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.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Getting to Know You: December 11-12, 2010

On Saturday, December 11, my son drove me from San Juan (N) to Ponce (S), so that I could join Richard in Andariego’s delivery voyage to Isleta Marina in Fajardo (E). The north to south drive crosses the Cordillera Central, a spinal chord of mountains that traverses Puerto Rico from west to east, coastal valleys at both ends. There was heavy fog this morning in the mountains dividing San Juan and Ponce. As the Sanskrit maya (illusion) curtain, the fog lifted as we approached Ponce.

Richard,  Andariego’s best friend for five years, was at the yacht club (Club Naútico de Ponce) waiting. Here I was, staking claims to the sailboat, contemplating that I could become as good a friend to Andariego as Richard. He knows so much about the sailboat, every nook and cranny; and me, I’m just getting to know him.

Him? In English, all boats are “she.” In Spanish, and French, sailboats are “male” (el bote de vela, le bateau à voile). The noun, andariego, means ‘male wanderer’ in Spanish. The female version would be ‘andariega,’ that would be me. Accustomed to referring to boats as female, Andariego has become somewhat hermaphroditic with some friends and family. I cannot but think of him as a companion wanderer, bearing with me in my initial clumsiness. As in ‘Bearing Witness,’ the Collective Soul song, Andariego, “I’m bearing witness to you … I’m just gathering all my eyes can see … you’re my destiny … every day I conquer, with your love …” Getting to know you, I am.

Me, sailing past Caja de Muertos Island, near Ponce
We set sail from Ponce at 9:10 a.m. and anchored for the night in Bajos de Patillas around 4:30 p.m. We were moving east with east winds, so we motor sailed with the mainsail. I was introduced to Sinbad, the auto helm. I had never sailed the south side of Puerto Rico. It was breathtaking to see the full Cordillera Central in an eye-full, as Taino-Arawaks coming to Puerto Rico from South America may have seen it from their canoes, an island-cemí, with its three cardinal points. We sailed past Ponce, Juana Díaz, Santa Isabel, Salinas, Guayama, Arroyo, to Patillas. I wrote in my journal: “Bajos de Patillas is a well secluded anchorage. Andariego is such a friendly little boat. The sun is setting fast as I peacefully watch four sailboats anchored nearby. Behind them, a row of palms covers a strip of land that juts out from the hills in Patillas. Beyond those hills, the mountains of Maunabo. Me, I am sitting in Andariego’s cockpit listening to small waves crashing the shore and the coquis and crickets coming alive at dusk. It is becoming more difficult to write as everything turns grey. I am peacefully happy with Andariego. I hope that he’ll be happy with me also.”

Ship of Magic (The Liveship Traders, Book 1)Are sailboats alive? Robin Hobb wrote a trilogy, The Liveship Traders: Ship of Magic-1999,  Mad Ship-2000, and Ship of Destiny-2001. A fantasy saga with living ships that think, feel, and act on their own volition. People become part of the living being of the ships as they live, cry and bleed, becoming symbiotic and one with them. The liveships are sentient beings built of wizardwood. Andariego’s heart of glass, fiberglass that is, feels no less sentient.
Sunrise in Bajos de Patillas

On Sunday, December 12, the sun rose behind Patillas’ palm trees and fellow sailboats. Maunabo’s mountains rose majestically behind Patillas. The Cordillera de Luquillo, with easternmost El Yunque, peeked behind, and guided our way past Yabucoa, Humacao, Naguabo, Roosevelt Roads, and Fajardo. We went past Punta Tuna, Caribbean waters nearly 2,000 ft. deep, the depth sounder stopped registering. Unusually favorable currents and seas dissipated our worry of arriving after nightfall. We docked at Isleta Marina at 1:30 p.m. A baptismal light rain enveloped Andariego’s new berth. Richard and I, along with family and friends, toasted to new and old friends. I went back alone to check docking lines, seeing a little bit of me looking back. Getting to know me.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Swimming with Dolphins

