Monday, December 23, 2013

Good Florida Christmas Vibes, WindSUP Tweaks

As one might expect for a Northwest native living in South Florida, I sometimes miss the feeling of cool-weather Christmas. This is not to say that my hometown of Olympia, Washington had picture-perfect snow-white holidays- it was mostly deep green, wet, grey gloom- but something about the darkness outside emphasized the warmth and cheer inside.

This season in the subtropics, though, I'm feeling cheery in a different way. For one thing, the weather has been SUBLIME, ranging from pleasantly cool (AC off, windows open) to ideally summery (walk the dog wearing just your bathing suit, jump in the river to cool off midway through the walk). Also, our little municipality of Bonita Springs is making a good effort to bring a festive mood, with the palm trees in the park wrapped in lights, and lots of free concerts and stuff at the band shell. In the Latin neighborhood across the street, lighted yard displays make a night-time color show that compliments the daytime show provided by the brightly blooming bougainvillea and other exotic foliage.

Also, the windsurfing and paddleboarding have been pretty good. Not too many days of true shortboard conditions, but lots of formula windsurfing weather, and even a few good swells for SUP and WindSUP. I think one time I had to wear a shorty wetsuit, but otherwise it's still boardshorts warm.

Here's a track from a 16 mile long formula windsurfing session on Saturday. Winds were about 10 knot from the SW and I used an 11.0 Gaastra Nitro IV sail with a 70 cm F4 fin. Compared to my old fin, this F4 definitely gives me better upwind angles, making it less obvious which parts of my track were going upwind and which parts were going downwind. (In my old tracks you could tell that compressed zig zags were going upwind and stretched zig zags were going downwind.) There was a light wind zone within about 1/4 mile from shore, which is why you see my angle to the wind "pinched" after tacks near shore.

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Another fun thing that I've been able to focus on more since the teaching semester ended has been some tweaks and modifications to my boards.

Tweak #1- Redoing the daggerboard gasket on the WindSUP.
The Exocet WindSUP 11'8" is a great board but it has a crappy "Allgaier" daggerboard system that includes poorly fitting, loose gaskets. I'd been meaning to rig up something better for a while, but didn't get around to it until one of the gaskets actually peeled off while I was sailing. After that I disassembled the gasket and cut a piece of flat PVC board to cover the opening. That was great as far as looks and hydrodynamics were concerned, but it made the daggerboard unusable. Phase two of the modification was cutting a slot in the PVC for the daggerboard to go through, and getting a piece of floor border vinyl to make a gasket over it. I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.

Phase 1- Just the pvc board covering the slot
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Phase 2- Making a vinyl gasket
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Phase 3- Putting it all together
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Tweak #2- Grafting a planing rocker onto my surf-rockered SUP.
I love my Angulo Surfa 10'4" as a SUP, but as a windsup it leaves something to be desired because it has too much tail rocker to plane. Since I first got the board I've been mentally picturing what it would be like if it had a step-tail, similar to the Exocet WindSUP. Finally I decided to bite the bullet and actually attempt to graft a flat section onto the tail. I agonized a lot about what type of outline shape the flat section should have, and I sketched lots of different possibilities on the bottom of the board. Eventually I decide to go for a "swallow tail" with moderate "winger" cut-outs, and I cut the tail outline into pink insulation foam slabs that I got from Home Depot. The height of the step in the step-tail was dictated by the thickness of those slabs (~1"), but it happens to be about right for making the last two feet of the board bottom flat. The hard part has been fairing the slabs to the right diagonal angle. I started by making a frame and using a saw, then after I expoxied the slabs to the board I used a rasp and a straight edge to take some more material off. I think I almost have it now, and I'm hoping to put the first layer of fiberglass on it today. I'll finish the modification, including dropping a US box fin box in each lobe of the swallow tail for a twin-fin, after I get back from family visits up North. Something to look forward to for the new year.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Dr. Douglass" Blog and Facebook Pages Started

My basic goal as a blogger is to share my "work" (loosely interpreted), and my ideas and opinions. Lately, a lot of my work, ideas, and opinions are centered around marine biology research and science education at the college and post-graduate level. Some of you may be interested in that stuff, but I reckon most of you are just here for the windsurfing and what-not.

