Thursday, April 5, 2018

Downwind Paddling, and Windsurfing a Downwind Paddleboard

Lately the CGT Tribe of standup paddleboarders, kayakers, and outrigger canoeists has been getting into a specialized paddling discipline called "downwinding." I've jumped on the bandwagon, too. This post is a brief introduction to downwinding, with a couple videos of our downwindwind sessions.

As one might imagine, paddling with the wind at your back is easier and faster than paddling into or perpendicular to the wind. This is especially true in standup paddleboarding, where your upright body catches a lot of wind. Thus, when it's windy, the idea of a downwind-only paddle outing, a "downwinder," is appealing.

The logistics for a downwinder are complicated, requiring either a non-paddling chauffeur, or multiple vehicles and carpooling exchanges.

You also need wind, and the wind must either be parallel to the shoreline, or the shoreline must be a curve subtended by a line from the upwind start to the downwind finish. The closer the path is to straight downwind, the better, but 10 or 20 degrees off is still OK. There is no strict wind minimum for a downwinder, but most people won't go unless it's windy enough to be whitecapping. 10 knots will do, 15 is good, and 20+ is excellent. Of course, those wind strengths are also great for windsurfing, which brings up the important question of, "Why paddle if you could sail?" My answer to this question is complicated, and still evolving.

Indeed, my first assessment of downwind paddling was that it was a third-rate alternative for people too stupid to windsurf or kiteboard. Why work much harder than a windsurfer, only to go to 1/3 the speed and be unable to return to where you started from?

I might have continued to dismiss downwind paddling if not for my back-door entry into the discipline via paddleboard racing. Since races were sometimes held in rough, windy waters, I started doing paddle workouts in the ocean on breezy days. I practiced paddling at all angles to the wind and chop, but of course enjoyed the downwind bits the most. I realized how engaging and rewarding it was to try to sync up with small, wind-driven waves, feeling the speed-boosting energy of each one. "Riding bumps," as they call it, offers some of the same challenge and gratifying feelings as the traditional mode of surfing waves breaking in shallow water. In windy conditions on open water, downwind paddling essentially becomes surfing, with the same dynamic of paddling hard to catch a ride, then gliding along effortlessly at thrilling speed. In a way, riding bumps downwind is better than surfing, because instead of having to turn around and paddle out again after each ride, you can keep your momentum going and link that first ride into another and another. On flat water, my fastest paddleboard speed for a mid-distance race is around 9 kph, but on a decent downwinder I can average over 11 kph, with peak speeds of 16-18 kph on the good bumps.

Another fun discovery with downwinding is that my "old beater" race paddleboard, a 2014 model Fanatic Falcon 14'x27.25", happens to be a rocketship for downwinding. Its bulbous nose combined with a narrow tail and rounded rails let it catch waves of all shapes, sizes, and angles with aplomb. The teardrop shape of the board also minimizes the amount of footwork you have to do keep the board trimmed properly in the waves- On other boards you're constantly stepping towards the nose to help catch the waves, then scooting back to the tail to keep the nose from plunging under as you surf down the waves. For example, my Riviera RP 14'x23" is a lot faster than the Fanatic in flat water, but is much trickier to use, and therefore slower, for downwinding. I haven't managed to take any "epic" GoPro videos of downwinders yet. The one time I wore my helmet camera for one was a grey day, and the wind sort of died in the middle of the run, but it was enough to get the idea.

Some better downwinder cinematography has been done by my avid downwind partners Greg from Belarus and Matt from Sarasota. Greg does most of his downwinders on a SIC Bullet (a specialized downwind board) or a Starboard AllStar (an all-around raceboard). For some of this video he was also trying out my Fanatic, which he said made everything incredibly easy.

DW-2-4-2018-NAPLES from New Ground Photography on Vimeo.

At the end of the run in Greg's video he let me try out a special contraption that I'd built to mount a windsurfing sail to his SIC Bullet. I'd been eager to do it since noting that the rocker and rail shape on the SIC Bullet was very much like an oversized windsurf board, and I suspected it would be fast and efficient under sail power. Indeed it was. This demonstration was also my not-so-sneaky way of trying to persuade Greg that windsurfing can be a lot of fun. For the next step, I'll loan him the adaptor plate and a small sail so he can mess around with it.

Windsurfing SIC Bullet from New Ground Photography on Vimeo.

My big challenge with downwinding now is keeping up with Matt from Sarasota, who has been doing the downwinders on his 20'8" Puakea outrigger canoe. With Matt's increasingly skilled piloting he has gotten average downwind speeds of 12.0 kph, which beats my best 11.8 kph on the same run with the Fanatic SUP. (This is our most common downwind run. It works in NW winds but requires a strenuous side-wind "traverse" to get offshore to the starting point.)

