Don't call it a comeback, or "Joe tries out for the Darwin Awards"

It's Saturday. I've just got done training for 3 hours straight for the colorado state jiujitsu tournament coming up next weekend. I've been beat to the point of absolute exhaustion. I can't move.

We've just finished lunch and it's about 3:30pm. I notice the wind is howling. I decide to head to the local radioactive mudpond piece of crap I've sworn off years ago, Standly Lake.

Note about SL. It's shallow and weedy, they charge $10+ to get in, andit's just about always closed to windsurfers when I try to go. In
addition, the shape of the land around Standly seems to guide air up, and I've been there when it's 15mph in the parking lot and 3mph on the

Sound underwhelmed? Yup, me too.

I swing by just for giggles on the way home. The water is frothing white and the dust in the parking lot is 15 feet high in the gusts. I take this as a good sign(tm) and head to the booth to ask state-dollar-taker friendly(D-T-F):

"Is the lake open to windsurfers?"

"Ummmmm...let me check."

D-T-F calls on the radio and after about 5 minutes says:

"Yes, but there's no patrol boats, you're on your own"

Ok, it's on.

I rush home and attach the trailer with all my gear and sprint out with squealing tires and a pounding heart.

I get to the lake and pay $13 for the privilege. I park near a group of windsurfers, most of whom are on the beach.

2 guys are near the water in wetsuites watching a 3rd come in, and I ask about sail sizes. One guy, about 160 lbs was just nuked off his 4.3m sail. From what I can tell the wind is 35-45mph.

Junior Lacky Lake Folks(JLLF) come down in a truck and tell me I can't go out, as they've just pulled 2 windsufers off the concrete dam and they aren't letting anyone else go out...and would I like to talk to the Man In Charge(MIC)? I say damn right I'd like to talk to the MIC.

MIC rolls down in his lake issue I-have-no-cock-truckasaurus, and based on similar experiences with park folks, I figure this is going to go badly. MIC is pretty darn nice and quite concerned. MIC says they just pulled two sailors out from getting pounded into the concrete dam. He didn't want me to go out, as there would be no support on the water.

I reply:

"I don't want help, and hey we've got 270 million people in the US, and 270 million minus 1 is still 270 million. The other sailors can have my gear if I don't make it back"

MIC points out the 2 sailors they just pulled off the dam said they could sail as well.

The sailors standing around offer their support, and MIC grudgingly says for the 10th time:

"If you go out, you're on your own"

Ok, so now I like MIC quite a bit more than 5 minutes ago. Cool and the Gang, I'm rigging.

I pull my 4.0m sail out and try to figure out which end is the top of the sail.

Darwin point:

I didn't go to Maui this year, and haven't sailed in about 15 months.

Rig the 4.0 in short order and pull out my high wind board, a Fanatic Fly.

Darwin point:

Did I mention I've never sailed this board? I bought it to replace a board I trashed in Maui, and since then I've just rented gear when I was on the island. I'd pretty much sworn off sailing in Denver, as my experiences have been pretty crappy to say the least. The high-wind board has gathered dust.

Get into my wetsuite, and as I'm carrying the 14lb board to the water, notice I'm so tired I can barely move. (Darwin point)

The one sailor who was on the water is now in and confirms it's nuking out there.(Darwin point)

I do a spot check of my gear and decide give it a go.

The inside of launch has really fluky wind. 10-40+ mph. I'm sinking in the lulls and getting jerked about by the gusts.

It takes me about 10 seconds to realize my booms are 5" too high, and my harness lines are 6" too forward.

I drop into the water about 100 yards out and try to adjust, then realize it would have been better done on the beach.

I pull the sail into a waterstart position and promptly have my board flip in the water. Seems the somewhat narrow outline of the hull and the position of the mastfoot are combining to flip the board in the water when I put any weight on the board. Even the weight of flying the rig for a waterstart is flipping the board.

No worries, it's been a while, just need to be patient. I right my board and swim the sail into position, only to have the board flip again, and this time takes the sail tip deep into the water.

SHIT. Forgot my uphaul rope. Now uphauling this board(pulling the sail out of the water with the rope) is futile, as it doesn't have enough volume and will just sink, and in 40 kts I wouldn't be able to uphaul on an aircraft carrier from the wind pressure on the sail...BUT: you can use the uphaul rope to pull the sail around when it's in/near the water to help speed up waterstarts.

