A few months ago, I promised this group a report on my trip to
Margarita Island, Venezuela. Here it is.
Since this is rec.windsurfing, I'll give a straight-to-the-point
report on the windsurfing conditions and afterward give all the other
information people might like to know, such as what happens when you
drink the water, why there are men with shotguns on some streetcorners
in Porlamar, where the good nightclubs are, the latest word on the
airport tax, and so on.
We decided to stay in Porlamar (more on that later) and got our
equipment from Hi-Winds Margarita, out at El Yaque. El Yaque, along
with Punta Carnero, are pretty much the two main sailing areas. I'm
sure you could sail elsewhere, but all the board rentals are either
at El Yaque or Punta Carnero and that's where the wind is sideshore.
El Yaque is a little enclave of hotels, run mostly by Americans and
Europeans, I believe, catering to the windsurfing crowd.
Hi-Winds Margarita rents their "performance equipment" for $250/week or
their "high performance equipment" for $500/week. Their high
performance equipment consisted of Clam Sandwich boards, which I had
never heard of, and some decent type of sail, but the brand escapes me
right now. I was quite happy with what I could afford--
$250/week--which got me Tiga boards and Neil Pryde sails, mostly of the
Street Wave/Slalom model, all nicely grouped in 0.5 m2 increments.
Other places seemed to rent more of a mixture of equipment, some
Mistrals, Some F2s, some customs, etc. For me, the consistency of
equipment turned out to be educational because I was able to really
compare how board volume and sail size interacted while most everything
else was held constant. Others might like the more heterogeneous
Note: I did only the most cursory research of other sites' rental
facilities--so while I can report fairly accurately on Hi-Wind's
equipment, comparisons with others are more difficult.
The Tigas ranged from a 254 cm sinker (77 liters) all the way up to
quite large boards with volumes in the 110 liter range. The only
board shortage I ever encountered was the Tiga 257; an 80 liter
board, I believe. On two days there was a brief shortage of 4.5
sails but this wasn't really a problem because they had some 4.4
Gaastras which they produced from somewhere. The biggest board
I sailed my entire week there was a 260, which is 8'6".
All the smaller boards are no-nose. They seemed a bit unforgiving of
mistakes, but I can't make direct comparisons, since I had never before
sailed on anything under 9' in length.
One nice feature that you would probably never think about until you
get there is lockers. They have lockers which they assign you for the
week, and you can leave your wetsuit, helmet, gloves, etc. behind.
Speaking of wetsuits--I wore a shorty and, after four to six hours in
the water, I was fine. Some people wore nothing but a bathing suit,
but I would have eventually gotten chilled like that, not to mention
burnt to a crisp.
The Hi-Winds site itself is fairly far from the beach--a couple hundred
yards, maybe. They have "boardboys" that bring a selection of boards
down to the beach each morning, and they'll bring any other board
if you request it, but you carry the sails. I did not really notice
this as a problem, especially since the wind is so strong you just fly
the sails up the beach--there's no carrying involved--but it deserves
mention. Often the board boys, if not otherwise occupied, would help
people with their sails.
In order to get perspective on my sail size choices, you need to know
that I weigh 155 pounds and jibe inconsistently. I'm comfortable in
fairly high winds and, after Margarita, am more comfortable than ever
in overpowered conditions.
Day one, Sunday, Feb. 21: We were told (correctly) that the wind
comes up in the afternoon, so we didn't show up until twelve or so.
It was blowing around 40, they said. Whether that was knots or mph,
I don't know, but the sand blasted our legs painfully and occasionally
pushed us off balance. This got us extremely e***d, of course and
we rushed to get in the water.
I chose a Tiga 254 and a 3.5 sail, not really thinking about the fact
that I was going out on a full sinker for the first time ever. It
felt a bit unforgiving, and I had to work to keep upwind, but I had a
truly wild time. I didn't notice until the next day that it was a
sinker and it took me a couple more days to notice that the sails had
The waves do not get big unless you go quite a ways out. I went out far
enough that you couldn't really see people on the beach, but even there
the waves were only of the 3-4 foot variety. From a beginner's
perspective, sites just up the beach--Vela's place, for example--
might be better because the beach doesn't drop away precipitously
and you can stand up a couple hundred yards out (possibly further).
