Windsurfing, surfing, Maui, The Gorge, and random rants.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Giant waves and universal Karma

[Updated to add picture of Nick Warmuth at Jaws]
The other day, when I was taking pictures of GP sailing light Kona wind, I noticed at one point that he had disappeared in the waves and I didn't see him for a long time. When our surfing friend Jim started to paddle out, I asked him to look for GP and see if he needed an assist. Sure enough, a non production extension that GP was testing had broken, and he was de-rigging and swimming his gear in against the wind. Jim very nicely paddled back with GP's sail, and I met him in the water so he could quickly turn around and catch some waves. When GP finally got in, I recalled that a few weeks ago I had carried his board over the rocks when he broke his mast at Hookipa. GP was very thankful for the help, and I replied back, "you know it's only a matter of time before I'll be the one needing help". Little did I know how soon this would come around.

GP mentioned in an earlier post today that the very large NW swell we're getting was becoming more north. In fact it clocked from 280 early Monday to 330 this afternoon. And oh what a difference a more northerly swell makes at Kanaha. GP suggested the Kanaha life guards would be very busy today and some broken gear was guaranteed. Indeed!

Jeff Bennett took this picture of lowers today and I'm going to borrow it because I think I'm in it.. It doesn't show the biggest waves by far, but that might be me on the aqua Goya sail to the right. Go to Jeff's most excellent Maui Windsurfing blog for more photos of much bigger waves.

And of course Jaws was firing  with both tow in and windsurfers on it. Our good friend, awesome sailor and great guy Nick Warmuth sailed it for the first time and Jimmie Hepp was able to capture that.  I grabbed these pictures from his amazing collection on FaceBook to give you an idea...

So what else ... ?  Oh yeah, Julia and I arrived at Kanaha in the early afternoon and were shocked and awed and a bit intimidated by the size of the waves on the outer reef.  The wind seemed decent enough so of course we had to rig up (unlike yesterday when it died and we never got wet).  I was on my trusty light wind big wave combo - a 5.3 Goya Eclispse on a 92 lt Goya quad wave.  At first we stayed near the Lowers channel.  The incoming sets were huge, perhaps as big as I've ever seen.  Certainly the biggest so far this winter.

The largest sets were unreal, breaking on the outside reef of Uppers almost all the way down to the channel which separates Uppers from Lowers.  I was imaging that any bigger and these monster sets would be breaking all the way to the harbor. Now that would be freaky indeed.   Unbroken as these were, the large swells made it cleanly to the lowers reef before setting up.  Now there's much debating about the Upper vs Lower Kanaha waves around here.  No doubt the Upper outer reef wave is the bigger wave.  I'm also equally sure Lowers can be cleaner and provide a longer down the line ride.  Actually today both were awesome (and huge) so it really doesn't matter. One knock against Lowers is the crowd factor - but today  didn't seem very crowded. The waves were big and frequent enough that people were able to mostly catch their own ride.  Plus many folks were actually avoiding the waves.

Which is what I did at first.  Get on the wave, take a look down the line past the curling bowl, maybe take one turn and then head up to the safety of the channel.  I did this several times trying to get a feel for the size and frequency of the bigger sets.  Finally a not too huge wave came along and I took it solo way down the line, jibing off the back before the final close out.  I was able to get back out easily (more easily then the channel route in fact) which was occasionally closing out. So this became my method of play, and it worked really well.  I was having a great session, going for the manageable sizes, tacking out on the rare occasions nothing worth riding was coming, and avoiding the biggest set waves.  It was also nice to see and sometimes share a wave with sailors like Junko, Pascal, Bernd, Ingrid, Casey, Mark Angulo, and so on.  Seeing how they work the waves is always inspirational.

After another long and fun ride down the line I was close to the life guard station. Having been on the water a few hours I was pretty tired and ready to head back up and eventually to the beach.  I was pinching up toward the channel but didn't quite get high enough so I straightened out and headed over the main break.  I had successfully done this a few times earlier making it over some fairly large waves without issue, but now the wind was a touch lighter.  The last wave I had to cross was of course a biggie and broke right in front of me.  I **almost** made it over but the white water stopped all momentum and I ended up in the water start position looking up at another big about to break wave.

