So, Hanna got me all excited, with its projected 30-40 knot Southeasterlies, and after taking my three kids to their three separate soccer games last Saturday, I hitched up the trailer and high-tailed it down to Sandy Hook, hoping the Feds hadn't closed it.
To my delight, it was open when I got there, although my first inspection from afar suggested that I was the only person who would venture out in such conditions. To my further delight, however, I found that about 25 other hardy windsurfers were either sailing or rigging up when I got to the windsurfing spot (not a kite to be seen...).
I rigged my smallest sail (5.0) and headed out. It was perfect bayside, and I was just barely overpowered most of the time, a bit more overpowered at others, but I was mostly able to hang on, enjoying a mix of flat water and chop hopping. I learned a trick for sailing in tropical storms - the real veterans had brought goggles. Sailing at 20 knots in 30 knots of wind caused the rain to sting badly, and it was almost necessary sail with eyes closed. I stopped at the beach to rest for a moment, standing in the water next to some other guy.
"You sail here a lot?" I asked.
"Anyone ever sail oceanside in this kind of stuff?"
"How bout you?"
"Ha! Maybe twenty years ago... I got a family..."
I sailed for about two hours, then headed across the spit to fill up my water bottle, figuring that I'd call it a day. When I got across, I spotted a single lonely sail in the surf oceanside. I ventured down just as the guy was climbing up the beach with his rig to rest.
I asked him if he was staying a while, because I wanted to try some wavesailing, but I didn't want to try it alone. He said he was staying til dark, so bring it on. I noticed, but did not note at the time, that he was youngish, with bleached hair, probably qualifiying him to be sailing in the surf during a tropical storm. I nervously brought my rig down to the beach and stood around with him for about twenty minutes watching the surf and getting pointers from him.
He ventured out again, and I said what the hell and headed out after him. My first two attempts were disastrous. I carried my rig over the small shorebreak, but then when I got out to waist deep water, the rip currents were so strong, they just tore me off my feet and sent me hurtling down the beach (which also happened to be downwind...). I tried sitting in the water and half-water starting, but every time I was about to get up, another roller would come in and toss me and my rig about like a rag doll. I was gasping for air, and eventually, I had to give up and limp back to shore. Unfortunately, even though I'd only been in the water for a minute or two, the current had dragged me several hundred yards down the beach. By the time I carried my rig back to the launch spot, I was completely spent.
By this time, it was getting late, but I was not going to give up without punching through. I rested for a good long time, and finally followed the guy back in the water. I flailed about again, but somehow managed to work into deeper water and was able to waterstart. I got up and started to sail out, but was immediately met by a 6-8 footer just cresting. With my last bits of energy, I was able to tiptoe over it before it broke, and once on the other side, I was free. Unfortunately, the crashing surf had banged my booms up the mast. The harness lines were so high, I couldn't hook in. I had to drop my sail and fix the booms, all the while being swept by the currents down the beach. Finally all set and in deep water, I water started, got up, and prepared to head upwind.
That's when the wind really hit.
The eye of the storm was supposed hit North Jersey about 8:30 PM, and by this time it was about 7:15 and getting dark. In the time that I was getting out, the wind had just started to scream. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I had hooked in. I could not hold on. The wind would get under my board and force my whole rig into the air. I was seriously spooked. This would have been of little concern if I were sailing bayside, but here I was surrounded by huge cresting rollers, feeling very lonely out in the ocean, even though the other guy probably still had an eye on me.
I dropped the sail, turned my board, and water started to head back in. By the time I made it, I was half a mile or more down the beach. I pulled the board onto the beach and looked upwind. My eyes were immediately stung by a major sandstorm blowing down the beach. Unfortunately, I also wasn't able to carry my whole rig - I had to separate mast and sail and carry them separately. I reluctantly left my board, and headed up the beach with my sail, darkness quickly encroaching. After about fifty yards, I heard a crashing sound behind me, and turned to find my board being tossed down the beach like a piece of paper. I found a stake, tied my sail to it, and went back for my board.
Forty five minutes later in complete darkness, I finally sat in my car, too tired to unrig.
The other guy, who had been sailing the whole time doing flips and massive jumps off the big waves, was casually whistling as he derigged in the parking lot next to me...
As he pulled out, he said "Good to meet you! See you next time.."
Ha! Next time!