Ok, repeat the flip and rinse about 5 times and I'm now significantly downwind of where I started. I'm so tired I can barely float, and I'm having to consciously calm myself down as I heave for breath. The surface current is strong at about 1.5-2 kts and I'm fast losing ground toward the dam. I've got some time to get this right, but that time is measured in $minutes < 10.

Get the sail up and keep the board fin-side down, then manage to balance through the extra choppy/shifty/nuking wind and get to dry land, 50+ yards downwind of where I started.


What to do?

Temps are dropping, no one on the water, wind is increasing, sun is about 45 minutes from setting, and I just got my ass handed to me, and now I can barely stand up.

I thought:

"Where the hell is Hugh? He'd be good to have here right now"

Awww...fuck it, I'm officially signing up for the Darwin Awards. I head to the trailer, get my uphaul line.

Back at the rig I attach the line, move the mastfoot 2" toward the nose to stop the board-flipping and keep the nose down on the water. I move my harness lines back.

I take the pre-walk-of-shame upwind at one of the local's suggestions. Apparently the wind shadow I had to go through is much smaller upwind.

The air temps have dropped considerably. I'm quite comfortable in the water, but out of the water, my 5/3 wetsuite is enough, but my hands are going numb. It was 70+ degrees at noon. Feels like low 60's or  high 50's now.

Up, up, and oh-shit-this-is-work. I head out, balance through the smaller lulls and get the board solidly planing about 150 yards from shore.

My 4.0m sail is twitchy, as are all small sails when you haven't been sailing. The gusts and lulls are pummeling me. The wind is side offshore at launch and sideshore 200 yards out. I'm moving, and in general, the board is feeling pretty groovy.... that fun and easy thing, typically only rolled together in blondes with nice smiles.

I head out for about 3 minutes, using my hosed arms to compensate for the off harness lines and gust/lull combos. The wind is insane. Just about as strong as I've ever felt, but unlike some of the max-o-rush hurricanes Hugh and I have sailed, this punch is being sent in jabs/uppper cuts/feight combos rather than an even blast.

The wind is clocking 15-20 degrees as the gusts are now pulling up liquid smoke. I'm looking straight down wind and the water is blasting itself to the dam.

I blow my gybe, and am in the drink. I think of my buddy Patrick, who is in the Rocky Mountain Rescue, and how he'd most likely shoot me in the leg for how stupid I've been in this endeavor.

Shore is looking farther away then the downwind dam, and I'm truly spent. I can barely fight my wetsuite at this point, and my wetsuite fits perfectly.

I reposition the sail easily (thanks uphaul) and waterstart without incident.

I knuckle up and white-line it back to the shore, again using my now absent muscle to supplement good gear tuning.

I make it 30 yards from shore and get hammered by a lull-> 30 degree wind-shift -> gust-to-ALL-OF-IT combo. Damn, gotta keep my dukes up when the wind is throwing down like this. Waterstart in a super-funky gust and balance in to dry muck.

I'm grinning so hard you can see my molars. I'd forgotten just how freakin great it is to be in the water. Being on the water when there's that much energy around is phenomenal, even if I was sailing like crap.

Finally my head talks my nuts out of yet another stupid move and I realize with some regret:

"That's it, I'm done."

The air temps have gone to the low 50's, and as I'm carrying my gear out, one of the few remaining sailors runs up the shore to me and shouts:

"They registered a gust over 60 at the station!"

Looking at the water, that sounds about right. The gusts over the water are visible texture and the oddest thing I've seen is the gusts only appear to be about 30-50' wide. Liquid smoke in narrow plumes is flying downwind, but I've never seen narrower gusts.

The windlines on the water are criss-crossed and going anywhere from lull-glass-smooth to 45 kts blown glass smooth to an I-can't-see-through-it blast of water pulled from the surface.

Enough is freaking enough, I've managed to escape the Darwin Awards, at least for now. I begin the unpleasant task of derigging in the blasting dirt of the parking lot with numb hands.

A big regret is not having a camera. The wind was so powerful it was amazing, and the late-day light was the stuff of posters.

I still hate Standly Lake, but now I'm going to have to resume my search of drivable sailing near Denver.

It was a day I won't soon forget.

Darwin will have to wait for me, at least a little longer.