land surfing apsu

Windswept

“I am going too fast. Shit! I need to turn now. I am not going to make this. Arrrgghhh. F**k, here we go!”

The next thing I remember is the rear left wheel of my land yacht, a BloKart, launching into the air sending me into a ‘pitchpole’ no different to that of falling over the handle bars of a bicycle at high speed. 

The BloKart rotated so quickly forward and around the pivot of the mast and sail that I ended up spinning around the rig to the point where the sail was suddenly launched back into the sky by the strong wind, flipping myself and the BloKart into a fast and violent back flip before coming to a stand still. 

It was like a car wreck straight out of the movies, complete with the settling of dust around an upside down vehicle, tyres spinning freely above the driver who is hanging in the seat by the safety belt. 

I defaulted to quickly conducting a physical damage assessment and taking a few short sharp breaths with the pounding of my heart in my throat. As I unbuckled and released myself from the pod I am pretty sure that I may have actually laughed out loud, possibly even let out an adrenaline fuelled “Whoop!”

24 hours earlier I had landed in Toulouse with an end destination being La Franqui, a region of France not far north of the Spanish border on the Mediterranean coast that is well known for landsailing and windsurfing records. As an avid windsurfer I had long wanted to visit this region and check out the purpose-built speed sailing locations, and for my first time on location I was to enter the arena as a challenger not a spectator. On my drive eastwards, I was guided by a bright moon that was early in the sky upon dusk. I really could not contain my excitement. I had been waiting for this opoportunity for some time. 

Tomorrow I was to meet up with Ross Vickers, who was my direct support for this project, and attempt to break the 24 hour land sailing distance record with my partners Delma Watches, Apsu, SCOTT Sports and MotoKing UK. 

Ross previously helped me achieve the St Regis Macao Cup Record (windsurfing from Hong Kong to Macau). But more than that, he is also a land yacht international champion in the Blokart class and the current holder of the record in my sights. We met at 07.30 Saturday 12th October 2019, and after a small delay waiting for the wind to sufficiently build, we keyed in our GPS devices to commence recording speed, distance and time. The clock had begun and I was fired up to crush the existing record. 

APSU helmet land surfing

I had been feeling slightly out of control just prior to the manoeuvre that led to the accident. The aftermath was a broken main sail trim device, significant pain in my right shoulder and, I must admit, a slightly intimidated pilot. I limped back to where Ross was waiting to help replace the broken parts. Our conversation was based around my feelings that the wind strength was too strong and that I possibly needed a smaller sail. His response was, “We don’t have a smaller sail” before quickly following up with words that I needed to hear, “You are just going to have to grunt up!” 

After the quick repair I was off again. The parting words from Ross were, “Are you enjoying it?”

I shouted back, “Hell yeah!’ and I meant it.

Early into the first few hours in the land yacht I began to realise that there will be many factors that will ultimately determine success or failure in relation to this particular goal, many factors that I had not contemplated in my cocktail of determination and excitement. This was certainly not going to be as easily achieved as it is presented in the data alone.

The first of these realisations was that I was significantly slower than Ross had been on his record run in June 2016 in the US. Whilst I was able to nudge at speeds in the mid 30 knots (around 65 kilometres per hour), Ross would have have been doing 40+ (around 80 kilometres per hour). Ross’ record had been plagued by light winds which meant that several hours were not sailable for him so I had this time up my sleeve to offset my struggle to achieve the same performance numbers. I needed to create a new speed threshold comfort zone, I needed to push my own personal boundaries, I was confident early on that I had a chance and with Ross’ support we backed the potential of a new record being established. I mentally prepared for long, sometimes stressful, hours of daylight and darkness ahead, overpowered in this uncomfortable carriage, speeding across uneven terrain.

I have lived my life learning and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. Everything in my life is beyond what would normally be perceived to be within my reach. 

A few years ago and for a few years prior, I could quite possibly say that I was in a well earned state of semi retirement, either living in our beautiful antique villa in Sri Lanka or cruising on our family yacht in Hong Kong, surfing, paddling and diving between phone link conference calls and responding to business emails in bare feet and board shorts. 

As the performance coaching aspect of my corporate offering has grown extensively off the back of my time behind the lectern delivering pathways for anyone to achieve any set goal, I now work very closely and individually with clients who are reaching amazing heights in business, who are learning, struggling, winning, losing and taking on enormous performance pressure. In the midst of my semi-retirement I asked myself if I was connecting with my clients on an even keel whilst swinging in my hammock in the Sri Lankan jungle. I felt strongly that the answer to this question was no.

In confidential exchanges with my clients, I am often drawn into the challenges that they are facing and I have a strong personal obligation to provide a positive contribution. I believe that it is vital in this role to feel the energy, nerves and pressure that comes with the emotional and physical quest to achieve a set goal, that same pressure that my clients are feeling both in their personal and business lives. 

Something that I feel cannot be found in any text book is the real ability to solve problems that parallel and reflect your own raw life emotions and experiences. To work together through problems or questions, to share collective emotions and events in order to find positive pathways to achieve positive results together is a key strength in my offering.

