Windsurfer Down

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The wind was up over 20 knots and I had completed school with the girls and the day’s maintenance.  There was a current where we were anchored, but it was a wide open cove just on the North/South Carolina line.  I thought it was time to break out my old windsurfing equipment.  The last time I went windsurfing was over 10 years ago, and the time before that was another 10 years, but I’ve been dragging my windsurfing equipment around since I was on my boat trip with my family in 92-93.  Now was going to be the day that I broke it back out again. 

Thus my equipment is not new.  I have an old fiberglass board from the late 80s, and I’ve picked up some equipment over time, but none of it is less then 15 years old.  It didn’t matter. Today was the day.  First I played out most of the equipment with doubt as to how everything went together, but I figured that I’d remember as I saw it.  The board was easy, it just needs a skeg and a universal joint for the mast.  II thought it was best to ready the board and then tie it off to the boat and get the sail rig ready afterword.  My plan was to get the board in the water tied off, set the sail, and then throw it into the water and mate the two together in the water.

The first part of the plan worked great, I got the board in the water and tied it off with a waterski rope.  The second part of the plan worked OK.  It took a little while to figure out how to set the rig’s sail tension.  The boom was way to big for the sail, it must fit on the other sail, but it’s the only one I have.  The mast base I set to 20cm, it should probably be set to 26, but I wasn’t going to rerig for 6cm.  It’ll work fine.  The third part of the plan failed miserably. 

I brought the sail all rigged up to the end of the boat and jumped into the water with it.  As I remembered the sail floated however, the current had picked up.  I had the sail in one hand and the board in the other with the board tied to the boat.  The sail was being pulled by the current and as I tried to attach it to the board I missed.  The current was a little stronger then I anticipated.  I still didn’t see it as a problem.  I tried to attach the sail again and missed, two more attempts and missed.  I just needed to get a different position where I was on the other side.  I swam under the board and left the rig on top, I only had to let go of it for a second.  That second was all it took.  The rig started to drift away.  With one arm holding the nose of the board and the other holding the sail I was stretched to my limit and my grip on the smooth board wasn’t enough, it slowly slipped through my hands like Stallone in Cliffhanger. 

I was drifting away with the rig in my hand frantically trying to swim it back to the board that was tied to the boat.  Despite being a good swimmer trying to swim with a sail against the current was a fools errand.  I started to yell for Kelly so that she could at least send me the board.  Through mouthfuls of water Kelly was able to hear me and untied the board so that it would start to drift my direction.  Kicking and swimming as hard as I could I was able to catch up to the board.  I got on top and finally connected the sail.  By then I had drifted 100 yds from the boat.  An easy distance to make up if I could windsurf, which I was about to find out I couldn’t. 

The board that I use is a sinking board, that means that it isn’t buoyant enough to float while I’m on it.  It was a floating board when I first got it, but I’m now 100 lbs heavier, and it’s a sinking board now.  That means the only way to get up is with a water start, maneuvering just right where the wind pulls you up onto the board and moves you forward at the same time.  It was a disaster. I used to water start in the lightest of breezes, that was when I was 120 lbs.  Now water starting takes a gale force wind and technique that I didn’t have.  However I had no choice but to find out.  By this time I was out of earshot of Kelly and on my own.  Attempts to water start taught me how to burry the nose, flip the board, have the sail drag me onto it, and push me under water.  Each time I attempted there was a failure and the damn waterski line that had tied the board to the boat was now tied to the just the board and that floating line was tangling everything, several times trying to kill me by wrapping around my neck.

I’m exhausted, the boat is a dwindling model of itself, and I’ve got to get back.  So far in the last 30 or so water starts I’ve learned a lot of what not to do.  I need to be able to get the sail out of the water by resting the wishbone on the back of the board.  At the right angle to the wind and having the board at the right angle to my feet I finally let the wind take up the sail and I try to hold on.  The board pushes up into the wind and I fall back into the water.  I have to get the board to head down wind while the sail pulls me out of the water.  I can use my legs to pull the board around, but my arms are jelly, I’ll have to let the wind to the work.  Again, I set the rig to the wind, maneuver the board under me, and let the wind pull me up. The board starts to head to wind, but I pull it back under me. It’s heading down wind it’s going to work!. I’m up and sailing but the damn waterski line is wrapped around my waist and the drag is giving my belly rope burn.  But that doesn’t matter, the hard part is done. I’m windsurfing. The board is on a plane. This is it. This is what I remember. I’m flying, skipping over the waves. It’s glorious…four about 35 second. The gust of wind dies and I fall back into the water. 

Cursing I untangle myself from the waterski line and flake it out behind me.  I figured that windsurfing wouldn’t come back immediately, but thought it would be faster then this.  My goal for today’s windsurfing lesson was to complete a jibe.  I think that is now a bridge too far.  I just have to get back to the boat. The wind is holding in my favor, but my skill isn’t.  I grab the wishbone again, new resolve from my recent success.  The wind pulls me up, it’s going well, but the board starts to go sideways.  I try to pull it back, but it refuses to settle, then the leeward side catches the water and the board goes up on a knife edge and stops like I through out an anchor.  The sail is pulled vertical and over to the leeward, holding onto the wishbone I’m catapulted on top of the sail.  What the heck was that about.  I swim the rig back around and try again.  This time it works better, I get up and find that the damn waterski line is wrapped around the top of the mast and pulling the tip down.  Despite the waterski line’s best effort I’m up and sailing fast back to the boat.  When I get back to the boat I’ll be able to drop off that devil line and be much better.  I attempt to make a turn back to the boat and for my efforts the top of the sail is sucked down and the sail slams me into the water. 

