Saturday, December 20, 2014

Using 14' Fanatic Falcon Race SUP for Windsurfing

As my wife Rhonda says, I am a notorious "min-maxer" when it comes to choosing and fine-tuning my watersports equipment. I proved this recently by swapping my nearly-new racing paddleboard (a beautiful blue 14' x 26" 404 Carbon Pintail Zeedonk) for a different model (a beautiful red 14' x 27.25" Fanatic Falcon).

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The Fanatic was on consignment at CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards and I put my Zeedonk on consignment in its place. If you're in the market for a super-lightweight, all-carbon race sup for under $900 you can find my Zeedonk at CGT. Say you saw it on my blog and they might give you a discount. Here is why I did the switch:

1. I wanted to put a mast-track in the race SUP to mount a windsurfing sail, but I wasn't sure the 10 kg Zeedonk would hold up to the extra abuse it would take in windsurfing mode. The Fanatic is a few kg heavier with a thicker skin more like a standard windsurf, so I figured it would be a safer bet for windsuring use.
2. The noses on the two boards are different. The piercing bow of the Zeedonk works really well for paddling in flat water, but I could imagine it being tricky to negotiate through chop at higher windsurfing speeds. In contrast, the bow on the Fanatic is blunt and upturned, which I figured would make it more "self-trimming" in rough water. (Both boards are supposed to be good for open-ocean "downwinder" paddling and "catching bumps," but I think the Zeedonk takes a more active approach to fore-aft trim when doing that.)
3. When I borrowed the Fanatic for a test-paddle in the Imperial River I found that it was only a little slower than the Zeedonk. That was important, because I didn't want to totally sacrifice my hopes of keeping up with the faster SUP racers in the CGT race series this year.

So far I've been quite happy with the Fanatic Falcon. After pushing myself through some more training runs on the Imperial River, trying a new fin, and adjusting to the board's different style, I've got my course times down to where they were on the Zeedonk. The board is definitely an unusual shape, but it works. The bulbous nose is its most notable feature.

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The nose is supposed to help it bob over waves and chop that it hits at a straight-on or side-on angle, and help prevent it from "pearling" under the water when riding down a wave. I paddled the board one time in choppy waves on the Gulf of Mexico. Though it was a lot less stable and less maneuverable than my Exocet WindSUP and Angulo Surfa, it was pretty powerful for catching waves and getting long, fast rides.

Balancing out the bulbous nose is a long-tapered, narrow tail with the fin set unusually far forward. This makes the overall outline of the board a teardrop shape, like the cross-section of a fin. There's minimal wake behind the board when in motion which implies minimal turbulent drag.

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The weird straps on the front of the board are like suitcase handles for when you're running the board into or out of the water at the start or finish of a paddle race from the beach. I'm not sure I'll ever use them when racing, but they came in handy as tie-down points when I improvised a windsurf sail attachment system for testing purposes. (I wanted to see roughly if the board was sailable before I put any permanent holes in it.)

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For the improvised system I taped a foam block to the bottom of a universal joint so that it could rest on the deck of the board without denting it. Then I tied the universal joint in place with a line to each of the straps, and a line to a little block of wood that I wedged into the recessed carry handle of the board. The carry handle is about in the middle of the board, and I assumed that the mast base would need to be just a bit in front of that.

When I got the board to the beach to test it with the jury-rigged sail attachment it was windier than I had expected; about 10-15 mph with some chop on the Gulf of Mexico. I rigged a 6.4 sail and took off like a shot. The board definitely accelerates quickly and goes fast in a semi-planing mode. In gusts it would get into fully-planing mode, but with a rooster tail of spray behind the tail, indicating a less than optimal pattern of water release from the unusual tail. The board handled the chop very well and went upwind at a steep angle when railed to windward. It took some work to tack, as expected, but it did tack. Jibing was easy because it would keep gliding on the long, voluminous tail even when I stepped far back on the board to make it pivot around. Overall it exceeded my expectations as a windsurf board, so decided to go ahead with the mast track installation.

The first step was to peel away the deck pad where the mast track would go.
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The next step was to route out a hole a little bigger than the mast track. I filled the hole with a sandwich of high density pink insulation foam, with a layer of fiberglass between the two thin slabs of pink foam and a layer of fiberglass and filler between the pink foam and the foam of the board's interior.

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After that cured I routed a hole within the pink foam just big enough for the mast track itself. (I bought the mast track from Roy Massey at Ace Performer.) The next day I put the mast track itself in, in a manner similar to that used for the pink foam. The final phase was to fair the excess fiberglass and epoxy off the top of the mast track and lay three layers of fiberglass over the area, overlapping with the mast track, pink foam, and some of the original decking of the board. I topped it all off with the piece of deck padding that I'd saved so it will look good less conspicuous.

I'm now on vacation at my folks house in North Carolina, but I'm looking forward to testing the real mast track when I get home in the new year. I'm curious how the board will work in really light conditions with an 8.0 or 9.5 sail, as sort of a poor-man's Starboard Serenity / K15.

In other news, my dog gave me a scare the other day when she fell off the back of my WindSUP and took a moment to pop back up to the surface, swimming poorly. To be safe we're going to have her wear this lifejacket from now on. I think she looks good in it.

