You know how it is when stuff is free. It feels mean not to avail yourself. People have gone to a lot of trouble and it would be rude to refuse.
It was our first all-inclusive hol and there were drinks, all the food you could want and free watersports. Well, obviously booze and swimming don’t mix. Neither do food and swimming for that matter so that was mostly for the evening.
I’m not one of those “alarm clock” sunbathers who turn themselves regularly beneath the roasting Caribbean sun to create that lovely mahogany tan so beloved of Peter Stringfellow which will inevitably turn into briefcase leather at around 65 years old.
But on the watersports front, there were the snorkelling boats out to the reefs or Rodney Bay, there were kayaks to try or pedaloes, there were Hobi-cats, there was waterskiing, there was windsurfing.
Pedalos are a bit lame if there’s no-one to race, kayaks couldn’t be taken out of sight of the bay, which was limiting and I was put off the Hobi-cats. I remarked to Capt Sensible that I couldn’t make out what the new water-play feature was near the swimming area and he pointed it that’s what the underside of a Hobi-cat looked like. The watersports guys were going to the rescue pf the two teenagers in it as he spoke.
That all left windsurfing, a recreation which has always had its attractions. I’ve generally advised single colleagues at work in search of a decent bloke to join a windsurfing club. Those guys have great physiques and they are on the water for a considerable time, which gives one a nice bit of peace if you aren’t actually out on the water yourself.
At Oxwich Bay on the Gower in Wales, I remember one windsurfing guy took his springer spaniel out on the board with him, clever boy , (the dog, not the bloke) and I saw others who were patiently having a spiffing time, ripping over the surf at great speed with rippling muscles and tight sails.
It was quite glamorous and I imagined that in my brightest salmon pink cozzie and windswept sunstreaked blonde hair, one might look quite fetching and have quite an exciting time. Just me, my sailboard, the wind and the sea. Alone. Against the elements. I went all Ellen MacArthur for a minute or two.
“So you have windsurfed before?” asked Winston the watersports guy.
“Oh yes. I did a three hour lesson er…(it took a while to work it out) seventeen and a half years ago. In Holland.”
“In a wetsuit.” I didn’t tell him that I didn’t go for the second day because Capt Sensible took a very unflattering photograph of the sun reflected perfectly against the left cheek of my sleek black wetsuited bottom. It didn’t do me any favours, that wetsuit.
So he explained foot positions, wind direction and tacking. We went through the dry-land drill with a board on a revolving thing so you could feel how it felt when it moved. Unstable was the word. As soon as I got on the water everything changed to frantically wobbly.
The intrinsic difficulty with learning windsurfing is that when you wobble, one leg automatically – and I mean automatically – moves itself. Your brain thinks “Wide apart = stable.” Wrong brain! Very wrong!
On a windsurfer you keep your feet centrally over the board at all times and you adjust the sail to balance. Yeah brain, you got that? Brain didn’t get it for a quite some time. I fell off five times. Two of those were due to the wind doing twirly things and suddenly coming at the sail from a fiendishly different direction, thereby producing another glub-glub moment.
I can’t complain about falling into the Caribbean. It’s warm and it’s clear. If I could pick a sea to drink, it would be the Caribbean. It’s probably slightly alcoholic too with all that recycled rum punch.
But the tricky thing is hauling yourself back on to the board. Not wanting to look a twit, one completed this procedure with minimum fuss but maximum damage to knees. Two days later I looked like I’d crawled the Great Wall of China . And I discovered later I’d lost my pearl bracelet – probably ripped off one of the times I got back on the board.
But in the meantime, the adrenaline kept me going. I didn’t know where I was going, in which direction or how fast, but I was going. I sailed straight out of the little harbour area and panicked as I negotiated the choppy wake of the waterski boat.
“Bend your knees and feel the waves Jan!” shouted Vincent, the instructor.
Sploosh. Nope. Not quite bent enough. Sodding showoff waterskiers. I’d been told that a seldom-mentioned side-effect of water-skiing was salt water egress from unexpected orifices much much later. I hoped there would be gallons. Serve ’em right.