North Swells

            November 26-28, 2010. Thanksgiving Day was spent with family and friends. Early on Friday morning we set sail to Vieques to spend a weekend with sailing enthusiasts. Four ships were sailing but at the last minute 8 of 16 people had to cancel and our fleet was reduced to two vessels, Bebe and Bebe II.
            I was aboard Bebe with Bob, JJ, and Diego (10 years old). Bebe II’s crew was Angelo, María, Iván, and Marie. Fajardo’s public parking lot was full, and I had to park in a field, apprehensive that if it rained a lot, I might find my car buried in mud three days later.
            There were gray skies and very windy conditions. NOAA had a small craft advisory; NE winds, 15-20 knots, north swells, and waves 4-6 feet, with isolated showers. The sea was very choppy, making it difficult to load gear on the ferry to Isleta Marina. An old salt on the ferry said it was not a good day to sail. That did not help. NOAA stated that this pattern would prevail for the weekend. I had thoughts of joining the 8 who had cancelled.
Dolphin fin
            We sailed east to Vieques, double-reefed. Early on our young guest suffered mal-de-mer. We arrived at Punta Arenas, Vieques, at 3:30 p.m. Diego’s challenged spirits awakened to Monte Pirata’s green, a quiet anchor and four visiting dolphins. They were playing and frolicking with a young dolphin between us and Punta Arena’s shore. You can just make a dolphin’s fin captured by my camera lens, posing centerfold under Monte Pirata’s watchful peak. Diego and I speculated how the mountain got its name. We envisioned buccaneers rushing into this safe harbor after pillaging Spanish crown ships in Puerto Rico’s mainland, hiding their prizes in this secluded waterway. The dinghy, kayak, swimmers and snorkelers joined the dolphins. Bob claims to have heard them singing underwater as he snorkeled to check the anchor.
            I prepared Margarita’s curry chicken with coconut milk and rice, with María and Marie’s help. Everyone enjoyed their meal, accompanied by an orange-pink-lavender sunset and Ottmart Liebert’s nouveau flamenco guitar. We rafted our sailboats for dinner and an evening of sail talk, sprinkled with comments on our diverse land jobs (law, medicine, linguistics, business entrepreneurships). The stars hushed our chatter. The number of stars visible overwhelmed our newer sailors. I played with my iPhone’s Distant Suns application; identifying Orion here, Jupiter there, and the all time sailor’s favorite North Star, centerpiece of the counterclockwise star performance. We un-rafted for the night, and drifted into sleep under the quiet resonance of our starry night.
Marie and Iván
            Come Saturday morning, we rafted together again for breakfast and, as a team, decided the day’s agenda. We opted to stay and spend a water fun filled day at Punta Arenas. We saw a large turtle swimming near the sailboat. Some went to explore the shore’s colorful reef, the beach, the flora and fauna. There was good chemistry in the sailing team, though 6 in the team I met for the first time on this cruise. Something about sailing attracts kindred souls together.
            I noticed that there were no fish around our sailboat as I snorkeled. Not long ago, I had seen many while anchored here. At the far end of the sandy point there is a distant underground cable and tower. I wondered about its correlation with the lack of fish present. The reef explorers saw the usual reef tropical fish. Younger generations like Diego may not know the feeling of diving into these waters from a sailboat and being surrounded by fish schools. It saddens me to witness Jacques Cousteau’s 1960’s predictions on the depletion of our ocean’s fish from overfishing and pollution. I recently purchased his documentary collection from TMC (Turner Movie Classics) and plan to share episodes with my students. His message is still timely. We did not listen then. Now we need to listen and act.
Diego and JJ
            JJ was in charge of the Barbie (Barbecue)—hot dogs, hamburgers and salad. I heaped on the salad. The rainclouds hovered above Puerto Rico’s distant mountains, while we basked in Vieque’s sunshine. An afternoon of water sports and messing about with boats, we readied for yet another spectacular sunset and starlit skies.
            Sunday’s return was as predicted, with north swells and windy conditions. We started off with a reefed main and no jib. Midmorning the winds subsided and we unfurled the jib. We arrived at Isleta Marina at about 4:30 p.m., with graying skies and squall threats, but we managed to miss them.
            A lesson learned in this cruise is to become greater advocates for the sea. Nature does not end at the shore. What happens at sea affects our land survival, and vice versa. Something as simple as switching from individual disposable plastic bottles to a refillable stainless steel glass is one small step towards walking the talk, or should I say, sailing the talk. I wish for young generations to know fish and to be able to swim freely with them and dolphins. Just for today, I am thankful.

