Summer is the time for windsurfing adventures and taking off down the coast in the sunshine. Clyde Waite took this a step further recently, as he embarked on a raceboard adventure trip around the Isle of Wight; however, all did not go to plan. It’s time to learn from Clyde’s mistakes…
Rumour has it that the Isle of Wight is actually an alien space ship pre-dating the construction of the pyramids. Or so I have heard.
Nevertheless, living in Bournemouth it is a very prominent feature of our Horizon. The distinctive cliff formation that overlooks The Needles looking deceptively like polar bear. If the light is good, the island looks a stones throw away. If there is a sea mist, then it’s completely invisible. The needles themselves certainly have quite a luring deceitfulness about them. Only last year, on such a visible day, without letting anyone know I decided to windsurf to them from Hengistbury head on my 6.6 Simmer Vmax. After such an epic blast, at that point, I had already made my mind up that I would windsurf around the island. It was inevitable. Had I not had dependents and Liz, my very understanding wife, just thinking I had gone for the quick blast. I would have done in there and then.
(The full, witty, detailed jottings of our rounding written by Gregg Dunnett can be found on the windsurfbritain windsurfing blog, www.windsurfbritain.blogspot.com )
Cue one year forward, the most epic winter of southcoast wavesailing, a new arrival and then a lack of wind. Once again the “need a challenge” that us windsurfers know so well was starting to ignite inside of me. After 3 years or parenthood it was burning deep and quickly. The first thing I wanted to do this year was re-acquaint myself with wavesailing competitions. The last time I had competed in Rhosneigr was 5 years ago. So, I went… and It went well. Prior to this there had been some musings between one time Boards writing and testing gimp ‘Gregg Dunnett’ and his brother, multi windsurfing champion of various disciplines ‘Jono Dunnett’ about circumnavigating the Isle of Wight. They mentioned it too me with no doubt that I would be keen. But I was already committed. Jono, had been banging on for years, in fact since ’93, about windsurfing around the UK. He had already set the record for windsurfing round Menorca. Maybe this would appease him.
Looking ahead there was really only a few weekends in June that all of us could make. Gregg had the imminent arrival of his son ‘Rafa’ due for May. We were hoping this would very much be on time. If too late then our chosen weekends of suitable tides for the rounding in June might not work. If we had to be completely weather dependent and change the date, then it might never have happened.
The kit choice then was obvious. Good old fashioned raceboards. Myself and Jono have very fond memories of the raceboard class. Both having raced every weekend in our teens with some good successes. Being so versatile and non-wind dependent it was the obvious choice. Plus nothing really beats them upwind, especially in the gusty, unpredictable winds, tides, shipping lanes and currents that the Solent would provide use with.
With all the move to trying to get lightwind windsurfing cool again, by putting sails on paddle boards and that sort of thing. It seems to have been forgotten how ridiculously efficient a raceboard and a big sail is. They glide, rail, plane easily and get pretty much anywhere you want to go quite quickly. It was the obvious choice.
One Fifty is the Max
We decided it didn’t matter how we got our equipment, but in true Top Gear style, we had our challenge, now we just had our budget. One hundred and fifty earth pounds.
Gregg in predictable style went all in and just bought any old stuff on ebay, not really knowing much about effective raceboard kit and not really thinking it would make much difference. Impressively he managed to get 3 boards and his sail within budget. We had to let him have a little bit more when he broke his mast in the Southbourne shorebreak in a Force 2. Fortunately for Gregg he listened to myself and Jono and bought a cheap UltraCat (Mega Cat shape – those who remember 90’s raceboarding will know that the Fanatic MegaCat was pretty much unbeatable in a force 3 – 4. upwind it was incredible). God knows how far behind he would have been otherwise!
Jono, on the other hand had stipulated many bidding rules on ebay then ended up breaking them all and purchasing a 9.5. Being so out of touch with raceboarding, myself and Gregg and no idea that you could use a 9.5 comfortably on a raceboard, so this was vetoed. Plus Gregg in his infinite non-wisdom, had gone for a non cammed Tushingham T-bird 7.5. Because of this Jono had to resort to a Gaastra GTX which he found underneath an original IMCO in the back of his Dad’s garage which was stuck together with ‘gaffa’ tape. He also had bought a good condition IMCO on ebay, however because of the extra windage it would cause on his roof rack he borrowed Gregg’s spare one.