SO, I've created "Dr. Douglass' Science Network" as a separate entity on facebook and blogspot. The facebook page has a good bit of content already, but so far the blogspot page just has one post; the science pre-test that I give to all my students. If you're up for a challenge you should try it.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Smorgasboard: Formula, Wavesailing, SUP

This Thanksgiving holiday has been awesome. It started last weekend with Rhonda's sister Andrea and brother-in-law Jon coming down from New England for early Thanksgiving-like festivities. We made pecan pie and watched the Patriots kick butt in overtime. Jon learned to windsurf with a 4.5 on the WindSUP 11'8".

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We also divided forces one day so the New Englanders could do craft-fair type shopping and I could test a new formula windsurf fin. The fin is a 72-2 cm F4 "xs" (extra soft). Compared to my older, cut-down Curtis fin the F4 has a more curved outline, which hides the fact that it's actually more upright (less rake angle) than the older fin. It's also more flexible, which is supposed to help generate the "foiling" effect that gets the board planing and helps it go faster with less of the hull touching the water. My maiden voyage with the fin was with an 11.0 sail in offshore winds around 5-15 knots. I definitely felt like the fin improved my planing threshold and my ability to coast through lulls. Upwind angle also seemed better.

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A nice treat at the end of the session was Dr. Alex from Naples showing up with his 9.0 and 90 cm wide FreeFormula board. I was about to quit but instead went back out and filmed some with my helmet camera. It's really nice to have someone else to windsurf with when you're used to windsurfing alone.

Formula with Alex 11-24-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Rhonda's family had to leave and I had to go back to work on Monday and Tuesday. But the two-day workweek was a cinch, and I was back on vacation just in time for the FIRST BIG WEST WIND OF FALL on Wednesday. While the rest of the country was freezing cold, we had sunshine, 75 degrees, lots of wind, and respectable waves up to about person-size. I was able to use my 83 liter waveboard for the first time since last spring. I rigged a 5.5 sail with minimal downhaul to give me some extra power for getting through the whitewater, lulls, and longshore current on the inside. The board/sail combo worked really nice and I caught lots of waves to practice my turns on. The song in the video is "Lola Montez" by Volbeat.

Evo sesh 11-27-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

My folks arrived in town on Wednesday evening and we had a joyous reunion with Thai/Sushi dinner. Some cold air blew in overnight and it was in the low 40s this morning. BRRR! That's frigid when you're used to overnight lows around 70. We watched that giant balloon parade thing on TV in the morning, then did bbq and coleslaw for Thanksgiving lunch. By then the sun was warm enough that my thoughts turned to the surf conditions. The forecast said 2-4' waves with side-offshore wind, so I convinced the family that a long beach walk would be nice while I SUP'ed. I used the Angulo Surfa 10'4" and had a blast. The wave conditions were comparable to a good day back in Nahant, Massachusetts. Actually, they might have been even better because the waves were "peakier," meaning they peeled in a somewhat predictable manner as they broke, so you could get a long ride staying on the shoulder of the wave.

My dad took some pictures and video. Of course he missed my greatest moments of glory, which were later in the session, but from what I saw I realized two things: 1) That I'm still a kook at SUP waveriding, and 2) that I'm starting to get a "not in my twenties anymore" midsection. I think I need to work more on my fore-aft weight distribution; I'm sinking the tail too much. I also need to work on my wave knowledge; sometimes I go left when I should have gone right, etc. One thing that was cool, though, was a close encounter with dolphins.

Dolphin SUP from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Strong Offshore Winds make Weak Waves Fun

Windsurfing yesterday gave me flashbacks to my former life in Nahant, Massachusetts. The weather was a bit chilly (I had to wear a shorty wetsuit for the first time this year), there was sand-blowing wind (side-offshore gusting 15-25+ knots), and I was able to plane on a shortboard to get frontside rides on knee-high swells.