Angelo and María

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Retro Sail – 1979

I once lived in Greece. Sailing the Greek islands, hence there is a Greek flag flying aft in the 1979 picture. I was 28 years old and my son Gene was 4. In the photograph, we are sitting together on the port side of the sailboat, the right side of the picture. I was so thin then, 108 pounds. I worked at the Hellenic International School, teaching French and English. In the Greek school system women could not wear pants, only skirts below the knee. Heather, also in the picture, was the music teacher and her husband was manager of Cape Sounion Marina, where the temple of Poseidon still stands. She had two children and we would all sail together whenever there was a sailboat available to deliver or test. That’s where the sailing spirit seduced me, and has faithfully stayed with me in good times and bad times.
Cape Sounion Marina

Oftentimes I have asked myself how a young girl from the green highlands of Naranjito ended up so enamored of the blue sea and sailing. Julia de Burgos, a well-known Puerto Rican poet says it best in her poem, Ronda sobremarina por la montaña. This title has been translated into English as, Supersea Stroll through the Mountain, in the bilingual book, Song of the Simple Truth (1996), where one can read her complete poems.

--Almamarina… Almamarina… 
Eso me dijo el viento cuando le di la mano en la montaña. 
Eso me dijo el viento ruborizándose en mis ojos,

(--Seasoul… seasoul… /That’s what the wind said when I gave it my hand in the mountain. … 
--Seasoul… /That’s what the sea said blushing in my eyes, /nervous, /courting me.)

Temple of Poseidon
Poseidon, zealous god of the sea, kept Odysseus lost at sea for 10 years after the Trojan war. He eventually sailed home to his wife Penelope who waited for him in the island of Ithaca. The Temple of Poseidon still keeps a watchful eye over the god’s realm. The marina, at its feet, is still a humble reminder of human courage. Greek men (and one woman that I know of, Atalanta) dared to explore this realm on floating islands, challenging fears, risking life and fortune, defying Poseidon.

I sailed the Cyclades, a string of islands southeast of Cape Sounion. As we approached an island, the whitewashed homes with aqua blue doorframes painted the hillsides. The port areas were sprinkled with tavernas boasting outdoor tables and chairs, intertwined with boating shops, souvenir stores, ferry boats, buses, lots of people and noise. The children couldn’t wait to explore the shore, find the ice cream shop, and run around in town. Trying to save a little money on dock fees, we would anchor out and dinghy to shore. An adult stayed on the boat to keep watch. I often volunteered for this task, which made everyone happy. After so many hours at sea, everyone wanted to go ashore. These were my moments of freedom. Illusory in retrospection, naïve at best, I felt free. I’d stand open-armed like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, facing the wind and singing, screaming, dancing, and laughing out loud. It was a sense of freedom, not so much from people, but more so from social norms, proper behavior, and lady-like roles. I was Atalanta with the Argonauts, looking for the Golden Fleece.

The Cyclades or Kycládes form the plural of Kyklás, from kíklos, meaning circle or ring. My Greek sailing experience was the beginning of a new ring in my life’s spiral. A mother bird’s push unto the open sky, and the young bird soared with open wings. I feel that same feeling every time we motor out of the marina, when we raise the sails, and turn off the engine. The instant the engine is off, and the wind presses on the sails, I soar.

Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos (Dual Language Edition:: Spanish, English) (Spanish and English Edition)--Almamarina…
Hubo luego, en silencio, como un desplazamiento
de una niña de agua en la sed de los valles,
La voz sobremarina se irguió sobre los cerros,
y partió para siempre con la niña en el talle.

(--Seasoul… /Later, in silence, there was something like a surge / of a water-girl in the thirst of the valleys, /The supersea voice rose over the mountains /and left forever with the girl on its waist.)

As I fast approach 60, the rings in my spirals are narrower, but they still soar, in Puerto Rico’s easternmost islands, circling, like the Cyclades off Cape Sounion, Fajardo’s lighthouse.
Atalanta-detail in Rubens painting

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bebe II

Log: Sunday, October 10, 2010 (0900-1530). Sailboat: Bebe II. Winds: S, SE 9-15 Knots. Seas: 2-5 feet. Weather: high 80’s, very hazy, cumulus clouds to the east.

