OkoumeFest Ultra Marathon 2015: ducks loved it

Tony Vandenberg sailed a total of 21 hours and 30 minutes to successfully complete the WaterTribe OkoumeFest Ultra Marathon 2015, near Annapolis, Maryland, USA.

The challenge consists of a 70-mile circumnavigation around Eastern Neck Island, Wye Island, and Kent Island. Vandenberg, also known as Bermuda Boy, won the Class 4 Small Sailboats (monohulls) after arriving at the destination 25 hours and 30 minutes later.

The young-at-heart windsurfer set sail with his Maui Sails Titan 9.5, but the journey wouldn't be exciting and fun without ducks, wind lulls, and lightning strikes. Let's hear him, in first person, starting off at Chesapeake Bay Bridge:

"I was really surprised that my mast just barely cleared under the bridge, so when I approached the westbound portion I lined up as close as I could to the west edge column. No wonder why the rest of the fleet was way over to port.

"Upon reaching Loves Point, I put in my waypoint for Eastern Neck, but once I got moving, the direction arrow was unmistakenly pointing me in a bogus direction. I fiddled around with it for a while, trying to see what the issue was, and was about to give up and just follow the Lammerus Hobie Team, when I was able to pull up the right one up and get underway in a semi-confident direction.

"The wind stayed strong the whole time I was in Chester Bay beating my way up to the Narrows Bridge. I had checked the tide and current the night before and knew I wanted to make it there before 11:00 before the flood cycle. The entrance to the bridge channel was a little funky and confusing, even though I had studied it in Homeport with an electron microscope.

"After the Narrows Bridge I didn't see another WaterTriber again the entire time, except when I was coming out of Wye.

Once past the long concrete jetties, the wind just dropped back to some random sporadic puffs. I had to stay out of my harness in an uncomfortable, contorted stance that requires a lot of weird feet/toe pressure on the board. I am confident that lefty, all black and blue, is going to die very young; for righty, she's discolored but might just survive.

Tony Vandenberg: ready for the lightning strikes

"Beside the lame wind, I really enjoyed this part of the course. I got to look around a lot and imagine the history and folklore I had studied up on before the race. Soon enough though, I was happy to make out the silhouette of the Bennett's Point Light House, a very welcome sight indeed.

"As I entered the Wye, I was greeted by a beautiful 40-foot sailboat with a fellow and Bruce Robbins cheering me on. It had just begun getting really hot, and since I was running downwind, it felt like there was no wind passing over my sweaty body.

"It was the time when all the black thoughts come out about quitting, and hell no I'm never doing one of these again thoughts dance around in your head. The trip through the Wye was awesome. The whole area is just beautiful, scenic, natural, peaceful, tons of birds and ospreys and a rather good breeze to boot.

I had drank up a lot of my water supply getting there, so I was keeping an eye out for someone on their dock and found a guy just back from a cruise and he was so kind as to fill my camelbak as well as spray me down with fresh well water from Wye Island. I began feeling all dreamy, that once out the Wye it would be all beam, broad and downwind easy sailing in 5-7 knots of wind all the way back to the finish line. I was fantasizing I could be in before 10pm.

"About 40 minutes or so later, my GPS went black screen with a dead battery just at the easternmost tip of Wye Island, right where it gets a little confusing of whether to go straight or take a right. I glided my bow up into the shallow marsh grass, hopped off, changed my GPS batteries, and munched down some power bars, gel, and a good cool refreshing swig of water.

"Just before I was about to jump back on, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a duck about 4 feet away in the thicket, sitting on her nest, being really still and quiet so I wouldn't see her. 'Shhhh', I stealthily snuck up and pounced on her with prowess.

"We ended up bargaining a deal in which I promised I would not introduce her to my new Jetboil, and she would become mine for the rest of the journey and beyond. It was a good deal, and I greatly enjoyed the time we spent together, and she was strikingly proud, to puff out her exposed breast over the bow, more provocatively than any two bit Athenian figurehead.

"I made it to the end of the marsh just before Bennett's Point where there is a little sandy beach. There I set upon setting up for the night portion, breaking out my headlight, my glow lights that I would hang on various parts of my sail like a Christmas tree, and some snacks to munch on as I coasted the way to the finish with the wind at my back and not a single leg of beating upwind.

"Glorious so that it was, I called and spoke to my wife for the first time and informed her just how jolly good and smooth everything was going. After the call, I sprang back on my board at about 6:30pm. I couldn't have been more than 100 feet off of Bennett's Point when I saw a flash of lightning, and instinctively started counting the seconds.

