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Backwoods: Saona Island

Backwoods: Saona Island
By Audrey Meyer

Originally Published in the October 2009 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine

Situated on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, Saona Island is a pristine tropical paradise that has been featured in many movies and commercials. Located a short distance from the mainland, its beauty and bountiful wildlife are government protected. Accessible only by boat, Saona is the largest Dominican offshore island with an area of 42 square miles (110 sq km), and forms part of the National Park of the East (Parque Nacional del Este). Legend has it that the island was baptized “Saona” by Christopher Columbus who discovered it in May 1494 during his second voyage to the Americas, in honor of the city of Savona, Italy, where Columbus lived at the time.

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What is the official site name?
Soana Island or in Spanish, Isla Saona.

What is the best time of the year to hit this spot?
Due to the venturi and thermal effect, it’s good all year round but the best months are July and August.

What is the best Internet site to check the wind/conditions?
http://www.intellicast.com/Local/Forecast.aspx?location=DRXX0027
http://www.windguru.cz/es/index.php?go=1&lang=eng&vs=1&sc=198504&wj=knots&tj=c&odh=4&doh=22&fhours=180

How do I get there?
From Cabarete, it’s about a five hour drive to the La Romana/Bayahibe area, where the boats generally leave from. Consider staying at one of the La Romana hotels where you will be about a half hour boat trip away, instead of the almost three hours it will take to get there from Punta Cana. From Santo Domingo it’s about a one hour drive. We have a friend with a catamaran that was docked at the Casa de Campo Resort marina, one of the most complete and prestigious marinas in the Caribbean. The 7,000-acre Casa de Campo resort is not only the home of Pete Dye´s legendary Teeth of the Dog golf course, but one of the most luxurious beach resorts in the world where you can rent exclusive villas, rooms and suites. The sailing was pretty nice and smooth and took about two hours to get there, using only the power of the wind. Boat charters start at $1000 per day for the entire boat so get some people together to enjoy this once in a lifetime excursion. Remember to also budget in and organize for food and drinks as they are not included on charters.

What is the usual wind direction?
The wind blows side shore, reinforced by a venturi effect produced by both islands on each side. The wind starts to blow early in the morning so you can easily get in two sessions a day. The water is crystal clear, waist deep, full of starfish.

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What gear should I be sure to pack?
The wind typically blows from 15-25 knots so I used my 10m Torch and 130 Thorn board but could have definitely used my 9m on some days. The wind is normally strong in the morning and gets even stronger around noon with the heat. It slows down a bit in the afternoon but typically continues to blow until sunset.

What conditions should I avoid?
Hurricane season is from September till November. There is a big chance you will get hit by rain showers and some strong wind during this time.

What is the launch/landing like?
We could have motored to the island with the dingy and launched from there. The wind is straight side shore on the island, but I was a bit lazy and decided to launch from the boat directly. The hard thing about launching from a boat is setting up your lines and making sure that every connection is right, otherwise everything can easily become a nightmare. I didn’t know about the Kitelauncher or Line Manager at that time. I’ll have to check those out on the next trip!

What are some of the best places to eat nearby?
The island is a nature preserve with not many people but you can find some local markets and a restaurant or two. We had just finished setting the anchor when some fisherman arrived on a boat full with their catch. We couldn’t resist and bought some fresh lobster, caught just one hour before.

Who are the local schools and shops?
There are no kite shops or schools.

What about the nightlife?
The nights are really quiet. If you like to party with people and music you will be disappointed! But you can experience the most amazing nights you could ever dream about. Lounging on the deck, comfy on the trampoline, there were plenty of shooting stars slashing overhead in the magnificent Caribbean sky. We got lucky and even saw the Milky Way girdling the clear night sky and a glimpse of a bright comet or asteroid. The Caribbean is much closer to the equator than the US or Europe, so you will see much more of the southern sky and less of the northern sky.

What else is there to do if I get skunked?
There is a small lagoon of crystalline water that forms a natural swimming pool where you can observe birds like flamingos and, at the bottom, innumerable sea creatures such as starfish, manatees, manta rays, sea turtles and dolphins. There are some amazing coral formations that are ideal for scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and shellfish hunting. One of the most extraordinary attractions in the area are natural caves that contain ancient drawings from the original native Taíno Indians. The place is also an amazing place for stand up paddle boarding in flat water. You couldn’t find a nicer and more peaceful place in the world for working your core on a SUP!

Soana Island RESOURCES:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saona_Island
http://www.sportfishermen.com/directory/international-charter-boats/dominican-republic/
http://dominicanrepublic-guide.info/getting.there/sailing.and.yachting/

Audrey Meyer is the manager of the Vela/Dare2Fly Center in Cabarete. For more info on kite/windsurf/surf/SUP trips in the Dominican Republic, feel free to contact her through www.audrey-meyer.com.

Originally Published in the October 2009 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine

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