Preventing Catapult Damage (Boards magezine)

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Now I've been windsurfing since wetsuits were invented, and I still enjoy going over the front from time to time, so it is hardly surprising that some less experienced windsurfers seem to think the primary object of windsurfing is the catapult. And they are kind of fun – the way you explode in a ball of spray and then resurface a few seconds later totally disorientated but, remarkably, unharmed. However, the simple fact is that catapults are not a good idea if you want to keep your board in something approaching reasonable condition.

Unfortunately for the intermediate windsurfer there is a stage in the learning process - somewhere after starting to plane and somewhere before finding both footstraps – where catapults happen a lot. Even for the more experienced windsurfer, particularly when the wind really picks up, and particularly when sailing bigger widestyle boards, the pull to go round the front can be, literally, irresistible. All this adds up to a lot of dinged noses - and as we discussed last month, repairing this damage - although perfectly feasible - is a time consuming process.
The good news is that as you improve, or become more accustomed to sailing the wider style of board, you will catapult less. The bad news is that your board might already have holes in it. So if you are at risk of catapults some ways to limit damage could be a good idea. This article reviews the options and then outlines a simple DIY method for nose protection.

There are two primary methods of protecting your board from catapult damage. On the one hand there are the devices designed to deflect the mast away from the delicate nose region in the event of a catapult. Best known examples of these would be the Deviator and Jez's Knob nose protectors. The alternative option is to fit some form of pad to the front of your board to cushion the blows when they arrive. Some boards are now coming pre-fitted with such pads, or at least with the option of having them pre-fitted. Alternatively, you could fit a nose bumper yourself, either by buying one of the commercially available models or by following the steps outlined later.

When the original Deviator first hit the scene we thought all our problems were over. This device (and others like them) slot into the mast track just in front of the mast foot. If the mast is projected forward towards the nose it hits the gizmo and is deflected to one side or the other. Brilliant!
Well, almost... Whilst deflectors undoubtedly do very significantly reduce the likelihood of damage to the noses of catapulted boards, they also suffer some drawbacks. In no particular order:

They remove the possibility of positioning your mastfoot in the most forward section of the mast track. On most boards this shouldn't be an issue, but on some it will be. At worst, having your mastfoot too far back could make you more liable to catapult in the first place!
They get in the way when you are tacking. Undeniably true and responsible for many bruised toes in the world of windsurfing. Although deflectors don't protrude that far forward, they do occupy the exact area of deck where you place your front foot halfway round a tack. If you sail barefoot you'll need to tread carefully (or gybe!)
They can get in the way when you are getting the rig in to position ready for a waterstart.
They reduce the life expectancy of UJs or tendon joints. Ouch. One of the major drawbacks of trying to deflect an entire rig is that the deflector acts as a fulcrum. The Captain can confidently state that a LOT of upward force is generated at the mastfoot as the rig pivots over a deflector! Mrs Crash, a Red Cross volunteer, has long since come to the conclusion that repeated catapults are "not good for your joints". Depending upon where you sail this may have safety implications.
Worse still, if your UJ or tendon doesn't break, there is a small chance that the mast track of your board will. Although usually only an issue for school boards which receive a particularly large amount of abuse, deflectors have been known to damage mast tracks (this small risk can, however, be pretty much eliminated by the use of deckplates that secure using 2 bolts)
Another criticism levelled at deflectors, unfairly in the Captain's view, is that they transfer the damage to the rails of the board instead of the nose. Maybe a bit, but if a deflector has taken the brunt of the blow, the rail of the board will usually stand up to what's left. It's also much less likely to result in damage that need major repairs. You may end up with a few dents (which you can live with), instead of cracks (which you can't). This seems a fair trade off!
So, all in all then, deflectors do a great job of protecting the noses of boards, but have their share of problems. Perhaps the most serious of these is the excessive leverage problem, reducing the life of UJs and possibly causing mast track damage. It must be noted however that deflector science has not stood still, and both the Deviator and Jez's knob designs have been updated to reduce this risk.

