Watching the two sailing instructors lean precariously outboard with their feet tucked under the center hiking strap for balance, a full gust of wind in the sail and the warm wet breeze in their faces, it’s easy to understand why Ferdinand Hofer and Thomas Stöckl consider this sport to be an addiction.
There’s a primal thrill to harnessing nature, figuring out her angles and challenging her muscle, while trying to avoid getting the boat tipped in the process.
If the 16-foot sailboat does flip, which isn’t entirely uncommon, righting it again while floating in the warm water of Lake Nicaragua is part of the fun – and not as difficult as most would think. Either way, the boat won’t sink and the lifejacket insures the sailors won’t either.
This is the adventure that awaits tourists at Velago Nicaragua, the country’s first sailing school on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, a 15-minute drive from downtown Granada.
Owned and run by veteran sailing instructors Hofer and Stöckl, both from Austria, Velago opened for business earlier this year with a flotilla of three, sleek-looking 16-foot “Gruben” sailboats, which can hold up to four people. They also have a 14-foot Hobiecat Catamaran for two.
Hofer, 27, said he got the idea of opening a sailing school on Lake Nicaragua while visiting Nicaragua as a volunteer in 1999 and 2001. As someone who grew up sailing on lakes in Austria, Hofer said he was “astonished” to learn that there was no recreational sailing on Lake Nicaragua.
All of the sailing here, he said, was done by fisherman who just raise a sail and let Mother Nature push the boat downwind. But without any effort to tack against the wind, it’s not really sailing, Hofer argues.
Hofer saw the opportunity to market sailing and told his friend Stöckl, 33, who was working at a sailing school in Austria at the time. Stöckl got a good deal on some used boats that were still in excellent condition and he and Hofer went into business.
After a long and logistically difficult odyssey of shipping the boats from Austria to Granada, via Costa Rica’s Puerto Limón, the two business partners were finally able to get their boats safely in the water of Lake Nicaragua and open for business earlier this year.
Business, however, has been a bit slow. While some tourists have managed to find Velago, which is virtually hidden at the end of a bumpy and unmarked dirt road 1.5 kilometers past Granada’s Puerto Asese, most Nicaraguans have shown no interest in learning how to sail, despite the Austrians’ enthusiastic encouragement and efforts to make the prices affordable, Hofer said.
Other challenges have included mapping out the rocks that lurk right under the surface of the water near the entrance to the Velago’s floating pier, which the Austrians built themselves. Hoffer said he is mapping out the location of the rocks and has even marked some of them with buoys, which were later stolen.
But, once the boat gets out past the rocks and the wind whips across the lake and fills the sail, tilting the boat at a precarious angle as it races through the water, the smiles on the faces of Hofer and Stöckl says that their efforts were worth it.
The two are convinced that recreational sailing is an idea whose time has come, even if the public has been slow to recognize it.
Velago also rents out boats for a one- or two-hour tour of the Isletas, for the very reasonable price of $20 an hour per boat, or $33 for two hours. That comes complete with crew for those who don’t know how to sail.
For tourists who know how to sail,Hofer and Stöckl still want to give everyone a brief first-time test to make sure that people are as expert at sailing as they claim to be.
For those who have never sailed, a 20-hour sailing lesson costs $300 for a limited time only. Once people have passed the sailing test or completed the sailing lesson, boats can be rented without Hofer or Stöckl.
But hurry up and get sailing in the next month, because the deal – and the sailing – will temporarily be suspended from June 26 until the end of October, while Hofer and Stöckl head back to Austria to make some money to pay for their business and living in Nicaragua. If you miss it now, don’t worry, they will be back at the end of the year and plan to stay here as long as the wind fills their sails.
To get to Velago, drive 1.5 kilometers past Puerto Asese on the dirt road to the right.
For more information, visit www.velagogranada.com, call 456-0503, or email: [email protected].