Where do I start? What a day. What a session.
John and I rocked up at the Ledge Point car park area about 10am to register. Already there were cars everywhere, even though the race didn't start until 2pm. The music was pumping and the wind was in - although it was a little onshore and light. We got registered and received out 'showbags' with t-shirt, sunscreen, sail stickers and Severne marketing gumpf.
We had a few hours to kill before business time, but I decided to rig up the 7.5 anyway as it was the sail I was most likely to use based on the 18-23 knots forecast.
There were plenty of big names entered, including an all-star cast including Bjorn Dunkerbeck, Steve Allen, Pete Volwater, Patrick Diethelm, Robby Swift plus some pretty top class Aussie sailors (Chris Lockwood and Dan Engdahl included).
The highlights of the pre-race session were:
1. Sharing the urinal with Dunky. We stood side-by-side, actually I was squeezed to the side as he took up most of the space in the two man urinal. We did a bit of a blokey grunt and head nod (as you do), bonding before the race together.
2. Beating Dunky off the beach in the warm up session. We left the beach together, and after about 20m I passed him. Yeeha! I'm going to smoke this Euro trash in the race! Then I realised he was fine tuning his adjustable outhaul. When he got that dialled all I saw was his wake...
The wind picked up slowly, but not to any huge force, and it was looking like I was going to use my borrowed Carve 133. But about 30 mins before the start it cranked up a few notches and I switched to my 104 S-Type and chose it for the race. Wise move in hindsight.
Just before the start we learned there were 260 competitors lined up on the beach! There were five rows along the length of the beach. I was in the third row, close to the upwind end of the line - a pretty good spot to be as if you're in the middle or downwind, you get a huge wind shadow from the fleet upwind of you, who are all trying to get off the beach at once.
The gun went and 260 hooting sailors took off. I could also hear the huge crowd behind us cheering as we all headed off. What a buzz. I got going pretty quickly and cleared the bulk of the pack. Good start.
Pretty soon I realised that this was going to be a tough 26km. It was really choppy with a solid swell running as well, and my 7.5 was fully powered up. The first leg is a good 5km and it tends to sort out who will retire and who will keep going. I watched quite a few dudes smack into the water, looking waaay overpowered and out of control. One guy I know rigged a 9.2 and the last I saw of him was somewhere on that first leg.
I easily cleared the first mark (all marks were a 50 foot crayboat flying a kite and flag) by going wide and avoiding the carnage. I kept going on the same tack for a while to get downwind as I knew from experience that the second leg is almost a run, and it's good to tighten up your angle to get the best speed. Heading back toward the beach, I'm flying way off the wind, trying to avoid my board nosediving into the troughs between the swells, thighs and forearms already burning. By this stage I'm just focused on staying in control, and I don't really give a rats about where I'm at in the fleet. And this is only the second of eight legs!
The cheeky race organisers put the second crayboat right next to a reef with head high waves breaking on it, so if you didn't get downwind enough, you had to sail over the reef, gybe, then head back over it again, all the time avoiding being taken out by a wave. I hit the reef on the way back out, luckily only at a slow speed and only just scraped the fin. I heard of quite a few sailors that came to grief there. Ugly.
The next few legs were both a physical and mental battle. Physical - my forearms were full of lactic acid and I had to keep changing my front arm from under- to over-hand every minute or so to manage holding onto the boom. Mental - staying super focused on the water to make sure I didn't get airborne, or spin out, or catch a rail, all the while rocketing along as fast as possible. The swell made it tricky and I really had to focus on picking a line through the lumps - the path of least resistance.
Sometime around half-way I hooked up with JG, Neil and Tim Crommelin. We all sailed together for a while, until all but JG crashed at the 5th mark, and he pulled away into the distance as we grovelled trying to waterstart our mammoth sails. Tim and I stayed neck and neck for the next few legs - he was always just upwind and behind me. I could hear the slapping of his board on the water for quite a few km, but I didn't dare look behind me in fear of a lapse in concentration and an ugly stack going over the front.
The second to last leg was a ripper - super long - another 5km leg, on a perfect broad reach. By this stage, I had broken through the pain barrier and the challenge was all mental. I noticed I was holding my breath and really tensing up, so I told myself to breathe. As soon as I did that, I seemed to pick up speed and the board just flew over the water at an extra few knots. At the end of the race, Tim said that was when I really pulled away from him. Interesting.
As I approached the last outside mark, my determination to finish was all that was keeping me sailing. As I unhooked, my arms screamed in pain and my hands just couldn't hold onto the sail anymore. I had a huge stack, and had to swim a fair way to my gear. I reckon I lost at least 10 places as I recovered, and willed myself to waterstart to complete the final leg. I looked around and saw Tim gybing around the boat, and that was it - the competitive juices kicked in and I was away.
The last leg threw in an extra challenge (yeah, like we needed it) which was to navigate a narrow channel through the reef to make it to the flat water inside, and the last km to the beach. This reef is where they hold the wave competition, so you're surrounded by breaking waves everywhere. Gnarly. But I made it through OK, then spotted a sailor 100m in front of me. Just for a bit of an extra challenge, I thought 'right, I'm going to beat him to the beach', and floored it.
Forgetting the pain, I belted along and passed him about 20m before the beach. Woo hoo! Then I noticed the huge crowd strung along the shoreline, all cheering, clapping and yelling. It was the most amazing, uplifting feeling to approach this sea of people, flying along, doing the sport I love best, having completed a real test of endurance. I hit the beach at full speed, jumped off and immediately went splat onto the sand as my legs adjusted to the hard stuff underneath. I heard my wife and kids yelling to get up and sprint to the finish as the guy I'd just passed was right on my tail. Up and away to the finish line! Oh yeah.
In the crowd afterwards, there was a real stoke amongst everyone who'd finished, and you could see that the onlookers and well-wishers were loving it as well. All of the Gnaraloo boys, bar one, made it, and we spent a good 1/2 hour reliving the race and enjoying the euphoria of completion. I had a huge smile on my face and was just buzzing for hours afterwards.
The pointy end of the fleet finished the course in just under 30 mins, with Pete Volwater setting a new course record of 27 mins. Second was ex F2 shaper Patrick Diethelm, and third was formula champion Steve Allen. Local boy Dan Endahl was 4th, with Dunky coming in 5th. One of our Gnaraloo crew Rowen came in 9th, which is awesome considering the world class guys in front of him.
John came in 30th, and I was very happy with 49th and a time of around 44 mins. Tim was a few places behind me. Out of 260 starters, around 140 finished. The sponsors did a good thing and gave $1000 to the fella who finished last - good encouragement to come back again next year.
That wasn't the end of it though - a few hours later the famous annual party at the Endeavour Tavern cranked up, complete with fireworks and a band on the lawn. After some initial desire to just go to bed after such a huge day, we got to the pub, had the first bourbon and found a second wind. The vibe from the beach earlier in the day spilled over into the pub party, and it didn't take us long to get right into party mode right through to the end of the evening.
An awesome event yet again. This year it really was something special. Good wind, big fleet, great vibe. Well done to all the organisers and sailors. Bring on 2011!