Is the need for downwind speed enough to tempt me into a sit-down paddlecraft myself? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

FL Keys Marine Lab field trip, Spring 2018

Every semester I take my FGCU Marine Ecology class to the Florida Keys Marine Laboratory for a few days of educational snorkeling. I bring lots of marine life guidebooks and encourage the students to identify all the organisms they see. I think learning what species you're looking at is the first step towards assessing the state of the ecosystem. It's also something I enjoy as a hobby, so I really look forward to photographically "collecting" new-to-me species.

This year I "scored" a few species that I was particularly excited about: Ocellate Box Crab, Batwing Coral Crab, Golfball Coral, Barred Hamlet, Reef Butterflyfish. You can find them and lots more, with descriptions, in the album of all the pictures I took this year, which is posted on my science facebook page.

The next part of this post may fall into the "too long didn't read" category for some people, but I felt like I should share these impressions about how the underwater habitats in the Florida Keys are doing lately, what with Hurricane Irma and some man-made problems, as well. Below is a summary of the changes I've seen at five of our regular snorkeling sites.

Site 1- KML Cove. The Keys Marine Lab is on the shallow, sheltered waters of Florida Bay. We do our first snorkeling activity in a little cove behind the lab. The cove has lush beds of seagrass and algae, with a few sponges and small, inconspicuous corals. I haven't noticed much change in the cove since Irma, besides some sunken branches and debris. However, there have been major impacts further north in Florida Bay, where lots of seagrasses died out due to salinity changes, murky water, and algae blooms. While boating through the Bay this spring we hit a line of the "post-Irma bad water," which was olive brown and totally opaque. Damage in Florida Bay can have a harmful domino effect, because when seagrass dies, it releases nutrients that cause algae blooms, which cause more seagrass to die, which releases more nutrients, and so on.

Site 2- Zane Grey Creek. This is a mangrove-lined, tidal channel that drains Long Key's shallow, internal lagoon. The creek waters can be tea-stained with tannins from seagrass and mangrove detritus, but they are generally fairly clear and high in salinity. Strong ebb-tide and flood-tide currents through the creek, coupled with its stable, high salinity, allow for the development of rich communities of filter-feeding organisms on the mangrove roots. In past years, sponges of all sorts- purple, blue, orange, white, brown, green, etc., covered the mangrove roots, and truck-tire sized loggerhead sponges studded the creek bottom. Those ALL died after Irma. Every single sponge. We speculate that they were done in by a combination of fresh water from the extreme rains, and the choking clouds of brown silt that were suspended in the water all around the keys in the weeks after Irma. I thought some sponges might recolonize the creek between November 2017 and March 2018, but they didn't. KML staff said that something similar happened in the creek after Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and it took about 7 years for the sponges to recover.

Site 3- Cheeca Rocks is a "patch reef" in shallow water relatively near the shore of Islamorada. It's designated as a Special Protected Area (SPA), which means that there's no fishing or collecting allowed there. It's unusual for a near-shore reef in that it still has a relatively high percentage of living hard corals, including the massive brain corals and star corals responsible for building the rocky structure of the reef. Since I first visited Cheeca Rocks in 2012 it has suffered from coral bleaching and disease outbreaks, which have killed or partially killed a substantial portion of the coral colonies. For example, some types of brain coral and maze coral are no longer present there. That said, Irma didn't seem to kill any corals at Cheeca Rocks that weren't already dead before the storm, although it did tip some colonies of star coral on their sides, and it moved sand that partially buried or un-buried portions of the reef. The main difference I noticed at Cheeca Rocks between November 2017 and March 2018 was a big increase in the amount of macroalgae (seaweed) on the reef. The algae and other soft-bodied organisms were probably blasted away by Irma's waves, but later took advantage of the vacant real-estate to recolonize. Algae compete with corals for light and space, so too much algae can harm reefs, especially if its growth is fueled by excess nutrients from pollution, or if the reef lacks algae-eaters like parrotfish and urchins.

Site 4- Alligator Reef. The saddest reef site, ironically, was the furthest offshore one that ought to be the most pristine and beautiful. Alligator Reef is a SPA like Cheeca Rocks, so it does have a lot of fish. It just has very little hard coral. Less than 1% of the sea bottom there is hard coral, whereas on a healthy reef it should be >30%. When I first visited Alligator Reef in 2012 there were at least a few colonies of hard coral studding the reef top. Those colonies included one endangered Elkhorn Coral, a remnant of the forest of Elkhorn Coral that covered most of Alligator Reef before it began dying off in the 1980s. Even though the reef was basically "dead" before Irma, inasmuch as it didn't have enough hard coral cover to keep its mineral growth rate apace with the rate of erosion, it at least looked pretty because there were lots of soft corals, sponges and algae on the reef skeleton. Irma swept those organisms away, highlighting the reef's depressing desolation. In November 2017 Alligator Reef just looked like a dusty concrete ledge. Since then the fast-growing algae have recolonized, and some of the soft corals and sponges are beginning to recover, as well. The hard corals really seem to be gone for good, though, which is crazy and awful.

