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.

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