Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dahab, sooo last year

I know it's been a while, and I really meant to do this sooner, but work has been ridiculously busy of late and not likely to ease off any time soon. Anyhow, enough excuses...

I went to Neilson, Dahab for the week 21-28 December. Flight was from Gatwick, early on a Thursday morning so I planned to leave home on the Wednesday and possibly meet a friend for dinner in London. But I reckoned without the weather. Got up that morning to warnings about widespread freezing fog. It was pea soup chez moi but as I drove towards the airport it seemed to have cleared. Just as I was getting on the bus from the car park to the terminal, my phone beeped. Text from BA to say the flight was cancelled due to bad weather. Eeek! After a 2 hour queue at the ticket desk I was offered the choice of an Air France flight to London City in an hour or a later BA flight to Gatwick at 6 in the evening. Bird in the hand, I took London City (cute little plane to cute little airport) and train to Gatwick. This turned out to be a good choice; as far as I know the other Gatwick flight didn't happen.

Got up the next morning to even thicker fog. The flight managed to leave almost on time even though we couldn't see the other planes at all. We could hardly see our own plane when we got off the bus.

The rest of the journey was fine and we arrived at the hotel in time for dinner, with a drink beforehand so we could meet each other. It was a quiet week, with approximately twice the number of guests expected the following week for New Year. Early to bed and up next morning for a 9:30 meeting at the windsurfing centre.

The Neilson centre is one of about 10 windsurf centres in Dahab and opened in 2006, so everything is still fairly new. Windsurf kit is Starboard/Tushingham - not my favourite but I don't really have a reason for saying that. There is also dinghy sailing, which I don't know much about as it happens at the other end of the bay. There are some organised mountain bike trips, and guests can use the bikes during the day. Kitesurfing and diving are also available but at extra cost. I was a bit disappointed at the extra charge for kitesurfing as it seems to me to be close enough to the core water-based activities to be included - I don't mind so much about charging extra for diving. As with other Neilson centres I've been to, staff are very friendly and enthusiastic. The hotel staff are also particularly friendly and helpful. The cleaning staff usually do a bit of origami with the towels (see pics) when they clean the room - this seems to be an Egyptian feature athough I don't know if it's for everyone or just for tourists.

Food at the hotel was half-board - normally dinner, but it was possible to swap for lunch any day if you wanted to go out for dinner. Standard was quite good, although as always the buffet concept gets a bit wearing after a few days. They put on a special Gala Dinner on Christmas Eve and really went to a lot of trouble, although I'm not at all sure about the Mussel and Avocado soup - maybe an acquired taste.

The usual daily routine was breakfast about 8:30, followed by a meeting at the centre to outline the day's activities, upcoming trips and so on. As I was only there for a week I didn't bother with the trips and I concentrated on windsurfing most of the time. There were 3 groups - beginner, intermediate, advamced - and I was considered advanced so I reckon the standard is not that high, although it does depend on the abilities of each set of guests. Typically, we sailed for 1-2 hours in the morning, broke for lunch and sailed again in the afternoon. It gets dark quite early at that time of year, so we had to start thinking about getting back from about 4pm. There are several sailing areas in Dahab: in the lagoon (flat water), just outside (very flat), and further out (quite large swell). We stayed in the lagoon, which was fine but quite gusty. I would have liked to go outside, but we had several days of not much wind so I didn't really get much chance.

As usual with Neilson, rescue is quick and cheerful. It can be quite a drag tacking back in to the centre, specially if the wind is dropping. They don't seem to mind if you just get fed up and want a spin in the boat.

On wind strength, everyone except me seemed to find it windy, particularly the dinghy sailors (hehe!). Maybe I'm spoiled, but I thought it was just so-so when it was blowing (there were also spells of light and almost no wind). The smallest sail I used was 5.0 and I often felt quite underpowered between gusts. The one time it really howled was for about an hour one lunchtime and I missed it, having just exhausted myself tacking in from the far side of the lagoon :-( Possibly it's just not the windiest time of year.

In December, the water is reasonably warm, but the air can be quite cold so most people were wearing a shortie or summer suit most of the time. The air temp is very pleasant during the day, but drops rapidly when the sun goes down. Mosquitos were about, not too many or too evil but I did wish I hadn't forgotten my insect repellant.

I've had a vague interest in kitesurfing since its early days, but never did anything about it. On the one hand, it seems like fun and maybe a good light-wind complement to windsurfing. And the kit is so much more portable. However, it would take up even more time and I don't like the idea of needing help to launch and recover. But it was great to get the chance to try it out. The taster session was a 2-3 hour very condensed version of the full kitesurfing course, concentrating on the experience of using a kite. I had never attempted to fly a kite of any sort, so it was completely new. It seemed easy enough to make it go from side to side, but controlling it up and down was fairly random for me. We started on the beach with a very small kite, then progressed to body-dragging with a larger (but still small) version. It was great fun and I'm very glad I did it, but I don't think I'll be going over to the Dark Side just yet.

