Words: Pete Lyons
Pics: Nick Harman
We ran an article about Dahab in one of our previous issues (see here). The original story was from Toby and Fi who run Dahab Holidays. When we learned one of Windsurfing UK’s Local Legends, Pete Lyons, was travelling out to the Egyptian windy spot we thought we should follow this up and get a windsurfing bird’s eye view on what’s been happening. Here’s what Pete had to say.
Dahab: Much has been written and many have experienced the sailing opportunities that this place affords. Pure windsurfing heaven! It’s rare to find a ‘first timer’ in Dahab such is the draw of the place – many keep coming back for more. It’s an addictive destination that’s for sure.
But the world has sadly changed since my first visit in 2011 and Egypt has had more than its fair share of problems which are well publicized. The effects of declining tourism in the area have been devastating and Dahab has not escaped unscathed but I’m happy to report it’s still alive and kicking and open for business. After all, the wind doesn’t do politics or religion!
Since my latest trip in March of this year the questions my windsurfing friends are now asking are: ‘what’s it like now?’ and ‘can I get there given the flight bans?’ and of course ‘is it safe?’. Well, in short….fantastic, yes and yes. Let me expand….
My latest trip was quite a learning experience. The first challenge was how to get there. Due to the restrictions on direct flights from the UK to Sharm el Sheikh I had to check out other options and to my surprise there are lots. The UK and Russia are the only European countries that used to have scheduled flights not currently flying direct to Sharm. Italy, Germany and the Swiss to name a few have all resumed direct flights. From the UK the two best options are either via Cairo or Istanbul. I opted for Egyptair to Sharm via Cairo. And it turned out to be a great choice. No delays and with 90 minutes between flights it was about as relaxing a journey as I’ve had….and I hate flying! Mind you the Egyptian bloke that tried to get his bag out of the overhead was a surprise given that the wheels had barely touched the tarmac and we were still thundering down the runway! But still miles better than having to put up with the ‘shameless’ tracksuit brigade on UK charters. Top tip! Get your Egyptian visa before you leave the UK. It saved loads of time in Cairo as the queues to buy the visa locally where huge and you do need one if you fly via Cairo.
Arrival at Sharm was slightly different this time. Usual baggage collection routine but then a 10 minute queue to get luggage security checked before you leave the airport. Totally pointless but hey, this is Egypt. Then straight into my taxi and a 50 minute transfer. I would recommend you get the hotel or windsurf club to arrange the taxi as it’s much cheaper than the airport taxis.
My hotel of choice was the Swiss Inn. Great food, very clean comfortable rooms with a decent shower which is a must have for me. The staff are excellent and for the most part the same staff that were there when I first visited back in 2011. Always an indicator of a good hotel in my opinion.
Booking accommodation is not a problem. The usual online search will give you plenty of choice with the best prices to be had usually about 8-10 days before your departure date. If price is your driving factor hotels are available in Masbat for as little as $10 a night.
And now for the important bit. So what is Dahab like right now? In a word…quiet! The hotels are running at 10-20% occupancy. There used to be 14 hire centres now there are 8. The Russian owned ones have taken the biggest hit in terms of lost trade and Club Vass had to pull the plug as they could no longer get insurance.
But on the water is where you can really see the difference. Before the recent ‘troubles’ you would easily see 100+ windsurfers blasting at any one time. This time around you’d be lucky to see more than thirty and that includes the lagoon, Speedy and Baby Bay combined. Not a bad thing if you’re a windsurfer. Far more room to practice your moves without fear of colliding with others! Although somehow a chap still managed sail up behind me and hit me with his clew as he was passing. Unbelievable! And there was only the two of us in the lagoon. Now how does that work? Needless to say he didn’t come back.
My kit hire and daytime base is courtesy of Dahab Stars. Essentially it’s the original Club Vass (or Club Dahab as it was otherwise known) which has since changed hands and is now owned and run by their former employee Ahmed Dawood and his brother. It’s still a great set up and kit wise it’s Fanatic boards and Severne sails. They’ve done a great job not only just surviving the downturn but also in maintaining the standards of service. Respect guys and a big thank you! If you’re heading to Dahab give them a shout. Highly recommended and really genuine guys.
After a quick reconnaissance trip to check out the other hire centres it’s pretty obvious that trade is thin on the ground. You’ll be hard pressed to see any of the latest kit. At best you might get last year’s model. It’s a tough situation. They can’t buy the latest and greatest as cash flow is barely enough to sustain day to day running costs. But let’s be honest, if you want to try the latest equipment you’d probably head to somewhere else. Dahab is more about just getting out there and experiencing the place and challenging yourself. It doesn’t bother me that my board may be a year or two old. As long as it moves and isn’t completely knackered then I’m happy.
Ahmed tells me that 2016 was most definitely the hardest. The impact of the flight ban from the UK and Russia was huge on the resort but he can definitely see an increase in numbers during recent months. The place used to be dominated by the Russians but only the dedicated are still finding their way to Dahab and their numbers are low. On a positive note there’s a good mix of Europeans at the moment. A visit to the local town of Masbat is always a good indicator of ‘tourist’ numbers. On my last visit 18 months ago Europeans were very thin on the ground. This time I was happy to see a lot more strolling around and eating at the many excellent restaurants. Word is getting out that Dahab is safe (well, as safe as you get in this world). So things are hopefully looking up. What Ahmed and many other locals I spoke to really want and need is for the flight ban to lift. And for the UK to lift the warning on travelling outside the Sharm perimeter. Then and only then will Dahab start to thrive again.
So to expand on my initial answers. There’s never been a better time to go to Dahab. For consistent year round flat water/bump and jump windsurfing within easy reach of the UK there’s nowhere better. It’s easy to get to with loads of flight options. I’d go as far as to say better options. No more getting home a stupid o’clock in the morning having endured five and a half hours on the ‘tracksuit shuttle’ just to save a quid or two! And most importantly it’s as safe as anywhere these days and airport security is as thorough as you’ll find. They had my bags open three times! And the bonus…. Egypt have recently floated their currency. So whilst you pay a little more for hotels (they are priced in US dollars) you gain locally. 1 UK pound used to get you 10 Egyptian pounds. Now you get 20! It was cheap over there to begin with. It’s bargain basement now! So what are you waiting for?