It has rained so much in the past two months. Hurricanes have passed north of Puerto Rico but their elongated spiral arms have caused copious rains, flash floods and numerous thunderstorms in the island. Tropical depressions and waves followed suit, with only moments of sunshine in between.

Sunday morning was such a moment, with a break in the clouds. The sun peeked through the haze and my sailing mates, Ramón and Silvia, agreed to go sailing. I drove to Fajardo, to the Isleta Marina ferry dock. This islet off Fajardo is Bebe II’s new home.

I had not sailed Bebe II since August’s St. John adventure. I was the first to arrive at the dock. Seeing her there all alone was like seeing a dear old friend. As I went onboard, like old times, I opened her portholes and hatches and I started cleaning heads, sinks and counters. Do you know what the first rule of sailing is?

The science fiction movie, Serenity, came to mind. Captain Mal answers his question to the new pilot: “Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse, you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps you in the air when she ought to fall down, tell you she’s hurt before she keels. Makes her a home.” It felt like coming home.

We sailed and sailed. We were not interested in docking, mooring or anchoring. It was all about feeling the wind in our face and in the billowing sails. Listening as the water rushed by her sides. Tasting the sun’s fire in our skins. Watching sun sparkles in the waves and in our reddening shoulders. Breathing in the scent of salt.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seven Nights at Sea (August 7-14, 2010)

  • Saturday: Puerto del Rey, Fajardo to Tamarindo Beach, Culebra. Hazy skies. Moored. (see picture).
  • Sunday: Tamarindo Beach to Botany Bay, St. Thomas. 3 squalls (the 1st hit us, 2nd was avoided, 3rd was skirted). Anchored.
  • Monday: Botany Bay to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. As we arrived in the bay, a thunderstorm hit. We went around in circles in the bay until it passed. Got ice, refilled water tank. Anchored.
  • Tuesday: Charlotte Amalie to Maho Bay, St. John (via Christmas Cove). Rain showers on the way. The most beautiful passageway imaginable; a pre-Columbian view of the Caribbean. Moored.
  • Wednesday: Maho Bay. Got ice, coconut rum and ice cream (decadent). Same mooring.
  • Thursday: Maho Bay to Christmas Cove, St. Thomas, by Greater St. James Cay (circumnavigating St. John). Well worth coming here again. Moored.
  • Friday: Christmas Cove to Dewey, Culebra. Got ice and ice cream. Moored temporarily. Then we moved to Luis Peña Cay (the side facing PR). Moored.
  • Saturday: Luis Peña to Fajardo, PR. Sunshiny but no wind. Sunbay Marina to fill diesel tank. Docked in Isleta Marina.


The previous paragraph sounds so mechanical. A sailboat meandering midst Spanish, U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Three souls onboard taking it all in, awed, apprehensive, delighted, with child-like grins of “this is fun.”

It was technical. Planning routes and waypoints with Navionics in my MacBook. Comparing notes with Bob doing the same with his Garmin. Designing a table in MicroSoft Word to plan meals and shopping logistics. Calculating a gallon of water per person, per day. Provisions, first aid, galley complements, and don’t forget the grill and coffee maker. Anything else, Sue? Checking the boat, water, diesel, oil, engine, sails, rigging, communication equipment, and don’t forget the dinghy. A myriad details and as one is about to leave for eight days, there is the lingering question: Did I forget something important?

Cruising (with) ClassIt was informative. We calculated ETA’s (estimated time of arrival) and while we were right most of the times, there were changing factors; a sudden squall, changing winds, slower than expected speeds, things that in our usual day sails do not factor in. They do factor in when hours of sail become days. Weather patterns come and go. We were hit by a squall. We learned to bypass them or skirt them later on. We developed a routine for thunderstorms, as in the book, Cruising (with) Class by Stan Zimmerman, where he states: “Mine works like this – pull on my sailing gloves, drop and secure the jib, reef the main, then grab the boots, and don my foul weather pants.” We laughed at the boots in the tropics but we pretty much followed a similar routine.

It was spiritual. I felt closer to Emerson’s One, that yogic union with the universe, gazing up at stars, constellations, the milky way, Jupiter, Mars, and that Angel Brightest, Venus. They were with us all seven nights, and even in the cloudy night skies, their presence was felt.

