by Amber, aka Defi Diva (one more time, in your best faux French accent…. d’FEE dee-VAH!)
It was morning and the bright sunshine was making its way into #43 Bungalow. I had gotten up early to finished packing and clean up the hut. (The camp ground has strict rules on cleaning up the hut prior to check out, among all the other rules…and no they still don’t take Master Card!) I finished up my last big bowl of French Corn Flakes. I can’t believe I ate all those corn flakes. I attribute that minor victory to the fact that the milk was pure heaven. I then wandered over to say goodbye to my neighbors. I first stopped with Sebastian and his wife, who lived in #41 Bungalow next door. They were on their way back to Paris. Sebastian had clearly mastered the Defi and had done quite well. Then over to my dear friends Monica and Gunter, an elderly German couple who had come to Gruissan simply to enjoy their weather and town. I said goodbye to Hassan the gardener, who would greet me heartily every day during his maintenance rounds. Even the rather plump man at the desk offered me a smile and wave.
When Philipee Bru got up in front of the crowd for the last Skipper’s race, he could barely speak. With a warm scarf wrapped around his neck, it became apparent that he had given his all to put on such an amazing event. But even through his horse voice, he still managed to provide the daily instructions. “Derriere, Bouee, Derriere, Bouee, Arrivee!!” After the instructions had been provided, they announce that they would be delaying the start. The winds were still too unpredictable, and the race committee did not want to start a race until conditions had steadied. In particular they were concerned about a significant increase in wind speeds after the race had already started. By delaying it, the sailors would be able to rig a more appropriate sail for the conditions. So we waited…By noon, the winds had done just as predicted. They were now significantly stronger from the morning, and they had filled in.
by Amber, aka Defi Diva
(ed note – I changed the title of this post without Ambers’ permission….)
It had taken me close to two hours to complete the course. And while Wind Magazine and other windsurfing paparazzi were no where in site to document my return, I was on a high. I pulled my board and sail from the water and set them on a small piece of sand in between the hundreds of sails that blanketed the beach. I then walked over to the check in table, found my name on the clipboard and signed back in. It was now official! I had completed a race! I practically skipped back over to the Belgian Slalom team’s staging area.
As I crawled over the wall with a huge smile on my face, Xavier and Bart looked up. “I did it!” I cried. A hearty round of congratulations rose in the air. Bart then smiled and said, “We were talking, and decided that if you completed a race we would give you one of our jackets.” OOOhhh the coveted blue Belgian Slalom Team jacket??!! The Fashionista in me had goose bumps! This was a prize more coveted than any statue or bottle of champagne! I imagined myself being invited to Presidential balls and other Washington DC galas, where I would walk into a room wearing it and the women’s heads would turn eying it greedily. Perhaps I would even make the fashion watch section of Vogue magazine? It was official, I had now not only completed a Defi race, but I was also now an official Belgian Slalom team groupie!
The winds were only slightly less gusty than they had been at the start of the previous day’s race. But it was enough that I no longer was fighting extreme lulls. As the other sailors raced back and forth around me, I used the time to set my harness lines and find out how the wind was going to play on the start of the course. At the Skipper’s meeting they had warned that it had shifted to a more north direction, so I set a course that would get me a closer start to the starting boat and allow me to make a bee line to the shore.
Eventually the sails once again started to amass in the direction of the starting line. This time, however, everyone was a bit more open and staggered giving themselves an opportunity to get up good speed. I hung back a bit to allows those that this was “serious business” for to have their space, and so that I could witness that infamous rabbit start this time from the water. As my watch hit the 60 minute mark I again saw the farthest sails start to break away, I raked back my own sail got up speed and headed toward the start. I again was slow across the starting line. I had miss judged my starting direction and had to ride downwind with my sail wide open, bleeding air. Eventually I got my line back and was able to set my course. As I crossed the starting line, my heart lept again! “YESSSS!” I was back!
By the time I had warmed up, eaten a huge hamburger sandwich, applied some of Jurgen’s 50SPF sunblock on my now deep fried skin, and found my gear, the second Skipper’s meeting for the day was in full swing. The wind had picked up from where it had been during the morning’s race, so this time there would only be two laps. My heart sank a bit. I knew that even if I did manage to get all my equipment rigged and ready, that it was too big for the now even stronger conditions. Besides, it would be foolish of me after the morning’s fiasco not to take a bit of time to make sure that the rough transport back didn’t put any holes in my board or rips in my sail. I would have to sit this one out.
Bart decided to go for it. So after he launched, Jurgen, Els, and I headed to the jetty to watch the start. The sight of 100’s of sails amassing on the start line was nothing short of spectacular. The sails were grouped tightly, making for dangerous starting conditions (and the sailors were later warned as much during future Skipper’s meetings) however at that moment witnessing all those sails shimmering in the wind took my breath away. I had never in my life seen such an incredible spectacle. Slowly you could start to see the farthest sails break away as the race started. Philipee Bru’s speed boat then popped out and headed up shore, releasing the rest of the sails. They were off, and I no longer was lamenting the miss of that race. It had been pure exhilaration to witness a Defi start.
by Amber, aka Defi Diva (and in your best pseudo French accent, say d’FEE dee-VAH!)
As I pulled myself and my gear from the rescue boat and sloshed toward the shore, I looked out at the distant sand dunes through a brown gritty haze. The sand was whipping in finger-like strands along the beach. I had been in a similar wind many years ago at Virginia Beach.