Five Five 11-13-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Small waves are a lot more fun when you can come at them already-planing and at a frontside angle. The waves don't have to be big enough to carry you along; they just have to be big enough to reflect your energy when bank a turn against them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Estuary Horror Story Comic by Justin Jimenez

I teach a class at FGCU called "Marine Systems." It's a basic oceanography course targeted at non-science majors who need to take some kind of science to meet the requirements for graduation. We get a lot of young and sometimes "less-motivated" students, so I have to try real hard to get them jazzed up about the curriculum. I'm not always successful, but one thing that worked well the other day was to have them write or a draw a horror story taking place in an estuary. I had just lectured about all the dangers of estuaries- sticky mud, razor sharp oysters, deadly predators, germs and parasites, etc. -and it seems that the students took the lesson to heart.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wind and Small Waves with WindSUP 11'8" and Cross 106

It's official. The (relatively) windy season has started in Southwest Florida. Yesterday I left my formula board in the van and took out my "planing conditions wave gear", which is a 6.8 m^2 Aerotech sail paired with an 11'8" Exocet WindSUP (longboard waveboard) or a 106 liter Exocet Cross (freeride-wave shortboard).

Ironically, I'd just been reading the fall issue of the UK windsurfing magazine "Boards," which had 178 pages about wavesailing that barely mentioned sails larger than 6 m^2 or boards larger than 100 liters. When you live on a windswept rock in the North Atlantic you must get a skewed perspective about what light wind gear is. I'd need 20 knots of wind just to use the biggest sail (5.3 m^2) and board (81 liters) that they recommend in their "dream quiver" for a 65-80 kg rider. I'd only be able to wavesail a handful of times per year in Florida if I didn't have MUCH bigger stuff than 5.3 / 81 l.

One thing I did like about the Boards magazine issue was a term they used for wavesailing in less than perfect conditions; "chop bothering." Most of the wavesailing I do here in SW Florida is really just chop bothering, on disorganized lumpy wind-driven waves. However, there was a 20 minute period yesterday where a cold front passed and the wind switched from onshore to sideshore. For a little while I was able to ride small residual swells both frontside and backside with the 11'8" WindSUP at Wiggins Pass. It was the high point of the session- even better than when I switched to my 106 liter shortboard later on.

Heavy metal music in the video is by the band Sepultura.

Fall 2013 "Shortboard Season" Opener 11-2-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

It's windy again today, but the angle is a bit offshore so I may not be able to use the shortboard. Waves are supposed to be a puny 1.5 feet high, but my special sandbar spot at Wiggins Pass will probably sculpt them into rideable thigh-high waves. :)

UPDATE: Sunday had offshore wind and small but rideable waves, as predicted, and I filmed another session. I think it's the first I've had much success with the WindSUP in side-off conditions. The song in this video is by The Velvet Underground. RIP Lou Reed.

Offshore Windsup 11-3-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fixing Cracks, Making Tracks

I had some bad windsurfing luck the other day when the used 490 cm mast I bought from Ace Performer to replace the one I broke in June, broke. The break was right where the boom attaches and may have been the result of a combination of stresses from clamping the boom too tight and clamping the boom too loose. It's hard to find the happy medium tightness with my Chinook brand formula boom; it's either slipping down, or it's cracking the mast. Plus the mast was real old- maybe not worth the $200 I paid for it.

Anyway, after the break I de-rigged on the water with the intention of SUP'ing my board to shore using the broken mast as an inefficient paddle, which is what I'd done the time before. But as I was balancing on the board and rolling up the sail I noticed that I was moving along just by holding the half-rolled-up sail in my hands. I could even direct myself starboard or port by holding the bundle out to one or the other side of the board. So I "sailed" right back to where I'd launched, gaining a feeling of cleverness that partially made up for my disappointment at breaking the mast.

Self rescue technique using half-rolled sail. Man in icon is nobody I know.
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I gained another feeling of cleverness by epoxying the mast back together around an internal splint made from a chunk of my previously broken mast wrapped with fiberglass cloth. I really should have done the fix in two or more patient steps, first getting the splint perfectly sized and sanded, then epoxying it in, then doing the outer wrappings of fiberglass. But I was in a frustrated rush in fading twilight on the patio, getting bitten by mosquitoes and drinking beer, so I opted to fix it all at once. The result was a mast 484 cm long and unusually heavy, with a slight permanent crook at the repair site. Miraculously enough, it seems to work, and it has even survived a well-powered formula windsurfing session in my 9.5 Ezzy sail. I just need to be careful to line up the crook in the mast with the natural curve of the sail's luff. And I probably shouldn't use it in offshore winds.