It was magical. Sailing past Sail Rock (see picture) between Culebra and St. Thomas, you’d swear she’s sailing along with you. Then you think you’ll never leave her behind. Before you know it, she tacks and disappears under rain showers; another island in the mist, like Avalon and Antilia. And you wonder if she was ever there.

Cathedral of the World: Sailing Notes for a Blue PlanetIt was humbling. Crossing between St. Thomas and St. John, passing Christmas Cove, we were enclosed by green islands and Caribbean blue seas. Not a man-made construction in sight. Our sailboat entered Myron Arms’ Cathedral of the World. Time evanescent, a pre-Columbian Caribbean glimpse. And again, like little children, a sounding sigh, eyes filled with joy, like Christmas day in the morning.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Across the Universe

LOG: Friday, July 2 (11:00) to Sunday July 4, 2010 (17:30). Sailboat: Bébé (41’ Beneteau). Winds: E, NE 9-18 Knots. Seas 2-5 ft. Weather: High 70’s low 80’s, extremely hazy (Sahara dust). Bluish skies through the haze, at times mixed with cumulus clouds, with an opaque sun shining through.

Be Here Now: Vieques: The Most Complete And Continuously Updated Guide Available
We planned for Culebra but the wind was against us. So, we sailed with the wind abeam, south, to Vieques. We anchored at Punta Arenas, western Vieques at about 17:00, facing Monte Pirata (988 ft). I had the Beatles’ collection in my iPod (226 songs), which played chronologically until just before the Abbey Road album, where we stopped the music to anchor. We sailed only a few nautical miles from the east coast of Puerto Rico, but we might as well have sailed through waves of joy, across the universe, as in the Beatles’ song by that name.

There were 5 souls in Bébé (41’ Beneteau) and 4 souls in Bébé II (32’ Beneteau). We rafted for an evening of swimming, eating, drinking, talking and witnessing the haziest most spectacular sunset. I later named the sunset after the Italian operatic song, Il mare calmo della sera (the calm evening sea). The Beatles echoed: Images of broken light which / dance before me like a million eyes / that call me on and on across the universe …

Saturday was a peaceful day in the company of friends who love sailing. We motored in our dinghy along the coast, snorkeled, scraped the boat bottom, and floated on noodles around the boats. We had visitors from another Beneteau, who joined us with their black dog, Rocco. The sun was shining through the haze. The Beatles’ song continued: Sounds of laughter shades of life / are ringing through my open ears / exciting and inviting me …

Sunday awoke with a hazy sunrise over Monte Pirata as we readied ourselves for the sail back. We sailed with country and western music by Kenny Chesney; no shoes, no shirt, no problems. The Beatles echoed: Limitless undying love which / shines around me like a million suns / It calls me on and on across the universe …

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Feeling the Tug of the Invisible Full Moon

LOG: Thursday, May 26, 2010. Sailboat: Bébé (41’ Beneteau). Winds: S, SW 9-14, 10-15 Knots. Seas: 2-4 ft. Weather: 87ºF, overcast, showers & isolated T-storms. Barometer: 29.91 (steady). Sky: complete thick cloud coverage, cumulus nimbus. Crew: Capt. Michael, myself and two new sailing students, Kevin and Julie (from the Island of Vieques). Special features: Full moon night, 19:54 moonrise; rendered invisible through thick clouds. Time out: 13:30, 5/26/10. Time back: 16:30, 5/27/10.

It was a dark and stormy night, when the captain said to the first mate, “Tell us a story.” and the mate began, … It was a dark and stormy night, when the captain said to the first mate, ‘Tell us a story.’ and the mate began, …

This is a circular sailing story that connects us to a primal story we cannot even fathom to understand. Such is the power of the sea story on a stormy night. The full moon’s tugging power makes it even stronger because the clouds and rain render it invisible. The tug affects the sea as it affects the fluids in our bodies; our emotions and senses.

We left port under a low-low tide (due to the full moon) and arrived at Isla Piñeros, four hours later, under a high-high tide. In the Caribbean, tides ebb and flood about a foot (down a foot, up a foot, …). Under a full moon, there is nearly a three-foot difference. As we left port at Sunbay Marina, we saw coral reefs’ sharp top edges in rows as shark teeth, where normally they are never seen. We know they are there by studying charts, GPS images and snorkeling visuals. They were visible in strength today because of the full moon.

