Mondial du Vent 2014
This is the first year since 2010 that I have signed up for a European Speed event and they don’t come much bigger than the Mondial du Vent in La Franqui, South of France.
All the big names in windsurfing had turned up. The big favorite, many times world champion Antoine Albeau, but not only him France has twenty or so windsurfers who can make any windsurfing final. They may not specialize in speed but are so well tuned with their equipment and small slalom boards or big speed boards that they all stand a chance.
Competition speed events are different to record attempts or trying to get a max speed at your local spot. You get timed over a 500m course running parallel to the beach. There is a gate upwind that you have to go through to line up your start, this is about 800m from the start line, once through this gate there is no overtaking. You then have to round a buoy 100m from the start in line with the course. Pass the start line at full tilt and 500m later you pass the finish line. After the finish line you have to keep going for another 100m before you gybe and head out again.
Small speed boards are faster on the run but small slalom or big speed boards are quicker at getting up to the start and getting more runs. The wind is constantly changing so the more runs you do the more chance of a good speed. You have to way up weather to go small, fast and difficult or big, compromise speed a little and get more runs.
Mondial du Vent: What a show, TV, shops and Village are all put up next to the beach to create a carnival atmosphere. Not only do they host the speed contest but there is a freestyle event and stand up Paddle races, kids activities, party’s and live music.
As you can imagine I was very excited about this event, my new Neil Pryde evo 6 sails had arrived the day before I left. I have my Patrik Diethelm speed 52 which can carry sail sizes from 5.8 to 7.8, absolutely perfect for competition speed. Black Project fins had sent over some RS fins that will give me the upwind bite needed to get my runs in but wont compromise my down wind speed. On top of all that the forecast looked incredible with even the possibility of open water record attempt on the Friday before the event.
I left on Thursday 24th April with Condor Ferries to St Malo, stopping off in Jersey for 4.5 hours unfortunately to change boats. Landing in France at 20.40 the plan was to drive for 4 or 5 hours, jump in the back of the van for a quick snooze then drive the rest of the way.
All went to plan and I arrived in La Franqui 10 am the next morning. The wind was blowing as per the forecast so the next problem was to find a spot called “the water pump” were all the boys would be getting some big speeds under their belts.
It took an hour or so to find but true enough they were all there. The wind was blowing 40 to 45 knots and the sea looked smooth and tempting.
Heart pounding I rigged my 5.8 Evo 6 and took out my Patrik Speed 43 with Black Project X45. No need to go too small with the fin straight away. It was windy, a lot tighter course than I have been used to when going for records in Namibia. First couple of runs and we are pushing 45 knots. It doesn’t feel quite right though, a couple of tail wobbles as I bear away over the bigger chop.
I decide to change board. The 43 just feels a bit small for me in theses conditions, the 48 would have been ideal but that one is missing from my board quiver. I change to the 52 with a new asymmetric fin I have been given to try. First run down the course and I am flying, second run and I’m pushing hard, bearing away the board starts to lift out of the water, the fin has too much lift, too big. That’s as much as I remember.
Next I hear two French guys next to me saying are you all right. I don’t know were I am, it slowly starts to come back, I’m breathing really hard, there’s blood dripping down my face. I have been knocked out cold.
I sailed without a helmet, something I will never do again. I can’t tell you how lucky I was. I don’t know if I would have come around without the two guys talking to me, I don’t know if I was face down or up. I do know looking back it was scary.
Why don’t windsurfers wear helmets, every other sport does. The kite speed guys all wear helmets and they haven’t got anything to hit.
Aftersight is a marvelous thing.
1. I had just been travelling for 24 hours with little sleep, no proper sleep. Must have been exhausted. No way to be and go out in 45 knots of wind.
2. No helmet (what a dope)
3. Fin choice was way too big for the conditions and way too much lift.
A combination of the 3 above was the cause.
So I have come around sitting on the shore, a bit fuzzy not really knowing what or who. I know I won’t sail anymore runs today but I have to get back up wind, “are well just as well sail back it will be easier than walking”.
I made it but that proberly wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
I de-rigged and was starting to feel pain, my ribs hurt and seemed to crack if I moved, can’t be broken though because everyone tells me you can’t breath when you have a broken rib. Must be muscle strain.
My neck is stiff but that’s understandable. A couple of days of Ibruphen and rest and I’ll be fine.
Saturday no wind, fantastic. Keep taking the Ibruphen and I’ll be fine for racing. The pain isn’t easing as I had hoped though.
Sunday and the wind is up, 6.4m and speed 52 with my RS 26cm fin. It’s tough getting around the course my left side has no strength at all. Then my boom snaps, I have to get picked up by a rescue boat and taken back to the shore. By the time I am ready to go again there is 10 minutes left of the leg.
The conditions are as perfect as can be, flat water, sunny and windy. Pascal Maka organizing an event like it should be done.
Don’t panic there is plenty of legs to come. Round two and I change to a waist harness. With no strength it is easier to get hooked in and hang there. My thoughts are to take it easy, get through today and hope for a couple of days rest. My times are good to start, 35.5 knots, Antoine Questal comes down with 34.5 then Antoine Albeau 36. Ok stay calm get through the day.
As the leg carries on though the wind increases and the times go up and up, I can’t hold on any more. Leg three is the same; I start well but fade quickly.
Monday arrives and the wind is lighter. The first leg is 7m weather. Same story as the day before, after the first run I am in 10th place, after the second ninth then my position slips and slips.
I now realize that my contest is well and truly over. I have no strength in my left side, my ribs are still cracking and I have numbness down my left arm.
I am in the rigging area when my friend Patrick Van Hoof comes over and mentions he’s been to the hospital in Narbonne for an x-ray and they have confirmed he has a broken rib that means no more sailing for him. If he fell on it again it could puncture an internatl organ.
My contest is over and I decide to go and get checked out. At the hospital (who were absolutely fantastic) an x ray confirms I have a broken rib as well.
Time to pack up and head home. The painkillers they have given me also make you drowsy so for my 9 hour drive back up to St Malo I can’t take them (the fun of international competition)
I am sitting at the dock now ready for the 3 hour boat ride home. Straight to the doctor when I’m back as this numbness is getting worse, the broken rib I can live with but the pain in my shoulder and the numbness are terrible.
I let you know the outcome.
PS Buy a helmet!!