About 2 months ago a friend from work asked if I would be interested in going to Cape Hatteras to do some windsurfing. I told him I only had about 1 year of brief experience (maybe 5 to 10 times out) on my brothers borrowed longboard ( an Alpha 2000AF I think with a 10 year old 6.3m sail). I rode in a maximum of 12 knot winds on a lake near Montreal. I could uphaul and get back to my starting point.....but that was about it (pretty boring stuff). He said he bought a new board (a Ride 277) last fall and was looking to sell his 6 year old shortboard ( a semi-custom epoxy Wave System 110L x 285 size board made in France). I'm 150 lbs so the board allows me to uphaul, but is pretty wobbly! It's very similar to the first Mistral Screamer I've been told. Most of the volume is in the middle of the board and the tail is pretty narrow....not the greatest board to learn on. The board is puke green with a grafitti style paint job. It has the words "HOP", "CRASH" and "WHIZZ" painted on it (seriously). It's real ugly! Those crazy French!
He threw in 3 sails, a fin and a mast. The sails are a small Gastra 5.2m, a Bic Fun Slalom 5.7m and a Neil Pryde 6.3m. The only half decent sail was the Bic. The others were pretty old and didn't have much mylar. He sold me the whole lot for $300 Canadian. I found another guy at work to sell me an old boom, mast base and harness....and I figure I was all set for Hatteras. I posted an e-mail on this newsgroup and asked if I stood any chance of learning on the setup. The answers ranged from "Not a chance...you'll have the worst vacation of your life!" to "you can learn but it will be slow". I figure the worst that could happen is I'd end sitting on the beach....which is still not a bad vacation....so I booked the trip. I'm 35 years old and have been sailing a Laser sailboat a few times a year for about 20 years....so I know a bit about the wind. I have also been waterskking since I was 7 years old. I'm an expert slalom skier and even barefoot.....in other words...I can keep my balance on the water. I figure these experiences helped my rate of learning windsurfing. I prepared by buying a few windsurfing magazines and reading some back issues on basic shortboard technique. I then bought a video tape called "Shortboard technique 1"...by Hood windsurfing I think. I watched the tape about 10 times and really got the waterstarts and jibes down in my brain (lots of visualization helps!) I was also warned that I would be "sailing for 6 hours a day for 7 days…so I better be prepared". I took this advice and built a chinup bar in my basement with the same diameter and feel as my boom. I also went to the gym and made a routine that involved lots of back, forearm and bicep exercise . I used to teach "sport specific" weight training so this helped me set up a good program. This turned out to be the smartest thing I did because the weather ended up beating up on even the advanced sailors who hadn't sailed since last summer. Enough background!
Drove for 18 hours straight all night long from Montreal to Avon in Hatteras. We left at 5PM and got to Hatteras around 10AM the next morning. It's definitely a bad time to learn seeing that I'd been up for hours, but my buddy in the car was STOKED and was not going to take NO for an answer....so what the hell. The worst part is, I didn't know how to rig a shortboard. He was rigging his own gear and shouting out," Yeah....pull down on that line...now outhaul that line..." I got it together but I learned later that it was not tuned well at all for the conditions.
The wind was blowing 12 knots and I had my 5.7 m Bic sail. I managed to do my first beach start after about 5 tries and sailed for about 500 feet before plopping in. And what do you know? I ditched in the only section of Hatteras where you need to waterstart! I spent about 20 minutes trying to waterstart like in the video with no luck. The wind was too light, my technique sucked, my sail was rigged poorly and I should have had a 7.0m sail. But I didn't know this at the time. I fall in the water a couple more times but in shallower water. I try another beach start but it seems like the ground is moving! Am I drunk? No, it seems I'm standing on the backs of a couple of "sting-ray like" fish ( I think they call them skate fish?) Gross feeling I tell ya. After uphauling a falling in for most of the day, I drowned my sorrows in the hottub with a few beers.
