The Way to Sabancuy

Aqui estoy mis amigos:

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Ok sorry about about that, but I had to stop somewhere. All these posts are done in a bit of a rush in internet “cafes” which close when the attendant gets hungry,  and open again at random times whenever someone can be bothered. I got bitten by a dog on the doorstep whilst entering just now, that’s how user-friendly these places are.

This belongs in the last post. Maritza, Joselito, Josefeta and Hugo of Colonia Emilio Zapata.

I anticipted the dreaded salt-water sores by building this airy and spray-protected folding seat. I have the driest ass of any sailor, ever.

So where was I? Yes the bridge, too low and coming towards me (relativistically speaking) much too fast. In retrospect what I should have done is veer off and parallel the bridge whilst considering my options but really it had looked plenty high until the last few seconds, and now there was no time for a turn with any appreciable clearance. I let go the mainsheet in an effort to slow down but I was now almost running dead downwind in my effort to pass through at 90 degrees and the effect of this is that the boom swung out and up so that the sail now stood like a “V” with its lower point on the bow and both yard and boom now stood fixed to strike.  So I sprang to the mast and uncleated the halyard, letting it go just as I went under the concrete so the sail dropped to my side as I shot below, and I was pulling up the sail before I even emerged on the other side. Nothing even touched, and the effect to bystanders had there been any in a position to view would have been that it was an well-practiced and professional manouver. Ok so it was an anticlimax to you but pretty exciting from where I stood.

Back in the ocean now, I headed northeast and rounded the point eastward of the estuary. The water was a beautiful clear aquamarine and weedless, a sandy bottom stretching for ever. I was beginning to climb the Yucatan along a sandy shore. The wind was strong and coming from the southeast boiling off the land, fitful and jerky, pushing me along the flat water in high-speed bursts. Lovely sailing actually, my first taste of fast sailing on flat water since the trip began. I landed on the shell-sand beach and changed up to my biggest sail again as the wind started to fail, but soon once again I was becalmed and roasting at sea. Pulling in the fishing line I discoverd a small fish, maybe 1 kilo on the end and I’m afraid it was his bad luck that I was both hungry, foodless and becalmed, for I ate him, fried on deck over the little gas stove that Santiago gave me which burns even in a gale. I have caught maybe 8  fish since the trip started but let them all go but this one. You may ask why I fish if I am just going to let them go and I don’t have a good answer, it is just curiosity really, adding interest to the voyage and satsfying some of my great interest in what lurks below.

After fishie’s sad demise a northeast wind sprang up and I piddled along the coast making reasonable time. I headed further out to sea to find smoother wind which seemed to work. Nervous about thunderstorms I was worried when one came off the land behind me and cut off my retreat, but it looked like I would escape it. It is hard to tell, for they often move in directions contrary to the wind at ground level. I kept going, looking back occasionally and WHERE THE HELL DID THAT COME FROM?

A mile dead ahead a thunderstorm coalesced out of nothing, moving quickly off the land and into my path. It was close enough  I could see the white water at its base. I could not go forward or back, nor would I make it to land. I dropped sail and anchor and waited.

Spanish for thunderstorm is tormenta, a word I find particularly evocative.

A short wait. The storm ahead cleared out of my road leaving me free to try to outrun the one behind, so I got moving. But black thunderstorms were forming everywhere over the land and moving towards the ocean. I needed shelter.

About three miles ahead I could see what might be a breakwater. There was nothing about a lagoon or river entrance hereabouts on my charts but my charts are 32 years old, the most modern available. Gives you some idea of how devoid of boats other than local lanchas these waters are. I made as fast as I could for this thing, whatever it was, worried because a particularly big storm was heading for the same spot. Would I make it?

I do hope this isn’t boring you. It really is pretty exciting out there.

I got closer. Yes, two breakwaters. I found them to be only about 25 meters apart, guarding a very narrow passage heading straight inland. If you look on the SPOT site (satellite image) you can see it. Through the passage I could glimpse a lagoon and a town. I wanted in, but a narrow passage possibly with a current between two rocky breakwaters is no place for a sailboat. But what the hell, this is an adventure.

So I went in. I didn’t get more than 30 meters inside the entrance before I discoverd the current against me was outrageously strong. The thunderstorm loomed big and black and booming most awfully. What could I do? I threw the anchor over in a side eddy so I could stop and think.

Without help I could not tow the boat throught the entrance under the bridge and into the lagoon. I could not paddle against such a crazy current. As I pondered the boat swung back and forth in the current like a fish on a line,  sometimes nosing the rocks but not hard because I had the paddle in my hands and was using it. I recently discovered that this professionally-made paddle SINKS! On the first mad career across the current the anchor line got wrapped around my ankle and damn near pinched off my foot so there I was lying on the platform wailing and paddling as best I could from my entrapped position and making a right comedy for two boys fishing on the far breakwater. I had to get out of there was my decision, and go around the breakwater and haul out on the beach. The storm was getting really scary now but had not struck. I would just pull up the anchor and float out on the current…

But the anchor would not come up! Oh shit! I pulled and pulled, the mad charging about of the boat helped me tug from different angles, but it would not budge. What to do. No way was I going to dive into that swirling lagoon-murk full of unknown toothy horrors.  With the chain vertical,  I could just see its top- it is 16 feet long. I pulled and pulled. I hated to lose my anchor, I needed it too much.

I could not pussy out of this. Most reluctantly I put on my mask and dived, pulling myself down the chain into the gloom, then the dark. I despaired of being able to see at all when I reached whatever bottom was in store for me. Creepy? Oh god yes. Suddenly I arrived, found the chain jammed between two barnacled blocks. I could not free it, had to go up for air then return. Success this time, but even though I was careful bringing up anchor and chain somehow the chain snagged again and I had to go down a third time.

Gasping back on deck I swirled out into the ocean. Two lanchas roared passed me out to sea; What the hell, with this storm coming? I waved my rope at them hopefully but they just shrugged and went on. I raised sail, made it around the breakwater to land or nearly so as I was blocked by a sandbar. I started to unload in order to lighten the boat. Jesus the storm looked bad. I was bummed I could not make it to the town and would now have to unload the whole boat and drag it across the sandbar and up the steep beach. Both hands and arms bled profusely from multiple barnacle lacerations sustained underwater. The storm, Christ!

Then an angel appeared.
In “Religulous” (well done Mr. Maher) Bill Maher interviews a man who thinks he is the second coming of Christ and asks him how he knows this. “Two angels told me” says the guy. “What, two Mexicans named Angel?” asks Bill, innocently. In any group of more than four Mexicans, there will be at least one called Angel and another called Nacho.

Angel and two young brothers were in their lancha hanging just offshore, watching me curiously. I waved my tow rope and they said yes. I reloaded the boat, dropped the mast fearing the bridge and we hitched up and took off. At this point the storm struck.

Blinding rain so dense I could barely make out the lancha. Lightning and awful thunder bashing down all over the place. No wind. The sea flattened by the pounding rain. The tow rope was too long and despite using the bridle my boat was uncontrollable, veering wildly all over the passage. Weirdly I found I was off to the side and ahead of the boat that was towing me. The brothers clearly wanted to cut me loose but they were made of stern stuff; they did not abandon me to float out to sea again in this storm. I had the presence of mind to rip open cargo bay three and pull out the headcam. The rain eased some and we changed tactic in midriver, rafting my boat alongside theirs, and he was thereafter tame as a lamb as we throttled through the worst of the current, under the bridge and into the lagoon. They pulled me across to the town and left me at a decomposing jetty, but not before I had given them a 500 peso ($45 USD) note in exchange for their gasoline and valor at which I was much impressed. This rather hurt but it was no time for penny-pinching and I had no smaller bill anyway.

The rain stopped, all was calm. I was cold as hell for the first time in months. My audience soon gathered on the dock, fishermen mostly, friendly enough, so many I feared he dock would collapse. I got mostly sorted out but far from dried, that would have to wait until the morning.

Sabancuy is a mud-puddled and mosquito-infested lagoon town. It seems to survive from fishing and farming. As always the biggest building is the church. Dry in the mornings and hot as hell, it rains in the afternoons. I have trouble finding beans here, it’s all meat and fish. With every meal one gets horribly bitten for free. There is a disco for teenagers on Saturday but no other entertainment. That lagoon entrance from the sea was cut artificially soon after my charts were published. The people are friendly – this is Mexico; I am now kin to many fishermen which can get a bit tedious when they are drunk in the afternoons, many declarations of brotherhood and so on. They have silver-capped teeth and an intolerable tendency when drunk to tug at one’s sleeve or poke one at the beginning of almost every sentence (a strangely common habit in Mexico; I cannot abide it) but they are good fellows and their respect means much to me.  I have many visitors when I am at the jetty and I explain the operation of the boat over and over to those interested; apart from on tv they have never seen a sailboat. They are gearing up to start octopus fishing tomorrow; maybe I will stay another day and join them.

As at Chiltepec nobody comes demanding mooring fees. I think that the dock was built by the town. At night a watchman for the fishing cooperative guards all the lanchas and my boat too, I bring him coca-cola. A nine year-old kid named Eric enthusiastically helps me grease my rudders and re-tar my annoyingly leaky bubble canvas. He is a damned fine helper I must say, sharp as a razor; I shall give him a penknife before I go, I still have a few.

Cargo bay three still leaks.

Sabancuy borders the lagoon.

Many lanchas are hauled out by this clever log-ramp method.

The Local Authority.

Yesterday I discoverd my anchor was broken. Outrageous that the thing could be broken by my strength alone (which was not sufficient to beat a woman at arm-wrestling over lunch earlier. It was a draw.). I am glad I splashed out on a bigger anchor though, my first one would not have saved me from the thunderstorm in the Laguna de Terminos. An expedition to weld the thing was mounted, two drunken fishermen on bicycles and a third with myself taking it in turns to power a three-wheeled pedal cart all spashed through the rain along the muddy streets to a welder who did a fine job for $8 US: I bought the guys two six-packs for their valuable time and as we worked on those back at the dock a heavily-muscled man with a sour expression walked out and approached me. I could barely understand anything he said but he definitely had a problem with my presence in the lagoon, said gringos couldn’t just sail in whenever they pleased. Well yes they can, I said, if they have a visa, which I do. But you don’t have papers to be in Campeche, he says. I have a visa issued by the federal goverment and can enter any state I please, I said, I need nothing more. Let me see your papers he says. He really had a bad attitude, the first directly unfriendly and aggressive Mexican I had ever met. Who are you to ask to see my papers? I ask. He was a fisherman. If he had a problem he could call the police and I would show them, but you, no. My brothers squirmed about uncomfortably (If there is one generalization in the world that is true it is this: Mexicans hate confrontation) He is on something, they said.
I do not want to listen to you any more, I said. Call the police if you want to, I have nothing to hide. This had gone on for a half hour. He started up again. ENOUGH! I yelled. FUCK OFF! He went and sat on some nets and glowered at me. Then he went further and must have bothered someone else because ten minutes later two truckloads of cops showed up and took him ahway in handcuffs. I was rather impressed.

Truth is, my legal status is a bit iffy. I have a tourist visa good for six months, but I have become a mariner and that doubtless requires different paperwork. The rules here are unkown even to those who are supposed to enforce them, and bendable anyway. In three weeks my only contact with officialdom has been a brief and friendly chat with policemen passing on the beach at Colonia Emilio Zapata.

A few of my brothers. Jose plays air guitar.

I am still enjoying the hell out of this like I have never enjoyed any trip before. The heat and the rain and even the bugs do not spoil it. My neck hurts a lot when sailing and my barnacle injuries are infected but these things are also fine, or will be. For a long time I was mystified as to why my face hurt in the morning; now I realize it is because I use a rolled-up rough woolen blanket for a pillow which in any normal situation would be intolerably uncomfortable but in the world I am living in I do not even notice. The only thing I really cannot stand is bass, but there has been little of that since I left Zapote. Hooray. I think that a large part of my happiness so far stems from the boat itself – were I sailing in a fibreglass yacht I would be another rich-seeming gringo, and I am sure the people would still be friendly but I would somehow be more insulated. This is the biggest reason I built a weird boat, and it is all working out.

Desesperado hangs on a mooring line strung between pulleys on the dock and a handy old post in the lagoon. By this means I can pull him between the dock and a place where he will not bash the dock or be robbed by thieves who cannot swim.

I make sure to press the Easy Button at regular intervals. A voice says "That was easy".

The Lagoon of Ends.

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– Aqui estoy mis amigos.

I will never get all this down. Such a wondrous adventure as I never hoped for.