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cool Way to Measure Surface Area of a SUP Paddle Blade

I've been enjoying flat-water standup paddleboarding a lot since doing some informal races this fall and buying a 14' race SUP a few weeks ago. A big part of the enjoyment is striving to go faster. The three main ways to do that seem to be, 1) paddling harder, 2) getting more fit, 3) using better equipment, and 4) developing better technique. I've noticed definite improvements that I can attribute to 1, 2, and 3. Changes in technique have probably had some effect, too, but it has been hard for me to distinguish those effects from the others.

Anyway, as I was geeking out reading about SUP gear and techniques online, I came across some guidelines for what size paddle blade you should use. It makes sense that there would be an optimal size for paddle blades, since a very small blade wouldn't catch enough water to push you forward effectively, while a very large blade would make your strokes awkward, slow, and tiring. Body weight seems to be the main determinant of optimal blade size. Since I weigh around 175 pounds / 80 kg I ought to use a paddle blade with an area between 90 and 100 inches squared.

Its a little more complicated than that, though. Apparently there are at least two other things that affect optimal paddle size: your strength to weight ratio and the length of the race you'll be paddling in. If you're super strong for your weight, like a wrestler or a gymnast, then you can benefit from maybe a 10% or so bigger paddle blade than someone your weight would normally use. If you're doing a short "sprint" race then you might also benefit from a bigger blade. On the other hand, a smaller than normal blade could help in a long-distance race by preventing muscle fatigue. I think I can ignore the race length factor, since the race I do is medium length. Regarding strength to weight ratio, I have no idea how that might be calculated, but I can do about 15 pullups so I'll go out on a limb and say I'm above average in that department. So 100 inches squared would probably be better than 90 inches squared for me.

The only thing is, I bought my paddles a long time ago and I had no idea how big the blades were and whether they were the right size for me or not. Since they're odd shapes with rounded edges it would be hard to figure out their area by normal math and measurement. Fortunately, I'm a scientist, and I realized that I could use the same image analysis software that I use to quantify seagrass blade areas to quantify my paddle blade areas. The software is "ImageJ," a free program that you can download from the US National Institute of Health. I think it was originally developed to help medical doctors measure the size of suspicious moles, etc. It takes a little fiddling to figure out all the features of ImageJ, but the basic method I used to measure my paddle blade areas is this:

1. Put the paddles on a flat surface with an even color that contrasts sharply with the color of the paddles.
2. Lay a ruler or other object of known size next to the paddles.
3. Hold a camera steady and level above the paddles and take a picture.
4. Shrink the file size a bit so ImageJ can manage the picture.
5. Open the picture in ImageJ.
6. Use the line tool to trace 0 - 12 inches on the ruler, and use "Analyze, Set Scale" to set that scale at 12 inches.
7. Use the "Adjust, Color Threshold" menu to turn the image to black and white, and twiddle the levels so that the paddles show up as a simple block color on a blank background.
8. Use the paintbrush tool to cut off the heads of the paddles where they meet the shaft, and fix any gaps or spillovers in the paddle shapes.
9. Use the magic wand tool to select a paddle head, and then use "Analyze, Measure" to get its area, which will be in inches squared.

Original image-
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Processing image in ImageJ-
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I found that my Angulo carbon fiber paddle head is 97.2 inches squared, and that my cheap aluminum and plastic paddle head is 106.8 inches squared. It will be hard to make a fair comparison of the two paddles since the aluminum one is about twice as heavy, but I'll give the big one a try on the race course to see if it seems like the extra size is in any way helpful.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trip to the other side of Florida for REAL wind and waves

Saturday morning started in the typical way: sipping coffee and looking at the iwindsurf forecast to decide the if, what, where, and when of the day's watersports. The IF was easy. A strong Easterly wind had been ringing our wind chimes all night, and it was forecast to last all day. What, where, and when were more difficult. The options were:

1. Drive 15 minutes to sail from my usual launch on the Gulf of Mexico, where there would be no waves and the wind would be straight offshore and gusty. I do sometimes sail offshore winds, usually on a big board like my formula or the Exocet WindSUP. But it's always hard to tell what to rig, and it takes a long time to get back to shore, especially if you're on a smaller shortboard. Plus, you're screwed if you have a breakdown or injury miles offshore. So I wasn't super keen on that.

2. Drive 45 minutes in traffic to sail relatively steady sideshore winds and flatwater chop at the Sanibel Causeway. An upside of the causeway is that it's one of just a few places in Florida where you can regularly see other windsurfers. The downsides are that there are no waves, and there are some sharp rocks and shells at the launch that require booties.

3. Drive 2 hours across "Alligator Alley" (Interstate 75) to the windward, Atlantic side of Florida to sail in wild ocean conditions. The East coast launch that seemed to have the best combination of being close to I75 and having rideable waves was North Ocean Park in Pompano Beach.

I called my buddy Dr. Alex and he was up for a windsurfing road trip, so that set option #3 in motion. We carpooled over in my van and soon found ourselves staring at a raging sea through the wind-blasted, kiter-crowded parking area in Pompano Beach. The intimidation factor was enhanced by a wind-tunnel effect of the tall condominiums on either side of the parking area, which made it hard to even walk to the beach.

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Fortunately the wind was less insane once on the beach; 20-ish knots.