I on the other hand had a plan. There was a Mistral Equipe II in mint condition stored in my parents barn in France. I just had to get it back. I would have preferred to get a Fanatic Mega cat as I never thought much of the Equipe. It’s a nice easy cruiser, but I never found it competitive. Still, it was free. For sails, and a just one mention of the challenge to my long time sponser, Farrell O’shea, and he was more than willing to send me a sail and mast. In this case it was the Simmer 2XC 7.8, which turned out to be perfect because it worked well set with depth and a tight leach, as well as in it’s more high power settings. Unrolling my shiney kit in front of Gregg’s rotational thing and Jono’s roll of gaffa tape held together by monofilm. I could tell they were very jealous.
Fitness and Practise.
I had planned to do plenty. But time just ran out. The main worry was cramp from being on one tack for so long. However Jono had bought a pack of special fluid things so I thought I would be ok.
Safety and Hydration.
This is not advisable for anyone planning to do the same. But we elected not to have a support boat. The burning challenge and logistical problems were too much. My brother in law said if we got in trouble that we should just phone him and he will find us like a shot in his Sea Ray 230, 5 litre V8 fast boat with straight through exhaust ( I have been informed many times). Turns out he was drunk at the christening I was meant to have been at and has just sold the aforementioned boat (with straight through exhaust). We also had flares, (Jono still has some, I have moved on whilst not ultra skinny, they are of the more fashionable slim fit variety) a VHF, aquapack, gel food, a bunch of bananas, some snickers, mobile phones (incredibly, I was able to facebook update all the way round), a screwdriver, some cable ties, suncream, sunglasses, a hat, spare UJ and a piece of rope. We were easily prepared…
It’s all go
The forecast looked OK, it had a bit more west in than we would have liked. But usually on a hot June Sou ‘ Westerly predicted to be 15mph you would expect a sea breeze. We arrived at Avon beach and it was calm, a little SUP wave perhaps, but that was it. Since we were all there and annoyed our families enough by dropping out of various commitments we thought we should at least sail out to the needles and make our decision there. Perhaps, unfortunately, the wind turned out to be good to start, we were cruising nicely on a beam reach on the rail. We would get round in no time in this or so we thought…
The full detail of the rounding, the conditions and our emotions can be found on www.windsurfbritain.blogspot.com
Despite saying that I would not do it unless we were planing most of the time (which we weren’t), and not making quite back to where we started. It was an epic, most memorable 9 hours of windsurfing. The sometimes challenging conditions, scenery and physical demands felt amazing. Having a break out to sea off Niton, a complete contrast to when I have previously windsurfed there in big chunky monsters on small wave kit was surreal. Forming a 3 sailed raft to carry us with current and catch what little wind there was when we realised the state of our predicament half a mile of Ventor was ingenious. The ham and cheese sandwiches that Gregg then, randomly produced was miraculous. Crossing downwind across a bay a mile out past shanklin, in perfect sunshine amongst some huge racing yachts was breathtaking. Finally making Bembridge a relief. Crossing the shipping channels in dying wind made me nervous and the eventual stark realisation that the ever decreasing wind and fading light meant that we would not return to Avon a disappointment. We managed to land at Lee on Solent, eat some fish and chips as the sun set and hoped that Matt Wigham’s wine wasn’t over the limit, that he could find a roofrack, and most importantly would be able to pick us up.
Now we know what is in store and how to do it we are definitely going to do it again. No question. This time we know that we need a 9.5 sail and between 11 and 20 knots of wind. In that we would be planing/railing all the way. We think we could do it in no time 3 – 4 hours, that is the plan. It would be nice to get a record, however unless we average 30 knots, it is unlikely. We felt that everything else went well. Clothing wise, I used a simmer 3/2 summer suit, but had it rolled down with a rashie on. This was perfect. Also a cap and sunnies were a must because 9 hours of sun reflecting off the sea and sail is a lot of radiation to be exposed too. With a back pack be careful that is comfortable and doesn’t cut circulation from the arms too much (as mine did after a couple of hours).
Oh, and one thing, don’t forget an uphaul rope like I did. Uphauling an 8.0metre just using the mast is not as easy as a 5.0 metre sail, especially when being dragged towards the Needles by a relentless current. Luckily we had a couple of bits of rope which I fashioned one out of.
You can follow the exploits, tribulations and windsurfing adventures of the windsurfbritain ‘team’ on twitter, facebook and www.windsurfbritain.blogspot.com hashtag something or the other.