Humbled at the Gorge

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plop's picture
Joined: 02/25/2002 - 14:43
Posts: 153
Humbled at the Gorge

Day 1

I arrive at the rental shop full of bliss and eagerness, and stuff the 100 Liter Drops board, 4.7 and 5.5 skinny mast and boom in the rental car and head to the Event Site (which is the most popular launch, and most friendly). All the wind meters etc. were showing 25 with gusts to 31+ so I decide to go 5.5 downhaul to the max and out hauled flat. I take my time to adjust the footstraps, boom height and harness lines, note of the neoprene everyone’s wearing, decide to go shorty and bare feet, and head out. I wade out, beach start and take off.

First I note how awesome it is to sail barefooted and fall off the wind quickly accelerating, and I’m ripping. There are at least 100 or so sailors and another 30 kite boarders and I feel like I’m in heaven. I stay on my reach all the way to the other side of the river and up ahead I see some really large swells over on the Washington side. I continue and notice everyone else has jibed by now, but I keep going and just before the rocks I attempt to jibe off a swell and go down. Sail is of course on the wrong side of the board so I do my thing to get everything in position as the swells bob me up and down. I finally get up and head back to Oregon for the jetty to show off my jibing abilities making a few for the day. Everyone take note, every time I fell, I noticed I wasn’t getting blown down wind, nor was I having any problem staying up wind.  I learned later that the current in Hood River churns a good 6-10 knots in some areas, which is opposite the prevailing wind direction.  Big tip, turn before the big swells that stack up over on the Washington side. I really enjoyed sailing from one state to another and by the days end was super stoked.

Day 2

I arrived in Hood River around noon since I had to work early on the morning. I rented an AHD Free Diamond 68, a 5.0 and 6.0 from Swiss-Swell and decided to give the Hatchery a try. I arrived at the hatch around 1:00pm and was in a big hurry to get rigged since I had to have the gear back by 5:00pm (first mistake). There were 30 or so people sailing and I chose to go 5.0 since I had no idea what the wind was doing (second mistake). I rock started from the point, and headed out. I waited and waited for the puff to send me off on my merry way as the board slogged its way out to the big swell coming off the reef.

I looked up wind for a puff and glanced around and noticed every one had fell off a  plane. My first instinct was to turn back and get the big sail, but I figured the wind would come back, and I didn’t really have timetoo de-rig and rig the 6.0. (third mistake). I looked up ahead to the ¾ mast high breaking swells and at the same time my board was losing momentum and began to sink. Just as I was knee deep in the river trying to sail the sinking board, a monster swell broke over my shoulder and buried me and the sail. It was at this time I realized I was in deep trouble.

I was in the dead center of the river, slap in the middle of the big breakers and there was no wind. The waves kept on pounding me over and over, and I was rapidly heading to Portland. I finally got in position to waterstart, but there was still no wind. I must have stayed in the waterstart position for at least 10 minutes while the waves pounded down hard. The first thing to come to mind was its about time for a big barge to come churning up the river, and I would be Sturgeon food for sure. No sense trying to uphaul, swim etc. so I was in some serious crap. All the other Hatchers were back at the launch, waiting for the wind to come back, probably laughing at the tourist out in the middle getting pounded. At this time I was thinking that this will be my very first rescue and I was beginning to get fatigued. After about 30 minutes or so in purgatory, I felt a puff, I was lifted up and I was of again. I was in full concentration mode not to fall, I turned down the face of the swell and I was planing again. Man what a ride it was absolutely amazing. I managed to get back, de-rig in shame and made it back in time to turn on the gear. Lessons learned, make sure you take enough sail, don’t be timid with the wind, especially if your boards a sinker. Two, spend some extra time in the kiddy pool, before you take on the extreme.

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Danny Johnson

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webguy's picture
Joined: 12/31/2000 - 22:01
Posts: 9922
Re: Humbled at the Gorge

I whole hartedly agree.  There are some places in the Gorge that were not made for me as a Georgia sailor and Gulf of Mexico sailor.  I had a similar episode at Rufus about one hour east of Hood River.  Wind was 50+ and it was stickly survival sailing.  Nothing like being home on Lake Lanier.  the George can be a tough place.  

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