Dahab Retrospective 

Chantilly, France

While I was on vacation, the world wide economic slowdown continued to deepen. Returning from vacation was not easy. I don't know what had the most impact - the muscle pains from all of that physical activity that I was able to stave off in Egypt but upon returning came back with a vengeance, the continuing bad economic news, the noticeably shortened daylight period, or continuing to feel not completly satisfied with how things are going at work.

On the last full day of my vacation in Dahab, I woke up tired - not feeling strong. I guess it's to be expected, windsurfing is a physically demanding sport, especially when learning. I didn't end up mastering the water start but I did succeed in proving that I could still get on the board and control the sail, even after seven years.

On the day of my return I was scheduled to leave the hotel at noon. I spent the morning hours enjoying the last hours of warm sunshine and thinking about the trip.

I like the fact that I spent my vacation time working on a goal. The concept of productivity is important to me, even while on vacation (which I know is quite different from other people). Without some kind of goal, or structure, I do get bored easily and I start to feel uneasy.

It was a vacation that revolved, for the most part, around the wind. It's a concept not unfamiliar to me as my vacations to Safaga, Corsica, and Malta were also wind influenced to some extent. Wind, even in this day and age when much of nature is dominated by man, is still something beyond his control. At times it's not there when you want it, at others there's too much of it, and at still other times the situation changes rapidly and brutally between the two extremes. It requires a certain mindset to deal with it. And having an alternative activity to fall back on when the wind is not cooperating is always in order.

I find the combination of snorkeling and windsurfing to be ideal. When the conditions are bad for one, they are generally good for the other. I use one to "hedge" against the other.

In the complete absence of wind, one needs to remain philosophical. When the wind comes in gusts, the ability to anticipate and adjust the sail so one doesn't fly over with it is key. Working with wind is a good lesson in adaptability. A windsurfer needs to adapt to the wind and work with the prevailing conditions.

I still need to work on my water start. I didn't really make it onto the board yet. The water start is difficult because there are so many variables that need to be aligned in order to pull it off and such limited means to control them. There's the direction the board is pointing in, there's the angle you hold the sail at, where you put your first (back) foot on the board, where you position yourself after placing your feet, how you lift the sail, and how strong the wind is. All of the variables need to be in equilibrium for the manoeuver to work!

I'm searching for a way that I can break up the manoeuver into smaller, more manageable parts. For example, as a start, could one just practice laying low in the water and using the sail to keep the nose of the board in the right direction? What did I do right? In shallow water I was able to get the starting position correct which is in itself, not that easy.

My problem seems to come where I position myself after putting my back feet on the board, and how I lift the sail afterwards. I don't pivot my front arm up enough. And I'm not far enough forward when I try lifting the sail. I also get excited and impatient when I begin windsurfing. But often, patience and level headedness are needed to practice and understand the lessons as well as time and endurance. Having crowds of windsurfers around doesn't help either because one is always tempted to compare oneself with them.

Windsurfing is a sport with so many aspects that it's open to many different teaching approaches. I sometimes don't get the feeling that all the people involved in teaching the sport (authors and instructors) agree on which skill or skills need to be mastered in order to move on to the next level. Is there a clear progression defined? Is there a clear method? A really excellent instructor, in my opinion, would be able to cut through some of the anticipation and insecurities I mentioned above and keep the students on the right track, focused and free from distractions.

I think it's also not so easy to learn in such a course. In this case you are mostly learning by observing and trying to imitate what the instructor is showing you. The approach can sometimes lose its structure. Maybe there was a problem with language. Maybe larger, heavier people need more practice and coaching to get the water start to work.

Windsurfing lessons are good when you are on a solo vacation because it provides structure to the vacation. The problem sometimes lies in the fact that it is not scheduled at the same time every day and you only know at which time it's scheduled at 09:00 a.m. the day of the lesson. This makes it difficult to plan other activities. (The divers usually depart at 09:00 for the day). The other activities need to be very flexible time wise to fit the variability in the lesson scheduling which may be due to anticipated wind conditions.

All in all, five days in the water on the board out of seven is enough. Any more and I would be too tired to continue. The weight lifting I did before coming did seem to help. I think I would have been even more tired and less able to recover after each day if I hadn't lifted weights. Mastering the water start will have to wait for another time, but I was able to recall the harnass skills, and get the tack in order on a bigger board. The last day I was recalling how to do the flare gybe. What I noticed at Dahab is that the old are surfing next to the young, the fat next to the thin, the tall next to the short. So there is no excuse to to continue windsurfing as far as age, stature, and weight are concerned.