An increasing number of new boards now come with bumpers on the nose, or can be ordered with them pre-fitted. They don't suffer from the same ergonomic problems as deflectors: deck space is preserved, there is no mastfoot position issue, and barefoot sailing is again a pleasure. They also don't suffer the same leverage problem as deflectors. On the minus side:

Bumpers are fixed, you need one on every board you plan to catapult on.
Although more difficult, it is still possible to damage boards with bumpers fitted. You will still be glad you had the bumper, however, as should damage occur it will be much more limited.
If you do manage to damage a bumper protected board, you may well have the added complication of a bumper to remove and refit when you repair. In this case you might not be glad of your bumper!
Aesthetics. You may not want a permanent foam block stuck to the front of your shiny new board.
Bumpers are pretty easy to fix, but do require slightly more time and DIY savvy to fit than deflectors.
Which Is Best?
Both methods of nose protection have a lot to recommend them – especially for use on higher volume boards (130-140 litres plus - sinkier boards tend to, er, sink when hit, and are therefore less prone to damage). The Captain, having worked for many years as a damage investigator with a large fleet of boards, would make the following recommendation for these bigger vessels:

If you are unlikely to catapult often (be honest now), a nose bumper provides adequate protection with an ergonomically acceptable fit-and-forget solution.
If you are likely to catapult frequently, you should seriously consider a deflector. Especially if used in conjunction a bumper, this will help keep your board seaworthy (indeed pristine) whilst you are learning to control things a bit better. Once you are reasonably confident of sailing without catapulting, the bumper alone should be adequate.
If you never catapult, you don't really need to be reading this. Just be careful who you lend your board to.


OK, so we might have presented this as an either/or choice, but in fact you do have the option of locating your padding not on your board, but on your rig. You don't generally get as much padding - and therefore protection - doing things this way round, but it all helps:

Mast Base protector method.
Mast base protectors never really did much when placed around the mastfoot/extension area, and consequently you don't see too many around these days. However, if you can still find one, you could put it to good use further up the mast to provide a bit of padding should the rig fall forward towards the nose (note: Arrows sell a purpose built accessory of this type). With any board shorter than around 270cm (i.e. nearly all modern boards), unless you have a horribly low boom it is the mast and not the boom that does the damage in catapults - so put the protector just under boom height. The plastic cup inside the protector should clip onto the mast and the Velcro ties fit around the mast in the boom cutout to secure it nicely. This isn't a bad option, especially if all you want to do is just prevent those annoying little chips in the gel coat finish that tend to appear on new boards. The downside of this method is that you won't be able to grab that part of the mast any longer. It also may be more difficult to fit it your boom is positioned low in the cutout.

Boom Bras.
When boards were long and booms were low, these bits of foam were strapped on around the boom clamp to provide protection should the rig hit the nose of the board. Nowadays however, as previously mentioned, the boom no longer makes contact with the deck except on long boards; it is the mast that does the damage. So unless your particular set-up is going to benefit from one, there really isn't much point fitting one! If you are sailing a board where the boom will hit the nose however, using one (or several if you are planning to catapult) would be eminently sensible.



Given that catapulting is the universal innate trait of all intermediate go-for-it windsurfers (and many others), and is undesirable, why the need for coaching? Well, the simple fact that not every catapult results in structural damage does suggest that there are good ways to go and bad ways to go. A novice catapulter, seen from a safe distance, will often remind the observer of a Cruise missile impact – impressive, and destructive. Whereas an expert catapulter may resemble something more akin to a WW2 destroyer depth charge detonation – worth watching, but really much less violent.
The difference is all in the back hand. The novice – aware that things have gone very wrong – ‘decides' to sheet out at the critical moment, and this projects the rig directly forward with maximum force towards its target. The sail may well be almost perfectly trimmed, building more and more speed, right up to the point of impact. Top marks.
Our expert on the other hand – also aware of the pear shaped nature of events – decides to stay sheeted in at all costs. Nine times out of ten this will be enough to ensure that the rig is projected further around across the nose (to leeward), and it will also mean that the rig depowers (by being oversheeted or ‘stalling') before it reaches its destination. The rig will hit a stronger part of the board and the impact will not be as hard. With luck the rig may even miss the delicate bow altogether. Indeed, if you have the nous, you can take it one stage further and let go with your front hand the instant you feel that you are on your way over and out. This will help ensure that you are projected into the area of water between the nose of the board and the rig. It takes quite a lot of situational awareness, in that horrible half second when you realise what's about to happen, to remember to do this. But if you can, it will almost certainly help reduce damage to both you and your kit.

