Launch!

This would be a more exciting post if I could post pictures or some of the video that was taken yesterday; however my main camera is in the States being repaired and the backup handycam cannot upload to upload to any computer available around here. So all you get is words today.

My life has kind of fallen to bits over the last two weeks as I devoted all my energy to getting the boat sailable. I haven’t a stitch of clean clothing nor a morsel in my refrigerator, except something for the dog.  Come to think of it you probably wouldn’t notice the difference in me.

The dog has some kind of tick-borne lyme-type disease. I have to conceal his pills within ghastly lumps of chicken neck. I’d only do it for him.

Yesterday the weather turned out sunny and very calm so I actually emerged from bed before the watermelon farmers arrived for their daily obsessive spraying ritual. They like to drum on the empty water barrels next to my house at about 5.30 am, which I have always considered an unseemly hour for a gentleman to be afoot, but they are such pleasant folks I don’t make an issue of it. Hacinto and his son Hacinto invited me horseriding today which was nice (horses and burros are much in use here, and all seem healthy and well-treated, though the sight of a large man on a small donkey doesn’t sit right with me) I declined, admitting that I was afraid which was easier to explain than a personal objection to using animals as slaves purely for pleasure.

So, a few last-minute jobs then the big pull, the boat on its wooden trailer groaning along. The medievil wooden wheels turn on waxed oak axles well enough, but the road is lumpy with patches of deep dry sand and only about 3 metres wide; the boat and trailer are 4 metres wide so at least one wheel is crunching through the bushes, or what’s left of them after my enthusiastic attack with a machete. The upshot of all this is that pulling the thing the 150 metres to the beach, straining and sweating and getting bogged down every metre is thoroughly exhausting work, and by the time I arrived by the ocean I doubted I’d have the energy left to sail.

But I got better, like the guy who was turned into a newt in Monty python and the Holy Grail. Reina (more about her in a minute) had given me a jug of atole, thick porridgey drink made of rice milk, coconut and most of the sugar product of Brazil, which is delicious and quite capable of revitalizing week-old roadkill. A few more trips brought the sail, mast, spars and steering oars. One oar was carried by a man I discovered pooing in the bushes in my driveway. There was a ”pull” going on a few yards up the beach – a half-kilometer net had been strung out from the beach the night before, then the two ends are brought to shore and between twenty and forty villagers appear to pull it in. I’ve participated in  this many times even though I don’t want the customary fish to which I am entitled for my help, because it is a lot of fun to work with the locals and quite exciting as the last arc of the net approaches, the sky and sea filled with pelicans and gulls, kids running in and out of the ocean trying to capture escapees, everyone pulling and laughing, especially at the gringo when his belt-rope slips and he falls on his arse on the sand. Sometimes we catch a few hundred pounds of struggling fish, other times nothing or worse, ten tons of seaweed which is difficult to remove from the mesh.

So some of the villagers came over when they were done pulling and jabbered around the boat. They all said it was pretty, which it is. I said I didn’t know if it would actually work, they said it sure looked like it would.

After the mast and sail were up I left on the Motorcycle of a Thousand Horrors and blasted into Anton Lizardo to buy gasoline for Andreas’s lancha. He’d agreed to escort my first sailing attempt, partly for my safety but mainly so that my friend Peter could get some good footage with my camera. The safety issue was pretty minimal because the waves were small, the wind light to non-existent and onshore so that if something were to happen I would likely just be blown back to the beach. this was a good week for Andreas – a few days ago he’d found a research buoy floating in the Gulf, the kind with it’s own gps tracking for studying currents, and he’d collected $100USD reward for this and was now getting some wonga and gasoline from me. These guys never have a drop more gasoline than they need to regain the beach after fishing, it’s like gold to them.

When all my ducks were in a row, Reina my neighbor , a lovely woman whose warmth, grace and intregrity have always impressed me, said a few words (there was much about God; she’s an evangelist and thinks I should have more fe, faith), and she broke a coconut over the end pointed out to sea. Normally this is done on the bow, but this boat has no bow nor stern. I had weakened this coconut by sawing partway through its shell around its equator – the boat is not built to be battered by uncompromised nuts. Then we pushed her into the surf and I jumped aboard.

Until this point I hadn’t known what might happen. My biggest fear was that she would not steer straight. If the center of effort of the sail is too far aft of the middle of the boat, it will twist the boat into the wind, and you are forced to steer heavily all the time which is both uncomfortable and costs speed. There was so little wind that I doubted I would even escape the breakers, but Rocinante, so named at my request by Reina, – it’s the name of Don Quixote’s horse – moved slowly out to sea. Once in calmer water I could get a better feel for her, and found that there was indeed some weather helm but it was not unmanageable. Rocinante crept along, showing 3kmph on the gps and feeling tiny now that I was aboard. She had felt huge when I was building her, doubly so when I was pulling her on the trailer, but now the hull was half submerged and seemed much shorter too. I think I am actually bigger than I perceive myself to be. Peter followed in the lancha, filming. It was bright, warm and sunny, with the slightest southeast breeze.