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The waves breaking on the offshore reef looked big and scary. The shorebreak looked challenging but not impossible- the straight-onshore wind is what would make it tricky.

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Alex rigged a 4.7 Hotsails for his 100 liter board, and I rigged a 4.5 Ezzy for my 83 liter board. In retrospect I should have rigged a bit bigger sail, or maybe used a floatier board.

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We both managed to get out through the shorebreak, after a try or two, and we took some cruising runs through the more sheltered inside area to the north of the launch. The picture with the lighthouse is the view looking North into the most sheltered part of the cove. There was an interesting eddy-like current at the North end of the cove, and some strange swells forming or re-forming near a jetty in the cove.

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We were making it work, but a lot of floating Sargassum was getting stuck on our fins and preventing us from planing consistently, so we switched to weed fins. The combination of being slightly underpowered and having inefficient weed fins made the conditions harder than they should have been, but we did OK. Where we really paid our dues was when we'd try to get into the outside break further south of Hillsborough Inlet. If you fell or stopped planing there, or had to run downwind to avoid an impassable head-high closeout wave, you'd get stuck in an area where the waves were breaking all the way to shore, with lots of surging current. It was nearly impossible to waterstart there and sail back North to the launch area while relentless walls of whitewater were hitting you broadsides. I went through the "rinse cycle" many times; holding onto a piece of my gear while the surging foam swept the whole mess towards shore.

On the last run or two out I avoided the trouble area and made it at least partially into the area I'd call the outside break. The waves were enormous by my standards, definitely over my head and looking mean and unpredictable (though beautiful Gulfstream blue). I didn't do any great waveriding turns or anything, but it was super thrilling to be out there. I'd like to try the spot again on a day with more sideshore wind and smaller waves.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New SUP: 404 14' Pintail Zeedonk

CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards is the outfitter / shop that organized the Imperial River summer race series that I did the last part of this fall. CGT recently opened a new brick-and-mortar shop in downtown Bonita Springs, just a few blocks from my house. When I heard that they had a line on some barely-used demo boards I called dibs on a 14' carbon fiber race sup. I'd had the bug to get a race-specific SUP since doing the summer races, but was waiting for the right deal to come along. This one was just $800, which is real cheap for that sort of thing.

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The sup is a "Pintail Zeedonk" from the brand "404 Paddleboards." It's 427 x 67 cm, with a very pointy nose, a long flat section, and some slight vee and rocker in the pintail section. "Zeedonk" is supposed to mean it's fast as a zebra but stable as a donkey. I'm not familiar with donkey stability, but I did notice that it was a lot more stable than the only other race sup I've ever tried- a 61 cm wide Starboard.

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Of course the Zeedonk was less stable than my 360 x 80 cm wide Exocet WindSUP (right side of picture), but it's also significantly faster.

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I took the Zeedonk for a practice run on the 4.5 mile Imperial River SUP course yesterday and finished in 0:51:27, which is about 6 minutes quicker than my best ever time on the WindSUP. Having to change out of my wetsuit top during the course, and getting some pine needles stuck on the non-weed fin I was using might have slowed me down, so I'm thinking that with some more tuning and training I could break the 50 minute barrier. That's going to be my goal for the time being.

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One of the things that I gather is important for getting the max speed from these race sups is standing in the right spot; not too far forward to or too far back. In the picture above it looks like the middle of the board is low and the nose and tail are high, but when it's in motion its own wake wraps around it in such a way that the bow entry and tail release seem pretty good.

As one might imagine, I'm already contemplating putting a mast track on the board to see how it works as a windsurf. I think the rocker is flat enough that it could plane, or at least glide really fast. My only hesitation is that the construction is quite light and I'm not sure the board would stand up to bouncing through chop at windsurf planing speed. I'll enjoy it as just a SUP for a while before I decide if I'm going to do a conversion or not.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Goodbye Gertie

Our sweet doggie Gertie passed away swiftly from a heart attack yesterday. We are heartbroken as can be, but we know we did everything we could to make her life as long and happy as we could.

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We adopted Gertie in 2012 from the same Florida English Bulldog foster home where we adopted her "sister" Grace. We knew Gertie was already 9 years old and had some heart conditions, and we didn't expect her to make it all that long. However, with lots of love and expensive medications and vet visits, she had a really good life for two years. Though angelic Gertie has gone on to the "rainbow bridge" as they say, impish Grace is still holding down the fort and we expect her to be cutely causing trouble for some time to come.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lazing a Trail to Sustainability

Many of the things we’re supposed to do to “save the earth” fall into the category of onerous tasks requiring more time, money, and effort than their less eco-friendly alternatives.

For example, we know it’s good to bike to the food co-op to fill our reusable hemp bags with local organic produce, but we’re more likely to just hop in the car and grab some plastic-wrapped Chinese take-out.