Site 5- Stag Party. Staghorn Coral is a relative of Elkhorn Coral. It looks like deer antlers. It used to be one of the most common corals on Caribbean reefs, but it started dying out along with Elkhorn Coral in the 1980s. The "Stag Party" snorkel site was one of the few places where one could still reliably find Staghorn Coral in the 2000s, but bad bleaching and disease events in 2014, 2015, and 2016, related in part to mismanagement of water flow to the Everglades and Florida Bay, have almost completely wiped it out. I snorkeled the site for about 30 minutes this month before I found even one remnant patch of sick and pale looking Staghorn Coral. There have been big hopes that this potentially fast-growing coral will make a comeback, but I don't think it will happen unless we take big steps to fix our water pollution and climate change problems.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

RedBull Privateers Treasure Hunt SUP Race

Race: "RedBull Privateers"

Date it happened: 10 February 2018

Host: RedBull North America, in conjunction with the Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve.

Location: This event was at an interestingly remote location, amidst an archipelago of uninhabited mangrove islands in the Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve south of Marco Island, FL. To get to the staging area you needed to either boat or paddle 5 km from Marco Island. Many people voyaged to the staging area on Friday and camped overnight (it was quite a party, apparently) and some stayed again Saturday night. My team only went down for the day of the main event.

Course / Distance: This was not a normal race with a set course. Instead, it was a timed "treasure hunt" for teams of four paddlers. Fifteen treasure chests full of uniquely inscribed wooden coins were placed around the beaches and mangrove channels of the area, and the first team to collect all fifteen coins and bring their members over the line would win. The locations of the treasure chests were indicated on a map- actually a sticker that we could affix to our boards. But they purposefully didn't give us the map until 15 minutes before the race started so we couldn't plan and practice our routes ahead of time. Also, each treasure location was just marked with an "X." My team assigned numbers to each X to help track our collecting progress, but since the treasure chests themselves were not numbered, it was sometimes unclear if we were at the chest we thought we were at on the map. You could find a chest, but remain lost yourself. There was a 2.5 hour time limit for completing the course, and most teams split into two or more groups to try to reduce the distance that each member would need to travel in the allotted time.

Conditions: The weather was beautifully sunny and warm, with 5-15 knots of wind from the SE, making it a bit choppy in the open water areas. There was a strong tidal current flowing from E to W through Blind Pass and out of the channels draining the internal waterways of the island. Very shallow water in places was another hazard- it was important to find the deeper tidal channels when crossing the shallow internal bays of the island.

Participants and Gear: There were tons of people at the event. I'm not sure exactly how many, but I heard something like 50 teams of four, plus lots of supporters, spectators, and event staff. Compared to a typical SUP race there were more college-age and party-animal-age people there, but the over-the-hill crowd still represented well, and there were some families with kids. Some folks had come from Tampa or Miami / Ft. Lauderdale, and some from even further, like SIC Boards ambassador Robert Hess from South Carolina. At least one elite, international professional paddler was there: Hawaiian Josh Riccio (F-ONE boards). He was on a team with top Florida paddler Brad Ward (Sunova boards), Robert Hess, and another ripped dude whose name I don't know. Those guys looked like the clear favorites to win if it came down to simply who paddled fastest. If it came down to local knowledge, I thought the team of Collier County Special Olympics coaches led by experienced water explorer Steve Nagy and including CGT Tribeswoman Donna Catron would win. I thought my team had a good chance, too, with Beth Schadd and Saralane Harrer, who are some of the fastest women paddlers in the area, plus Saralane's husband Murray Hunkin who is an experienced South African kayak racers and a fierce SUP paddler. I used my 14x23 Riviera RP, Beth used my 14x27.25 Fanatic Falcon, Saralane used a 12'6x26 Riviera RP, and Murray used a 14x27 Starboard Allstar. Another tough-looking team had a mix of paddlers from the East and West coast of Florida- fitness model Karen Kennedy from the East coast and butt-kicking Cindy Gibson from the West. I also saw Neil Uden, the Australian husband of beautiful SUP starlet and environmental activist Catherine Uden, with a team of savvy East coast paddlers all wearing bright neon orange shirts. I think the team color coordination was a good strategy for locating teammates from far away on the water. Another color-coordinated team that I was surprised and delighted to see was made up of members of the Florida Gulf Coast University Fishing Team, including one of my undergraduate research students. They were all paddling unusual but fast L2Fish catamaran-style fishing SUPs. In addition to the tough looking teams, there were many teams in the event in which the competitors had never, or barely ever, paddleboarded before. They rented tubby beginner paddleboards provided by a Sarasota-based rental outfit, and they seemed to do OK.

