My friend Jan and I spent the first week of Sept sailing in Aruba. What
follows is a trip report. The first section is in the form of a journal.
Summary thoughts and some suggestions for future Aruba travelers follows.
Sunday Sept 6
We got up at 5 AM to make a 7:33 flight from Newark Airport. In spite of
what I thought was extremely good pre-planning I was running late almost from
the time I got up.
I booked the entire package (flights, accomodations and equipment) through
Vela more than five weeks previously. I had been packing, making and checking
lists and just generally getting ready ever since. But I still managed to
leave home one half hour later than I had planned.
We made it to long term parking by 6:45. I thought I was home free since
the last time I took the bus ride from the parking lot to the terminal it took
about five minutes. However, I didn`t allow for a bus driver who went above
and beyond the call of duty. This driver slowly orbited the parking lot
looking for any new arrivals. He would honk to get the attention of the
potential passengers and then just stop and wait for them to get to the bus.
I looked at my watch every 30 seconds and sweated. The bus finally arrived at
the terminal at 7:15. Our bags were tagged as "late arrivals" and we boarded
the plane at 7:25.
The first leg of the flight was Newark,NJ to San Juan,PR. Feeling relieved
I took one last look at Port Elisabeth and the New Jersey Turnpike as we
took off. I vowed not to think about either for the next week. After a
surprisingly good airline breakfast I fell asleep as "The Cutting Edge" was
beginning on the video system. I awoke to the noise of the flaps being
lowered as we decended into the San Juan Airport.
San Juan is American Airlines caribbean hub. As we sat at the gate
waiting for the flight to Aruba we were surrounded by people from all over
the world who had converged here on their way to Aruba. We passed the
time by trying to pick out the windsurfers and newlyweds. We expected to
recognize windsurfers by their deep tans and gnarly hands, newlyweds by their
shiny wedding bands. By boarding time we had counted a dozen or so newlyweds
and no windsurfers.
The flight from San Juan to Aruba takes about an hour and a half. I spent
the time getting into a vacation state of mind. I forced the Garden State
Parkway out of my mind and concentrated on white sugar-sand beaches lapped
by torquoise waves.
The classic windsurfers arrival in Aruba has been documented several times
on the net but indulge me while I relate (and relive) it one more time. I
stepped out of the plane onto the boarding ramp and, WHAM, I was hit
broadside by 25 mph wind. The wind blew hats, carry-on luggage and several
small children across the runway as we made our way to the terminal. It
was even windy inside the terminal! I was getting e***d. Luck was with us,
our late arrival luggage was on the flight. We grabbed the bags, left the
terminal and flagged a cab.
On our way to our condo at the Playa Linda Beach Resort, the cab driver
gave us a capsule history of Aruba, a rundown of the "don't miss" attractions,
some restaurant recommendations and a brief diatribe about how impolite
and spiteful the people in Curacao are. This was my first introduction
to what is apparently a long running feud between the two islands. During
our stay we found the cab drivers in Aruba to be very friendly and a great
source of information.
We got to the Playa Linda at about 2:30 pm. There I was dealt a blow.
Our room wouldn`t be ready until 4:00 pm. The only reason I booked the
early flight out of Newark was to arrive in Aruba in time to sail the first
day. "In time" meant several hours before Vela's 5:00 pm closing time. I
was instantly in a pretty awful mood. I could feel thoughts of being
stuck in a big traffic jam at rush hour on the garden state parkway pushing
their way into my conscious. My newly acquired vacation state of mind was
in jeopardy. We decided to walk down to the Vela shop and check it out while
we waited for 4:00 pm to arrive.
At this point I will introduce a visual aid. Get your Sept/Oct
copy of Windsurfing magazine. The photos for the laydown jibe feature
were shot in Aruba. Turn to page 30. In photo 1 (upper left),
Robbies entry into the jibe, the large rectangular building just to the right
of center is the Holiday Inn. The roof of the Vela equipment shack
is visable as a white line at about the level of the first row of windows
just to the left (your left, all of my future references to these photos are
from the viewers point of view) of the spot where the near corner of the
Holiday Inn touches the beach. The left "wing" of the horseshoe shaped Playa
Linda is the rightmost building in the photo. It appears as a diagonal line
that starts at the beach and goes up to the left.
