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Kitesailing in the Sahara
Olympic sailing champion Roland Gaebler from Germany is intoxicated by the desert
The scenery is moulded by high dunes and endless, completely flat areas. The sun burns directly from above and palmtrees glimmer somewhere on the horizon. Is it possible to go sailing in the Sahara?
Roland Gaebler has been on the water as a pro for many years. After having explored the wet element intensively, the winner of the Olympic medal in the "Tornado" faced a new opponent: the desert sand. "I always asked myself whether it is possible to go sailing in the desert," the blond athlete tells us. "For years I have been an aficionado of the rally Paris-Dakar and being there once as a witness, I had the idea of sailing with the desert wind. For me that is the real challenge!" The 37-year-old sailor went to Tunesia for the purpose of tests in view of a "Sahara Kitesailing Expedition" planned for autumn.
Starting point for the dusty test drive was a holiday resort on the South Tunesian island Djerba, owned by Aldiana, Gaebler's sponsor. From there it was a one-day-drive in a rental car brimming with equipment to Duez, the gate to the endless desert. "I had the first go in the kite-buggy in a light breeze and with the largest kite," reported Gaebler. "Baffle winds prohibited fast manoeuvres. Nevertheless it was easy as winking to sail on the highest dune of about 50 metres - what a great feeling!" After that Gaebler went into the vastness of the Sahara Desert. With cautious manoeuvres the professional sailor ventured out into the dunes and came back to Duez not until the wind died.
Gaebler, travelling with his wife Nahid, turned westward after the first felicitous tests. "We left behind the last villages and were then completely alone. The silence is simply amazing! Again I started with the kite buggy into the Sahara. The wind had freshened to five Beaufort and I already reached enormous speed of nearly 80 km/h with a smaller kite. Sailing in the vast desert with full wind power was phantasmagoric!" reports Gaebler. "Algeria was only 80 kilometres away and I could have sailed endlessly! It was intoxicating."
But disillusion followed all of a sudden: Gaebler's buggy got stuck behind a dune and overturned. "Never before have I been so happy about wearing a crash helmet," reports Gaebler. "After all, the rear axle landed on my head." Fortunately nothing serious happened, except for Gaebler having a stiff neck. However, the crash showed one thing: The desert is nothing to trifle with. The art of desert sailing consists of the ability to recognise the different qualities of the sands and to master the gusts. Otherwise it gets dangerous. "It is important to pay attention to the baffle winds and to the turbulences," advises the professional sailor. Sometimes a whirl lifts the buggy some metres above ground and in landing one might break his neck!"
The multiple catamaran sailing champion wanted to test the new terrain. "My aim was to see whether it is actually possible to sail in the Sahara, and I had the chance to realise my dream in this breathtaking scenery. Any person who has experienced the Sahara once will crave for it again and again. Tunesia has two gorgeous seas: one is turquoise and the other golden.
The big expedition planned for next autumn will cross the borders to Algeria and Libya. Gaebler wants to cover several hundred kilometres and sail unknown regions.
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