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Indeed, even among those who care deeply about the environment, most are too busy or too lazy to consistently perform out-of-the-way eco-chores. Here’s the unfortunate reality: If saving the environment depends on a majority of the citizenry voluntarily doing things in more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming ways, it won’t happen. I see three ways to get around that:

1.     By making it the LAW to be green. We already have environmental laws that apply to industries and organizations. Perhaps in the future we’ll have more laws governing individual behavior as well, like fines for not recycling. I can’t imagine this being popular, but who knows?
2.     By having economic INCENTIVES to be green, like extra taxes and fees on products and services that are bad for the environment combined with subsidies for products and services that are good for the environment. (Currently a lot of our laws do the opposite of this, like subsidizing eco-nasty fossil fuels, meats, and sugar while putting fees on eco-friendly solar power, etc.)
3.     By emphasizing how some kinds of LAZINESS can actually be greener than industriousness. This would get us away from the stifling notion that being green always requires extra work, but it would require removing existing taboos against certain types of laziness.

In this blog post I’ll focus on eco-friendly laziness by giving examples of specific ways that less work can accomplish more good for the environment.

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Examples of eco-friendly laziness that we should embrace:

1.     Cleaning Less. Cleaning the house consumes a lot of electrical energy and pollutes the environment with nasty detergents, disinfectants, and disposable cleaning implements. And it’s a pain in the ass. Save the environment by cleaning less often and less thoroughly.

2.     Lazy Laundering. Doing laundry is also a big environmental burden, which wastes water and energy and contaminates the water. Embrace your lazy distain for laundry by re-wearing clothes until they start to actually look and smell dirty, then re-wear them one more time as your working-out or fixing-the-car clothes. Underwear and t-shirts may not last more than one or two uses, but pants or an outer shirt could go for a week. Another lazy aspect of eco-laundering involves washing all your clothes in big, unsorted loads on the cold setting. Yes, some of your whites may turn strange colors, but that just marks you as a true earth-saver.    

3.     Letting the Lawn Go. Lawn care is labor intensive, energy-intensive, water-intensive, and chemical intensive. Fresh water, in particular is a precious resource that should be reserved for drinking, irrigation of food crops, and supporting natural wetlands and waterways. Also, lawn fertilizer is notorious for leaching into streams and groundwater and then causing harmful algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Even if the costs of maintaining a “perfect” lawn weren’t so high, the lawn itself is an eco-loser: It has very low biodiversity (only 1 plant species) and provides only a fraction of the beneficial functions of a naturally-vegetated area. Lawns give little food or hiding places for animals, no energy-saving shade or wind protection for your house, and minimal runoff and erosion control. So you should let your lawn be taken over by the natural vegetation that grows in your area, which doesn’t require watering or fertilizer. Trade your mower for a machete, and just cut a path through the brambles to your door. Caveat: I recognize that communities and individuals have a legitimate need to maintain certain open areas for sports fields, public assembly grounds, etc., and that mowed lawn is better for these areas in comparison with alternatives like pavement or bare dirt. I'm just saying that if something doesn’t NEED to be lawn, the best thing we can do for the environment is to be lazy and let nature take it over.

4.    Working Less. Working less is good for the environment because it means you’ll be driving less, using less gas and creating fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Also, since you won’t be making as much money you’ll be buying less; eschewing the goods and services that you don’t really need. (See #5)

5.    Not Bothering to Shop. Being too lazy to shop for food and stuff is good for the environment because not buying as much means that less will be produced. This reduces the consumption of energy and raw materials and reduces pollution. Also, your being too lazy to shop forces you to efficiently use up every last bit of what you have, so there is less waste accumulating in your house or going to the landfill.

6.     Giving Up the Fight. Much is made of the irrepressible, industrious spirit that inspires men and women to rebuild after a natural disaster, or to invest millions and billions in engineering projects to fight the destructive forces of nature. Sometimes, though, that spirit is foolishly applied to losing battles; situations where a tactical retreat would lead to a better outcome for both humanity and the environment. So instead of praising those who go the hard way to rebuild and maintain their increasingly vulnerable holdings, we should praise those who take the “lazy” way and cede their land to nature.   

Well, that’s about all that I can think of for now. Do y’all have any of your own ideas of ways we could apply laziness to sustaining the environment?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Day 2 of the cold-front: mellow SUP-sailing session

On Sunday there were some small swells left over from the previous day's big wind event, and there was enough sideshore wind to catch them with sail power rather than paddle power. The song in the video is by the Strokes.

Windsup 11-2-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Classic 4.2 Windsurfing Day at Wiggins Pass

A strong cold front hit South Florida this weekend, bringing North and Northwest winds and dropping nighttime lows below 10 C. At Wiggins Pass State Park on Saturday the windsurfing conditions were as good as I've ever seen in SW Florida. I first went out on a 5.5 sail with my 83 liter Starboard Evo, but soon decided to rig down to my rarely-used 4.2 sail. Even with the 4.2 there was plenty of power to get jumps and to ride the waves. There were lots of kiterboarders and a handful of other windsurfers, including some talented riders from out of town. I saw one guy do a "tabletop" jump that was super rad, and the same guy was doing quick duck-jibes and fast-tacks. It reminded me that I should keep challenging myself because there's a lot more cool stuff to learn in this sport.

I made a helmet-camera video and set it to the song "Orgasmatron" by Sepultura.

Big Cold Front 4.2 Windsurfing 11-1-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

I have some more video from the 5.5 sail part of Saturday, and a WindSUP session on Sunday, which I may append to this post later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Working (and playing) in the Florida Keys

So... much... biodiversity.

