A Windsurfer’s Dream
Another day on the island comes to a close, and I find myself alone on my cabana porch, looking out over the open Caribbean as the sky and sea merge into a dark blue. Cut off from the world on this isolated patch of sand and palms, I have only my own guess as to what the weather will bring tomorrow. As the darkness descends, the starlight illuminates the relentless surf pounding the reef a few yards away. I have been paddling and diving while exploring more of these endless reefs over the past few days, but what really has been on my mind is wind. It can blow hard for days on end out here, and I am anxious for the next big blow!
I didn’t even know I had fallen asleep in the hammock, but suddenly I am awakened by an even louder sound than the surf: a storm has blown in and the palms are straining under a stiff wind from the NW behind my cabana. I look over the railing and am greeted with a face-full of fresh water off the roof as a hard rain has also begun, its curtain hidden in the dark and wind. I stumble to bed with a grin, anticipating what this could mean for tomorrow.
I am up at sunrise, greeted by an angry sea. The wind is blowing a steady 25-30 mph, and foaming whitecaps stretch to the northern horizon. It doesn’t take me long to down a cup of coffee, and in nothing flat I have assembled my rig from the collection in the surf palapa and am stepping into the water. I quickly power up, shooting across the small bay of the island. After two tacks to clear a reef I am free of the shallows. Now I settle in and start ripping down the sand flats behind the atoll’s reef. My next stop is an island three miles away. Patch reefs shoot by, easily visible in the ultra-clear water along the flats. Startled stingrays dart from my path across the sand bottom, as I push forward for more speed. Dark and light patches of turquoise surround me and I look over the atoll’s ring reef at perfect lines of surf breaking on the coral, which shelters the sand flats I am hugging. The colors are too vivid to be real, highlighted by the sparkling reflections from the rising sun. I am into my dream! I am all alone in this vast water world, not a boat or sail to be seen.
At Long Caye you can windsurf right off our shoreSoon the details of the palms on the next island come into focus and I know it’s only a mile away. It is perfectly in alignment on a single reach from our island, so I sail right up to its beach for a visit and rest. “Just the loco windsurfer again, you know you’re crazy to be out there in this wind!” the local caretaker calls out. After a cold Coke and a stretch, I head back into the water and prepare myself for the next reach, a 4-mile run back to, and past, our island base. But 4 miles is only a matter of minutes at the speeds I can maintain in this wind.
Halfway along my new bearing I have to leave the glittering sand flats and head into the atoll’s lagoon, where I improvise a course through the numerous patch reefs. You never know if you’ll get cut off by a reef that is just a little too far upwind to pass by, and it keeps the excitement at a constant, high level as I have to make a continuous series of critical judgments. It’s similar to skiing the trees back in Utah, I think to myself; mistakes are not an option.
As I burst out into the sand flats behind the NE reef, another group of rays shoot away. One of them jumps out of the water, showing the clear black and white markings of a Manta Ray.
Returning from Middle Caye, BelizeI make a long, arcing jibe and start back to our island, my legs cramping after 4 miles of straining in the same position. Now I aim a bit downwind for the channel, which lies between the two islands at our base, breaking out to the sea. I have to spill some wind to slow down, but I know the reefs here and I cut through a small opening and into the surf zone. Here I take a few tacks along the edge of the break, then come screaming back up to our island, landing right at the dining palapa.
After stowing my gear I head into the kitchen where I join the others having breakfast. “Hey, wind looks awesome today, going out?’ somebody asks me. “How can I not?” I reply, thinking how could he not know where I had just been? Then I realized why, my hair wasn’t even wet! I had sailed half the atoll, with no wipe-outs. No one had missed me, no one knew about the ride I had just experienced. I guess it was just a windsurfer’s dream.
-Cully Erdman, Slickrock President