Journey home was fairly uneventful, apart from a delay of about 2 hours. We left the hotel at about lunchtime so in theory it would have been possible to sail in the morning. But there wasn't really enough wind so I settled for keeping my stuff dry.

All in all, a good holiday destination but, for me anyway, not the best. Still searching for that perfect Christmas destination. I think it may be time to start planning a December expedition to the Southern Hemisphere...

Dahab Pros:

  • Easy to get to (5-ish hour flight from UK and 1-ish hour transfer)

  • Food and drink are cheap

  • People are very friendly


  • Wind shadow near the shore

  • Could have done with more wind (but maybe I'm just spoiled)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Brrrr, it's cold!

Haven't posted in a while, as it's been getting a bit chilly and I'm a wuss when it comes to throwing myself into freezing cold water. I had more or less hung up my bootees until spring. Until last Friday, when I got an email about free places on a weekend course run by
DMG in Malahide. Now, I knew this was a slightly daft idea but I was thoroughly fed up and in need of some cheering up. So I decided to do it. Got a text later in the afternoon from DMG Dave to meet at 10am on Saturday on the Kilcrea side. Weather forecast was windy but cold. Well, it was late November...

Lots of running around on Saturday morning trying to find all the bits and pieces. My winter bootees were finally discovered hiding in the wardrobe where they had rested undisturbed since last spring. It didn't seem all that windy but it was definitely picking up. And it was cold - about 7 or 8 degrees. At least I remembered my woolly hat and gloves this time.

By this stage, the wind had picked up, so I rigged the 4.7. Having tried out my new boom in Belmullet, I hadn't been entirely happy with the 24" harness lines I had on it. So I bought a set of 28" DaKine lines (exactly the same length as Neil Pryde 26", as it happens). I put these on and they were perfect. We sailed for an hour or so and then took a break for lunch, supplied as part of the course. I really needed that soup 'n sandwich, and the chocolate was a bonus. Mmmmm!

As usual, I was making a few feeble attempts to initiate a carve gybe. And as usual, I wasn't getting very far. This time the cold was a big factor - as soon as I came out of the harness my hands just didn't have enough strength to grip the boom properly. I've never had success with gloves before, but maybe it's time to take another look.

Wearing the hood was a interesting experience. On the one hand, it did a brilliant job of keeping my head warm. But, no such thing as a free lunch. It really affected my judgement of wind direction and strength. I could hear ok but not nearly as well as normal. And when I fell in, the water seemed to stay in my ears. I did notice that neoprene beanie hats seemed popular with other sailors - word is that it's much better if the ears aren't totally covered. But having said that, I did find myself getting a bit used to it after a while, so maybe it's just practice.

The afternoon was great blasting weather, but it was much harder work in the cold so I made fewer attemts at anything fancy. Still it was great to be out, and I went home much happier.

Sunday was light wind hell, despite the weather forecast which predicted very strong wind by mid-afternoon. I worked a bit on deep-water beachstarts - oh dear, my flexibility really leaves a lot to be desired. The wind did start to pick up a little about 3pm but by that stage I was heading home to thaw out. Today is Tuesday and the car is still full of windsurfing stuff. No prize for tidiness, I'm afraid.

All in all, good fun and well worth doing. But roll on warm weather!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Belmullet, October weekend

This seemed like it would be a bit of fun. A long weekend at UISCE in Belmullet with a good gang, some WOWI coaching on offer, and a wave competition to give me something to aspire to (that is, if I can manage to live another couple of hundred years).

Usual plan to set off early on the Friday. Usual last-minute rush after work to get packed and on the road. Traffic surprisingly ok, but Belmullet is one hell of a long way. Anyhow, I got there about 10pm. There didn't seem to be anybody I knew about, so I got an early night.

Saturday morning, the weather was ok but not great. Reasonable wind, but I found the water surprisingly cold. In the afternoon I was a bit unenthusiastic as it was cold, grey weather and the sea looked uninviting. But I allowed myself to be talked into it, and ended up having a great time. The new boom is the business, although I'm not entirely happy with the harness lines. They're a set I had lying around at home and as far as I can remember I got them free with the harness before last. They're 24" and seem a little short.

The waves were a bit of a disaster, which was bad news for the competition. They managed a bit of freestyle instead.

Sunday morning was poor, so I didn't bother at all. In hindsight I should have given it a go in the afternoon but I got lazy. It didn't look at all inviting, but apparently there was good wind in the late afternoon.