Another positive note in my recent windsurfing was getting a great deal on a new formula boom to replace my sketchy patched-up one. I bought the unused NeilPryde X9 from Ron Kern in Fort Lauderdale for 1/3 of what it would have cost me new. Thanks, Ron! The NeilPryde is as big a boom as you can buy: 260 - 310 cm, which is actually a bit too big to fit my 9.5 sail. Eventually I'll crop it down a bit; an easy change that doesn't involve any epoxying and shouldn't weaken the boom at all. In the meantime I've been enjoying the boom's awesome stiffness with my 11.0 Gaastra Nitro IV sail. The last time or two I've used the 11.0 has been with the new boom, and I think it makes a considerable difference. The connection between boom and rig is more stiff and stable, so it's easier to hold the sail steady and focus on windsurfing better. It all came together nicely on Saturday afternoon when I launched from Bonita Beach in a SSW wind blowing about 10-12 knots.

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I first went upwind to Wiggins Pass, then shot downwind to Big Hickory Pass, then back upwind to my launch at Bonita Beach. On a straight reach the round trip would be about 12 miles, but with all the tacking and jibing I put 25.9 miles on my GPS. Looking at my track, I think where I lost most ground was the tacks near shore. I lost some angle and expended some time getting planing again after the inshore tacks, perhaps due to lighter wind near shore. Accumulating seagrass on the fin also probably cost me some speed, angle, and some time to shake it off, but that's unavoidable.

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One thing I was happy about was the way I tuned the rig, with a little less downhaul than I had been using. I think I had been overdownhauling it, and easing up a bit on the downhaul gave it more power without hurting the stability. I'm looking forward to lots more sailing and tinkering this fall.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Marine Biology Study Abroad... In Florida

Last summer I helped organize and teach an undergraduate marine biology course. That in itself isn't any different from what I do during the normal school year at Florida Gulf Coast University. What made the summer course special was this:

1. The course had students from all sorts of other universities, both in and outside of Florida.
2. The students were extra smart and motivated; the future marine biology leaders of the world, if you will.
3. The course was only about 10% lecture and was 90% hands-on real-life outdoors stuff.
4. I only had to teach for one week, because the course was jointly taught by faculty from several Florida Universities and Marine Labs. Students spent one week at FGCU's Vester Field Station, but that was just one stop on a 5 week tour around the state, which stopped at a number of other cool places, including the Florida Keys Marine Lab.

In anticipation of running the course again in summer 2014, the organization that coordinates it, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, has put together the following propaganda footage from the 2013 course...

Study Abroad in Florida - SUS/FIO from Media Innovation Team on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Smart Blog Readers, Limiting Factors

Those who predicted how my windsurf repairs would hold up got it right.

The boom didn't break my first time out (lame, non-planing session on Saturday), nor did it break the second time out (nice planing session today). It remains to be seen if it will break when I sail in more wind or with a bigger sail, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

The trimmed-down board felt slightly different, but not drastically better or worse than before. The narrowed tail is a bit sinkier when I'm schlogging, but it's still pretty darn wide, and my planing threshold hasn't changed noticeably. I could be imagining it, but I think railing the board to leeward has become a little easier, which is one of the things I was hoping for. The board also seems to jibe with less foot pressure and might be a bit smoother upwind through chop. Upwind angle seems similar to before the change- great by typical shortboard standards, but not great by formula board standards. I think that has more to do with the stiff old fin than with the board. When I'm well-powered upwind is respectable, but I'm usually not well powered, so I might be better served by a softer, "liftier" fin.

