He could taste it, smell it and feel it, that unmistakable feeling of total domination. Looking back, the nearest competitor was at least 200 feet behind, and in sailing terms, that is an insurmountable lead. The Windbag Regatta 2006 would crown a new winner for Windbag of the Year! Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, it was the beginning of the end.
All week the wind was blowing 15 to 25 mph; small craft warnings had been posted. "Are we going to have the Windbag this year?" asked Barbara, she was concerned about how the wind was howling around Hawaii Kai. I assured her that the wind would die down by Sunday, the day of the race; in fact I was concerned about the winds being to low. She didn't sound very reassured, but I suggested she send in her application for the race that night anyway.
On Sunday, July 16, 2006, the day of the race, there was Barbara, already at the start, looking very confident. She was using her new Hobie Adventure complete with pedal fins. To qualify for the race she practiced with a 7.5 parafoil kite for two days. She would have used the Hobie sail, but none were available on Oahu, in time for the Windbag Regatta. The wind was barely blowing, but that wasn't going to affect her as she was sure she would dominate the race using her unstoppable pedaling.
Soon, Ed and Paul arrived. "Whoa!" I exclaimed as Paul carried his Sprinter to the shore. He never used the kayak during our practice runs; instead he used the kayak that I was using, the shorter and fatter (slower) Scupper Pro. Next, came Ed, he brought down his fiberglass kayak that he specifically modified to sail complete with double amas.
What I wasn't prepared for was the crab claw sail that was a whopping 40 square feet of sail. He never used that during practice runs either. "Watch Paul pull out his 13 parafoil kite for the race!" I mentioned, just waiting for the next surprise to happen. Steve and Chalsa were the next to arrive, and Steve had been practicing with his now famous "Viking Sail" that he designed and had custom made. "Thanks for the suggestion that I should practice more with this rig Kev!" Steve declared, "I really feel confident that I can win this year." Chuck was the final contestant, trying out a different approach, the use of a kite and a surfing kayak with a planing hull.
I wanted the race to be delayed to the alternate date since the winds were so low, but when we took the vote was asked about whether the race should take place today, it was unanimous, the race would be today, light winds and all. The last time we held the Windbag Regatta in anything but moderate to strong Trades, I lost to Steve, so I wasn't feeling very confident about my prospects today. The racers were finally ready for the start, and we decided that we should start in the water. Chalsa chose to be in her kayak ready to start, while most of us stood outside of the cockpit. Then Jeanie yelled the start and the race was on!
Chalsa, Steve, Ed and Paul leapt to a strong start. As I sat in my kayak, trying not to get tangled in my lines, the front four were taking off. I was almost 40 feet behind the frontrunners before I started the race.
At Paikoo Point, I finally caught up to the group, but I had to paddle as the winds were too light. Ed was maintaining a lead of almost 50 feet ahead of me, and paddling didn't seem to affect the distance. Steve was pulling ahead of me, and he looked determined not to huli. A gust blew and I started to accelerate, and I started to pull ahead of Paul, Steve and Chalsa, who took an inside track.
As I accelerated, so did Ed and he actually was pulling ahead, now he was at least 200 feet ahead, but the wind was starting to wane and I started to paddle again. At Niuiki Peninsula, I actually pulled within 50 feet of Ed, and took an inside track. If I could get on the side of Ed, I could use Chalsa's technique of robbing his sail of wind. The problem was that as the wind started to pick up, so did Ed, and now he was pulling away.
At the half way point at Kawaikui, Ed was back at 200 feet ahead and never looked back. But he started to take a different track, curiously, he took the inside track. Later, he admitted it was a "rookie mistake", but I think he saw what I was trying to do in robbing his sail wind, and was determined to not let it happen. I took the outside path, but at this point I was almost ready to throw in the towel. Ed had a lead that he wasn't going to yield no matter if I was paddling or if there was a gust of wind. But as he approached Wailupe, he went really inside, almost to the shore.
At that track, he would have to turn makai to go around Wailupe, certainly doable, but that would add some extra distance to cover over myself who was outside and fighting the breakers. I decided that if I was going to have a chance to win, I better start paddling, and I did. This time the wind started to wane again, and I was too far behind Ed for him to see me. He would have to turn almost 120 degrees behind to see me paddling hard, and that is exactly what happened. By the time he saw me, I had made up all the distance between us, and he had started paddling hard as well.
I had the advantage in the momentum I had gained from paddling from way behind him carried me in front. Then, as the wind started to pick up, my double sail filled with air and I was taking off. To my right, Ed was leaning way back to prevent the nose of his kayak from pearling. He took a chance at letting his ama out of the water on the right side. Since it looked like he was accelerating, he pushed it and hulied.
I never saw the huli, but I noticed that I was pulling ahead. I turned to the finish line and tried to put Ed away. The wind was speeding up and my hull was starting to rise out of the water. I glanced back and saw Ed at the corner of my eye that was enough to start paddling hard in an attempt to demoralize him.
Finally, I hit the shore, just 1 minute before Ed came pounding in. What would have happened if he didn't huli at the end, probably the result would have been different. But for today, Ed had to deal with that feeling of what if?
Started in 1999 by Kevin Ching of Hui Wa'a Kaukahi Kayak
this event has inspired many a kayaker to take to the wind:
The finishers for 2006 left to right:
Colleen, Barbara, Chalsa, Steve, Kevin, Ed, Gary, Chuck and Paul
The winners: Steve, Kevin, and Ed
More links for help with Kayak Sailing: