Saturday, April 26, 2008

Trip Plans: 17-18 May 2008

Another month means another trip to Corpus Christi. And that means more sun, more fun, and more surfing.

If you're a new recruit, you can get a feel for the experience by reading the previous trip posts on the blog. You'll see a pattern: we carpool directly down to Worldwinds where we spend several hours windsurfing on warm Laguna Madre.

After enjoying the beach, we drive to our hotels Downtown. There we desalinate before walking to a restaurant to fill ourselves with glorious seafood, tapas, or hamburgers. After that, we may play a few rounds of foosball, walk along the shoreline at night, or simply enjoy the nightlife. The next day, we do it over again, starting with fresh coffee and a nice breakfast.

Follow these five simple steps to Join in the fun.

You'll need a a place to stay one night starting Friday the 16th Saturday the 17th, checking out Sunday the 18th.

You can check out the suggested packing list here. Feel free to comment, send me a mail, or give a ring if you have any questions. See you on the beach!

P.S.: Due to the lack of enthusiasm for taking Friday off, I've changed this to a Saturday-Sunday trip.

Trip Report: 19-20 April 2008

The first challenge of Saturday was securing my damaged board to the top of the car. As you know, my previous system -- a Yakima Strap Thang -- utterly failed at 70 MPH. Instead of hugging my precious board, it threw it to the asphalt of I-37.

To replace the Strap Thang, I had purchased an assortment of inexpensive NRS 1" cam straps (as suggested by Cool Tools) to anchor the board to my roof rack. These straps are rated for 1,500 lbs. I'm fairly certain now that the rack will uproot before the straps fail.

Unfortunately, I underestimated how much strap I would need to secure the board. I had purchased one 4' loop strap for each of the two rack crossbars. Both were about 2 or 3 inches too short to reach over my JP Australia X-cite ride 145. On the bright side, I had purchased an assortment of other 1" NRS straps for odd jobs. Using these extra straps I was able to securely lash the board down.

I safely arrived at the beach, board still firmly attached to roof. When I showed my scarred board to the Worldwinds staff, they had a curious reaction. Instead of expressing horror at my board damage, they laughed. "That's nothing," they said. "No problem." What a relief.

I rented a little blue Tabou Rocket 135 -- part of the Worldwinds test fleet -- and a 7.5 meter Ezzy sail. The Rocket may have been only 10 liters smaller than my JP, but it felt a lot smaller to me.

My biggest difficulty with the board was sinking the nose. Off plane, I had no problem submarining the Rocket. This was probably more my fault than the boards, and I should note that it didn't prevent me from tacking or from water starting. In fact, I'm really starting to get the hang of this water starting thing; I'm often getting up on my first try.

My other difficulty was turning the board off the wind. Those occasional times that I would sink the tail or pull a slower tack, I struggled to turn the board downwind again. Perhaps this is because the board has a pretty smooth underside compared to my JP. The bottom of the Tabou only seems to have a slight smooth bulge along the centerline, unlike the harder chines on the bottom of the JP. User error again, of course. Sinking the tail is bad.

I was able to get the Tabou on plane, but I wasn't able to get into the straps. The board just felt really sensitive to my foot movements. I also had difficulty jamming my foot in even with the straps pretty loose. Mostly though, I simply didn't feel confident enough on that board.

After windsurfing I attempted to check in to the Omni Bayfront Hotel. Things went smoothly until I tried to find room 623. Naturally I went to the 6th floor, but the signs outside the elevator indicated room numbers starting at 625. I asked a housekeeper how to find room 623. "Oh, that's for the other hotel down the street." What?

I went back to the service desk to see if they would have a more accommodating answer. They didn't. This time I was told that the hotel had two "towers". This key was for the other hotel -- the less fancy one without the usable balcony. Oh well.

After cleaning up, I met Matt and Karen at the hotel bar. We decided to try Mamma Mia's for dinner, a restaurant suggested by one of Karen's friends.

There was one thing I immediately noticed about Mamma Mia's. This seemed like the sort of place where students take their dates for the Prom. In fact, the place was full of kids dressed up for the prom. This isn't a negative thing, but it does establish the sort of reputation the place has: fancy date place.

This impression was reinforced by the menu. No credit cards. The cheapest entrée was about $19. Salads cost extra.

That said, the food was good. Maybe not great as the price, but who is counting?

After the meal, the three of us had a Mojito nightcap at Havana.

Sunday morning, I met Matt at Agua Java for breakfast. As Matt and I sat chatting, we were approached by a smiling lady brandishing a $20 bill. She was named Julie, and she is one of those interesting happy people that make you feel like a boring sourpuss by comparison.

Julie was an expert in painting murals and faux finishes. At the moment, she was on a vacation roadtrip with her husband. The twenty was her proposed payment to use Matt's laptop to buy plane tickets. Matt politely refused the money and offered the use of his Macbook for free.

As she ordered tickets back to Tampa -- she and her husband were tired of driving -- she told us funny tales of painting Epcot, eating in Louisiana, Pantone colors, feeling sick in Louisiana, drinking in Corpus, paint, language barriers, the housing collapse, and raising kids. Who says talking to strangers is bad?

