Before you go out:
Local knowledge – If you’re new to Hunstanton consult one of the regulars who can advise on location of sandbanks, rocks, bits of the old pier etc. Common incidents include hitting a submerged sandbank at speed and going over the handlebars or injuring yourself while clambering over submerged rocks between the groynes.
Weather – Check the forecast and select your kit and dress for the worst case. Know your limits. If in doubt don’t go out. Avoid going out in offshore winds for obvious reasons and there is a large wind shadow due to the cliffs. Don’t sail in thunder and lightning.
Tides – the tidal state, springs, neaps, direction and rate. When wind and tide together halfway between high and low water and at springs you will quickly end up a long way from where you started if you are not focused. Keep an eye on a landmark and stay upwind. Remember flooding tide direction is towards King’s Lynn and ebbing tide is towards Brancaster. When wind and tide opposed it gets lumpy.
Buoyancy – Anyone using a club board or novice sailors must wear a suitable buoyancy aid.
Equipment failure – is one of the main reasons for rescues. All equipment should be checked regularly but especially:-
- Ensure deck plate is tight and secure. Bend the UJ tendon through 90⁰ in 4 directions and check for damage and splits in the rubber. Keep a spare, never risk using a damaged tendon. Tendons should be replaced regularly so make a note of when you bought it and change it as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Make sure downhaul, outhaul and boom clamp lines are well cleated and loose ends are secure. Keep some spare rope and replace frayed ropes before you go out.
- Check fins are tight and secure.
- If your fin breaks, use your harness strapped to the back of the board through the back-foot strap so you can still steer.
- If your mast breaks, de-rig on the water. Wrap the broken mast in the rolled-up sail. Tie your rig to your board with your downhaul line or spare line and paddle back.
- If your boom breaks and the front end is still attached to the mast, sail back to the closest shore, assuming the windward side of the boom is still good. If not, then switch the boom round. If the front end is broken, lash it back on with spare line. If all fails, do as if your mast broke.
- If your UJ breaks, use the excess downhaul line/spare line to secure the mast base to the mast plate.
Buddy system – Don’t go out alone and always agree with someone on the water who you will buddy up with. Just joining a crowd may not be safe as there is no guarantee anyone is looking out for you. Before you leave the shore on your own to sail with a group, wait for someone to come in and make a point of making contact and agreeing to look out for each other. That means warning each other when you intend to come in so you can either both come in or if you intend to stay out then find another buddy. Where possible tell someone on shore where and when you will be sailing and tell them who to call if you don’t inform them you are back safely by the agreed time. Ideally, they should be able to describe you and your kit, e.g. black wetsuit, white board and red sail.
Stay close – don’t be tempted to sail too far out as you may not be visible from land or fellow windsurfers, including your buddy. Think about whether you can self rescue yourself back if you had to. If you are sailing by the sand bank (AKA “out back”) on a low tide then do so in company in case something goes wrong.
Spares – carry 2m of downhaul rope to use as a spare outhaul, downhaul, tow rope or for tethering the board to you or lashing the kit down or using as an emergency deck plate. Coil up and tape/tie it to the end of your boom. Could be the best investment you’ll ever make. Ideally have two lengths so they can be tied together to make a decent tow rope.
Wind dies – too little wind to water start exacerbated by wind and tide in same direction is a common reason for self-rescue or calls to the Coast Guard. If the board is too small to uphaul and if there’s enough wind to lift the sail but not enough to water start or stay up on the board, you may find that you can get enough power out of the rig to drag you along back to shore. Rather than trying to get both hands on the boom, you may find it easier to keep one on the lower mast. You should be able to get into a position to kick with your legs as well, giving a bit of extra propulsion.
Alternatively, if there is enough wind to lift the sail, you can go for the seated method, which is much easier than it looks. Simply water start the sail in a regular way, but instead of trying to get up, slide one leg over to the other side of the board. Either put both hands up on the boom, or one hand on the boom and the other on the mast, or in light conditions you might need to have one hand on the boom and the other holding the foot of the sail. This method lowers your centre of gravity to a minimum while reducing the drag of having your body in the water.
In the event of emergency and means of communication – if it all goes wrong:-
- Stay calm but work quickly
- Never leave your board – it will keep you afloat
- Attract attention immediately. Options include:
- Get on your board and use the distress signal (wave arms up and down above your head – crossing your wrists above your head.)
- Dayglow flag
- Waterproof mobile phone
- Mini flare pack
- Waterproof VHF ideally with DSC
- Attempt self rescue
- Keep warm and paddle to maintain your position
- Inform Coastguard when you arrive safely on the beach
Many of these communication devices could be stored in an Aquapack and tucked in wetsuit pouch, worn on sleeve of strapped to your harness.
Best to adopt a belt and braces approach with the above starting with whistle and flag as a minimum together with at least one of the others. If you use a mobile phone, then check that the network has coverage in the sailing area before you rely on it.
Warm clothing – Some say “suit, sail and board” is the order of importance when allocating your budget. Check your wetsuit, gloves, boots and hat and replace worn or leaky gear. Wear a balaclava, thin ones can be worn/rolled round the neck if not required but used to help retain your body heat if things go wrong, even in summer.
Rules of the road – At least know your port and starboard rule. If the wind is over the RHS of the board, then you’re in the right! Best to give way to motored craft at Hunstanton like the Wash Monster as they are not that manoeuvrable and operate within a constrained channel.
Energy levels – Take a fruit or energy bar with you if possible or return to the beach and grab a snack. Stay hydrated and drink before you go, after and ideally in between.
When you get back:
Cheers, see you at the bar! Thank you for keeping yourself safe on the water (HSC Committee)