So my soul search two years ago led me to getting back in that game of once again challenging myself in the sporting and adventure field, which in turn led me to a position of hanging upside down in a land yacht, a little off course in the fringe of a sea grass knoll, upon a windswept French sand dune in an attempt to sail further than anyone else has done before in a 24 hour window.

So did I break the record? No. 

I find myself sitting back in the UK typing out this story unsuccessful in my quest yet not completely defeated. I love clear goals for their pure transparency and it is clear that today I am not the current record holder of the furthest distance sailed in 24 hours in a land yacht. So what are the take aways? There are so many, both positive and negative, and for this I have learned and for this I am grateful.

Why did I not achieve the goal? After nine hours in the cart I had covered two thirds of the required distance, which is a good thing right? Well, as mentioned above, there are many factors related to the success or failure in association with this particular record, and for us our biggest hurdle was not anticipated or planned for.

As night fell I became disorientated in the darkness due to the moon being so heavily obstructed by clouds. The three hours prior had delivered close to perfect conditions and I was both happy and confident. Without moonlight I simply couldn’t see where I was going and the route is not exactly straightforward. There are many dangerous obstacles on the course that need to be avoided when travelling at high speed and to avoid these I need to be able to see them, it’s that simple.

I decided to take a break after nine straight hours in the kart, wait for my eyes to better adjust and for the moonlight to cast a stronger glow. In trying to rest I kept looking at the sky and my surroundings. Within 30 minutes I felt I could possibly continue so Ross and I decided to walk the course looking for a stretch of beach that was open and safe to sail at speed in the dark. 

On walking the route Ross commented that it looked like there was water ahead. It didn’t take long before we were standing at the edge of a broad section of the pathway, the direct track that should have been my course, now suddenly underwater. 

We were both shocked. The strong winds had pushed the Mediterranean sea into our geographical corner, forcing the sea level to rise and the breaking waves to breach the sand dune. 

This led to a night of attempts to problem-solve a situation that was somewhat a losing battle. We tried throughout the night to get the project back on track but ultimately the water level kept rising and the elements won out.  

By 05.00 Sunday morning we knew that our quest was over, a decision or realisation that is never easy to swallow given all that goes into the planning and creating of such opportunities. However, you will never hear me using words such as ‘devastated’. It’s just a personal challenge at the end of the day and I have learned to love the process of planning, training, preparing and simply having a go.

Mid morning later that day the water had mostly subsided. I walked the route for my own mental resolve and the surface had become so boggy and slippery that it was clearly deemed unsailable.

land surfing apsu sponsor

On my way to the airport I called my eleven year old daughter and told her that I had not been successful. She reminded me that I have many other records so not to worry; her simple view on the situation made me smile. 

I am now home. Last night I slept in a warm and comfortable bed, knowing I was safe. I was not pushing the boundaries in the grip of nature, the elements or my own personal being. At home, my safe harbour, I am in my comfort zone reflecting on the challenge that was my world just a day prior. Enjoying the balance between fury and calm.

I am nursing torn ligaments in my right shoulder from the several crashes I had during the attempt, I have blisters on my feet and hands. My legs and lower back have been strained from wedging myself into the pod capsule in the BloKart fighting the g-forces, to the point where I am currently walking like a cowboy, my face is wind burned and I am also struggling to completely close my left hand. 

I feel like I have recently done something of meaning and pushed myself beyond a casual realm. My body is telling me that this is the case and for this reason I am content to have tried. 

It has always been hard for me to feel defeated when I have learned a great deal from any experience, when I have pushed myself through intimidation and new mental and physical thresholds. For me, this is what it is about and completely why I am consistently drawn to any challenge that stirs my emotions.

This morning I read an article in the FT Weekend Magazine by Simon Kuper. It was focusing on turning 50. The content was a mix of doom with a glimmer of hope in facing the realisation of the much feared and even scorned reference to mid-life, what that means and what that holds. I have never really understood how a reference to mid-life, or a mid-life crisis for that matter, could be delivered with any fear, derogatory or degrading sentiment. I think the 50s are as amazing, even possibly more incredible than being twenty or thirty again.

But that’s just me. I am a believer that life is what you make of it. That you are literally in the driver’s seat, without directional boundaries, and you can steer towards the sun or towards the rain; it’s your call.

I saw a great social media post recently that was a banner in a school corridor. It read, “Meet the person responsible for your…” Below this statement were five separate categories; 1) choices, 2) grades, 3) success, 4) words, 5) actions, and below each of these actions was one simple answer, a mirror.

I like to make promises to myself and to honour these promises as best I can. You can expect more challenge short falls from me in the coming years, with hopefully a few successes amongst the mix.

Until next time! 

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1 thought on “Windswept”

  1. Russ Whitehouse

    Great to see you “have a go” . Glad you came out of the experience not too battered. I enjoyed reading your article and agree the 50s are great. A fellow blokarter.
    Russ Whitehouse

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