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cabarete - jan/feb 1998

Windsurf magazine of March 1992 gives a description of Cabarete which remains true today. Cabarete is a village with one tarmac main street of tourist shops and hotels plus a few dirt roads of with local housing and tiny local shops where life is lived busily, noisily and mostly in the open air.

There is none of the extreme poverty of Africa or India, begging is much less common or intrusive and the people are friendlier and less pushy than their African and Indian counterparts. The tourists come from most European countries and Canada, with Germans in the majority. Americans are few despite the nearness of the USA and the big investment in the American owned Vela windsurfing centre. The German connection goes back to the 1930s, when the Dominican dictator offered German Jewish refugees grants of land to help develop the country. Many travelled on to settle in the US but some of those who settled helped to develop the tourist facilities.

We arrived at Puerta Plata's modern airport after a tolerable 9 hour flight from Gatwick; a big improvement on the 1992 flight. The weather was overcast with a force 4-ish wind blowing to give credence to our chart showing force 4+ winds for 80 percent of days in Jan-Feb.

On the 26th., our first full day, we toured the windsurf centres on Cabarete beach to find that all the larger ones remained from 1992 but most of the small ones had disappeared. The western end of the beach starts with Happy Surfpool, the German F2 centre, located in the vast Estrella De Mar hotel complex.

About 100m east of Happy is Nathalie Simon's Sportaway centre located behind the Taina hotel. The Wet shop and hire centre is in a side street just off the beach. Wet has a run down appearance with little choice of equipment and all of it well battered.

The Vela-Spinout operation is sited at the focal point of the bay and is probably the best launching point. The site is built around the Brisas beach restaurant, which is a good meeting place. Vela-Spinout is Sportif's chosen centre with good reason, as they have a huge range of equipment and many instructors.

Next to Vela is the small Surfen centre with about 30, new looking, Fanatic boards. Surfen is sandwiched between Vela and BIC Carib. BIC is well equipped as one would expect. Club Mistral is set up behind the Pequeneo Refugio hotel near the eastern end of the bay, away from the rest of the commercial windsurfing.

Sunworld have been advertising their Cabarete centre but it was not operating during our visit and we found no details of its planned location. There are around 500 boards for hire in Cabarete and the figure will probably increase when Sunworld start up.

The cost of board hire is US $20 per hour or US $280 per week, excluding kit insurance, with little variation in charges from the different centres. I chose to hire from Club Mistral because it was small, very friendly and located at the quiet end of the beach and the equipment was all brand new. The manager, Alex Allavena, offered a deal whereby I could book out equipment by the hour and at the end of my stay the hours would be consolidated to the corresponding weekly or daily rate. The effect was to reduce the hourly rate from $20 to under $10.

Having completed my commercial arrangements Alex advised me not to take a board out immediately as the wind was offshore and not strong enough for enjoyment. I took his advice and remained, with the frustrated majority, on the beach. The following day the wind rose to force 3-4, just enough to dispel the cobwebs on an 'Explosion' 295 with a 7.0m2 sail.

Between ~28th and 31st it rained for some period of every day. The sun was unable to do its thermal magic and there were many frustrated windsurfers. The rain stopped on Feb 1st and a gentle breeze started which enticed a few beginners to wobble through the shore break but I voted with the majority to wait for proper wind.

Cabarete bay is not good for the first time windsurfer. The western end suffers a vicious shore break and the eastern end is in wind shadow from most wind directions. The mid beach sites suffer from both problems in some degree. Happy Surfpool start their beginners off on a lagoon which connects to the sea some 5Km east of Cabarete. The other centres appear to launch their pupils through the shore break and leave them to learn the hard way.

The wind picked up on Feb 2nd and everyone rushed to get launched. I was left with a 315 Explosion and 7.0m2 sail as all intermediate boards and been pre-booked. The board/rig combination was unwieldy in force 5 and a lumpy sea. I changed to a 278 Screamer and 5.2m2 sail as soon as possible and was delighted to find I could handle the board without difficulty. I am ready to join Ian et al in the Mistral fan club.

Both wind strength and wave height increased on the 3rd. Uphauling was impossible and water starting depended on speed and timing to get the sail high enough to prevent the mast tip being caught by the next wave and the whole lot being deluged. A buoyancy aid was essential for those of us with less athletic inclinations.

Difficulty water starting drew attention to Club Mistral's choice of sail. Almost all were no-cam Naish Noas which were rigged very flat with much more outhaul than would be used on a cammed sail. I felt that the flatness made water starting harder as one could not spring up the battens to trap air, and once upright the cammed sail has a pre-formed aerofoil to catch the maximum wind for acceleration.

Cabarete provided the biggest seas in my experience so it was difficult to compare the sails. Perhaps my own ineptitude accounts for much but I was not converted to the cause of no-cam sails.

It rained each day from Feb 4th-7th and the very weak NW wind persuaded windsurfers to stay on the beach. On the 8th the NW wind increased to force 6+ and we enjoyed some exciting sailing. The NW wind is non-prevailing and non-preferred as it combines with the tidal drift to push windsurfers onto the reef curving out from the east end of the bay. The rescue boat was kept busy and I witnessed three incidents of rigs trashed on the reef but I was lucky enough to stay out of trouble. A good day but not for the faint hearted.

I enjoyed one further day's sailing before returning to UK. I logged 25 hours board hire over 9 days in the course of three weeks holiday. Planing conditions of force 4+ occurred on 4 days. Cabarete did not live up to its reputation and the resident windsurf instructors said they had never experienced such unreliable weather. It is fashionable to blame El Nino for freak weather, but I have it on the highest authority (Liz, my wife), that my arrival at a windsurfing location is guaranteed to drive the most predictable weather pattern haywire !

I apologise in advance to the windsurfers who will be becalmed when I arrive at my next holiday destination.

(the late) Steve Wynne-Roberts

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