Monday, January 21, 2013

The Downwind Drop-out

I wasn't aiming for a spot under the first 10, for that I had too little experience and skill. My aim was just to finish. But it was not that simple...

The Langebaan Downwind Dash is an annual sailing event starting from Langebaan and ending after a 20 km slalom course in Saldanha. If my kite choice was correct and I didn't loose my board on the way...OR my way on the board, then finishing would be no problem. I was walking around the beach earlier in the day to see what size kites the guys were rigging up, but was still concerned that I might be over-powered on my 10 Cabrinha Switchblade. The wind prediction for late afternoon was quite strong and one never knows how strong the wind blows on the open sea. The option to take my 7 Nomad was scrapped when the event organizers announced that the race will start 30 minutes later than planned due to their "only problem for the day"....the lack of wind. 

When we lined up for the start I could already feel that even my 10 might not be able to get me smoothly to Saldanha. After I dropped my kite on the first leg of the course while trying everything in my power to get decent pull, I knew I was in for a tough race. Everyone was frantically throwing their kites up and down to get speed. After the first turn I eventually got momentum but still wondering if I should continue or terminate my attempt at the second turning point which is close to Mykonos Beach. 

The third leg was going quite well. I overtook a few wind surfers who obviously are more expensive on wind consumption than me. I realized that the next turning point was quite far so I decided not to look ahead, but to take it ripple by ripple just following the guy in front of me. At some point, just to make sure I was still heading in the right direction, I looked up and realised that someone must have switched off the fans ahead of me. Around the area where the iron ore jetty runs into the bay, kites were scattered all over the water surface. I realised that the wind must have dropped and it wasn't long after that when my kite also starting giving up instead of staying up. I slowly sunk back into the water and knew that all I need to do now was to keep my kite in the air and wait until the wind picks up again. I didn't want to sail into the "doldrums" and also end up with a kite on the water, so I decided to hang around where I was with the hope of getting wind again soon and watch when they start going again. I was about three and a half kilometres from shore. I knew that if did't get my kite in the air again I was going to drift downwind towards the iron ore jetty. My aim was to finish the race, not slowly collide with a protruding iron obstacle. All I could do was wait.

After a couple of minutes struggling to keep the kite up, my kite dropped to the sea surface like a red autumn leave. Unless the wind pick up considerably I knew I was NOT going to get it in the air again. With only my kite board for support and feeling that I cannot stay afloat any more I decided to reel myself in towards my kite so that I could at least hold on to my kite. This is the standard procedure for rescuing yourself in the event of a kite "failure" deep at sea. The next step is to start praying but I was not there yet. I wasn't too worried as the organisers promised at least 10 rescue boats and I was not the only one at that point with my kite in the water. From where I was floating I could see at least 10 more kites down. Only after a while my thoughts started wandering towards programs I have seen on National Geographic Wild and the shark cage diving I did a few months ago. The water was quite murky and I was sure that underneath me were spectators of a different kind checking out the Downwind Dash from a different angle and different reasons.

After spending about 30 minutes going nowhere other than closer to the jetty, a boat with a friendly couple came past and offered to help. At this time there were already 40+ kites in the water and no NSRI boats in sight. I got in, was offered a Heineken and started helping pulling out other drop-outs from the water. Funny though that they have all watched the same programs on National Geographic Wild and seemed to have had the same concerns I had.

In the end there were probably 90 or more kiters who did not make it to the finish line, including me of course, so I don't feel to ashamed for my "Downwind Drop-out". It was a big disappointment though, but I guess if your largest kite is a 10 and the wind stops blowing then it can be called "circumstances beyond my control". There were even size 14 kites that did not make it. All I can do now is wait for next year and try again. This time I am only entering if gale force winds are predicted.

Thanks to Mark And Alli who was so kind to rescue us. Mark is also a kite boarder who decided on the day to skip the race and do the boat thing because he had concerns about the lack of wind as well. In the end the boat ride back to shore was quite pleasurable as well. I might not have come back with a prize, but I do have a nice story to tell....

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