Bracklesham Bay on the south coast of England, close to West Wittering, has long held a reputation as being a special spot on its day. John Carter was lucky enough to score such a day in the company of Paul Hunt, Emile Kott and local sailor Mark Perry; and from our March issue of Windsurf they reflect on a stormy evening on the south coast that served up some classic ‘Brack Magic’!
WORDS – John Carter, Paul Hunt, Emile Kott, Mark Perry.
PHOTOS – John Carter.
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“In the sport of windsurfing we are all at the mercy of the elements. The wind and waves make their own rules in the UK and we have to go with the flow of what nature decides to deliver. One thing I do know is that my favourite session to photograph, given the choice, is the late session. I think this resonates with many sailors who work.
I’m not adverse to early mornings, don’t get me wrong, but how often do sailors score an awesome early session, but then have go back to their day jobs. At least with early mornings you have something under your belt I suppose, but that high of windsurfing can soon be wiped out with work problems or other stresses and by the end of the day, the session is a distant memory.
When the conditions fire up for an evening session at least you can focus purely on having fun and not having to get back to the grind! You can put work worries aside and escape from reality for a few hours. The late session is a time to immerse yourself in the water, cleanse your mind any of worries and share your passion with a few friends. Especially after a year like 2020! The clock can be ticking as darkness sets in, but as long as you have rammed in a few hours sailing, that is usually be plenty to finish your day on a high! Plus, a morning session can only be realistically rewarded with a coffee and a full English breakfast, whereas what can be better than finishing with an icy cold beer after a shred session at your favourite break.
I was lucky enough to experience one of those evenings when unexpectedly, the stars all lined up at Bracklesham on the south coast. My original plan for the day was to head down to Shoreham with Paul Hunt to shoot with Nik Baker on the low tide in the morning. The forecast was for a strong westerly up to 35 knots, but there was no real mention of any proper groundswell. Despite the wind being not quite as strong as expected, it was actually quite a fun session with Nik Baker, who is a master of making pretty average conditions look far better than they actually are. As the tide pushed up in the mid-morning, the real wind started kicking in, but Shoreham turned into a nasty shorebreak and would not be sailable for another 4-5 hours. I was ready to head home, but Hunty had other plans.
Apparently Hunty had a mate, Mark Perry, better known to his windsurfing compatriots as ‘Pezza’, who has a beachfront house at Bracklesham where we were welcome to come and park for a possible late session on the way home. I guess it sounded like a plan, so I went along with the flow. I didn’t really have a choice I suppose, especially as my current diary was not overloaded with windsurfing photo shoots! There was no rush since we were waiting for the tides to go down, so we ended up eating at an Italian restaurant with Nik Baker before heading off towards Bracks! Nik very kindly picked up the tab…maybe this day wasn’t working out so bad after all!
Around 3 p.m. we pulled up into the driveway of Pezza’s place and now I figured why Hunty was so keen to make this our base camp for the afternoon. I guess you could say the gods have been kind to Pezza, but no doubt he has grafted for many years in the real estate business to live in this location with such an amazing house. All I can say is that Pezza’s house is a windsurfer’s dream pad. Aptly name Storm Chase and located right on the beachfront, it was like something out of Grand Designs! Three elegant stories, with a huge open plan lounge in the middle overlooking the water. In the driveway there was a separate games room where I even spotted a table tennis table, sparking memories of my many wins at the Tiree Wave Classic Hynish Centre table tennis championships…with one noteworthy victory against Peter Hart who claimed to be a former UK schoolboy champion or something; this really was my dream house! (Editor’s note – JC’s claims of multiple table tennis wins on Tiree are still the subject of dispute from fellow competitors and tournament organisers with claims of over zealous celebrations of dubious point wins still being investigated.) We were cordially invited in for a cup of tea while we waited for the pesky tide to go down. It was still howling outside, so it looked game on for the evening. I was too busy drooling over this house to be too bothered about the upcoming windsurfing session, but the boys seemed quite excited that the conditions could turn on.
By about 4:30 p.m. the tide started to drop, revealing some decent banks that were throwing up head to logo high ramps. Hunty was referring to this as a windsurfing skate park and was genuinely excited as he rigged his 4.2m on Pezza’s immaculate lawn, ready to go session some ramps. Frustratingly, the moment the boys hit the water the wind dropped. Such is UK windsurfing. It had been blowing all day long and then puff, gone. The boys were floating around barely able to ride the waves. Jamie Hancock turned up about five and saw the boys grovelling but decided to chance it and rigged up. By 6 p.m. the wind had returned, a quick look at the Chimet weather buoy showed it had dropped to 18 knots but now was back with a bang and gusting over 30 knots!