Results: A team won (see picture), but it was neither my team nor any of the other teams I had pegged as likely winners. The winners got awesome trophies, money, and inflatable paddleboards. I'll update this post if I find the official results and prize list somewhere. Many teams, including mine, successfully collected all 15 coins, but had navigation and coordination difficulties of one sort or another that greatly delayed one or more of their members.

Play by play: There was some pre-story to this race. It started a month or two ago with me deciding I didn't want to do the race because the logistics sounded overly complicated. Then I changed my mind when Murray and Saralane asked if I could join their team. At the time, CGT shopowner Nick Paeno was going to be our fourth man. But then Murray and Saralane got cold feet about the logistics and our team disbanded. A little later, the team that Beth was on split up, but they had already paid, and Beth was able to sub-in other people; first Murray and Saralane and then me. The final re-formation of our team was only about a week before the race, but Beth helped get us organized with laminated aerial photo maps of the area, and a coordination meeting two nights before the race at Saralane's house. My initial doubts about the event were mostly replaced with excited anticipation. I liked that we had opted not to camp overnight- we would just make one (long) day of it.

The day started super early, when I loaded up the boards, picked up Beth, and drove to Marco Island. We got to Caxambas Park Marina and dropped our boards off at the registration area there. They wouldn't let us park at the boat launch, so we parked at Hilton Hotel and took a free shuttle from there. In addition to the shuttle from the hotel to the boat launch, there was a boat shuttle from the boat launch to the race site. I was leery of that for some reason, and anxious to start paddling and stop waiting around, so I decided to paddle to the race site (5 km). Beth took the boat and got there around the same time that I did, but my red Fanatic Board that she was going to use didn't show up for a long time because of confusion about where the drop-off place for boards for the boat shuttle was. Thankfully that was resolved before the race start by event staff calling back to the boat launch, locating, and loading the board.

My paddle to the event site was great. It had the feeling of leaving civilization (overdeveloped Marco Island) and heading into the wilds. I followed the western shore of the Cape Romano island complex south towards the event, admiring the blue water and the interesting birds along the sandbars and eroding mangrove shoreline. Aside from some distant boats, there wasn't another human in sight until I got near the tidal inlet called Blind Pass where the event was staged. First I saw a few campers' tents among the dead trees and sand-piles, then the whole event outpost came into view. People were swarming around a huge RedBull tent, and a giant inflatable Gorilla loomed over the SunBum sunscreen tent. Boards were splayed out everywhere. It got progressively more crowded each time the shuttle boat arrived, and a lot of people arrived by private boats, as well.

The shuttling took longer than the organizers had expected, so the race start was delayed from 11 until 1230. During the waiting time I socialized with folks and tried out some different boards, including Robert Hess' SIC RS 14x23, which seemed fast and light but tippy, as would be expected for such a narrow board. Finally the pre-race briefing began, and they revealed the treasure maps that we could put on our boards like bumper stickers. The background of the map was in a simplified style, but it was pretty clear how it corresponded with the laminated aerial photo maps we had printed. Since the treasure locations were only marked with Xs, I used a sharpie pen to number each of the treasures on my map and my teammates' maps. That way we knew who would be responsible for getting which treasures, and we had a common reference for which treasures were which, so we could refer to that in our walkie-talkie and cell phone communications during the race. We figured I was the fastest, so I would get the treasures that were farthest from the start and required paddling through the choppy and unprotected waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Saralane with her slower 12'6 board would get the treasures in Blind Pass near the starting area. Murray and Beth would split up the treasures inside Morgan's Bay. (That turned out to be the trickiest job, because of the confusing navigation there).

