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.

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.