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Portland Away Day - December 2002

The December club night saw the usual suspects congregating in the Port of Call swapping tales of waves that got away and winds that were wasted. The general consensus of the weather forecasts was that there was going to be a reassuring amount of wind, coming from an easterly direction. The only slight snag was that the temperature was going to drop.

Neroli and I made a slightly late start on the Sunday morning, and were unpleasantly surprised by how cold the wind was while we loaded up the van. Our next surprise was as we approached Weymouth and met an enormous traffic jam on the approach into Weymouth. It appears that Wessex water are digging up the road to fit some new sewers, an activity that is likely to take them up until April. On this particular occasion their temporary traffic lights were very close to and completely out of sequence with some of the traffic lights on the main road. You can probably guess what the ensuing traffic chaos was like, and needless to say I made a mental note to arrive at Portland via Portesham for the rest of this winter. I think the jam probably added somewhere between twenty minutes and half an hour to our journey. I also had the slightly worrying task of watching a crack in the van’s windscreen grow significantly while we were stationary in the traffic – presumably the vibration of the engine when it was idling has a much greater effect than the vibration while the engine is driving along at speed. Thankfully the windscreen held together for the whole of the journey, although getting it replaced was another saga in itself….

When we made our way down to the boatyard we found that other people had also been surprised by the temperature to the extent that they hadn’t turned up. We could see Chris & Gerry in the car park but they were the only other Nomads around. There were a couple of other cars in the car park but some of the occupants were far from keen to get changed and out onto the water.

Having managed to overcome the shocks of the temperature and the Weymouth traffic jam, our next surprise was when I went to go and pay for the parking – I was expecting the usual winter rate of somewhere around £3.50 for a day and one windsurfer, however if my memory serves me right, the privilege of parking in the boat yard cost me the princely sum of £5.20. Apparently the boat yard is now under new ownership who have raised the cost of parking to line their pockets improve the facilities available to windsurfers. Alas the first “improvement” that was visible was the removal of the railway sleepers which served multiple purposes – seating, unloading area, wind break and a natural separation between beach and car park to name a few. Hopefully they will be replaced by something equally useful although I have a horrible feeling they won’t be replaced so that the owners can maximise the amount of parking and associated profit. Such a scheme would cause complete mayhem on the beach in the height of summer so I hope I am doing them a big injustice and am totally wrong about their aims.

With all the initial shocks underway and the anticipated shock of the water temperature to come, rigging got underway. Due to the prevailing winds in this country it is quite rare to get the opportunity to sail Portland in an Easterly (onshore) direction. For those that haven’t tried Portland in this direction, I can only recommend that you do. Rather than having the very flat conditions all the way across the harbour that we are used to, in an Easterly, the longer fetch leads to small wind blown chop / waves which can kick up towards the shallow water making some great “tame” faces to practise gybing down or jumping off.

Unfortunately Neroli was still a windsurfing spectator as she was waiting for her leg to continue healing, however for the rest of us 5.5m to 6.0m sails were the order of the day. Chris took out a 5.5 on her Bee while Gerry and I decided on 6.0m sails using a Techno-e 263 and Electron 263 respectively. Choosing a sail size in an onshore wind is always a tricky exercise – it always feels windier on the beach than it does on the water, presumably because of the acceleration effect as the wind comes up the beach. On this occasion we were lucky and pretty much got our sail choice right first time. I had thought I was going to be overpowered so put maximum downhaul on my sail, a decision which quickly became apparent as over optimistic. A quick trip back to the beach to release some of the tension soon rectified the problem and I concluded I had pretty much made the optimum choice for the day. As you often find down at Portland, the wind down by Portland itself was significantly stronger, making the 6.0m on the lively side of comfortable at that end of the beach, while slightly underpowered around the boat yard.

Once out on the water, getting on the plane, then upwind off the beach was the main aim for the first few hundred yards, inevitably there would occasionally be runs when the gusts completely deserted us in our time of need, making the first few hundred yards a bit longer as we tried to work the boards up onto the plane. These slower runs with considerable pumping at the start combined with the cold temperatures and thick winter steamer quickly identified my lack of fitness. Thankfully after we had been on the water for a short while the wind filled in more consistently and time off the plane became less and less frequent and at the same time, the gybes down by the sailing centre became hairier and hairier.

Once up and going on the plane, the conditions were ideal for jumping off the chop on port tack. Every now and again a lovely ramp would form in front of you as a piece of rogue chop caught up with its predecessor. Unfortunately my lack of recent time on the water normally meant that by the time I had spotted the ramp and decided to go for it, I was usually too late and just ended up wasting my ever dwindling energy reserves but it didn’t stop me having a great time trying to resurrect my completely unnatural sense of timing.

The tides on the day were close to springs, which meant as the day wore on and low tide approached, Portland started to empty out at an alarming rate. I had several occasions mid gybe up by the boat yard when I managed to precisely locate position of the sand bar with my fin, just in time to confirm the presence of the bar by flying off the front of the board. On each occasion I thought I was significantly further out than I had been the previous time I caught the bar, so I am now not sure whether a.) the shape of the sand bar has started changing over the last couple of years, b.) the tide was just going out even faster than I realised or c.) I am slowly losing my marbles. Probably some combination of the three.

With the temperatures as they were, an hour and a half was about all the sailing I could comfortably manage before I started feeling as though I was making silly mistakes and generally starting to get tired. The three of us all decided to head in having made the most of unusual sailing conditions at Portland and pleased that we had managed to sneak in another sail before the winter temperatures really started to drop.

While the three of us had been out sailing, Neroli had decided to exercise her leg and managed to walk the entire length of Chesil beach and back to the van – at the time probably more than twice the longest distance she had walked since breaking her leg earlier in the summer, so she was also pleased with her progress during the day. Luckily I managed to time my return to the van about quarter of an hour after Neroli had returned from her walk. This meant she had plenty of time to get the heater on and kettle boiled to warm the van up ready for me to return and start getting changed. It further confirmed by opinion that a van is the only way to go for winter windsurfing.

All in all, I had a great days winter sailing, I felt sorry (and smug) to all the Nomads who had decided it wasn’t worth the journey because in actual fact, the temperature wasn’t that bad at all and I had a whale of a time. It goes without saying that sailing, even in cold temperature beats the hell out of staying at home and trying to catch up with the ever growing list of jobs to be completed.

Happy sailing,
Ian Long

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