THE GOLDEN HOUR
2020 has been a strange year that is for sure. For many of us our lives have been turned upside down, including myself, with most of my regular work being cancelled. But you have to soldier on and live your life. I always enjoy photographing UK storms, so personally it was nice to be back behind the camera, doing what I enjoy the most and things feeling a bit more like the old normal. The wind kicked in, the crew were having an awesome session and the evening light made it even more special. I could tell all the guys were enjoying themselves by the shrieks and hollers I could hear from the water. The late session of course had to draw to a close, but I think we were all happy to have shared this one. And of course, Pezza even had a beer fridge full of icy cold beer! Now we are talking!”
“Ever since I first planed on a windsurfer I have craved to feel that same feeling each time I arrive at the beach for a new session, hoping that it won’t be just one run before the wind goes! Such is our sport, you learn new things, maybe a trick here and there, but the pure sensation of flying off the beach is still the feeling I crave the most! Windsurfing and good sessions as we all know is not something we can take for granted, Mother Nature is too fickle for that, a session can be 5 minutes or two hours of joy!
As we continually monitor forecasts, juggle work and family commitments; there are sessions that inevitably stand out. If all the pieces of the jigsaw fit together, it becomes a ‘late session’ to remember! This Bracklesham evening was particularly special, it had been windy from the west all day, but had only produced short bone jarring chop in the morning! I went out but it was a nightmare session, so back to work.
The tide was full for the majority of the afternoon. Hunty calls in, ‘What do you reckon Pezza, is it looking alright?’ I was hesitant to call it on the drop, there were however the occasional swell lines coming through, enough to be hopeful! ‘If you don’t go, you don’t know!’ I said, ‘get over here!’ I put the call out to a few local friends, Hunty calls Jamie Hancock and all of a sudden we have the boys all twitching and crossing their fingers! The daylight hours are slipping away, the tide is falling and as it can, Bracklesham absolutely turned on. We had cross-shore wind, on 4.2 and 4.5’s, swell lines rolling through and this incredible light as the sun was falling. We sailed non-stop! Each of us carrying the mirrored reflection of our mate’s smiles from ear to ear! As ever with a late session you feel slightly like it’s a race against time, you know you only have so long, so each run just feels that bit more special.
We sailed until we could not see the waves anymore, cracked open some beers and looked over the sea as darkness came in. We would have loved to keep sailing, but with ‘late sessions’ they end when they end! I think along with all the other factors of course, that is what makes them stand out.
As we roll on through these bizarre times, keep well and healthy, keep searching for those special moments on the water, it has to be the best health tonic for us windsurfers! Wishing one and all a windy and healthy 2021!”
“Windsurfing is all about timing. For a great late session a lot of things have to fall into place: strong wind, fun waves, the right tide, not too cold, no rain or hail, a bit of sunshine and everything happening before it gets too dark! Add to that, the boys turning up to join you at your home spot just as everything turns on, a few well timed smacks followed directly by a nice cold beer… that sort of session is hard to beat.
It’s these little moments of magic that keep us all driving to wet and windy beaches in the rain, obsessing over forecasts and dropping family plans at the last second (sorry!) An on fire Bracklesham is just so much fun, the waves line up just that little bit better and have a bit more punch to give that taste of ‘Brack magic!’
“Pezza’s place is becoming my local spot these days! We had sailed in Shoreham early doors and I was always planning on Bracklesham for the late session. With JC in tow, we arrived just before the tide started to run, but there was time for a quick cup of tea overlooking the break through the huge glass aspect of Peeza’s first floor kitchen before sailing. Carter was already making jokes about moving into the little summer house on the lawn. Actually, I think he was probably serious!
I hit the water on my 4.2 and flew out towards a good ramp, but upon landing the wind dropped and I had to spend the next 20 minutes dogging upwind to get back to shore and change up.
After a re-rig to a 4.7 the conditions really lit up, over head high waves, side-shore, and with an angry looking sky that the sun still shined through. It reminded me of some of the sunsets you see in Sylt. With only 4-5 of us out and no kitesurfers, this was my kind of sailing! All the boys were ripping and egging each other to go for it. The wind came back with a vengeance and blew its socks off until dark. When I finally collapsed in the garden after climbing the shingle mountain, I was pretty much broken. Pezza then rocks up and thrusts an ice-cold beer in my hand, I could have cried with happiness! We could have easily been sat on the hill at Ho’okipa or Margaret River, that beer really tasted just as good!