I have fallen into the habit of breakfasting at the home of Chinto and Reyna (Reyna means queen) and find it immensely pleasurable. Black beans refried or mixed with rice together with lettuce, cucumber, avocado, salsa and chiles chipotle (smoke-dried jabaneros) all heaped to overflowing upon tostadas (fried tortillas), a mug of atole (coconut milk, rice, sugar) or lemon-water, lentil soup with fried plantains, fried potatoes, zucchini with onions, or chilequiles (deep fried tortilla triangles in a thick tomato sauce), mole (a thick sauce of chocolate and spices) over broccoli and tomatoes, sometimes fishlets fried whole, usually other fish fried or stewed, calamari or huge prawns all pulled from the sea so recently that our feet are still wet and our hands sore from heaving on the nets. Or picadas, soft tortillas with a raised edge to help contain its load of liquid beans, avocado, spicy salsa and (for them) cheese. It’s OMG good, and any attempt to stop eating is rendered futile by Reyna’s cries of Come! Come! (eat!). She stands by the sink and bangs out a never-ending supply of tortillas and another load of fish crackles in the frying pan whilst Chinto and I stuff ourselves and laugh with our standing jokes about the leones and tigres we plan to fight today and how we need to leave plenty of food on the table because “Reyna come todo” and I find myself suffused with joy; these breakfasts go beyond mere pleasure, they make me truly happy for reasons I don’t really understand and I know I will miss them for the rest of my life. By their end I am so full I can barely walk – often I eat nothing at all the entire remainder of the day – but I stagger back to the car and drive the kilometer back to the shack and the boat waiting with it’s never-diminishing pile of tasks, and I can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow.
Reyna and Chinto will not take money from me so I provide lots of groceries. I am so grateful to Reyna for feeding me like this that I would love to give her a hug but this is not acceptable here in rural Mexico. (Oddly in the city of Veracruz it seems obligatory to kiss women on the cheek upon the very first meeting, a greeting with which I am most uncomfortable. I am (mostly) British and do not like to kiss people I don’t know). When I visit Reyna and husband Chinto is not at home the front door must remain open. If I drive her to town to pay bills or visit the doctor she brings a chaperone. Isamar is used as the chaperone, but I have to go and get her from the next village and bring her back, but she has to have a chaperone, so I bring her back with her little brother Ulysses, pick up Reyna then go back to the other village again to drop off Ulysses. My poor car, beating around the dirt tracks and salty beach groaning with overweight Mexicans. And I hit a tree stump the other day totally mangling the front lower cross-member and the radiator which was holed in 6 places and badly cracked but is now held together with epoxy, fiberglass and polyurethane sealant and miraculously doesn’t leak a drop. So far.
This business of Reyna standing and working whilst we men eat still bothers me but I have quit protesting. It is standard practice here – the women feed the men and usually do not themselves relax and eat until the men are mostly done. They continue to cook throughout meals, bringing more and more to the table and pounding away at the tortillas all the while. My attempts to assist or do dishes or the like are much frowned upon by both sexes, so I’ve pretty much quit that too. To the men’s credit they do not skimp on vocal praise and appreciation regarding the food and that seems to please the women a great deal though they pretend they couldn’t care less what the men think. It is their lot in life not to have much fun or excitement; the men do what interesting work there is and can drink (if not prohibited by their religion) and disappear and have children with other women but the women can do none of that, cannot even enter a bar unless they are working. Of course we men do have a lot of leones and tigres to fight which is quite stressful so we do need to relax.
But let’s get on with the sailing shall we?
There is still much tidying up to do – I am sailing with clamps holding stuff together and there is a lot of extra rope hanging around because I hate to cut it before I am quite certain of the right length, but the point is I am sailing. And quite effectively too. Three things have made an enormous difference: Firstly the rudders whilst not perfect do work very well most of the time. Secondly the new crossbeams of laminated Alaska yellow cedar are much stiffer than the old ones so the boat seems more confident, it does not wobble about nearly so much as it used to when it hits a wave, rather it plunges right through and laughs it off. But the most important thing is the balance. If the sail is too far aft, the boat will be pushed away at the stern and so turn upwind. If the sail is too far forward the opposite will happen and the boat will turn downwind. In either case much steering is required with consequent stress and loss of speed. Now I have things nearly perfect; if the rudder is released the boat will turn slowly into the wind; this is known as mild “weather helm” and is the best way to arrange things as pointing up into the wind is the safest thing that could happen if one’s attention wanders or one is fixing something and unable to steer.
Now that the sail balance is correct he is like a completely different boat. Tame as a lamb, he goes where I want him too and quickly too. But it gets better: mostly he steers himself! I can hardly believe it – if I point him in almost any direction and screw with the tension on the mainsheet a bit, he will track in that direction pretty much straight as an arrow needing only occasional corrections and little concentration. Moving my weight forward or aft also affects the course (in proa circles this is called “butt steering”). On upwind courses I just lie on the deck sunbathing and occasionally fiddling with the fishing reel (an indulgence I couldn’t resist) while he tracks along for mile after mile needing no attention at all. It’s beautiful!
The day after the first test (previous blog post) I had the most lovely day of sailing in my life, going up and down the beach about 1 km offshore, then beating out to sea about 5km which felt pretty adventurous for a second test but irresistible. The sun shone and the wind was light and with no fear of capsize I just lounged all day. For a long time I was sailing directly into a swell, long and low, the boat would slow perceptibly as it climbed uphill, then speed up down the other side. Up and down, up and down. Meditative, relaxing, addictive.
The next day was not so relaxing. A howling wind verging on a full northerly gale drove all the fishermen off the water, but the Gringo had finished setting up and, what the hell, he went for it to the astonishment of the locals. My two small sails are not yet ready so I had to go with number two though I knew it was too big. It was a wild ride, half an hour of exciting action slicing through waves with the outrigger flying and me gripping the slippery deck as best as I could with my arse to keep from falling off. Finally I capsized whilst venturing out on one end to untangle a line wrapped around a rudder. I found I could not right her, not even with my Capsize Recovery System 3000 (TM), which clearly needs more thought. I shall produce a 4000 model. I tried and tried but the boat was completely upside-down, with mast ,spars and sail floating all over the place all tangled up in miles of rope. No fear. I was 500 meters from a sandy shore and would soon be blown there, upside-down or not. But then a llancha appeared, brimming with Mexicans who I suspect were only too pleased to see their dire predictions affirmed. They had rolled her into the sea just for me. I generously allowed David, local welder and store-owner with some sea experience, to swim over and help me right her, then he stayed aboard whilst we sorted the mess out, re-stepped the mast, raised the sail and sailed back to the beach. We could not have done this in time had we not drifted across an anchored net to which we tied ourselves to buy time. We were heaved about mightily by the waves, and I got seasick but that disappeared as soon as we were moving again. And when we reached the beach what did we do? We launched again! David is really into it. He was heroic and a huge help.
Since then I’ve been out as often as I can and have covered probably about 60 kilometers in all, without any serious incidents. Fastest speed yet noted by the GPS is 9.6 knots, but I am sure I can beat that. Surf landings are not so great, the rudders do not work well in their halfway-down position for shallow water, and these beach returns are invariably done running directly downwind which is the course where most steering is needed. Fortunately the surf is mild here. There is scarcely any wear detectable anywhere on the boat.
Thank you for all your feedback.
Written in a hurry. Chris.