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I'm physically and mentally exhausted after five wonderful days snorkeling and marine biologizing at the Florida Institute of Oceanography's Keys Marine Lab. This was a required field trip for one of the FGCU classes I'm teaching this semester; Marine Ecology. Our class was quite large this year (31 students) so we broke the trip into two groups of 15 or 16 each, and each group spent two nights at KML.

When I did this trip in 2012 I didn't incorporate much lesson structure- We just put the students in the boat and took them out snorkeling. In 2013 I wanted to add a stronger scientific component so we did a "living laboratory" benthic habitat survey using a variety of transect and quadrat methods. Doing challenging species identification and complex in-water data recording at the same time was overwhelming for the students that year, so this year I tried a compromise between the unscientific snorkeling we did in 2012 and the overly ambitious benthic surveys we did in 2013.

We focused on building species identification skills and comparing species composition and abundance from site to site. Each student would make observations and take pictures at every site we visited in the field, then would come back to the lab and use field guides to help identify and write down every species they were sure they had encountered. Species included everything from fishes to corals, sponges, other invertebrates, algae, seagrasses, and mangroves. At the end of the last day I put pictures of 90 of the species we had encountered into a big powerpoint slideshow as a number-coded species identification quiz. To make the quiz less impossible I let students use field guides during the quiz. From my perspective it worked great, but we'll see what the students thought when they do their course evaluations.

The snorkeling sites that the KML staff took us to this year were a bit different from ones I've visited in the past, because the weather was rainy and windy. When the weather was OK we went out some spots on the reef: Coffin's Patch Special Protected Area, Long Key Ledge, and Elbow Reef. We visited an inshore seagrass and sandbar site near Grassy Key, and we visted two mangrove-seagrass sites: Zane Gray Creek and Koch Key. During the worst weather we just snorkeled from shore in the bay near KML. There was some overlap in the species we saw at each site, but there were unique critters everywhere we went. You can see a little of what we saw in the slideshow below.

My windsurfing followers will be happy to hear that I got some kick-butt sessions in front of my hotel before and after "work" during the trip. Friday night a big NE wind pushed out the low pressure system that had been hanging over us, and pumped my 4.5 sail with power for a wild ride over Florida Bay. Saturday morning the skies were clear and the wind was still strong enough for a powered 5.5 session before snorkeling. Woo hoo!

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Making the most of small waves on a 10'4" WindSUP

Last weekend we had our first "cold" front of the year in Southwest Florida, which means we had a day of 15-20 knot West winds followed by a day of 5-10 knot North winds and a small but rideable West swell.

On the windy day I used a 5.5 sail and alternated between my 106 liter board and my 83 liter board. It wasn't really windy enough to justify the small board; I just used it because I was excited that I could for the first time in a long time. The song in the video is by Dr. No's Oxperiment.

First Cold Front 10-4-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

On the swelly day I used a 6.4 sail and my modified 10'4" Angulo Surfa sailable SUP. The light power from the sail and the light power from the small waves added up to something that was pretty fun to play with. The song in the video is by Pearl Jam.

First Cold Front 10-5-14 v2 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Gonna try a SUP race in Bonita Springs

I'm going to test my mettle next Saturday at a local paddleboard race. The race is part of a series hosted by "Calusa Ghost Tours," a local kayak/sup outfitter. The proceeds from the race fee will fund the Bonita Springs Historical Society, which is doing some things that I really like, such as helping raise money to preserve the old-timey Everglades Wonder Gardens zoo/park/art-gallery in my neighborhood.

The race is a 4.5 mile round trip down and back up a section of the black-water Imperial River. It's the same area I usually paddle when the wind and surf are down and I just need to get on the water.

I'll use the Exocet WindSUP 11'8" with a small weed-fin. Even though the WindSUP is heavy, it has good glide and I think it will paddle faster on flat water than my Angulo 10'4". I tried the course last night and finished in 1:08 paddling pretty close to as hard as I could. I would need to be finishing about 20 minutes faster to win the race, based on the previous winners times, but I think I'll at least be able to stay somewhere in the pack. I'm going to make it a personal goal (maybe a long term goal) to bring my time down to 1:00 even. To help me towards that end I'll need to practice my padding technique and improve my cardiovascular fitness and core strength. I'm also trying a technological fix, by shortening my paddle by about 20 cm. (Since I got the paddle it has definitely been too long, but I never bothered to adjust it because I wasn't trying to maximize by paddling speed or anything.) We'll see how it all works out.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mast-Mount Cam WindSUP Session

Last week we had a about a day and half where the Gulf of Mexico actually produced some 10-15 knot onshore wind and 1-2' waves. I made the most of it Thursday with a 6.4 sail on the modified 10'4" Angulo Surfa. The tide was ebbing, so there were some interesting gorge-effect swells blending with the breaking waves in and around the inlet at Wiggins Pass. I filmed the sesh with a mast-mounted GoPro. The song in the video is "Brother Sport" by Animal Collective.

Mast Mount Angulo WindSUP 7-29-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summertime Single-Digit Winds in SW Florida

The Gulf of Mexico is vast body of water; 1.6 million km2; more than 6 times larger than all of the Great Lakes combined.

