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bitez/gündogan, august '98

In May of this year, after vowing that she would never step foot on a board, I finally managed to get Rebecca, my other half, to come along with me on a windsurfing holiday. Much has been written about Vassiliki (and I suspect that a good proportion of NOMADS have, at some time or other been there) so I won't elaborate other than to say that it had the desired affect. On the second to last day, Rebecca suggested that we spent the three weeks that we had previously ear marked for going to Australia this summer, windsurfing instead!

One point to note here. Flights to Vassiliki are on Sunday, so if like us, you are tied to school holidays (Rebecca's a teacher) it's possible to go during the Whitson half term break at the end of May. What's more, it's cheap. We booked a week before and the total cost was 299 each. That included full use of all the equipment (including mountain bikes) and RYA tuition. There's a 50 discount if you don't partake in the activities.

Within a week of arriving back in the UK, and before Rebecca had chance to change her mind, it was booked. Two weeks in Bitez followed by one last week in Gündogan, where we could try our hand at dinghy sailing if we so wished. Both centres are run by Sunworld Sailing [now Neilson] and are located in the Bodrum peninsular, Turkey, and are only about half an hour apart.

For those of you who have been before, the good news it that Bodrum now has an airport, so the transfer time, previously 4-5 hours from both Dalaman and Izmir, has been cut to just 30 minutes. For some reason flights from both Cardiff and Birmingham still fly into Izmir however, so be warned. The bad news is that by making the peninsular more accessible, I fear that its only a matter of time before Bitez starts to resemble its neighbour Gumbet, with its English bars, banana boats, etc. For now such development has been kept to a minimum. Let's hope it stays that way.

Anyway, back to our hols.

We arrived in Bitez on Monday 27th July and, after being shown to our room, were pointed in the direction of the board racks and encouraged to go out sailing for the remaining 3-4 hours of daylight. The wind was blowing according to plan - cross-offshore force 4, perhaps a little gusty at times but nonetheless promising for the coming week. Not wanting to completely blow her confidence on the 1st day, I advised Rebecca not to venture out and simply relax by the pool instead.

Day 1 begins, as with most package holidays, with the obligatory welcome chat. Once complete, we were given a guided tour of the two adjacent hotels, the Yali Han and the Sah, of which the centre is comprised, before we were split up into our RYA groups. Rebecca opted for level 2. I opted for level 4.

Note that although it is not compulsory to join one of the groups, most people tended to do so, regardless of whether they were a complete novice or were way up there in the clouds. However, if all you wish to do is free-sail then the entire range of kit is there at your disposal. All you must do is stick within the bounds of the sailing area (which is quite extensive so this is unlikely to cause you any great hardship).

On this particular morning there was very little wind, so only levels 1 - 3 ventured out on to the water. The rest of us congregated around the numerous simulators that are dotted around the centre. Because of the lack of wind our 1st lesson finished early. I thus retired to the cushions, an area above the Yali Han bar strewn with cushions from which you can see the whole of the bay and keep an eye open for the first sign of any wind.

In the afternoon the wind did pick up slightly but it was still only marginal planing conditions and incredibly gusty. With a 7m sail it was possible to get going but it was an extremely frustrating process. By the end of the afternoon my arms felt like they were going to drop off - most of the skin on my hands had already gone that way. Rebecca had called it quits after about half-an-hour and was busily munching her way through her 2nd pancake by the time I'd come off the water.

At 5 o'clock each day a bell is rung and the air echoes to sound of "TEA-TIME". At which point, especially when there's very little wind, people start heading in for tea and cakes.

The pattern set during day 1 was to be re-lived for the following 3 days. Little if any wind in the morning was followed by marginal and extremely gusty conditions in the afternoon. An offshore breeze one minute would be replaced by a cross-shore breeze the next only to die completely. A number of times a found myself getting back-winded when I was trying to head back upwind.

