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Oistins, Barbados 2003

Following our two previous trips to Margarita we decided this year it was time for a change of venue, a decision we congratulated ourselves on making upon hearing the recent news that a French windsurfer had his foot gnarled by a shark in El Yaque during late April. It took some time to come to a decision and finally it came down to either Cabarete or Barbados and as we got a better deal (£554 for 11 nights via Indigo) plus a more suitable flight date (May 4th), we decided to go to Barbados. The group consisted of 5 windsurfers of various levels and 1 non-windsurfer and boy did we all enjoy the Barbados experience!

After an 8-hour flight with British Airways, at around 4pm local time we descended down on the Barbados airport. As one of the windsurfing air stewards had mentioned earlier, our resort and the Club Mistral Centre at Oistins in Maxwell could be seen through the left portholes and we were ecstatic to see a number of colourful sails bombing up and down on the turquoise sea and we couldn’t wait to join them.

We were staying at the “no frills” Butterfly Beach Hotel in very comfortable self-catering and air-conditioned rooms. The hotel was next door to the UK Sailing Academy (UKSA) Centre, which is involved in courses to convert a complete novice to a basic level instructor in windsurfing/diving/kayaking/sailing within a mere 12 week period (6 weeks training in the UK).

Club Mistral Oistins is located on the other side of the UKSA centre (a mere 30 seconds walk from our hotel) and is run by Rolf (who was away on holiday) and hence deputised by one of the most chilled out guys with long dreadlocks and an excellent wave rider called Rusty. The kit was in excellent condition and laid out neatly, consisting of North sails from 4.2 up to 8.5m2 and Mistral boards ranging from 95 up to somewhere around 180 litres (full inventory list). All the party agreed that this was the best run windsurfing centre we’ve ever experienced with Rusty and his staff not only taking out our sails and sometimes even the boards but also bringing them back from the edge of the water and were very flexible with our kit hiring arrangements. Even though we were there for 11 days due to our group booking Rusty agreed to a minimum of 7 days of windsurf kit hire spread over a 10.5 day period so we had the flexibility to take any day off we wanted, e.g. if there was a low wind day or add further days at a lower rate than the normal daily hire rate.

Photo of boards at Mistral CentreBoards at Mistral Centre

The island’s west coast, which is facing the Caribbean Sea, is calm and perfect for diving/snorkelling, whereas the more turbulent east coast is facing the windier Atlantic. Maxwell is on the southeast area, very close to the airport, where the wind and waves are advertised to be suitable for intermediate-level windsurfers, with relatively flat waters compared to Silver Sands.

The wind stats for May are only 60%, however, for the period we were there, there was plenty of wind (I used 5.3 to 6.2m2 sails every day) and nicely formed 1 to 3 foot waves with a wicked shore break, not ideal for beginners but good for someone who wants to experience waves for the first time. The launch area was much smaller and not as shallow as the one in Margarita but the winds were pretty similar, blowing cross-shore from the left. The colour of the water was more turquoisy blue than Margarita, but the temperatures were very similar requiring no shorties or boots. The wind blew throughout the night, but was optimum between around 9am and 3pm, and occasionally there was overcast skies with a few light showers. The wind was generally lower near the shore, which made beachstarts and setting off tricky, but once out some 20m, the wind picked up and there were some nice ramps to practice off your tricks. John and Andy managed to break 3 sails between them, whilst I broke two harness lines and Phillipa damaged the nose of a board.

Because of the small beach, the daily routine was that at least one of us would end up a few beaches down wind, but Rusty and his crew would be only too glad to sail the kit back catching some waves on the way. Most of the time though it was relatively easy to sail back to the centre. A few times, I ventured out a mile or so and saw huge rolling waves some 10 foot high, not steep enough to jump but high enough to experience slowing down of my planing speed going up, whilst the view from the top was a bit eerie! Almost every day I saw loggerhead turtles of various sizes and lots of flying fish dashing around like shooting stars. Also, the beach was extremely quiet with only us and a few UKSA sailors on the water every day, occasionally being shown up by Taz, the local pro’s loops and Willy skippers!

Waves by the centrephoto of waves by the centre

We decided that a visit to the Club Mistral Silver Sands centre, which caters for the more advanced sailors, was a must and could’ve even used the kit there if we wished, but were instantly put off by the huge waves and strong current so went boogie boarding instead. This centre again had a better range of mistral boards (down to 75 litres!) and North sails.

The food, although excellent in quality and quantity, was a bit pricey in the touristy areas including our hotel, particularly as you’d have to add up to 25% of VAT and service charge. After a breakfast on the first day costing £5, we decided to get breakfast food and plenty of water from a shop across the road. The main drinking area in the south of the island is a quick number 11 minibus ride away (50p to anywhere) in St. Lawrence gap, with the best drinks in Café Sol (Chocolate Mudslide cocktail is a must). The cheapest, tastiest and quickest local fish, chicken and burgers were bought from a street BBQ called “Red Man” in St. Lawrence Gap. The best and largest variety of fish could be found at the Oistins fish market and the Friday carnival night is also not to be missed. For the younger at heart, there are two clubs further out closer to Bridgetown (approx 10 minute bus trip), the ‘Boatyard’ and ‘Harbour Lights’ and the best nights were when there was the ‘as much as you want to drink for a tenner deal’! In general we all agreed that there was much more happening in the evenings in Barbados compared to Margarita.

If you decide to give your blistering hands a rest or the wind somehow evades you, then there are plenty of other things to try out in Barbados. On the relatively flat west coast, you can dive, although when we were there, due to the windy conditions, the visibility was not brilliant. The best snorkelling and diving is in a marine reserve in Folkstone. A definite must is a visit to the Harrison’s cave

photo of Harrison's Cave

at the centre of the island, which is just awesome and puts Chedder Gorge to shame! Surfing and boogie boarding can be done on almost any easterly beach.

For more advanced sailors amongst you, I would recommend Silver Sands, which has some awesome waves around 500m out, but there is also a severe drift which can be tricky especially if you’re in trouble! The most scenic spot and a must for a photo opportunity is from a hill along the beach with beautiful green scenery and the lovely ocean in Bathsheba.

photo of BathshebaBathsheba

The highlight of my windsurfing was to be one of four sailors out on the water on our last day, alongside Taz who’s going to be a future star and a couple of his buddies and my limits were to pull off some big airs, a table top and a few duck gybes, with everybody else watching from the beach. I also had a go at 3 unsuccessful loops, perhaps I’ll save them for the next holiday!

Wave Jumpphoto of wave jump

As a summary, Barbados can be thought of as a paradise with sun, sea, wind, waves, beaches, bleached dreadlocks, reggae music, lots of rum and fast driving on tap and both myself and Andy who are slightly above intermediate standards found it to be the best windsurfing location and would definitely travel back. The others preferred the less taxing windsurfing conditions of Margarita, although the shark incidence may stop them from returning there. However the whole group agreed that the Barbados night-life and the friendliness of the Bajans were fantastic. To keep everybody happy, maybe we will try either Cabarete or Trinidad next year. There is a good article on Barbados in the May 03 edition of the Windsurf magazine (page 50), but it seems to completely miss out the windsurfing at Oistins and fails to mention that there are in fact two Club Mistral Centres, one in Silver Sands and the other in Maxwell. Oh well they can’t always get it right!

Fred Hussain (photos courtesy of Jon White’s new digital camera)

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