Having at the time just newly acquired the 4.7 Ezzy sail I was now sailing, I didn’t bother looking at the forecast that day. I just knew it was windy and I wanted to go out and give my new sail a try. I had been staying at a hotel on the beach that day so rigged in the shadow of the building. As I moved my board and sail toward the water, I could feel the sand scouring the skin at my ankles where my wet suit and booties did not quite connect. “That hurts!” I remember thinking before I dismissed it and plunged into the waves. Not having ever really surfed waves, my naivety provided me with resolve that I would probably now lack. As the wind that day was a side shore and blowing from the north, I quickly made it out past the break and into the deep waters. At that point my brain engaged and I thought that perhaps it was not wise for me to be out in these conditions. I struggled to turned the board back toward shore spending more time in the water and waves than on them. Having just
also newly acquired water starts, it took several attempts before I was once again up and riding in the direction of land. The “non–windsurfing” colleagues I had been traveling with came to the shore to help me with my gear, as I had been blown down shore quite considerably. That evening they teased me relentlessly during dinner. But after I got home a few days later I checked the wind for that evening, it had been blowing 50 mph.
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!
The next morning Els, Bart and I headed over to the venue in time for the 10am skippers meeting. There was still no wind, but we both nevertheless packed our gear in case there was an off chance it picked up later in the day. The Skipper’s meeting is every bit the show it was depicted on the web. A big board of the coast was suspended in the middle of the stage and Philippe Bru, the Defi’s main coordinator and host, would give a detailed over view in French of the race. Even though I only understood about 10 words during his overview, I was still captivated. Perhaps star struck is a better term. “Whoooa!, I’m REALLY here! I’m really at Defi! And there is Philipee Bru!!! Whhhoooaaa! I wonder if I can get my picture taken with him? That would be sooooo coool!” One of the other coordinators provided somewhat of an English translation, which amounted to the “cliff notes” version of what was being put out in French. Luckily, Bart would also interject on occasion to point out a few details that were missed in the translation.
The race is predominantly 40 Km in length. A fast boat starts at a marker and draws a wake line in the sea on the way to the starting boat. Between the marker and the boat, sailors are free to start once the speed boat passes. (Starting before the boat passes might result in death…. never the optimum condition for a race.) The sailors then sail 10 km along the coast to a white marker, jibe the marker, race back to the starting boat, jibe the starting boat, race back to the marker and then return to the finish line. Or as Philipee Bru puts it, “Derriere, Bouee, Derriere, Bouee, Arrivee!” (If only it was that easy…)
In the middle of the night I awoke to a menacing howl. It became apparent that the Tramontane was also awake, and it was now coming down from the ice capped mountains in a thundering roar. My little #43 Bungalow shook as the icy winds banged at the door and windows. I pulled my little blanket closer around me. This was the wind I was expected to windsurf in the next day?! My thoughts raced. Was my little gear small enough? Should I even get on the water? “No….” I thought, “If this is the wind tomorrow, I’ll have to suck it up and not race. The wind is the wind, and one has to know their limits.” (And I had learned mine several times over during the years.) So I tossed and turned for the rest of the night, shivering in the cold, and desperately hoping to hear signs of the Tramontane’s abatement.
By the next morning, the winds had died down from the previous night’s gales. The forecast for the day was looking good, low 20s (knots) with gusts to mid and upper 20s. The sun was coming out and the breeze appeared steady. I ate two large bowls of French Corn Flakes and drank my instant coffee as I pondered what things I would need to take along for the day. Across the way at #4 Bungalow, Bart and Els were also stirring and getting ready in anticipation. “Did you hear that wind last night?”, Els asked in a shiver. “Yeah, that was insane!” I replied. We both looked at each other knowingly, nothing had to be said, that was not a wind to be reckoned with.
I was back to #43 Bungalow again before noon, and having completed my main objective for the day I decided to rent a bike and take in the French country side in a more leisurely manner. I ended up riding my bike along the very well established bike paths back toward the city. The paths were for the most part dedicated for bike and pedestrian traffic, making for a very safe and easy ride. I went back to visit the afore mentioned “city center”, “ruins”, “castle”, “canal”, etc, but this time I took the time to stop and enjoyed them. My meanderings took me along picturesque flower strewn vineyards into the city where historic buildings edged small narrow streets. I road around the ancient castle that over looked the small town and over to the canal. I followed the canal again down to the race venue, only simply to enjoy the ride, then turned around and followed water front back through the city. The city water front is lined with restaurants, bars, shops, and apartments. I dodged
people and their dogs at every turn. It was a beautiful day and everyone was out enjoying it.
On the ride back to #43 Bungalow I found another grocery store and stocked up with a few more essentials before returning home. Camembert cheese for 1.30 euro!! Ohh! La! La! (Luckily I had thrown in my BABA canvas bag at the last minute, it proved essential for shlepping my cheese and breads as well as various windsurfing accoutrements.) I finally got back to #43 Bungalow later that evening and sat out on my porch to enjoy the “spoils” from my day’s adventure. The Greek yogurt was to die for. I made a sandwich from the fresh bread, thick in cheese and tomato. (Swoon!) And then I topped it off with a bowl of French Corn Flakes, only because the whole milk I bought was so delicious it was like having desert. I went to bed late that night with a full belly and looking forward to breakfast.