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dahab, egypt -28th april to 12th may, 2002

Each year John and I are paralysed with indecision about where to go on holiday. This year, due to work commitments we were restricted to leaving for sunnier weather the last weekend in April. Sportif said- "Well, it's Dahab or, um, Dahab if those are the only dates you can do." We thought 'Fantastic! Decision made!' However, we hadn't anticipated having to choose between four hotels and three windsurf centres. In the end I telephoned Ian Long who decided the Novotel Hotel and Harry Nass Windsurf Centre.

At Gatwick I cunningly left John browsing in Dixons to sneak to Clinique for essential supplies. I reasoned this was best done alone; he was with me once when I bought just one thing (How much?!) so I wasn't sure how his system would cope with a multiple purchase. As I returned to Dixons, he and the sales assistant were furtively stuffing a digital camera and accessories into a bag. (How much?!) Touché.

In our hotel room that evening I wrote in my journal 'It's funny how everything going smoothly can make a person nervous. The cab journey to the airport was fine, there was exactly the right amount of time for shopping and breakfast before boarding the flight, which left and arrived on time. The transfer went smoothly, the hotel is fantastic - it's even windy! This totally stress free experience makes me anxious.'

The next morning our first impressions of the place are excellent in every way. The bungalow style rooms are set out in well-tended gardens lush with vegetation and flowers. The impeccably clean rooms are serviced daily. Buffet meals are served in the central building. There is even entertainment laid on at breakfast. Loitering around the edges of the outside dining area are scores of sparrows. While the omelette chef has his back to the waffle area, six of them descend onto the edge of the large bowl containing the waffle mixture to munch the drips off the rim. One of these cheeky scamps starts to make his way down the ladle toward the mixture. Unfortunately, the omelette man turns around and shoos them away. The next morning the waffle mixture is in a jug with a lid.

After breakfast we collect our complimentary beach towels and set off to the Harry Nass Surf and Action Centre. Here they have around 160 boards and 180 sails. The sails are stored boom off but there are plenty of hands to rig for you, just specify size and preferred length of harness lines. It is blowing its socks off (30 knots) and at a mere 25 degrees is apparently 'cold'.

We meet Rob, the centre's instructor. He tells us that it had been blowing like this for nearly a week. He also relates that the day before a 110-kilo Russian asked for a beginner's lesson. Rob had said 'No, It's too windy.' The Russian had replied, "No, it's fine. I am an Olympic sailor. J Class!" The result was 110 kilos, sheeted in and planing on an F2 Rookie!

We decide to break ourselves gently into holiday mode and lie around on the beach reading. We punctuate this inactivity with a couple of walks. As the tide retreats we walk along the sandbank toward the instruction tower. I hadn't appreciated quite how sheltered the beach and windsurf centre is. Out on the sandbank a gust nearly takes me off my feet. Scary!

Day two is another scary wind day. The wind pattern in Dahab is generally strong in the morning gradually dropping off slightly in the afternoon. We read out the morning but by 2pm we stir ourselves into action. It's still scary wind but they have lots of 2.9m sails - which are all out on the water. The smallest available is 3.7. Harry says 'You can do water starts.' I reply, "I can't." He comes back with 'You will with this sail!' John takes a 4 metre.

Actually, it's not so bad. I practice deeper and deeper beach starts. My first, waist deep, sees me neatly into a sitting stance on my board, a position I maintain for several moments before it goes properly pear shape. I am quite an agile girl so I go deeper and deeper. Chest high beach start? No problem! However, as I reach shoulder height I encounter some difficulty and have a revelation - if I were to take my feet off the ground the rest of the world would call this a water start...

Having found our sea legs we have our first lesson with Rob. Also in our class are Oleg, Alexander (110 kilo Russian) and Michel. We are all intermediate level sailors. Rob tailors our lesson to our individual needs. We practice changing direction and speed while hooked in. Rob tells me to stay hooked in right the way across the bay. This is very constructive because I have well-established habit of bearing away and then unhooking at the first sign of speed. By the end of the lesson I am still bearing away slightly but I am getting better at retrieving the situation. I speculate that I have probably spent longer hooked in during that sailing session than I have in all my sailing years.

We have quite a long morning on the water. At the end of it Rob asks John if I am diabetic. Apparently I was very determined in my manner when I stride off the water expressing my need for chips! Alexander also had a good lesson. Today he graduated to a Phoenix 320, the day before (his second on a board) he had done 10 beach starts.

We go out again in the afternoon. Still giddy with the success of my morning spent hooked in and planing the highlight of this session is a rather unexpected Mills and Boon experience - a nameless gentleman rescues me. I had jumped off my board just a few feet from him but over a steeply shelving bit of beach. I could just get the tips of my toes onto the sand but it was so windy I couldn't make any headway pulling my board and rig so the hero of my tale reached across and pulled me toward the beach before disappearing into the sun....

We establish a pattern of out on the water around 10.30, a lesson at midday and possibly another sail late in the afternoon. Lessons concentrate on water starting/ shoulder deep beach starting and going faster when up. John's assessment of his early water start lessons as 'a series of linked near drowning events' changes as he practices and improves. I learn that those handy carry handles at the back end of the board are actually straps to put your feet into! I even use one - and then two of them!

I think it is safe to say that my sailing has improved more in the last two weeks than it has in the last seven or so years. I attribute this to two things. The sailing area at Dahab is excellent. There is a fantastically long reach from the tower right across the bay (though I tended to stay slightly upwind of this to stay out of the way of the good guys). This gave me the opportunity to overcome a certain amount of harness anxiety by hooking in - and staying hooked in - really committing to the harness and seeing what happens to your course and speed when you shift your weight - all on the same reach in a generally gust free wind! Brilliant! The other element in this equation is the quality of instruction. What a refreshing combination - an excellent sailor who enjoys teaching and gets results whether carving or first time on a board. Four and a half hours a day, seven days a week Rob is out in/on the water. When you are in his class you have his full attention even when you're not in his lesson he is ready with comments and top tips. Top teacher!

Sitting at my laptop tapping the keys, the rain tapping the Velux window it all seems a distant memory. There are masses of other things I would like to tell you- how on day three the Alexander was water starting; about the night he decided to show off his boxing skills - he wasn't aggressive just very enthusiastic - but then you don't argue with 110 kilos of tipsy Russian; and how I demonstrated my first aid expertise by using boot laces to tie a cold can of beer onto John's swollen arm. All in all it was a fantastic holiday. Ian, your next beer is on me!

Angela Pitcher (Nomad) and John Durcan (Non Nomad)

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