Christmas Day 2004, Ski Area, Midmar Dam, Kwazulu Natal

Wind: 18-20knots NW, Sailor: James

Midmar was pleasant although I think I may have got there a bit late (10h45) and missed some of the wind. When I arrived the horses were white and I rigged excitedly in front of a bunch of campers - Duku Duku campsite was obviously opened for the festive season. By the time I'd finished rigging, though, it seemed to be dropping rapidly.

I sat on the grass and was entertained by a young Afrikaans boy to stories concerning the abilities of his bicycle, their VW Camper Van, motorboat and his new fishing rod. I explained to him in my best broken Afrikaans how much wind I needed and he told me I should have come earlier. I concurred.

About 45min later it seemed to be picking up and I went out for a slog. There were patches of power but I wasn't going to make a twit of myself trying to pump onto a plane in such patchy wind so I was content just to breathe the clear air and listen to the peaceful sounds of nature... both tainted only by the sound of two-stroke engines and petrol fumes.

My balance-gybes are getting better and better. The midmar sailor becomes a master of the no-wind-short-board-gybe.

Slogged back and forth a number of times. Each reach had a few promising patches and every time I felt as if on the next one I might plane. And then... I did. The power was there, pulling me. I let the harness tug at my hips and tweaked the board onto a slightly broader reach... just a few more seconds... feel it breaking free... there. Lovely. Slipped into the straps and leaned back on one of those fantastic flat water reaches. Delicious. Worried I'd run off the end of the wind, I carved a beautiful gybe, snapped the sail round and patiently slogged back.

As any midmar sailor knows... or indeed any of the unspoilt windsurfers who are forced to sail weekends and public holidays at places with unreliable wind.. If you plane, even once, it was worth going! But if you get in the straps, you had a good sail! So I couldn't complain. My effort was justified... anything else would be a bonus.

Always the optimist, I hoped that patch of wind was the precursor to something more. Just an hour... that's all I ask. An hour of fully powered, graceful reaches and sensational gybes. Perhaps the odd neat chop-hop in between.

There were more promising patches and the odd, short, strapless plane but I was determined not to force. it. I worked my way upwind to a position where I'd be able to make the most of any good wind that came.

The Afrikaans boy and his family were heading out in their boat to do some fishing. I balance gybed behind them and his little sister tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to me. He waved. I smiled. Waving would have meant letting go with one hand and at that time I was doing the ankle-deep midmar slog which requires concentration and both hands. I didn't feel that I would be advertising the joys of our sport if I toppled off at that moment so I gripped the boom tightly with both hands and beamed confidently.

And then it hit. Wind. Powerful wind. I let it take me back out in roughly the same direction the boat was heading. They were going out on a beam reach and I followed, about 50m upwind. Pumped confidently onto the plane, slipped my feet into the straps and leaned into it. Fantastic. I couldn't see the boat clearly through my sail but I was easily keeping up with them... heh, heh, and hardly at full power.

I don't know if anyone paid attention to me but that could have been an elightening moment for them. What previously must have appeared to be a rather dull (if graceful, ahem) sport, could suddenly have been transformed. Yes, not just elegant, but F A S T!

For fear of running off the end of the wind I carved a superb gybe and snapped the sail around. Still on the plane, I pumped and got into the straps for the return reach.

About half way back to shore I noticed another speed boat heading across my path. They were towing two tubes and still quite a way away but if one of us didn't change course there'd be a problem. I could have cut upwind or gybed but collision was still a long way off so I bore away slightly and just watched to see what the driver would do. I could see that he hadn't noticed me at all so as I got closer I prepared to gybe.

Still a long way away, as I initiated my gybe, he deviated course and I think someone in the boat must have seen me. I gybed neatly and headed out again. This was good. Power and flattish water. Fantastic.

I cut upwind in order to stay in a good position in case the wind dropped and gybed again to head back toward my launch point. Performed a neat chop hop and landed it with no spin-out! Yay!

The same boat and tube was still in the area but this time further upwind. As I went past he started waving his arms and shouting. I could infer from the gestures he was telling me to get lost! I've seen enough righteous indigination on the roads to know exactly what it was about. I was breaking the rules of the dam and he was therefore justified in being rude to me in order to inform me of the fact.

And he was dead right. We don't call this "the ski-area" for lack of a better term ;-) It is, in fact, the area in which ski-craft are supposed to operate... and by implication, off limits to sailing craft. Unfortunately, it is also one of the best spots to sail a berg wind! Normally there are no ski-craft around... especially when there is wind... but, of course, on the 25th of December things are a little different.

So here was some legitimate water user abusing me for breaking the rules. What to do, what to do. Well, I did the only thing that seemed right - I ignored him ;-)

OK, it sounds really bad but since you only get to hear one side of the story I'm sure I'll be able to convince you that it was ok. You see, there was only one of me and all I wanted to do was have an hour of fun and I really don't see that I was hurting, inconveniencing or endangering anyone.

I could just as well be another motor-boat, couldn't I? Except that I'm way more visible in general (4.6m orange sail), a wee bit faster ;-) and way more predictable (at least to someone who knows the basics of sailing craft). So, really....

I think what happened is that he wasn't looking where he was going the first time he saw me and got a fright. So he took it out on me. If I had been a motor boat it would have been the same problem... except that motor boats are "allowed" here so he wouldn't have been able to transfer his anger.

Anyway, I decided that short of him pulling a firearm (which wasn't completely out of the question for any of our powered-sport friends) I was going to continue to enjoy myself but make sure I stayed clear of him.

I did this rather successfully. I stayed downwind of him and gybed every time I came within a hundred metres of his boat. Luckily I was fully powered and able to still have a fair sail within these parameters. Unfortunately, deliberately or not, his choice of routes meant my reaches were short and I was forced to stay well downwind of my launch point which I found profoundly annoying. Still, I had some super powered runs with some beautiful gybes right in front of the boat launching site (show-off)

Once he appeared to have gone (downwind) I started to cut back up to my position of (wind based) power. At about the same time the wind became light and I envisaged having to do the walk of shame, or worse, bobbing in the middle and presenting the perfect target for my powered friend's wrath!

Thankfully, the wind didn't go completely and I was able to slog back upwind and come in on a medium powered reach to the launch point. At about the same time my friend returned so we arrived on shore together at roughly the same place.

For such a vocal lad on the water, he didn't seem that keen to engage me now that we were on land, despite the fact that he must have known it was me (since there were no other windsurfers there). I feel, though, that if you shout at someone you obviously have something that you feel is worth sharing and it was important to give him the opportunity to communicate it.

So I intercepted him on his way back to camp and asked him in a friendly way if he was, perhaps, the person shouting at me on the water?

He was quite friendly, in fact, and just launched into a description of how they got "crapped on" yesterday for being in the wrong place and they had so little space as it was and etc etc etc. Well, I dutifully listened and then tried to explain that I was fully aware I was not supposed to be there but I came anyway because it was the only place to sail in a NW. I then told him that I had not intended to inconvenience anyone and I hoped I handn't. We parted amicably.

From that description, it rather sounds as if I got my point across, but in reality, I think all I succeeded in doing was reminding him that the faceless person you shout at on the water is in fact a person too ;-) I would like (secretly) to think that he had a slightly nervous moment as I walked towards him and perhaps wondered for a second if he shouldn't have carried his firearm loaded as he no doubt does on the road ;-) ;-) ;-)