Windsurfers, so the old joke goes, do it standing up. I’ve not felt inadequate in the face of a bumper-sticker pun before, but considering I’ve spent the best part of an hour and a half wobbling, slipping and fighting with gravity to avoid yet another dunking, I’m feeling pretty daft right now.
Still, it’s not a bad day to be splashing around in the middle of the island’s underrated northern harbour. It’s hot, but not blazingly so, there’s a snaffle of wind but not a gale, and I hardly crashed into anything on the drive up here. The Cayman Islands Sailing Club and National Sailing Centre is situated at the very top of Spinnaker Road in Red Bay, the road winding and grinding like it’s got Batabano on its mind.
At the end of the lonely street is a very welcoming water-sports facility with plenty of boats of all shapes and sizes, plus instructors who know exactly what they’re doing.
Raphael Harvey, a native of Antigua, is patient and good-humoured as he talks us through – on dry land, of course – how exactly to stand on the board, how to pull up the sail and how to subsequently shift one’s feet to take advantage of the wind. Of course, it looks and sounds easy, but based on previous experience of things that should be easy, I really ought to have known better.
Once on the water, the smallest ripple is transformed (in my mind) into a white- water torrent, I can get half on the board, flail around like a beached man from Wales, and… splash. Whoa, I think, this isn’t as easy as it looks. But persistence is a virtue, too, and before too long I’ve managed to skilfully stand up with both feet – for a split second, before communing with the deep once more.
Turns out I might not be so great at standing on the board, but I’m a professional at falling in. The best advice I get all day is my wife telling me to shut my mouth; not the first time I’ve heard that, it must be said. But all this talk of dredging the North Sound is unnecessary – I’ve reduced the level of water by at least 2 feet after the amount I’ve swallowed today.
After an hour of coaxing from Raph, I’m not doing too bad at all – and the good lady wife turns out to be a very good student. While I’m splashing about, arms and legs flailing like a soaped-up spider, she’s soon zipping back and forth up and down the Sound.
Whatever your starting level, it’s absolutely true that by the end of a session you’ll have gotten better. Despite my relative ineptitude, I still feel a level of achievement at having given it a go and progressed at my own pace.
No wonder the centre is so popular with schools – youth lessons run weekdays from 9am to 6pm and around 200 kids arrive weekly from a variety of local schools. Weekends are devoted to adult sailing and windsurf lessons with a multitude of options to suit – the club says it will arrange courses to accommodate most schedules.
Best of all, afterwards there’s a chance to socialise in the bar – or outside – and a new kitchen means more food is being served. The sailing club really is for everybody, and I’ll be back to pick up some tips, and to reminisce about the time I once, nearly, felt myself ride the waves during an afternoon communing with the power and pleasure of nature.
Falling in, after all, is easy: getting back on the board is what builds character. And a beer afterwards never hurts, either.
For more information on lessons and what’s available head to sailing.ky