Well the weather is certainly warming up here in little ol’ Playa Zapote, Veracruz, Mexico, but I am barefoot and shirtless and pleasant breeze cools me each afternoon on the patio of my beach shack. I pop in and out of the ocean like a seal. Breakfast this morning was a plate of fried bocarone fishlets
with tortillas and salsa and pico de gallo (spicy stuff made of finely divided onions, cilanthro, tomatoes, habanero peppers) along with tamales (maize and vegetable oil (usually lard but I am special) wrapped in corn husks and steamed) and tamarind water (tamarind, water, sugar, mmmmm…).
I hope you enjoyed your corn flakes this morning.
Gringo Jack’s labrador Lucky is so intelligent that he not only knows his name, he knows the names of other dogs. If I say “Go to Changa” he will look at me quizzically then go over to Changa. He was taught neither Changa’s name nor “Go to” (he has been taught “Go lie down”) so I think that is pretty smart. He makes obvious attempts to communicate verbally, a sort of strangled howl. He and other dogs have good enough eyesight to see me returning from the ocean from a half-mile out; I see them running along the beach as I approach and my first task after hauling the boat out of the waves is to give them some love for coming to greet me. Changa is pregnant, so is the cat. I just know she is going to give birth on her favorite pad, one of my sails. I am the only person who has ever been able to pet this extremely nervous cat, and the day I picked it up the villagers fell to their knees and worshiped me as a god. OK they didn’t, but I am definitely the cat whisperer of Play Zapote.
I have been sailing. I am sure that took you by surprise. Yesterday I launched with young neighbor Tomas in a full 15-knot blaster out through surf which whammed us about and thoroughly cleaned every part of us, then we hared up and down the beach in a cloud of spray, diving and reemerging under my largest Oceanic lateen sail at a ripping near-12 knots of speed. Looked pretty good from shore I’m told. Most of the locals will not go out through frankly-admitted fear of my vessel, but young Tomas climbed out on the outrigger as counterbalance and didn’t even scream. I was very impressed. The waves hurled us upwards, then we’d slide down the back and the nose and outrigger would crash clear through the next one, then we’d be out out and climbing the third. I sure screamed. Tomas was nearly washed from his perch a dozen times but maybe he thinks this is normal. I don’t believe many small-boat sailors have ever been out in anything like this. I am trying to push the limits of the boat in order to find out what they are, so that things break and I can fix them here whilst I can, or so that some fatal flaw is discovered which renders any kind of a real journey impossible, but so far the boat is simply amazing and takes a real beating, the crossbeams flexing about and the outrigger float (ama) pointing skywards or seawards independently of the main hull as volumes of hurled water that would make the creators of Titanic weep with envy bash into us at speed every few seconds. The mast thrashes and its wooden base grinds in its half-coconut cup, the ends of the spars whip, the deck bucks under me, stays are taut like piano strings, the rudders gouge great tails of spray, the sail is so hard you could bounce a cannonball off it, but NO PROBLEMS! A leetle beet of varnish rubbed off at the bows, a rope slightly chafed at the mast head, the paint worn off part of the rubrail but that’s why they call it a rubrail. Nothing to worry about. Incredible.
I did find one limit. The dreaded nortes. A bad one struck the other day, howling at about 70kmph. I’d had to leave the boat in the next village the night before after a spot of night sailing endinng witha dearth of wind so I thought, dumbly, here’s a good chance to test the boat in a real gale by attempting to sail it with the wind down the beach back to my village. I was dubious abut my prospects but thought the chances of serious damage not too great because a norte blows parallel to the beach resulting in diagonal surf, frothy but not severe. So whilst being sandblasted on the beach – I had to wear a diving mask to protect my eyes – I rigged the smallest sail, a ridiculous affair which is long and thin due to necessary geometries familiar only to proa nuts
which I aligned carefully parallel with the wind then slowly raised. It thrashed around up there with impressive violence so I pulled in the mainsheet to get it under control and POW! I found myself lying on the sail on the ground with the boat upside down above me. The windward mast-support bungee stick saved me from a bit of a squashing. The speed of this flipping was astonishing, pretty much instantaneous. I will not try this again until the sail is cut down and lowered to reduce it’s torque on the mast. But I will try it again. I am that stupid.