Tony Vandenberg: he even had time for a selfie

"Oh, my gosh! That's not very far way, probably right over the western shore of Kent Island. I looked around the span of the bay, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I was the only thing floating on the water that I could see in all directions. Not another boat, pelican or anything. I toyed with the idea of turning back to Bennett, but the urge to finish quick, was overpowering. As I crossed the water between Bennett and Tilghman Points, the wind gradually died down to nothing about 3/4 of the way across.

"The lightning strikes increased and the counted seconds rapidly decreased. I was really scared now about being caught out in the middle of the bay with my 5.2 meter mast sticking up like a rod, so I positioned my two feet on the two little white rubber pads adjacent to the daggerboard well, and laughed at myself for thinking, 'yeah smarty, that's going to make a really big difference with my saltwater drenched booties and a zillion white volts'.


"The wind was totally gone, and I was now pumping the sail in wide arcs trying to create forward motion when I gave up on that. Just as soon as I had my paddle together, the sky turned dark, and water turned white, with an 180-degree shift of the wind, and 20-25 knot gusts ripping in from the north.

"I jammed the paddle in its full length back under Duck's butt, and popped the rig back up in less than a second, and sheeted in hard. I'm guessing I had the fastest run the whole event, probably between 15-20 mph in a shallow planing broad reach to what had just become a few minutes ago the now leeward edge of Tilghman Point. During that short run, the rain came down in buckets, and I was too scared to count the seconds between all the lightning and thunder.

"I picked my way at breakneck speed between the fallen trees littering the shallows with saber branches poking up everywhere, literally hopped from the board onto the beach as my fin dug into the shallow sand around 8pm. I then searched for a nook in the cliff, shielding the wind, where I could lean my sail up against to form my tent.

"My plan was to stay there until the storm passed. I clicked on the weather man robot weather voice, and the news was not good; sort of sounded like the Egyptians hadn't let the Hebrews go home yet even after all the Crickets.

"I cooked a real delicious Lasagna and ate all that I could get out with my spork, and then turned the bag inside out to lick every last drop of sauce off the bag. I think I was asleep by about 9pm, but it was a shallow sleep as I kept hearing storm noises and other noises just on the cliff overhead, that I imagined were the grunting of a bear following the scent of the M&Ms in my trail mix bag.

"I became fully awake just a little past midnight and noticed the rain had stopped, and the wind was down if not downright gone. I packed up in no time and tried to figure out if I should de-rig my sail for full paddling mode, or set out with the sail rigged. I settled on the latter, and just as I hopped onboard, it started raining again; no problem with that as there was no thunder or lightning.

"The rain stopped shortly after that and as I got out of the wind shadow of the Point in the pitch blackness of the night, I suddenly realized I was all wrong! The wind was out of the South but slowly shifting to the West and dying out. I was not going to be free riding a broad reach or downwind lazy coaster wind from the south all the way home.

"I sailed slowly in vain about 4 miles pointing as high as I could, knowing all along I was getting headed big time to the East, away from Kent Point. I thought of tacking to catch the lift but feared that would take me out in the center of Eastern Bay, and I knew this wind was on its way to becoming nothing. I decided to deal with the header and at least get to the shallows off the southern end of Kent. There I could break down my sail and get in paddling mode.

"It turned out the wind died completely about a half mile from the eastern edge of Kent around 2am. I fought about an hour battle trying to get my sail to lay across the stern of the board without either the luff or the leech dragging in the water. I finally got it balanced, but to keep it there I had to sit on top of my mast base which is not something I would recommend to anyone.

"At first my goal was to head straight into shore, get in and totally break down the rig, but by that time there was absolutely no wind and the water was like glass. I was able to keep the rig balanced under my butt and paddle without the sail dragging even once, all away to around Kent's Point.

"A quarter mile past the point the sun was lighting the sky enough for me to feel comfortable to break down my rig on the open water. After the rig was stored away neatly, I was in a real efficient and comfortable position to begin paddling in earnest.

"It was not to be; this was not going to be a fun and easy trip to the finish line. The dreaded, despised, and abhorred paddling continued all the way up to the finish beach and as the bow kissed the sand, I think I heard duck quack for the first time with the sweet glee of accomplishment."

A beautiful chaos, the ultimate surfing wave, a freak of nature, the advanced surfer's testing ground, a specialty wave, the premier tube riding arena, and, ultimately, the Mecca of surfing.

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