Leaving Joselito´s family and Colonia Emilio Zapata with some reluctance after three days I beat out to sea and eastwards close-hauled against a northeast wind, then turned right at the a headland and raced at silly speed for the entrance to the Laguna de Terminos by Ciudad Carmen. I went so fast I overtook shipping in the busy lanes heading in and out of Ciudad Carmen and could see crew gazing down at me from bridges at this weird boat leaping from wave to wave and forging ahead of each thousand tonnes of motorized steel. I passed under a huge bridge miles long and was out of the waves and in the lagoon, a lagoon so vast I could not see the other side, an inland sea. The water was green and clearish and an island many miles long was now on my left, sheltering me from the waves but not from a fitful wind that blew me along in jumps and threatened to capsize me at intervals. As opposed to the shoreline of the sea which ever since Coatzacoalcos two or three hundred kiloneters back had been low, palm-lined and of sandy beach unbroken except for rivermouths and lagoon entrances, this shore was wooded but palmless, the trees all the way down to the water except for spots of bright sandy beaches every few hundred yards, some with children playing in the water, with villages hidden beyond the vegetation. The kids thinned out after a few miles, the shore became indented with green-lined passages working off to who knows where (perhaps this is the source of the name “Laguna de Terminos – Lagoon of (dead) Ends)  and I was left with a real feeling of Southern US swamp country. The sun lowered, I worked my way across shoals of dark seagrass weed into a large bay and dropped the hook; here I swung in water not two feet deep (my keel draws about 16 inches) and watched my personal aquarium whilst eating a can of refried beans until sunset. Lanchas plied the water raising crab traps but nobody approached me, here they seemed to have no curiosity, they had left me alone since entering the lagoon. The mosquitos however were most interested in me. The place was beautiful but between the monkey-like noises in the mangroves around me and the dark and fearsome weedy shoals below, rather creepy. I spent a good deal of the night peering out of my tiny vinyl portholes looking out for banditos.

But morning came. After working out of the bay over some scary shoals –  scary because I did not want to spend the day stuck in the mud trying to pull my vessel thorough impossible terrain up to my hips in slime and weed – and into the lagoon proper I spent much of the day becalmed, anchored to prevent any rearward drift, watching distant lanchas pounding their sides and slapping the water with flappers on sticks trying either to herd fish into nets or drive away the numerous dolphins which were clearly eating the catch. Many lanchas passed but only one approached and asked my destination. “Respect!” shouted and old fisherman in rain dungarees far too large for him “I give you my respect!” I thought this was rather sweet.

The airlessness of this baking day had a calm-before-the-storm feel to it. Oh was I right on this one. When wind appeared it came strong, with a massive black thunderstorm approaching. Oh shit. I raced towards a great bay which would shelter me on three sides, extremely anxious that I should arrive there before this montrous thing which was coming fast from the opposite direction.

I didn´t make it.

Back in some previous post I said I went through a thunderstorm and it “was no big deal”. Let me tell you, this was a big deal. It was enormous, charcoal black all over, looking like something from a tornado video. I was in awe of it, and wished I were elsewhere.

Three lanchas running similarly reached the bay before me. I was two hundred yards short when the serious howling began and was forced to drop the sail whilst it could still be controlled enough to lash it down. I threw the anchor over too, then the wind hammered at me like mad, buffeting the boat, turning the whole surface of the bay matt, then whipping the wavelets into whitecaps. I was out there, terrified by this craziness, trying to hold the anchor line such that the boat did not careen off to left or right. I quickly improvised a bridle to help with that and hoped like hell the anchor would hold, which it did, and soaking wet from the cold rain huddled there low and away from the mast because of all the lightning until the thing passed. The three lanchas did not come to my assistance, nor did they visit in the calm that followed though I am sure they had never seen a sailboat here before, not least one in peril. When it was all over I worked my way further into the bay and re-anchored, a can of beans and a well-earned beer were my reward for getting through this.

In the night I awoke to find the boat firmly grounded, no worries, the tide would return in the morning. Very windy all night, mucho rain. Windy still in the morning. I changed to a smaller sail and weighed anchor (about 8 kilos I reckon) though it took some nerve to do so in such a wind but what is a man to do, sit there all day afraid to move like some kinda pussy? The shoals were horrible, all that grim slimy darkness below, those weeds which nothing on earth could make me swim amongst, except a capsize. Don´t capsize Chris, don´t…

Well I made it another six miles to the lagoon exit, which is crossed by a long road bridge. On the way I asked some fishermen their advice on shoals, and collided with their lancha rather clumsily but no harm done; they were amused. The bridge did not look as high as the one at the entrance, but still looked plenty high, but as I raced towards it on a broad reach at about ten knots I began to fear I could not pass below. Abutments were spaced about 25 meters apart, no problem missing those. But oh no. I was coming in very fast but it looked too low and there was no way to slow down without changing direction and colliding with the concrete… shit shit shit… TOO LOW!. Higher than my mast but not higher than my yard… 50 meters to go…

How cruel of me, but I must go. I will try hard to make another installment tomorrow, but it will be Sunday and that might not happen.

At least you know I didn’t die.


Flowers of the Night.

I see some of the pictures I thought I had uploaded last time did not appear.

Oh what a pleasant place I am in now!

The beach, Colionia Emilio Zapata

 

Short-range transport around here is by poche.

I sailed out of the rivermouth at Chiltepec with my gear dried, my hatches sealed tight and a meal made for me by Sonia, she and husband Maurelio had been guarding my valuables for me during my stay at their little enterprise “Coktels Arley”, selling shrimp cocktails to tourists. Arley is their daughter. Many small businesses in Mexico are named after a family member –  I eat beans and rice at “Restaurante Lucy”, buy groceries at “Abarottes Kevin”, and so on. Anyway, out to sea with a strong wind which soon moderated to another becalming, then later increased to a nasty howler from the northeast, directly in my teeth because northeast along the coast to the river entrance at Frontera was where I was heading. I made long tacks and advanced slowly with the nose under every fourth wave or so and the decks always awash, then found the sea calmer nearer the shore and beat back and forth within three miles of the coast, but as the wind grew worse and the waves sapped my momentum I found I was not gaining much with each tack, and near sunset headed in about 5km short of the rivermouth where I had hoped to enter and anchor. Anchoring saves all the huge hassle of emptying the boat and dragging it up the beach, and then doing the same in reverse in the morning. I thought of anchoring in the shallows near the beach as the wind was now coming off the  land so there were only tiny waves there, but a particularly mean thunderstorm was looming so I changed my mind and rammed the sand just as the sun touched the horizon. I was looking forward to that meal, not having eaten that day. I uncleated (released) the sail and let it hang free whilst I started to unload. I discovered immediately that all three cargo hatches, which open three separate compartments under the deck (each known as “Cargo Bay Three” to save confusion), had leaked horribly. How could this be? I had sealed the tops of the buckets to the deck perfectly, and the lids seemed to fit well and had good seals but now all my gear was wet again, and I would have to dry it and the holds too. Now the thunderstorm hit, no rain but hellish wind, stinging sand sheeted across the beach, huge moths rammed their antennae into my bare chest at top speed, and as I ran up the beach with another load of stuff I looked back and OH SHIT! The boat had capsized! Though the sail was completely free the drag from the wind and the wind pressure on the mast had turned Desesperado on his side in the shallows! I pulled him back upright, just dodging the ama as it came down on me and whammed into the water. Oh no! Lying on his side in the water he had filled up with water! Cargo Bay Three and Cargo Bay Three were totally full to the top;  Cargo Bay Three only had a few inches because it was in the end nearest the beach. And OH NO! the violin was in Cargo Bay Three! Totally submerged. But I pulled it out and found it had been saved by extensive bagging.

My meal meal was ruined. I tried to cook rice later but it was also ruined, rotten from an earlier soaking. It was now dark and I was pretty annoyed. The wind eased, mosquitos swarmed me as did the sandflies, annoying me further. I smothered myself with repellent. “How do you like me now? ” I screamed at the hated pests.

 I finished unloading my soaked gear, hauled the boat up the beach, restowed everything, constructed the bubble. My bedding was only wet at the corners, bearable.

  This was the first night in which I had no visitors at all. The beach wasn’t bad but something gave me the creeps; I broke out the mace, big knife, machete and the flare pistol, and felt better. The mace might work well on mosquitos too.

 I slept wonderfully and before dawn was up and packing. I did not try to dry anything, I wanted to get in the water whilst a usable east wind was blowing and use it to push me around the point a few miles north. I’ be damnned if I’d screw around with the safe little canvas sail all day again – the daily pattern lately had been light winds in the morning followed by a long becalming then a bad blow, so I hung the big poly sail and stowed the wet little one on deck intending to change down at sea during the becalming. I had to get around that point!

Pow! Out to sea with that big sail! The boat flies with it. Up the coast hugging the shore through the first flat water of the voyage towards a fleet of thirty lanchas fishing a rivermouth for a long silvery fish whose tail just tapers away to a point, whose name I forget. I asked the nearest lancha for the usual bad advice on the weather, then unable to resist showing what Deseperado can do I shot right through the fleet on a beam reach with the ama flying, at a full twelve knots. Cheers arose from the fishermen and two boats peeled off to pace me and ask questions. Both confirmed the earlier weather forecast – moderate winds today, hooray.

    The lanchas left me at the Frontera rivermouth, a brown torrent a half-kilometer across –  I doubt I could have entered that river on the previous night’s wind had I made it that far. The current dragged me leftwards as I crossed the flow, aiming for open ocean beyond. As I negotiated an area of nasty one-meter breakers where the current met the ocean a military gunboat appeared and paced me a hundred meters off, but they did not interfere – I don’t think anyone has instructions on what to do with interloping sailboats, there are no sailboats at all. (The people of Colonia Emilio Zapata where I am now have never seen one in their whole lives).

Passed the bad stuff, out into cleaner greener waters, then blue, towards another series of humming oil platforms. I had passed a bunch of these recently, all PEMEX of course (PEtroleum-MEXico), the national and publicly-owned oil conglomerate. What a strange idea, that the natural resources of a country should belong to the people of that country instead of inherited within unbelievably wealthy families whom the rest of us must pay and support in luxury for all of their lives, for all of ours. Republicans, keep voting)

A long tack through the many platforms, calculating intercept courses to dodge around the numerous big PEMEX workboats thundering about sometimes towing barges. The only time I am ever seasick now is when in the diesel fumes of these beasts, which I can smell for miles off.

Moderate winds my ass. It got worse and worse but I could not turn to my next tack without risking a collision with a rig – I had to get clear. Finally out of sight of land a grim sail-flapping shunt and a start to serious easting. I still had the big sail up, there had been no becalming, but I loaded a few things out of Cargo Bay Three and tied them over the ama to help stop me capsizing and continued. I found I could handle it., though the bow plunged under continually and the boat was being thrown upwards so violently that the anchor chain would clank at apogee.

From the SPOT track it looks like I make fewer tacks than I do. I do not send a message every time I shunt.

I stopped to investigate an enormous dark spot right under the boat. It looked like a manatee, but how could it be a manatee? Then it rolled horizontal – a sea turtle ! A HUGE sea turtle! It must have weighed 600lbs. So far they had always been much smaller and shy of the boat but this one showed no concern when it surfaced to breathe right beside me, then leisurely dived into the gloom.

Man, bad wind. The boat leapt, bucked, dived, pounded, bashed and plunged its way forward. A wave comes, rarely steep-sided enough to wash my deck, but as it passes underneath it lifts the rear of the boat and the nose dives down into the next wave. The swell here is not what it was 50km back but I preferred that to these shorter, steeper bruisers. I got a bit frightened but Desesperado ploughed onwards unfazed. A man can only blow so much adrenaline in a day. We were forced nearer and nearer the coast by the east wind but after the next tack out the wind suddenly backed around to the northeast enabling me to parallel the coast at a good speed. Things looked rosier as I was making miles though I was in pain from the long hours twisted and tense at the helm, my neck and shoulders are really a mess from all this. It takes absolute concentration to control the boat in a blow so that I stay upright and make progress.

An hour to sunset, I saw way off on my right a bunch of white specks which could only be lanchas pulled up on the beach. I am gravitating towards landing at inhabited spots because the people are interesting and they help me haul out. I turned in and really hammered towards the coast. I landed, the people helped, they were lovely.