Toward the end of today's formula session the wind-chop had built to a large enough size that I thought it would be fun to ride my Exocet Windsup 11'8". So I rigged a 6.8 sail and went out on that. There's a point at the North end of Bonita Beach where broad shallows groom the chop into rideable (albeit puny) waves. I had fun out there, but there's only so much you can do on a crumbly, knee-high wave, which brings me to the second point of this post:

There are three possible limiting factors to windsurfing or paddleboarding performance:

1. The rider.
2. The equipment.
3. The conditions.

Sometimes we give too much or not enough credit to particular factors. For example, we might think a lousy board was awesome because we used it on an awesome day in an awesome place. Or we might think a great board was lousy because we didn't have the right skills or conditions to use it properly.

When it comes to waves, the right conditions are especially important. No matter how good your equipment is, you can't ride a wave unless you have a wave. This also works in reverse: If you're a good rider with good waves you can shred with almost any equipment... and indeed the equipment may not actually matter as much as people (myself included) tend to think it does. Case in point: Jeff from New York, who is profiled on the Peconic Puffin windsurfing blog. Jeff has been looking awesome paddleboarding waves on a Starboard "GO"; a windsurfing board that was never intended for waveriding. He's doing awesome because he's a good rider, and he has smooth, sizeable waves to ride.

Meanwhile, here in SW Florida I obsess about the nuances of my waveriding gear, which is ironic because I almost never expose the gear to waves over knee high.

The author trying his highfaluting board on a lowfaluting wave last winter.
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hackjob Windsurf Modifications- Yet to be Tested

My last windsurfing post was about breaking my big boom. Since the break coincided with the start of a busy semester of teaching, it took me a while to deal with it. I would tinker with it for an hour or so, then hit a setback, then have to leave it for days to keep up with real life things. The downtime was prolonged by my decision to concurrently attempt liposuction on my formula board; narrowing the tail section 5 cm by cutting "wingers" off the sides.

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To stay sane in the meantime I sneaked a few paddleboard sessions in flat water or barely-catchable waves. These days I'll chase any wave over 1 foot high, because that's juuuust big enough to catch with the sup, and it's about the maximum size you can hope for in summer in West Florida. I also took the windsup out for a non-planing cruise with my 8.0 sail; the biggest sail I can rig without my big boom. That slow-motion windsurfing session really emphasized that I needed to get my big-sail toys working again.

Finally, this week, I got everything done. Here's a summary of what I did:

*Shaved away the grip around either side of the break, and filed down the carbon fiber snags inside the break.
*Cut a ~7" chunk of narrow carbon tube from one arm of the tailpiece to be an internal splint for the break.
*Cut a ~12" section of a broken mast top to be an external splint for the break.
*Sanded and/or wrapped with fiberglass cloth as necessary to make both splints fit snugly.
*Epoxied the splints into place, and made sure the boom was aligned right by putting the tailpiece back in.
*Waited for it to harden then sanded the rough bits around the external splint.

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*Made a mark at the corner of the tail, 1" in from original edge of the board.
*Measured 15" up from the corner of the tail and made a mark 1/2" in from the original edge of the board.
*Sawed a straight line between the marks with a jigsaw that I bought at Home Depot.
*Awkwardly sawed a bevel on the upper deck of the board at the edge of the new tail outline.
*Epoxied a couple layers of fiberglass over the exposed foam of the cut-out area.
*Spread some epoxy mixed with filler over the area to fair it and to glue on strips of foam padding for my heels.
*Sanded things as smooth as possible and painted over the modified area so it would match the rest of the board.

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This morning there was a nice 10-14 mph breeze blowing, so I loaded up the gear and headed for the beach. I brought along my GPS so I could measure any changes in top-speed or upwind angle that my board modifications might have granted. I was low on gas, so I stopped for a fill-up at the Valero station. With a full tank, a fully loaded van, and a some nice wind, I was ready for ACTION!!!!

Then my @#$@#%$ piece of @#$% van wouldn't start. Rhonda came to the gas station to give me a jump but that didn't help. So I called AAA and had to watch my weekend windsurfing dreams roll away on a tow-truck. Sigh...

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Beautiful Val

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

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

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

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So cool.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Bigger the Boom the Bigger the Break

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

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

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

Boom Break 17 Aug 2013 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

This quiver goes to 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Automeris io, the Painapillar

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

Ixora coccinea, looking like crap.  photo DSCN1907_zps349338da.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Florida Summer Wind- 50 Shades of Not All Bad

Florida summer is not like normal summer. For those unfamiliar with the difference, I shall explain it...

