Quote of the Month

"Not all those who wander are lost." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 1954.

“We must change our attitudes toward the ocean. We must regard it as no longer a mystery, a menace, something so vast and invulnerable that we need not concern ourselves with it … Instead we want to explore the themes of the ocean’s existence—how it moves and breathes, how it experiences dramas and seasons, how it nourishes its hosts of living things, how it harmonizes the physical and biological rhythms of the whole earth, what hurts it and what feeds it—not least of all, what are its stories.” Jacques Yves Cousteau, 1910-1997.

"It's the glory of the sea that has turned my head." Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, 1894.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Three Women at Sea in the Sahara Dust

In the picture on the left, see the haze of the Sahara dust behind Silvia as we sail Lolita.

Silvia, Inés and myself planned to take Lolita (30’ Beneteau) out for a sail on Saturday, June 27, 2009 (1130-1630). NOAA had issued a warning that there would be Sahara dust in the air and therefore lower visibility. The wind was expected to be from the E, 9-13 knots and the seas 2-4 feet. With a due east wind, we chose to sail north towards Icacos.

Lolita had had maintenance work done on her—a mainsail change (which was to be tested by us) and battery changes. As Captain Michael from the CSSC told us later, someone had played with the forward/aft engine lever and left it on neutral. Much to our ignorance when we left dock, the gear was on neutral and moving the lever forward or aft had no reaction except to rev the engine. I thought something was afoul with the maintenance work and as a team and the help of a fellow sailor on dock, we managed to use the wind (without sails) to maneuver into a dock across ours. We did not harm anything or anyone (thanks to the crew and the goddess of the sea). Once we set the little pinkish-white non-descript switch hidden behind the handle from neutral to engaged, we set sail as planned.

As designated captain, I felt dumb for not having figured it out immediately. This gear had always been engaged and ready to go. It was a humbling lesson that nothing can be taken for granted when at sea. Everything at sea is a never-ending learning experience. As the crew said, now we had learned something new to add to our checklist of things to verify before sailing. We worked well as a team under a stressful situation, fearing hurting anything, anyone or Lolita. Once we sorted out our new position in our temporary dock, we set sail again, adrenalin still pumping but joyous that our all female team had saved the day. As we left Sunbay Marina, we spotted a manatee on our starboard side. As sailors of ancient lore, we saw it as a good omen of approval.

Raising the new mainsail was challenging also due to some stiff reefing line that kept getting stuck but that was managed swiftly with a pair of pliers. No adrenalin there. Someone once wrote that the one thing all gung-ho sailors have in common is a love of problem-solving. Once challenges, big or small, are resolved there is such an uplifting sense of pride and wellbeing, which makes the sailing experience twice as pleasurable. You have to solve the problems swiftly so that you can be ready for the next batch, because it is coming.

The Sahara dust gave a misty look to the Caribbean sky and sea (see pix of Silvia with the surrounding white haze). The sail was spectacular, registering up to 5.4 knots on a starboard tack to Icacos. The small island was packed with boats, mostly motor boats, loud music and no moorings available. We were hungry so we opted to heave-to at a distance and enjoy the
sound of the waves and the wind on the sailboat and, of course, the Sahara dust. After lunch (mesa) and our after-lunch restful conversation (sobre-mesa), we sailed back to Icacos to see if we could identify any of the boats. No one we knew well was there. We hove-to again closer to shore but aware that we were being pushed slowly out to sea, and Inés dipped down in the water just to get wet. (see pix of Inés). We sailed back on a port tack and had a peaceful, uneventful sail and docking—three women at sea. We toasted our sail with Passoa and passion fruit on ice.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Sailstice 09 – Caribbean

Sunday, June 21st, 2009 – 1130 to 1830. It is the first day of summer. Our fleet joined a group of sailboats celebrating Sailors for the Sea and the Summer Sailstice (see link). This organization based in San Francisco, California has a mission “that educates and empowers the boating community to protect and restore our oceans and coastal waters.” They had registered over 2,000 sailboats, including our small fleet and friends.

