Sunday, January 7, 2018

Race Report: CGT Winter Series #1

SUPerman Robert Norman, and his sidekick Champ the Chihuahua, at the shop after the race.

Race: The first race in the CGT Winter Series.

Date it happened: 7 January 2018

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: Though it's much warmer in South Florida than anywhere else in the Eastern United States, it was still chilly by our standards- about 9 Celsius in the early morning and maybe 15 during the race. The river level was quite low, and the tide was ebbing with a current speed of about 0.7 kph according to my paddling in current calculator. There was a moderate wind from the Northeast that tended to be a tailwind on the downriver leg and a headwind on the upriver leg.

Participants, Results and Gear: There was a good turnout of the usual suspects, plus some new racers, including Carlos from Puerto Rico and Steve from Boston. Some of the crew opted to paddle their sit-down water toys instead of the usual standup boards. Justin DiGiorgio joined longtime kayak racer Murray Hunkin in the "surfski" kayak class, while Mark Athanacio and Matt Kearney both paddled outrigger canoes. Matt's outrigger is the "OC1" type, which has a rudder and minimal cockpit, while Mark's is the Tahitian "V1" type, which has no rudder and a deeper cockpit. Both types have the outrigger, called an "ama" on the left side. Penny Kappler paddled a 14' non-racing kayak. In the 12'6 SUP class Cindy Gibson, Saralane Harrer, Donna Catron, Dr. Damien Lin, and Beth Schadd represented for the women. The SUP men all rode 14' boards except for Patrick Scheel who toughed it out on an 11'6 surf style SUP. My toughest SUP competitor was SUPerman Robert Norman, down from Inverness Florida. Robert has been biting at my heels for a year, and lately he has been posting times from training that are faster than what I can do, so I knew he would be tough to beat. Today wasn't his day, though. Here's the results:

Racer ** Class ** Model ** Course ** Time
Murray Hunkin ** Surfski Kayak ** Epic V12 ** 6.4 km ** 0:38:16
Justin DiGiorgio ** Surfski Kayak ** Nelo 550 ** 6.4 km ** 0:39:09
Mark Athanacio ** V1 Outrigger ** ?? Long & Green ** 6.4 km ** 0:40:00
James Douglass ** 14' SUP ** 23-wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:42:12
Matt Kearney ** C1 Outrigger ** 20'8" Puakea Ehukai ** 6.4 km ** 0:42:35
Robert Norman ** 14' SUP ** 23-wide Hovie GTF dugout ** 6.4 km ** 0:43:09
Bill Mussenden ** 14' SUP ** 23.5 Hovie GTO ** 6.4 km ** 0:46:58
Steve from Boston ** 14' SUP ** 28-wide BlkBox Uno ** 6.4 km ** 0:47:20
Phil Trudgeon ** 14' SUP ** 25-wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:47:46
Cindy Gibson ** 12'6 SUP ** 24-wide Hovie ZXC ** 6.4 km ** 0:48:12
John Weinberg ** 14' SUP ** 25-wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:49:37
Carlos Alberto Colon ** 14' SUP ** 24-wide Hovie GTO ** 6.4 km ** 0:50:09
Beth Schadd ** 12'6 SUP ** 24-wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:54:32
Donna Catron ** 12'6 SUP ** 26-wide Bark Vapor ** 6.4 km ** 0:55:22

Bryan Herrick ** 14' SUP ** 23.75-wide Riviera RP ** 2.9 km ** 0:21:31
Patrick Scheel ** 11'6 SUP ** ?? ** 2.9 km ** 0:23:58
Damien Lin ** 12'6 SUP ** 26-wide Hovie ZXC ** 2.9 km ** 0:25:08
Penny Kappler ** Rec Kayak ** ?? ** 2.9 km ** 25:17
Saralane Harrer and dog ** 12'6 ** 26-wide Riviera RP ** 2.9 km ** 0:28:14

Play by play: We started in smaller groups than usual this race, because of the variety of watercraft. Justin and Murray went first on their surfski's. With much splashing, Murray burst ahead, and Justin got into his wake. The next starter was Mark Athanacio, who went alone on his V1 outrigger, then Matt Kearney, who went alone on his C1 outrigger. I believe I was in the first SUP group, with Bryan Herrick and Cindy Gibson. Robert Norman had said he wanted to start in the group behind me rather than the one with me, which made me nervous that he had some kind of trick up his sleeve. I had a pretty fast start and nobody drafted me.

I had decided before the race that after the sprint start, my focus would be on one aspect of stroke technique- "falling" on the blade with my body weight and not over-straining my arms and shoulders. Doing that I was able to keep a decent pace, except at times when I strayed into shallow waters that slowed down the board's glide and caused the paddle blade to hit the sand. I knew the river well enough to avoid most of the those shallows, though, which was apparently not the case for Robert. His plan was to catch me before the half-way point with the superior speed of his specialized flatwater board, but it didn't work out because I had too big a head start, plus the better path around the sticky shallows.

Approaching the downriver bridge that marks the turn-around point, I passed Murray going the other way, with Justin not too far behind. Justin said Murray was toying with him the whole time, easily keeping within conversation distance while Justin paddled his guts out. I reckon that's the benefit of Murray's decades of intense kayak racing training. Athanacio wasn't too far behind the kayaks, so obviously he was making good time. He posted some pictures yesterday of his technique for turning his 24' long, rudderless V1 around the pilings of the bridge, by dropping one leg in the water on the side that he wanted to turn to. I assume he did the same thing in the race today.

Matt was further behind Mark, and it looked like I might be closing the gap on him a bit. After I turned around the bridge I saw Robert. I was reassured that he was too far back to catch me on the upriver return, but I wasn't sure if he was gaining on me or not, and I knew he didn't actually need to pass me, just get a better time, to win the race.

I kept paddling hard on the upriver leg, still trying to focus on the "falling on the blade" technique and not on my suffering. I was definitely catching up to Matt, but then he looked back and saw me and started pulling away again. For now we're quite similar in speed on SUP and OC1, both in flatwater and on the downwind ocean paddles we have been doing lately, but I expect that Matt will begin to pull away as he gets more familiar with the OC1 technique and/or starts pushing himself harder.

Anyway, after 20ish minutes of suffering upriver, and a harder push for the last 400 m, my race was over. My overall time was considerably slower than my personal best for this course, and far from the course record for SUP of 40-minutes even that Mark Athanacio set last year. But I was happy to hold off young challenger Robert Norman for one more round.

Here's my GPS track from the course:

Bill Mussenden had a solid finish in just under 47 minutes, but newcomer Steve from Boston was surprisingly close to him with a time of 47:20, and could be a dangerous competitor if he gets a narrower/faster board. Phil Trudgeon was also looking sharp on the 14x25 Riviera "Whitey" that he picked up from Bill. Whitey was my board once upon a time, then Mark Hourigan's then Bill's. It's looking a little used now, but still fast as ever. Right behind the big dudes on their big boards was Cindy Gibson on her 12'6, the first women's finisher in 48:12. That's very impressive, given that 12'6 boards are inherently slower than 14' boards.

After the race we had good eats in the shop at CGT, and talked about our race plans for the season. There was also a lot of wheeling and dealing going on with regards to board sales and stuff. I learned that Bill M. has just picked up a 14x24.5 Starboard AllStar that he'll use on downwinders and some of the rougher water races. (We've been doing lots of downwinders lately, but that's a story for another blog post.)

Hope to see y'all at the next race!

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.