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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sailing in the New Planet

Capturing Sunset from Palomino Island--Fabian and Brenda

            July 18-20, 2011. The planet is changing. To some, it has already changed, and we must adapt. In Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet, we are reminded that, “it suddenly rains harder and faster than it has ever rained before … global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It’s our reality.” In Puerto Rico, it has been raining since spring, unheard of before, and as I write this, there’s a thunderstorm outside.
Testing the Cobb BBQ
Monday afternoon, Marisol, Fabián and I went to Andariego at Isleta Marina to get ready to sail early next morning. We drove in the rain. We aired the sailboat as we prepared cabins, galley, and checked the engine, rigging, hull, and so on down the checklist. As the evening approached fast, we started the Cobb BBQ, finding a niche for it on the helmsperson’s seat, under the bimini. I’ve used the Cobb before for sailing, but this was the first time in Andariego. I bought this grill in a West Marine in Connecticut many years ago. They don’t sell them anymore, but they are available directly from the South Africa/Florida website. They’re very good on a boat, because they don’t get hot in the bottom or sides, and they use very little charcoal. We used local vegetable charcoal from Adjuntas. Marisol was the chef on this trip, which she performed exquisitely. We barbecued three times in our overnight sail to Palomino.
Selkies--Marisol and Brenda. Palomino's hill
            Early next morning, Brenda joined us. There were overcast skies, but it was clearing up in the east, and we set sail at around 8:30 a.m. It was a bit blustery and choppy, so we reefed the main. Three women and a child (well, a 13-year-old young man), we zigzagged into the wind to Palomino. Fabián was a little seasick, but by the time we moored, at about 10:00 a.m., his cheeks were rosy again. We grabbed a mooring, first try, right behind Palomino’s mountain for protection. We had ALL the Palomino moorings to choose from; one of the advantages of sailing on a weekday. Fabián spied, using binoculars, a big pelican in a nest high up on the hill. S/he was magnificent on her perch. We saw turtles and their favorite treat, jellyfish. There were seagulls, brown boobies, plus the chickens and roosters on the hill. A large fish remained under Andariego for the length of our stay. We threw breadcrumbs overboard and fish came by, but not in the profusion they came when I was younger, when it was actually scary to be surrounded by such a large ball of fish. The planet has changed: “We need now to understand the world we’ve created and consider—urgently—how to live in it.” McKibben’s message may sound depressing at first, but as we understand and embrace the reality, we just might learn to live with and not against nature. He further states: “Maturity is not the opposite of hope; it’s what makes hope possible.” I see hope in Fabián’s eyes. He was another sea creature in the water. We joined him in the fun. We basked on Andariego as seals on rocky mounds. Selkies rising from the sea to assume women forms on land.
            Andariego uses a solar panel to charge and start the engine. We use small solar lamps after dark, and charge our cell phones with solar and wind chargers. Somewhat un-tethered from land oil-based energy sources, weaning from oil seems difficult but not impossible. I say somewhat, because Grendel, the engine, still uses oil and diesel. There are hardy sailors out there who have rid themselves of the engine on board, living aboard and sailing on wind and solar power.
            Tuesday night it rained, but just past midnight, the moon peeked in through the hatches, as if telling us that there is still beauty in the tough new planet. We must also become tough, but with a gentle heart.
            Wednesday morning we sailed back unto the darkened, cloud covered Yunque rain forest. At 9:30 a.m. we were back at Isleta. Brenda had a land appointment. She made a comment on how smoothly and quietly we docked. Everyone had an assigned task—bow lines, aft portside lines, starboard spring lines, with me behind the helm. Calm under pressure is a call for the new planet. McKibben notes: “This is the current inventory: more thunder, more lightning, less ice.” It is important to learn about this new reality from books, but it is equally, if not more important, to witness it and live it directly with nature.
Last barbie bites

