Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tropical Storm Hana

Here is the complete text of the story I wrote for the Oct/Nov 2008 issue of the New England Windsurfing Journal. You can get a copy at your locale shop, or you can subscribe! A two year subscription is a measly $20! Support those who support the stoke!

Logo High

Humbled By Hana

The windless streak stood at 4 weeks, and then Hanna paid us a visit. It was the perfect setup; tropical circulation, yet not quite a cat one. Wind addicts up and down the East coast no doubt found it hard to sleep Thursday Sept. 4th. I drove to Hatteras from Maryland Thursday night after work, pulling over at a rest area to catch for a few hours of sleep along the way.

I must admit I was excited, and nervous, at the same time. I have this mental image of a Storm whipped Hatteras, The Graveyard of the Atlantic, Diamond Shoals coyly waiting to ensnare the careless. Images of Bill Bell going sub-orbital during Gabrielle, or Stuart Proctor and Andy McKinney on mast-high bombers, a current strong enough to sweep away the careless, and no safe zone from which to catch your breath. Its all on, 110%, with no margin for error. I tried to assuage my concern by telling myself, “I’ve sailed huge winter surf in Hawaii, I can do this”.

The venue for Friday Sept 5th was The Cove. For me, this was a very intimidating venue, what with the waves crashing on the shoals for as far as you can see. I’d read so much about The Cove, and about the recent access issues. I remember reading Dana’s story on his sesh during Isabelle, Bill Bells session during Gabrielle, and more recently Keith McCulloch’s during Cristobal. So many epic sessions that the venue has almost achieved a mythical quality.
Keith McCulloch

Charles Lategano

Every sailor in Hatteras was there; the absolute best Kiters and Windsurfers on the east coast. I was in awe of the riders, and of the conditions.

Bill Bell looks on as Keith McCulloch catches a nice one

Sail sizes ranged from 4.5 to 5.5. The buoy on Diamond Shoals later would show the waves to be 10-12 feet, and while experienced Hatteras riders may not have considered the conditions all that big, I’m not ashamed to say that I was quite intimidated. I struggled, and never made it out past the big ones. I was denied each and every time. That’s not to say I didn’t try. I found the wind frustratingly light right where you needed there to be some power: thru the heaviest part of the impact zone. On top of that, the current coming round the point was like a conveyor belt ready to take your sorry ass down to Frisco. I’d did ok milking my way first few sets of white water. But as I approached the bigger stuff, I did everything wrong. I stared right at that last big one as it crumbled. You’re not supposed to look at the breaking sections, but should cast your gaze around to the shoulders where safety and a path beyond awaits. Not me this day, I was wide eyed, and my mouth was probably open, aghast. Of course your body follows the head, and I went right into the sections I shouldn’t have. I think you know what the results where.
Lounge on the inside with not much wind and a strong current current

It’s such an acquired skill, one that only comes from lots of time on the water in similar conditions, and growing your confidence. Its not that I wasn’t a good enough sailor this day. After all, I’ve sailed big surf in Hawaii. But Hawaii has nothing on the east coast in terms of getting out clean. There is no current in Hawaii, and usually plenty of juice right off the beach. Also, I’ve seen shore break at the Canadian Hole tougher than the shore break you’ll most likely see in Hawaii. I never had trouble getting out in Maui. But Hatteras has a way of humbling you. It did me.

In hindsight, I think I had psyched myself out the night before on the drive down with those intense images floating around in my mind. I regret not being able to get out, and wasting the epic conditions, but its all good, gotta pay those dues and slowly raise the personal bar. I’ll hit it hard next time. So I tried to remain upbeat and positive. This was after all a multi-day weather event, and there would be more fun and games the next day.

By 11am on Saturday, the rain had moved off and away, leaving brilliant sunshine, and winds hovering around 40 knots, with some gusts hitting 50! Early on, the ocean was a closed out maelstrom, so most everyone sailed The Canadian Hole. Mid three meter sail sizes were the call, and the conditions where very “gorge” like. Donny Bowers was a stand out this day. He was tossing huge forwards on the inside.
Donny Bowers

Keith McCulloch was also exceptional, getting huge floaty airs.

It was pretty intense. For me, it was one of those days where I considered it a victory just to sail away from my gybes.

As the day grew on, I began to get somewhat comfortable with the conditions. Funny, I found tacking easier in the 3.5 conditions. So to some degree, I was able to get my mojo back, albeit in the baby pool.

As low tide approached around 4pm, the ocean began to clean up nicely, so a bunch of us decided to drive down to Old Lifeguard Beach and check out the surf. Bill Bell was first to drive out onto the beach, and the called with the report: 5.0 conditions, minimal shore break, and the waves had some pretty good size.
Bill Bell

They were however often walling up and dumping with increasing frequency, so it turned out to be a challenge getting out. Keith McCulloch gave me some invaluable advice. With the side off conditions and the strong current, you really need to resist the natural tendency to stand on the fin and burn off the beach at the natural upwind angle. Because what happens is, you hit that current, and if you continue to try to make it out at an upwind angle, the current kills the apparent wind, and you bog down, like in quicksand. You’re a sitting duck to get mowed. You absolutely have to keep one foot up by the mast base, and push that board off the wind and go with the current, at a down wind angle relative to the side off conditions. Its easier said than done because the side off wind sort of wants to pitch you over the nose when you bear off like that. It did me, twice. But on the third try I finally made it out over the final set wave.

Once on the outside, you can stand on that fin again, and burn your way back up wind, and make up for the lost real estate you had to sacrifice just to make it out. Thanks for the tip Keith.

Once on the outside, I was pretty amazed at how much water was moving out there. In the troughs, you not only couldn’t see the beach, you couldn’t even see the horizon! This is such an amazing sport. The learning curve never really ends. There are so many new moves to try, different venues, etc, that I’ll never tire of it.