First, let's define "normal summer" as those months of the year where the average high is between 75 - 85 Fahrenheit (24 - 29 Celsius). By this definition a normal place like New York City has summer from June through September, and by the same definition Florida has summer from November through April.

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What Florida has from May through October is not summer. It's something above and beyond summer; a season of consummate heat and saturating humidity, boiling over every afternoon with thunderstorms from horizon to horizon. Indeed, the May through October period in Florida may be more properly called "the wet season" than "summer." The scientists I work with at the South Florida Water Management District actually do divide the year into Wet Season / Dry Season because there's such a strong difference in the amount of rain we get during our summer-like winter and our rainforest-like summer.

Anyway, temperature and precipitation are alright, but what really matters here at James' Blog is WIND. The winds during Florida's overheated wet season are notoriously light. Perhaps it's because there's little difference between the air temperature over the land and the ocean. Perhaps it's because no cool fronts can penetrate from the north. Perhaps it's because the thunderstorms mess everything up before a consistent wind pattern can take shape. It's probably all these factors and more.

That said, there IS some wind during Florida summer. It's most consistent in far Southeast Florida and the Florida keys, which dip into the zone of tropical Caribbean tradewinds. The rest of the Atlantic Coast of Florida also gets some easterly and southerly wind flow, but not with the strength and consistency of far southern Florida. I initially thought that the West Coast of Florida would have the least wind of all during Florida Summer since it's on the wrong side to get the tradewinds. But we actually do ok with our little seabreezes- maybe even better than some of the Atlantic side of Florida.

As evidence, I present two short (I tried to keep them under 2.5 minutes) videos of my summer windsurfing in SW Florida.

Summer Wind 6-30-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

WagnerBoard POV 7-13-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Florida Jungle SUP Ridiculousness

Where's the water?
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Florida is a labyrinth of little waterways; both natural creeks and man-made drainage canals. A few are established routes for kayaks and paddleboards. For example, there is Lee County's "Great Calusa Blueway," which winds through freshwater rivers, salty lagoons, and everything in between. Rhonda and I often paddle the "Imperial River" section of the blueway, which runs through our neighborhood. The Imperial River is wide and slow enough to be easily navigable yet narrow and "jungly" enough to be pleasurably scenic at the slow speed of a SUP.

With the summer wet season now in full swing, however, some of our lazy paddleways are looking not-so-lazy, and some un-navigable trickles are looking temptingly navigable. The nameless canal across the street that takes us to the Imperial River is usually a stagnant flow of brackish water that reverses at high tide. Now, though, it's a strong, entirely freshwater river that we can only travel one way. Last week Rhonda and I parked a car at the Imperial River boat launch and "shot the rapids" of the canal to make a quick journey downstream. It was so much fun that I started scheming ways to extend the route by putting in at a more upstream locale.

I had to rule out our neighborhood canal, because it goes through a scary culvert right above our usual put-in. The next possibility I saw on Google Earth was "Leitner Creek," which I would be able to access from some abandoned property on Matheson Avenue about a mile Northeast of our house. (X out the pop-up box in the Google Maps window to get a better view.)

View Larger Map

I bicycled around to the spots where I knew the creek passed under a roadway and verified that there was room to paddle under. Then I geared up with some water, a cell phone in a waterproof bag, and my helmet camera. Rhonda dropped me off at the launch on a Monday evening.

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Here's a video with some highlights of the next hour...

Jungle SUP 7-22-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Long story short- despite close encounters with hobos, spiders, leeches, and manatees, I made it all the way to the Imperial River. I'll probably never do it again, but I challenge any other would-be Huckleberry Finns to try to retrace my journey. ;)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Wisconsin Family Stuff

Every summer when I was a kid we would leave Washington State for a few weeks to visit either my dad's family in South Carolina or my mom's family in Wisconsin. The routine became less regular as my sister and I grew up and moved out. Also, my parents retired to the Carolinas, which biased our family visits in that direction. The upshot is that I don't get to Wisconsin much anymore... but when I do it's extra special. This year I went over 4th of July week for a little Enge family reunion and for the traditional "Witwen Parade" near the farm that my mom grew up on.