  There are three groups of lanchas, each guarded at night by a member of the fishermen’s co-operative. The nearest watchman was Joselito – “Little Jose” – a small, wiry, energetic, helpful and extremely likeable man. He invited me to his post, a concrete shack with a palapa (horizontal-roofed palm-thatched shade structure) in front, to wash by his well. His wife Josefeta had already prepared me food, fried chicken and beef stew. I was not about to say “No, I’m not going to eat your food” to these people, so I ate it and enjoyed it too. I had not eaten in thirty hours, this is the most animal to pass my lips in 26 years. But the cows are grazing under the palms, the chickens free. They roost atop the palapa with the turkeys, whilst the ducks huddle in groups on the ground and the dogs lie where they may. I let sleeping dogs lie.

I eat witht the family, Joselito, Josefeta, son Hugo, Daughter Marisa. At night Joselito and I lie in hammocks and look out at the bright stars from under the palapa as the fireflies twinkle in patches beneath the palms, we drink aguardiente (cane liquor) and smoke mota rolled in newspaper. A fresh breeze blows away the bugs – I am not bitten at all here –  delightfully cool, all is well with the world. Every ten mintutes Joselito gets up and shines around a headlight he has mounted in a box. The battery is charged daily by the motor of a lancha. He is a great believer in electricity. “No electricity, no security” he says.

In the day I make modest modifications to the boat, collect firewood, sit here in this damned internet cafe. I run back and forth over the hot sand and sparse vegetaion between the boat and the shade of Joselito’s palapa.

 

Many people visit me and my boat. These were the easiest on the eye.

 I am enormously comfortable with these people.. I do not want to leave.

 

Here Joselito and family live at night and guard the lanchas.

Joselito mends his nets.

Yesterday I went back to my boat in the dark. On the way I stopped. What was this? I was in a patch of flowers. There had been no flowers earlier, I was sure. Oh yes, says Joselito, they open at sunset and close at dawn.

WTF? What is the point of a flower that nothing can see? I mean, in evolutionary terms. But somehow it is beautiful. Joselito calls them “beach flowers”.

Damn. There is SO much to write but I must go.

 

Little House on the Proa

Headland at Roca Partida

Aqui estoy mis amigos: Here I am:  

Thank you all for your feedback. Maria Teresa and Maru I am so sorry I did not get to say goodbye to you, but we shall meet again, probably soon. Thank you for caring for Changa, it broke my heart to leave her.

I do not understand all this about not sending a SPOT message for ages. I have been very diligent about this right from the start; I like to send the messages, it is a cool device. I have been unable to find computer with a modern enough browser to actually see the maps, so I don´t know what is going on. I send at least three messages daily.

Sorry no video. Even if I could find a computer with a modern browser I do not know how to get hd video out of an sd card and onto the blog. Can anyone advise me?

Well, it has been a hell of a ride. If I wreck the boat tomorrow it will all have been worth it for the wonderous experience I have had. It has not actually been easy though.

I left Monte Pio and Galo´s hospitality in a light afternoon rain and even lighter winds, pulling out to sea from that lovely place with my host´s dire predictions ringing in my ears  ¨I say you, now is coming… tropical depression! Winds 150 kilometers! Your boat broken, you dead… I say you, you donkey sailor¨ Galo himself is that rarest of things in Mexico, an experienced sailor, and he was wholly negative about my prospects. However he predicted I would make only two kilometers that day and I made nearly thirty, and seventy the next, so there.

     Out to sea, southwards 30km to near Punta Zapotitlan. The wind died, I had to paddle to shore keeping a sharp eye out for savages. Some appeared and helped haul the boat out. Set up camp, my crummy little house on the platform, fried two fish that some fishermen had given me during one of their frequent lancha visits at sea. Always fun to see their faces; though they take it in their stride (I think this sort of thing is expected of Gringos, we are mad and fearless) they are clearly bemused by my appearance. I think many have never seen any kind of sailing vessel before. There is always talk of “El Mundo Aquatica”, Waterworld, Kevin Costner’s terrible movie. Hard to believe the same guy made “Dances With Wolves”.

As darkness fell many villagers appeared from beyond the dunes wielding flashlights. They were friendly enough but paid me little attention; they were busy collecting the amazing and endangered, legally protected blue land crabs which come ashore to breed this season. Later as it began to rain again I heard voices. Estevan and Narciso(?) appeared with a bucket. “What are you doing out in the rain and dark?” I asked. “Collecting turtle eggs.” This was too much. “They are protected!” I exclaimed. “No, no, we work for the government. We collect the eggs and they go to a hatchery. The turtlets are released into the sea.” Much better. Mexico does not enforce many of its laws, but the turtle thing is now being taken very seriously indeed and violators face many years in prison. I accompanied the lads down the beach for a mile or so, we forded a river and I finally left them to go on when we reached their quad bike. On turning back it started to rain more heavily, and soon there was a downpour such as I have rarely experienced. I could see nothing. I tell you fording a strange deep rivermouth alone in the dark in such circumstances is no joke. I ran down the beach so far I thought I´d missed the boat but I found it, crawled into the dark interior of the bubble and started to dry off. Then I looked up.

No! I had made the bubble from a heavy duty nylon gazebo covering and it was suposed to be waterproof, but the rain was coming right through! What a miserable night! completely soaked bedding, then when the rain stopped out came the mosquitos and I discovered a 2-foot rip in the mosquito net, and after I had sewed it another similar one, then the sandflies came which are so small they go right through anyway. No sleep at all. The next night, four long rips (this net is like wet toilet paper), more leaks despite draping sails over me… It rains every night, sometimes int the day too.

Endangered blue land crab. yummy, apparently.

Drying out after The Long Night.

I’ll not try to describe every day.  A typical one goes something like this: I get up early and start to tidy every thing up, dry sails and bedding if I can, take every single thing out of the boat to lighten it to the point where I can work it down from above the tideline to the water´s edge. Everything that can get wet must be bagged in plastic. The combination of  sea, nightly downpours on the beach, humidity and heat leaves me with everything soaked, rotting, and very sandy, and it is only by stopping somewhere like here, Chiltepec, Tobasco, for a full day that I can hope to win the battle to keep things together. I have so much stuff, three or four hundred pounds of it; I hate it, but most of it seems indispensible.

I do all this work on the sand in an awful cloud of mosquitos and sandflies; they love me but the feeling is not mutual. They are a curse.

There must be wind before I can launch; usually it does not arrive until about 11am, but it takes at least that long to get ready. Once the boat checked over, sail changed if necessary and is loaded right at the water´s edge I heave it on rollers down the steep sand and into the breakers. The boat is heavy and the side current strong so the seaward end tries to break free and head down the beach, but by titanic efforts I drag it further out and leap aboard. If there is wind from the side it is a simple matter to run the breakers: I head straight into them and though the boat is repeatedly swamped he powers through and out to sea. Wind from offshore makes things more difficult: I have to build up speed between breakers then turn into the bigger ones; I get bashed and swamped a lot but I make it. So far none of the morning breakers have been huge.

By the way the boat is now called Desesperado which means desperado. Previously he was called Rocinante but I learned there was another shunting craft named after Don Quixote´s horse so I changed it. He has performed magnificently and required virtually no maintenance at all. 

I then usually head straight out to sea fo at least 5km. I feel that the shore is the most dangerous place, and if I have a big problem I will have time to fix it and regain control before I hit the land. If I can´t fix it I will cling to the wreckage until blown to shore in a day or two – so far the wind has always blown that way, at least by day.

There offhore I can get becalmed for hours, no wind at all. I might take down the sail to stop it flapping about annoyingly. At least, you might think, miles offshore I am not being constantly bitten, but no. Amazingly, miles from land thousands of mosquitos are flying about and they encrust the boat. Stinging, itching, burning and scratching in the fearful heat I drift for hours and hours until a little wind comes up. It strengthens and strengthens until I am pounding and bashing along, ama (outrigger float) diving right through waves and waka (main hull) ploughing its nose into wave after wave and throwing up spray. There is a lot of stress on the connection between iakos (crossbeams) and the ama which worries me, but so far Desesperado has thrown off everything that comes at him; it just amazes me the pounding he can take and seem none the worse for wear.

The ocean is lovely even when angry. We climp over swell after swell, great moving hills of water which silently and majestically sweep by to destroy themselves on the shore. Since Monte Pio there have been few other vessels at all, and no visits from lanchas. I see jumping fish, a few dolphins, the odd sea turtle but they always submerge before I can get very close. When the wind grows to create¨”Numerous whitecaps” I would rather be ashore. When it reaches “whitecaps everywhere” I grow genuinely concerned and look for shelter, but fear the surf in such a wind.

Always there is the awful decision on the beach of which sail to use. Light winds require the biggie or I go nowhere slowly, but if a strong wind comes this is way too much and I risk damage and capsize. I cannot predict the weather, and nothing the fishermen say is reliable, so I go blind. I have never tried to change sails at sea, it is possible I think but not easy or quick, and there is no option to reef. Now I use the medium sail which moves me ok in poor wind and can just handle in a blow.

Towards late afternoon I must find a camp. By this time I am usually close to shore as the northeast winds have forced me closer and closer, sometimes I must tack out to sea again. I approach. I may have passed a harbor or two because Iwant no truck with officialdom so I prefer the beaches, but to get to these I must run the surf. It gives me the willies but actually it has not been too bad. I look for a spot with some kind of habitation nearby so I can get help hauling the boat up and avoid places with a sand cliff on the steep beach, over which I will have to lift the boat to raise it above the tideline for the night. I wait outside the surf; when a couple of really big ones go by I follow them in, surfing perpendicular to the waves at ludicrous speed which is a blessing because I go so fast that following waves cannot catch me, I stay between the breakers for the most part. I hit the beach with a bump, then begins the struggle to lift him out, far too heavy, the current turning him sideways. I can´t get a roller under the nose and back to the stern to lift and push fast enough, the rollers don´t work in the soft sand and it is too steep anyway. I gets stressful with my boat being hammered by one breaker after another on the steep shoreline. If people come – great! If not I must lift each end of the boat in turn and walk him up the beach. It nearly kills me. I get him just out of the water then unload everything and work him the rest of the way above the tideline. The bugs are on me instantly.

 I do not enjoy my camps much. There is much to do and usually I must do it with a large audience of lovely people hanging about, asking me questions and dogging my every move. I cannot cook food or eat it or change clothes or do much of anything privately until dark.  The children are adorable though, I love them dearly. After dark I crawl into the bubble I have erected and spend a ghastly night scratching at sandfly bites. Nights are long and I do not sleep much, if at all.

Laguna Cuahtemotzin and the Cables of Death.

Bad wind. I landed on a beach. A fisherman told me there was a river up ahead I might enter for shelter, so I changed to a smaller sail and smashed out through the breakers again. I saw what must be the river, went in through crazy water where river current meets ocean current over the sandbar, light swampings, then all clear and the river opened up into a great lagoon. There were open-mouthed fishermen casting nets from the shore, lanchas going to and fro, shoreside restaurants, dancing maidens… I was so busy looking for water hazards and trying to look cool for my audience that I did not see the three power cables hung all the way across the lagoon entrance, dipping lower than my yard. That they were there at all is an indication of how very rare sailing vessels are here. I hit them, at each one I got a mild shock. They burned through the lacing that fixes the edge of the sail to the yard, and left burn marks all along the upper sail edge, but did no other harm.

Phew.

I anchored there the night, my first night afloat. Bad mosquitos. In the morning I was so anxious to escape them and so desperate for a poo that I weighed anchor and floated out the lagoon entrance before there was any wind, and got sucked into the mad breakers over the bar. Soon there was not a grain of sand on the boat. I thought I was done for but broke out the padde and by great exertions got the hell out of there.

Chiltepec.

Two days ago was the most dramatic day yet. I saw a breakwater at the mouth of a river after a nasty afternoon´s pounding and waited outside in the crazy water near the sandbar whilst some fishermen in a lancha hauled a net from the muddy water, then I waved them over to ask for advice on entering. They were amazed at my appearance (I get this a lot) but took it in their stride and showed me which side of the entrance was best, and off I went. The waters rose, and after a short while we had launch commit, there was no turning back. I wish I could have filmed this, but the battery on the Go-Pro headcam had died and my hands were too full to hold another camera as we heaved inwards, the seas rising and breaking behind, me surfing at warp factors that would have had Scotty bitching about his engines again, the rudder hissing and throwing a tail of spray up behind us, me pulling on the tiller like mad to stop us slewing sideways under the brown wall chasing us. Then a mad crosswave struck and the boat went under the next breaker, but both hulls burst forth immediately and charged on , then the same thing  again, this time the emergency paddle is ripped from its lashings but hung on by a thread, and my sunglasses were gone but suddenly we were passed the worst and into calmer water and the lancha catches up and its pop-eyed crew say something like Jesus motherfucking Christ mate! and before I reach the pretty little town I am famous, the Gringo who came in from the cold.