So to reduce the severity of your catapults you have basically just got to stay sheeted in, even if the situation already seems lost. To absolutely guarantee against catapults you must have your feet firmly in their footstraps and keep them there. On bigger boards get into both straps before you build up to warp speed. If you have both feet locked in the footstraps, stay totally sheeted in, and still manage to go round the front – then you have just done a forward loop, which is also quite impressive.


Jez's Knob
Jez's Knobs are made from a hard but flexible plastic, and are available in a variety of attractive colours. They screw in place just in front of the deckplate and secure with the same type of bolt. The knobs work in part by deflecting the rig away from the nose, and in part by deforming upon impact – which absorbs some of the energy from the fall. They are recommended for use in conjunction with boom bras or "bash pads".
From an ergonomic perspective Jez's Knob performs well. It is quite small and sits neatly tucked up next to the deckplate, there are no nasty edges to catch your foot on, and it doesn't really get in the way during manoeuvres. It should be borne in mind, however, that the front 8.5cm of your mast track will become unusable with the Knob in place – which could be a problem for some boards.
In catapult simulation tests, the rig still made contact with the nose, though the severity of the impact was significantly reduced. Heavy catapulters will still need additional protection though. Excessive leverage seemed to be less of a problem with this design than with the Deviator - the flexible nature of the Knob appeared to be absorbing some of the stresses that the more rigid Deviator design was directing towards UJ and mast track.
Provided you don't need to position your deckplate at the front of your track the Jez's Knob is an unobtrusive piece of kit that effectively limits catapult damage, especially if used in conjunction with other forms of nose protection.
Price £25 approx


The Deviator and Deviator 2
The Deviator is a piece of hard moulded plastic with a roller to deflect the mast away from the nose. It is secured by a standard deckplate (not supplied), and a lug locates in the mast track to keep it correctly aligned. Once fitted it is practically a physical impossibility for the mast to hit the nose and as such offers excellent protection.
The front few centimetres of your mast track will become unusable with a Deviator installed and you also lose a significant amount of deck space during tacking or uphauling and manoeuvres. The Deviator does also sometimes get in the way when you are manoeuvring the board for waterstarts.
Unfortunately, the original Deviator, pictured, suffered from the aforementioned excessive leverage problems and can therefore be tough on UJs. This problem has hopefully been alleviated to some extent with the introduction of the Deviator 2, sporting a higher roller at an improved angle. In the words of Mr Deviator, "this is to facilitate contacting the mast base much sooner, thus deviating sooner, causing less overall stress and quicker function". Rubber UJs also seem to be more break resistant than tendon joints.
The Captain has also seen the leverage problem result in the deckplate being pulled clean out of some Deviator equipped boards – breaking the mast tracks in the process. For this reason heavyweight catapulters should use Deviators in conjunction with a double bolted deckplate. This spreads the force generated over a longer section of track, and, should eliminate this problem.
Despite these negatives, the Deviator should do a very good job of keeping your nose in good condition and for the enthusiastic catapulter could be a worthwhile purchase.
Although you may be able to find a few of the original Deviators for sale in the UK the Deviator 2 is only available direct from the USA. The price is $39.95 each plus US Mail postage.


Pre-fit Nose Bumpers
Increasingly, as the major brands realise their benefit, new boards (in the major risk 130L+ sizes) can be ordered with nose bumpers pre-fitted. In the Captain's experience these offer excellent damage protection with no significant performance or aesthetic drawbacks. As you would expect with purpose designed bits of kit – both shapes and materials are very well matched to the task. The Starboard bumpers, for example, employ 2 different densities of foam – a harder foam on the outside to distribute the blows over a wider area, and a lower density foam below to absorb the impact energy. Three sizes are available and they attach to the board with contact adhesive. For those in the market for a new big freeride, particularly those partial to the odd catapult, these pre-fit bumpers come very highly recommended.

