How to Sabotage a Sale

Monday, 12 January 2009 15:45 | Written by 
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The GPS track showing the ski's last moments as it dived for the rocks at 15kph The GPS track showing the ski's last moments as it dived for the rocks at 15kph Credits: Rob Mousley, Surfski.info

I watched the ski roll downwind, and knew that I'd blown it - big time.  Not only was I faced with a 300m swim to the beach but the wind was blowing it offshore - with my paddle and my GPS.  And I'd just started advertising the ski for sale.  DAMNATION!

Milnerton to Melkbos Downwind

Yesterday we had an Australian visitor, Tim Hookins, who was in Cape Town on holiday.  Tim's an ex-South African and lives in Sydney where he often trains with such luminaries as Dean Gardiner...

There were four us in the group: John Blacklaws, Dale Lippstreu, me and Tim who was paddling John's Mako 6.  We were about to tackle the 19km Milnerton to Melkbos run - 19km of pure downwind fun - in a 25kt gusting southeaster.

We made it intact through the surf and were soon raging down the runs.

 "Is it often like this?" shouted an incredulous Hookins, "this is awesome!"

"Only when it blows," replied John, "which is just about every day in summer!"

Milnterton to Melkbos - GPS Track

Milnterton to Melkbos - GPS Track

Swimming

As we approached Big Bay, about half way, Tim took a swim.  We were impressed with the speed with which he got back in the ski and afterwards he told us how Dean Gardiner makes his group practice remounts when they're training. 

Take note guys - we should all do that!

A little further on my helmet cam came loose and John stopped and rafted on my ski while I made a jury rig repair.  Five minutes later he yelled, "I just saw a big Johnny!  Big one!  Dark on top and white underneath..."

A second fin might have been a sunfish but we didn't stop to confirm its identity.

The T-bone King

The group reformed and I switched the camera just too late to film Dale broaching spectacularly to T-bone John's ski...  Happily John was on an old glass Mako and the resounding thud didn't seem to do any damage.

Five minutes later I came alongside Dale to film him catching a run - and before I knew it, that same ominous swing started and his ski came careering towards me.  I paddled frantically but heard an ominous crunch come from somewhere near my rudder - a quick inspection by Dale revealed a dent but no hole so we carried on, catching more magnificent runs with me keeping a more respectful distance from the T-bone King.

Melkbos

The finish point is in a small bay guarded by a headland from which extend a set of reefs on which the seas build up and break spectacularly.  The trick is not to catch the corner to close lest a massive wave eat you up - but you don't want to leave it too wide either because you have to paddle in at right angles to the pumping wind.

I looked back at Dale to see a massive swell jacking up behind him.  Two of the monsters rolled under us and we cut a little further left before heading in towards the beach.

Now you see it...

After the reef, the next obstacle is a set of kelp beds - the swells were breaking on them intermittently and it was clear we'd have to time it right to get in without being crunched.  I glanced back to see a wave jacking up...

I pulled off it but just as it reached me the top collapsed onto the back of the ski and I fell off.  Bugger!

Melkbos

The scene of the crime...

...now you don't

Now I was in the water with the ski facing back out to sea - and the next wave was almost on me.  The wind grabbed the ski and flung the back around so that it was parallel to the wave.  And I was on the wrong side of the ski.

I held onto the footstrap and ducked under the ski - and the wave hit.  The ski was immediately jerked out of my hand; my leg leash stretched, tightened... and snapped.

The ski was now about ten metres away - and it instantly began rolling downwind.  Even without my PFD I'd never have been able to swim fast enough to catch it - and with it, the task was hopeless.

Fortunately the water was warm - and I felt relaxed, and glad that I was wearing a PFD. 

You can't paddle at right angles to the wind with a passenger

Ten minutes later I saw John and Tim making their way towards the beach and a few minutes after that John hove into view and said, "Hop on the back, I'll take you in."

Alas...  the ski was simply uncontrollable.  It would go into the wind or downwind, but even with my trying to swim the back of the ski around, it would not go towards the beach and I ended up swimming the rest of the way in.

The reluctant tri-athlete: paddle done, swim done now run down the beach...

The wind was blowing parallel to the beach so we knew the ski was heading north and after changing into dry kit, we drove up the beach to look for it, hoping that the waves might have brought it in.

Half way up the beach the road came to an end so I jogged the 3km-odd to the "don't come any further or we'll kill you" signs that announce the Koeberg Nuclear Power plant.  I turned and made my way back straining to see into the glare of the setting sun.

However I did see a pair of beautiful (and rare) African Oyster Catchers - have to catch these moments when you can!

Tractors and 4x4s in the Sand

John meanwhile had asked the NSRI permission to drive down onto the beach to come help search.

"Isn't this sand a little soft?" asked Tim.

"Nah, it'll be fine," said a confident Blacklaws.  "John NEVER gets stuck, he's brilliant off-road," added Mrs. B.

A lurch, a light thump as the bottom of the vehicle impacted the sand.  "Oh, oh," from the bemused Blacklaws...

The ever-resourceful and helpful NSRI soon arrived with a tractor - and after a brief episode when it seemed the tractor might get stuck too, the Blacklaws-mobile was out onto the hard sand in front of the dunes.

NSRI Tractor

Blacklaws-4x4 out of the soft sand

"Quite a day!" said the highly impressed Tim Hookins who hadn't had this much excitement in years.

