Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sandbanks Oct28-2010 - Last Call?

Wow, another banger day at Sandbanks. I took the day off work to score what might be one of the last warm(ish) days of the year. Forecast was for roughly 25-30kts WSW, 11°C and drizzly rain. Well, we got probably 30-35kts, no rain, and even a 3hr patch of sunshine. A whole whack of us launched out of a rented cottage on West Pt, which just really makes the whole Mac's experience comfortable and easy. There was a big contingent from Montreal and Quebec City, including the Makani Fin guys and a crazy guy named Mathieu with balls of steel. Also joining us was John, Reiner and Chris from T-dot and Nic from Ottawa, equipped with nothing but a camera and generosity out the ass to film and shoot us all day long.

The morning arrival revealed somewhat dubious conditions. I was there early - too early, while all the other bums were sleeping in and enjoying a nice breakfast at Isaiah Tubbs. I was on the verge of launching from West Pt proper when my buddy Ilan called and said he had secured rental of a cottage lawn off MacDonald's Lane - not the cottage itself, just the lawn. Eventhough the launch at West Pt would have put me right up in ye old G-Spot, it would have been damn lonely, so I packed back up and went to the cottage to hook up with some great guys who are rapidly become great friends. Some of the regular crew that I seem to be logging some decent SBX time were there; Ilan, Amine, JFLemay, Uncle Tom, Guy Trudeau and a number of others that I met for the first time.

The worst was, we all showed up, and the conditions looked lame as.

Thankfully, it didn't take more than about 15 minutes for the conditions to kick in. The winds were reported to be WSW, which puts it a few degrees offshore there, so the inside was a bit on the light side, and the waves were small. I rigged my 4.2 and ventured way upwind to 'Upper Macs', the 'G-Spot', or whatever you want to call it. JF soon followed but Amine had rigged a 4.5 and was too overpowered on the outside to come up. Everyone else was still rigging, or bitching about their gout ;) I'd say, in the beginning, it was much better up there. I stayed at Upper Macs for about an hour riding some head- to logo-high waves, waves that were wrapping just enough so the smacks were working well without needing to get too backwinded. I had some sweet rides, and some waves just kept going and going down into the shallow bay. Not always, but most of the time, waves were clean clean clean with easily 5 turns or more. Blissful. A very cool experience to be only two of us up there just picking off the best of 'em.

Probably even more fun than the 'riding up there' part, was the proceding 'downwind part'. Just the way the waves work there, you can keep riding and riding, then jibe onto the next one without the up-wind battle. By then the wind was smoking - nicely overpowered on the outside, and usually just-about-right on the inside - the way I like it. I think it took me about 3 waves to get back down to the cottage, which was about 400-500m downwind. More sailors had emerged, Nic was filming and guys like Guy and Amine were pulling out all their material for the lens.

Around that time, the sun started to poke out and you could see everyone's energy level starting to ramp up a notch or two. Lots of action out there. I saw JF trying some pushies, Guy working the backs with some freestyle stuff like air taka attempts on the inside, and lots of guys just working those waves hard and pushing their personal boundaries. What a day! Probably one of the highlights as I mentioned was Mathieu from Quebec City. His riding was refined for sure but what stood out to me was his ballsy jumping. There are not many folks who go for brokes when they loop, but he sure was. I saw some nice beefy stalled forwards, numerous pushies and backloops (landed?, not sure). Anyway, it appeared that in the air, he was for sure a substantial notch above the rest of us folk in terms of comfort, how high he was going and what he was landing.

I also had one particular wave, nothing special, but the guy upwind of me (Le Jeune?), had picked up a set wave. I kept trying to look back, since it was worth watching. I think he rode that thing with all he had... I recall at one point, glancing back to what looked like about mast-high, and there he is cruising down the face frontside with the wave peeling around him. Awesome! I heard later he was pulling some nice lay-down bottom turns 'a la Polakow'.

