Tony Vandenberg: the solo windsurfing marathoner sails away for another challenge | Photo: Vandenberg Archive

Anthony Vandenberg has once again participated in the Shackleford Challenge 2018 in Cedar Island, North Carolina. This time, he had a close encounter with a shark.

The event is a 100-mile challenge, and the windsurfer known as "Bermuda Boy" is becoming a specialist in solo sailing marathons. Here's his story.

Wow, Driftwood Drive has changed. The new and improved Sharky's Bar And Grill is a glorious thing to behold.

Camp registration for the night on primitive tent site right by the back launch is only $25. Staff is warm and friendly and genuinely interested in our camping and the race plans.

I get all my equipment out of the car and try to decide which of the six sails I'm going to use for tomorrow. How about the largest and lightest from the quiver?

Horses are out on the bluff, lounging on the green grass. Behind them, an expansive, beautiful view of Core Sound and the little dot growing smaller and smaller is the gargantuan ferry paving a foam road to the Outer Banks.

I stroll on the beach, and it looks like there's no one here but moi. Boohoo.

Tony Vandenberg: he never sails without his hat | Photo: Vandenberg Archive

I rig up the 9.5 square-meter MauiSails Titan, a 460-centimeter long race fin, and try to decide whether to practice launching off the beach or go out the back route in Cedar Island Bay.

It feels like 100 °F and winds of just a knot or two.

I load up my all my gear and double my water supply to figure out the balance of all the extra weight.

The temperature forecast is sizzling, and I am going to need a lot of water to keep hydrated. This is my first long-distance event in the summer.

There's nothing much eventful. Only a squadron of horseflies out of the barn, a Navy jet, and an amazing Marine Osprey out of Cherry Point are keeping me company. The roar of their jet engines is rocking Cedar Island Bay.

The North Carolina horseflies are demonstrating to my legs just how lethal they can be with much less noise and a lot of stinging pain.

Two hours later of sailing-flailing in Cedar Island Bay, and I'm back to the launch. I stroll over to the beach side to see if anyone else has arrived yet.

There's two Hobie Mirage Tandem Island lashed together to form what looks like an 8-foot beam catamaran with a spacious deck, and race car cockpit cages in the stern, but no signs of any other crafts or my hearties.

Hobie Mirage Tandem Island: Ed and Beau observe the classic sailing craft | Photo: WaterTribe

I get back to my site to set up camp, do a final gear check, call the Mini dealer in Raleigh and put a one-grand hold payment on a gray Mini my wife must have by Sunday.

I and behold two stragglers heading this way.

We strike up a conversation quickly, and I learn that they are Ed and Beau, hikers originally, sailors by a discovery in the Florida Keys involving an epiphany about wind propulsion beating walking on hot Florida asphalt with ski poles.

They seem like great guys, and that impression further solidified by encouraging me to finish up and meet with them for some cold ones at the new Sharky's.

They've heard of the WaterTribe North Carolina Challenge, but they're yet to enter an event. They relate a story of, by chance, meeting Chief as he was waiting for some Triber to come in for a break on Florida Challenge in March.

We're taking up three stools, but more than half the whole bar top with three full-sized nautical charts spread out, just so the cute barmaids know exactly what we, brave, handsome, masculine, married-for-ages and daring cis‐hunks do.

They seem mistakenly not too interested in us, though perhaps I reckon their folks may not have taught them to be observant.

It's a great and wonderful time of chatting, drinking, lying, and romancing over a new adventure starting at morrows dawn.

By the end of the powwow, Ed and Beau declare they will be going the opposite route out and around the Neuse River.

Hours and ounces later, I stumble into my home on the prairie, peer through the tent mesh and thick mosquito fog, and in between the peckers, buzzing wings and drooping eyelids, enjoy short glimpses of the shining moon.

Ed and Beau are in a luxury motorhome just across from the barn; the rest of the folks must be still on the road or in hotels somewhere.

Cedar Island: a sailing paradise in the Southern Outer Banks | Photo: WaterTribe

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Good Morning. The rest of the sailors are now all here and getting set up.

