Before I left on my recent trip to Aruba and Bonaire I promised to write a
trip report upon my return. Sorry it took a few weeks, but I've been so
busy at work that I've been too tired to compose one when I get home, and
I certainly wouldn't waste your tax dollars by doing it at work. So here I
am on a windless Saturday looking at my new, unused sail and thinking of
Aruba - good time to try a trip report.
If you don't want to read the fluff, the bottom line is - go to Aruba and stay
at Sailboard Vacations if you want to sail. Go to Bonaire and stay
anywhere if you want to dive. If you want to sail and dive go to Aruba if
sailing is your priority, go to Bonaire if diving is your priority. Now, for
those who want a few details.
The place to sail is Fisherman's huts. Its just north of the strip of high rise
hotel/***s. The land is flat scrub so the side off shore wind is relatively
unobstructed and the water is flat. Its close to ideal for practicing jibes
and mastering water starts, but its not quite the waist deep Mecca the
magazine adds promise. The shallow water extends out a couple of
hundred yards, but any kind of long reach will quickly take you out
deeper. I would rate it tops for someone who has waterstarts mastered or
who is ready to learn them (that won't take long here).
For beginners the Huts is less than ideal because you can easily get out
into strong offshore winds. But at Sailboard Vacations, next door, there is
a large shallow area surrounded by a reef which serves as a natural
boundary to hold in drifters. Quite a few newbies were at it every day and
doing quite well, including my wife and 8 year old daughter.
As for accommodations, for me there is no choice - its Sailboard
Vacations (SV). The only other places with reasonable proximity to the
Huts are the Holiday Inn and Roger's (Roh-zhay's). The Vela Center
serving the Inn looked fairly weak. Roger's, next to SV has excellent
equipment and looked like a good outfit, but it didn't appear to have the
social advantages of SV (at least not in the slow summer months).
Simply put, SV was great. The onsite manager and her 19 year old
daughter (also a world class sailor) foster a warm and easygoing
atmosphere that can't be beat. On the deck each morning they serve a
continental breakfast that draws out the guests and gets them socializing.
On Wednesday night they host a barbecue and video show (of you sailing)
that further pulls the guests together. For those of you with children the
summer set-up is ideal. They sponsor a "camp" for kids which includes
tennis, swimming and windsurfing. My daughter loved it (or at least loved
Marret, the 19 year old mentioned above) and is clamoring to go back.
The apartment we stayed in was roomy and clean, but not up to US luxury
standards. Others looked to be about the same (If you want luxury go to a
high rise and drive to SV to sail.) The board shop at SV was well stocked
with Bic boards and Neil Pryde Street Slalom and Street Racer sails (they
are switching to Mistral this fall). The instructors are excellent and
The sailing was consistent 5.0 to 5.5 for me (175 lbs.) and 1/2 size smaller
for my son (140 lbs). With help from the instructors I vastly improved my
stance and upwind ability and greatly improved, but didn't master my jibes
:-(. My son, who is a recent convert to windsurfing quickly caught up with
me and will probably surpass me by our next trip. He already blows me
away on the bumps skiing, but I was hoping to hold him off longer on the
water. Both my wife and daughter greatly enjoyed their beginner lessons.
My goal is to get them both hooked so I can continue to entice them on
Other than sailing Aruba has decent shopping and restaurants. Beyond
that it looked like a dull place to me (unless you like ***s, which I
don't). The landscape is a bit like Phoenix, all rocks, scrub and cactus. I
like that in the south west, but it seems bleak in the islands. Nevertheless,
a lot of people go there and the vast majority are not windsurfers so there
must be something appealing to them.
This is a diver's Mecca and nothing else. Its bleaker than Aruba, has no
social life, is weak on the culinary scale, and was hotter than Aruba
(although maybe it was hotter in Aruba that week as well). OTOH, it has
great diving. And most of the good sites are easily accessible from shore -
which I like. The entire lee side of the island is bordered by a fringe reef
that starts about 100 yards from shore at 20-30 feet and then rapidly drops
off to 100-130 feet (in some locations there is a second reef that begins
another 100 feet out. The whole joint is a protected marine park, so the
reefs are in fairly good condition and the fish are abundant and varied.
The shore diving sites are marked, and parking is usually very convenient
(as I said, this place is bleak, usually there is nothing around).
There are numerous good places to stay - virtually all on the lee side, so
windsurfing is a 10 minute drive away. We were at the Sand Dollar
***iniums (I wish SV had rooms like this) which was definitely up to
US moderate lux standards and has an excellent diving operation. I also
liked Captain Don's Habitat, a diving fanatic's operation that has a lot of
less expensive cottages and a few brand new luxurious condos. There are
numerous others well stocked with gear and boats. (There are a number
of sites that are only accessible by boat and most diver's seem to prefer
boat dives to shore dives even on the accessible sites.)
Divers are almost as sociable a lot as windsurfers, so you can quickly meet
a lot of folks at almost any lodging that has an active dive operation. It
was relatively dead here in the summer, but I suspect its a mob scene in
As for windsurfing, I didn't like it. The wind was almost as good as
Aruba, and the site (Lac Bay) IS a waist deep Mecca for those who like to
be able to stand around and relax while preparing to waterstart. But I just
didn't like the operation or the staff. There is no competition - just one
outfit. They had a mixed bag of somewhat ratty sails (mostly Aerotech,
some external cams, some RAF) and BIC boards. If they were busy (not
this week) getting good equipment could be a real problem. The staff
didn't seem to care. They just sort of pointed you to the equipment shed
and ignored you. I don't know, maybe the owners were on vacation, but I
felt unwanted. The biggest problem for me though is that the place is
remote. At SV everything is at your doorstep. You can go back to your
room for lunch or a coke, and then head back out. Here you either stay all
day on the beach or cut your sailing hours back if you want to head back
"home" for a break. Even though I'm so hooked on sailing that I haven't
been diving in years, I only spent one day at Lac Bay. My son felt the
same way - if anything he was even less interested in a second session
All in all it was a great trip. Aruba will definitely stay on my list. And,
even though Bonaire won't, it was fun to get reacquainted with diving.