High wind sailing ( >12 MPH)
You've had many great days sailing. You can steer, tack, and jibe. One day the winds appears a little stronger, there are a few white caps on the water. No problem, you're cool. Then, wap! Every time you start up you seem to get slammed. Welcome to the 12 knot barrier. There are two parts to moving to higher wind. The first, covered here, is what you do with your stance, sail, and board. The second part is using a harness, which is covered in the next section. You should be using a harness at this stage of your sailing (see next section).
There are a few tricks to sailing in higher winds. The first and most important trick is to do everything you've been taught so far, but more so. Follow the instructions for up hauling, start-up procedure, and stance exactly. Do not skip any steps. For example, on flat water, it doesn't matter too much if your knees are bent, but in bumpy water if your knees aren't bent when you are starting, you will surely fall. The word in higher wind is think, think, think.
The stance you should adopt is one with the fewest bends in your body. Review the stance section. You should first move toward the pelvic thrust stance, where the only bend in your body is at your knees. Then you should move to the high wind stance, where you body is straight from foot to neck (D is the Stance figure).
When you do the start-up procedure in higher wind, there is a natural tendency for the board to round upwind. If the board rounds up head-to-wind you will fall. To avoid rounding up, when you do your start-up, be sure that you are bringing the mast across the front of the board. This action will help the nose of the board off the wind. If you are still rounding up when you startup, try the following. Have the front of the board pointing slightly downwind (broad reach) before you start. To point the front of the board slightly downwind from the basic position (see Uphaul), hold the mast forward (not at right angles to the board).
When you first sheet in, you will feel a strong pull in your arms. When you first feel the pull, resist the temptation to let go of the rig. Lean back and hold on. The force will dissipate as your board starts moving forward. Do not let go with your front hand. If you are overpowered, ease off with your back hand.
Lean back with your arms straight. You do not have to hold the force of the sail with the strength of your arms. Rather, your arms should be straight and you should hang your body weight from the boom. If your arms are getting tired, it might be because you are trying to hold the sail with your arms bent at the elbow.
The pull on your arms should be the same. If your front arm is getting tired, but your back arm is not, then move both your hands forward on the boom. If your back arm is getting tired, but your front arm is not, move both hands back on the boom.
If while sailing you have a tendency to head upwind or downwind, use the strategies in the steering section to move the CE relative to the CLR. (See the Steering section of this guide.) As you move faster through the water, you will have to move further back on the board to keep the board level.
As you gain speed, the centerboard will generate so much lift that you will feel the board rock from side to side. It is as if the centerboard wants to pop out of the water. Now is the time to raise the centerboard. You can move it part way up. If the centerboard still wants to pop out of the water, you can move it all of the way up.
It is important to watch the water in front of you to be prepared for gusts and lulls. In particular, when you see a gust of wind approaching, prepare to put your weight on your back foot and lean back.
If you have done all of the above, and the wind is still too strong, there are several addition things you can do.
Get a smaller sail. Remember, sail size depends on your weight and the wind speed. A sail that is too big for the wind will actually go slower than a sail that is the correct size (no matter what your skill level). One of the reasons that advanced windsurfers like high winds is that they can use smaller (and easier to handle) sails. Also, you can rig your sail flatter by giving it considerably more downhaul and a little more outhaul.
Heel (or lean) the sail to windward. In high winds, sailboats naturally reduce their sail area by heeling to leeward. Sailboards can do the same thing by heeling the sail over to windward (never leeward). Leaning the sail to windward does two things. First, it reduces the area of the sail exposed to the wind. Second, when you heel your sail to windward, the weight of your body can hang from the boom, holding the sail in.
In hugely overpowering conditions, partly sheet out the sail. You always want some power in the sail so that you have forward momentum. When you are not moving forward, you will have a tendency to fall. However, you can spill much of the wind from the sail by sheeting out.
Get used to higher winds in stages. Don't go from an 8 knot day to a 25 knot day. If you get used to higher winds in stages, you will feel more comfortable on the water. Remember, however, higher wind requires the tricks that I have listed above. Soon, you too will be hit by the high wind bug: When you hear that the wind is blowing 25 knots, your heart will race.
The Law of the Sea
When you first started to windsurf, you were probably overwhelmed your own well-being. Now that you are no longer a beginner, you should be concerned with the safety of others on the water. Be aware of everyone on the water. If you see a sailboat that stays capsized for 10 minutes or more, you might sail by and ask if they need help. Alternatively, alert someone in another boat, or the appropriate authority (e.g., life guard, coast guard, sheriff). Is that fishing boat drifting too close to the rocks? You might ask if you can get someone to give them a tow. If you see a windsurfer struggling in the water for more that a few minutes, check out the situation. The jet skier you help might be the jet skier who assists you or another windsurfer. Windsurfers, kayakers, boat sailors, fishermen, jet skiers: we need to help each other. The first law of the sea is to help each other.