Chiltepec is comfortable, nothing special but nice, and has a concrete mole at which I have been tied for two days while I sort out my gear, tar the cover of the Little House on the Proa, swim in the river and make friends. I have also sealed the hatches better, they leaked annoyingly. The winds are now from the east which is where I wish to go so I am not missing anything on the ocean. The river is gorgeous, lined with palms and festooned with floating clumps of river plants on their way out to sea. The  land around here is a vast maze of lagoons, rivers ansd swamps, very tropical, coco palms and lushness.

Desesperado is constantly mobbed by marauding rafts of river plants. I have my own garden.

Sorry no time for proofreading and fancy stuff like grammatical correctness. I hope to regain Chiltepec (I am now in Paraiso) in time to explore upriver.

I will be back when I can.

Montepio

I am sorry I have time for only the briefest of reports.

Also my apologies for failing to send enough SPOT messages to satisfy. I have made sure to send at least one every evening from dry land, or at least land.  Imagine though if Crumpetina had not bought me the thing…

I have been having a marvellous adventure and enjoying every minute of it, though in truth I have had only three days of actual sailing. I left Alvarado, the falling tide and a barely detectable breeze carrying me out of the lagoon to the sea where the water, the color of milky coffee, silently and smoothly humped and rolled in the most bizarre and otherworldly fashion. Dolphins met me again, then the boat turned itself south and for the whole day in a light and contrary wind I tacked along the coast, a range of greened dunes above miles and miles of deserted beach. Night was a camp at a random spot maybe 23 nautical miles along, after emptying the boat of its massive cargo and lugging it up the beach, then walking the vessel end for-end up the steep sand above the tideline. Unlike the previous night in Alvarado in which I did not sleep at all for the merciless mosquitos, this night was not bad despite the rain, a wind kept the buggers grounded and they did not bother me until morning. As at sea, where curious fishermen had visited me all day in their lanchas, I had some burro and horse-backed vaqueros come by.   All very friendly but bemused by my presence and strange vessel. “There are no bad people here”, volunteeered one. Sounds like paradise.

    The next day there was even less wind, and after a long becalming I finally rounded the headland at Roca Partida, and made another few miles towards Montepio. I tried to dodge a thunderstorm by sailing far out to sea, but it stayed in my path so I gave up and just went straight through it; it was no big deal, nice to have some wind. Montepio appeared charming from the sea, but I passed it and carried on, but as the wind failed again I headed inshore towards what looked likew a particfularly isolated and lovely beach. I later learned this was the beach featured in “Apocalypto”. The thought of a cold beer (for there were enough breaks in the generally grey skies to roast the hell out of me) at Montepio drove me to throw a coin which decided for a return so I doubled back and with the last wind just made it to the beach in front of the tiny town.

   Almost immediately a jeep piled across the soft sand and over the ledge to my side. Galo the driver and ex-sailor invited me to stay at his fine house. In twenty years I have never seen a sail here¨ he exclaimed.

     I have much to say about my three days´stay here (no internet or cell service: presently I am in San Andreas Tuxtla) but I have no time now. Were not Montepio so exquisitely beautiful and tranquil, at the foot of the verdant foothills of the volcano San Martin, and so full of natural wonders I might have left two days ago. The place is delightful; I am treated like royalty, swim in pools below waterfuls, slide along the cool river in a motorboat and out to sea, visit farms in the hills with happy and intensely pleasant people, sail the bay, eat beans and amaranth deep fried in strips, drink vodka with Galo, even the rain is lovely here… in short I think Montepio to be an undiscovered diamond, as close to a paradise as one could ever find in this world. It will hurt to leave. Tomorrow, weather permitting.

The First Day.

I promised to write up my progress whenever I could but did not expect the first opportunity to come so soon.

I have had a fantastic day.  I could not have asked for better weather: when I set sail at noon a light and favorable breeze was blowing which carried me out to sea at about 4 knots. It brought tears to my eyes to look back and see my friends and Changa standing on the beach so after a while I stopped looking over my shoulder and determined to look forward.

I am not sure how far Alvarado is, maybe 30km, but the boat knew where it was going and I barely steered for the three hours the trip took. The wind increased as I went along, and slowly the sea improved from muddy green to blue in color as I left an area tarnished by the outflowing of some swollen river. I approached the mouth of the estuary at Alvarado, a passage a half mile wide and two long leading inland to the great lagoon, which itself is filled by the convergence of three major rivers.  Outside this passage there was a sharp delineation between the tan-brown river water and the blue sea for miles out, edged with a thick band of floating detruis which I had to slow down and push at to pass through. Then the waves grew, and great confused lumps charged about in many directions.  I shot towards the mouth of the passage at a full ten knots surfing down the swells, and a pod of perhaps twenty dolphins surrounded me, and they paced the boat, surfacing and jumping all around and escorting me the next two miles into the lagoon.

I am not really very sentimental about this kind of thing but it was just marvellous, and lifted my spirits way up where they have remained. The creatures were huge, beautiful, and clearly interested in the boat. They would jump out of the water a few yards away and whilst in the air look right at me, and it all seemed like a good omen even for someone who does not believe in such things.

Santiago and Jose Vasquez, my landlord in Zapote and a most lovable fellow, were up on the bridge filming my arrival, and after passing under I doubled back and met them on the beach of a shipyard owned by a friend of Santiago.  There is a nightwatchman so it was an irresistable place to park up for the night; I was able to leave the boat this evening and walk into Alvarado. But I also came in earlier with Santiago and Jose for a beer, and at one point Jose disappeared and returned with an old man bearing a mini guitar. He sang and played two songs for me, with completely ad-lib lyrics about Cristobal and his adventure and what a great guy he is, and it was amazing! Clearly rap had predecessors. This was just priceless.

So all in all a wonderful first day. Judging by the intensity of the mosquitos hereabouts tonight may be a little less wonderful. It´s that yin and yang thing again, gotta have some pain to pay for the pleasure, that is one of the great truisms of life and there´s no getting away from it.

Now that Santiago and Jose have gone I am on my own and tomorrow I will continue southwards as soon as the wind rises, with no set destination and according to my charts no safe anchorage within range, but plenty of beaches as long as I can get through the surf.

If at First You Don´t Succeed, Lounge About for a Week Then Try Try Again.

Lunes Martes Miércoles Jueves Viernes Sábado Domingo
04 Julio
ObservadoMáxima 28°C
Mínima 24°CPrecip. N/D
05 Julio
ObservadoMáxima 28°C
Mínima 23°CPrecip. N/D
06 Julio
ObservadoMáxima 57°C
Mínima 23°CPrecip. N/D
07 Julio
Pronóstico

Tormentas dispersasPor la noche
Mínima 23°CProbabilidad de precip.
50%

 

08 Julio
Pronóstico

Tormentas dispersasMáxima 30°C
Mínima 23°CProbabilidad de precip.
50%

 

09 Julio
Pronóstico

Tormentas dispersasMáxima 29°C
Mínima 24°CProbabilidad de precip.
50 %

 

10 Julio
Pronóstico

Tormentas dispersasMáxima 29°C
Mínima 24°CProbabilidad de precip.
50 %

 

Lunes Martes Miércoles Jueves Viernes Sábado Domingo
11 Julio
Pronóstico

Tormentas dispersasMáxima 29°C
Mínima 24°CProbabilidad de precip.
50 %
12 Julio
Pronóstico

Tormentas dispersasMáxima 28°C
Mínima 23°CProbabilidad de precip.
60 %

 

13 Julio
Pronóstico

ChubascosMáxima 28°C
Mínima 23°CProbabilidad de precip.
60 %
14 Julio
Pronóstico

ChubascosMáxima 28°C
Mínima 23°CProbabilidad de precip.
60 %

 

15 Julio
Pronóstico

ChubascosMáxima 28°C
Mínima 23°CProbabilidad de precip.
60 %

 

16 Julio
Pronóstico

ChubascosMáxima 28°C
Mínima 23°CProbabilidad de precip.
60 %

 

17 Julio
HistóricoPromedios
Máxima N/D
Mínima N/D

The dire weather that was forecast did not materialize; in fact it has been fairly acceptable considering it is now the rainy season, or estacion de mal tiempo (season of bad weather). Today´s  forecast looks like above. Oh I see it´s all clipped off at the side but you get the idea.

When I say the weather has been acceptable I mean I could have sailed through it, not that it has been lovely. Leave a bucket out overnight and it is full by morning. Watermelons sprout from the sand wherever the fishermen have sat, the fire ants struggle to find new homes after being flooded out with nary an ant-Moses to lead them (and I don´t care: such hateful creatures), the well levels rise, the floor of my shack floods, mushrooms cover the fields, great muddy lakes of unknown depth form on the lanes and tracks which can only be crossed with one´s heart in one´s mouth, and mean insects breed in whatever slimes they prefer. The huge inundations cause the rivers to rise, spewing out thousands of trees and branches, water plants and of course garbage into the ocean, which has turned a dirty green-brown in color for miles out and lost its sparkle. All the detrius has to be avoided at sea until it washes up on the beaches, net fishing is limited because of the likelihood of entanglement. It may be grim and overcast all day but the locals say “Isn´t the weather nice?” and I have to agree because it is at least bearably rather than unbearably hot as it was last week. There is usually plenty of wind in the afternoon, punctuated by calms which end when ghastly screaming black squalls come racing along, blotting everything out, hammering the ocean smooth with raindrops despite the awful wind, then moving on leaving everything in a state of cleaned disturbance. So far none of these squalls have hit me at sea; I am sure it will happen but I can see them coming from a long way off which gives me plenty of time to drop the sail and tie it down before I am struck, so I am not too worried.

My dream was to sail warmly under sunny skies but that may have to be modified a bit. I expect to be wet all day and much of the night too because the little shelter I built, a kind of tent which I can set up on the platform, really was the product of many compromises and rather sucks. I am sure that at least I shall get some amusing video of my sufferings.

I am annoyed that I listened to the foul weather warnings, did not set sail on Sunday and have lost yet another five days, but I haven´t exactly been lounging around. I took advantage of the extra time to rebuild the hatches all three of which leaked and lacked durability, and to cut more scuppers to help drain the decks after plunging through waves. These tasks are important now because I must travel with far more stuff aboard than I would like, and the boat will be low in the water so I figure any advance in its ability to go through the waves rather than over them without filling up is a good thing.

Raimundo the old fisherman has given me a series of rather dire warnings about the horrors of the sea to the south. It is frankly a bit unnerving but I steel myself and try to keep in mind that he is a famous worrier and has predicted imminent catastrophic weather every single time I have asked him for the last six months.

Now I am ready to go again; all packed up, the house clean, and the car ready to be jacked up in a friend’s garden hopefully high enough not to be flooded in the next cyclone. I find myself more upset to go than I thought I would be, but I shall attempt to leave at about 11am. tomorrow, aiming for the great lagoon at Alvarado about 30km south as an easy target for the first day and a safe anchorage for the night. So if by clicking on the link below you see my marker near Alvarado, you will know I have started.

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=02OMbJyQzLrxlajbnC79YlbiTI0uDqtG3

A Wordy Report on My Version of Gary Dierking´s T2 Pacific Flying Proa.

I write this for the interest of proa enthusiasts, because I promised to. Feel free to reproduce it as you wish.  I intend to update it as I gain experience, so check back. I may be talking crap at times. [Later – I have now made so many amendments to the original which was written before I set out along the coast of Mexico you will have to forgive me if it is all a bit of a mess. I will tidy it up sometime.]

[Even later, August 2012. I have been living aboard Desesperado for 14 months and have made it from Veracruz Mexico to Bocas del Toro Panama. It has been interesting and of course I have learned some more things about my vessel which I will add in square brackets, though I already did this way back somewhere so there are a lot of square brackets around.]

For anyone interested and new to this peculiar watercraft here are a few terms specific to proas:

Waka: the main, big hull.

Ama: The outrigger float.

Iakos: The cross-members between waka and ama.

Waes: small lateral members across the waka beneath the iakos, for lashing down the iakos to.

Oceanic lateen: A triangular sail with spar down its two leading edges whose tack (leading corner) is moved from one end of the boat to another during shunts.

Gibbons-Dierking: A sail reminiscent of a windsurfing sail. The middle of its leading-edge spar is fixed to the masthead and the whole sail is rotated overhead from end to end of the boat.

Shunting: Sailboats beat upwind in a zig-zag. Proas do this too but as the wind must always come in from the ama side (if it came from the other side the pressure on the sail would force the ama under water) they do so by shunting ; bow becomes stern and vice-versa.

Backwinding: The undesireable condition whereby the wind is coming from the waka side.

