Issue 314 - APRIL 2012
TRAVEL RETURNING TO THE RED SEA
Itâ€™s quiet in Egypt these days. The revolution of a year ago may have re-established democracy in the country but the violence that accompanied it has made overseas tourists cautious of visiting the country. As the country rebuilds itself we take a look at some of the best windsurfing locations in the world where the wind is predictable, the sun shines and prices remain very reasonable. Words: Mark Kasprowicz. Photos: SPORTIF & CLUB MISTRAL
Safaga 68 APRIL 2012
or years Egypt enjoyed the sort of tourism growth that other countries could only dream of. When we first flew into Hurghada airport the runway was lit with cans of burning oil. Twenty years on and Sharm el Shiekh airport has been extended three times from what was a small shack to something quite massive. Anyone who has experienced the arrivals hall at Sharm will know of the queues and baggage chaos that erupt when a dozen planes from all over Europe and beyond all land within minutes of each other. The place was heaving pretty much all the time. That’s all changed and the airport, hotels and beaches are spookily quiet. The reason is obvious – fear that the violence will erupt again. At present the UK’s Foreign Office advice is that there is always the possibility of terrorism in the country, in particular in North Sinai where there have been a number of bombings. Sadly that’s pretty much they way of the world these days. Their more specific advice is to avoid the area North of the Suez – Taba road including the road itself. Once thing is certain, the demonstrations that took place over the past year were confined to the cities in the north, Cairo and Alexandria, and there have been no incidents in the south of the country. That said security is tight. Buses wishing to travel from Luxor to the coast have, for some years now, had to travel in convoy with an armed escort. That has been extended to the trip between Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab for the first time. So there is a measure of concern as I am sure that the last thing the Egyptian authorities want is any incident that might add to the fear that is currently keeping tourists away. Equally it’s certain that everyone associated with the tourist business wants to get back to normal. I have travelled to the country for 20 years and on my last visit in November it felt totally secure and I would not hesitate recommending anyone to go there as long as they stay
outside of the troubled areas, take advice from their tour operator and pay heed to local advice as well. So with that in mind, here is a reminder of what you’re missing and why now is a great time to go to Egypt in search of wind. With the exception of hardcore waves, Egypt has conditions to suit all windsurfing abilities. From the flat waters of Dahab’s lagoons to the Euro waves of Moon Beach and everything in between there’s something for everyone here. But when to go? The windiest time across the whole of the country are the months of July, August and September. For some it can be a little too windy. It can also be uncomfortably hot and while the wind helps keep you cool, on those occasions when it stops it’s time to head for the air-conditioning. The least reliable months are December and January when it can occasionally get quite cold. While we cannot guarantee that Mother Nature will come up with the goods, apart from the winter period we have enjoyed an average of eleven out of fourteen days of planing wind in nearly fifty visits to Egypt over the past 20 years. So not a 100% record, but it’s a very good bet! In this mini guide to the best windsurfing spots we’re going to start off in the south of the mainland.
“ The water have their HQ a few hundred yards down close to the the coast. Also protected is the dugong, a large fish about six feet long that feeds centre is on grasses on the sea bottom. If you see deep enough a dark shape in the water below you it’s almost 100% certain that is one of the areas to require dugongs and totally harmless to man. is side shore north to south waterstarting so it’sThea sailing port tack ride out. The water close or uphauling to the centre is deep enough to require or uphauling but it’s not but it’s not waterstarting choppy as it’s protected slightly by a bay choppy “ to the North. What you won’t find here is any form the watchful eyes of the Park Rangers who
of nightlife. This is a real ‘return-to-nature’ experience and you’re advised to bring your own form of entertainment whether it be books, board games or DVD’s. You will also find it very difficult to spend money outside of the hotel unless to make the journey to town. The few shops outside are very basic and expensive compared to local prices. So take everything you might need during your stay. That should include some cash. - on my last visit, the hotel did not have a cash machine, the nearest was in town.
