth. They had better speed than me, especially as I began to feel the drag of a shallow water section, and even more so when we turned east and into the wind. Heading through the upwind sections they pulled away, especially Tetauria. Kevin had become just a dot in the distance, too. Approaching Dredger's Key, Garrett Fletcher got ahead of me, and I watched as he caught up to Darian.

After a brief respite from the wind in the lee of Dredgers Key was the worst grind of the race, straight upwind, up-current, and through shallow water towards Cow Key Cut. I realized that these flat water, high-resistance sections were my weakest spot, where the paddlers who were stronger and had better technique were kicking my butt. I need to work on efficient surfki paddle technique so that I'm properly using whatever muscle I have, and I probably also need to work on developing more strength through weight training. Equipment-wise, it might help for me to get a narrower, lighter surfski, but don't tell my wife I'm thinking about that. Can't afford it right now, anyway.

The flat and somewhat wind-sheltered waters of Cow Key Cut were still a grind because of the tidal current and shallow water. To avoid the current I hugged the edge of the channel as much as possible, but this was also where there were huge wracks of floating Sargassum. It's quite likely that I acquired some Sargassum at this stage, but I can't be certain how much of my slow-down was due to the current, how much was due to my fatigue, and how much was the weeds.

I looked forward to emerging from Cow Key Cut into the open Atlantic, and hopefully having a great final downwind leg, maybe even stealing back a place or two. Unfortunately, the angle was significantly worse on the final ocean leg than it was on the initial ocean leg. Almost directly sidewind with bad shallow water and reflected seawall chop and horrendous Sargassum. I did manage to catch up to Garrett Fletcher, but only because he was having to stop periodically to shed weeds from his rudder. I stopped once to shed weeds, too, but I think I regained them in 10 seconds. It was frustratingly hard to catch bumps that I thought I'd be able to catch, and frustrating to still seem speed-limited even when surfing down a bump, so I'm pretty sure I did have weeds on the rudder. Anyway, Garrett powered harder than me through that last unpleasant stretch and finished a few seconds ahead.

When I got out of the boat at the shallow, weedy water of the finish line I was so unsteady on my feet that I needed to hold one of the race organizers' hands to walk out of the water. But I was still super stoked to have finished 5th overall and 2nd in the surfski class. My goal for next year is to try to finish in less than 2 hours.

There was plenty to eat and drink and good vibes and pageantry after the race. This is one of those races that is a major achievement to finish even if you don't finish it fast, especially for the SUP paddlers. The organization and adminstration of the race is also top-notch. I highly recommend it.