The wind was blowing from the south and according to NOAA, it would change to SW during the night. South winds do not happen often in the constant easterly Tradewinds region. The normal easterly winds make for uncomfortable sailboat movements during visits and overnight stays at Isla Piñeros. Its coastline is surrounded by irregular shallow coral reefs, another reason why it is not often visited. Prevailing S and SW winds made it just right to overnight by the island.

We approached it as Pinzón could have approached it on a visit to Puerto Rico (Martín Alonso Pinzón was captain of the Pinta. His younger brother, Vicente Yañez Pinzón was captain of the Niña in Columbus’s expedition in 1492.). Kevin was lookout at the bow, kneeling over looking out for uncharted reefs and a sandy spot to anchor. Julie checked the charts and I was following with the GPS, noting the approach. For those interested, you aim at the center of the northeast bay where there is a rocky promontory, at a 205º heading to avoid reefs (exit straight out at a 025º heading).

After we anchored for the night, the winds and waves freshened. Our anchor faced us into the wind, but the current hit the sailboat abeam (on the side), creating a not so comfortable rocking motion. I learned to do a bridle on the anchor. You tie a rolling hitch with the end of a long line to the anchor line at the bow. The standing part of that rolling hitch line is cleated midship to a horn cleat. You give more scope to your main anchor until the bridle moves the bow to the current. The calming effect is immediate. After a BBQ dinner hosted by Kevin and Julie, we slept in the comfort of a gentle sea sway.

On Friday morning, the Captain snorkeled the coast to check the reef area. Kevin and Julie checked the anchors. I stayed onboard and took care of the galley mess from the night before, plus jotted some notes for this blog. Even though the visibility was not great due to the weather, two manta rays and blue tropical fish schools were sighted.

We returned with freshening winds, so we reefed the main and changed the genoa to a jib; a smaller sail area. There was some rain on the way back and we wore our rain jackets. It was good to practice sailing under the rain with freshening seas under the expertise of Capt. Michael. The skies never cleared and we never saw the moon, but we felt her presence and inspiring tug.

--Full Moon Unseen--
Feeling moon’s tug on me
Raining wind’s harmony
Sweet music on shrouds’ strings
Shrouds resounding white wings
Cloudy night sky’s high C
Sailing Caribbean Sea

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Tropical Tides

Monday, March 22, 2010 was a local holiday for some—The Abolition of Slavery in Puerto Rico. Not being a U.S. federal holiday, most people worked. In sailing terms that meant that the usual Saturday and Sunday crowds were gone. We sailed out at about 10:00 a.m. When we arrived at Palomino, we had over 10 moorings to choose from. What a treat! I could not help but feel sorry for the other wage slaves. On such a beautiful sailing day, I was reminded of Jacques Prevert’s line in one of his poems, “N’est-t-il pas con de donner un tel jour a un patron?” (Isn’t it a #@%& to donate such a day to a boss?).
I was captain of Bebe II (32’ Benetau). Two invited friends from Atlanta, Georgia were with me, Jo Anne and Hugh, as well as Francisco, who is highly experienced and William, a new club student with some experience. After mooring in Palomino, Jo Anne and Hugh went for a swim (see picture above). Francisco did some scraping on the sailboat’s bottom. William and I stayed on board tidying up, reviewing sailing notes and relaxing.

The Sea Around Us     As we sailed back at around 4:00 p.m., the wind was behind us. The tide was with us also, so with only the jib on, we arrived back quickly. I find tides to be fascinating movements. Rachel Carson’s chapter on "Tides" in her book, The Sea Around Us (1951), provides an eloquent description of tides and their connections with the moon, currents, flora and fauna in the sea, and yes, sailboat movements. In 1962, she published, Silent Spring, where way ahead of her time, she denounced the future impact of industrial waste. Industry and government, with the help of prominent male scientists accused her as a crackpot, a modern day witch-hunt. If we had only listened. Now Rachel Carson (1907-1964) is revered as a great writer, ecologist, and scientist (see picture below). She has more books, though I highly recommend the two I mention. They are very well written, which makes for enjoyable reading, and they are still informative.