After breakfast, I rented a 2008 JP Australia X-Cite Ride 145 and a 6 meter sail. Except for a few minor changes and the lack of holes, this board was nearly identical to my busted 145. Home sweet home.

The 145 felt much more stable than the Tabou Rocket. After a little practice, I was able to summon the courage to try the front foot strap. I was rewarded with victory. Oh yeah: the front footstrap isn't scary. Silly me.

After surfing for a few hours, I started my journey back to Austin while my board stayed at Worldwinds for repairs. The weekend past without major injury or incident.

Monday, April 7, 2008

May Windsurfing

I see May on the horizon. Before it gets here, maybe we should plan a windsurfing trip.

Want to come? Please communicate your availability by commenting below.

Trip Plans: Blitz Trip 19-20 April 2008

This is a two-day blitz trip. Do you have limited vacation? Just want a quick and inexpensive intro to windsurfing? This is the trip for you.

We sail April 19th. I'll be leaving at around 7am on Saturday. That way we can enjoy a full day of surfing both days.

If you're a new recruit, you can get a feel for the experience by reading the previous trip posts on the blog. You'll see a pattern: we carpool directly down to Worldwinds where we spend several hours playing on the water.

After having a suitable amount of fun surfing, we drive to our hotels Downtown. There we desalinate before walking to a restaurant to fill ourselves with glorious seafood or hamburgers. After that, we may play a few rounds of foosball or enjoy the nightlife. The next day, we do it over again, starting with fresh coffee and a nice breakfast.

Follow these five simple steps to Join in the fun.

You'll need a a place to stay one night starting Saturday the 19th, checking out the 20th.

You can check out the suggested packing list here. Feel free to comment, send me a mail, or give a ring if you have any questions. See you on the beach!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Trip Report Sunday 23 March: Part Two

I met Freddy and Gumbo back at the Best Western where he had been camping out and reading. Since he had already eaten lunch, I hit the mega What-a-burger drive through for lunch. Freddy kindly offered to drive while I ate my lunch.
"Bad: surfboard floating on the highway. Worse: on the highway at 60 mph." -- Yakima Website
Freddy had been driving on I-37 for some time when it happened. We were listening to The Drabblecast at the time.

Thwap. Thunk. Thwang. Thunk.

Freddy and I turned to look out the back simultaneously. My board, my JP Australia X-Cite Ride 145, was flying through the air behind us. Noooooooooooooooo....

As I yelled at Freddy to pull over, I considered the Yakima StrapThang. You know, I though, I always felt a little nervous about the design of that board strap. The Yakima rack itself rocks. They way it attaches and detaches from my Honda Element in seconds really impresses me. The rack always felt rock-solid too.

But consider the little rubber straps of the Yakima StrapThang. They were very convenient, sure. You just put the board on the rack pads, throw the two straps over the top, and hook them over the end of the crossbar. Attaching a board only took seconds.

But would they hold up? When I got the straps about six months ago, I must have fallen for the bold marketing. Surely they wouldn't joke about surfboards smashed on the highway if they had any doubts about their product. Right?

Despite this, I was always careful to remove the rack from my car when it wasn't in use. I didn't want sunlight to weaken the straps. Likewise, I was careful to always take a look at the straps when I attached the surfboard. Despite my care, my board just soared down I-37. It had been lying undisturbed on the rack for hours of highway driving. Now it just flew off.

Once Freddy managed to safely pull over, I sat for a few seconds cursing up a storm. I pocketed my cell phone and ran across I-37.

As I walked along the median, I contemplated my board. Would it be totaled? More cursing. Maybe it landed in the grass. Or maybe a semi ran it over. My stomach sank.

As I crested a hill, I saw it laying on the shoulder about 100 yards away. In a panic, I started running. Could it be in one piece? Would it be possible to fix? I cursed the gods of roof racks.

As I passed a broken chunk of StrapThang, I scooped it up. Grrrr. Dumb expensive piece of garbage. I laughed insanely as my stomach churned.

Finally I reached the board itself. I couldn't believe my luck. It was in one piece. Yes, there were scrapes, dings, missing paint, and a few large holes. Some of the holes even exposed the foam core of the board.

But one piece. And nothing had run it over! Somehow it stayed in one piece even after surfing down the highway at 70 MPH. It even landed on the grooved pavement shoulder. JP Australia: you rock.

I tied the StrapThang piece to a board strap to use as a handle -- not that I trusted it. I lifted the board and started the long walk back to my car.

I suddenly felt foot shy in my ancient Teva sandals. Might I discover some dangerous critters with my tender toes? I wasn't sure which I was more afraid of -- an infested median or slaloming tractor trailers. Another curse to my failed StrapThang. I watched my toes and dodged trucks as I plodded back along I-37.

I finally saw my car again, and raced across the highway carrying my unwieldy load. As I approached, I thanked my lucky stars for buying a car with enough interior space to hold my board. I did not look forward to the cramped ride home.