Boat Stats: apologies for mixed units.

Main hull: 6.95m, +/-22feet.

Beam: 3.12m.

Ama: length 4.54m, cylindrical except at the ends, diameter 21cm.

Mast: 15´6″

Sail plan: Oceanic lateen (5 sails), Gibbons-Dierking, (2 sails).

Displacement: 200 kilos?

Yard: 7.9m

Boom: 7m.

Construction time: forever.

Top speed so far: 12.5 knots. Even faster whilst surfing.

Closest angle to the wind: 45 degrees . A touch better in a stiff breeze.

This was my first serious effort at building a boat. I wanted an odd vessel, something interesting, fast enough to get me out of trouble quickly and light enough to pull up on beaches singlehanded. I have an unrealistic plan to sail down the Gulf Coast of Mexico in the thing but reserve the right to chicken out. The boat is a real Pacific flying proa – it shunts, but it is not a real T2 a la Gary Dierking, being longer and wider and rather heavier.

Main Hull. Cedar strip/glass composite, oak gunwhales topped with yellow pine, 1/4″ ply deck glassed on top. Hull subdivided into three watertight sections with the tops of 5-gallon buckets set in for hatches. [These hatches have been a consistant pain in the arse, always leaking. The deck is frquently awash especially when beating to windward] Urethane foam is poured along the keel line to a depth of 10 cm which renders the boat unsinkable without filling all the cargo space and may help contain leaks if I hole the hull down low. [I cut a groove along the middle of this foam, a sort of mini bilge so the leaked-in water has somewhere to go]. Mr. Dierking’s plan is for a hull 17′ 9″ I think; I stretched that out by adding 4 more centre sections rather than increasing the distance between sections. I can’t remember what my rationale was for doing it this way but it worked out well enough and looks fine. Increasing the distance between sections may lead to more error… Be extremely careful when marking out those curves from the offsets for the sections (have at least two people help you so that five hands may hold the curve in place and the other can draw the line) or you will certainly pay for it when it comes time for the brutal fairing of the hull with a sanding board. Tiny errors cause you to have to wear away large areas. It took me ten days and I lost a lot of weight, no kidding. To increase displacement I upped the width by 30%, simply by multiplying the offsets by 1.3. The hull still seems ridiculously thin and bladelike, I wish I had gone 40% or even more. But then I would pay for that with speed. Take note of what Gary says “The T2 is a sport canoe for one or two people”. He means it, The T2 cannot carry more than this. Put weight on the hull, it will sink and plough under. Put weight out on a trampoline or platform, down goes the ama. If you want to carry people or cargo this boat will NOT work for you. Something else Gary says, something like “The absence of leeboards gives one great confidence when sailing in shallow water”. I don’t agree… my (version of the) T2 draws a lot of water, a good 15″ at minimum, so if you want confidence in shallow water a flat- bottomed craft drawing only 3″ (leeboards up) or so would be much better. [I have hit coral many times on my trip which I would have missed with a shallower draft] Add to this the very large wetted surface area of the T2 and you have a hull which may look cool and save one the trouble of leeboards but has some practical drawbacks. [In hindsight I would not change a thing. Desesperado is so fast and so outrageously cool and offbeat that whatever it lacks in displacement it more than makes up for in the attention it receives].

When I started this project I wanted cool and unusual, but I could have gotten that by building an Ulua and actually carried a load with confidence, probably faster too. I do not need a great deal of comfort and wish to use my body weight to advantage to keep the boat upright so it has always been my plan to work the boat from a position on a platform or trampoline to windward, over the water. Hence I did not need a deep well for my legs. However despite this plan I still put the deck too low, about a foot below the gunwhales, and found that it flooded hugely when struck by a wave, and until the scuppers drained it out I’d wallow along carrying a bathtub of water up front. If it was really bad out it would never drain (I could not bring myself to make really enormous holes in my lovely faired sides), just flood and flood again. So I raised the deck, and filled below with plastic bottles and foam for good measure, which added too much weight and robbed me of my cargo space, so I then rebuilt the deck a third time, now with only a little foam below, and three bucket tops for hatches which work well except that sometimes a line will catch under the edge of a lid and rip it off [They leak aq lot] My boat is longer, wider and heavier than Mr. Dierkings’s design and with that sharp keel an absolute bitch to move around on the beach. The keel digs in; in order to slide the boat along I have to put a series of sticks under it. Once I left it in shallow surf bumping on the sa.nd a bit and that completely wore through the two layers of glass on the keel line… now I have four or five layers of mat along there which is ugly but it slides well on the sticks and I do not leave the boat in the surf more than I must.

The lines of the waka look and feel just perfect, not that I am any kind of expert. It slips through the water at speed with no noise and practically no wake,  both of which seem like good signs to me. When the boat heels and the ama comes out of the water it does not strongly point upwind as does my regular crummy old sailing dinghy, so I can go straight on flying the ama. With the sail down it paddles straight.

Waes: Holm oak, one under each iako, they enable me to get the lashings tighter by creating an area around which one can loop more string in order to “squeeze” the lashings and get them very tight. This is how you want them, so nothing moves at all, if things are moving about they are wearing, you don’t want that, so in this case all that stuff about lashings being better because they allow flexing is just useless. Lashings work but they take forever to set up and if I could have thought of an easier way that didn’t add much weight I’d have done it and screw tradition. If you have to set your boat up from scratch each time you sail you will get sick of lashings. Double your lashings (two independent ones at each saddle), so if one comes loose at sea you will not have a most unpleasant disaster. That means 8 separate lashings just to get the iakos fixed onto the waka.

 The saddles for the crossbeams: You really don’t want anything going wrong with these at sea so make them tough and well fixed in place. Mine are some kind of hard and resinous heart pine, glued, screwed and glassed down. Four for the crossbeams, four more for the two top rudder brackets. Make sure the locator blocks under the Iakos are similarly reliable. I figure it will spread the load between the four crossbeam saddles if the iakos are rigidly “diagonalised” to each other with braces or wires or held parallel by a platform rather than a trampoline. I went for the platform.

[I have since rebuilt these saddles, feeling they were not long or strong enough. The new ones are laminated with the laminations vertical].

The Platform: two sheets of 3mm ply about 2m x 1m, enough to sleep on, separated by 1″ foam and a framework of 1″ battens around the edge and over the Iakos, the whole thing is glassed on both sides. To my shame I used Heavy Duty Liquid Nails to glue the ply to the foam but I don’t think it ever dried in there, the ply being sealed airtight with epoxy. The platform is strong enough but I would not dance upon it and it was a pain to build and heavier than I’d have liked. It is screwed down to the iakos and does a good job of squaring them to each other as planned. I think a simple sheet of 1/2″ marine ply with support beams underneath would have worked just as well and not been any heavier.

I find I do need some comfort so I have built a lightweight folding chair to sit on the platform which makes a huge difference to my sailing experience. It is about 6 inches high and has a woven seat so one’s posterior does not stay wet for long. I worried that it would slide around on deck but this does not happen. It is especially stable since I wrapped a little inner tube around it’s feet. [This chair is a godsend on long trips]

The ama: Like everyone else I wish I had built this a little more buoyant. Two fatties on the platform will sink it completely, and it submerges a lot anyway. It is also a bit noisy; with its fully round cross-section constantly leaving the water and returning, it slaps a lot. I’d say that 90% of the noise aboard comes from the ama, but only 10% of the spray. I guess a v-shaped bottom might fix some of the noise. The ama is foam-filled. I can’t help thinking that the Hawaiians have it right with their amas swept upwards at the ends which must surely help prevent them from plunging under. I am tempted to experiment with “dolphin wings” but life is too short. So far it has always returned to the surface and not pitchpoled me.

Some people have suggested using a hollow ama that can be filled with water to help keep the vessel upright, but it seems to me one would then need much stronger and heavier iakos and you might as well just go ahead and build a catamaran. And if one does capsize, draining out that water might really be a pain – I find I need to act quickly after a capsize and would not have time for this.

[Later, maybe 700 sea miles into my voyage: At first I wished I had made a bigger, more buoyant ama but now I don’t think so.  This one has proven more than adequate, and a larger one would not look right.]

I have taken to carrying at least two bags full of ropes, water and so on as well as the anchor upon the trampoline which is strung between paltform and ama in order to prevent capsize, which means I can sheet the sail in more and go faster. The bags are tethered so that I don’t lose them if I turn over, though it is important that I be able to quickly move the bags somewhere else once upside-down or I will be unable to right the boat. So far on this voyage I have not capsized once despite rarely using anything but my largest sail.

I am not so sure about the Hawaiin curved ama idea. I think this is good if you have to run big surf, but as Gary Dierking says it would interfere with the wave-piercing quality of the ama. My ama pierces a lot of waves and it’s ability to do so means it has less resistance and the boat goes faster and probably with less stress on the iakos. Before I run surf I pile my trampoline bags rearwards as far as I can.] [I have now run a great deal of surf up to about two meters in height. It goes well in either direction as long as there is sufficient wind to propel me perpendicular to the waves. I have never pitchpoled.]

Iako-to-ama connection. Well this took a lot of thought. I don’t like any of Gary’s methods except maybe the hole-in-plank idea. The lots-of-sticks techniques just look too rigid for something that is flexing all over the place. Originally I wanted a method something like the suspension of a car, with the ama securely attached but able to move independantly of the iakos to relieve stress, but everything I could think of violated the KISS principle. So I settled on The Holy Cross of Jesus Method, This is the actual method that Jesus used on his own outrigger sailing canoes. It seems to work very well. I can’t really explain it – as you can see in the picture below two bits of hickory under the end of and in line with the iako bear upon two surfaces at right angles, part of and in line with the ama, with the result that the ama can move a bit to the left and right, and can relieve the stress twisting the iakos. I keep adding rubber lashings until there is movement only very occasionally, when hit by a wave from the side or in the other direction, when the ama is severely angled pointing skyward or downward and the waka is not. I hope that makes sense. My obsession with relieving stress at the connection stems from my lack of confidence about the way I fixed the two upright planks into the ama – it is strong as hell but if something does give there, or the ama snaps in half, the whole boat crashes and burns and this could happen miles out to sea. I guess I like to worry. I wanted this iako-to-ama connection up out of the water because I thought it would throw up a lot of spray, however if I did it again I would go with Mr. Dierking’s “direct connection” where the iakos connect directly to the ama, and put up with the spray which is a small price to pay for the simplicity and reliability of the method. A slightly larger ama would not submerge often enough to make spray from the connections on its top an issue. [Now I believe I got this connection right. It has given no trouble at all and throws up no spray. I now use string to lash it and not the rubber strips becaus the rubber would stretch after a while and I´d have to tighten it up every few days.]

                              

[I have since screwed stainless fender washers to the bearing surfaces because they were wearing just a little bit.]

The Iakos: awfully critical these, your two hulls are supposed to remain connected and any deviation from that ideal represents the prospect of a good deal of unpleasantness. Make them well, or worry will gnaw at you. Whilst flexibility is a good thing, if they are too flexible your whole ship will boing around horribly when it hits a wave. My first iakos were simply straight pieces of hardwood (pulakiro(?), something imported here to Mexico) . I could put the ends of these up on blocks and jump on the middle without hurting them, but they would bend so much in use that the mast top, stayed to the ama, would move left and right during even mild poundings, in turn causing the tack of the sail to bounce wildly up and down, bashing off all the varnish at the bow and being generally stressful to live with. So I made laminated hickory I-section iakos, which were very rigid indeed but did not survive the jump test – hickory glues poorly.  Finally I made solid laminated iakos of Alaska yellow cedar and baby, I’m home, for they are virtually indestructible, attractive, rigid to the right extent, and pleasingly lightweight. [3000 miles later – zero trouble with these]

[

Mast: Bamboo, glassed, with cleats epoxied and lashed on with epoxied cotton string, so far entirely reliable. There’s a bottom plug of wood and the masthead is a foot or so of pine with relieved holes for the attachment of stays and halyard block. [3000 miles later – zero mast trouble. It is remarkably strong. Attractive too.]

Mast length is important. Originally I made a mast that was too long, deliberately, and I tied the halyard block on a foot or two below the top. But the yard would somehow hook itself around the protruding masthead during shunts, damaging the sail and being a pain. I have many sails (because I wish to go fast in light winds and not be destroyed by high winds) and each needs to be hung at the right angle to acheive good sail balance, but one mast length does not work for all sail sizes. I made a track for the base to slide back and forth in

Mast base track. Mast length has been extended with a new foot.

but the thing just didn´t feel reliable and added a whole new level of difficulty to the shunting process, so I went back to the old one-position half-coconut and a mast length that is a bit too short for my largest sail and a bit too long for my smallest.