Defiant pioneer and his wife are providing shore support and photography, SOS and his wife providing captain, crew and critical general husband oversight, and Ed and Beau, with their wives intelligentsia.

Mi esposa mas bonita, back in Charlotte, is ordering vital Union Jack printed coasters from Amazon Prime for the invisible bottom of the cup holders in her new baby Mini Cooper to come.

I'm taking some time now to switch on the VHF radio I haven't forgotten:

"This is NOAA Forecast operating off the top of some hill in hell, broadcasting at a frequency that you don't need to know because you're already tuned to it."

"Take this, suckers: southeaster 15‐25 knots of howling wind straight on the nose, all day, all the way from Cedar Island to Channel Marker 4, and well beyond the last spit of sand on Cape Lookout."

"Zzzz Squelch Chzchz... Tomorrow: wind on vacation, water surface smooth and baby butt wrinkle free, temperature a stale 199°F, sporadic and inexplicable thunderstorms producing absolutely zero wind, and cloud to surface. Lightning unlikely unless your craft has a mast."

"Wave period for the day after tomorrow we're not telling since most of you don't know what wave period means anyway. Better withdraw now and go get your annual colonoscopy instead."

It's now right before the start, and I realize I've forgotten my harness. SOS teasingly suggests I do not need it.

I've already forgotten all my Mountain House food supplies carefully packed in a bag atop the garage refrigerator.

Ed and Beau come to the rescue with restocking two dry bags of pepper steak and scrambled eggs.

I'm now running back to the car and maybe missing an advantageous start...

Water Tribe: Tony Vandenberg is pictured second left | Photo: WaterTribe

Off the beach, here we go.

1. After failing to cut through the top of the keys in a cartographer's make-believe channel, I run aground, drag board and sail through stingray infested waters for forever.

I take comfort in knowing my board weighs less than SOS's Core Sound, who has subscribed to same half-ass cartographer at least for some of the dragging.

2. I go around the longest pound nets, set up in the most inconvenient locations by the same aliens that supervised the construction of the pyramids.

I take comfort in the assumption that I am not a fish.

3. I go around all the shallows and shoals set up at in the most inconvenient locations by the same predator that let Arnold go free at the end of the movie.

I take comfort in the assumption that I am not a marine mammal with an acute blow-hole sonar infection.

4. Marvel at all the duck blinds not set up by Bob Marley but reminded of the Wailer by the dreadlocks of the Predator in the last paragraph, but while possibly humming a reggae tune.

I take comfort in the assumption that I don't see any ducks or shotgun muzzle blasts.

5. I enjoying seeing sea turtles, dolphins, skates, fish and more wildlife than the last two North Carolina Challenges combined. The wind is really howling now, and the chop is threatening to rip my bow off.

I stop taking comfort or assuming anything.

6. I tack into the wind and chop, point... Tack into the wind and chop, point. Boy, it's shallow here, I'd better tack - tack into the wind and chop, point. Don't run into the Duck Blind. Tack into the wind and chop, point higher. That looks like a lighthouse. Tack into the wind and chop, point. The lighthouse is not getting bigger fast. Tack into the wind and chop, point, point, point, point, point, point.

7. I start drinking incessantly from my camelback.

Cape Lookout National Seashore: a 56-mile long section of the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina | Photo: Creative Commons

8. It's 4:30 pm, and I'm here. Marker 4. Holy Jeez: I thought for sure I'd quit before making it this far. I take a five-minute rest break at the tip of the Cape Lookout Bight and get back on the water.

9. I make a sweet switch to a real short fin, praying that I don't slam aground and rip the entire fin box out of the board. Wow - now I'm belting out a 20-knot plus screaming broad reach on the flat shallow waters, all the way around the backside of Shackleford Banks for about 10 miles.

10. I had a scary pucker up, so I just powered down the broad reach across the big surf on the 20-knot wind-torn Atlantic Ocean exposed seas between Fort Macon State Park and Shackleford leading into the channel to Beaufort.

I can't wait to get in the calm, flat waters of Taylor Creek.