Monday I did actually want to go out, but there were very few people about (all watching the wavesailing competition on the other beach) and the wind was really strong and getting stronger all the time. I got as far as bringing my board down near the water's edge, but carrying it was quite a challenge. Getting it onto the car was even more of a challenge - even in the shelter of a building I needed someone to hold it down while I tied the straps.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I've been shopping

Filled with post-Mauritius enthusiasm, I decided the time had come to invest in a new boom. Now, I've been thinking this for quite some time seeing as my most-used (aluminium) boom dates back to the last century. And it wasn't a particularly expensive one. But there was nothing actually wrong with it. I never quite managed to justify the expense of a carbon boom from any of the well-known brands. And I had heard bad things about some of the cheaper offerings. I do have a carbon boom which I had to acquire second-hand when I got a 4.7, and it's fine but I can't say I notice anything special about it. And although I don't know exactly how old it is, it's a few years anyway.

So, once again I headed into Surf Dock to do a little research. I did rather fancy a Neil Pryde X6, and wouldya believe it, they had one in stock. Not as expensive as I had feared, and then I managed to get a discount. Well, I couldn't leave it there, could I?

On the way home, I snagged another bargain. A very fetching (NOT!) neoprene hood at half price. Looks horrendous, but worth a try if it keeps my head warm. I might, just might, be more inclined to sail in colder weather

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mauritius, windsurfing paradise

Diary from my holiday in Mauritius, on a Jem Hall clinic.

Day 1
Made my way to London for the evening flight. I did try to divest myself of all deadly weapons before boarding, but somehow the Lipbalm of Mass Destruction was still in my bag. Luckily this was not detected by the gimlet eyes of security. I mean, I'm all for security but how much damage could a lipgloss or tube of mascara really do?

Anyhow, the flight is 6086 miles and takes 11.5 hours. Reasonable legroom and food as good as can be expected on a plane. Arrived at about 1pm and assembled. The group will be 7 sailing plus 2 partners. Transfer to Indian Resort takes an hour and a bit and it's a pleasant drive mostly along the coast. By the time we get checked in and down to the Club Mistral windsurf centre, it's just too late to sail but it's looking windy. I think I like this place.

Day 2
I wake up during the night and hear the wind howling. And there's a constant dull roar from the waves pounding on the reef. We present ourselves at the beach for a site intro and board allocation. The main sailing area is quite a good size and extends to the reef which goes all along the coast, with 2 small breaks. There are 4 spots for wavesailing but only 2 are allowed for CM clients - the other 2 are regarded as too dangerous for rescue. But today the conditions mean that there are waves breaking in the channel so everybody must stay in the bay. There are some kites and not too many windsurfers out.

I've been allocated a Syncro 90. I take a 5m and head out. It's a little bumpy on the inside but very doable for my (intermediate) ability, so that's a relief. The waves breaking on the reef look quite scary but it turns out I can sail almost up to them and have a look.

Day 3
Rain and no wind to start, but it picks up by mid-morning. We have the dreaded video feedback after breakfast - I need to straighten my front leg and get down. Today I'm on a 5.3 and bouncing a little on the chop, but I manage a tiny jump.

Day 4
Sunny and windy. The tide is out in the morning, and I'm a little overpowered on a 5m. After lunch I try a Beast 84 with a 4.5. It's a little harder to sail the Beast but good fun once it gets going. Oh dear, I think I'm getting a blister on my left hand.

Day 5
Overcast and not much wind, so I go for a walk before sailing. Back on the Syncro with a 5.8, a bit of a workout and the current seems really strong. My hands are a bit sore in the evening but still no actual blisters. Hand cream is my friend!

Day 6
It's Jem's day off, so a relaxed start to the day, and there's not much wind anyhow so I don't bother sailing. The wind gets up after 4pm for a short time, then drops completely so I feel justified in my laziness.

Day 7
Windy and sunny. Refreshed by my day off I take a 5.3 and venture onto the little reef for the first time. This is cool! The waves are quite small and very friendly so it's great fun and not scary at all. I'm getting to like the idea of jumping although my altitude so far can be measured in inches.

I head out again after lunch and I'm having a great time until about 4:45 when suddenly the wind switched off completely leaving me out the back. As always, I was having just one more run before I came in. The rescue boat comes and they pull me in but then a bit of a gust comes so they tell me to go for it while they rescue the people further out. I do and make it just inside the reef when the wind dies again. So I swim. And swim. And swim. I seem to have picked the one part of the bay where it's too deep to stand. At least the tide is turning so there's no much of a current. Finally I can stand, so I walk the rest of the way pulling my kit behind me. I'm tired, but it was a fantastic day.

Day 8
No waves today. I'm on a 5.4 and not sailing so well. I take the afternoon off.