The thing is, in addition to needing the sail to hang at the correct angle to balance the steering (not too far forward, not too far back), one also needs easy shunts. If the distance between halyard block and tack is shorter than the distance between halyard block and rubrail, the tack will come above the rubrail during a shunt and really get in your face. This limits the leeway that you have in where you attach your halyard to the yard. I could go on and on about this but the basic message is beware the geometries of the proa, don’t allow your masthead to protrude much beyond the halyard block, and make sure the end of your yard is not going to come above the rubrail mid-shunt.

Also, I’d be wary of attching the mast base too securely to wherever it is supposed to be. I have had many dismastings and I figure it is better for the mast to break free completely than to be levering around destroying things (maybe you).

I am in love with my carbon-fiber yard and boom, made from old windsurfer masts. For a future effort I would use one of these for my mast as well. They are very light and hard to break. [One snapped in a surf accident off Honduras. And the hickory rods that joined them together swelled and jammed preventing disassembly and had to be drilled out and replaced with aluminum tubes]

[Later:  I have found that I very rarely use anything but my huge sail. When I do use a smaller sail all I have to do to increase the weather helm is to let out the halyard some, so the yard is not snugged up neatly next to the mast, but it works just fine all the same.]

Mast Base Cup: A glassed half-coconut, very effective in its duty. I drilled a hole in its bottom to let out water and save the mast base from continuous soaking. I put a layer of inner tube or an old flip-flop in it to stop the mast grinding away in there. The mast itself is tied down but somehow always comes out in a capsize… actually that is not a bad thing, I think it saves breakage. [The coconut has been damaged a couple of times when I have capsized. It needs shallower-sloped sides so the mast base can slip out easier without destroying it.]

[ Later: I made the mast longer for my big sail [ because of the shape of the piece of extending wood I had to work with I wound up with a much sharper mast foot (shown three photos up). This does not grind around or make noises as did the old blunt one below, so is much better. ]

 Rubrail: This runs along the lee side and helps the tack of the sail slide along without catching on the protruding ends of the iakos during shunts. It is made of two fiberglass windsurfing masts joined butt to butt with a rod of hickory, and doubles as a spare spar for emergencies. It also protects the gunwhales from rubbing against docks. However the  rod of hickory swelled up and burst the glass, and was very hard to remove.

Hatches: These are the tops of 5-gallon buckets and are a real boon for storing gear below; however even the best polyurethane sealant has failed to adhere them to the deck, a bunch of little screws have not helped much either. I do not know what to suggest. [Later: This worked: I thickened the deck around the bucket tops with a ring of ply then, after putting a spare lid seal under the flange around the bucket top pushed it down hard against the deck and drove a bunch of screws horizontally through thew inside of the bucket top into this thickened area.

I now have pretty good hatches that cannot be ripped out of the deck.]

Relieved holes instead of blocks for the tackline: I am very pleased with how this worked out. The first time around I ran the tackline through a pulley tied to the raised plywood edge at the bows as Mr. Dierking suggests. But as I mentioned the yard tends to bounce up and down in a very stressful manner, really mangling the lee bows and chafing away at the ends of the tackline and spars. This is just horrible to sail with and totally unacceptable. What was needed was a means to pull the end of the yard tightly to the bow so that it could not move about, and I could see no way to do that with a pulley. So I sawed off the ends of my boat and screwed and glued on lumps of zapote, local fruit tree wood, very hard and polishable, through which I bored 3/4″ holes relieved for the passage of ropes. The tackline goes through these holes and has an eye splice in each end, both slipped over the lower end of the yard and bound on with a length or lengths of inner tube strip, long enough that a big lump of rubber is formed around the eye splices and the end of the yard. Pulling the tackline through the hole and cleating it to the deck snugs this lump of rubber neatly up to the bow where it can’t move and does no damage at all. It functions most excellently. The relieved hole is not seriously harder than a block to pull a rope through, perhaps the only problem is that the tackline is often sandy and it quickly wears away at the inside of the hole, so I have to keep rebuilding this place with epoxy and sanding dust. If I had allowed for larger holes in the first place I guess I would have space to insert a piece of plastic tube or something to prevent this wear.

Snug baby, snug. [Boom jaws that worked, unlike these ones, were made later]

Yard and Boom

These are made of four carbon fiber windsurfing masts, joined in pairs at their fat ends with rods of hickory then cut to length and the ends finished with inset knobs of wood, with holes drilled in these to tie the corners of the sails out to. The sections are filled with foam to prevent sinkage and the carbon is painted to protect it from the sun. A string runs from one end to the other and back to make sure the sections don’t pop apart in use. I made jaws at the tack end of the boom to locate it neatly onto the yard but found they kept snagging any line that was in the area and hanging up on the rubrail during shunts so I sawed them off. Then I made lower profile jaws but they did the same thing so I sawed them off too. It seems ok to simply have a hole at the end of the boom and tie it onto the yard… it always slips to either side but it just doesn’t matter [Later: Well yes it does matter. That damned protruding boom end hangs up over the rubrail and I have taken to standing for my shunts so I can leap forward and kick the tack off the rail. I will probably try to make more jaws when I can get a chance, low-profile jobs with curved edges that don’t snag on the rubrail so easily] [This I did. New jaws are made from flattened polyethelene pipe]. These spars are wonderful, very stiff and light and so far unbroken despite four grisly accidents in the surf. Previously I used glassed bamboos which weren’t too bad, but they are hard to fix when they break and I wouldn’t go back. You must protect all hollow spars from crushing where ropes are tied to them, that is where all my early failures with bamboo occurred. I use slit PVC pipe with a lining of inner-tube rubber for this purpose. If you use wooden rods to join masts together don’t forget to make them loose-fitting and well-sealed or they will get wet and swell and you’ll never get your spars apart in a month of Sundays. Mine are now permenantly swelled together and I worry that rot will take its toll. The swelling has actually burst the fiberglass rubrail.

 Bungee backstays: I’m using 5/8″ shock cord for these which is not really powerful enough to verticalize the mast during a shunt, I must give the mast a push as I pull the tackline but this is not a hassle. [Stand up to shunt!]. So for me the bungees do not serve much purpose except to keep the unused stay taut and tidy.

Bungee windward mast prop: This is a clever thing of Mr. Dierking’s that seems to elicit more comment from passersby than any other part of the boat. They never notice the asymmetric hull or the beautiful stitching around the sail grommets or the presence of two rudders, oh no, it’s always that bungee mast prop which grabs their attention. It has functioned perfectly in every backwinding incident. Mine uses lexan (polycarbonate) for the sliders at the ends and a plaited inner-tube rubber bungee. I’d use shock cord but I can’t find it here in Mexico, mind you this home-made one has lasted three months which isn’t bad. I have never found a really tidy way to connect either end of the stick to mast or longitudinal beam between iakos so I just tie them on with rope and that works ok, kinda. [ Panama. In about 12 capsizes I have snapped this bungee stick 3 times, though twice that may have been due to the terrible quality wood from which I made replacements. One gets what one can down here. I now use pieces of flattened polyethelene tube instead of lexan for sliders, this is very tough stuff and exceedingly reliable. I use the same stuff for boom jaws.]

Mast bungee stick.

Brailing lines: I find these quite useless. They are supposed to allow one to depower the sail in a blow and they do that by raising the boom up near the yard. But that stops one from pulling in the mainsheet so the sail cannot be hauled flat and if you want to beat upwind good luck to you. The lines do help with lowering the sail, they keep it under control as it comes down the mast, but that is not a problem anyway (just point the bow into the wind, release the halyard and the whole sail just drops into an outstretched arm), or if the boat is parked on water or the beach you can sort of stow the sail at the top of the mast, but I find these advantages outweighed by the messiness of the things and that they are two more lines that need sorting out after a capsize, plus they keep jamming up on me, so I don’t even rig them any more. Boo to brailing lines.

The Rudders: I tried steering oars and found them simple and reliable but unworkable. Not because they didn’t work, they did, but because they were so damned uncomfortable. They twist in the hand because the lower part of the blade is submerged deeper than the upper, but worse is the way that the handle is inevitably up in the air, and you can rest no weight on it at all without the blade swinging up out of the water. Watch the Bororo guy http://pages.destination.ca/mikee/bororo/sailing if you don’t believe me, he has to crouch like that all the time. Fine for a few minutes, then a real pain. My dream is to steer with one foot whilst playing the fiddle and drinking gin and tonics, and steering oars are incompatible with that ideal. It has been suggested to me that I use simple weight-shift for steering, but I don’t buy this for many reasons:

1) The boat does respond to weight shift but it is 22′ long so not much and not quickly.

2) I do not want to have to be fixed to the same spot on the boat, I like and need to move around to some extent. You can do this a fair bit with a hiking stick.

3) Sailing a proa is just like sailing a dinghy in this respect: if you are going as fast as you can (why else would you build a proa?) you are near capsize much of the time, and if that starts to happen you push on the tiller, the boat points up instantly, the boat stabilizes and the danger is past. How are you going to do that with butt-steering? And can one really fly the ama with weight shift?

4) The weight shift idea only works on upwind courses. Steering load is quite heavy running, and reaching is somewhere in between. So far I have found the boat’s courses to be unstable when running or reaching no matter how well the sail is balanced, weight shift will only work for a minute or two before I start to veer off one way or the other to an extent that can’t be corrected with my weight.

5) Weight shift is slow to respond. Try steering through a crowded anchorage or a race or a reef with it. No thanks.

6) My passengers are rarely as agile as myself and are always in the way. It would be a serious pain to keep asking them to move. Oh they move, eventually, too little and too late. Drives me nuts.

So it’s real steering for me. The first mildly successful rudder I made was a delight to use but awful to deploy and stow. Then it broke.

The early days of my long rudder saga.

Here is the Mark IV or thereabouts:

Half-down position for returning through surf.

Normal use position.

The challenge was to design a rudder that:

1) Steers the boat, duh. And easily.

2) Is quick to deploy and stow with one hand.

3) Stays where you leave it, ie, when stowed it stays stowed and does not make a problem of itself. Likewise when deployed.

4) Can take a full-speed blow from underwater obstacles without serious damage.

5) Does not weigh too much.

6) Can work in shallow water when required.

7) Has no castings or other complex parts which can’t be obtained or made in Mexico if you happen to be in Mexico which I do.

8) Can take the weight of a hand or foot resting comfortably on the tiller.

These rudders satisfy all the above conditions except that they are heavier than I would like. They are entirely effective and reliable, and deploy or stow in about 1 second. They have multiple safety features: -The lower mounting bracket is in two pieces. I don’t want an accident ripping a hole in the hull so the part of the bracket upon which the rudder swings is pinned to the part which is glassed into the hull with two dowels, and then lashed with rubber. The dowels break on a severe impact allowing the whole stock to move, since the upper mounting bracket is lashed in a little slackly it can twist. Even when the dowels have snapped the rudder remains useable (though a bit wobbly) because the rubber still holds the two parts of the lower bracket together. -The tiller is connected to the top of the blade where it pivots by two pieces of rubberized canvas belting. This stuff will bend outwards if the rudder hits something, allowing the blade to swing up a little. -Another dowel through the tiller can break on a more serious impact allowing the blade to swing completely up. This has happened. I can steer with one finger. To deploy I lift the handle and push, to stow I lift the handle and pull. The weight of the handle locks the blade down or up. In the up position I only have to move the tiller so that the blade lies close against the bow and it stays right there no matter what the weather, wave after wave hits it and it never moves, so no tying down is needed. [oops untrue. I lubed the brackets with surf wax and now the rudders do move a bit when stowed. Mostly they needn’t be tied but if the weather gets bad I now pop a loop of rubber strip over the end of the tiller, under light tension out to a corner of the platform.] Some drawbacks though: -They stow with the blade forwards, I just couldn’t get around that. Somehow if the bow really plunges the wave or spray channels up between the stock and the hull and spurts in a jet, you guessed it, directly at me. If the blade folded up rearwards as did one of my earlier masterpieces that would take weight away from the bow and be neater, and the spray would miss me more often. -The lower brackets also kick up spray during plunges. -The rubberized canvas belting between the tiller and the top of the blade stretches slowly, leading to a looseness which is not serious, but annoying. I am experimenting with 1/4″ thick black plastic cut from big (polyethylene?) pipe which seems superior. [Later: Yes it is superior, very good] -They work ok in the half-down position, but too little of the tiller is sandwiched between the cheeks of the stock so too much torque on the tiller is likely to force them apart and I must be careful. It is not worth the trouble of correcting. Usually I run shallow water with the blade fully down but the tiller raised a couple of inches so when I hit bottom not even a dowel gets hurt. [Panama – still no trouble with the rudders!]