But as you had to cross the waterski boat wake in order to get anywhere much, I had to bob about a bit to get across and then I was off into the bay proper.
Vincent was paddling a kayak yelling encouragement.
“You’re doing good. Look – now you see around the headland!”
“I don’t see anything, Vincent,” I yelled back, concentrating furiously on balancing the board, the sail and myself in happy collaboration (I hoped) with the wind. I was heading for nothing in particular on the horizon but at least I wasn’t in the water. If I veered to port, I might eventually land up in the main town,Castries and in that case, I needn’t bother to turn the thing around. I could load it into a taxi and head back.
“How do you feel?” Vincent must have been getting bored watching me just standing there.
“Still a bit nervous!”
In truth I was clinging to the sail, with trembling knees aware of being so far out that if I glanced back for the briefest of moments, the buildings on the hill looked quite small.
For when they tell you about the wind and sailing in a nice controlled way from A to B with the wind at your back, they fail to mention the fact that the force of the wind blows you off the course of the neat diagram drawn earlier and you have to tack and adjust to get back the way you came.
The tacking didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere, but then it did. I was set up for the final run in.
“Enjoying it, Jan?” shouted Vincent.
“Actually yes, now I am,” I replied.
And I was. It wasn’t glamorous. Hair hanging in damp clumpy strings, trembling knees and a life-jacket that would have fitted Shrek wasn’t quite the image I’d had in mind.
But for those couple of minutes, heading for the beach, just before dropping the sail and lifting the dagger board to glide almost on to the sand, it really did feel good.
Postscript: The next morning, I enlisted Capt Sensible’s help to go out looking for my missing bracelet. I had a rough idea of the area in which I kept falling off so we were did a thorough snorkel/search expedition. Incredibly, I spotted it lying on the sand in about nine feet of water – too deep to get trampled in by watersports centre users. It had snapped and there was a scattering of pearls down there on the sandy sea bed glimmering in a pattern like The Plough.
Kensley the watersports guy answered my call for some diving help and got them all for me. Then Helenora the jewellery lady on the beach restrung them. She added a couple of tiny local shells for continued good luck!
I’ve only been windsurfing 3 times, spread across many years and each time on a lake, but there is quite a sense of achievement when it feels like you’re getting the hang of it. I was always a bit worried about what would happen if you went out on the sea though and had visions of disappearing, never to be seen again.
Fabulous that you found your bracelet.
I know, it IS fab. I wear it all the time so didn’t give a thought to what turned out to be the rigours of windsurfing!
I was talking to a bloke who is pretty good at it and even he admitted that he got out to sea somewhere off Sardinia when the rest of the family were on the beach and he wondered if he’d ever be able to get back!! That’s just the thing you don’t want to know when you’re learning and not really in control.
There are lakes in Glos where I could go and practice but, you know, it’s cold and I don’t really like borrowing someone else’s wetsuit… excuses excuses…. 😉
I am in awe of both of you. It sounds terrifying. as for competitive pedalos, count me out. actually, I’ve never been on a pedalo, but I have kayaked and that I loved. But I’m still a wimp!
Hi Isobel. Yes it is terrifying and yes I was a wimp too – with v bruised knees! 🙂
Kayaking is excellent. I’ve always wanted to go sea kayaking but son no 1 tells me solemnly that it can be *really* hard work paddling against the wind and tide. I’m still working on him. 😉
I am fairly awed by sea-kayaking. My father was a Royal Marine Commando in the Second World War, so that’s the sort of thing he was trained to do.
Fantastic Isobel!! The Special Boat Service? Bet he took part in some very daring and important missions. Did he ever talk about it?
He never talked about it. I understand there were strict rules about secrecy, and last time I checked the records were still not released. I should look again. I only know he trained in Scotland; was stationed in Cornwall and nearly died of a burst appendix.
The never talking about it figures. Well I hope you find out some day what his role was. I think I’d want to know but I’m also aware some things have to remain secret.