Margarita Island trip report

Margarita Island trip report

Post by Dorian Dea » Wed, 23 Mar 1994 09:27:57


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
equipment.

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
uphauls.

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
a 254.

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
got.

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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Margarita Island trip report

Post by Bill O'Su » Thu, 24 Mar 1994 05:22:27



Thanks...I posted a review a few weeks but recently found that our
newserver is not functioning right.   Here it is again..hopefully it gets
out there....

Travel Review
Margarita Island
Punta Carnero Windsurfing

Well, it's Sunday morning in Rochester, and it's cold outside.
Beth and I just returned from a fun trip to Margarita Island and I
thought it would be good to summarize our adventure for the NEWJ
readers.  We had a group of 21 people experience this island where
we came across Cort Larned, Ken Winner, Tom James, Mike Grundy and
others who were finishing up their bump and jump board testing.

Bottom Line

Go for it!  Visit Margarita before it gets too crowded.  For
intermediate to expert sailors who want to be away from the
crowds, head to Punta Carnero.  Sailing is mostly good sized chop
with side/onshore winds.  El Coche trips are a blast and give you
that ego boosting flat water fix.  Further, at El Coche, you're
sure to improve your jibing ability.

For beginning to expert sailors or those that would like to be in
the middle of the windsurfing "scene", go to El Yaque.  It's more
crowded (100+ sailors a day) but it's flatter water and nearby
town might be more suited for you.  There are many windsurfing
centers with a wide variety of equipment.

The island itself is an adventure.  Don't expect punctuality or
American 5* catering and you won't be disappointed.  Bring a bunch
of Kodak Fun Saver Weekend 35 cameras.  They're great for taking
sailing pictures in and around the water.

Traveling to/from Margarita Island

If you can, try to obtain a direct flight to Margarita.  Avoiding
Caracas will save you some anxiety, especially for those type A
personalities just leaving their office jobs.   Our trip went from
Rochester to JFK to Caracas to Margarita and took most of the day.
If you do go through Caracas, make sure to hold onto your bags or
an "over anxious" entrepreneur will quickly carry them to your
next flight for $5-$10.  The Venezuelan airlines to Margarita tend
to run on "Caribbean" time so don't expect to leave promptly.
Hold the hand of those who haven't ventured outside the US as ,
they might be a little nervous.  For those seasoned travelers,
it's no harder than St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada or similar
Caribbean islands.

Use the extra airport time to exchange dollars to Bolivars or Bs.
You'll get the best rate here.  The current rate is 110Bs to the
dollar and you'll find the dollar is worth quite a bit in
Venezuela. You'll also find the coins rather useless except as
souvenirs..

Punta Carnero Sailing Center

Punta Carnero is the newest sailing center on the island and is
located near where Bjorn Dunkerbeck is building a new high wind
center.  Since it's located on a point (that's Punta in Spanish),
it gets a little extra kick of wind.  The ride on a desert dirt
road is an adventure but after the first day it becomes routine.

The center is still under development, though the fundamental
windsurfing needs are there.  Equipment includes BIC boards
ranging from long boards through Prestos, Vivaces, Tempos, Raps,
and Hip Hops with UP sails (6.0 sq. m. through 3.5 sq. m.).  The
restaurant is run by Andre who is both a good cook and an
excellent sailor.  Lunch fare includes sandwiches, cookies, fruit,
soda, water and 50 B cervezas (beers).  Two nice Venezuelan women
help serve the food and are working *** their English. If
there's interest, group dinners can be arranged.  We had a chicken
barbecue and a roast beef dinner.  Two bathrooms/showers are
nearly complete though they have occasional low/non existent water
pressure.

Under construction are Gary Smith's office/house/sail loft, the
bungalows and general landscaping.  The decor is native Venezuelan
with the building constructed by Indians who handcut and carried
the wood from the Amazon.  It blends nicely with the area and is
quite different from the concrete structures at other centers.
Gary is the primary owner and is one of the nicest windsurfing
center guys I've met.  He's had quite a challenge keeping
construction moving given the "unique" work ethics and political
system in Venezuela but he keeps it all in perspective and will
make this center a success.

Rene rounds out the main crew and helps out with equipment,
lessons, etc.  Together Gary, Andre, Rene and the rest of the
staff are very personable and work hard to make your sailing
experience the best possible.

