The year of 1984…
The downwind dash was conceived by three keen windsurf enthusiasts who had just started the Saldanha Beach Sailing Club which has headquarters on the beach in Saldanha and is still running the event. The first Dash was held around 1984 and attracted an entry of around 40 competitors and was won in light winds by Jonathan Fisher sailing a Mistral division 1 board. In those days the division 1 was a round bottom board quite fast up wind but a nightmare downwind. The competition was over two days with the dash being held on the first day and a long distance race on the second day. To win the event competitors had to sail both races and do well in both. Over the years as the racing boards became less popular, the long distance race was abandoned and the Dash only sailed. The race grew in popularity and at the peak of the Windsurfing craze, there were over two hundred entries. The popularity reduced with a decline in the sport, to around 30 competitors, but it has been held every year without interruption since the inaugural event. In the early days, with the sponsorship of Sea Harvest, a mega party was held on the Saturday night, but with the reduction in entries and few people staying over, the party was not been well supported but has been revived at a prize giving function.
The Dash started as a reaching course over 17 km. The course has changed a bit from the first event, but has now settled down over 20 km with a le Mans start off the beach at Langebaan, across the entrance to the lagoon to the Donkergat peninsular, try to stay out of the Military area or you are liable to be warned off with a shot across the bows, a starboard reach back to the beach near Lientjies klip, just South of Club Mykonos, screaming port reach – the longest leg – to the end of the iron ore terminal, back along the ore jetty, port jibe and run down to finish off the beach at the club house. Wind conditions are known to be variable over the course with the wind at the start usually the strongest. So rig the largest sail or kite you can handle and hope it gets you through the hole at the ore jetty, but does not wipe you out on the reach to Club Mykonos.
The fastest time for the race was done by Peter Slate who screamed down the course in a gale in 18 minutes. The winners have mostly won the event more than once and the names that spring to mind are Peter Slate, Marlon Weibel, Cameron Bruce, Matthew Swart, Craig Gertenbach who all have a few wins under the harness. In the last ten years the race has been opened up to the kites, and they have dominated the event in number of participants and winners with Oswald Smith having taken the honours on the three occasions. A number of overseas riders have been prominent in coming first Sebastian Cattelan, kite, Alex Caizerguers, kite, Bernd Flessner, Ross Williams and Alberto Menegatti all windsurfers. The 2016 event was won by a kite rider on a foil board. As the windsurfers also take to riding foils, maybe this will be the way forward for the leaders in the Dash.
The wind is pumping on the West Coast, and the forecast for the 31st running of the race in January 2017 is looking good. There are exciting new developments for the event. Automatic timing where each competitor will have to wear a tag which will be automatically recorded at the start and finish. What’s more, results will be available in real time and displayed on monitors at the finish available for download. Keep your numbered rash vest, it’s yours to take home and wear when out kiting or windsurfing. As a further keepsake, each competitor will get a commemorative medal. And of course the dash thrash, the biggest all water sport party of the year. Bigger and more visible flags on all marker boats and all the usual dash vibe with the efficient rescue service for those who get in to trouble. Thanks to our sponsors, for helping us to keep the cost to competitors down.