The vibe was great, the wind and waves were excellent, and we were all together, sailing the same spot, pushing each other and making the most of what could always end up being the last session of the year. Smiles everywhere! I think that is what I really like about this gang - no bitching and complaining (albeit there was nothing to bitch about), just smiles, banter and stoked people all around me. I miss that - that just isn't Kingston anymore. Our once thriving and boisterous scene is largely disbanded... :(

A bunch of us got together for fish'n'chips on the way out of town to wrap up the day with bullshit tales of our double mast high waves, one-handed cut-backs and goiters. Great gang, and an awesome day. Maybe someday I'll have to get off my butt and re-learn french! Gotta throw in a thanks to the guys for tolerating my lack of francais...

A huge props to Nic for coming down all the way from Ottawa to catch the action! As it becomes available, I will start adding some of his footage to this blog post.

Some photos in the Windsurfing Quebec Website.

SBX Wipeout Overture from Nicolas Chapleau on Vimeo.

SBX Oct 28th Fun in the Waves from Nicolas Chapleau on Vimeo.

Also some photos by Fathom (John Vu, including the tree photo at the top).

Sandbanks really is an amazing place. I imagine anyone who sails there during a day like this realizes how lucky we are to have this priceless spot, a spot that is simply shaped right and set-up to go off a handful of times per year, and produce some of the best wave-riding dare I say in the entire country. For those who experience the front-side down-the-line riding it has to offer, there is nothing better. I imagine it's akin to a skier scoring their first two feet of fresh powder, or stomping their first big cliff jump. You just know it is something you have to do again, and the sooner the better. To explain it to the non-windsurfer - it's our version of crack. It's just SO damn good.

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The Windsurfing Movie II

It arrived. Stoked!

Windsurfing Movie II
Everyone has their own tastes right... and everyone looks for certain elements in movies that make them love it, like it or dislike it. I think this movie is pretty good. Good work PoorBoyz!

What I have always liked in high-end movies from top pros is to see the innovation taking place, whatever the sport - skateboard, skiing, windsurfing.... Now that in itself is a hugely tricky thing, since often by the time a movie is out, what may have been brand new trickery caught on film has often seen the rounds on the internet, magazines and such, simply due to the quicker speed of delivery of those forms of media.

Anyway, in the end, I was pretty stoked to see some newer moves caught by the film crew and certainly some nice innovative riding by Levi and Kai Lenny.

Add a mix of beer, friends and big screen TV to mix, and you've got a winner. Great flick.

The Poorboyz ski flicks are pretty hot shit too. Check out the trailer for their latest movie 'Revolver' here (and early season trailer here).

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wind Power

Wind. It's something many of us are obsessed and fascinated about (particularly those who look at this blog). With a passion for both wind itself and renewable energy, my buddy Craig and I jumped on an opportunity to scale one of the new 2.3MW Siemens beasts in the TransAlta Wolfe Island Wind Farm.

Tower 80 was our destination. The nacelle is located a mere 80m up from the ground, and unfortunately there is no escalator or 'beam-me-up-Scotty' style hardware, so it's a long climb. My arms, long since retired from any rock and ice climbing, were definitely feeling noodley and useless. Dividing the long climb up are about 5 different platforms, strung together with probably about 250 ladder rungs and a 1/2" steel fall-arrest cable. As you start to climb this beast, you notice a few things. First off, it is moving. The blades were tilted out of the wind and the generator was shut down for our climb up, but the thing still wobbles, and that was in a mere 10kts. Second, you start to notice the little things. There are these small little plastic pieces on every 15th or so ladder rung. Apparently, those are required so that the steel fall arrest cable doesn't wear through the aluminum ladder rungs as it swings a bit with the movement of the tower and rubs against the ladder. You can just see one in the photo above.