What I might do differently next time would be to call the surf center in advance to know more about how their course offerings are organized, for example what's included in a beginner / advanced beginner or intermediate course. I also need to focus more on some of the basics like always holding the rig by the mast and recalling the tack and the gybe. At first I was trying to balance the sail on my head in preparation for the beach start which was completely wrong.

(Dahab Coast Line)

My vacation was also a success simply by the fact that I was able to change my routine, if only for a week. Even if I didn't experience any particular epiphany about my work in France there, perhaps still there are comparisons to be made between approaching the wind, and approaching this ever worsening economic slowdown. Like the wind, it's beyond my power to change and the best solution may be just to try to adapt to it. Look out for the gusts and the lulls and try to adjust the sail accordingly.
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Dahab - Day 5 

Dahab, Egypt

My windsurfing lesson was at 11:30 today. There was a stiff breeze blowing. I used a size 180 board and a size 5.4 sail. I was continuing working on the water start with some progress to be made before having some success. Dahab is a very popular place for windsurfing and today there were many people out taking advantage of the good wind. The large numbers lead to some congestion at the location used for lessons and where sailors start off. There were many people walking their boards upwind. The more advanced sailors use boards without a dagger board in order to get the most speed out of the wind. However, it means they also have difficulty sailing upwind and find themselves having to adjust their position by walking their boards. The congestion is a little unnerving for learners trying to avoid a collision.

In the afternoon I was planning to snorkel at a location called Napoleon reef but as it faces the open sea and the wind was still blowing hard, I decided not to risk being blown out to sea. I stayed in a more sheltered area but which had more mediocre coral. But I did see some new and even impressive new animal life.

1) Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus) - a real monster, I was surprised to find it in this mediocre section of reef.
2) Redtooth triggerfish (Odonus niger)
3) Another scorpionfish - a bit bigger than the one I saw two days ago.
4) Blackside hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri)
5) Either a Striped Blanquillo (Malacanthus latovittatus) or a Cigar Wrasse (Cheilio inermis)
6) Either a Black Damselfish (Stegastes nigricans) or possibly a Royal Damselfish (Paraglyphidodon melas) - remarkable blue edge on fins.
7) Jewel Damselfish (Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus) remarkable blue dots.
8) Bluethroat Triggerfish (Sufflamen albicaudatus)
9) Sand dollar (Clypeaster humilis)
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Dahab - Day 4 

Dahab, Egypt

As is commonly the case in mass market resort hotels, breakfast is a buffet and is also oftenly the case, what starts out at the beginning of the week as a delight starts to become old after a few days. The restaurant at the Iberhotel is pleasant, however with seating inside and outside. It serves a few Egyptian dishes such as Foul. One can also find the typical Mediterranean breakfast ensemble of cucumbers, tomatoes and olives.

After breakfast I head down to the windsurfing hut on the beach in front of the hotel to find out when my windsurfing lesson will take place for the day. Today the lesson was at 10:00 a.m. Today's lesson was about the "water start". This is the holy grail of windsurfing skills and I set the mastery of this as a goal for my trip to Dahab.

Today there's a different teacher, a polish guy, I think his name is something like Thomas or some Polish equivalent. Rob has been the instructor up until now and we have been practicing mostly beach starts. Rob is from the U.K. but is multilingual. He speaks to me in English. Thomas doesn't speak English so we communicate in German. The number of other people in the class can very from day to day as new people come, others leave to return home, and some decide to do some other activity for the day. The attendees are for the most part German or Eastern European.

The lessons last for about 2 hours. At the end of today's lesson, the water start remains elusive. I'm too tired to continue windsurfing and there is too much wind to go snorkelling, so I decide to do something different.

