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

Defi Diva – The Belgian Slalom Team

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…)

Defi Diva – The Tramontane Wakes Up

by Amber, aka Defi Diva

defiW2013In 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.

Defi Diva – #803

by Amber, aka Defi Diva

Amber showing her race t #803

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.

Defi Diva – “Lake”, “Castle”, “Canal”, “Ruins”, … Not in That Order

by Amber, aka Defi Diva

I woke up the next morning in my #43 Bungalow to bright sunshine streaming through my open window, and a mosquito buzzing in my ear.  I covered  my head with the blanket in hopes that he (or I guess “she”) would go away.  It was 8 am. I had slept the clock around and still wasn’t sure I wanted to get up. The mosquito’s insistence in finding available skin for breakfast however soon convinced me otherwise.  In fact, I was hungry and ready to have my own breakfast. The night before I stopped at the little store just out side the camp and bought a huge box of French Corn Flakes that would put Costco to shame (apparently the French like their Corn Flakes), some milk, and a few other tidbits.  I fixed my breakfast and settled down out on the little porch to ponder my day ahead.

It was promising to be a picture perfect French spring day, bright sunshine, perfect temperature, and …. no wind.  I had given myself an extra day in my itinerary up front to explore the area and hopefully find where exactly this race of some 800 windsurfers could be found.  I also thought it might be good to give the waters a test ride, however with absolutely zero wind and none forecasted for the next day or two testing the waters was “right out”. I wasn’t exactly keen on driving the Thingy any more than I had to as it was unwieldy to maneuver in small spaces and everything around me seemed small. (Where is a Walmart parking lot when you need one?!! ) But the problem was that I had no idea where anything was or in what direction I should travel to find the site.

Defi Diva – Obstacles

by Amber, aka Defi Diva

Defi Wind LogoLuckily the military had trained me well when during my first deployment to Iraq I was unceremoniously dumped on the tarmac in Kuwait with 6 military bags and a weapons case.

“Ma’am, you’ll need to check in at the terminal headquarters about a quarter mile down the road.”
“What about my gear?”
“…Yes Ma’am, you’ll need to check that in as well…”

So my quarter mile turned into about 3 by the time I arduously leapfrogged my bags to the terminal.  I think they call these relived war stories “flashbacks”.  And I indeed was having them at the Toulouse Airport.

After having sorted out my car rental and offering my house, 401K, and all my gold jewelry up for collateral to Hertz, I had found my luggage and began pondering the movement of it.  The luggage came into the main conveyor system and was easy enough to throw on one of those luggage carts they have at the airport.  The next stop took me to the oversized luggage conveyor and when I finally found it I was elated to see my three wonderful bags sitting there waiting for me.  They made it!!!! The relief washed over me.  It was like I found my long lost dog. I wanted to rush up and give them all great big hugs. But in respect for public decorum, I refrained and offered them a little pat and smile instead.

Defi Diva – Viva la Air France!

by Amber, aka Defi Diva

The notion of traveling to the south of France in the spring time seems all romantic and picturesque until, that is, you check into the airline ticket counter with 2 boards, a sail bag, 2 suitcases, and a back pack.  “Just go with the flow… Just go with the flow…ooohhhhmmmm….”, I kept saying to myself.  It didn’t help this time either… I called a porter to help me with the bags. Once inside, I checked in at the ticket kiosk and then made my way to the front of the checked baggage line.  At the counter the ticket lady greeted me with a smile. “Oh my are those surf boards?! How exciting!”  “Yes ma’am, I’m going to a race in France.” (I kept the emphasis on the word “race”, hoping that she might think I’m an important sports icon or something, rather than a lowly… over 29 year old amateur  seeking a little windsurfing adventure. After all sports icons always get the bags accepted!)  Surprisingly she didn’t balk or bat an eye. She weighed all my luggage and then had the boards put on a special cart off to the side since they were too big for the conveyor. She then directed me to a separate counter to pay for my “excess” baggage.

I spent the next two hours standing at the “excess fee” charge counter.  First there was the panic by the Senior Ticketing Supervisor, “Your baggage exceeds our 158 cm limit for width plus length plus height! It is not possible to accept them.”  “No ma’am, I sent the dimensions and estimated weights to the Paris corporate office when I booked the flight, they approved it.  Surfboards are typically more than 158 cm in length alone. There are notes in my reservation to confirm this.”  “Let me go verify…  Yes, I’m sorry, you were correct. I apologize about that mistake.  But now there is another problem, TSA will not accept the baggage because it doesn’t fit in their scanners!”  I consoled her, “TSA can run a special detector on the equipment and do a manual inspection, they do it all the time when they have concerns about baggage. It usually isn’t a problem, but does take a bit more time.”  Warily she replied, “Ok, let me confirm with them first though. Please wait here in case there
are questions, we want this to go as smoothly as possible!”  So I waited………………… At about one hour before the flight, she finally came back with a smile on her face. “Yes the bags are checked and ready to go! Now how would you like to pay for the excess baggage fee of $525, cash or credit card?”  …. gulp….

Defi Diva – That’s What Friends Are For

by Amber aka Defi Diva

“Intimidated” is the word that best describes how I felt the few weeks before I left. Here I was going half way around the earth… ok, I exaggerate, it was only one quarter of the way, but it seemed a lot farther. It’s FRANCE!!! after all!  There were so many things that could go wrong. I kept telling myself, “just go with the flow”. If it falls apart, no big deal, it’s not the end of the world.  But lets be serious, who was ever calmed by such platonic blither!  My gear could be destroyed in transit, my shoulder could rip off at any moment, and my plane could crash in the ocean and I would be eaten by sharks. (I hate sharks…) PLENTY COULD GO WRONG!!!

Defi Diva – Strategic Planning

by Amber K

First things first, there is this whole thing about actually registering for the race. Half the battle is actually finding the registration site. Mind you this is not a small task. First, it doesn’t come up on a Google search very well. Second, you have to find it in French. (Et, je ne parle pas francais! – ok, so I had it in Second Grade…but that doesn’t count when you are… over 29.) Third, you have to be patient. The race announcements don’t actually start showing up on the web site until early in the year (January-ish). The only way I actually found the race dates last fall was by poking around in previous year’s race newsletter and they had a “We’ll see you next year on May 8th!” sort of announcement.  Which I was lucky to find.

Not wanting to dally my boss was duly notified and a leave request was submitted in October for the dates.  (oh, and then I slipped in the BABA Spring trip leave request a few weeks later when he had forgotten about already having approved the Defi leave.) Risky! Considering, they were back to back, but I learned a thing or two in Air War College about “Strategic Planning”. At least I finally got to put some of that mind numbing reading to use!

Defi Diva – In the Beginning

by Amber K

The first of a couple, or perhaps a few, but definitely not more than a some.

Everyone seems to want to hear about this little adventure I’m on.  So while I don’t “blog” or “facebook” (yes, little Johnny, that is right I don’t have a facebook account…nor do I want one) I figured I would do this the story the “old fashioned way”… gasp!  EMAIL… well ok, so maybe in real live print would be even better, but I’m having problems finding groceries so post offices are right out for the moment. Besides I don’t think I have enough euros to post a potential demi-tome to all of BABA’s members…(“Did she say demi-tome, Alice?!”  yup break out the wine and reading glasses, I’m sure this will be excellent evening pre-bed read.)