It’s OK. I’m only one more water start from the boat.  I carefully set up the windsurfer in the right direction and flake out the devil line so that it can’t hurt me.  The wind picks me up and I start flying to the boat.  I know there is still a current so I head past the boat, collapse, and let the current take me there.  I gleefully untie the waterski line that has been trying to kill me and put the rest of the windsurfing equipment away.  Tomorrow’s supposed to have wind again.  I’ve got this.

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It’s another windsurfing day, the wind is still blowing at 20+ knots.  My arms are sore, but they’ll work and my water starts have gotten much better.  Today is the day, I’ll be able to complete a jibe.  I can feel it.  Rigging up the sail and getting the equipment ready goes much better know that I have some sense of what to do.  This time I’ll untie the board from the boat and leave the waterski line behind.  I get the rig together and my first attempt at a water start is successful.  My first attempt at a jibe isn’t, but by the third attempt I complete one.  The feeling is euphoric and my jibe success rate climbs to about 1in 5.  I sail over to a cove and find that it’s only about 2 feet deep and the bottom is some kind of black mud that sticks to my feet.  I get out of there and head for the beach. 

As I try to jibe I lose too much speed and the back to the board sinks and I fall.  Just as the sail hits the water I hear a ‘boing’ noise.  That’s new.  I look and see that the wishbone has released the sail.  No problem. I’ll tie it back up.  As I get to the end of the wishbone I see a problem. The jam cleat is broken.  Now that’s a problem.  I can’t tighten the sail without it.  The sail doesn’t have the shape to get me up with a water start.  I try a sailing technique where I just drag my body in the water, but that attempt fails and I am too far from the boat and the current starts taking me away again.  I look at the sail in disgust and also notice that the clear plastic that is on one side of the cloth sail is broken and peeled off.  This is not good. 

Finally I give up the idea of sailing back and paddle the rig to shore.  Maybe I can make some kind of repair.  I use a stick from some drift wood to give me enough leverage to be able to tie the sail with about 60% of the tension it needs, but it should be enough.  That’s when I notice that the wind has calmed considerably.  It’s OK, the boat is down wind all I have to do is complete a beach start then not fall off while I sail to the boat. 

A beach start should be a fairly easy thing now that I’ve mastered the water start.  All I have to do is stand in about knee deep water, have the wind fill the sail, and step onto the board.  Easy peasy I used to do it all the time when I was a kid.  I wade the board out into the water and wait for a puff of wind.  The sail fills and pulls on my arms, this is it.  I step onto the board and immediately dig the skeg into the sand which stops all forward movement from the board.  However, the sail and I continue moving at a good clip.  The sail goes over and I immediately smash my head into the mast in a contorted heap.  That was a failure. 

By now there isn’t enough wind to pull me up with a water start, so I beach start in deeper water with some success.  I balance on the board in the weak breeze and start heading to the boat.  I get about 50 ft up the beach and lose my balance and fall off.  I have to swim the rig back to the beach.  With the current pushing me away from the boat I get back to the beach and my progress is a net -50 ft.  I’m now further away then when I started.  Two more attempts result in the same conclusion and now I’m 150 ft further from the boat. 

I succumb to the realization that I’m not going to be able to sail back to the boat.  I’ll have to walk the rig up passed the boat and then swim/sail/drift to the boat.  I look up stream and the beach I’m on is separated from the beach that I need to be on by a section of water grass about 50 yards long.  I start the walk of disappointment against the current back up to the boat in failure.  My glumness quickly changes to pain when I step on an oyster cluster.  I realize this section of seagrass is covered in oyster clusters.  My feet are tough by cubicle standards, but no match for oyster shells.  I walk as gingerly as possible agains the current on the oyster clusters, but they are cutting into my feet. 

About halfway through the oyster shell walk of pain I see Kelly on deck.  I yell to her and tell her to get the dinghy and rescue me.  She comprehends and gets into the dinghy.  I see her start the engine and immediately turn it off.  I then see her start to pull up the engine and fiddle with it.  If Kelly is fiddling with an engine there is very little chance of success, so I have to forge on through the oysters.  I feel another one cut the outside of the pinky toe.  It hurts, but it has to be done. 

I finish walking up current of the boat, the whole time Kelly is in the dinghy monkeying with the engine.  I sail a beam reach infant of the boat and drop into the water to let the current take me to the boat.  I get to the boat exhausted and bleeding, but I’ve arrived.  Kelly is still cursing in the dinghy.  I bring the windsurfing equipment onboard and go see Kelly.  The waterski line that tried to kill me yesterday was at it again and wrapped itself around the dinghy prop.  Kelly had already started to cut it and we finished it off.  To end the day as I was derigging the sail the mast jam cleat pulled out of the housing and fell into the water.  It looks like I’ll need parts before I windsurf again.

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