Here is a belated trip report from my Aruba vacation
(4/27 - 5/5).
Because this was a "vacation of opportunity" in between jobs, I
had planned it only a couple of weeks in advance, and went alone.
I ended up booking with Sailboard Vacations (SBV), based on several
positive recommendations from netters and because of the great
last-minute deal they gave me.
Before I continue, I should probably confess that I'm barely an
intermediate windsurfer. Back home (Southern California) I was
having a lot of trouble with waterstarts and sailing upwind, and
had never been on a shortboard before.
I arrived in Aruba early in the afternoon, greeted by the sight
of windsurfers visible from the airplane as we descended. I
quickly took a taxi to Sailboard Vacations in Malmok, checked in
and threw my luggage in my room, and headed out to the board shop
(a good 100 feet or so from my room ;-)
Given the off-shore winds, I decided to grab the smallest board
with a daggerboard -- a Bic Rumba. At 10'2", this is still about
6" shorter than the Fanatic Bat I use at home. I grabbed a 5.0
sail, and a few minutes later I was hooked in and planing away,
fully powered up. Wow! BTW, I'm 6'4", 200 lbs, and I'd never
been adequately powered up on anything less than a 6.2!
After a few runs back and forth across Fisherman's Huts, I found
myself in shoulder-deep water and decided to try some
waterstarts. I had been having trouble waterstarting at home, so
before leaving I had watched Turning Point and the Maui Magic
waterstart video. It must have paid off, since I was able to
pull off several waterstarts that first day! I was stoked! The
day reached an anticlimax, however, when I managed to loose the
spreader bar to my harness due to *both* quick-release straps
somehow coming loose at once. I quickly learned that in strong,
offshore winds, the harness is more a necessity than a luxury--I
couldn't stay on plane long without my arms getting real tired,
and I started drifting out pretty far. Fortunately, the guy in
the VELA/Sailboard Vacations rescue boat saw me and gave me a
lift back to the beach. Unfortunately, I had torn up my hands
pretty good, despite the fact that I had been wearing gloves!
That night, a bunch of us at SBV sent out for Dominos Pizza (yes,
they even deliver in Aruba!) and hung out at the Boardwalk
"Apartments" just up the beach. We all sat around and BS'd about
the day's sailing events, and many tips and techniques were tossed
back and forth. It was really cool to meet so many other
windsurfers from all around the world (the vast majority of the
SBV guests were from the U.S. and Canada however).
The wind was lighter today, a "meager" 16-20 knots. I bought a
new spreader bar from the Sailboard Vacations shop, grabbed a
5.5 and headed out with the Rumba again. I was slightly
underpowered with the 5.5, but my hands were already blistered
from the previous day's harness disaster, so I didn't mind not
being too out of control. I was still having a hard time heading
On Saturday morning, I overslept and missed breakfast again.
Guess I was still on California time. My hands were getting
worse, so I taped them up before putting on the gloves. The wind
looked about the same as yesterday, so I grabbed the same
equipment as the day before and headed out. I took a lesson on
stance and harness usage, which proved to be quite helpful. The
wind then picked up a little and I was slightly overpowered, but
was starting to get some incredible speed. I was also starting
to do some incredible (and painful!) catapults, as I was still
unable to get into the footstraps.
Being more powered up made it easier to get upwind. This was
the first day that I didn't have to use the Rumba's daggerboard
at all :-)
By now, my hands were now in such pain that it was no fun to
sail. I decided to take the day off from sailing and went into
town. Oranjestad (the capital) is nice, but much smaller than I
had expected. Since the hotel rooms at SBV all have
kitchenettes, I walked over to the Pueblo market and loaded up on
groceries. The prices weren't as bad as I had feared--probably
an average of 20-40% more than back home. I spent the rest of
the day*** out, relaxing and reading. The wind was stronger
today though, about 25 knots on average.
Another spectacular day for windsurfing. The average wind
was 25-30 knots or so, with gusts up to 40 knots
according to one of the SBV employees. I believed it.