Once we had our plan, we hoped on the boards and gathered them inside a giant square on the water marked by four RedBull buoys. That corral formed a 360 degree starting line, from which we would radiate in various directions when a cannon blast sounded from a faux pirate ship parked offshore. I lined up on the southeast corner of the corral, which was the most upwind, upcurrent, and closest to my first treasure. When the horn blasted I sprinted off pretty well and headed closer to shore to get in the lee of the wind. I could see Josh Riccio zooming ahead in the same direction as me, but I knew I'd never catch him, so I just tried to go my fastest normal pace. I was abreast of Robert Hess, who was going about the same speed as me. To save energy I crossed into his draft. That was highly effective, because as a big broad shouldered guy he was blocking the wind well and digging a deep furrow through the ocean that pulled my board along. As we went I counted the tidal inlets that we passed, knowing my first treasure to get would be around the third one. It was easy to find those first treasure chests, because I just watched where Josh Riccio went ashore, and followed that route. I had to leave Robert's draft to get the coins, but he soon went in a different direction, anyway, so it didn't really matter. I think I spent longer than necessary undoing my leash and removing my camelback to stuff the coin in each time I came ashore- I'll have to work out a more efficient coin pouch system if I do this next year.

The most distant coin I had to pick up was at a beach near the famous "Dome Homes" at the southern tip of Cape Romano. My next move after that was to paddle into Morgan's Bay and get a coin from a straight, manmade channel. As I approached it I saw a big guy on a Starboard Allstar emerging from it - MURRAY! He gestured that he'd gotten the coin so I didn't need to go down there. Instead I chased him down and offered to help him with whatever coin collecting he was still doing. As I tagged along with him I ran into Beth and decided to go with her, since it looked like Murray was about to finish and Beth might need more help. Some other racers were also milling about that area confusedly, including (to my relief) Brad Ward and Robert Hess. Beth seemed to know where she was going, and we got another coin as we left the bay and entered the Gulf. There was one last coin that Beth needed, and we saw the flag for that one from the entrance to a shallow bay. I said I'd get it, and sent Beth back to the start line to make sure we all got back there as quick as possible. I weaved through the slightly deeper parts of that shallow bay, got the coin as quick as possible, and made haste for the start-finish line. Saralane and Beth were already there, with their coins. No other teams had finished yet. We could win it! We just needed Murray.

It was determined that I would paddle East in Blind Pass to try to intercept Murray on his return, to provide encouragement and a draft. Unfortunately, I paddled and paddled and never saw Murray. Then the ladies radioed me and said the race was over- still no Murray. Doh! I paddled back, and Murray actually beat me there, having returned via the Gulf because he'd never found the back way to Blind Pass that he'd intended to return on. Here's my GPS track from the race:

Our team successfully collected all 15 treasure coins, which we felt was a pretty good achievement despite our troubles and getting lost. Apparently Murray's long period of being lost was in search of a coin he didn't realize he'd already collected. It was really tough to know where you were, even when you were at a treasure, because the treasures didn't have any unique labeling system that corresponded with the map. I would suggest to the event organizers to put numbers on the treasure chests corresponding with numbers on the map, so when you found a treasure you would know for sure where you were on the map.

After the race there was a pig roast, awards, and raffle, but we didn't stick around for that because we wanted to make sure we escaped the island before dark. I did buy a cheeseburger from the Food Boat, though, which tasted pretty good after paddling 20 kilometers that day. Then Beth and I loaded up the boards and we both paddled back to the boat launch, thankfully with a tailwind making it easy. Overall it was a great day, and I definitely see the fun and appeal of an event like this. Some ideas I have to do better at the next one are:

1. Do a preliminary trip to the site to paddle around and get the feel for what it looks like on the water, since studying Google Earth alone doesn't quite cut it.
2. Plan more mid-race "check ins" with teammates by phone, radio, or (best of all) meeting up where our paths intersect on the water.
3. Make sure we don't waste time getting coins that have already been gotten, or that another teammate will soon be getting.
4. Not go looking for lost teammates if there's a possibility they might be about to return.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Race Report: Paddle at the Pass 2018

Race: "Paddle at the Pass"

Date it happened: 4 February 2018

Host: The South Florida Canoe and Kayak Club, which "is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit member based organization in Cape Coral, Florida offering both development and high performance training in flatwater sprint canoe and kayak racing, stand up paddleboard racing, surf ski, dragonboat racing and para canoe. SFCKC has world class coaches with experience in National, International and Olympic level regattas. We are also proud to be the home of two Olympic hopeful athletes training daily with our club."

Location: Matlacha Community Park, on the cute, island community of Matlacha, which lies in the "Matlacha Pass" estuary between Cape Coral and Pine Island. I was familiar with the area because it was the launch site for a seagrass survey project I did for Lee County in summer of 2014. The waters of Matlacha Pass are shallow and have historically supported extensive seagrass beds and oyster reefs. However, the water quality and habitats have declined in recent years due to nutrient pollution from the growing Lee County population, combined with damaging freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee via the Caloosahatchee River at the south end of the pass. (An interesting tidbit of geological history is that Matlacha Pass was once the channel of the Caloosahatchee River, which flowed north into Charlotte Harbor, before sea level rose and the river found a more southerly outlet through San Carlos Bay.)

