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Dangerous Windspeeds for Beginners
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Joined: 06 Jul 2012
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 11:41 am    Post subject: Dangerous Windspeeds for Beginners Reply with quote

Hi all,

I'm a beginner windsurfer that picked up the sport this summer. I have received formal lessons and am able to tack and gybe (albeit slowly) in lighter wind conditions (~10 knots). I have never waterstarted (or even tried) and have beach started a few times. I don't think I've planed yet (at least for a sustained period of time) and I do not have a harness or footstraps installed on my board (Starboard Rio L).

I wasn't able to go windsurfing for the last 3 months for various reasons and I am amping to go this weekend. Unfortunately for me, it looks like the winds will be very strong (for me) with extremely powerful gusts in the mid-Atlantic region. I've been out once when there was 20knots+ sustained + stronger gusts + choppy water with a 6.0 sail and I had a tough time. Since then, I got a 4.5 sail to better manage the faster windspeeds but haven't used it yet.

I am wondering what windspeeds would generally be too dangerous for a beginner like me, assuming the following:

1. Wind is blowing onshore.
2. Water is shallow.
3. Water does not have strong currents.
4. Beginner is a decent swimmer (e.g. can swim 1 mile easily) and is in good physical shape.
5. Beginner is wearing appropriate wetsuit/booties/gloves/hood.
6. Beginner is wearing a PFD.
7. Beginner is using a 4.5 sail.

TYIA for your thoughts.
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Joined: 14 May 2000
Posts: 397
Location: New Jersey

PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

They are calling for gale force winds (30 to 35 knots with gusts to over 40) Saturday for most of the mid atlantic coast. With that said, even your 4.5 may be too big! Think through what would happen if you fall in the water some distance from shore and you can't uphaul or beach start due to the strong winds and choppy water. If the water is shallow and you can simply walk to shore or drift to shore, then maybe it's worth a try or at least a look to see if it's doable. Try to get someone to sail with you if possible. Also, super windy days can dish out more of a beating than they are worth - sails can be ripped free from hands, boards lifted from the water and hurled towards you or you can get launched off your board and possibly hit your head on the board or mast (use a helmet if you got one). But you never learn these things unless you experience them. Keep an eye on Sunday as the winds are supposed to drop a bit (but still be good) and this may be the day to give your new sail a try. Also, if your not used to using a harness yet, you arms/hands are going to get real tired fast in these winds and you may simply not have the strength to sail back in - so consider that too.

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Joined: 23 Aug 2001
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 12:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you want to play it safe, stay within 5 knots of what you are comfortably with. Say you'd be comfortably in 20, go out in 25, but not in 30. A 5-knot increase can change things much more than you expect, especially above 20-25.

Onshore winds and shallow water are great to push your boundaries. But keep in mind that perhaps the biggest danger in strong winds are unexpected crashes. You will probably be catapulted more than once, and may hit your board or your rig. When sailing in storm conditions, there also always it the danger that you hit debris in the water, which can destroy your equipment or even kill you.

I'd say stay away from 30 knot winds until you have learned to use the harness and foot straps, and are comfortable planing.
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Joined: 20 May 2010
Posts: 201

PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 12:31 pm    Post subject: Practice waterstarting on the beach Reply with quote

Unless you're in warm Florida , I'd suggest you stay on the beach. Rig your sail, bury the fin in the sand with the board on a reach. Then lay you legs at the back of the board and practice waterstarting. In 30 minutes of actively trimming the sail in and out to get it to pull you up, your regular sailing skills will improve dramatically, waaaaaaaay more than flailing around in the water for 2 hours. And you'll be on your way to learning to waterstart.
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Joined: 12 Dec 1999
Posts: 19220

PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 1:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here are one rule, some advice, and some guidelines.

The rule: get a harness. I had one custom made (we couldn't buy them off the shelf back then) by about my second week of windsurfing and have never sailed without one since.

Strong advice:
1. Add a helmet. You'll need it if you follow my guidelines to follow.
2. Put those footstraps on. They're invaluable for control once you start planing. Getting in the straps that first time ... and the 10,000th time ... is just as exhilarating as planing for the first time ... and the 10,000th time.

1. If you think it's too windy, it's not. Go for it (presuming that by shallow you don't mean knee-deep; high speed headplants into the bottom are dangerous).

2. If you're certain it's too windy, go out anyway and learn something. If you aren't crashing, you aren't learning.

3. If the wind is consistently literally dangerous, and even the experts won't go out, rig your smallest stuff and wait until it backs off to #2 above ... or at least until you get tired of waiting.

The only way to learn to sail overpowered is to sail overpowered. Not only is it inherently fun, at least for a while, it is also an invaluable skill for when you get caught out there in too much wind. A 6.0 when everybody else is getting hammered on their 4.2s beats not sailing ALL to hell. Pad your board nose and your body (you WILL get launched sailing without footstraps), learn when to hang on (most of the time) and when to let go (there are such times), and go play until you get genuinely worried or very tired. The lack of footstraps will protect you from ankle/knee injuries, and you'll quickly learn to manage the sail properly and drop your butt towards your heels when a gust overpowers you when not in the straps.