It's a long shlog up, but fun... As we approach the nacelle, we come to an upper platform with a junction box. The j-box here receives 12 power cables from the nacelle (3 phases with 4 cables each). When you look up, you see they are exposed and dangling here with some slack. This is to permit the rotation of the nacelle relative to the tower and allow twisting of the cables over a length of about 10-15m. Once the cables are twisted up a maximum of three rotations, a simple switch device automatically powers down the generator, rotates the nacelle 3 times to unwind the cables, and then fires back up. Did I mention those cables are damn fat!? Probably about wrist-diameter, roughly.

We then enter the nacelle. And sure enough, there is a bar fridge and a party going on! Er, well, not quite, but we were pretty high just being up there, it was incredible. Our guide throws a few switches and two large overhead compartment doors open right up wide to the sky. So long as we are clipped in with our fall arrest, we can pretty much romp around as we please. It was a perfectly beautiful sunny day, some larger clouds off in the distance to give some more variation to the horizon all around us. We could see all the other 85 turbines up there, with a clear view to Kingston, Reeds & Big Sandy Bay, down to the States, and even all the way out to the Main Duck Islands. Stunning. With the hatches wide open, we got to enjoy the ride. Our guide first rotated the nacelle around so we could have an easy view and photo shoot of anywhere we wanted, with out even moving our asses.

I was quite surprised in fact how much room there was in the nacelle. I don't find it looks that big from down below. Contained within the nacelle is a large gearbox and a generator. The gearbox has a 90:1 ratio, so for every full 360° rotation of the hub and blades, the generator is spun 90 times. We could view a little display up there that showed windspeed, blade pitch, yaw, direction, rotation, power generation, etc... Then, with the compartment doors wide open, our guide let the beast fire up. Here we are totally exposed to the universe and we get to see this wind turbine do its thing. The blades slowly twist and expose their faces to the wind, and it begins to spin, faster and faster. You cannot believe how quickly that thing spins... When you're looking at them from a distance, it appears as a pretty slow lumbering rotation. From up top, I can assure you that when you glance over the edge of the nacelle and watch the tips of the blades as they swing past the earth, you realize - holy shit, those blade tips are trucking. I guess I could try to figure it out mathematically, but I forget all those silly rotational equations... Needless to say, I figure the blade tips were moving over 200km/hr.

Looking back towards the tail of the nacelle, there are two styles of anemometer on the rear. There is your pretty conventional three-cup hemispherical cup anemometer, with a separate vane to track direction, and there is also an ultrasonic style, which measures both direction and velocity. Interestingly enough, the older technology gets the nod and it is the data acquired from the cup anemometer and wind vane that control the blades and direction of the nacelle.

Sometimes when I have been sailing on the lake, I have seen the turbines shut down, in winds surprisingly light (light 15-20kts). It turns out, that the turbines shut down for a number of reasons. First, if there is wind that exceeds roughly 97km/hr, the turbines will auto-depower by rotating their blades out of the wind. Also, if wind speed or direction are highly variable, the electronics have a hard time deciphering how to rotate, or how to pitch the blades, so the units will shut down. I think, in retrospect, the times I witnessed the turbines shut down was when there were thunderstorms approaching. This brings us to a third reason for shut down, which is the reported proximity of lightning strikes. I believe our guide said that if there is reported lightning strikes within 25miles, the units shut themselves down.

There are also a couple of other neat things in the nacelle that we did not get to play with, including i) a small crane (for hauling materials, supplies and beers up from the ground), and ii) an emergency descent hatch. I forget what our guide called it - an 'Oh-shit' hatch or something like that, but apparently you harness yourself into an emergency lowering device, climb out through a small door and that thing will zip you down in about 27 seconds.

All in all an amazing experience. As my buddy Craig said, he felt like a little kid again and I agree. It was a blast to be up there, and even better that it wasn't windy enough to be sailing! ;) As we were driving away basking in the glow of our experience, I did a quick calculation. Thank you to TransAlta for the downtime of Tower 80 that amounted to a loss of about $34 in revenue. I would have easily paid more than that for the luxury of this experience!

All photos by Craig.