Defi Diva – The First Mark

by Amber, aka Defi Diva

Having never ridden a bull, I can only guess that what I was experiencing out on
the water was very similar. During the Skipper’s meeting they had warned that
the launch area and the waters up to the starting line were “a bit gusty”. I
suppose the term “understatement” would be appropriate. As my board lurched and
stalled, I alternated water starts and uphauls in my attempt to make it to the
starting line. Prior to the race I had visions of what it would be like to see
and experience the thrill of the infamous rabbit start. But those visions had
evaporated as I concentrated on just simply moving my board in the direction of
the starting line. I never saw the speed boat pass, nor the jockeying of the
serious racers to be the first off the mark. Instead, I cursed the fact that I
had rigged too small a sail, and it would not be possible to go back and change
it out. The mantra of “Rig big or go home!” echoed in my head right up to that
first race. But, they had warned that the wind typically blows 5 knots faster
at the first mark, so I thought I had better play it safe this first run out.

About 10 minutes after the race had started and all the sailors where but small
flashing dots on the horizon, I finally managed to crossed the start line. I
suppose the benefits of being the last to cross the starting line is that you
have it all to yourself. You don’t have to worry about crashing into other
sailors or the wind being taken from your sail. It was a quiet almost peaceful
experience. And despite the fact that my start would in no way qualify me for
sport icon of the year, I was elated that I had actually officially started my
very first Defi race!

Defi Wind 2013 Official Video – Day 1

Bart had advised me to follow close to the shore so that I could get clean winds (no longer a problem) and smoother water, so once past the start I made my way toward the shore line. The wind was blowing from a solid north west position.

The waters were quite choppy and the combination made moving in that direction a
bit of a challenge. But as I progressed along the first leg, I began to notice
that indeed the winds were picking up. The lulls had subsided and I was now
transitioning between planing and being overpowered.

The race organizers had marked some of the shoreline hazards (a pipeline and
sand bars), with buoys to warn off the sailors. Not knowing exactly where those
were along the course and considering the speeds at which I was now sailing I
began to worry about hitting these obstacles. However, that worry did not last
long. I had a bigger issue coming straight at me. About one third of the way on
my first leg I could see the professional sailors making their return. I
swallowed hard, here was my first real race test, running the gauntlet of some
800 sailors. I was on the starboard tack so technically had right of way, but
lets face it these sailors were the real pros and they were traveling at speeds
that would make the USS Enterprise green with envy. I did my best to keep my
direction constant and predictable so they could move around me. “Don’t flinch.”
I said to myself. “Just relax and ride.” So I did.

As I maneuvered the onslaught of the sailing hordes, I began to notice that the
wind had picked up even more. I now found myself bleeding air off my what I once
thought was a “small” sail and had to calm my oversized board off the waves as
it reared like a frightened horse. I looked out in the distance and finally
caught my first glimpse of the first marker. “Holy crap! I’m almost done with
my first leg!” I thought. And then, the Tramontane let me know that it was not
finished with me yet…

People call it “survival sailing”. I don’t think I would even qualify what I
was doing on that board as sailing at this point. I was moving, I was moving
very fast, and was using every muscle in my body to keep the sail and board
progressing toward that mark. I began to ponder how I was ever going to do this
for three more legs, but then I heard it… The distinctive “shhhhhkunk!”
CRAP!!! My mast foot had slid forward. A cacophony of swear words entered my
head. How could I have not re-checked that before I left, especially since I
knew the sand in my gear was going to be an issue? What an idiot! Knowing that
my chance of tightening it back down in the deep water would be next to
impossible with the waves and wind being what they were, I struggled even harder
now to get to the shallower waters. As I approached and passed the first mark,
I saw another sailor in the water who looked like he was standing. I slowed and
dropped in near him. I could stand, but only just. As the wind and waves tossed
me and my board about, I popped the sail, slung my arm through the boom and
wrenched down the mast foot in the most forward position. With the mast foot
now secured, I tilted the board to reconnect my sail but the wind picked it up
and sent it flying.

I used to swim competitively, garnering even gold and silver medals at a Junior
Olympics during high school. And even now after a “few” years I’m still no
slouch on the water. But my board proved to be a most challenging competitor.
I dug in and raced toward my board, as I inched toward it my shoulder began to
whine. “Shut up and swim, we’ll talk about this later!” I snapped at it. Now
was not the time for consoling conversation with a body part. I finally reached
out and grabbed the foot strap and maneuvered back toward my sail. Once again,
but this time in the deep water, I tilted my board and attempted to reconnect my
mast. And once again the Tramontane, this time with a high pitch shriek, picked
up my board and flung it in somersaults over the waves away from me.

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