Friday, January 18, 2019

Shark Bay and Lancelin

After Cervantes, we drove one hour south to Lancelin. Nina had booked us a very lovely apartment about 200 meters from the ocean. A couple of times, I rigged on the front lawn and carried my gear down to the beach for a quick session. That was fun the first time, but the second time, the wind direction had changed, and the runs were very short - after 400 meters (a quarter mile), a reef forced me to turn around. Jibing the 7 meter slalom sail every 30 seconds makes for a good workout, but gets old quickly. So the next time the wind was up, we went to the Ledge, where the Lancelin Ocean Classic marathon race starts. The start is nice and protected by a reef about 100 meters from shore. Once past the reef, there's big ocean swell; the place most similar that I have sailed is Jericoacoara past the point on a 4.5 m day. I generally sail my slalom gear only on flat water, so being out in head-to logo-high swell was quite interesting - but also fun. However, I certainly had no desire to sail a 22 km downwinder in a crowd of 100 windsurfers in these conditions!

Nina was thinking about participating, but there were a couple of issues. Once was that the race organizers announced two or three days before the races that they would require proof of liability insurance, and charge an extra $25 if you did not have it, bringing the total entry fee for the race to $125. In past years, Nina would have had a decent chance to recover some of the fee in prize money, but the organizers did not post any information about prize money anywhere. "No worries"?
The other thing that kept Nina from signing up was that her biggest wave sail was a 4.7, and she definitely did not want to do the race on a slalom sail. After pulling a muscle yesterday at Coronation trying to water start my 6.3 Racing Blade in the waves, I can understand that! Getting the sail out was hard enough, but then the next wave would come and kill the wind, dropping the sail right back onto my head. On the bright side, this keeps me from trying to go out again today with slalom gear on a wave spot, and gives me a bit of time for blogging while Nina is having fun on the water.

Back to the sail choice: one problem at Lancelin is that it's unpredictable when the wind will pick up - sometimes it is there for the race start around 2 pm, sometimes it comes half an hour or an hour later. Furthermore, some of the legs are very deep downwind, so bigger gear is needed - the winner (former PWA World Champion Matteo Iachino) was a 7.8. So there was a good chance that the 4.7 would have been too small - not something Nina wanted to bet $125 on.

While we did not race ourselves, we watched the start, and then drove back to the finish to see the first racers cross the finish line. It was quite a spectacle to see about 100 windsurfers and 90 kites at the starting lines! 

The next day, we got up very early (just about when the guys across the street finally ended their party), and drove 800 km (500 miles) to Shark Bay. We thought that we had picked great days to check out one of the best speed spots, with a wind forecast of around 22-25 knots and the tide levels being just right. However, after we had already made the decision to go and booked the hotel, we received a warning that the wind at Shark Bay tends to be 10 knots above the forecast! When we got to the beach in the afternoon, it did indeed look like at least 30 knots. We went for a quick test run just to verify that we could control our smallest speed sails in these conditions, but considering the lack of sleep and late time, we did not do the 2 km bay crossing to get to the speed strip. Instead, we decided to come back earlier the next day, before the wind got really strong.

That was a good plan, except that the wind did not quite play along. It kept blowing all night, and still was around 30-35 knots, with stronger gusts, when we got back to the launch around noon. The water level did not seem right, either: it was supposed to be a foot higher, but looked exactly the same as the day before. 

We cautiously made our way to the speed strip. We walked more than we sailed since we wanted to stay away from the deep water, as Nina was not sure she'd be able to water start or flip the sail. We were sure we had discovered the speed strip when we discovered the alpha markers - but the water levels were so low that sailing near the marker was not an option, even though our fins were just 18 and 20 cm short. Typically, the speed strip allows for a 600-800 m long approach in shallow and flat water, before the final "speed up" strip close to a sand bar and a deep sling shot close to the shore. But  given the shallow water, our approach was cut down to perhaps 50 or 100 meters, not enough to get settled and pick up speed - at least not with our limited skills. By the time we got back to the launch, the tide had gone down even further:
While we did not get to sail much, and did not get any speed runs, it was still a fun day. The area and the water was just beautiful - definitely one of the prettiest spots I have ever sailed.

The next day, we drove back south to Geraldton, our temporary home to check out Coronation Beach, one of the most famous wave spots in Australia. Shortly after leaving, we saw a family of emus right next to the street - cool!

The next stop was Eagle Bluff, which offers a great view of Shark Bay:
On the way to Geraldton, we stopped at Port Gregory, a small town best known for it's Pink Lake:
The pink color is due to carotenoid-producing halophine micro-algae, Dunaliella salina, which is used for cosmetics and dietary supplements. The town also spots a large reef-protected harbor:
One of the speedsurfers from Perth recently windfoiled there, and called it "foiling heaven". For speedsurfing, it's not quite as ideal, since the typical wind direction is at about a 45 degree angle to the reef, and waves break over the reef, creating some small chop and considerable current. But I certainly can see how this could be a great spot for foiling!

The next two days are predicted to be light wind days, which seems to be the typical pattern here: 2-3 days of light wind, then 4-5 days of good wind. When the good winds return, we'll be back in the Mandurah region for some speedsailing at the various Mandurah Bay spots. I can't wait!

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