The beaches of Southwest Florida are utterly exposed to the vastness of the Gulf; open to 180 degrees of wind from North to West to South and up to 1600 km of fetch for the buildup of waves.

And yet, during our long, hot summer, the ocean is *literally* as flat as a pond. We're too far south to get the West winds of the temperate zone, and we're facing the wrong way to get the East winds and waves of the tropics. Check out the wind forecast for my local beach. Single digits as far as the eye can see.

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But there's always hope! You never know when the afternoon thunderstorms might develop slowly enough for a sticky seabreeze to break that 10 knot threshold for formula windsurfing fun, or when an unusual frontal system or nearby tropical storm might turn the winds onshore and raise some choppy swells. In the meantime, I'm getting a lot of work and reading done.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I'm Married - Woo Hoo! + Snorkeling Videos

About three years ago I met Rhonda Mason on a date in downtown Boston. I knew almost instantly that she was the one for me, but it naturally took some time to convince her that I was the one for her. When we were dating, Rhonda helped me find my current marine biology professor job in Florida. After I interviewed and got the job I asked her to marry me and move South. She said yes! We were fiances for two years, then on the 21st of June, 2014 we had a big, wonderful wedding near her hometown in New Hampshire. I am SO HAPPY!

For our honeymoon we decided to do it by car, since we already live in the tropical paradise of Florida, and we could take more water toys with us that way. (Shortly prior to the wedding we had replaced my red rusty minivan with a fresh blue minivan with working AC - luxurious!) The first couple nights we stayed at the Hampton Inn at Manatee Bay, Key Largo. In seagrassy Tarpon Basin behind the hotel is where I shot this snorkeling video. We also snorkeled on the reefs near Key Largo from the charters at Pennekamp State Park.

Keys Tarpon Basin 2014 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

For the second part of the honeymoon we stayed further west at Parmer's Resort on little torch key (see hammock picture).

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We snorkeled near shore at Bahia Honda State Park, on Looe Key Reef via a charter boat, and at Fort Jefferson after riding out to that Historic Fort island on the Yankee Freedom II ferry. This video, mostly shot by Rhonda is a compilation from all our reef snorkeling trips.

Florida Keys Honeymoon Reef Snorkeling 2014 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ingebritsen's Favorite Board (of all time, by far)

It's the Exocet Kona/Curve 11'5, ridden here by Exocet Boss Patrice Belbeoch...


Two important types of people in the windsurfing world are "team riders" and "gear reps."

Team riders are highly skilled professional windsurfers who travel around to competitions, video and photo shoots, etc. Their "team" is the windsurfing equipment manufacturer that sponsors them with free gear, stipends, etc.

Example of a team rider, Venezuelan Jose "Gollito" Estredo, for Fanatic Boards and North Sails.  photo GollitoSum_zps6cdfce3d.jpg

Gear representatives (reps) are usually amateur aficionados who get discounts from the windsurfing gear manufacturer they represent, in exchange for helping show-and-tell and sell the gear.

Example of a gear rep, John Ingebritsen for Exocet Boards and Aerotech Sails.

Among the average Joes and Janes of windsurfing, there's a slight suspicion of gear reps. We figure the reps are likely to present a positively biased view of the gear they represent, and a negatively biased view of other manufacturers' gear.

One of the more recognizable reps in US windsurfing scene (i.e. in the forums) is John Ingebritsen (pictured above) from Florida. Ingebritsen reps for Exocet boards (based in France and run by Patrice Belbeoch) and Aerotech sails (based in Daytona Beach, Florida and run by Steve Gottlieb). John is outspoken and opinionated about windsurfing gear and styles, but his biases don't always fall in line with Exocet and Aerotech's offerings. He loves some of their stuff, but complains about their other stuff no less harshly than he would a competitor's gear. Likewise, if there's something from another brand that he likes, he won't shoot it down. While I don't always have the same gear preferences as John, I definitely trust him to say what he really thinks.

One thing he says is that the Exocet Kona 11'5 carbon was the best light-wind waveboard ever- fast in both planing and non-planing mode, light and stiff, able to catch small mushy waves but also able to shred big heavy waves, etc.

Ingebritsen doing a backside aerial on the 11'5 carbon.

Ingebritsen wasn't as excited about the successor to the 11'5; Exocet's 10'2 WindSUP, which he says was too SUP oriented to work well for wavesailing in light, onshore winds. (Although some other riders seem to really like the feel of the 10'2; particularly those who sail in stronger sideshore or side-off winds.)

Anyway, Ingebritsen recently begged Exocet to make some more Kona 11'5 carbon editions. They said they'll do it, but only if they get 15 orders. Ingebritsen himself has ordered 3 (a "lifetime supply," he says), so that leaves 12 more. I'm not going to get once since I have a new minivan and college loans to pay off, and I already have two step-tailed longboard waveboards that work fine. But you should think about it. There's a discussion thread on the board on iwindsurf: To put your name on the order list, contact Steve Gottlieb,

Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 2014 Caloosahatchee Seagrass Fieldwork Slideshow

NOTE: This is a very sciencey post, which is also presented on my pure-science blog, I haven't quite figured out yet what kind of posts I'll put just on my science blog, just on this jimbo blog, or on both blogs. I guess it depends on how interested my windsurfing followers are in science, which will be indicated by their comments or the lack thereof.