Course / Distance: There was a 5km course for the under-14 and under-18 year old racers, and a 10 km course for the adults. The courses were originally intended to be one and two circumnavigations, respectively, of Matlacha Island. However, a very low tide combined with the water-pushing-out-effect of several days of East winds had exposed impassable shallows along that route. The race committee adapted well to the new situation by setting out-and-back courses running along a the main channel of the estuary. (See my GPS track from the race; I measured the distance paddled as 10.28 km)

Conditions: There was 8-15 knots of wind from the ENE, which was side-wind for the entire course, but more downwind on the first part and more upwind on the return. The wind increased from the 930 am race start until the end, so the slower paddlers had to fight the worst of it. Shallow water, knee- to waist-deep for much of the course, with exposed oyster reefs, sandbars, and blue crab traps in places, also slowed things down and made it important to stay in the relatively deeper spots. There was some current from the outgoing tide that was most notable at the south end of the course. It helped us in the first half and slowed us coming back.

Participants, Results and Gear: There was a good turnout of fast kayakers from the SFCKC youth development program, along with some adult kayakers. Some, like my friend Justin DiGiorgio, were in surfski kayaks (the sit-on-top racing kayaks that can tip over without filling up with water). Others were in K1 kayaks (the kind that are hollow and your legs go inside). The fastest K1 kayaker was elite athlete Fabio Wyss, who recently represented Switzerland in the K1 1000 meter event in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Like a lot of international paddle athletes from cold countries, he trains in Florida in the winter. One of the SFCKC youths was in a C1 racing canoe, which requires an awkward, asymmetrical kneeling stance, and super good balance because it's pencil thin but has no outrigger for stability. Mark Athanacio used his V1 rudderless outrigger canoe and was the only outrigger canoe paddler at this race. I was on my trusty 14'x23" Riviera race SUP, and my toughest SUP competitor was Greg Zasinets on a 14'x24.5" Starboard Allstar. Carlos Colon and Bryan Herrick also raced 14' sups, and Cindy Gibson, Donna Catron, and Jen Hayes raced 12'6 sups.

I don't have the full results list, but I know Fabio was the first, finishing the 10.28 km in 52:48 on his K1 kayak. He said his pace was a lot slower than normal because of the shallow water and wind. Justin DiGiorgio held his own with the more experienced kayakers and finished in 1:07:30, a little ahead of Mark Athanacio's outrigger. I was the first SUP in 1:15:04. The official time may be about 2 minutes slower than that, since they started the SUPs after the kayaks but didn't account for that in the time-elapsed calculations. Greg Zasinets was about 2 minutes behind me. Cindy and Carlos were the next sup finishers in around 1:27:00, with Cindy blasting over the line just ahead of Carlos- an impressive feat with her being on a slower 12'6 board. Donna and Jen caught the worst of the wind but managed to battle over the line in less than 2 hours.

Play by play: The sit-down craft started first, and the SUPs started about 2 minutes later. I started at the upwind end of the line and angled slightly upwind for the first bit of the race, to build kind of a "high ground" on my competitors. After the starting sprint I took a look around and saw that I was securely ahead of everybody except Greg Zasinets, who was dead even with me but further downwind. I then started to strategically "spend" my upwind position to put on little bursts of speed when the side-chop presented an opportunity to ride a "micro-bump." That strategy worked OK, and I had maybe 50 or 100 meters on Greg as we neared the halfway point. Approaching that turn-around buoy was the fastest section of the course, with a tidal current helping, and the wind more at our backs. My buoy turn at the halfway point was OK- I didn't fall, at least. But I got a fright to see Greg much too close for comfort with the toughest half of the race still ahead. Going north, fighting the sidewind/upwind and only being able to paddle on the left, was a major drag. My lower back and hips felt the burn from the twisting motion of paddling. It helped to focus on individual landmarks and choosing the optimal path to travel to distract from the physical unpleasantness. Sometimes I counted strokes to keep from falling into a slower rhythm. It wasn't clear whether Greg was gaining on me or falling behind until about 3/4 of the way through the race where it finally seemed like I had extended my lead somewhat. That last section of the race was side-wind hell, and it took every trick in the book to keep my board pointed where I wanted it to go and moving at a reasonable pace. Finally, it was over. Woo hoo!

I watched Greg finish, then packed the van and came back out on the observation pier to watch other finishers. While I was packing up I missed the big battle between Cindy and Carlos, so I only heard about that secondhand. Incredibly, after the race Cindy stayed on her board near the finish line and started practicing upwind/downwind runs in the strengthening wind. She is one tough lady.

