Monday, December 7, 2009

Inlet to Inlet Distance Race: Ft Lauderdale, FL

The Inlet to Inlet race, otherwise known as the "i-to-i," is a long distance race held in the Atlantic Ocean.  It is run by local Formula hotshot Ron Kern, and sailors race from the Port Everglades inlet to the Hillsborough Inlet and back.  We sailors can always expect two things: some really challenging conditions, and a big adventure. This year was no exception.  

13 sailors showed up to race; most on Formula gear (9) but a good longboard turnout as well.  The wind was from the southwest, and Ron put the pressure on us to get to the beach really early so we could make the best of the day.  As usual, everyone rolled in a half hour to the start and thus we started at 9:40 instead of 9:00.  

Racers pose before the start (photo: Sue Kern).

The side-offshore wind is always really gusty in Ft. Lauderdale, with big puffs and even bigger lulls. I was pretty sure the wind was going to increase with an incoming rainstorm, so I rigged on the small side (mistake), a KA 9.0 with my mid-sized 66cm Kashy fin.  We started by sailing about 2 miles on a close reach to the Port Everglades channel mark.  

I was close by the boys as we rounded the channel mark, but took a spill when I hit a piece of chop and a big gust came at the same time.  The ocean chop was challenging as on one tack downwind you were directly sailing up and down steep waves, and to keep going you had to sail in a zigzag fashion to keep from going uphill too much.  On my way down, I passed Alex Morales, who was chilling out, sailing in slow motion downwind, and watching the action.  He, along with most of the Formula fleet, had decided that the wind was too light, and sailed a short course in to the beach immediately.  The rest of the Formula fleet, which by then consisted of Ron, Fernando, and myself, went all the way down to the Hillsborough Inlet channel mark.  The wind was getting lighter and lighter, and on the way back up I was unable to plane in the lulls.  The two boys on their bigger rigs started to get far ahead of me, it started to rain, and then the wind decided to die.  By this time, I had already gotten halfway back to the launch, but still had about 4-5 miles to sail upwind.  I had also sent some fishermen into a hissy fit by sailing into one of their lines (who knew that they were so close to the surface 100 meters behind the boat?).  Comically enough the fishhook caught my fin and the boat actually dragged me 20 feet as it came to a stop.  When the line slacked I unhooked myself and escaped the frying pan yet one more day.

The last gasp of wind got me in about a half mile from shore, where it took another exciting hour to tack in.  Luckily I pulled the gear onto the beach in front of a nice derigging area: a tall, white, classic 1970s-era condo with a big deck and a hose to rinse all the gear.  In my wetsuit, I hopped the fence to the road, much to the annoyance of the security guard.  I asked him nicely to call a taxi for me, after which I was honored with a lecture about the evils of hopping fences and the meaning of private property.  The taxi took me back to the launch site, and I gave the driver an extra tip due to the big puddle of salty water in the back seat.  

At the launch, most of the Formula sailors were chowing down on French fries in the local restaurant.  Ron and Fernando were the only two Formula sailors to finish, a great accomplishment given the light and tricky conditions.  Alex was on scouting duty, and was finding the longboard sailors one by one.  The longboards really took the day as Beth Winkler and Daniel Borsutzky finished the huge distance in about 5.5 hours! 

 I took the van back to the condo to get my gear (and listen to another lecture), and the racers adjourned to Ron's house for a party and awards.  It was a big day, but at least I didn't break a mast and destroy my cell phone like last year. Check out Ron's race report and results.  Thanks to all the great race sponsors, Liquid Surf and Sail, Adventure Sports and Sandy Point Progressive Sports, for some really great prizes; and thanks to Ron and Sue Kern for making the i-to-i a really nice event.