(Mountains west of the hotel)

I have another hobby which is called Geocaching. It's something like a treasure hunt in which you use coordinates posted on the internet along with a GPS device to find a hidden container called the cache. Weeks before starting my vacation, I have found a cache using the internet which I reckon is within a reasonable walking distance from the hotel. The cache is located in the mountains west of Dahab. Today I decide to go hunt for it. It takes about 35 minutes to reach the cache by foot from my hotel. The last stretch requires scrambling over loose rock and rubble but the cache is easily found. The location provides a good view over Dahab and across the gulf of Aqaba to Saudia Arabia. It's a very peaceful pause in the rugged desert. Lucky for me civilization is not far away because the vegetation is almost non-existant and without a good supply of water on hand, one would rapidly die of thirst. At the end of the day I'm happy to have been able to accomplish this little secondary mission which I had set for myself.
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Dahab - Day 3 

Dahab, Egypt

Tuesday my windsurfing lesson was scheduled for later in the day so I decided to take advantage of the extra time in the morning to visit another modest dive/snorkeling site a 15 minute walk down the coast from the Iberhotel. According to information I found on the internet, the site is called Lion Fish Rock. I took my wet suit along and tried it for the first time in Dahab. The site was upon first impression not spectacular but if one is a careful observer, one can discover new things to see in unlikely places. In this case I discovered conger eels for the first time as well as prawn goby fish and the Emperor Angel fish. :

1) Mustache conger (Conger cinereus) I came across this eel species two time. The first swam back into a hole to hide as I approached and then he stuck his head out and looked at me. The second was just poking its head out of its hiding place.
2) Klunzinger's Wrasse (Thalassoma klunzinger)
3) Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator)
4) Yellowtail Surgeonfish (Zebrasoma xanthurum)
5) Picasso Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus assasi)
6) Prawn Goby - I saw it sharing its hole with a shrimp
7) Sarcophyton Soft Coral (Sarcophyton trocheliophorum)
8) Mushroom Coral (Fungia sp.)
9) Domino (Dascyllus trimaculatus)
10) Pearl Toby (Canthigaster margaritata)
11) Worm-shell (Dendropoma maxima)
12) Comb jelly (Leucathea sp.?)
13) Blacktip grouper (Epinephelus fasciatus)

(Islands Dive Site)

When I returned to take my lesson it was clear that there wasn't enough wind for it. So I continued my fish watching at another dive site called "Islands" about 40 minutes walking east of the hotel. You can also catch a taxi for about 5 LE. There are certainly plenty of taxis about but they don't all agree on the same price for a ride. The hotel staff had tipped me off that the ride from Dahab bay into Dahab city should cost no more than 5 LE. It took me a few tries though to find a taxi that would take me at this price. This site was the most spectacular of the ones I had visited until then. The reef wall extended quite far down into the water.

New animal life I observed there.

1) Blackspotted Grunt (Plectorhynchus gaterinus)
2) Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus)
3) Checkerboard Wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus)
4) Parrotfish (Scarus sp.)
5) Sohal (Acanthurus sohal)
6) Unicornfish (Naso sp.)
7) Sulphur Damselfish (Pomacentrus sulfureus)
8) Whitebelly Damselfish (Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster)
9) Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis sp.) - he was well blended into his environment and not very large)
10) Clearfin Lionfish (Pterois radiata)
11) Slate Pencil Urchin (Heterocentrotus mammillatus)
12) Parson's Hat Urchin (Tripneustes gratilla)
13) Sticky Snake Sea Cucumber (Opheodesma grisea / Euapta godeffroyi)
14) Barracude (Sphyraena sp.)
15) Goldstriped Soapfish (Grammistes sexlineatus)
16) Doublebar bream (Acanthopagrus bifasciatus)
17) Red Sea Bird Wrasse (Gomphosus caeruleus)
18) Chevron Butterflyfish (Megaprotodon trifascialis)
19) Chestnut blenny - the color looked to be black (Cirripectes castaneus)

The wetsuite helped me stay out longer but even with it, I got chilly after a while, and my fingers got all tingly in the gloves. When I had had enough, I collected my things and walked back to the hotel as there was no taxi available to take me back.

As the sun sets early, its necessary to find something to do in the evening when it's too dark to be about. The Iberhotel offers a shuttle to the area called Assilah where there are many shops and restaurants. Here you can also find internet cafes which charge reasonable rates. Checking e-mail and blogging and such are good activities to do while waiting for the hotel restaurant to open for dinner.

I'm personally not one to partake in the activities organized by the hotel after dinner, so, as I'm usually pretty exhausted by the days activities I spend my remaining time quietly and go to bed pretty early.