In such conditions Rebecca found it very difficult. At only 5 foot and a dolly mixture tall she was finding it difficult enough pulling a 4.5 wave sail out of the water without it being ripped out of her hands seconds later. After failing to make it to the teaching platform for the 2nd successive day she decided that level 2 was perhaps a little hopeful given the conditions and gracefully retired back into level 1.

On day 4 around lunchtime, the Meltemi did at last appear to kick-in. So much so that a decision was made to open Numan's island two miles offshore. After writing my name on the blackboard and finding a suitable buddy I headed off in search of clean wind. I didn't get very far however before I noticed a small rip in the sail. By the time I had got back to the landing area and rigged up a new sail (which in Bitez simply consists of putting the boom on) the majority of my group was way off in the distance. I could see that a few people had made it to the island already. On my second attempt, I'd just about managed to catch up a few of the stragglers before the wind died completely. I did eventually make it to the island, about an hour or so later, just as a number of people who were already out there had given up on the hope of any wind and were heading back. Not wanting to be left out there alone, after a brief rest I too started the long haul back. This time with whatever wind there was directly behind you running directly with the swell. Needless to say I was glad to get back.

From then it is true to say that things did start to improve. The wind got stronger by the day (away went the 7m sails) and the island began to open on a regular basis offering planing conditions over 2-3 feet chop. I was just glad that I wasn't there for only one week!

Unlike Vassiliki, which is entirely furnished with Fanatic boards and Gaastra sails, the kit in Bitez in far more diverse. It's an excellent place to try equipment out before you buy. Most of the kit appears to either be new for this season or at most one, or in the case of some of the beginner's boards, two years old. A few sails did look a little tatty, but this was the exception rather than the rule. As for quantity, with capacity for about 80 guests, the 120 boards and a similar number of sails were quite ample. Typically, there was a bit of rush for the best kit about 14:15, prior to the afternoon session, but I suppose that's what you get for travelling in peak season.

As for the accommodation, well, its fairly basic as you would expect. The Yali Han is the better of the two hotels with a nice pool area, a bar and the cushions (the Sah does have a pool but it's a much more basic affair - no palm trees and such like). It also houses the only rooms that have a sea view. If you intend to go, it's worth requesting a room in the Yali Han. Rooms 34, 35 and 36 are the most sort after however all of those that surround the pool appear to be quite nice. That said, I doubt very much that you will be spending much time in your room - we certainly didn't - so I wouldn't be too perturbed if none of these are available.

When I want to Bitez last year a local bar, one which was actually owned by the Sah Hotel, used to be a mecca for the instructors and clients alike, especially in the early hours. Although the Sah Beach Bar is still there and attracts very much the same clientele as last year the dance floor is now situated indoors which is no doubt a relief to some of the residents of the Sah Hotel. Last year, I was kept awake on numerous occasions to the thump of the not so distant music.

As for Gündogan, well it's far more geared towards dinghy sailing than windsurfing. There's still a fair range of kit especially for beginner and intermediate sailors and the instruction is still very good, but I got the impression that, with one or two exceptions, that they basically got the kit that Bitez didn't want. A recurring problem that I had was that the UJ coming out of the board. It never happened to me out of sight of the rescue tower, but I found it quite infuriating nonetheless.

No, I can't really recommend Gündogan as a windsurfing venue. It's very much quieter than Bitez, which although in itself is not necessary a bad thing, attracts a very different clientele - namely, those that are primarily interested in wallowing around in Wayfarers and families. Some good windsurfing can be had out of the bay in the swell but whether you are allowed out there is entirely at the discretion of the instructors and you must always be supported by a rescue boat. Inside the bay the wind is typically one force less than it is in Bitez.

I have no such reservations about Bitez however. Sure, the wind in the bay can be a little temperamental at times (so it is therefore not as suited for novice and lower-intermediate sailors at it is for those who are more advanced), but outside the bay the wind is generally far more consistent and the conditions can be quite challenging. If you've never been on such a holiday before then it's a sure way to improve.

Nigel Rudgeyard

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