     Tides are like the planet Earth’s breathing in and out. Tides in the tropics are smaller than at higher latitudes. They usually average one foot high or low. No dramatic Bay of Fundy here. The tropical tides on the east side of Puerto Rico are easy to follow. They ebb north and flood south. If one looks at the current, without consulting a tides table, it is possible to determine the tide. We flooded right into the marina with the tide. Freedom!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Night Sail

On Sunday, February 14, 2010, I joined Captain Michael from the Caribbean Sailing School & Club on board Bébé (41’ Beneteau). He was conducting the practical component of the ASA 104 class, where students go on a night sail. The students were two young couples—Kim and Brian from Rhode Island, and Eugenia and Gerd from New York. I had done this night sail on a full moon night previously. This night there was a new moon (no moon), and on a pitch-black canvas, we sailed into Palomino Island.

We left Sunbay Marina at about 4:30 p.m. The students were busy working on the navigation to the island, without GPS. With the aid of navigation instruments (a good chart of the area, parallel rulers, dividers, pencil, eraser, magnifying glass, calculator, timer), they calculated our route, tracks, estimated time for tacks, compass degrees, and all taking into consideration the sailboat speed, wind direction and currents, while avoiding coral reefs and sunken vessels. Their calculations were very accurate. They would take turns navigating and helming.

At about 8:30 p.m., we approached Palomino. At that point Gerd and Eugenia went forward with a boat hook and flashlights to search for a mooring and warn the helmsperson (me) of any dangers, such as approaching vessels without lights. It was so dark it was impossible to see where the water ended and the land started. As we made our approach, a dinghy without lights, not even a flashlight, passed by us. There were a few lights on the southern part of the island. There were also three anchor lights from moored sailing vessels, and a few lit motorboats. They were like dots of light on a black canvas. I felt so blind behind the helm, begging for someone to light up a mooring that I could see and aim to. Though apprehensive, I never felt fear. I had confidence in the team’s knowledge and work.

Finally, we saw a mooring to our starboard side, not far from one of the moored sailing vessels. I followed the directions of those at the bow pulpit holding the light on the mooring and with the boat hook ready to grab the mooring line. Capt. Michael shone a powerful hand-held spotlight on the mooring for the aid of those at the bow and behind the helm. It was a beautiful sight to see that white mooring ball floating in the water. After securing the mooring, Brian and Kim took charge of the BBQ, and we grilled fish, veggies, Polish sausages and hamburgers. We toasted to our accomplishment, teamwork, talked a lot of sail talk and readied ourselves for a well deserved rest and relaxation. We drifted to our cabins and berths under Orion’s watchful eye, peaceful seas and 78º F. Who could ask for anything more?

On Monday morning, February 15, 2010, Gerd and Eugenia treated us to a breakfast of scrambled eggs with veggies, mango salsa and biscuits. As they finished their cooking, Capt. Michael moved Bébé to a mooring closer to the beach. After breakfast, there was swimming, boat bottom scraping, cleaning up, and planning the day’s circumnavigation of Palomino. Small sea creatures and plants love the Caribbean as much as the larger creatures, and bottom cleaning sessions must happen much more often than up north.

Circumnavigating Palomino Island was a special treat for me. I had never seen the other side of the island. It was like visiting the other side of the moon. As we passed Palominito Island on the south, avoiding the extended shoal, we turned north, making sure to leave red nun #2 to our port side. We aimed at the house in Cayo Lobos. This white house is the only construction on the island and it is claimed to belong to Ricky Martin. We sailed past it and towards Las Cabezas de San Juan on the northeast corridor of the Puerto Rico mainland. The big island was covered in a white mist from the Montserrat volcano ashes.

The students practiced man overboard with a tack and heave maneuver. It is a simple and effective move that practically brings your sailboat to a stop next to the “victim,” in this case a roped boat fender. We returned to Sunbay Marina at about 4:30 p.m. with the ebb tide. Two of the students were reluctantly flying back to snowy New York that evening. The other two were staying for more lessons before returning to their home state. I drove back home to San Juan, midst Montserrat volcano grey-white ashy skies. Somewhere up above Orion was watching.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sailing with Yuquiyú [joo-key-‘joo]

LOG: Sunday, February 7, 2010. Winds, S, 5-10 Knots; Seas, 3-5 ft.; North swells; Pressure 29.85 and rising.

