Kite4Heroes, Kitesurfing the British Channel
ARMY kitesurfers complete a gruelling 70 mile crossing of the channel (Link to ArmySailing)
Kitesurfing across the British Channel has been an ambition for the Army since the sport hit the scene less than 5 years ago; dangerous conditions, complicated weather systems, endurance, mental and physical aptitude, planning and teamwork all tested to the fore. WO1 Samanjoul led the planning of the event on behalf of the Army with cohorts from both RAF and Royal Marines/Royal Navy; whilst supporting the failed Richard Branson Crossing, the race organisers were busy planning the successful Services’ crossing. In concept, the teams were to travel by rigid inflatable boats out to a latitude equivalent to that of the French Coast (Aldernay on this attempt) and kitesurf back to the UK.
Army kitesurfing has had to overcome a multitude of problems in its development. The theory behind the sport is faultless: extreme challenge, violently dangerous at times yet entirely safe when schooled well; riders must show exemplary calm outside of their comfort zones, complete trust in their instructor, knowledge and understanding of weather systems, wind theory, the coastal environment and complicated equipment. A mixture between windsurfing, snowboarding, wakeboarding, skateboarding and extreme sailing, all whilst suspended beneath an enormous canopy – kitesurfing really tests determination and resolve. Having mastered the basics, progression is quick, addictive, adrenaline fuelled and exciting; it is for these reasons that the sport is evolving unlike any other.
On Friday 10 Sep 2010, Army, Navy and RAF teams, each of 6 riders, departed from Southampton Yacht Club at Sunset on Thursday evening; spirits were high, the crossing WAS going to happen, we had wind, competitors congregated from across the Country; we had an abundance of kit; we had surf boards from Richard Branson’s failed attempt; three 40’ RIBs (support vehicles) and the weather forecast was good. The brief from the boat commander was that the outward crossing was a 3 hour, relatively pain-free crossing! ETA Alderney was predicted to be 2200 that evening….
The RIBs pulled out from the Club, 3 black boats riding next to each other, sun setting, boat opening up to 60 mph as we headed out into the setting Sun, everything was looking faultless! As we ventured further into the Channel, the rolling waves started to appear, the RIBs leapt from crest to crest the mighty propellers of the 350 hp outboards shrieked as they left the water, we crashed down on the other side, only seconds before we took off again. As much fun as this was, the night darkness drew in and we had no idea whether we were on the top or bottom of a 10 metre wave, about to take off, or crash into the wave in front! After 3 hours, two of the team were violently ill, the boat was being thrown around like a toy, and importantly we had no view of any lights on the horizon; as the boats slowed and came side-to-side we found out that we had covered 40 nautical miles out of the 70 after 3 hours! Not great news; wet, cold, miserable and only just over half way!! At 0330 hours in the morning, we finally saw the lighthouse of Alderney! Then Army Team’s Prop shaft failed and the boat came to a crashing halt! As the two other support crafts hurtled on we were left being dragged out into the channel; after finally locating us (the radios failed) we had drifted another 20 nautical miles away from destination! A second boat found us and dragged us back in (of course his vehicle ran out of fuel blah blah). Eventually, after ten hours in wetsuits, we arrived at a very dark, wet and sleepy Alderney! Six bedraggled, soaked, exhausted, hungry and ill kitesurfers! We crawled to the B&B and crashed into bed at 0545 in the Morning! At 0730 we awoke, ate and started preparation of the kites for the crossing.
The wind was ok, 16 mph and from the due South, which meant we had full power in the kites from the minute we left. The conditions became treacherous as we set off, huge rolling waves and strong currents. The kites were being thrown about, we were getting smashed and the safety boats were having great difficulties in reaching the competitors. Launching and leaving from the beach proved very tricky; a heavy tide (against us) and intermittent winds were very challenging. A strong start by the Army and Navy led to a significant lead, due to the difficulties, the RAF withdrew from the race after the first hour! The riders took turns in handing over the kite in the water, problems emerged at every corner. It was paramount to get the kit organised before leaving the harbour; the largest team member was a burly 6’2’’ RSM and the smallest being a 5’7’’ civvy great debate on the boat ensued, did we risk launching another smaller kite from the boat, or fly a smaller kite throughout? Tactics were very important, tangled kites and broken equipment was the biggest risk during the race. The Navy and Army teams reached the shipping channel where treacherous conditions lead the safety boats to order a temporary collapse of the kites (very difficult in stormy seas) and power boat across the narrow lane. The kites were water re-launched and we headed towards Poole Harbour, the teams arrived at 1800 hours on the Friday in front of a very bored and cold reception team!
An epic endurance event with all levels of riders being significantly challenged; having spent 23 hours away from Mainland, the teams enjoyed 3 hours on dry land…Miserable but elated! Huge thanks to Paul Lazenbury and Xtremes Learn2Ride, for providing equipment, aiding sponsorship and supporting the event.