Still 12 knots wind. I rigged up my 5.7m early and tried again. (The picture below shows me on my old board with my 5.7m sail but it was taken a few months after my Hatteras trip in Montreal).
I got a lot more help on the rigging this time. I was told the benefits of downhauling and how to setup the right amount of tension in the leach. Damn, I thought my mast was gonna snap! This time the sail performed much better. I got the beach starts working well but had a hard time keeping the nose of the board going in the right direction while it got going. I learned to put a lot of pressure on my mast foot to force the nose around. Still, I didn't have enough sail to do the proper job so I went to do some sail shopping (damn this is getting expensive!) I walked over the Sailworld in Avon and the owner showed me this really nice 2nd hand Hot Maui Sails AWOL 6.9m with 2 cams. It was about 3 years old but in PERFECT shape. The sail was still wet from when the guy brought it in. I picked it up for $135US. A steal I figured since most sails start at around $250 2nd hand in Canada. Once again, I had lots of help rigging up my new pride and joy! This one required lots of downhaul but rigged up like a thing of beauty on my mast and boom. I was out sailing again and suddenly I was in the zone! I lowered my boom a little and I was planing for the first time....ooooooh baby. The wind picked up a bit and I was loving it! This is what it 's all about! I wasn't in the harness or straps and didn't stand a chance at tacking but I zipped back and forth and laughed like a fool!
The winds picked up to 20 knots. I was out on my 6.9 again....but this time I was a missile!!! Even though the wind was only 20 knots, I had never planed before so it was all new to me an felt very fast, but a lot like waterskiing in rough sea. I saw a few people with helmets on and laughed! "What's all that about?" Their mom's make them wear that or what? But I learned quickly what it was all about! I started sailing downwind and turned more downwind to get some more speed. The speed came on strong and quickly and before I knew it I was zipping way too fast and then "WHACKKK". Over the front of the baord goes the mast and sail and I get catapulted with it! "Well, I can solve that no problem", I figured. "I'll just use the funny little boom ropes and hold back the sail"....wrong! The next launch sent me over the end of the board and the nice little ropes yanked me back into my rig.....ahhhhh, that's what helmets are for! Back to the store to get some better harness lines, a boom protector and mast protector. My board was now safe from impact but I figured the helmets were too expensive at $60 (stupid in hindsight). Back on the water. Zip, Splash, Zip, Splash, Zip....I figured I was too overpowered and would have an easier time with my 5.7m sail. This was a very bruising day but I learned a lot about water starting and the dreaded "over the front" manoeuver.
All hell breaks loose!!!! The winds start at 25 knots. Go to 30 Knots by midday and 35 knots in late afternoon...INSANE!!! All I had in that size was my old Gastra 5.2m wave sail, but it had a very small window. This I figured was a recipe for disaster. The last thing I wanted to do was to sail head on into another windsurfer at a 60mph closing speed just because my stupid old sail has a 1 foot square window. I'm back to the store a noon to buy another 2nd hand Hot Maui Sail AWOL this time I found a 5.0 for $125US. I liked the first one so much and figured, what the hell, I'm on vacation. By the time I got back to the water, most people had their 4.5m sails rigged and even some 4.0m ..damn! Overpowered again. I sail for about 2 hours. I'm in the harness and got my front foot in the strap. The back one won't go in because I have some bigass booties on. When I am able to the back foot in I notice I got a nice stable position where I have a chance at holding the sail and not being rocketed. I just focus on staying upwind. When I do get going downwind. I would manage to separate myself from my rig and explode. Scary but lots of fun. Unfortunatlely, also an easy way to smash your board. I found a girl at the beach house that had a 4.5 rig so I borrowed it. YEAH!!! That was the ticket! Just the right sail! I felt very confident with the easier to handle sail so I tried my first high speed carve jibe. Not even close. I felt very wobbly while carving. I got a bit cocky and went over the nose again....and my luck finally ran out. The mast came down hard on the nose of my board. I then noticed she didn't have a soft boom clamp protector like I bought. The nose of my board had a big hole and was split down the length as well. Time to learn the art of epoxy repair! Of course I filled the holes with an epoxy ding stick and continued sailing. I couldn't let this minor mishap destroy a great day of sailing!