Since 2013 I've been working under a contract with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to monitor Submersed Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. "SAV" includes seagrasses, which live in saltwater, but it also includes freshwater plants that resemble seagrasses. There are two main reasons to monitor SAV:

1. SAV provides valuable "ecosystem services" such as creating food and habitat for animals (and fishing opportunities for humans), improving water clarity, removing excessive nutrients and carbon dioxide, and reducing erosion.

2. SAV is extremely sensitive to water quality, so changes in the amount of SAV can indicate pollution or other problems in the water environment that need to be addressed.

The Caloosahatchee Estuary has historically supported healthy beds of SAV both in the saltwater part where it joins the Gulf of Mexico and in the fresher part around the city of Fort Myers and upriver. Different species of SAV are typically found in the different parts of the estuary; seagrasses near the Gulf of Mexico, and freshwater "tapegrass" in the more inland part of the estuary. Man-made changes in pollution and salinity levels may affect SAV differently in the different parts of the estuary, so we monitor SAV at seven different spots along the length of the estuary.

The red writing on this map shows the seven sites where we monitor the abundance and health of SAV. The yellow writing shows where water quality (salinity, temperature, pollution, etc.) is measured. Collecting all this data allows us to relate changes in SAV to changes in water quality.
CRE SAV Study Sites photo CRESAVstudysites_zps455c6864.jpg

SAV has declined recently in some parts of the Caloosahatchee Estuary, with the worst declines being in the fresh and brackish parts where there's virtually no tapegrass anymore. Unstable salinity levels and murky, polluted water, which are both related to human activities in the land areas that drain into the estuary, are largely to blame.

Keeping track of SAV health over such a large area is a big job, especially with the rigorous monitoring and bookkeeping methods required to meet the high standards of the SFWMD. For example, at each of the seven monitoring sites we survey, we assess seagrass characteristics at 30 random points sprinkled over an area the size of a football field. Each point has its own designated Latitude and Longitude coordinates, and we use waterproof GPS units to find the points. This year we are also entering data directly into specialized "Trimble" GPS units, which seemed like a lot of trouble at first but is OK now that I've reallocated some money from the SFWMD to hire extra helpers. With me plus a paid research technician, plus two paid graduate students, plus a small army of unpaid undergraduate interns, we now have this fieldwork on LOCK. We got our May SAV (Submersed Aquatic Vegetation) monitoring for the SFWMD done with speed and style, and even had the time to take pictures while were out there (See slideshow below).

The SAV in the lower Caloosahatchee Estuary looked thick and healthy in May relative to its sparse abundance earlier in the year. However, the epiphytic algae growing on it was quite thick in places- possibly indicating excessive nutrient inputs from humans or a deficiency of algae-eating animals. In the upper Caloosahatchee Estuary the submerged aquatic vegetation remained very sparse.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Zipping on the Step-Tail Twin-Fin WindSUP

I continue to be smugly pleased with my modifications to the Angulo Surfa 10'4" windsurfable SUP. Whereas the original board loved wave-fuel but couldn't get much speed with wind-fuel alone, the modified board can adapt to whatever power source is available; wind and/or waves.

Yesterday the surf was barely knee-high, but an offshore wind gusting around 15 knots made up for the lack of wave power and led to a fun planing session with a 6.4 sail. The other sailor in the video is Alex from Naples, riding another type of windsup- an 8'5" RRD Wassup.

Boom Mount 5-17-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Rundown of Spring 2014

I had a busy spring semester of teaching and research at Florida Gulf Coast University and didn't have much leisure time to spend on blogging. So now that I've turned in all my final grades and shifted gears to research-only mode for summertime, I'll catch up on some of the things I would have blogged about if I hadn't been so busy.

I kept my first-year students busy with lab activities in my "Marine Systems" class.  photo 0403140944-1_zps38f5e614.jpg

I hired a research technician to help me with labwork and fieldwork in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. She and my graduate student also made an official school webpage for me:

Sometimes the fieldwork was awesome.  photo P3280064_zpse4bdf723.jpg

In the lower part of the Caloosahatchee Estuary we saw cool saltwater critters like this Spotted Batfish.  photo 2014site8batfish4_zpsf42d883a.jpg

Sometimes the fieldwork was not awesome, but we still got it done.  photo P3240037_zps95b0dd3f.jpg

In the upper Caloosahatchee Estuary, where the water is mostly fresh, we searched for signs of Vallisneria americana, a grasslike underwater plant. As recently as the 1990s, Vallisneria formed lush underwater meadows in this area, full of brackish-water loving fishes and crustaceans. Unfortunately, unstable salinities resulting from irregular water flows through a man-made structure on the Caloosahatchee (the S-79 lock and dam) have decimated the Vallisneria. Where we searched near a bird rookery island in March, all we found were a few solitary blades of the grass, plus lots of gross mud and cracked eggshells and such.  photo P3310137_zpsd88101da.jpg  photo s1p1_zps870e0a87.jpg  photo P3310133_zpsa2d78565.jpg

The one thing I did make time to blog about this spring was windsurfing, although there were a few good windsurfing sessions and projects that I neglected to document. One project was changing the "double concave" bottom on my formula board to a "flat vee." It helped the board plane earlier and easier, and hasn't had any negative impacts that I can tell.