I piddled a slow but truly delightful mile up the beach as far as Arricife la Luna (Moon Reef), the home of  my friends Peter and Victor, where I shunted the boat by moving the sail from one end of the boat to the other, an operation which went as smoothly as could be hoped for for a first time, then surfed back inshore to land on the sand. This shunting manouever is the equivalent of tacking for this boat, which being a Pacific flying proa does not follow the normal rules. Eventually I hope to make this clearer for you. On this run back to shore the gps claimed I was making 10.4 kmph, and the speed felt great especially where it got a little wild in the breakers. Only a little wild; I am fortunate that the waves are puny here as the result of a protecting offshore reef, or the boat would be rolled and smashed. I found her uncontrollable even in these small waves.

On the beach Rocinante drew an instant crowd. She is very pretty. I wish I could show you. Many people had their pictures taken sitting aboard, women danced around it like hula girls. Everyone was very generous with their praise. I felt good.

After a few adjustments aimed at reducing the weather helm it was back out to sea again with Peter aboard. We went about 500 metres out, very slowly, then found ourselves drifting northwards downwind towards the restricted zone in front of the Navy base. I didn’t think they’d shoot us but I didn’t want the embarrassment of landing there so I became a bit concerned; however the wind finally picked up a bit and we were able to parallel the shore back to Arricife la Luna.. More adjustments, more photos for the tourists, then the wind suddenly started really blasting, so I got back out there, this time alone.

It was a different experience in a strong wind. Rocinante flies along. The steering does not work well and takes much effort; I will have to find another way. There’s a lot of spray from the forward steering oar, where it hangs a bit low when stowed, and shunting the sail is more difficult. The forward end isn’t really high enough so it floods and doesn’t drain through the little scuppers I drilled, so I rode along carrying a bathtub of water up front. At one point I was making 18 kmph, pretty good I thought. I’ll have to convert that to knots sometime. Ah, 9.7 knots. It was this watching of the gps that caused me to capsize.

I’d thought that the sail at 140 square feet was too small to allow me to ”fly the ama” ie. sail with the outrigger float, (traditionally the ”ama”) out of the water, but this was a strong wind and I’d been able to do this for short periods. Very exciting. Then, over I went. Capsizing is often a gentle process, the boat goes over slowly and you have time to move so you don’t fall onto or under the sail, so it’s not traumatic, nor was it this time except that I found myself in the surf and the mast, spars, sail and rigging which cost so much effort to make begin grinding against the sand, the full weight of the hull being thrown against them as each wave struck. The waves now had a bit more attitude in the fresh wind. I swam under the main hull and pulled out a rope, which I tied to one of the outrigger beams and then stood on the ”keel” and pulled.  I was struggling like this when a friendly tourist swam out to help, together we pulled her upright and to my delight found that there was no damage at all. Up on the beach I restowed the gear, some of which was captured in the surf and returned to me by tourists from Mexico City. Back out to sea with a tourist aboard, but we only went a final half-kilometer back to the beach near my house, where  I landed and called it a day. Sailing with that bathtub of water aboard was too stressful..

Returning the boat to my shack was very nearly the death of me, though all in all it was a great day. I spent most of today in bed recovering from my exertions. I have many adjustments to make, especially to the steering which really was a pain in the arse, so it will be a couple of weeks at least before I put Rocinante back together again and can take some photos with a borrowed camera to show you.

Another norte has begun to blast in the last hour or two, the second in a week.  They say that this will be a bad one. I haven’t seen a good one yet.

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9 thoughts on “Launch!

  1. hi dear,
    an unseemly hr? love your writing, you are missed, i am still in africa, starting a business, are you interested in helping? please come here, i found a place that needs your help, can not wait to see photos, anyway, hyl says hi, miss you heaps, i am flying back to usa late feb, love a

  2. truly amazing, mate. Wow. Not only does it sail it flies too! A little concerned that the only morsel in your ‘fridge is the dog, but other than that a truly stunning account and yet again, I am left in awe of your fantastic adventures.I loved the way you’ve done away with tacking, and I cant wait for the pictures and video. The writing as ever -top-notch -I’m glad the weather is giving you some testing times and some non-testing times, to test if that makes sense, which it does. And it doesn’t. Must have been quite an interesting conversation, persuading a crouching local to help carry oars, Rocicante sounds sublime, sleek, supremely sexy, and even seaworthy. Not that I ever doubted it, but to pull off hand constructing launching and sailing a proa -a boat I would have doubted the existance of two months ago is a feat beyond most people I know on the planet-and I feel privileged to know some surefire turned on, well above par, individuals. Many many congratulations. I trust now that you will be sailing up the Bristol Channel. Any time soon and have put the kettle on. Godspeed to the camera fixers, thanks to all the passing tourists, petrol money to all the locals and the best, most loving, best wishes to your very fine and good self. Take it easy mate, Phil XXX

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