Accommodations

When the bungalows are finished, they'll be great for those who
want to get away from civilization.  It's quiet and peaceful at
Punta Carnero and it's easy to forget anything exists except for
windsurfing and cervezas..  Until then, you should stay in the
towns of Porlamar, El Yaque or Pampatar.  Porlamar is the main
city on the island and has an abundance of restaurants, stores and
quality hotels including the OMNI, Hotel Dy*** and the Hilton.
Pampatar is a smaller fishing town with several townhouse
accommodations.  We stayed at the Villas de Pampatar which weren't
as fancy as Porlamar's hotels but were located a short walking
distance from some restaurants and bakeries.  El Yaque is the
windsurfing village just between Punta Carnero and Porlamar and
contains several hotels and restaurants.

The tradeoff with staying in any of these towns is that you need
to take a shuttle bus to the Punta Carnero sailing center.  The 9
am shuttle was generally on-time while the afternoon bus hovered
between noon and 1:30 pm.  If you're anxious about being there for
every minute of sailing, you should probably rent a car.

For those traveling with non-windsurfers, having the sailing
center 45 minutes or more from your lodging might be considered
inconvenient.   In this case, you want to stay in El Yaque where
the sailing is walking distance from the lodging or you can
drive/van/mountain bike to Punta Carnero.

Sailing at Punta Carnero

If you're an intermediate to advanced sailor, the sailing venue is
probably the key advantage of Punta Carnero.   A short distance
from the equipment are steady winds and quite enjoyable 2 to 4
foot chop conditions.  In general, I think you should be
moderately successful with waterstarts, otherwise you may find the
conditions challenging.

Our days usually started with 5.5-6.0 winds using BIC Prestos.
This gave people a chance to practice waterstarts. jibing, etc. in
very small chop.  As the day progresses, the wind gradually
increases and around early to mid afternoon, the wind picks up
quickly to 4.5-5.0 BIC Hip Hop/Rap bump and jump conditions.  The
chop sets up for perfect outside jibes and you can find yourself
enjoying some great air.  Windsurfing magazine finished their
bump/jump board review in record time here.

As another enticement, given the limited number of sailors, it's
never crowded.  Usually there are about 20 or so sailors in the
area.  Plenty of room to work on your jibes without getting
nervous about running into someone.

As a contrast, El Yaque can get 100 or more sailors in its area.
Winds are a little lighter and you have to go further out to get
to the chop.  For those good upwind sailors, you can work your way
up to El Yaque from Punta Carnero in 6 or 8 tacks

El Coche trip

This was a real treat.  After sailing a few days in bump/jump
conditions, the Punta Carnero crew organized an excursion to El
Coche (El Yaque centers do this too).  This relatively flat island
has a sailing venue that dwarfs Aruba in terms of space and flat
water sailing.   For 2500 Bs (that's about $25), you get a full
day adventure.  You can either sail there in a flock or ride over
by boat.  Sail all day, enjoy lunch and either sail or ride back.
The boat ride is rather wet and if you're easily chilled, make
sure to wear a wet suit.

The sail to El Coche is challenging but relatively easy and safe.
We had a lead and trailing sailor, along with fishing boats that
brought up the rear.  It's a nice 15 to 20 minute broad reach with
a little slogging at the very end.  After you turn the corner,
there's billiard table flat water and ego building jibes.

The sailing area is easily 3/4 of a mile long with no structures
blocking the wind.  You can actually sail just 10 feet offshore at
full speed without ever hitting bottom  An amazing spot for taking
pictures or videos.  On the port tack, broad reach near shore I
have never sailed in such amazingly flat water.  You can then lay
into a full speed jibe with almost no chance of being bounced out
of it.   The BIC Vivace was the perfect board for here.

For several sailors in our group who were trying to improve their
jibing, El Coche offered the perfect place to practice.  By the
end of two days of sailing there, these sailors were making almost
all of their jibes.  The combination of sailing here and at Punta
Carnero, helped our group's intermediate sailors improve a lot.

After sailing 'til you drop, a little hut on the beach sells the
coldest beers and soda for 50 Bs.  It can't get any better than
this!

Island Tour

On one of the lighter days, a couple of us decided to hire the van
driver for an impromptu island tour (2500 Bs per person). Being
flexible and reacting to situations is a key way to experience
Margarita.  Don't overly plan your trip too much or you'll miss
the Venezuelan experience.

We decided our "windsurfer's" island tour would continue until we
received the "wind is up" call on the cellular phone.  Nead, our
driver, gave us some insight about the island as we traveled from
artisan to fishing villages.  You can explore several forts and
experience great views on the less windy and greener side of the
island.  This is a good chance to use lots of Kodak film!  Juan
Griego has a bunch of inexpensive clothing stores.  La Asuncion is
the island's political capital and offers a nice vista of the area
that was viciously fought over during Margarita's history.  Along
the way we stopped for a ...

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