4. Scour Craigslist and your swap meets for a smaller board for those windier days.

I had to teach myself to sail on boards bigger than your Rio before we'd ever heard of harnesses or footstraps, in winds ranging from 3 mph gusting to 10 mph up to 65 mph gusting to 97 (in New Mexico and Utah lakes). I think I was the first guy in our group to buy a tiny sail (i.e., sub-6.0). My first sail was about a 5.4, and they laughed at my second sail, a 3.8 ... until it blew 40 mph and I got to sail it on my 240 liter longboard. We got by, learned a lot (including not to sail in 3 or 65 any more (except maybe on flat water)), and enjoyed almost all of it. I've surprised myself both ways. i.e., gotten totally chewed up and spit out when I thought I could get by, and had fun when I thought it was impossibly windy. You (almost) never know until you try, and your venue sounds safe enough to let it all hang out. Going out only when you're sure it's sailable is a sure way to pour molasses on your learning curve, as those "tough times" you mention are called "learning opportunities" for a reason. But, dude ... harness and straps, please, and remember ... It's only water.

Mike \m/
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Joined: 24 Aug 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's a miracle isobars is still alive. Ignore gudelines 1,2 and 3.
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If ya do, I hope ya like molasses. Wink
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Joined: 25 Aug 2003
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Location: Corpus Christi, TX

PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Given all the conditions you list, the situation sounds self-regulating. Getting blown around is probably not going to be the first thing to derail you. Things like fatigue (even if you're in good shape, windsurfing probably uses different muscles), cold, and difficulty uphauling and/or staying on the board will probably stop you before the 20 knots of wind will.

Every one of your personal strongest-wind-ever days is going to be a learning experience, so if you've got the gear and the stoke, and if you're taking the safety precautions that you list, go for it. It will make you stronger and tougher and more prepared for next time. But go with a buddy, especially in the winter.

I agree with the advice on getting a helmet--I love mine, and plus it's warm. Also--neat advice about trying to learn the waterstart on the beach. Where was that tip when I was trying to learn? But learning in the water is fun too, in warmer seasons.
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 4:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Molasses is sweet, and no one has ever drowned in it Wink

kooky, sounds like you have good common sense, and probably want to try that 4.5. If you do decide to go, don't go alone, and if you are sailing in a protected area with no shore break, you may have some success. Last year a beginner was out on such a day at our local beach, shallow water and manageable shore break. He could not waterstart, but was starting with footstraps and harness. Big wide board with 45cm. fin. His board and rig blew away, breaking the mast, ripping the sail and cracking his fin box. No one has seen him windsurfing since. At least he did'nt get hurt.

20-40 kt. days are'nt much fun for many intermediate sailors. One minute you're overpowered ,the next underpowered. Too much like survival. Getting thrashed is no fun, and does no good.

Use a small fin on your board. the stock fin will not work properly.

Personally I've never learned much when I've gotten myself in over my head, except maybe to think twice next time.

Spending a week where there is steady wind and sailing every day will do more to advance your learning curve than sailing once every blue moon in light and inconsistant gusty winds.

Good luck, sail safe, and trust your gut instincts. If you think you might get into trouble, you probably will.
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

slinky wrote:
20-40 kt. days are'nt much fun for many intermediate sailors. One minute you're overpowered ,the next underpowered.

Ahhh, yes ... a relatively common windy day in the Gorge or New Mexico, which I sacrificed a career for long before I could jibe. If you're talking highs and lows, not averages, that's a good day for a 5.0 or a 4.5 on an 80L wave board ... after one has paid his dues and learned to manage both ends of that spectrum by pushing his envelope. I usually prefer pushing my upper range limits rather than my lower range limits, simply because I prefer planing, even if overpowered, to slogging. Both are important skills, but the former, within reason, is more fun, allows more options, lets me cover more territory, and minimizes walking or swimming back home.

Not arguing with you, Slinky; it's about preferences, not absolutes. I'm just trying to expose rswabsin to a broad range of options so he doesn't miss any opportunities. He did ask about danger, not comfort, after all. Now that I've learned to sail powered way up ... i.e., moderately by a racer's standards ... I don't feel in danger until the big experts are fully wound full time on their 4.0s and I'm still a couple of miles upwind on my 6.2. Neither I nor those racerhedz on their 7.5s learned that by waiting until it was easy out there.

Heck, I learned something useful just the last time I launched in what had to be 45 mph average gusting way over 60: that I got no business doing that. But the only way I could be sure was by rigging my smallest stuff and trying it. It's only water, and now I know. But I'll still try that again next time, just to make sure it's 45G65 and not 44G64; ya can't really tell from shore. My exposure to 60sG97 (at the airport a mile away) was an accident, for dang sure; the wind simply increased so damned fast that what was manageable on the way out was a bad survival joke on the way back. The key word that day, however, was "survive". I gave up only after rigging down three times as the wind kept increasing towards that asinine level.

BTW, I was completely alone in offshore winds on a 50-sq-mile lake with zero access to the far side. Damned glad I had some serious experience at being seriously overpowered.
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