I visited Kevin O´Neill recently and he blew me away with his rudders which rotate 180 degrees when not in use and trail along tame as kittens. Definitely a better approach.

Hiking Stick Stow-System 3000 automatically returns the hiking sticks to a tidy position when not in use. The black string is a piece of rubber, now upgraded to shock cord. The police like to keep an eye on me.

The Sails: I have five Oceanic lateens and two Gibbons-Dierkings. This many because I keep screwing it up.

Mistakes made: The two largest OLs I made by the “bias parallel to the leech” method. This was a ghastly error, as both developed extreme baggy, floppy leeches and I have had to butcher them both to tighten them up, it is all a big mess. I would not lightly deviate from Mr. Dierking’s plans again. You could lay your spars down on the fabric and cut a simple, straight-sided triangle, but there would be no tension at the leech, so it is usual to pre-bend the spars a bit (you have to have some flat space with some points to tie off ropes to, or arrange a brace under compression between halyard attachment point on the yard and mainsheet attachment point on the boom, then tie a line between the leech ends of both to curve them in. I made two mistakes here 1) I didn’t really know where the halyard and sheet attachment points would be so I guessed wrong and this meant that my spars in use bent a little differently than planned, tensioning the sail poorly. Now I know that in my case halyard attachment varies from sail to sail from between 1/2 and 2/3 the yard length out from the tack, and mainsheet around 3/4 the boom length out from the tack. 2) I pre-bent my spars too much, so much that it would take enormous tension on the mainsheet to flattten my sails resulting in poor windward performance and ignominious race defeats. As a rule of thumb I would say apply no more pre-tension than you can exert with one hand. Mistake: I laid the spars on the fabric, cut out the shape and then added the sleeves which added about 6 inches more area along the whole length of the spars. This was just plain dumb. 6 inches does not make as much difference out at the leech end as it does near the tack, so of course, more distortion, the sail bagging more up at the tack end. Also, because these sleeves had to be sewn to a slightly curved edge I cut them on the bias so they could bend a bit, but they stretch quite a lot and look messy, especially at their ends. Another big mistake I made was going overboard on quality. 9-layer reinforcement, beautiful hemming, bias-cut sleeves, on one sail 63 hand-stitched grommets… it wasn’t necessary, especially on experimental sails. Don’t make grommetted sails that must be laced on, it takes ages both to make and rig. [Later. Now I am not so sure. To remove or hang mount a sleeved sail to a spar is easy on the beach where you can get off the boat and pull the sai lfrom the sand, but might be a nightmare at sea. A laced sail could be removed or mounted methodically from on deck.] Now I simply lay my pre-bent spars down on the fabric, cut about 8″ around them, then fold the edge over the spars for a sleeve, cutting slits every five or six feet to help with the curve, pin or tape the edge down then pull out the spars and go to the sewing machine. I reinforce the corners with about four more layers and put one hand-stitched grommet in each. Remember, the sail does not have to be pulled really tight from the corners, and the sleeves are long and at no point under much strain so you really don’t have to reinforce the ends of the sleeves or those slits I mentioned. (The oceanic lateen is a low-stress sail. The Gibbons-Dierking needs more care) Don’t cut any spaces in the sleeves for the halyard and mainsheet until you are actually rigging it to the boat. And don’t get carried away making every stitch beautiful – once that sail is rigged nobody, not even you, will look at it close up. All will stand back and look at the whole picture and and say “That looks bitchin’!” I can now make such a sail, a 150 square-footer, in a day. It used to take a week. It looks great. None of my sails are reefable. I think a line of grommet holes from the tack to the leech might be a good idea, but remember that the half-a-sail remaining in use after tying the reefs will be the top half (even if you reefed up to the yard, because the yard is hauled to the mast-top by the halyard, and you can’t lower it unless you have a lower attachment point for the halyard block, but this will necessitate another windward stay and will cause shunting difficulties to say the least), the part the does most to turn you over. I made a long skinny sail (No. 5 below) and it turned me over on the beach even though it was in line with the wind not across it.

No. 1. Heavy-duty polytarp, 160 square feet ( a guess). The most recent one I have made and by far the best shape, it moves me easily at 45 degrees to the wind but has the problem that it is a bit too big for the mast and I have too much weather helm; ie. I can’t get the sail much further forward without leaning the mast more than feels safe. I would rather have company when sailing with this one because it wants to flip me. I will not be taking it out in winds over 10 knots.

Later- Oh yes I will! It moves me at thrilling speed and it is just irresistable to try to go faster!

[Much later: This sail has propelled me mostly close-hauled for at least 700 miles and is so much better than any of the others it is all I ever use except if there is a really strong blow going on before I launch from land, where it is easy to change to something smaller. When it gets really bad out I can’t make much forward progress because the sail threatens to capsize me if I sheet in, and if I load down the ama with gear then the strain on the rigging becomes frightening. Then I wish I could change sail or reef but the sea is too wild to have much hope of an easy sail change. I now feel that the best solution to all this is simply to have one big sail with a line of reef points straight from tack to middle of leech. I intend to make one or adapt the sail above. This means that much of what I have written below about sails can be skipped.

Also, I have found that in strong blows no way can I go at 45 degrees to the wind. I am beaten back by waves and horrible leeway.]

No. 2. Dacron, about 130 sqare feet.

This sail is powerful yet I can manage it alone even in a bit of a blow if take care. It has moved me at almost 12 knots in very lumpy water; I am quite sure I would go faster in the same wind on flat water. Now that it has been re-cut to get a flatter shape it pulls me at just a bit more than 45 degrees to the wind.

No. 3. Cotton canvas, about 120 sq. feet. Less powerful, more manageable. 45 degrees to the wind, actual course-over-the-ground by GPS. [Not in a strong blow].

No. 4. Cotton canvas. 65 sq.feet.

This one is so small that I tried exchanging yard for boom so that I can rig it weirdly but it enables me to maintain weather helm with a short sail. It is not really satisfactory. It was originally cut for glassed bamboo spars which bend a lot so there was way too much belly when rigged onto my present carbon poles. I need a sail for bad weather but frankly this sucks.

No. 5  Heavy-duty polytarp. 50 square feet.

This was meant as a stormsail but is clearly ridiculous and needs a total rethink. It is too long, too big, and too high. I believe I must cut it down and rig it to shorter spars and a shorter mast, with the tackline running through holes or blocks nearer the center of the boat. I rigged this sail in a gale and it capsized me on the sand faster than I could scream, though I had it aligned with the wind and only loosely sheeted. Frightening. I cut it down to this:

Weeny-baby storm sail.

As you can see the tack is tied off to the end of an iako, not the ends of the boat. I took this rig out in a nasty blow and found it did indeed move me along fast enough to maintain steerage, but no way could I return to my starting point (I could not go upwind or even tread water). I am now finishing a sail which has more than twice the area – imagine the above sail but with the boom lowered down near the deck , the yard remaining as is. I think this will do better.

No. 6. Light-duty poytarp, 130 sq ft?

Very powerful indeed, more so I believe than the big OL sail, it has moved me at 12.5 knots on flat water, but I had nobody else on board as counterbalance and the wind was not severe so I believe that I can go even faster with this sail in the right conditions. I had one run with it of 8 miles at a fairly consistent 9 knots over 2-meter swells which I will never forget, absolutely thrilling, leaping off the crests into the voids beyond; it was more like windsurfing than regular sailing. It does poorly to windward.

No. 7. Cotton canvas. 80 sq. ft.

Less powerful than above, very manageable. Poor to windward. The G-D sails are clearly more powerful than the OLs and are easy to shunt – I have had no difficulties with them in use – but surprisingly mine work poorly to windward, 55 degrees to the wind is as close as I can get. Admittedly I deviated from Mr. Dierking’s designs so I may have screwed up. They look and feel correct for the boat, quite attractive I think. But the main advantage of the GD, even more than its obvious power, is that it clearly lifts the bow up, rather than pushing it down as does the OL. This is important. Somebody said online that the OL is a lifting rig. Bollocks. Especially when running, it clearly pushes the bows down. On the beach with an OL rigged and loose I can lift my bow up no trouble but as soon as I haul in that mainsheet even just a bit I can barely lift the bow at all. Both sails it seem to me have a large, and wasted, vertical component to their force but if one must choose one or the other I’d rather have my bow lifted than sunk. I have tried canting the mast to windward to increase the lifting effect of the OL which I think works a bit, and decreases that intense weather helm when running, but this makes shunting hard in light winds (the sail will not “flip over”) and creates a situation whereby the more the boat heels the more sail area is presented to the wind which is not what you want if you don’t like capsizing. And me no likey capsizing.

The advantages of the OL sail over the G-D, as I see them:

1) The OL is easier to stow in a hurry – just stick out your arm and drop it, and there it is all folded up in your arm. Even at sea you can get the OL down easily enough, if all else fails just drop it in the water then grab the yard and pull it aboard bit by bit. This is harder to do with the G-D because of the battens. Unless you can point right into the wind you have trouble reaching them. After much experience I have come to the conclusion that rapid stowability is an extremely important attribute – there are so many times when getting that thing under control quickly is important eg. when being backwinded, when approaching a dock too fast,  or a tree, during squalls or when the sail is stuck under a drifting boat.

2) It is more traditional and (matter of opinion) elegant in appearance.

3) It seems less likely to have an accident, is more in control when shunting than that crazy flying G-D. Having said that I have not actually had any serious incidents whilst shunting a G-D, but the business of the entire sail flying about 15 feet overhead just seems wrong. I have holed the big G-D 3 times in capsizes, never the OLs, I don’t know why.

4) Both sails create weather helm when let out, the OL considerably less than the G-D in my experience.

5) I get much closer to the wind with my OLs than my GDs. I suspect that this is because I failed to pre-bend the yard enough when laying it out resulting in an insufficiently flat sail but I would like to know about other people’s experiences in this regard.

6) Easy to make, low-stress, reliable.

7) You might be able to reef an OL sail, but that will never happen with a GD.

Advantages of the G-D:

1) More power. I think much more power.

2) Needs a much shorter boom.

3) Lifts the bow. This is a BIG advantage in my opinion.

4) The presence of a boom fixed at right-angles to the yard means the sail cannot fold itself up when running. Hence one does not need to zig-zag downwind.

The G-D sail must be sized right for the boat; if the boom points above the downhaul block then the mainsheet will pull the boom end downwards (incorrect Schott angle?) thus distorting the sail. The top half gets tight, the bottom half gets loose. You have to put the downhaul blocks way out on the ends of the boat. The OL of course must also have proportions compatible with the vessel. I have found no way to rig a small storm OL to my boat such that it is both low down and can be shunted easily, the only solution seems to be to use shorter spars, have new positions for the tack that are not all the way out at the bows (but the rubrail is in the way), reposition the downhaul blocks and arrange a lower halyard block and mast stay. This is a lot of re-rigging to do out at sea with a blow coming on. After all this discussion I still cannot tell you which type of sail to choose, because I cannot choose myself. I suspect the OL is the right choice if reliability is your prime concern. Though the G-D is not unattractive nobody says “Oooh, isn’t the sail pretty” as they do with the OL. Personally I am leaning towards abandoning my GDs because of their poor windward ability (again, I think this is due to my screwups and is not inherent to the sail type).