DIY Nose Bumpers
For older boards or boards sold without the option of factory fitted bumpers, you could either try to retrofit a purpose built bumper, or make one yourself. The financial outlay of this second route is minimal and as DIY goes it really doesn't get much easier. The method outlined below doesn't quite reach the level of protection offered by the better factory fitted bumpers, but will definitely go a long way to help keeping your board ding free…

Follow these very easy steps to fit a pretty effective bumper to any board:
1. Repair any existing catapult damage (see previous article). Try to do a decent job structurally but don't worry too much about the graphics underneath where the bumper will go.

2. Go to your local sports shop or swimming pool and ask for a pool noodle / spaghetti float / swimming float tube thingy. Various colours are available so you should be able to find one that matches your board's graphics. The foam used in pool noodles is, as you would expect, closed cell. This means it won't soak up water when it gets wet - so it will stay nice and light.

3. Estimate the length of bumper you require by bending the noodle into position and cut the noodle to this length using a sharp knife or hacksaw. It is essential that the bumper be routed along the most exposed (highest) part of the rail if it is to offer enough protection to prevent damage.

4. Now cut the your section of noodle lengthways down the middle. Use a block half the height of the noodle to act as a guide whilst you cut to keep the cross section shape regular throughout the length of the noodle. This will look neater, provide a flat surface to glue, and avoid thin spots on the bumper.

5. You now have 2 bumpers – one of which will probably be slightly thicker than the other. Select one of these (probably the thicker one) and save the other for your next board. If you did a good job with the cutting then the cut surface should be nice and flat, ready to glue. (If your cutting was sub optimal then you may need to gently sand away the major crests. Remember though that the more foam you remove the less padding will remain.)

6. Depending upon your board, you might need to cut some wedge sections out of the bumper to help it bend around the nose. If the nose is at all pointed then you probably will need to do this. For more rounded noses you can get away with fewer wedges, or maybe none at all. The JP used in the pictures was a borderline case and the foam could just have been forced into place even without cutting.

If you do cut wedges then keep them symmetrical – start with one cut exactly in the middle of the bumper, and then add in pairs equidistant either side of this. The wedges should reach halfway across the foam and be about 3/4cm wide. The bumper in the picture had a central wedge and then two more pairs – the first pair 2.5cm from the centre, the second pair 6 cm from the centre.

7. Having persuaded the bumper into position get a helper to pencil the outline onto the board whilst you keep it there.


8. Now gently sand away the non-slip from the board deck within this outline. There is no need to go overboard here – just clean up the surface ready for the glue. Vacuum the dust away and wipe away any residues using a cloth dampened with acetone.

9. Now paint on contact adhesive to the surfaces so be stuck. Paint the glue quickly and quite generously. On the board, make sure you paint right up to the edges of the outline (if the bumper is going to come unstuck – it will come unstuck at the edges). On the noodle, paint within any wedges and apply generously over the whole surface to be stuck.

10. Now wait for the glue to dry – only once the adhesive has lost all its tackiness is it ready to be stuck. This is likely to be at least half an hour. Ideally leave board and bumper in a warm, dry and well ventilated position.

11. Several cups of tea later you are ready to stick bumper to board. If it is a cold or damp day then it is a good idea to just warm both surfaces with a hair dryer before sticking - this will help to improve adhesion. Once contact adhesive has made contact it won't easily separate, so you only get one chance when you stick. If your noodle has wedges then start by lining up the central wedge with the centre of the nose and then stick either side into position in turn – this keeps everything nice and symmetrical. If your noodle is wedge-less it is probably easier to just start one side and work your way around the nose.

12. Once stuck, go round the bumper with a hammer and block to stick it down really firmly.

13. As a final aesthetic touch maybe cut the ends of the bumper at a streamlined angle (this can also be useful to level up each side in case one has turned out slightly longer than the other). If there are any patches of glue left on the board scrub these off using acetone and a cloth. Job done. Whack a deflector in and you're as good as indestructible.