Intermediate stage in the bottom-shape conversion, where I had routed out the concave sections before filling them flush with foam slabs.  photo 0405141423_zps365d7550.jpg

Another windsurfing project was shipping the RRD beginner board I'd picked up on craiglist to a buyer in the Northeast. Shipping windsurfing gear is an expensive boondoggle.

I used about four rolls of packing tape and 20 cardboard boxes to wrap this on up, hence the sarcophagus appearance.
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My dog Grace learned how to SUP. I lured her onto the board with treats, but it was hardly necessary because she took to it quite naturally.

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She's so calm on the water that she'll even lie down and rest on the board.
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The Exocet WindSUP 11'8", with it's ample width and flotation, is nearly perfect for dog SUPing, though if I was only using it for that I would put some grippy padding on the nose because Grace likes to stand right on the bow.

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There were some interesting botanical events around my house in Bonita Springs.

One was the sexual maturation of a large agave plant in our front yard. It shot up a towering inflorescence, which began looking like a giant asparagus, then morphed into a multi-tiered flower structure as tall as our royal palm tree.  photo 0328141555_zps141521eb.jpg  photo 0511141209_zps3361e3d1.jpg

Another botanical event was our replacement of a ratty looking Crape Myrtle with some cute little Bougainvilleas.  photo 007_zps2d98dcc2.jpg

Rhonda also bought us a "tasteful" garden gnome sculpture. I assume our next purchase will be a pink plastic flamingo.  photo 005_zpsdcf7efcf.jpg

I shouldn't forget to mention Rhonda's HUGE spring news: She achieved her life's goal of getting a big book publishing contract. Titan Books bought her latest sci-fi novel, plus two more (not written yet) from the same trilogy.

Despite being a famous author, Rhonda still works full time for NASDAQ and works as a full-time dog parent and semi-pro miniature golfer.  photo 0406141503_zpscba685be.jpg  photo 0507141928_zps839a2ab8.jpg

Besides the worrying environmental trends I've seen during my research outings in the Caloosahatchee Estuary, there have been some other interesting and upsetting things going on with the environment of Southwest Florida. One of them is the relentless conversion of undeveloped greenspace to housing developments and shopping centers.

This is a political cartoon from outside one of my colleagues' offices. It was drawn in 1997. The areas around FGCU now look a lot more like the 2020 picture!  photo 0402141449_zps0a6c3936.jpg

In addition to the permanent loss of terrestrial wildlife habitat when these developments are built, I'm concerned about the additional runoff pollution that they'll introduce to the area's already strained waterways.

The canal near our house, for example, is looking really gunky.  photo downsize-2_zpsa311df10.jpg

One thing that I think degrades the health of the canal is that it's always being sprayed with herbicide. Some of the spraying is because its next to some disused railroad tracks. Though they don't maintain the tracks themselves in a state that would allow a train to pass, they still think it's necessary to poison every living thing in the right-of-way until its a shriveled brown wisp. Not all the herbicide is for the railroad tracks, though. They actually spray it right in/on the water of the canal and the wetland plants around it. I guess the government (city, county, state?) worries that it will get too clogged with plants to effectively drain water off the land in a flood. Some of the plants are non-native, too, like the beautiful floating "Water Hyacinth." The Lee County Hyacinth Control District often poisons them, but sometimes uses other methods, like introducing herbivorous fishes.

Canal filling up with live hyacinths before poisoning.
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Canal full of live and dead hyacinths, and poison, after poisoning.
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I'm not an expert, but my instinct as a scientist is that the best thing to do if the floating plants become a nuisance would be to sweep them up off the surface of the water with some kind of giant net or rake, then turn them into nutrient-rich compost for agriculture and gardening. You see, when aquatic plants grow they absorb the excess nutrient pollution from the water. If you kill them and leave them in the water to rot, all the nutrients and pollution (plus the herbicide) go right back into the water, causing problems downstream and in the ocean. But if you scooped them out instead you'd be removing the excess nutrient pollution- a win-win scenario.

Another uncool environmental trend is the fad of shark-fishing off the beach. Lots of macho young dudes will show up at the beach around sunset and set up tons of rods right in the area where everyone is swimming, beachcombing, and windsurfing. Sometimes they'll cast their baits out, and other times they'll use a kayak to put bigger baits out really far to try to catch bigger sharks.

Believe it or not, this small, butchered shark was actually being used as BAIT by a young man fishing off Bonita Beach Access #10. After an unsuccessful night of fishing he tossed it away in the water, where it drifted back and forth in the waves until bumping into an unsuspecting swimmer the next day, right before this picture was taken. Though there appear to be decent populations of small and medium sized sharks in Florida, their populations are actually extremely low compared to their healthy, historical abundance, and many shark species are still in decline. So I don't think catch and kill shark fishing should be allowed.  photo 0427141716_zps56c686cf.jpg

On a completely different note, I'm going to need a new windsurfing vehicle soon. The speedometer and odometer have never worked, the gas gauge doesn't work, the air conditioner doesn't work, and now the backhatch is rusting off. I might have to make a last-minute new-used minivan purchase before my honeymoon trip to the Florida Keys this June.  photo 0427141609_zps962836f6.jpg

I'll stop there for now.