I was Lolita’s captain, and with Silvia, Inés and Ramón, we set sail from Sunbay Marina to the island of Icacos. We were following Bébé, with Captain Michael and Margarita, the leaders of the fleet. The wind was E-SE, at about 12 knots with occasional gusts. We sailed NE to Icacos and were there in no time (about an hour)—a fun sail on one tack and just in time for lunch. We anchored next to Glory Days (47’ Bavaria- see to the right of the pix above and the pix below), where Captain Carlos and Glory celebrated the solstice with their relatives.

We feasted on Lolita with a homemade Greek salad (I lived and sailed 4 years in Greece), French baguettes from Pepín Bakery, and Inés’s homemade Tarta Cubana (Cuban Torte) filled with a guava spread. We toasted with Passoa (a passion fruit liqueur) mixed with cranberry juice and lots of ice. Carlos and Glory swam over and had some Tarta Cubana. It was lovely to have them onboard.

Bébé had anchored a bit further. Inés and Ramón swam over, and then Ramón kayaked back to Lolita to pick up Silvia and me. We spent time with Captain Michael and Margarita talking boat stuff and future sails. We suddenly noticed the greater presence of sailboats at Icacos. Normally there are far more motorboats than sails. Today, there were masts all around us—we were the majority—Sailors for the Sea.

I spent so much time in the water, by Lolita’s stern that my fingertips wrinkled. I had not done that in a long time. I took the two pictures shown while I was in the water, with my Olympus water-proof (to 16 ft) digital camera. Glory Days, from my selkie perspective, looks to be grazing the clouds’ canopy (see pix below). Silvia is high up in Lolita’s cockpit (see pix above). As the evening approached, we reluctantly sailed back into the sunset.

Celebrating the summer solstice in the Caribbean? Isn’t that as much of an oxymoron as a deafening silence? You may ask, if you are from the north or south of the equator. When one is born and raised in the Caribbean, as my fellow crew and I know, the seasons are very distinct. The arrival of the summer solstice is loudly announced by the fiery flamboyant trees, fully covered with orange-red, red flowers. The Reina de las Flores (queen of flowers tree) joins with her lavender clusters, as do the ripening mangoes, and many other announcers. There are the migrating birds stopping over on their way north—heavenly treats juxtaposed to the beginning of the hurricane season. Our Taino native people had Yuquiyú (the god of good) and Huracán (the god of evil). They knew we couldn’t have one without the other.

To many of us, this is the greatest sailing in the world. We love our seas, and as we are learning, there is only one sea. From our Caribbean shores, we are protecting the California kelp, so that it can continue growing one foot a day in the summer. To borrow the quote from the documentary, “The Living Sea”—“We can’t protect what we don’t understand. What we understand most profoundly, we love.” We love our Caribbean Sea and thank the sailors in San Francisco for protecting it. We are all sailors for the sea.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Caribbean Snow White

White skies, Sunday, June 14, the jib sail is set to heave-to (seen in pix), as is the tiller (not seen in pix). Lolita (the 30' Beneteau) was deep anchored (hove-to) between Cayo Lobos and El Yunque. Silvia, Ramón and I (the crew) had our lunch, and then--Silvia on the port side (seen in pix), Ramón on the starboard side (not seen in pix), yielded to Morpheus (the Greek god of sleep)--the peaceful spell of the Caribbean ruled. I yielded to some muse, jotting down random thoughts on tender moments.
The skies were white, more than gray, with distant thunder heads. Threats of rain with occasional sprinkles, our rain jackets were square knotted by their sleeves--ready-to-use--in the cockpit area, in the event of the downpour that never came. The bright Caribbean blue waters were more teal-blue, choppy at times, becalmed, bewitched. We should have known when we left port. The flags on the first row of boats from the sea and the entrance sea rocks were flying west. The inner land rows, including our C row, were flying east. Something was sweetly amiss in our consistent tradewinds.
NOAA had no warnings, E winds, 10-15 knots, seas 2-4 feet, with isolated showers. All on their own, these numbers translate to an ordinary sail on an ordinary day. No magic there. Oh, but NOAA has yet to invent the magicmometer to measure Caribbean maritime magic (CMM). On my CMM scale, from 1 to 10, this was perhaps an 8.5, for the Caribbean is filled with much more magic--sea apples, sleeping spells, nirvana awakenings. All in a spell of four hours: 11:50 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. Our thanks to Lolita for all the magic (see Ramón hosing her deck after a well deserved scrub).