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Unexpected Sail

Fabián's First Sail
Friday, July 15, 2011. It’s been raining so much, with lightning, thunder and heavy winds that it has been hard to squeeze in a good day’s sail. I decided to take some engine parts and equipment to the sailboat anyway, under the rain. I asked Marisol and her 13-year old son Fabián to help me with the stuff. When we got on board, at about 2:00 p.m., the plan was to turn around and get back home before 8:00 p.m. The sun peeked out and beckoned. And then I thought, why not shake the sails out, go for a little spin, and the wind beckoned.
Fabián had never been sailing. Polito was near the dock. He joined us, why not? Andariego beckoned. We went out, just to go out, shake the sails, and come back. We passed green can #3, raised the sails, rainwater oozed out of the canvas covers. There was very little wind. We laughed as we close-hauled at 1.5 knots. Fabián went up to the pulpit and played Titanic lover boy with arms spread. We laughed at his excitement. He explored Andariego, touched this, asked that, and I loved seeing a 13 year-old’s first sailing experience.
When it comes to sailing, there are those who love it and those who hate it, and no in-betweens. Fabián loved it. We couldn’t just turn around, so we sailed to Icacos Island. We anchored. He used my snorkeling equipment and discovered the keel, checked the anchor, and checked out the fish as he swam around Andariego I don’t know how many times. The water beckoned.
On a beam and a broad reach, we sailed back. I showed Fabián how to fix on a land point, the compass, the wind marker, the tell-tales, how to focus and yet look around. I let him have a feel for the helm, thinking he’d give it back in no time. He not only took us back to the bay’s entrance, but he sailed like a natural. I was amazed at the depth of concentration of a 13-year old boy on his first sail ever. Pure magic. We made it back home close to midnight. Sailing beckoned.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Grendel and Grendel's Mother

Uruguay and assistant

Grendel and Grendel’s mother were misunderstood monsters in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf, considered among the oldest literary pieces in the English language (Old English). Those misunderstood, mysterious creatures that delve in caves, dark and underground, surfacing only when they cause problems, most often provoked by humans, which can lead to danger or even death. I think of Andariego’s propeller shaft as Grendel, and the engine as Grendel’s mother, both intertwined as Grendel.
Andariego hauled out at Isleta Marina
Tuesday, June 28. Andariego was making a strange bumping noise when accelerated gently in reverse or forward. It was hauled out for a check. The bushing and PSS (packless sealing system) in the propeller shaft, Grendel, were replaced, and the problem solved. The propeller shaft starts, as an umbilical cord at the end of the engine’s dark cave in the sailboat’s gut and travels deep underwater as the monster’s long arm, ending in the propeller. While hauled out, Andariego was in Salomón’s care, as he said, “…con amor y cariño” (with love and care). Andariego’s bottom was cleaned, and the sides shined. It’s pending a super deck wash, due to little water pressure in the marina. In the epic poem, Beowulf cut off Grendel’s arm, provoking the wrath of Grendel’s mother. No need for such drastic measures.
Broken transmission dipstick
and filthy filter
Saturday, June 25. Grendel’s mother, the engine, so attached to her child, had her periodic maintenance. No need to wait for her to attack. The pre-emptive measures were: oil and diesel filter changes, gaskets, oil change, impeller, and replacement of a broken transmission dipstick. Two hours later, the engine mechanic, a very savvy old timer, Uruguay (nicknamed after his country of origin), asked me to start the engine. He stood there listening, as I stood behind the helm watching him and wondering why he was taking so long. He was listening. After a pregnant moment he said, “Suena bien.” (She sounds well.). How sweet the sound! If I could only learn to hear Grendel’s subtle sounds, like Uruguay! He is truly an engine guru.
          A little TLC (tender loving care) may appease the monsters for sometime. We’ll visit their dark realms again some 300 engine miles from now, or in a year, whichever one comes first. Or then again, before, if they decide to attack.
Grendel appeased