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Windsurfers Cross English Channel

by Guy Cribb/Sail-World Cruising on 23 Oct 2008
Cribb and Albeau complete Channel Crossing. Photo: http://www.guycribb.com/ . .
Two professional windsurfers at the top of their field have just sailed the English Channel. Englishman Guy Cribb and Frenchman Antoine Albeau sailed together through rough seas this week. Here Guy tells the story:

'There must be easier ways to get windsurfing on the TV' I thought as I was bounced high out of the water and twisted round in mid air off the hellish chop, on the verge of a catapult for about 5 hours, with cramps almost everywhere!


We left Cherbourg at 10am (9am UK time) in a south westerly wind with Antoine Albeau on 6.7m NP RS Racing and 111 Starboard iSonic and myself on 5.8m North Sails Ram on 110 litres Mistral Slalom board. By the time we hit the wind line we also hit confused chop in the notorious currents around the Cherbourg Peninsula. In the first hour both Antoine and I stacked it a few times losing control overpowered sailing really broad, the sign of things to come.

However we could not slow down as we didn't have permission from the French authorities to leave their shores, so we needed to cover the first fifteen miles or so as fast as possible. Needless to say, they didn't catch us. Although as Antoine and his team arrive back to France today, there may be some unexpected press coverage...

As the waves got bigger we began to lose sight of each other and the boats. If one of us had fallen and had not been able to lift the rig, we may well of had to use our flares to attract the boats' attention, even though we were never more than about a hundred metres apart.

The wind was dropping badly in the big swell, and we would quite often come right off the plane in a lull only to rise to the crest of another wave and be totally out of control, over-powered and accelerating wildly down a mountain into a pit filled with chop. The chop was massive triangles of pain that caught us out loads of times, stopping our acceleration causing the sails to totally over power, and forcing us to really put the muscles into overtime. I often found myself bounced into mid air and slowly twisting before a jolting flat landing. I would try to control this through spin out and arms burning, or just accept my fate and flop into the ocean.

The supertankers were absolutely trucking across our paths, and silently appeared out of the poor visibility firstly just as a huge grey shape, then as colourful giants churning through the Channel with engines groaning even in that wind.

We had plenty of stops, on one I really thought I couldn't go on. Antoine and I sat on board the English rescue boat whilst the French boat kept an eye on our kit that was adrift for about 30 minutes. In this time we were both feeling very sea sick, as was pretty much everyone on the boats. I was weak and uncomfortable having been stuck on port tack for so long I genuinely thought I could not finish. When it came to jumping off a relatively safe boat for my kit, with Anotine already up and running on his, I could barely bring myself to do it. By now I was cold, sick, in pain and with zero energy. Oh, and lots of cramps too - for the first time in my life I even got cramp in my thumb.

At one stage the GPS was indicating we were about 10 miles to windward of the direct route, but despite the agony of being frozen on one tack, we had to get close to England before we made any decisions to change tacks so we powered on. As it was, after a slight change in the swell and probably wind direction, we arrived in UK waters just off Durleston Head west of Swanage Bay- only a mile or two upwind of Poole, so almost a direct hit.

We then spent about 45 minutes playing for the cameras off old Harry Rocks and Swanage with such a renewed energy knowing we only had a few miles to go and nothing could stop us.

We landed at speed onto Sandbanks Beach to a mass of media- more press in fact than windsurfing has had in the UK for probably 15 years, after 6 hours of being at sea and probably nearly five hours of serious blasting.

We were totally elated, so much so the pains seemed insignificant.

Also to everyone who has donated to the Ellen MacArthur Trust at http://www.justgiving.com/windsurf your help is going to personally change the lives of lots of children and their families next year, taking them from a low point most of us could not imagine to a place that I can only think is an even greater high than the elation we feel when everything comes together in a perfect storm of windsurfing.

And most importantly, we have raised over £7000 so far for the Ellen MacArthur Trust.

Read the full article and more on Guy's website

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