11. I enjoy a nostalgic stop for a water refill and rest at the old 2015 North Carolina Challenge Check Point 1.

12. Out Taylor Creek, at an undisclosed, stealth camp location, by 8:00 pm, sandy beach, lights out, I enjoy my MH Pepper Steak. I count a total of what appears to be three separate search-and-rescue vessels screaming out of Taylor Creek with flashing lights and spotlights scouring the bay, looking for something or someone.

I'm hoping they're not looking for me.

13. Unwilling to give up my location and the risk of being evicted, I turn all lights off and keep my head down to a beautiful full moon over the top of Harkers Island. Today, it might have been one of my toughest sailing challenges ever.

I feel beat and humbled and proud and victorious, all in the same yawn, as I drift off. Zzzzzz.

Beaufort Inlet: reflecting the stars like a mirror | Photo: Vandenberg Archive

Friday, June 29th, 2018

1. It's 2:30 am. I let cool water splash on my face. Hmmm: the rainfly back in my car on Cedar Island is not helping stop the rain from coming through the net mesh ceiling of my tent. The Wind is gone; the bay is flat and still.

The Beaufort Inlet is reflecting the stars like a mirror. The search boats are gone. I improvise my sail over the tent by propping against a tree knocked over by Hurricane Matthew. The soothing sound of the rain is beating on mylar, and I'm fast asleep again.

I'm up at 6:00 am. There's not a wisp of wind, and the water surface is glassy. Thank you, Ed and Beau, for breakfast!

The NOAA forecast sounds something like:

"Variable no wind from any direction or any speed ‐ go home. There may also be unprotected cloud-to-cloud lightning too."

I consider throwing in the towel, call and notify defiant pioneer of my status and let him know I will give it a try but may drop out.

2. It's 6:30 am. There's a microscopic tailwind, off and inching downwind atop a sheet of glass and across a shallow shoal. I spook a rather large shark after unknowingly coming along his rear quarter panel.

He explodes in an escape, striking his tail against the water so hard that it creates a cavitation hole, and in that millisecond of a bathtub‐size hole in the bay, I am able to see his entire left back half from pectoral fin to the tip of his tail pushing back a wall of water, under the water.

In the next instant, the water snaps back, blueing out completely the rest of his escape. Better seen than explained.

3. I paddle, get up and pretend to sail, paddle, sail halfway under Harkers Island Bridge, drop sail, meander, paddle, pretend to sail, paddle, pretend to sail a little for who knows why, paddle, sip camelback, say I'll quit at Davis, paddle past Davis, say I'll ice skate instead of paddle to Salters Creek and quit at Sea Level, paddle past Sea Level, say I'll pretend to paddle again to Atlantic.

Vandenberg's windsurfing equipment: he chose a 9.5 square-meter MauiSails Titan | Photo: Vandenberg Archive

Wait: that's a big thundercloud doing more that cloud-to-cloud lightning. I paddle faster and sip camelback.

It looks like it may drop a waterspout. I paddle like you mean it, paddle faster. Ok, the sky is clear again. I paddle past Atlantic and now and wow, some sailable wind.

I sip my camelback, and the is wind real. I sail, sail, sail, sail past Thorofare, cut in, straight downwind, find a few nice rollers, sail, sail, sail...

4. It's 4:30 pm, and I'm back at the Cedar Island launch-finish pier. It's been 97 miles of Core Sound water under my fin says, Ms. Garmin and Mr. Spot. God bless my hull.

At the new Sharky's, I enjoy two Miller Lite, an awesome mushroom burger with onion rings, and a delicious sundae ice cream.

5. Later that evening, I drive six hours back to Charlotte through Raleigh. Next morning, I drive back 85 hours to pick up mi esposa mas bonita's shiny new Mini Cooper at Raleigh, plus a six-hour round trip. Sailing is so much more fun than driving. Happy wife, happy life!

In the end, I hope we can do it again next year or even earlier, with many more friends and Tribers. It's a really great way to spend two days.

Words by Anthony Vandenberg

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