by Amber aka Defi Diva
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…)
They had plenty of life boats staged along the way and all the sailors were always within eye sight of a safety boat or jet ski. In addition, since the Tramontane is an off shore wind, they had placed a series of buoys about a kilometer off shore which racers were not to go past. But in case of an emergency and they did have trouble that far out, they were to head to and tie off to one of these buoys. By the end of the meeting I had a fairly decent understanding of the rules, hazards, and logistics of the event. I of course was eager to get on the water, but as anticipated the scheduled race for the morning was cancelled because of the lack of wind. A second skippers meeting was scheduled for 2pm in case the wind came up… which it didn’t.
I followed Els and Bart along the sidewalk that edged the beach. The path was crowded with all sorts of people out enjoying the day. Children on skate boards and leashless dogs scampered around their parents, while surfers maneuvered boards and sails across the path and adjacent boulders to get their gear to and from the sand. It was all a well coordinated dance that would continue every day of the event. On the opposite side of the sidewalk from the beach was a short wall. Here spectators would often pause to see what the windsurfers on the other side of it were doing, sometimes stopping for several minutes to watch while a competitor rigged a sail or prepped their board.
Bart and Els stopped at a series of trailers where a motley group of young and …er…not as young men were contemplating the scene. Little did I know it at the time, but it turned out that THIS was the infamous Belgian Slalom Team. After warm greetings and jovial discussions in Belgian, to which I just nodded and smiled politely, Bart introduced me to his team members; Geert, Xavier, Jurgen, Pieter, Joris, William, Nagui, and Bram. Bart explained to them that I had come all the way from the United States to compete in the Defi, to which their eyes widened and mouths went agape. “You have come all the way here for the Defi?!!!” Geert asked in disbelief. I just sheepishly nodded, not really knowing how to answer. Perhaps he thought I was some famous sports icon? But more likely he probably thought I was just plain crazy, which wasn’t far from the truth.
As it turned out they were the most affable group of folks one could ever meet. Over the next few days they were the consummate hosts allowing me to join in their camaraderie and intrude in their space. (Jurgen even offered me some room in his trailer to stow some of my gear!) They all spoke excellent English, and even knew our own Belgian BABA member, Chris! A well coordinated lot, they sported fetching light blue “Belgian Slalom Team” jackets (which I confess I lusted over being also the Windsurfing Fashionista I am), and they had taken up prime race real estate for the event. Their cars and trailers were parked in the front row where only the pedestrian walkway separated them from the beach. Their tarps were neatly spread out behind the trailers for easy and clean rigging and derigging. And their trailers and vehicles hosted an impressive amount of gear that put my little Jeep to shame. Over the next few days they would prove instrumental in not only providing advice for the race
course, ….but also in my survival.