The only real damage that has occurred to the boat so far has been my own fault: some bashings during two capsizes in the surf due to failure to release the mainsheet in time (and carrying too much sail in strong winds), and minor damage to a rudder bracket trolleying the boat about on the beach. The sacrificial dowels in the rudders have broken a few times when surf landings go wrong but that is exactly what they are there for and I am unbearably smug about having devised them.
Surf landings go wrong. If I can come in directly perpendicular to the waves all goes well, surfing in very fast and very cool. This is great. But I cannot always run in straight with the waves. The oceanic lateen sail tends to fold up when running directly downwind so it is better to run at an angle. This means that if the wind is coming in perpendicular to the beach as it often is I have to come in at an angle myself, diagonal to the waves, but this diagonal business often causes things to get wildly out of control, the stern gets picked up and pushed sideways which slews me around broadside to the waves. The next comber will cream me pretty bad, worse if the wave has not yet broken and slams into me like a train. If the rudder is down it can hit the sand and bust a dowel in its support bracket. I think every sailor knows that most of the comedy happens when the boat is leaving or returning to its mooring/resting place, so I return through the surf thrilled but nervous, and hopeful that the audience on the beach is just a pack of dogs.
I often come in at such speed that when the keel hits the sand and the boat lurches to a stop I allow my momentum to carry me forward, sliding on my backside right off the deck to land on my feet in the water ahead of the boat right where I need to be to grab the bow and haul it up on the beach.
Some random pictures:
The Bubbles of Terror.
Maybe 800 meters off the beach at the next village north, Mata de Uva, there is a discolored patch of water in the midst of which rises a gout of marble-sized bubbles and faint smell of petroleum. Some kind of natural gas vent I figure. I call them the Bubbles of Terror because a certain friend was so scared when taken to see them that he cried which I find doubly amusing because this person is not afraid of anyone, whereas I myself am terrified of people but I think I can handle a few bubbles. My friend made me promise not to take him near the bubbles when we went sailing. Anyway I was curious so I anchored over the plume and after some messing about – the boat kept veering left and right and wouldn’t sit still over the target – managed to collect about a pint of gas. That night I lit the gas, it burned very well as expected with a blue flame. The next step is to sneak out on a windless night (one can already see a flaw in my plan for my only watercraft is a sailboat) and ignite the vent. I don’t think it will burn long in a wind but on a calm night, maybe, and the village will have itself a nice little mystery.
The Search for the Camera
To my great annoyance I lost my Go-Pro HERO high definition head-mounted video camera in that ghastly capsize in the surf last week, up on the beach of the Naval Academy. There is a large bay which collects tons of flotsam towards which the current was heading at the time and I figure that there is a good chance that the camera is there, but this is a restricted military area crawling with armed security, especially uptight after the heroic part the cadets of the school played fighting the Americans the last time the latter invaded, in 1914. So I landed the boat at a blind spot midway between two guard posts which happened to be exactly where the capsized occurred, and after lowering the sail for the sake of inconspicuousness jogged off down the beach clean-shaven and dressed in black shorts and a white T-shirt, just another cadet out for a run. Didn’t find anything but it was fun. I tried again later by asking permission to enter which after some delay was granted by these highly professional, courteous, helpful and friendly people about whom I only have good things to say. They gave me an armed escort who was most keen to assist in the search especially after the offer of a generous reward. Now I must await a low tide during daylight before getting a new permiso. It helps that the sailing master is intrigued by my curious boat.
I see that my attempt to upload video was a failure, my only hope now is to go to an internet cafe to use a more advanced computer than this ancient Apple abacus. I am strongly allergic to some mysterious substance found in internet cafes and certain other establishments (strange but true), even after leaving I remain allergic to my own shoes for weeks or until they are washed completely, so this prospect pleaseth me not.
If you are lucky in the next post I shall tell you about the Secret Village of Certain Death. I’d tell you right now but I have some serious lounging around to do today and had better get started or I’ll never get it all done.