In this situation you must decide whether to stay in this position and face the wave (best for smaller waves), or reverse your direction such that the white water pushes you in (OK for medium sizes - sometimes you can immediately water start soon as the wave reaches you), or sink your rig into the water (pointed at the wave) and hold onto your boom or whatever you can while the wave more or less goes over you (and pray).  This was a pretty big wave so I decided to sink it.  And that worked fine except when I pulled my rig up I discovered my universal joint was busted!  Only one nylon strap was left holding my rig to the board, the other "safety strap" having torn clean.

There were more big waves about to break on me and my biggest concern was my rig would separate from my board never to be seen again (in one piece anyway).  So I tried to hold onto both boom and back strap and ride the surf in.  Of course I got tumbled by the still very large waves, but eventually, after wasting much energy trying to half swim half body drag, I was mostly inside of the break.  It felt like I was fighting current the whole way and I was, to be honest, totally exhausted.

It was at this point that GP appeared.  I called him over and he checked out my rig.  "Well, I can sail this back for you". I honestly thought there was some trick involved here, some sneaky MacGyver thing where he jams the broken universal up the extension.  But no, he hands me his rig, simply jumps onto mine and takes off like a rocket back to the beach.  I was thinking "hey, I should have done that!" but it was my apparently unfounded fear that this would break the last remaining strap that stopped me.

So now I'm trying to sail back GP's gear, and he had a 75-ish lt board with a 4.7 sail.  I think I must weigh a **lot** more than GP, because I could barely water start this, and when I did the board stayed about two feet under water.  I was thinking it would be faster if I swam when the life guard suddenly shows up on the jet ski and asks if I want a lift.  Sure I says! (Note - I could have slogged very slowly to the beach on my own, but I wanted to get GP's gear back to him quickly as possible. So at this point it wasn't a rescue as much as a helpful lift).

So I ended up getting dragged in with GP's gear, much to the confusion of Julia who was on the beach looking for me and hoping to take some cool wave sailing pictures.  The life guard mentioned that he had watched me for awhile but wasn't sure if I needed help. He suggested that next time I just wave both hands and they would have picked me up much sooner.  Next time I promise!   And BTW this was my first rescue (help actually since I wasn't in danger) in 20+ years of sailing - had to happen sooner or later I guess.

As for the universal, the irony here is Julia and I had been using the hourglass Chinook plate system for 20 years and never had one break.  This fall when we got our new boards it was suggested that the screw on tendon version was more reliable.  Admittedly our plates were wearing a lot (they were many years old) and seemed a bit loose.  So we picked up these new tendons In October.  And now barely four months later... busted!

And lastly, I want to thank GP for helping me and providing another valuable lesson (yes you can safely sail a broken uni back!).  I'm certain that all our good deeds and good karma will be recycled and the kindness and consideration we bring to friends and strangers is eventually reflected back to us. That certainly came true for me today.  Aloha everyone!


rebecca said...

how crazy we just spoke about it yesterday! saw you guys launch but I was too tired for session #2. glad you made it in without too much trouble. hugs - r

Anonymous said...

That is very nice of GP and I want to believe anyone would have helped you. And it is even nicer of the lifeguard to offer this for the future. I would tell you though that self-rescue is the key. If you are exhausted, and you did not know your universal was going to hold - then take it down, if you are up to it and feel the need to save your rig, de-rig your sail - and start paddling down to the shore.

The real lesson here is not that you can sail with a broken uni. It's that we enter the water at our own risks, and we need to be pro-active in self-rescuing. Gear can be replaced but not your life.

I'm not trying to be harsh on you. I have panicked before and froze in front of the situation... but my take is that if you are not able to self rescue on such day (unless of serious injury that can always happen), then you should not be out.

Good luck in the future and I hope the Karma keeps on going... it's a great thing to see.


(Ben) Jamin Jones said...

I agree about the self rescue. For the record, in this situation I was already out of danger, having made it on my own past the waves with my gear intact. When GP showed up I was asking for advice, as opposed to begging to save my life. I didn't expect him to jump on my board and sail it back for me, but he did and I am grateful. I would have eventually made it to the beach on my own, perhaps in an hour of very slow swimming. As for the lifeguard, he showed up and asked if I wanted a lift. I wanted to get GP's gear back to him as soon as I could so I said yes. Again I could have slogged/swam his gear back, but it would have taken much longer. So perhaps it's better to call this a help as opposed to a rescue.

I won't mention names, but a lot of very strong sailors were "helped" in the past few days. No shame in that.

CHRIS KNAP said...

Great story and well-written Ben. Love your blog.


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