On the road to the Sudan, Marsa Alam, the Shams Alam hotel and its beach are actually about 20 kilometres from Marsa Alam the town and rather more than that from the airport which also serves another coastal town, El Quesir. It’s the southern most Egyptian resort and just one hotel has a windsurfing centre. It is part of the Shams group and is the base for a Club Mistral centre, a small operation which reflects the number of windsurfing guests. Part of the reason is the distance from the nearest town but also that the hotel lies smack in the middle of one of Egypt’s national parks and nature reserves. It’s the mangrove that is being protected all under
Soma Bay www.windsurf.co.uk
Safaga Palace Resort Dahab Meridien Hotel
Tornado Surf Center The hotel is built in old Egyptian architectural style and if you can wangle one of the upstairs rooms they have a traditional domed ceiling built in brick. Club Mistral offers Fanatic/ North windsurfing gear as well as tuition and a sundowners welcome party. This is great place to windsurf and chill. If you want something more socially active then come in a group.
Safaga lies about 30 miles south of the nearest airport, Hurghada. It remains an important port in this part of Egypt and from here ply various ferries to Saudi Arabia. The hotels lie to the north of the town and two have windsurfing/ kitesurfing hire and tuition. Tornado Windsurfing is based at the Safaga Palace hotel. It’s an independent centre focused totally on Safaga. Conditions in front of the hotel favour beginners and intermediates with more advanced windsurfers able to enjoy the larger swells away from the beach. The centre is stocked with around 40 JP boards and 60 Neil Pryde rigs and is sited just 30 yards from the water. The beach though totally adequate for windsurfing is somewhat restricted for kitesurfing and although Tornado offers this alternative, it does so from nearby Sumo Bay with a daily boat service. Club Mistral is based at the Shams Safaga. It’s a long established windsurfing centre with a good range of Fanatic/ North equipment. 70 APRIL 2012
The hotel and centre are slightly closer to town and the nightlife can be lively with a bar and disco. The windsurfing is similar to Tornado’s. The Shams is about as far south as you can go if you want to windsurf directly from the beach as the hotels closer to town have problems with wind shadows. Safaga’s wind starts as a North Westerly in the morning and then, around 11 am, it swings to the North where it stays for the rest of the day. Usually it peaks at around midday and then dies off as the afternoon progresses but it can continue at full strength until sunset. Tobia island, just over 2 miles upwind, is a small cay that constantly changes shape. It sits on a shallow pure white reef around six feet deep and as you windsurf up to it, the water changes in colour from deep blue to turquoise. With the sunlight reflected from the bottom, it’s a like a thousand spotlights switching on at the same time. The water is flat and really warm. The best time to windsurf to the island is before the morning wind switch when you can drive upwind and make it in one beat. The ride back to the centres is a rare trip, a super broad reach running with the swells and, just for a bit of added spice, the sun setting behind the mountains in front and blinding you so you haven’t a clue where you’re going. Fantastic stuff and not to be missed.
“ This is great place to windsurf and chill. If you want something more socially active then come in a group“
It’s still the favourite and plenty has been written about Dahab in these pages in the past but the variety of windsurfing areas and the consistency of the wind makes Dahab hard to beat and impossible to omit. One hour’s travel from Sharm el Sheikh airport brings you to the bay that can hold hundreds of windsurfers without ever looking full. Thirteen windsurf hire centres line the crescent shaped beach in the hotels spreading west from the long standing Corelia Hotel with its garden apartments and stunning gardens. The Corelia hosts Harry Nass’s centre 1. Centre 2 is based at the western end of the bay and all three of his centres have a huge choice of JP Boards and rigs. But the wind conditions are totally different. The Corelia is on the East of the bay and faces a spit of land that effectively encloses the bay at this point. Known as the ‘lagoon’ it is perfect for those who are just starting to windsurf as well as those who find the open sea too daunting. If you launch from the centre itself the wind is offshore but if you walk your equipment down to the photo platforms it is side shore, starboard tack. Centre 2 on the west side of the bay is further south and gives port tack access to the speed strip, AKA ‘Speedy’, on the south side of the land spit as well as the Lagoon. Other windsurfing areas beyond Speedy include a dedicated freestyle area, Baby Bay, where the skill level is high and inspiring plus the open sea of the Gulf of Acquaba.
