December 18, 2014
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When treacherous conditions become sporty
This Side Up
SPEEDING: Traveling at close to 30 mph, windsurfer Ted Howell flies just offshore at Conimicut Point.

It is a good thing I keep my phone on vibrate.

On the first occasion on Sunday, I was at the installation services for Father Andrew Messina at St. Timothy’s Church. That’s not the time and place you want your phone ringing. The second came barely an hour later, at Marley’s on the Beach. The place was jumping. An estimated 350 people had just participated in the first-ever Iggy’s Doughboy Dash to raise funds to fight a rare childhood disease. People were yelling over a rendition of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” and carrying on a conversation was next to impossible. I never would have heard a phone.

Both calls were from Carol. In the first, she reported that I didn’t need to pick up rye bread, as she had been at the market; and the second to say that, “The wind was up.”

It’s amazing how seemingly trivial bits of information can alter our courses of action.

One less stop put me 10 minutes ahead at Oakland Beach. That was a good thing as the Doughboy Dash was already in progress. Traffic was being diverted from Suburban Parkway and the serious runners were well out ahead. At Marley’s, I found the first of those runners gulping down bite-sized doughboys before repeating the circuit at sprint speed. Behind them was a larger contingent of less intent participants who were content to saunter into Marley’s and escape the wind and chill.

The wind was the subject of the second call, and it didn’t surprise me to learn that my son, Ted, and his windsurfing friends could be found at Conimicut Point. The wind was better there than down the bay. Reports were that the bay was as still as a millpond at Newport. Here, it was blowing a steady 25 miles per hour; just what Ted loves, although 30 and 35 are even better.

The Point always has a gathering and this Sunday was no exception. A dozen or so sat in their cars or trucks, presumably to watch the rest of us who were crazy enough to walk through swirling sand. I found Ted in the lee of the northwest end of the Point, rigging his sail in the company of two furry companions, Chloe and Zoë. The dogs took a mild interest. I immediately recognized their master, Tom Wilson, who was wisely dressed for the blustery conditions with a hat and heavy jacket.

Tom had just called 911, concerned for three or four people who had walked far out on the sand bar. The tide was coming in and white caps were breaking. Those conditions can be treacherous and he wanted to ensure no one would get hurt.

We headed over to the point. We could see a group retreating from the rising tide. There was no cause for alarm; only gulls inhabited the far reaches of the sandbar that would quickly be submerged.

It looked rough and I couldn’t help but think that Ted should reconsider. But I’ve seen him delight in far more extreme winds, like Hurricane Bob. He was a good deal younger then. By comparison, Sunday’s wind was a breeze.

A policeman showed up and Tom went over to explain that everything was all right. I wondered if the cop would advise Ted and his friend not to risk it but he viewed the scene, waved and drove off.

Tom and I encountered more “dog people,” including a woman named Doris with her pug pulling its green leash behind it as it made a beeline for Chloe and Zoë, and Virginia Barham and her dog Sadie. I felt out of place without Ollie, but then Ollie could use some manners before being introduced to Point regulars.

Wearing his dry suit, his hood pulled firmly over his head and wearing sunglasses, Ted carried his rig to the water’s edge, walked in and then, with a gust, shot off. His friend Dave soon did the same. They zoomed back and forth, spray flying when they hit the white caps. Ted headed south, crossing the bar where, less than an hour earlier, a group of adventure seeking walkers had been dangerously close to going too far.

Now conditions were sporting fun.

I headed back to the car, wind-whipped and ready to head home.

It’s all a matter of knowing your limitations.


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