Winter can get miserable in the UK so February/March time is great to get away somewhere warm for a spot of windsurfing and to lift the spirits. One of the main reasons for choosing El Tur over any of the other popular Egyptian venues was that Boards mag had been doing their testing there for a few years, mostly in November but also once in February and that gave us confidence in the wind, plus the stats looked pretty solid. The prospect of flat water blasting along with some bumpy conditions if we were up for it was also a big plus. El Tur is about 120km from Sharm, up the Gulf of Suez coast of the Sinai peninsula on the opposite coast to Dahab.
My own personal preference was for somewhere as unlike Club Vass as possible, as the atmosphere can get a bit wearing at times, so laid back and quiet seemed like a nice idea. Organising the trip was pretty straight forward once numbers were confirmed. Quite a few members had said they would be coming but has omitted to get their pass-outs stamped ‘approved’ by ‘er indoors, so it ended up being just three, Hywel, Gordon and Mike. El-Tur was popular in March 2009 with two clinic weeks fully booked one with Jim Collis (this coincided with when we were there) and Jem Hall later in the month. A larger group from TWC would have had problems getting in for some weeks since Oceansource limit their numbers to about 20.
Flights were quite easy to find from East Midlands to Sharm El Sheikh, though the prices do fluctuate from day to day it seems. We paid £286 though in the weeks prior to confirming the numbers this had been as low as £235. Booking the Oceansource bit of the package was very easy, with Ed being very helpful and accommodating. The deal we got was 7 days half board at the hotel, taxi transfers to and from the airport, 7 days windsurfing hire for £235, though this was with 3 of us sharing a room, a little cramped as it turned out, but we were only in there to sleep so no-one minded much.
Our flight from East Mids, left at a very respectable time of 10:45am, with Thomson Airways, very uneventful, and took 4hrs 30mins approx, landing in Sharm at 5:30 ish. You need a tourist visa to enter Egypt and we were forewarned about the queues for these, if you take US dollars there is virtually no queue, though we then had to join a fairly lengthy queue to get through passport control so by the time we found our taxi it was nearly dark. None of us was looking forward to our taxi ride as we had heard some alarming reports about Egyptian taxi drivers driving without lights on, however these were a little wide of the mark, they use their lights completely contrary to how you’d expect. A soon as a vehicle approaches they both whack their headlights on to full beam!!
The taxi ride seemed to go on for a long while, it took about 1hr 20 minutes, but it was the monotony of the road that was the most tiresome aspect, so very little to see, no towns to go through, just desert, in the dark and the very occasional oil flare in the distance. We arrived at the hotel just after the evening meal had finished about 8pm (but they had made us some sandwiches which was thoughful of them), and it was very quiet. The lobby was very spacious and grand looking however it soon became clear that the hotel had seen better days and was a little down at heel. The room was clean and well prepared, but the bathroom was a bit shabby. We went and had a wander round the hotel and down to the windsurf centre and we were beginning to wonder what we had let ourselves in for!. It was quite cool and the hotel looked in a poor state in the dark.
In the morning however things looked and felt entirely different, the sun was out and everything was bright and felt altogether better. The sea was as blue as you could wish, the beach was clean and whilst the hotel still looked a little shabby, it wasn’t half as bad as it looked in the dark, but we couldn’t have cared less.
We went in to breakfast and were geeted with huge long tables arranged with continental style breakfast food, cheeses, sliced meat (not ham!), boiled eggs, tomatoes etc, croissants, yoghurt, something like porridge, fruit salad, cereals, bread, etc. Also you could have cooked eggs either as an omelette with various fillings or fried. Quite a variety but by the end of the week you tend to get a bit desparate for bacon!. Coffee was not up to much, in fact it was pretty dire, but the tea was fine.