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There are other windsurfing centres in Egypt which are not currently available from UK Travel agents. Hurghada is the resort that started it all and that first ever centre still operates from Jasmine Village hotel. Another can be found at the Megawish hotel in town. Further South, Sumo Bay enjoys the presence of Robby Naish for a clinic each year. On the Sinai Peninsula El Tur boasts wave conditions close to European conditions. North of Moon Beach, Ras Sudr which once pushed itself as a windsurfing centre is not regarded as more suited to kitesurfing.z
* Ras Sudr * Moon Beach
Hurghada * Suma Bay *
Moon Beach is chill-out resort not unlike Marsa Alam but a little more remote particularly when comparing transfer times from the closest airport. Situated on the west coast of the Gulf of Suez it’s about two and a half hours south of Cairo, add another hour for the transfer from Sharm el Shiekh. The hotel has a three star rating with 52 rooms set in grounds right next to the beach. By its own admission it’s a simple but clean hotel offering European, Turkish/ Greek and Egyptian buffet style meals.
The windsurfing centre is right on the beach facing west and is a great place to enjoy a beer as the sun sets in front of you – the perfect sundowner. Winds are cross shore, starboard tack and as with other resorts peak in the summer months. The water state can vary from very smooth to Euro style waves when it’s really honking. And honk it can. This is in the area of the ‘Hamseen’ which means ‘50’ in Arabic and from what I have manage to learn it refers to the wind speed in kilometres per hour. Moon beach uses equipment from RRD, Ezzy, Starboard and Tushingham, sails are rigged on 100% carbon masts. This is a resort that is inexpensive to visit. It’s used a lot by UK windsurfers mainly because it has a certain ‘Brit’ feel to it. Barbecues are not infrequent, there’s a bar on the beach, evenings are spent chatting round a fire and it’s all run by a Brit team. Moon Beach also has SUP’s, kayaks, SUP’s and even a couple of dinghies. One of the advantages of Moon Beach is its proximity to Cairo with Egypt’s antiquities, the pyramids, the museum and other antiquities just two and a half hours away making a day trip feasible. Whether a visit like that is advisable at present will depend entirely on the situation when you get there and of course local advice.
There is a bay rule that requires a minimum of three to sail this area. Kitesurfing is banned from the windsurfing areas. While the Corelia is very much aimed at a certain type of client, the Club Dahab operation, based in the western corner of the bay is aimed at the younger element. The operation is based on the Ganet Sinai that is one of the earlier hotels in the bay. Accommodation is quite simple but comfortable and of course it’s price pointed. Club Dahab’s Saturday night ‘do’ is a classic and draws many of the instructors from around the bay. It usually goes on until the early hours and the bar does good business! Say no more! There is a full blown hire centre here offering Fanatic/ North equipment and tuition. As I say, one for the younger windsurfer, it’s a little more group orientated and many of the freestylers in Baby Bay hang out or work here. Dahab has more nightlife than other windsurfing beaches and a trip into Masbat will reward you with a damn good curry house, a Thai food restaurant and a lot more besides including a wide variety of local shops. There are some good bars here as well, so a night in town can be a lively and sometimes head banging affair. But it’s windsurfing that rules here as well as diving and most of the people you rub shoulders with in town will be involved in one of the two sports.
WHO GOES WHERE RED SEA COAST MARSA ALAM Bookings for both the Shams Alam and Club Mistral Sportif 01273 8440919 e: email@example.com w: www.sportif.travel SAFAGA, Tornado. w: www.tornadosurf.com e: Safaga@tornadosurf.com Bookings for the Shams Safaga, Prestige and Imperial and Club Mistral Sportif 01273 8440919 e: firstname.lastname@example.org w: www.sportif.travel SINAI PENINSULA DAHAB Harry Nass Windsurfing centres. w: www.Harry-Nass.com
Corelia Club Dahab Hotel w: www.accorhotels.com/gb/ hotel-1718-coralia-club-dahab/ media.shtml Club Vass. Including Ganet Sinai hotel. 0844 463 0191 w: www.clubvass.com/pages/ club-dahab Bookings for the Corelia (Harry Nass 1), Swiss Inn (Harry Nass 2), Hilton and Meridian (Club Mistral) and Bayview (Harry Nass 4 – kitesurfing). Sportif 01273 8440919 e: email@example.com w: www.sportif.travel MOON BEACH Moonbeach resort and windsurfing centre 020 3287 8224 w: www.moonbeachholidays.com