AFFAIRS OF THE HART – AIRPORT GRIEF
It’s the holiday season. You’re heading to a windy Riviera. Harty muses over the pros and cons, joys and misery of flying with kit.
“I do apologise for the delay”, said the captain. “We seem to have a problem loading the last bag. It’s rather large so they’ve had to call for a fork-lift truck.” His voice oozed frustration.
“That’s your ‘Big Red’ Harty!” chuckled Dave White, my travel companion. “It’s grounded the plane!.” Big Red was my protest vote. On a whim, our favoured airline had suddenly changed their interpretation of a ‘sailboard’ from 3 bags (board, mast and sails), to just one – and there was to be only one sports bag per passenger. How do you fit all your kit for 3 weeks of speed and slalom competition into one bag? You build ‘Big Red’ that’s how. It was less a bag and more a huge, red amorphous, marquee of sack – totally impractical and almost impossible to get a hold of, as the beleaguered baggage folk were discovering.
Fully laden it was over 75kg. I slid my 15kg weight jacket in the top and it was a mere drop in the ocean. Amazingly it arrived in Fuerteventura. Not surprisingly the Canarian handlers refused to even attempt to handle it; but after much bartering we were allowed to drive our hire car into a restricted area and collect it ourselves off the tarmac. That was a pre Health & Safety era when slipped discs were a way of life and check-in staff hadn’t got wise to the old trick of wedging your foot under the scales. And this is now when every gram needs to be accounted and paid for. In many ways it’s more straightforward because although it’s stricter, at least there appear to be rules and protocols. Yet despite hundreds of flights with boards, I always turn up with a sense of foreboding … because someone behind those check-in desks with only a C- in the Excel spread sheet exam has the power to ruin your day.
A week ago I had pre-paid a very reasonable price for 2 bags with Monarch. Before I could even find the receipt and explain what the 2 crocodiles were all about, the nice lady had tagged them and got a bloke to wheel them away, all whilst wishing me a very pleasant flight and extolling the virtues of a twinser over a quad. But a month before that, travelling with another altogether less together airline, and having followed the same pre-paying procedure, I was told the computer definitely said “no.” Where followed one of those conversations where you’ve been dropped back into a less informed Millennium. “What you say it is again? Windsurfers?” Am I seriously the first person who has flown to this windy destination with a board? Managers were called, who called their managers’ managers as if this was the most controversial occurrence in the airline’s history. Meanwhile, the queue behind stood static and tongues clicked – all of which got the trip off to the most stressful start at a time when you should be bursting with joyous anticipation.
Shall I shan’t I take my own?
The two elements that make or break the dedicated windsurfing trip are the wind and the kit. By bringing your own, you have some control of the latter – but is it worth the hassle? It’s a puzzle with more questions than answers but the experience of three different sailors on a Greek beach where I was coaching last week, distils the choices. I should add they were all staying at or near a centre where the kit is famously plentiful and immaculate.
# 1 Nick – doesn’t bring his own
Nick is a competent free-rider of a certain age, coming on courses for the craic as well as to work gently on his nearly planing carve and duck gybes. His kit at home is quite old so enjoys the newness and variety of the rental gear. In terms of tuning, he’s been sailing a while and knows what works for him. Asked about bringing his own, he says his holiday starts at the seafood bar at the airport – and anything that eats into his fun time and offers the potential for backache, is absolutely not worth it.
# 2 Stefan – brings his own
I see Stefan there every year. He brings his 100ltr freestyle wave and a couple of rigs. He always sails with a smile on his face but has a dogged agenda to crack certain carving moves – 360s, push tacks etc – and knows the wind and kit he needs to do it. If it’s less than 15 knots he doesn’t go out or just practices heli-tacks off the plane. As the tricks get trickier success comes to a large degree from intimate knowledge of your board and rig – knowing how deeply you can push the rail; the power application of the sail – so nothing is a surprise. With those variables taken away, he can focus on the technique. Loads of the boards in the centre would do the job but he doesn’t want to waste 2 or 3 days getting used to them. As for the hassle factor, he doesn’t bring much; and he’s German and therefore super-organised.
# 3 George – doesn’t bring his own (but sort of wishes he did)
George is a trickier case. He has a board and rig that he really loves at home and harbours an instant mistrust of other brands. One problem in centres is the assumption that everything is perfectly rigged. It may have been once – but you’re often inheriting the tuning horrors of the last person who used it. That happened to George twice on day one and reinforced his perceived hate of the sail brand in question. We did turn it round as over the week he began to realise how key tuning is to performance – and how impossible it is to perform even if you think the kit isn’t working for you. For most people, a well-stocked centre is the only time people get a chance to try and feel the differences between board and rig categories. But George still loves his own kit and I sympathise. But here’s the thing – he loves it so much that he’s terrified of it being damaged in transit – and that’s a grim reality most of us in the business have confronted all too often.
The compromise I suggested next year, is that he should bring his favourite rig – like a 5.7. That immediate familiarity will make him feel at home and will help him make studied judgements about different boards. A complete rig will weigh about 10-15 kg and will be accepted easily by most airlines. Just having your own boom and lines keeps you in touch with home and gets the positive juices flowing.
The alternative is to take up international snooker …
PH 28th June 2015