On the other hand, out in front of Hi-Winds Margarita, you can blow a
gybe within spitting distance of the beach and end up in water well
over your head. I liked being able to gybe--blow a gybe, I mean--
that close the the beach, so I guess it's a matter of taste.
Day two, Monday: I stayed on a 4.0 all day and varied my board size
instead. I started on a Tiga 260, went to a 257, and ended the day on
Almost as surely as you can count on the wind coming up in the afternoon,
you can count on dead spots in the wind as evening falls. Because the
wind comes slightly side-on shore, the wind would always have holes
but the thermals somehow tend to fill them in. So once the thermal
is lost as the sun sets, you start to notice the wind holes. This is
my theory, by the way, and I ain't no meteorologist.
One way to avoid the holes was to stay further out, but since I need
as much practice with high-speed fla***er gybes as I do wave gybes,
I would dutifully make my way into shore, hoping to keep my speed
up, to hit the fla***er portion of my gybe practice.
Tuesday: Rode a 4.5 all day, while slogging on a 254. The wind got
as squirrely as it was ever going to get and, if I could have known
that in advance, it would have been a good day to tour the island.
On the other hand, if I had a day like that anywhere else, I'd be
grateful; you've got to keep perspective.
I had what was, for me, a traumatic experience when I couldn't get back
through a huge wind hole on the sinker and ended up a couple hundred
yards downwind from where I started. I really hate that!
Wednesday: Perhaps remembering the day before, I started on a 260
with a 5.0 sail. I was totally overpowered in the gusts and there
was no shortage of gusts. A good compromise turned out to be a 4.0 and
the same 260. A 260 was big enough to get me through the lulls without
sinking. I noticed that the beach upwind, in front of the Vela and
Sharks' resorts had some breaking surf so I worked upwind to try it
out. It wasn't as much fun as I expected: the surf was sort of soft,
so instead of going up, up and away, I tended to just mush through
the foam. Maybe this was due to a lack of wave experience or maybe
the surf was just too damned small.
There were a lot of lulls that day, but they never lasted for more than
ten or fif*** seconds. You won't catch me complaining.
Thursday: Very gusty. Extremely gusty. About twelve to forty knots.
That's a big range. I tried a 4.0, a 4.5, a 5.0 and swapped those
between a 257 and a 260. Nothing was ideal. But, as I recall, I
had a great time, so the lulls couldn't have lasted all that long.
Friday: Without the wind holes, a 3.5 on a 257 would have been just
right. Instead, I ended up on a 4.0 and stayed further out, away
from the wind holes, and had something I was getting used to in
Margarita: a great time.
Saturday: The last day of windsurfing. I rode a 4.5 from 1:30 pm
until dark, though I saw some braver surfers than I out on 5.0s.
There were periods of lighter air, but nothing serious. By the
end of the day, I found I'd become comfortable in overpowered conditions
and wasn't even afraid to go screaming into a gybe at speeds that
felt like they could kill. And here's proof that I felt comfortable:
I didn't even put on my helmet, which is something I often do as
a compromise between rigging a smaller sail or sticking with what I've
This was my last day, and I kept hoping nothing would happen to ruin
my very last minutes. I feared a sudden lull in the wind while I
was far off shore, or a bad fall. But nothing bad happened and I
left the area wanting more.
The island is bigger than we expected. My friend and I had decided to
stay in the city of Porlamar, in order to enjoy the nightlife that we
had heard so much about. I don't regret the decision, but be
forwarned: though the city is hardly a finger's-width away from El
Yaque on the map, it turned out to be a forty-five minute, eight or
nine dollar cab ride away from El Yaque, where the windsurfing goes
on. Porlamar itself is big enough that you can't reasonably walk from
one end to the other. On about the third day, we rented a Russian
Lada, the cheapest (in all senses) rental car available, and had a
great time driving to different parts of the island each morning,
before the wind came up. The clutch was apparently hydraulic, because
you had to pull it out with the back of your toe after every fourth
usage, otherwise it would sink lower and lower until you would be
unable to shift. But, at $25/day including mileage and insurance, it
was nearly half the price of most other deals.
The only problem with our schedule of morning drives and afternoon
surfing was that we were also sampling Venezuelan nightlife until three
o'clock each morning. I wasn't dead when I got back to the States, but
I could see death from where I stood.
If you like sun, Margarita's your place. I applied SPF 30 sunblock three
or four times every day and I got one of the darker tans of my life. It
never rained once. It doesn't
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