We were greeted at the Vela shack by Michel, a Yugoslavian who is
the newest member of the Vela Aruba staff. Michel is a likeable and
very talkative guy. He ran us through the layout of the sailing area,
the Vela rules and regulations, and the various lesson options available.
Michel assured me that I could sail that evening, as long as I launched
no later than 4:30. I was feeling very relieved as we walked back to the
We got into our condo at about 3:30. I was back at Vela for my afternoon
session at 3:45. There I had my first brush with the Vela staff bad attitude.
Older Jeff (there are two Jeffs, we called them the older and the younger) was
behind the counter at the Vela shack. At first he flatly refused to let me go
out and he was not too pleasant about it. He said it was too late. After I
said that both Michel and the booking agent had assured me that I could sail
he relented but continued to glower at me like a fundamentalist outside a
*** bar as he went over the rules and regulations once again.
I wanted to sail a board that was nine feet or less and I thought a 5.0
would be about the right sail for me. Older Jeff would have none of it. He
insisted that I use a Mistral Screamer (9'2") and a 4.7. I started to argue
but I decided that I should let him have his victory, I already had mine.
Besides, I was new to this spot so playing it safe was probably a good idea.
The wind is side off-shore from the left. In photo 1 both Robbie and
Bjorn are on a broad reach, this should give you a good idea of the angle
that the wind makes to the beach. The shallow water sailing
area referred to as Fishermans Huts is to the left of the two new hotels
that occupy the left hand side of the Bjorn photo. The Holiday Inn creates a
wind shadow to the right so the best way to sail out of the Vela area is to
the left on a reach or straight away from the beach on a run. Immediately to
the left is a small fishing pier. Fishing boats are anchored all along the
beach from the Vela shack to the far left of the photo. Two new hotels 1/4
mile to the left of the Vela shack create a huge wind shadow. All this adds
up to a rather difficult sail in and out of the Vela area.
I decided to head straight out from the beach until I was far enough out
that a broad reach would not take me through the wind shadow of the two new
hotels. This plan worked out pretty well. I was petrified that I would fall
and look like a jerk after arguing for a smaller board/bigger sail. But
there were no problems and after sailing out about 100 yds I turned up
wind, hooked in and blasted off.
When my watch alarm went off at 5:00 it seemed that I had been sailing
only a few minutes. I had a little trouble getting used to the screamer but
this hour was everything I had hoped Aruba sailing would be. The screamer is
the largest board I have sailed in a long time and I was having trouble
getting used to the feeling of so much board and so much floatation under me.
The screamer was very easy to sail though. I was able to do pretty decent
jibes after only a few misses. As I walked back to the Playa Linda I noticed
that my vacation state of mind had returned.
The Playa Linda is technically a condo complex but in actual operation
it seems more like a hotel. There are two bars, one restaurant, and a dozen
or so shops in the Playa Linda. There was some social activity going on every
night. Tonight there was a "Carribean smorgisbord". Chairs and tables
were set up in the courtyard between the arms of the Playa Linda. For $15
you could eat all you wanted of about 20 carribean inspired dishes. Most
I had never heard of but all were delicious. After dinner a four man
latin/reggae/calypso combo played. This combo did an amazingly bad cover
of the Harry Belafonte version of Day-O. Jan danced with a guy that looked
like an Aruban Fred Astair while I daydreamed about dancing on the waves for
six more days. The band stopped at 10 pm and I headed for my room. I quickly
fell asleep thinking about the great day I was in store for tomorrow.
When it's windy in Aruba, the wind blows all day and all night. The
velocity is usually at its highest during the afternoon and lowest at night
but it never goes to zero. I awoke at about 9:00 am and walked out on the
little balcony of our condo. The palm trees four floors below me were being
whipped by the wind. I could see whitecaps beginning about 1/4 mile offshore.
If I had been at home in NJ and seen this sort of AM wind I would have
frantically loaded up my truck and hauled ass for Trixies Landing, my favorite
sailing spot. I felt the same urge to drop everything and sail as I rubbed
the sleep from my eyes and watched the divi-divi trees getting more hunch-
backed by the minute. I had to keep telling myself that this wind was not
going to stop as soon as the front passed.
We had breakfast at the Playa Linda and then loaded up our sailing stuff for
the walk to the Vela shack. I was almost
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