At the car, Freddy helped me lift the board into the car. We placed the board alongside the passenger seat, nose down. Gumbo growled. He didn't appreciate the idea. I used some bungees and fragments of the self-destroyed StrapThang to anchor the board.

Freddy volunteered to ride under the damaged board. The adventure apparently had reduced his enthusiasm for driving. We both cursed Yakima for good measure, and I hopped in the driver's side. Freddy reclined beneath the board.

As I started the engine, my cell phone rang. Jason. Just as I opened the phone, he hung up. Simultaneously, his car pulled onto the shoulder ahead of us. He came running out to ask what happened.

We told Jason that we weren't hurt -- just terrified. We gave him a brief overview of the story, but declined to go into details. We were still too jittery to really want to talk on the shoulder of the road. We just wanted to get back to Austin. Jason wished us well, and we both started on our way back to Austin.

Freddy and I listed to Car Talk to calm our nerves. I occasionally laughed like a maniac at what a miracle it was nobody was hurt. Even if my board is totaled, I'm quite relieved the damage was limited to stuff. The only injuries were to the board, the StrapThang, and a small area on the roof of my car.

None of us had further adventures on the way home. Thank goodness!

Trip Report Sunday 23 March 2008: Part One

You may already know about the disaster of Sunday afternoon. For dramatic effect, I'll put that story in another post.

With Sunday morning came gray skies and high winds. While Jason and I visited the beach, Freddy remained behind at Agua Java to hang out and read with Gumbo.

At Worldwinds, the anemometer read winds in the high 30's with gusts pushing as high as 48 MPH. Since I only own a 145 Liter board and a 6.5 Meter sail, I knew I would have to rent today. I decided to wait and see how Jason did in the gale before venturing out.

Jason rented a wetsuit, a 130 Liter board, and a 4.2 square Meter sail. As Angela was wearing Jeans, she asked if I would help Jason rig. As I carried the sail out I couldn't help but notice how cold the water was. How the usual bath water at Bird Island spoils us!

Once Jason made it out to deep water, he attempted a water start. After the wind toyed with him for a bit, he managed to stay aboard. Even completely sheeted out, Jason blasted along. I'm sure he was only barely not planing.

I couldn't let Jason have all the fun. I rented a 123 Liter Fanatic Hawk and a 4.5 meter sail. This is the smallest board I've sailed so far. I donned my thin neoprene top, a harness, and walked the board out to the water.

After a couple of tries, I water started without an immediate launch off the board. Clearly one of the challenges with a board that sinks is getting up without submarining the nose in the chop. At the same time, you have to watch the tail too. Stand too far forward and you plow the nose. Too far back, and the board swings into the wind.

Once I did manage to properly mount the board, the wind immediately slapped me on plane. I don't know if the smaller board caused me problems, or just the abundance of wind. Either way, the board seemed much more sensitive than I'm used to.

The slightest tilt or shift in balance produced dramatic reaction from the board. The sheer speed of the board over the water had me worried that I'd be blown to sea before I could get comfortable with the controls. I didn't have to worry long. As I tried to shift into a more comfortable position, the board spun out. The board turned upwind while the sail and I slammed downwind.

As I stood draining water out of my ears, nose, and mouth, I tried to understand how I messed up. I decided that I needed to get my weight lower so I could pull down on the sail more. Feeling the strength of the gusts, I decided I needed to pay attention to conditions upwind more too.

I water started again, bounced onto plane, and nervously watched for approaching gusts. Again my speed felt rocket-like, especially riding on such a small board. As my heels dragged a bit over the rail, the cold water sprayed me. A little sun would have been nice.

As a gust approached, I braced myself for impact. I lowered myself to pull the boom down. My butt dragged in the water, much to my surprise. I've never been that low before. As I tried to get a little more altitude, the wind chucked me and the sail right over the top. Shoot.

I decided to stand in the water and shiver a bit while my bravery returned. Clearly I had a bit to learn about these smaller boards.

Hopping back on the board, I thought now would be a good time to turn around. I pulled the sail back and started a turn upwind. As I stepped in front of the mast, the nose sank into the waves. I found myself standing once again on the muddy bottom of Laguna Madre. Ah. Perhaps a sinky board means no tacking.

Mentally I raised the Jibe class higher on my to-do list. I felt that I had accumulated enough ice-cold defeat for one day. I much prefer eating dirt on warm sunny days, thank you.

I jumped aboard again and sheeted out enough to keep be just below planing as I slogged back to shore. Jason was getting an impromptu water starting lesson on the beach from Angela when I returned my board. I listened in for some pointers.

After his lecture, Jason hit the water again like a trooper. I shot the breeze with a few Worldwinds loiterers. One of the fellows I talked to claimed that his son had tried all the different stand up paddleboards currently on the market. He claimed that his son measured how far each board went with a single stroke, among other things. He said the Mistral Pacifico won, although I wonder how scientific the test was.

Convinced that the weather wouldn't magically get warm, I packed in, said my goodbyes, and started for downtown to get Freddy and Gumbo.