We then went down to the centre and introduced ourselves, got signed in and did the paperwork (you can opt to pay an insurance fee against kit damage) and were given an introduction to the centre. The centre will accommodate 20 guests and the kit is predominantly RRD and Tushingham and Ezzy rigs, though some Severne sails turned up late on in our week. There are some intermediate boards, but mostly the kit is small freeride and wave/freestyle boards though there were some larger freeride boards for lighter winds. Rigs go up to 8m but most of the rigs are in the 4.5-6.5m range though there are some smaller rigs for big days.
The centre is run by Phil and Danielle, a very young couple who are doing a very professional job of the running centre and have managed to create a very laid back atmosphere. There is a booking out system, but its taken care of by the staff, indeed the staff do everything they can to make it easy for the clients. They will fit fins, and deck plates, adjust the rig as required and carry the gear down to the water. If you want to change an item of kit and you are really idle you can leave it on the beach and they will do it for you.
There are seats where you can just sit and watch or read a book or mag. There is a TV for evening entertainment but as it was still quite cool in the evenings the centre wasn’t used much most preferring to go to the hotel bar. You can also leave your gear, harness etc at the centre overnight if you wish. There is a sunbathing terrace up on the roof with a ballustrade to shelter you from the wind and the view from there over the whole bay is tremendous. There are also two towers down on the shore which if you are brave enough you can use to take photos or videos.
On the beach there is the beach bar which serves meals at lunchtime, very reasonably priced (£3 for burger anc chips) and stays open in the evenings up till midnight. You are encouraged to put drinks and food etc on your room tab which is then calculated at the end of your stay.
We were nearly always eating and drinking together so we just split it three ways, but if you want you can have you bill divide between room members. Ours came to something like £85 for the week between three of us, so its a very cheap week. There’s also a volleyball court if you are so inclined. The Russian centre next door is a slightly bigger affair with F2 and North gear. There were a group of Ukrainians on a slalom training week whilst we were there, thats why in some of the photos you’ll see massive sails out on the water when most people are out on 5.5’s. The launch area never got over crowded, but as this is also the speed strip you did have to pick your time to blast along it. If either of the centre’s did expand a lot this might become a problem.
Evening meals at the hotel are buffet style served from 6pm to 8pm. You can eat as much as you like. There is always a variety of salads, tomatoes,peppers, etc and bread. Usually there will be 4 or 5 main meals to choose from with veg, rice, pasta etc. Sweets are mostly flans and cakes and ice cream . The standard of food is reasonable, but I found it quite bland and lacking in flavour.
The prevailing wind is a Northwesterly which as it has to pass over the spit of land where the hotel is, means the water in the bay is very flat. There are waves and lumpy chop in the area of the Point for the more adventurous and when its working the centre staff will shuttle people up to the wave beach about a mile up the coast, where the conditions are much more demanding. Us flat water sailors were looking forward to going to watch, but it wasn’t really working whilst we were there. The Mosque beach must be about two thirds of a mile away, with shallow water for when you fall in on your gybes. The small bay to the left of the boatyard is especially flat and ideal for intermediates and even beginners. Rescue cover is available at all times but its not likely to be needed much. The far side of the bay is military land and beaching is not advised as one kite surfer found out, he was arrested, but released eventually. There are a few kite surfers though for the most part they kept out of the way.
Windguru is pretty accurate for El Tur and we were able to plan out days out with some confidence.
The first two days were normal Northwesterlies and we were using sails from 7.5m down to 5.5m, blasting over to the mosque beach and back, great fun and very tiring. The water is pretty flat, much flatter than, say, Rutland, and its great just blasting to and fro, with a very broad reach down the speed strip in front of the launch area. Even though we had taken summer suits the water was warm so a shortie was fine, even though the wind was quite cool for the first two days.
