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AFFAIRS OF THE HART – THE JOYS OF GETTING SKUNKED

06/05/2016
by

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it certainly will. It’s how you handle it that counts. It may not be all bad.

“ For years Robin had been pumping me for information about Maui. Robin, for all his loveliness, is terminally indecisive, on top of which he throws his money around like Scrooge with no arms. With good friends, you have to embrace their weaknesses but in the end I lost patience and said “Listen, stop faffing about and just book it. Stay in this unit in Haiku, which is cheap as chips. Go in May and you won’t even have to think about the wind, you’ll sail every day so much you’ll be begging for a break.” And strike me sideways, he did what he was told. For the first time in living memory, for the whole month of May, there wasn’t one planing day. When I bumped into Robin after his return I braced myself for a fist in the face. Instead he recounted tales of a fantastic holiday. He intimated it even saved his marriage. Him and his wife were both hard working professionals with a chronically skewed work life balance. Had he gone sailing every day and left her with the two kids, it could have been the final nail. Instead they watched whales, went walking in rain forests, swam in waterfalls, surfed and snorkelled and enjoyed as a family one of the most stunning islands on earth. It was also in a pre Windguru era, so he always believed it would be windy the next day. Hope eases depression.

As a travelling windsurfer, if it hasn’t happened already, you will, at some time or other, get skunked (the vernacular for getting no wind at a windy spot.) You can’t fight the laws of probability. It’s happened to me in all the places you’ve heard of where it’s purportedly ‘windy all the time.’ No it isn’t. It may be statistically advantageous but that does not represent a guarantee. I’ve even been skunked at the top of Mt Washington in New England, the second most consistently windiest spot in the world behind Commonwealth Bay Antarctica. It’s not a windsurfing venue but thanks to a bump in the jet stream, averages force 8. Not on this day – not a breath. How such an apparent disaster effects you depends, mostly, on you and, just like sport itself, on mental preparation and attitude. Out of all the ‘skunkings’ I’ve had only two have been really wretched and even one of those wasn’t so bad. As a young(ish) pro I scraped the pennies together for a Maui training trip. In January you don’t count on relentless trades but you’d expect really good swell and perhaps 50% planing. It rained solidly day and night for a month. After a week I decided to go for a surf only to be told that the water was so murky from the run off that I would certainly be eaten by a big fish. For the entire trip we stayed inside, watched videos, ate junk food and wallowed in our misfortune.

Two winters later I tried Western Oz. The signs looked good as I touched down in Perth. The ‘Freo Doctor’ was blowing and people were planing up and down the Swan River. As I headed up to Geraldton for some waves, Andy Mason, a pioneering speed sailor, said: “keep an eye on the temperature mate, it doesn’t look good.” He explained how if it got any hotter than about 29°, a heat low formed over the desert which produced offshore winds that blocked the onshore seabreeze. Up and up crept the mercury. For 2 weeks it was 40° plus and we had no choice but to sit in the water with a bucket over our heads. Someone pointed out that Australia had transport and we didn’t have to stay there. A couple of calls established that most of the west coast was suffering the same way but that the east coast was having a cracking summer. I decamped the 3000 miles and spent the last 2 weeks of the trip sailing Long Reef in the north of Sydney in glorious 20 knot Nor’easters and head high waves. I was learning – there was no such thing as a bad trip – just no contingency plans. Barbados was my favoured wintering ground in the 90’s. The light is amazing for pics and the locals hilariously good company. On the first morning, I was woken at 5.30 am by the ever enthusiastic snapper Alex Williams. “Get up Harty, it’s windy. Get to work!”

“Alex, we have 4 weeks. Will you chill out and let me sleep!” He didn’t and just as well for that was the last we saw of the wind.

After a while you get a feeling for a weather pattern, which isn’t going to budge. The milk was spilled so there was no point crying over it. The morning would start with a trip to Bathsheba and the fabulous waves of the east coast. Surfed out we would return for tennis with the Talma brothers Brian and Kevin, culminating after some weeks in the now infamous ‘Barbimbledon Trophy’ which we won because they forgot to turn up for the final. It was one of the best trips ever.

These days I lead people to foreign parts for a living. I hope for wind but I no longer dread the doldrums. I can’t help feeling partly responsible having dragged them half way across the globe under false pretences. But I find that more and more people ‘get’ what it takes to be a windsurfer, and above all a wave-sailor, and it isn’t exclusively about laying back against a force 6.

This topic has arisen because this has been a meteorologically messed up El Nino year. We’ve just had news that a certain Herr Koster has driven the guts of 5000 kms up and down the west coast of Oz for just one day’s sailing in over a week of chasing the wind. And I’ve just returned from Brazil’s Jeri, where in the past 8 years I have experienced perhaps 5 windless days. This year we got 10 of them. It was a brilliant trip. Ask the crew if they would have preferred some more wind, and they would have said yes for sure. But as for the learning experience – for a start, getting 10 knots rather than 25, they sailed a lot more – and that sailing took place in the interesting, wavy zone – after all, there’s no point drifting miles out to sea. They learned to, or improved, their SUP’ing and surfing. They now understand so much more about wave selection, double-ups, lefts and rights, where to be on the wave for maximum speed and when to get off it. And best of all, their hands were not so blistered that they couldn’t hang onto a cocktail …

PH 24th Jan 2016.

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