We stayed the first few nights at a rental house on Lake Wisconsin, near the town of Sauk City / Prairie du Sac. The lake sometimes had good wind but there was nowhere to rent a windsurf. Primitive as can be.

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Most days we would pick up my Grandma Dorothy from the retirement home and bring her to hang out with us. Grandma is nearly deaf now but she can play cards better than anyone in the younger generations.

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The Witwen parade is one of those "slice of Americana" things that Norman Rockwell would have loved to paint. There's a procession of little floats and marches by small town civic organizations, followed by a big chicken barbeque. "The Living Flag" has apparently been a staple of the parade since its inception.

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My favorite float advertised the state cow chip (dried manure) throwing contest. It was a fake cow, but they had it rigged up to dispense real cow chips onto the roadway. Nice touch.

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Some of the Enges are still real farmers, like cousin Delorman's sons Tim and Greg (pictured). I should have posted this blog earlier, because now I can't remember if this was Tim or Greg. Delorman told a funny story about one of the harvesters (silos) in the background. Farmers have mostly stopped using silos, because they have discovered that it is easier to just pile the feed on the ground and shrink wrap it in giant sheets of white plastic. So Delorman's silo sat for several years with just a few tons of old feed rotting in the bottom. Then one day smoke started coming out the top. They opened the valve at the top and ran a water hose into it for a couple hours to try to drown out the fire. It seemed to work, so they went to bed. Then in the middle of the night... KABOOM! The top of the silo exploded into the air with a concussion that knocked knick knacks off shelves of farmhouses miles away. The silo lid shredded into jagged chunks of metal that perilously scattered all over the farm. Fortunately, no one was injured.

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At the family reunion at Delorman's house I felt like I needed a laminated reference chart to keep track everyone and how we were all related. All I could remember for sure was that we had the same great grandparents. The picture below is my cousin Chuck who came up from Nebraska. He could have been in the living flag, too.

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Wisconsin isn't all flat land and corn fields. It's actually very hilly and scenic, with a mosaic of forests, fields, lakes, and rivers, and a scattering of tall rocky outcroppings where you can view the landscape. Here I am with my folks and some cousins on the top of "Gibraltar Rock."

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My Wisconsin relatives are mostly politically liberal "gentleman farmer" types, but Wisconsin has all types, including beer and gun loving hunter fisherman types. I got to see a bit of the other side of Wisconsin on this visit when we went to "Sprecher's Tavern" in Leland, Wisconsin. Junior Sprecher, who is 81 years old, still tends bar in this place, as he has for most of his life. In addition to pickled eggs and pigs feet, Junior sells guns to go along with his alcohol.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Busted Mast / Self-Rescue

I went sailing after work on Friday and this happened.

Mast Break 6-28-13 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Here's the description of the event that I posted on the forum.

I was chasing the Florida seabreeze today with my formula board and 9.5 ezzy cheetah. Mostly I was shlogging, but whenever a 10 knot "gust" rolled through I'd pump to plane for a bit.

I was sailing along in a particularly good gust, maybe 11 knots, when "POW!" - I was in the water. The bottom half of my 490 cm 75% carbon Gaastra mast had snapped about a foot above the boom.

I de-rigged on the water, lashed the rigging in a bundle down the centerline of the board, and started SUP'ing back to shore using 2/3 of the mast as a paddle. Fortunately I was only about a mile offshore and the launch was almost directly downwind. It took me about 30 min to get back. Nothing besides the mast broke or sank, thank goodness.

Anyway, I'm not real surprised that the mast broke. About two years ago when I first got it I heard a little "click" when clamping the boom on tightish. (Btw- with the chinook carbon formula boom head there is a very narrow margin of error between tight enough to not slide down the mast and loose enough to not crush the mast. Beware) The damage spot must have been minor at first, but I think it probably grew a little bit every time I sailed. I didn't use the 490 much for the two years I lived in MA, but it was the mast I most often after I moved back to Florida.

If anyone wants the top of the mast, let me know.