I get back and start washing off my gear. I leave my rig for half a second the grab the hose and it takes off! It lands .....RIPPPPPPPPP...on a big dumb weed fin of another board. AHHHHHH!!!! My one day old sail!!! Man, these sails are like little kids, you leave them unattended for 1 second and they end up empaling themselves or something. Well, an important and cheap lesson. I spent the night putting on a good coat of epoxy and fibreglass for the next day.
My hands are killing me!!!! Like a couple of pieces of raw hamburger meat at the end of two sunburnt sticks. I look around Avon for a good sail repair and find a nice lady at the Avon Sailhouse (Margaret). I plead with her to repair my new 5.0 sail cuz it's the only sail I got and the wind is 30 knots...please...oh please! It's ready by noon with a perfectly replaced panel for $40. While getting ready to pay, I spy a can of this cow nipple anti-chaffing goop called "Bag Balm". "What the hell's that?" I ask. Great for hands she says. YES!!! There is a God! This stuff works GREAT! I'm out on the water again and laughing like an idiot. I try some more experimenting with sail position. I rake the sail back and get an extra burst of speed. I lowered the boom a little more and shortened my harness line down to 24 in. I play "follow the leader" with a bud from the cottage. I'm in the straps and harness and going full out to try and pass him when suddenly my board's back end starts breaking loose. "SHITTTT!!!" I yell! "I broke the fin off my board!". My friend jibes back around to see what's wrong and laughs "congratulations...your first spin-out". Cooool. It happens a couple more time but I learn how to stop it by sheeting out slightly and decreasing my back foot pressure. I try another few jibes following his example. He says, " What are you doing?" Don't try and jibe! It took me 5 years to learn that!" I told him, "Before the weeks over, I'm going to pull one off!" He laughs.
Sweet, merciful lull! Finally a day of healing. Who would have figured we'd be praying for a day off. More nose epoxying and sanding. Lot's of picture taking. A bit of fishing.
Back up to 20 knots! Perfect conditions. I rig my 5.0m just right and am only slightly underpowered. A perfect day to practice my jibes! Damn, I'm going to do it! First few times I go in too soft and stall the board before it carves all the way around. The next few times I go in hotter, I got the pressure on the inside rail inconsistant through the turn and it carves a funny rad and I lose my balance. After a few more tries I got the carving down but the sail seems to fall away from me at the end of the turn. Next few tries I concentrate on bending the knees, I sheet in tighter when I start the turn by sliding my hand back 6 inches. I leaned the sail to the inside of the turn and when the sail came around, it was all loose. I just pumped it around all nice and easy. I switched my feet over and held my breath. I kept thinking, "how far do I have to continue sailing out this jibe before I can fall and say I did it?" But I didn't fall. I was on a tack upwind and back in the harness. I DID IT!!! I quickly scan the area for witnesses "Please let there be witnesses!" I felt like I had just sunk a "hole in one" but my buddies weren't there to see it. BUMMER. But what really matters is I know I did it. I missed the next 5 jibes, but at least now I know it's just a matter of practice to be consistant (now that's the real hard part seeing that 90% of the people I saw windsurfing seem to miss their jibes). I had my friend show me how to jump the board. I made a few fin clearing candy-ass jumps but I really need to work at that more. Maybe with a smaller board next Spring.
We head home. I don't have much skin left on my hands. My lower back is
hyper-extended from the face plants and hurts for a week. I think I damaged my
eardrum from whacking the water. I lost some feeling in my palms due to pinched
nerves. I got cuts and bruises everywhere and sunburn on my forearms stopping at
my wetsuit (my wife calls it a farmers tan). All in all, a fantastic vacation!