Even though this was a small race, they gave out medals. Almost everybody got a medal because of all the different age and board classes, and all the medalists got their picture taken with Fabio. (U14, U18, 18-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50+) I'm OK with that. You have to be in it to win it, right? If you're the only 40-49 year old who shows up and suffers through a long windy race on a SUP, then I reckon you deserve that gold medal and picture with Fabio.

After the race some of us had lunch at the Blue Dog cafe next to the race site. It was awesome. This whole weekend has been awesome, actually, because today I got to do a sunny "downwinder" paddle with a lot of the same crew who were at the race, and I even did some windsurfing after that. Hooray for February in Florida!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Race Report: CGT Winter Series #2

Race: The second race in the CGT Winter Series.

Date it happened: 21 January 2018

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Course / Distance: For this series there are two courses: a short one that goes downriver to a buoy and back (2.9 km), and a longer one that goes downriver to the US 41 bridge and back (6.4 km).

Conditions: The weather was pleasant, with the morning air about room temperature, and a moderate East wind blowing. The river level was at least as low as in race #1, which is to say it was low enough to increase board drag and hit the paddle on the bottom in places. The tide was ebbing, with a current speed of 0.85 kph according to my paddling in current calculator. The wind, in the same direction as the current, made the upriver leg tricky.

Participants, Results and Gear: There was a good turnout (18 racers) including some less-frequent racers, such as young Sarah Weyenberg and Ellery Winghart. There were no outrigger canoes this time, but Murray Hunkin and Justin DiGiorgio used racing kayaks, and Penny Kappler used a recreational kayak. Mark Athanacio sat this one out to rest up after a long time-trial around Lovers' Key yesterday. My parents were in town because we were all at a family friend's wedding elsewhere in Florida on Friday, so they and my wife Rhonda were cheering from the shore.

As far as results go, Murray was first overall, I was the first 14' SUP, and Cindy Gibson was the first 12'6 SUP. Here's the full results with times:

Racer ** Class ** Model ** Course ** Time
Murray Hunkin ** K1 Kayak ** Assassin ** 6.4 km ** 0:38:01
Justin DiGiorgio ** Surfski Kayak ** Nelo 550 ** 6.4 km ** 0:38:30
James Douglass ** 14' SUP ** 23-wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:42:50
Gregory Zasinets ** 14' SUP ** 24.5-wide Starboard Allstar ** 6.4 km ** 0:44:33
Matt Kearney ** 14' SUP ** 23-wide Starboard Allstar ** 6.4 km ** 0:45:42
Bill Mussenden ** 14' SUP ** 23.5 Hovie GTO ** 6.4 km ** 0:46:02
Phil Trudgeon ** 14' SUP ** 25-wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:47:14
Cindy Gibson ** 12'6 SUP ** 25-wide Hovie ZXC ** 6.4 km ** 0:47:15
John Weinberg ** 14' SUP ** 25-wide Riviera RP ** 6.4 km ** 0:50:11
Sarah Weyenberg ** 14' SUP ** 24.5-wide Starboard Allstar ** 6.4 km ** 0:50:22
Donna Catron ** 12'6 SUP ** 26-wide Bark Vapor ** 6.4 km ** 0:54:20
Ellery Winghart ** 12'6 SUP ** 27-wide Starboard Allstar ** 6.4 km ** 0:57:37

Tom Trudgeon ** 14' SUP ** 27-wide Riviera RP ** 2.9 km ** 0:22:16
Meg Bosi ** 12'6 SUP ** 25-wide Bark ** 2.9 km ** 0:22:30
Jared Hamilton ** 14' SUP ** 27-wide Riviera RP ** 2.9 km ** 0:24:04
Penny Kappler ** Rec Kayak ** ?? ** 2.9 km ** 0:25:30
Saralane Harrer and dog ** 12'6 ** 26-wide Riviera RP ** 2.9 km ** 0:28:35

Play by play: The first group to start was Cindy, Sarah, and Ellery. Sarah is a good amateur racer from the midwest, and she looked serious today wearing a heart rate monitor and paddling a fast Starboard AllStar. I think Cindy knew she had tough competition because she blasted off at the start and paddled faster than ever for the entire race.

I lined up in the second group with Greg, Matt, and Bill, all fast dudes on 14' boards. I was on the south side of the river next to Greg. That was good because Greg is almost as fast as me but he can't or won't draft. I figured having him next to me, then hopefully behind me, would prevent anyone else from getting a free ride on my wake. I sprinted hard off the start and got in front of Greg, then maintained a nearly-sprint pace for a while to put a gap on Matt, who is a good drafter. I bobbled a bit going over a submerged object, which I later learned was a stick that had gouged the bottom of my board. Doh! I didn't fall, though, and after about 800 meters it looked like I had escaped all the potential drafters.