These things happen. I'll be getting a used 490 from Ace Performer in Ft. Myers so I can get back on the water this weekend.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Don's Lab Board Video, Bic Formula Board 4 Sale

I rode the "Don's Lab" home-built formula board for the first time today at Bonita Beach.

First Ride on "Don's Lab" Formula Board from James Douglass on Vimeo.

The wind was blowing side-offshore, mostly at single-digit speeds but with occasional spurts of about 10 knots. The board was easy to pump onto a plane in the wind spurts, and once planing it generated a lot of apparent wind in the sail and good lift from the fin. The board's upwind angle was good both when schlogging and when planing, so it was easy to get back to the beach when I was done. I don't think it planes vastly earlier than my older Bic formula board, but it's definitely a little easier to pump, and I think it goes upwind better and stays planing longer as the wind drops. With a larger sail like an 11.0 this board's light wind performance should pull further ahead of the Bic's. If I had more shed space I'd keep the Bic to use in the rougher 12+ knot conditions where it excels, but since the shed is getting crowded I'd like to sell the Bic. There are lots of pictures and videos of the Bic on my blog, and here's the info on it if you're interested:

Make: Bic
Model: Formula V 1.2
Year: 2001
Condition: Very Good
Length: 267 cm
Width: 87.5 cm
Weight: 8.5 kg
Stock Fin: 60 cm deep tuttle
Sail range: 7 - 11 m^2
Price: $300; pick-up only in Florida

Though the Don's Lab Formula's maiden voyage was definitely a success, I'll still do some minor tweaking with the board to get the most out of its speed and early planing potential. Here's what I'm thinking about doing:

1. Making sure the hull, which I spray-painted, is sanded and polished to be as frictionless as possible.

2. Possibly beveling / smoothing the tip of the fin where it was cut down from 85 to 70 cm.

3. Positioning the mast base slightly further back in the track so that more of the hull can "un-wet" when I'm planing.

4. Getting an 11.0 sail.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Don's Lab" Home-built Formula Board

Last week I fussed on the "" forum about Florida's light summer seabreezes and how my current formula windsurfing setup just wasn't quite powerful enough to take advantage of them. I wrote that I was potentially in the market for some bigger, better, used formula gear. Lots of people replied with offers, including Don Wagner, an Emergency Room doctor from Vero Beach.

Don actually builds his own windsurfing boards. I'd met him and seen his creations in action a few times at local regattas. I thought the boards were super cool but I didn't imagine I'd ever ride one because "Don's Lab" is not a commercial venture. Dr. Wagner just builds the boards he'd like to ride, then he retires them from use as he comes up with new board ideas. I was very excited when he offered to give me one of his retired formula boards for free. He also had some big formula fins and stuff he was looking to sell.

I didn't waste any time driving across the state as soon as I had a day off. I met Don and his artist wife at their beautiful house, ensconced in a cool jungle of shade trees and tropical plants and flowers. The Wagners were exceptionally hospitable and I really admired their comfortable and close-to-nature approach to living in Florida. Needless to say I also admired Don's workshop and windsurf menagerie. He's made everything from surfboards to SUPs to slalom and formula boards. He even showed me a hydrofoil-board that he'd made! So cool.

I thought that for the price of free I'd be getting one of his earliest formula board experiments, but he actually helped me pick out what seems to be a very modern design similar to the latest ultra-wide-tailed, double-chicken-strap boards made by the major windsurf manufacturers.

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One of the only obvious differences between Don's board and a mass-produced formula board is the thinness of the tail section on Don's board.

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Here you can compare Don's custom board to my 2002 Bic Formula board.

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Another difference between the two is the fins. The one on the Bic is 58 cm. The one I bought for Don's board is actually even longer than the class-legal size of 70 cm, because it's a moderately cut-down 85 cm fin! It should be great for early planing and going upwind.

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Of course I'm desperately eager to take my new acquisition for its re-christening voyage, but so far the wind has been too light and variable even for formula. I kept busy today, though, by giving it a coat of white paint and some funky blue graphics. Don doesn't paint his boards because the paint adds weight, but figured I'd paint this one.

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I hope it floats. I'll try it with my 9.5 sail first, then I may or may not add an ~11.0 sail to my quiver to see how early I can get it to plane.