Wednesday, July 18, 2007

a 27 mile race at HIHO

This month the blog is sponsored by Caribbean Real Estate.

Friday July 6th was scheduled to be a major race day with the longest race course of the event so far. It sounded very windy and although most of the racers were up early at the skippers meeting, the numerous bottles of highland spring being consumed were a strange testament to how good the Pirate Party was the night before.
We quickly hustled over to Salt Island to get rigged and ready for the 27 mile long race down the Sir Francis Drake Channel towards the West End of Tortola. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make it using my one big sail and decided to borrow one of Ricardi’s smaller ones. I also knew that those long reaches across the channel would kill my knee so I changed my fin size too to make it easier. With the smaller gear I wouldn’t be as fast over short bursts but would be comfortable enough to keep up for this long distance type of race. After the start I could immediately see how much slower I would be especially in the lighter winds near Salt Island.
As we got out into the middle of the channel the winds picked up and my speed followed. Some of the guys ahead were getting tired and I started passing them. At the first gybe mark I rounded third behind Ricardi and Nat Ford. For the next 20 miles the three of us battled and battled exchanging positions countless times. Whenever the winds got lighter they both raced ahead of me but as they picked up I comfortably passed them. We were never that far from each other and it was pure excitement. With about eight miles to go the course changed in a way that it was a downwind shot to the finish. Each windsurfer had to make critical tactical decisions on what route to take in order to get there fastest. I knew that the currents, wind speeds and wind shifts were in my favour closer in and decided to make short runs gibing and gibing close to the coast. I would keep looking back to see where the gusts of wind would be and gybe accordingly to stay in the good winds. Ricardi decided to make one long run out into the channel and got a terrible wind shift which put him far behind Nat and I. Nat kept following me trying to cover me. I managed to out point him a few times as we neared the coast and started edging away as we got further down the coast. The finish at Little Thatch Island was in the lee of Sopers Hole harbour and the winds could be a bit light and gusty in there. I was pretty far ahead by the time I got there and still knew that in the light winds that I expected it would be easy for the two guys behind me to catch me up on their big powerful Open Class equipment. Of course as luck would have it I stopped still as soon as I got to Sopers Hole. IT should be called the Black Hole. I remember getting stuck in there when I was about 12 doing this regatta for the first time. Nat quickly caught me up and passed me with about 1000 feet to go before the finish. Disappointed and exhausted I watched as he approached the beach and finish flags and highland spring tent on the little beach ahead of me.
Man I was tired. I almost didn’t notice him fall just before the beach as a big gust threw him down, and quickly started pumping the sail to get me to the beach. I watched as he pulled his sail from the water and floundered as I hit the beach. With my bad knee numb I ran awkwardly to the finish flag getting there seconds before Nat did. I could hardly speak and after taking a bottle of water I collapsed onto a teak chez lounge under a tree. The island was so beautiful and I almost couldn’t appreciate it with the exhaustion that had taken over all my senses. This was one of the hardest races I can remember and I was spent. Ricardi came in shortly after and according to his GPS watch, we had done 27.3 nautical miles on this long downwind race taking 80 minutes. As we watched all the racers arrive over the next hour the fatigue didn’t seem to wear off. The picturesque setting did become clearer though. Lunch here to me equaled the one from the day before at Necker Island. Like Necker, Little Thatch is a private island and the owner allows the HIHO fleet to come there once a year for lunch. They make lovely custom pizzas in their brick oven and have a massive and varied gourmet salad as well. I never want to leave there, but I had a plan for the afternoon. Mykl and I were going to relax over on Sandy Spit and when we finally dragged ourselves away we were off to the next deserted Island.
A day chilling and playing at Sandy Spit was the rehab I needed after the tough 27 mile race. The rest of the gang sailed across to Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke on with the HIHO fleet as that night there was a massive dinner at Foxies. We arrived late in the evening and were invited by the Martinique boat for cocktails. They were so hospitable and friendly that we almost missed dinner. Foxies was as packed as usual, but this didn’t stop them from putting on an awesome dinner. The party afterwards with their own band was pretty good too. This photo was taken by Mykle and shows JEan-Marc, Ricardi and me at Foxies.
We left early to get some rest for the last day of racing around Sandy Cay. I now had 4 1st place finishes in the One Design class and one DNS (did not start) so I needed to race one last time in order to be able to drop my worst score..the DNS. “Pray for wind” is something that windsurfers and kitesurfers say all the time. I needed some for the next day.