I took out a 4.0, and was overpowered almost the entire time. I
did some amazing high-speed catapults, being completely unable
to even *think* about getting in the footstraps at such high
speed. And the wind picked up even more throughout the day. By
late afternoon, I think I could have been powered up on a 3.0!
But by the time I decided to come back in, I was too tired to go
back out and decided to call it a day.
Tuesday morning I took a tour of the island with one of those
outfits that drives a small group around in a mini-van. It was
nice to see the rest of the island, and helped me from feeling
guilty for doing nothing but windsurfing the rest of the time :-)
The windward side of the island is much different from the
leeward side--very choppy, turbulent water, breaking on a very
rocky coast. But very pretty nonetheless. Other than the
developed areas, the island pretty much looks like a desert, due
to the arid climate. Once we were inland a bit, or sheltered
from the wind, I could really feel the intensity of the heat. The
wind is what makes the hot temperatures on Aruba bearable.
After lunch, I decided to try my first shortboard--a Bic Rock.
The wind was cranking again, almost as much as the previous day.
Sailing a shortboard for the first time, in high winds, I
got a taste of the true speed and thrill-sport nature of
windsurfing. This board just wanted to *GO*! Even though I
*love* high speed sports and don't mind taking some
risks, I now found myself getting pulled at speeds that scared
the ***out of me. As long as I kept sheeting in harder, the
board would just keep accelerating until I was fully out of
control and either sheeted out or got catapulted. The board
wanted to literally *fly* above the surface! This was a new
order of magnitude of speed over anything I had experienced on a
windsurfer before. The responsiveness of the board was also new
to me. It was really cool to carve in either direction just by
foot control (and I wasn't even in the straps :-)
Also, for the first time, I found myself completely unable to
uphaul, due to the smaller board, wind-induced chop, and high
wind itself. Fortunately, my waterstarts came through for me!
And since I was falling a lot, I got plenty of practice.
This was my last day of sailing. Another warm, sunny, 4.5 day
:-) I decided to drop down another board size to an Astro Rock
(9'4", 125L) just for the heck of it. I couldn't really tell the
difference, to be honest, which was fine with me--I was glad that
I could sail it as easily as the Rock, and get back upwind :-)
That afternoon I walked down the beach to the big hotels
(i.e. Americana, Playa Linda, Hyatt, etc.) to buy
some essentials (chocolate and beer :-). I was amazed
at the difference in atmosphere between where I was
staying and at these hotels. Most of these people were
sunbathing or reading on the beach, blissfully unaware of the
windsurfing Mecca just to their north. The fools! ;-) Lots
of sidewalk bands doing "Caribbean" songs, lots of old retired
people downing Pina Coladas. The whole thing struck me as
being incredibly artificial.
Well, my vacation had finally come to an end. In a way, I was
glad it was over. My hands were extremely blistered, my muscles
were sore, and I was kinda getting sick of windsurfing (!). That
feeling didn't last long however--I was suffering from
windsurfing withdrawal within a couple of days.
I had a great time. I got past some big hurdles that were
keeping me from making progress at home. I was stoked to be out
there, ripping on a shortboard and doing waterstarts.
Unfortunately, I am now hopelessly ***ed to this stupid sport
;-) and I'm noticing the inadequacy of my equipment at home now.
Just over a week ago, I got out for the first time since Aruba
and instantly noticed how awkward and heavy my rig was--not just
because of the larger (6.2) sail, but mostly due to the weight of
my epoxy mast and 5-year-old RAF sail. My board (Fanatic Bat)
felt rather slow and unresponsive after sailing the shortboards,
but until I get better at getting in the straps, I consider the
slower board to be a good thing!
I just bought a used MultiSail and aluminum mast though, and
can't wait to try them out. Unfortunately the wind never
really came up this Memorial Day weekend down here :-( I also
bought a G-10 pointer fin to help me get upwind better. It'll be
interesting to see how much the equipment helps...
Please feel free to Email me with any more detailed questions or
comments, flames, etc. And thanks again to everyone who replied
with advice to my pre-trip posting!