Day 9
No wind at all. Some people go surfing and it looks pretty cool. I must find the time to learn - apparently it would improve my windsurfing too.

Day 10
Up at 6 and off to the airport. I had wondered why the flight times I was given seemed unexpectedly long but it turns out there will be a stopover in Zurich. I could have done without that but otherwise the journey was fine and we arrive back at Heathrow on time.

I stay in the very convenient and not bad at all Jury's Inn and fly back to Dublin on the Sunday.

All in all, one of my very best windsurfing holidays. And definitely high on my list for a return visit. Mind you, I didn't make any gybes but there was definite progress. I'm now getting to the rig flip part.

General Stuff
It's possible to stand in most of the bay. In fact, it can be very shallow in spots when the tide is out, so CM fins are noticeably on the short side. Wind is cross-shore from the left. The current can be quite strong near the channel, which can make waterstarting a bit harder as the wind is pushing the board one way while the current pulls it the other way. And sometimes the waves are travelling diagonally. I'm not really used to so much movement in the water but it wasn't a problem as long as the wind was blowing. Not the best place to go unless you're reasonably happy with your waterstart IMO.

The beach is sandy, but there are lots of rocks and bits of coral in the water and sea urchins on the reef, so shoes are recommended. I wore them but some people seemed ok in bare feet. I also wore a summer suit, more to protect my knees and shins than for warmth.

CM staff are very pleasant and helpful. The mood is very relaxed but everything seems to get done efficiently. I had no problems with kit availablity or condition.

The hotel is very nice, and very spread out. It took almost 10 minutes to walk from my room at one end to CM at the other. There's an army of very friendly staff - cleaning, gardening and serving. Can't say anything about the spa as I didn't try it. We're on half board, so breakfast and dinner are included but not snacks or drinks. It's not cheap but ok. You can sign for everything or pay cash.

Breakfast is great - a huge buffet of fruit, cereal, yogurt, pastries, and cooked stuff. The omelettes are particularly nice. They make an effort to vary the dinner buffet although it does get a bit samey. And there are several other restaurants if you fancy a change, although we only tried the Indian one which was ok but nothing special.

However, the bar system just doesn't work! Every time you speak to a waiter they seem to ask your room number but when the bill arrives you still have to write it on the docket yourself. And it can take a long time to get a drink. But that's my only gripe.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Off to Mauritius - the countdown

September already (where did the summer go?) and I could use a holiday. I did have a week in Sardinia back at the start of July but that seems a long time ago now.
But it's time to pack my bags for a Jem Hall clinic in Mauritius. As always, it seemed ages away when I booked it but now it's here and I'm not ready.

I did a clinic with Jem a few years ago in Prasonisi (Rhodes) and it was great fun, although I don't think I'd be classed as a star pupil. But that's ok with me. I've gone on holidays by myself many times and while it's ok, it can get a bit dull of an evening with nobody to talk to. There's always a nice group on a clinic and the daily coaching is miles better than just taking the odd lesson here and there. And at this stage I'm over the trauma of seeing myself on video :-)

So, what to pack? Don't think I'll be bringing my new harness (see below!) and I did have a hankering for a new pair of neoprene shorts but I think I'll have to wait till next year as the shops don't seem to have any in stock at the moment. I've been tracking the weather on the Club Mistral site and it's looking a bit mixed - eeek! But it's gotta be better than here - dull, grey and pouring with rain at the moment.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My New Harness

DaKine Wahine harness with cute pink flowery bits
It arrived today, yippee! Well, actually it arrived yesterday but due to a spot of muppetry by the supplier it was sent to my home address instead of my work address so of course there was nobody home. My old NP harness was ok, but I've never been entirely happy with the fit. The neoprene at the front just seemed to come up too high and sometimes wouldn't stay where it should, particularly in strong winds.

Now all I need is some wind, to try it out...

[EDIT] Hah! I spoke too soon. When I got home and took it out of its box... they've sent it out with a kite bar! One phone call later, I'm assured that the correct bar will be winging its way to me asap. And I suppose, if I ever want to go over to the dark side I'm well sorted in the harness department.

[EDIT again] One week later and still no sign of the bar! Called 'em up again and, guess what, no record of my previous call. MUPPETS! So went through the whole story again and, again, they assure me the bar will be with me in a couple of days. The whole reason I'm trying to buy a new harness right now is that I'm going on hols next week. Looks like I'll be bringing the old one after all.

I've always been keen on the idea of buying from local shops rather than over the internet. Unless either it's something you can't get locally or the price difference is significant. Now I'm even keener. Although I did try to buy the harness locally, maybe I didn't try hard enough.

[And fiiinnnnnaaallllyyy] It arrived at last. The day before I go on holidays, and just as well I was at home when the postman called. So I'll be using it in Mauritius after all.