After that my race was relatively uneventful. I had a brief moment of drafting Justin and Murray as they passed me in their fast kayaks, but of course I didn't have the speed to stay in their drafts. Shortly after they passed me, I caught up with Sarah Weyenberg, who was only a few board lengths behind Cindy. They were both going fast, so it took me a while to get around them. That first leg of the course was quick with help from wind and current. The second leg, after pulling a u-turn around the pilings of the US 41 bridge, was harder. It was a tough choice between hugging the shore to escape the wind and current, or staying in the deeper water of the mid-river to avoid the drag-inducing effect of the shallows. Hurricane Irma moved a lot of sand down from upriver last summer, so it's shallower with more sandbars downriver, possibly making the course slower than in previous years. I put too much stock in avoiding the current this time, and not enough into avoiding the shallows, which contributed to my time being 38 seconds slower than in race #1 despite a pretty hard effort.

Here's my GPS track from the course:

Greg appeared shortly after I finished, alone, having shaken Matt off his draft around the bridge. Greg is best known for being a downwind paddling expert, but he's obviously tough in these flatwater grinds, as well. Matt was about a minute behind Greg. Cindy was safely ahead of Sarah, having extended her lead in the tough upriver leg. Though my race time was slower than in race #1, some others had faster times. Cindy and Bill Mussenden were both about a minute faster, Phil was 30 seconds faster, and Justin was 39 seconds faster despite hitting the same stick I hit and flipping his kayak right before the finish line. We are all happy that Justin is alive because he had a big scare in a downwinder paddle on the ocean during a cold front last week.

After the race we had good eats in the shop at CGT, and talked about whether or not we want to do a crazy treasure hunt race that RedBull is sponsoring in early February. It's located in the remote waters around Cape Romano (where the dome homes are) and it sounds like a logistical boondoggle where a lot could go wrong. I'll probably sit it out unless somebody twists my arm.

Another cool thing that happened after the race is that I got to go on a leisurely SUP cruise with my 73 year old dad and 70 year old mom. My dad has been reluctant to try SUP in the past, and he was wobbly at first this time, but he ended up doing fine. My mom was zooming all over the place on a raceboard. Next time she visits I'll encourage her to do one of the races. Also, we saw manatees.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Race Report: CGT Winter Series #1

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

Race: The first race in the CGT Winter Series.

Date it happened: 7 January 2018

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Course / Distance: For this series there are two courses: a short one that goes downriver to a buoy and back (2.9 km), and a longer one that goes downriver to the US 41 bridge and back (6.4 km).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's my GPS track from the course:

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

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

Hope to see y'all at the next race!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Minor rant about hard-to-rig windsurf sails

First let me say that I am in awe of modern sail designers. Windsurf sails of this century are beautifully-shaped, three-dimensional wings that deliver crisp, controllable power over a wide range of wind and water conditions. And even within this century, sails have continued to improve. For example, I used to have a 2008 model year Aerotech Phantom 6.8 m2 sail, which I recently replaced with a 2015(?) model year Aerotech Phantom 6.8 m2 sail. The latter was equal in power, but significantly more stable, lighter weight, easier to power on/off, and more aerodynamically efficient for sailing at a variety angles to the wind.

However, the new sail has a feature that I find aggravating as heck, which contributed to my breaking the attachment head for my favorite boom while struggling to rig up the sail today. That feature is actually a combination of two aggravating features that work in concert to be extra aggravating. #1 is the tight mast sleeve and stiff-edged sail cloth in the boom-cutout area. #2 is the protruding batten end smack in the middle of the boom cutout. (Exhibit A)

Exhibit A- The offending boom-cutout area of the Aerotech Phantom 6.8

Every time I've rigged the sail it has been a major headache to snap the boom head onto the mast because the stiff, tight sailcloth and inconveniently-placed batten in the boom cutout effectively block it. The effect is worsened by the rubber shim that I must use to adapt the skinny diameter mast to my wide diameter Fiberspar brand boom clamp. The semi-stiff carbon-fiber-plastic-composite Fiberspar boom clamp may have been a particularly bad clamp to use with this awkward sail sleeve. I wasn't surprised that it broke; just bummed because it was the only boom I had that would fit my 6.8 m2 and 8.0 m2 sails, and I don't have any money to replace it now because my wife's and my motor vehicles also keep expensively breaking.

Exhibit B- the busted boom clamp.