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.

"It is with you as with the sea: the most varied names are given to what is in the end only salt water." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections, 1833.

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.