With the forecast lull on the days 3 and 4 we went for a trip to Ras Mohammed snorkelling. The cost was quite reasonable considering it was over an hour in a taxi and the driver stayed whilst we walked around and swam. The spot we picked for swimming was utterly incredible for snorkelling. Within feet of the beach there were litteraly hundreds of fish of dozens and dozens of species, brightly coloured and all sizes from 3-4 inches long to 18 inches long, all swimming in and out of holes in the coral in less than 5 feet of water. About 30 yards off shore the reef drops away suddenly and the wall of coral is festooned with all sorts of plant life. I also saw some really big fish about 20yards away, about 4 feet long, with fat looking bodies. Even if you have wind forecast every day of your trip, if you have never been here before then its highly recommended. I’d also recommend a dedicated underwater camera or a waterproof pouch because no one who hasn’t been will believe you when you try and describe the under water scene.
Mike, having a full diving license also went on a scuba dive trip to Ras Mohammed, which will also take snorkellers for a reduced fee, something we will be considering for next time. On Day 4 I was recovering from an overnight stomach bug, I’ll spare you the details. Not sure what caused it as no-one else had the same symptoms as I did. Still the wind was light so I wasn’t missing much. Gordon and Mike went exploring the town.
The following day the wind had swung to a much less common Southerly, which chucked up some swell in the bay.It was big sails in the morning with the wind getting up in the afternoon so 5.5m was much more sensible. Quite a biggish swell making gybing a mite problematic. I dare say we’d get used to it if we did it more often!
Day 6 was similar but windier in the morning, easing off in the afternoon.
Day 7 was leaving day, but the flight times we had meant we could have a whole morning out on the water before a 3pm pickup. The wind was back to a Northwesterly, flat water big sail blasting, though the guys who had been revelling in the small sails and lumpy conditions the day before couldn’t quite understand why were taking out 7.5’s and 8’s, preferring to go out on 5.5’s and 6’s.
Well if you went to El Tur for the nightlife you would have been sorely dissappointed. You’ve got to make you’re own! El Tur is quite a big town, but its not touristy at all and there is no alcohol, so no bars, and very few eating establishments. On a couple of occasions we ventured out into the town with Phil and Danielle on the first occasion to the meat restaurant which was in the open air and very cheap. On the second occasion a much larger group of us went to the fish restaurant which was really the only restaurant in town that catered for tourists. We had a set meal of salad, bread and dips followed by huge platters of various fried fish served with rice. The fish was very good indeed and there was loads of it and most people were stuffed at the end of the meal.
Its also not a place where you’d go for a beach holiday, you really do need to be a keen windsurfer to get the best of the place, not necessarily a good windsurfer, just keen to spend most of your time on the water. And don’t even think about taking the wife and kids! What makes El Tur a much more pleasureable experience though is that there is a small crowd, so we all got to know one another and spent quite a bit of time chatting at the beach bar, in the hotel bar, in the hotel restaurant and down on the beach. This is one aspect of windsurfing holidays at the likes of Club Vass that is missing making them an unlikely place for a sole windsurfer to choose. Because of the relaxed atmosphere and the natural friendliness of the staff and guests , El Tur is one centre I would consider going to alone, safe in the knowledge that you’ll soon get to know people.
In conclusion all three of us are planning to go again, maybe a week or two later in the year. It did get cool in the evenings and it would have been nice to sit down at the beach bar in the evening having a beer, so a couple of weeks later and it may well have warmed up a little more. During the day it was mostly hot, mid to high twenties and the sun was really powerful, the water very warm compared to what we are used to, it was just that with the wind, it cooled quite rapidly in the evenings.
El Tur gets over 70% of days + force 4 in March and April so its pretty reliable, however a 10 day trip will be a better bet, costing very lttle more than 7 days and lessening the possibility of a lack of wind spoiling the week (Dahab had two whole weeks in March 2008 with no wind) . If you wanted to take your own board it would be quite a straight forward thing to do since the taxis the hotel use nearly all have roof racks which will carry quite a bit of kit. I get to use my small board very little in the UK that I might well be tempted to give it a bit of a treat! And Gordon defintely wants to take his iSonic so he can get on the GPS leader board!
I’ve put some photos together in a gallery here.
Hywel Harris. April 2009.