Downwind Challenges for L2Z Windsurfers
Reflections from a training weekend on the Isle of Wight by Craig Rogers
On 5 January we will set off to cover 570 kilometres from Lamu to Zanzibar. This was an idea which was conceived nearly 12 years ago after several beers in Diani with professional kitesurfer, Kirsty Jones. It's only now that we start to think about what's required and the distances we will cover that we realise how difficult this task really is.
On the longest days we will cover as much as 100 km (but this could be more like 150kms as we explain below!)
A kitesurfer can go pretty much dead down-wind - it's hard work and it requires a different technique but as Jason has proved with two major downwinders (Australia-Papua New Guinea and Great Barrier Reef) it's possible. However on a wind surfer it is a different proposition entirely - a planing windsurfer is most comfortable sailing at 90 degrees to the wind, or on a close reach (heading upwind). However to achieve our goal we will have to sail as broad as possible to minimise extra mileage. We were always aware of this and had factored in an extra 30% in each route segment.
However a meeting with 13 times British Champion and technique guru, Guy Cribb, brought us crashing back to reality. Guy is a veteran of ocean-crossings and downwinders (including crossing the English Channel from Cherbourg to Poole with World Champ, Antoine Albeau).
Guy explained that sailing so far down wind would require not only different technique but also bigger sails / boards to compensate for the reduction in "apparent" wind as you bear-off. As we compared notes from his previous expeditions it became apparent that we would not only have to be extremely fit (to manage 6-7 hours sailing each day) but also to iron out any issues in our technique and to prepare our equipment extremely well.
The following weekend, we headed to the Isle of Wight to celebrate Stefano, Jason and Eugene's 40th birthday. Two other L2Z team members were there - Marc and Alex.
We were blessed with 35 knot winds on Saturday and 20 knots (and waves) on Sunday.
On Saturday everywhere was blown-out with storm force winds and high-tides making for very sketchy launch on all West-facing beaches. We used Google earth and a bit of trial-and-error to find a hidden spot down a secluded farm track on the north side of the island. With an easy launch into flat water and were able to test Guy's theories by sailing to the mainland and back in 20 minutes - a distance of about 12 kilometres. We were using 4.7 meter sails and 7 meter kites - far smaller than we expect to use for the Lamu trip. Conditions were a far cry from Kenya (with short chop and viscous squals) but it was good training nonetheless.
On Sunday (with fuzzy heads for the previous nights festivities) we sailed at Brook, on the West side of the island. We rigged in a grassy meadow before scrambling down the cliff with our gear, launching into a heavy, mud-coloured shore-break and enjoying a fun session in chest-high waves. Obligatory team photo for the blog before heading back to the farmhouse for a well earned lunch and an afternoon with our families.
Two days on the water gave us the chance to blow away the cobwebs, work together as a team, and tear out our equipment.
Next weekend is a Public Holiday here - fingers crossed for more wind!