Sunday - and the search up the coast.

The NSRI told us that beyond Koeberg, about 7km up the beach there's a small bay and a point that sticks out 500m into the bay.  "Everything that goes past Koeberg ends up in that bay," was the confident assertion.

That evening Google Earth showed that the bay is guarded by an island of jagged rocks - and the bay itself is also rocky so even assuming the ski missed the Koeberg breakwater (itself 800m long) and made it into the bay, it wasn't going to be in good shape if it came ashore.  But my paddle and GPS were attached to it and I was keen to see if we could at least find the wreckage - and who knows?  Perhaps the ski might have landed on the sand after all... 

Awesome Biking

The long-suffering Blacklaws came to the rescue once more - providing mountain bikes for the trip.  Koeberg has a nature reserve that extends from the plant north to the area we wanted to search.  As we signed in, we asked the security detail if we could rather drive up the beach.  Not surprisingly they said no.

Which was actually a good thing - because it turned out to be one of the most beautiful bike rides I've ever had.

Cycling up the pristine beach at the Koeberg Nature Reserve

Cycling up the pristine beach at the Koeberg Nature Reserve

It was low tide, the sand was packed hard and we rode along the water's edge.  100m inland, a low but spectacularly weathered sandstone cliff provides a stunning backdrop.  The bird life is prolific - including several more pairs of those African Oyster Catchers and all kinds of seabirds.

The sky was cloudless; the sun hot - but there was just enough breeze to keep us cool. 

The sand was pristine - no one else was on the beach at all - except for a herd of suspicious Springbok that stared at us until we were past.

Springbok on the beach

Springbok on the beach

Eventually we arrived at the little bay at the far end of the beach and it was clear that the likelihood of the ski surviving was remote.  With a heavy heart I walked the last 500m to the end of point - there were plenty of planks, old fishing buoys and pieces of rubbish - but no ski.

We couldn't linger - the tide had turned - and we set off again on the bikes. 

By now my legs were on fire; my butt was in agony and the sweat was pouring off me like a waterfall; I looked up to see John and Anne cycling casually along without a care in world.  Hmm... clearly need to get much more fit!

As we got back to the car an SMS arrived on my mobile.  "How much u want for the ski?"  Sigh.

But then - there are always positives: for one thing I'd never have cycled in what must be one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places in the world! 

The ski - spotted

On the way home I called the local flying club and asked them to be on the lookout - and at 8pm I had a call from a gyrocopter pilot who said he'd seen a white ski 500m offshore, 5km north of Koeberg...

Early Monday morning, John and I set off yet again - this time taking John's ski boat with us.  The sea was calm and beautiful and we found plenty of dolphins and seabirds - but no ski. 

On our way back to the ramp, we had a call from the NSRI.  "A police chopper just took a circuit along the shoreline and they've spotted the ski," Leon said.  "It's on the beach - about 4km north of Koeberg."

A call to the Koeberg Nature Reserve offices and they dispatched a 4x4 to fetch it. 

I had high hopes that it might have had a soft landing on the sand - but when we saw it, it was clear that it had spent many hours being pounded on rocks.  Split seams, fractures through the hull, gaping holes torn in the gelcoat.  Rudder bent at 45 degrees.  The fact that it was still in one piece, still rigid enough to strap to the car is testament to the toughness of the hull.  But it's a total write off as the photos show.

My paddle was also missing, and I suspect broken because the leash was still intact, still attached to the ski. 

However I did get my GPS back - and it told a fascinating tale.

The GPS's Story

Koeberg to Robbesteen - the GPS Track

Koeberg to Robbesteen - the GPS Track

The ski did 10.5km in two hours and twelve minutes - just a shade under an average of 5kph - before coming to an abrupt halt.

It went almost parallel to the beach missing the Koeberg breakwater by about 100m.

During the last 5km its course became erratic presumably as it was hit by successive breakers but eventually it must have been picked up by a monster that sent it towards the Robbesteen (Seal Rocks).  The GPS shows that it reached 15kph just before it hit the rocks.

It then spent 18 minutes being smashed backwards and forwards before it stuck fast and it was motionless for 3 ½ hours before it started moving again.  The GPS track shows that it ricocheted around the Robbesteen until the GPS's battery finally ran down five hours later. 

The GPS lap button was pressed 6 times in rapid succession - as it bounced on the rocks!


The Damage

Hardly a square cm was undamaged!

Broken Ski 0032

The nose of the ski came in for some particularly rough treatment.

Broken Ski 0037

But, remarkably, although the seams were split, hull and deck were still in one piece.  No hope at all of repairing it however.

Broken Ski 0040

 


The positives

  • Hey - I wasn't hurt.
  • And we got to explore a part of the Cape that I'd never seen before.
  • And I got my GPS back!

But it was the kindness and help of friends and strangers alike that really touched me.  My thanks to:

  • Dale & Didi who helped me look for the ski after the incident
  • Jonathan Basckin who spotted the ski from his gyrocopter
  • Leon van Niekirk from the NSRI who told his police helicopter buddies about the ski
  • The police chopper that found the ski
  • The Koeberg Nature Reserve management who fetched it off the beach
  • And especially to John & Anne Blacklaws who took me cycling up the beach and then took me in their boat to search for the ski.  What awesome friends!

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