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Appropriated Sea

The wind was blowing E-NE, 12 to 15 knots and the sea waves were 2 to 3 feet high, according to NOAA. The sun was shining with very sparse clouds at the horizon. After all the May rains, Vieques, Culebra and the Yunque rainforest were crispy-clean and visible. The sea sparkled. The crew, Francisco, Ishi, Silvia and myself, followed our scheduled checklist—oil check, bilge, rigging lines, motor water exhaust, sails, radio, chart—and decided our sail plan to be full mainsail and genoa. Our goal was the Island of Icacos. We set sail at 10:30 a.m. from Sunbay Marina.
And then, there interposed a fly, as the line in Emily Dickinson’s poem reads. Boat race markers blocked the sea passage to Icacos. Not sailboat races, but cigarette boat races. Cigarette boats are often in the news for their drug smuggling ventures (check Wikipedia, the name originates from their cigarette smuggling days in Canada ). These killing machines disregard manatees, pollute the air with noise, and leave oil in their wake. The Coast Guard Auxiliary and the DRNA (Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales) were protecting this race, ensuring that others avoided the race area. They yelled at us to go to shallow waters close to shore, waters too dangerous for sailboats. So much for the CGAux protecting the safety of those at sea. Today, May 31st, 2009, they were protecting cigarette boats, at the expense of other boats.
This race was not well announced in advance. Very brief mention was made on Channel 16. Our marina was apparently not informed. A CG Auxiliarist jet-ski approached us and in the rudest attitude told us that to go to Icacos we had to go close to shore. Our crew agreed that was too dangerous, so we decided to turn around towards Palomino to circumvent the race. As we tacked and sailed away from the area, the CGAux jet-skier approached again yelling at us to move faster, “más rápido.” Obviously, this CG Auxiliarist in his fancy CG Auxiliary jet-ski knew nothing about sailboats. His attitude was arrogant and illogical. Sailboats can only go as fast as the wind blows them.
Trying to accommodate to their appropriated sea section, from Las Croabas, midway to Palomino, we sailed away from our destination. Yet we were still harassed and sent to dangerous waters by those who should be promoting nature-friendly modes of sea enjoyment. Yet, they were sponsoring and protecting the interests of the most pollutant, nature-hating crafts. I am filled with questions unanswered: Why did they plan this race so close to shore? Why did they select an area known to be close to manatees, turtles, dolphins and humans? Why did they select a busy Sunday when most boaters are out? Are the CG and DRNA promoting the purchase and use of these sea-unfriendly vehicles? Do the CG and DRNA despise sailing vessels? Are they not trained about sails? Do they not know that with an E-NE wind, sending a sailboat close to shore, the wind will push it to the shoreline? What happened to the law of the sea? Can the CGAux and DRNA representatives receive training on how to deal with the law-abiding public in respectful ways? As a passing sailor asked me, “¿Quién autorizó a esa gente a apropiarse del mar?” Who authorized these people to appropriate the sea?
The Complete Poems of Emily DickinsonThere is a sailing expression that the moment a sailboat is sailing, it has reached its destination. We never reached Icacos but we still enjoyed a great sailing day. We hove-to between el Yunque and Palomino, in 38.1 feet of water, shared our lunch and enjoyed our peaceful conversation and communion with the sea. We just missed our swim to shore in Icacos. We docked at Sunbay Marina at 4:30 p.m.To heave-to is to set the sails and rudder in opposition, where the bow is being pushed in one direction by the sails, while the stern is being pushed into the opposite direction by the rudder. The result is that the sailboat enjoys a moment of stillness in the madness of the maelstrom. The last three lines in Dickinson’s verse say it best: The stillness round my form; Was like the stillness in the air; Between the heaves of storm. The name of the poem is “Dying.” What would Mother-Earth say?