Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Back from Tobago

Tobago: warm water; wind; palm trees; beer on the beach; bake & salt fish for breakfast. We left it behind us to go back to the cold. Don't ask me why - I'm not sure I know.
We planed every day, but had to work for it on most days. But the view!
I love sailing over corals. It's so darn beautiful. I used a 6.6 m sail most often, sometimes 6.9-7.3. When I tried going down to 6.2 or 5.8, I ended up underpowered two out of three times.
We had just two or three days where the wind was light enough for light wind freestyle, and even then, at least the gusts were in the "pesky" category. That did not keep the lovely Nina from working on duck tacks and more. She kept nailing away at duck tacks even when planing, hoping to sail way dry from the second one and getting close.
I had better success with my newest trick - breaking fins. I pushed hard whenever the opportunity arose, and was twice rewarded with success.
The second time, I had not pushed hard enough - the fin remain attached by a few threads, you can see it hanging out to the side. Put sailing like this for a minute removed it completely:
The second time, I was close to shore, so I could just swim the gear in. Breaking fins off appears to be popular in Tobago - I saw at least two more examples that I had no part in. I think the corals are the problem - at low tide, there are many shallow spots. Stops are sometimes very sudden - the sound of windsurfers catapulting sometimes rivals the sound of beginner kites slapping down onto the water. Well, at least almost. Fins usually do not break off right away, but they loose their will to live, and give up at a random point in time a few hours, days, or weeks later.

The predominant wind direction in Tobago is east. That means the wind comes over land. Wind does not like land. It gets grumpy and gusty. On a typical east wind day, you will be underpowered to the point that schlogging becomes difficult, and then completely overpowered a minute later. If you're lucky enough for the wind to hold up from a few minutes and (like me) enjoy this without jibing, you end up in voodoo chop that can teach the famous voodoo chop in Kalmus a thing or two - the current from the tides can be very strong. It creates waves that almost seem to be standing still. Staying on a plane there with marginal power is hard; planing out of jibes harder; and re-accelerating without a lucky gust almost impossible. With time, windsurfers learn, and stay closer to the launch, or go upwind to smoother waters.

Northeast winds are different. The wind comes side-shore and is steady! What a treat! We got northeast winds for an hour on the late afternoon one day, and for two entire days after that. Nice! I sailed out to the reef. Waves were about 3 meters high. I don't sail waves. Still, I thought I might be able to sneak in from the side and catch something small. Then, my harness spreader bar broke. Maybe I am getting to fat. Back to shore it was once more. The lovely Nadia gave me a rental harness - a waist harness. Everyone who watch the Peter Hart videos knows that waist harness require a waist. I don't have one, unless I pull my ab muscles in really hard and hold my breath. That works beautifully for 5 seconds in front of the mirror. It does not work when windsurfing. Trust me, I tried. I ended up with a chest harness that compressed my ribs. Not fun. Back in once again. Desperate digging unearthed an old seat harness which worked better, at least for a while.

The gear that I had originally been assigned was a Fanatic Shark 120. I think that's a nice board, but a bit bigger and heavier than I am used to. The nose protector, which is absolutely essential here, did not help the weight, either. On the windiest days, I ended up using a Hawk 100 that was always available. On less windy days, I used a Gecko 105. I really liked the Gecko - at 69 cm wide, it planed up very quickly, faster than the Shark 120 (at least for me). But the front footstraps are so far outside that getting toes across the center line was impossible - not a board to learn new school freestyle on. The much narrower Hawk had better foot strap positions, but I could only pop it when powered on a beam reach. As soon as I tried to turn downwind even a bit, I could not get the fin out of the water anymore. There went my Grubby plans.

Nina had hoped to use the only freestyle board in the rental fleet, a Fanatic Skate 100 that was less than 3 months old. She had inquired about it before we booked, and we might have picked a different spot for our vacation if they had not had a freestyle board. But when she took it out the first day, she noticed that it had pretty substantial damage on the nose that needed to be repaired first. She was told that the repair would take 7 days. For the rest of our 11-day vacation, the board was just lying around in the back racks, without any attempts to repair it. It seems the only person qualified to repair was not around for most of the time we were there...

This was the second time we visited Tobago, after a 5-year break. The windsurf rental place has improved a lot in these five years - they now have new Fanatic & North gear, new changing rooms, a locked area to store harnesses and lycras overnight, and a lot more little things. We also had better wind than last time, partly because we were there in February instead of December, but maybe we also got lucky. Despite the little snafus, we definitely had a great time, and were glad that we had picked Tobago for this year's trip. It is a beautiful island, very different from Bonaire, and we will probably be back sometime. But we also came away with a bit more appreciation of the steadier and slightly stronger winds in Bonaire; the perfect freestyle conditions there and in Hatteras; and many other things that one starts taking for granted when always returning to the same place.

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