We left the Sunbay Marina dock in Fajardo at 11:00 a.m. Ramón and I sailed Caribbean Sailing School & Club’s Bébé II (32’ Beneteau). We island hopped all afternoon, first to Icacos Island. There weren’t many people out at sea, perhaps because of the super bowl. I’d rather be sailing!

The wind was indecisive; swaying from the south, then southeast, then east, and back through the cycle again. Ready to meet the challenge, we adjusted sails at every turn. From Icacos, we headed to Cayo Lobos (Ricki Martin’s island), to Palomino Island, and then to Ramos Island.

During the course of the day, dark gray thunderheads over El Yunque rainforest changed to cumulus clouds, normally associated with fair weather. As we headed to Ramos, I took the picture of El Yunque seen here. At this distance from shore, it barely reflects its 3,500 foot elevation. One can only imagine the bromeliads, impatiens, wild orchids and giant ferns in this spectacular national rainforest. On a mystical level, the Taino people designated it the throne of the good spirit, Yuquiyú, who protects the Island of Puerto Rico from the malevolent spirit, Huracán. Declared or not, to me it was, is, and always will be one of the world’s natural wonders. Imposing, breathtaking, grandiose and commanding, even from a distance.

We returned at 4:30 p.m. to the usual chores of coiling lines, adjusting dock lines, hosing the sailboat, scrubbing soiled spots, connecting to shore power, covering hatches and sails, leaving the sailboat in as good or better condition than we found it. Tired to the core, but re-energized for the week ahead, we had lived the dream of sailing the Caribbean blue sea alongside Yuquiyú’s green rainforest.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Power of Suggestion

Sunday, January 24, 2010. The sky was mostly clear with a few scattered clouds. The wind was hardly blowing. My sailing day had a rough start. At the marina, I had left my car keys in the car, along with all my sailing gear, cell phone and money. I had to borrow a cell phone to phone home for help. My son and husband came to the rescue and an hour later opened the car; we exchanged goodbyes and thanks and good days. My sailing friends—Ramón, Silvia, Carlos—waited for me onboard Lolita.
I received a text message from Glory Days’ captain, already at sea, saying there were hurricane winds blowing. NOAA’s weathercast was good, but they had predicted a small craft advisory for Monday, the following day. I remember wondering if the weather had arrived early out at sea, though not yet at the dock area. As I boarded Lolita, I shared the content of the message. We reefed the main and put up the jib instead of the genoa. As we motored out around noon, we hoisted the main and set the jib. The sailboat practically floated in place, alongside a small group of Brown Boobies (Bobas, in Spanish).
It then hit me that the other sailboat’s captain was being sarcastic, and that in jest he meant the opposite; there was no wind. Aside from a proper name for a bird, the word boba in Spanish has another connotation—silly or fool. I felt as one alongside my feather friends. I was a victim of the crew’s teasing for the rest of the afternoon. In the calmness of the Caribbean Sea, they would hold on to the rail and the mast to avoid being blown by the “hurricane” winds.
A Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands: Revised EditionThe Brown Booby, according to H. Raffaele’s Guide to the birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (1989), is “seen virtually everywhere in the Virgin Islands, but in Puerto Rico the best places to look for the bird are at Cabo Rojo Lighthouse and Las Croabas. … Their leisurely flapping and gliding flight, low over the water, is characteristic, as are their spectacular dives into the sea in pursuit of fish and squid.” This Sunday, they were floating, with some light fishing.
As we sailed on, rather putt-putted along, Ramón and Silvia changed the jib to a genoa. The bigger sail gave us an additional one and a half knot. Carlos helped with the main. I was behind the helm, taking it all, and joining in the occasional laughter. Glory Days sailed by us midway and took a picture of us in Lolita with the Fajardo Lighthouse in the background. Idyllic.
It was still a good sailing day, and as we returned around 4:30 p.m., the wind freshened some, but not much. There was a lesson in there somewhere. However, at the end of the day, if one must err at sea, as one will eventually, it is best to err on the side of safety.