A note for the future, I brought along the Economist magazine and a novel that I was already pretty far into but it would have been better to have even more reading material. There was only one English speaking channel on the television and that was BBC news. There are no international newspapers available at the hotel.
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Dahab - Day 2 

Dahab, Egypt

The Iberotel Hotel is located on Dahab bay, south of the city of Dahab. It's the last in a string of hotels on this stretch of beach, all of them offering some kind of windsurfing experience. And there are a lot of windsurfers here. As my windsurf instructor pointed out, all of the other windsurfing spots in Europe are closed for the season so the options are limited for Europeans wishing to winsurf at this time of year and they all come here.

Separating the bay from the Red Sea is a spit of sand that curls around it to form a lagoon. Across the bay from the Iberhotel is the sandy point of land and just beyond it is the dive spot which is called Babyfish. It is possible to walk there by following the beach in the direction of the lagoon and crossing the lagoon at its shallow entry point to the other side. The walk takes about 30 minutes.

I got up early today in order to have a look at the coral reef there called Babyfish before I had to be back at the hotel to check in for my windsurfing lesson. It took me about 30 minutes to reach it. I was able to swim around the reef in the early morning and was completely alone. Later in the day the windsurfers would round the point to take advantage of the increasing wind.

I was able to identify 28 difference species of animal life, so not bad for a start. Here's the list :

1) Anthias
2) A small peacock grouper (Cephalopholis argus)
3) Royal Angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus)
4) Pennant\Banner fish (Heniochus sp.)
5) Crown Butterflyfish (Chaetodon paucifasciatus)
6) Half-and-half Chromis (Chromis dimidiata)
7) Banded Dascyllus (Dascyllus aruanus)
8) Sergeant Major (Abudefduf saxatilis)
9) Bluegreen Chromis (Chromis coerulea)
10) Twobar anemonefish (Amphiprion bicinctus)
11) Forsskol's Goatfish (Parupeneus forsskali)
12) Lionfish a.k.a. Turkeyfish (Pterois sp.)
13) Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)
14) Pipefish (Corythoichthys sp.)
15) Hawkfish
16) Bluetail trunkfish (Ostracion cyanurus)
17) Masked Puffer (Arothron diadematus)
18) Siphon sponge (Siphonochalina siphonella)
19) Soft coral (Lithophyton arboreum)
20) Cornetfish (Fistularia commersonii)
21) Squirrelfish (Adioryx sp.) - red fish with horizontal white bands
22) Lunar Fusilier (Caesio lunaris)
23) Spotted sandperch (Parapercis hexophtalma)
24) Threadfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga)
25) Striped Butterflyfish a.k.a. Red Sea raccoon butterflyfish(Chaetodon fasciatus)
26) Exquisite Butterflyfish (Chaetodon austriacus)
27) Thornback Trunkfish (Tetrosomus gibbosus)
28) Goggle-Eye (Priacanthus hamrur)
29) Electric ray (Torpedo sinuspersici) - while beginning windsurfing I must have stepped on a small one and felt the shock of electrocution. I saw it swim away.

The last few times I have been at the Red Sea I have brought along a light wet suit. I did bring it along on this trip but left it in the hotel room today. Instead, I was wearing a Lycra full sleeve shirt made for the water. The water is warm enough so that it's not a shock when entering, but after an hour or so I started to feel chilly. I made a mental note to try using the wet suit next time.

I felt a bit uneasy as I started swimming around, even after remembering how to handle the mask and tube. The slight chill to water keeps you swimming to keep warm and the waves and current keep you moving or else you need to fight against them. Once in a while the tube dips below the surface and you get a mouthful of water. All of this disturbs your ability to observe the natural world below. On the other hand, the fact of being so close is much more engaging than looking at fish and coral in a glass tank. The constant movement means always being presented with something new to see.

My second day of windsurfing was a test of limits. There was a good breeze blowing. I had decided to increase the size of my sail from 5.0 to 5.5 and reduce the size of the board from 180 to 160. Yesterday, I had difficulties using the harness lines so I was sure to request 30 inch harness lines this time. But I struggled with the board and sail combination when tacking. The reduced stability of the board and the increased weight of the sail meant I was frequently falling into the water when turning.

I started wondering how much body weight plays a role in windsurfing. Light boards are highly prized in windsurfing because they can skim (plane) across the water and provide more thrills. But the lighter the board, the less stable it is in the water with more weight, it becomes even less stable. When I arrived in Dahab I must have been around 93 kilos. But in observing others, I did see some heavy people managing quite well so it can't be an insurmountable obstacle.
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