 The boat in action: I have had my share of mishaps and embarrassments but mostly the boat is a delight. [Later – 1000 km along the Gulf coast of Mexico and NO capsizes, though I have had a few groundings and so on. I must be getting better at this.] [Yet later, from Panama – around 12 capsizes] Surprisingly reliable, controllable, fast and seaworthy. I find it absolutely thrilling at eight or nine knots, especially in a sea with good swells. and it is just so damned cool. It is by far the most amazing thing I have ever made and is one of the most outrageously exotic things I have ever seen. I love it to death and lavish gallons of varnish upon it (now I vastly prefer two-part aliphatic varinish over spar varnish). It self-steers with no attention on upwind courses [Later: Oops I take this back. If the wind is steady it will self-steer when close-hauled, but if the wind direction is constant but varies in strength as is usually the case, the boat will round up when it blows almost to a stall, and fall off in the lulls until it is not going where I want to go. I have not figured out why this happens but the upshot is I get very little respite from steering.], responds to weight shift but not too much, heaves-to beautifully and reliably enabling one to fix things or to take a break or whatever[Later: Uh-oh… in light winds the boat will not heave-to reliably, often rounding up all the way into a backwinding. Very annoying. It helps a lot in light winds to cant the mast out to leeward so the sail hangs naturally out there. If the mast is canted windward or even vertically the weight of the boom causes it to want to swing inwards and thus the sail maintains a little power, enough to power me into a backwinding] . I can lounge on the platform for hours or even fall asleep and it will attend to itself and keep plodding upwind the whole time. [No. That was a freak day]. Recently I installed a trampoline between the platform and the ama… aaahhh…. I can steer from here using the hiking sticks; it is uncomfortable.   few  because the hiking sticks are too short and the camcleats too far away for easy reliable release in a blow. I have had only a few incidents in many trips out, always my own fault. I cannot get closer to the wind than 50 or 55 degrees with some of my sails but that is due to mistakes in sailmaking – I have three sails that achieve 45 degrees; but modern boats so far usually beat me by a good margin on upwind courses, and of course I can never plane. Downwind things can get a bit uncontrollable, lots of weather helm and since the oceanic lateen tends to fold up and fall inboard without a little wind from the side it is best to zig-zag downwind, though not drastically. Returning through surf is scary at times; one fears for the rudder so it is usually half-up and ineffective but even when down a wave can turn me around suddenly and my cool Hawaii-Five-O surf return degenerates into a shambles. Since the wind here is usually 90 degrees to the beach I have to come in at an angle, very tricky, or the sail will fold up on me and crash inboard. Usually I do ok, and even if I screw up and get broadsided I survive, the boat can take some serious impacts without damage though my passengers look terrified.

I tend to fly the ama only a few seconds at a time. I am sailing on the ocean and whenever there is sufficient wind to fly the ama there are also waves, so the ama slaps the tops of these and flies across the troughs. The boat is being thrown about a lot so it is hard to achieve a steady state. If I try to completely clear the wavetops I generally panic before long and let the mainsheet out to prevent capsize. I’m getting better at flying it longer using rudder control and could probably go a good while on a flat lake. [Yes. The secret is to uncleat the mainsheet and hand-control it as well as the rudder, which takes some effort]

My set mast length means I cannot get enough of my largest sail forwards to get rid of excessive weather helm (I have the opposite trouble with the smallest sail), so when I heave-to I come a little too far head-to-wind and a backwinding incident threatens. When I want to take off again I have difficulties pointing off so I can fill the sail – I can’t steer off the wind without a little speed and I can’t get a little speed unless I steer off the wind. The solution is to let the sail go and steer in reverse until I am at a good angle, then sheet in, pull the tiller and go.

I am not a very experienced sailor so I cannot compare my boat to anything but an ancient O’day 15 and the odd Hobie I have sailed on a lake. The proa is a better than either, it is terrific fun to sail and a chick magnet. It is an almost everybody magnet. In anything over a light wind it comes alive and charges along, slicing rather than smashing through waves, drenching me at times when bigger waves impact the windward bows. There is little spray from the ama. The really surprising thing is that it all works, shrugging off everything that the sea can throw at it and that has been considerable – winds over 20 knots and waves that seem to tower over me though if I were less prone to exaggeration I’d say were not over 8 or 9 feet. I have become quite confident about sailing it in bad weather (which will doubtless lead to my downfall). On one trip I battered into a nasty 4-foot chop for 4 hours, tacking directly upwind 15km, worried the whole way that the boat would just collapse under the beating but there were no disasters and at the end of the ordeal a damage inspection revealed… absolutely nothing! I can now sail singlehanded in pretty stiff winds – 15 to 20 knots – carrying my largest sail without much fear of capsize or of anything serious breaking. I cannot go at top speed in these conditions without a passenger as extra counterbalance. The more agile ones go out to windward where they can sit on the longitudinal brace clinging to the stay with their feet riding the torpedo. Nobody has been washed off yet but they do get pretty clean. It helps a lot if they sit as rearwards as possible, this brings the bow up. When I say I can go at top speed in such conditions I really mean it –  I do not have to take it slow just because there are enormous lumps of water charging around, the boat either leaps over them or cuts through as if they weren’t there, well ok it will slow a little but charge onwards. No way could I beat a Hobie in a race [Wrong- I can easily beat Hobie 16s. Never raced an 18]. They have better windward ability, lighter construction, less wetted surface area, and come about quicker. My only advantage might be that I have no tendency to pitchpole so in a strong wind and waves I could “open her up” whilst a Hobie would need to be cautious.

The boat is something of a pain in the ass to paddle unless there is somebody else aboard to steer. Much depends on the wind direction. I can go short distances sitting far in the rear paddling and steering with one foot but it is very uncomfortable. [It´s not swift but I have since paddled a mile or two at a time, steering with the paddle a bit every couple of strokes]. Sitting in the rear like this is most pleasurable: one can see almost the whole boat and if running downwind (when one´s weight is is not required as counterbalance on the platform) the bow is brought up.

I would not be going out in such conditions if this were a cold water zone. The water is warm and constant onshore winds mean that if the boat breaks up I only need to cling to the wreckage for a couple of days at most and I’ll be on the beach. One time the ama came off because I did not use enough rubber lashings but after a good deal of swimming I managed to tie it back on above the iakos and limp to shore. Another time I capsized in strong winds and could not right the boat… I was near shore but if what I had not been, and the water was cold? Though the boat has performed marvelously for three months with no serious damage and hardly even any wear, the truth is I do not trust it. There is something about the business of having two hulls which must remain connected for the boat to work at all that seems innately unreliable as compared to a monohull. This kind of worry would really eat at a person in cold water I think, so I for this reason I would not recommend an amateur-built small proa in cold waters. Mr. Pjoa man in the Baltic, I take my hat off to you. [Panama – well Desesperado has done plenty of flexing but shows not the slightest sign of breaking up even whilst taking a real battering out of control in the surf. I am frankly amazed].

Plunging. The ama spends a good deal of time submerged in rough water or when running with waves following, but the main hull has only plunged deeply once in twenty trips out. The oceanic lateen strongly drives the bow downwards, especially when running. I suppose this happens with all sailboats.  The worst moments are when returning to the beach through surf with the wind and a big wave behind me, then I cannot slow down and the ama goes so far under I fear a pitchpole, but so far it has always come up again. I swept my sheerline up a couple of inches towards the ends because I feared this plunging business (as anyone who has sailed a Hobie does) and because it added more pretty curvature; it does help although if you want to put your crossbeams at an angle other than 90 degrees to the waka or add diagonal braces across the gunwhales you will have complications, as the crossings will be at different heights. No biggie. I am not being clear here. The short story is that especially when running the bow is too low in the water, and I don’t like it. It inhibits my speed and gets me soaked a lot. This is the only point about the boat which I find unsatisfactory; it would sail much better, more confidently, if the bow floated higher. However, when using a Gibbons-Dierking sail which lifts the bow, things are better… for this reason I think Mr. Dierking is really on to something with his new sail. Also it goes like stink.

[ Later, way into my voyage: I have been through some most unpleasant weather and this boat is a star, I am amazed at what is survives, not only survives but advances in. What causes me the most stress is the plunging of the bow. It is not that the waves are so steep-sided that they wash my decks when the bow hits them – the boat will climb most waves and go over, but when the wave reaches the middle of the boat I am lifted high and then the boat cants over the crest and the bow plunges downwards – both ama and waka go straight through the next wave. Water then fills the deck of most of the forward half of the boat. My bucket hatches leak some but actually that is the only problem… the boat then drains off this water as it carries onwards. It takes some getting used to though, this feeling of foundering under frequent swampings. I do not like it. Surprisingly I do not get very wet up on the platform: that only happens if I am going fast and on this voyage I always seem to be close-hauled. The platform is far more comfortable than the trampoline to work on.]

Shunting: ah, shunting. This goes smoothly enough most times, but has to be done quickly, usually 15 or 20 seconds will do it. Any jam-ups midway cause the boat to turn about and one can end up backwinded and red-faced. The major causes of jam-ups:

1) As the stopper knot in the new rear stay approaches its block it tends to catch the tackline and drag it into the block. It can be pulled out with a jerk.

2) If after the previous shunt I fail to pull in the slack of the tackline and secure it so that there is no slack running back to the new stern, it invariably sinks and goes under the keel, so the slack part of the tackline which should be hanging straight along the lee side under the rubrail is now snagged under both ends of the boat and most of it runs underwater along the windward side. This is extremely irritating and causes me to have to heave to and crawl perilously out on the ends to free it. If I cut all the slack out of the tackline I guess that will cure it but I hate cutting my ropes and it will make it harder to rig sails on the beach without undoing the tackline from the end of the spar, and it will not be long enough to use with a G-D sail.

3) Sometimes a line will drop into the narrowing space as an end of the rubrail approaches the hull, and jam. [rare]

4) The protruding end of the boom at the tack hangs up on the rubrail occasionally. I must kick it leeward. [rare]

5) The stays are tied to bungees under the platform, and the knots joining the two can catch on the waes causing the mast to refuse to tilt towards the new bow.  I have to shove it hard without my feet slipping out from under me. [rare]

If I fail to give the mast a shove towards its new position in time the tack will get above the rubrail and fly into the air, heading forwards to windward. Fast pulling on the tackline will bring it under control though the end of the yard may hook itself over the bow. To unhook it I have to give slack to the tackline, heave in the mainsheet and it will fly up again and swing about. If I time my next pull on the tackline right the tack will come down on the leeward side as it should be. If it doesn´t I must crawl up on the bow but this is problematic in that my weight forward causes th boat to round up and backwind itself, so I have to move quickly.

Shunting G-D sails goes very easily, usually, but one must stay aware of the tackline that is not being pulled, the one rising into the air. If you are not watching it and it gets snagged you continue to pull like mad on the other end, overbending and endangering the yard.

Shunting, in short, is generally straightforward enough but will go wrong if one is slow or does not concentrate. Or if there is an “r” in the month. [About 9 out of 10 shunts go fine, most of the rest have only minor complications but sometimes I wind up with the mast down and the sail on the wrong side of the bvoat, a complete shambles.

I only need two camcleats. The forward one grasps the tackline, the rearward one holds the mainsheet; they exchange roles after a shunt. Lack of a double-block downhaul, which would be difficult to arrange on a boat with two mainsheets, is not the problem I thought it might be; if one needs the mainsheet tighter just point a little closer to windward and the strain comes off. Pull it in and bear off again.

The Oceanic lateen, I read somewhere, is very forgiving of sheeting angles. This is true. A foot or so of mainsheet either way seems to make no detectable difference in sail power or airflow. This is a nice thing, reducing the need to concentrate and increasing lounging possibilities.

Backwinding: No discussion about sailing a proa would be complete without mention of backwinding. But there is not much to say. If I release the mainsheet the boat heads up and comes to a stop, and simply sits there treading water in the best possible way, as long as I like. [Later: not so true, this.] This ability of the boat to heave-to reliably without needing attention to stop it coming around and backwinding itself is absolutely invaluable. Often one needs to stop to fix things, mix a gin and tonic, whatever. I have had a few backwinding incidents, some occur when I head too far downwind and the sail flops over, compressing the bungee stick and causing me to express concern verbally. But in those cases I am still moving so I just throw the tiller over and around he comes and then the sail gybes back where it should be with a WHOP! The other cases occur when a line jams halfway through a shunt. Counter-intuitively the boat is not stable with the tack of the sail stuck in the middle or anywhere but out at the ends and immediately starts marching around until the wind is on the wrong side completely (with the sail down the boat will always wind itself up with the ama downwind). I must carry a paddle lashed on somewhere handy if I don’t want to swim the boat around but I have not needed it for a month, because I am getting better at this.

Capsize. Here is where a vein in my temple pulses somewhat. I tried many ways to right the boat, finally settling on carrying a heavy stick which I can hook under a rope tied next to the hull between the two iakos, and lever against the hull just as Mr. Dierking suggests. But mostly the boat will not come fully over unless I first swim under and release the sail entirely, ie. let go both mainsheet and halyard. Usually the mast base has broken loose by then anyway, and it is a big mess to sort out once I am upright. I have only rolled over three times in six weeks of sailing. Never allowing a cleated mainsheet to leave my hand is the key to prevention. [Later: 700 miles or more, no capsizes!]

The capsize recovery stick tied on. It should be tied on below the iakos where it will be more accessable when needed. It is pine sandwiched between strips of hickory, strong and light.

A word about the finish: Much of my boat is glass-over-cedar. The glass is transparent and the effect was originally lovely, but in this merciless sun it is starting to turn whitish despite many coats of spar varnish. Hence in future I will use as much wood trim as I can but avoid large surfaces of varnished glass-over-wood. I have now painted the uppersurfaces of waka, platform and ama a light cream color to mask this and to keep the surface temperature down at a less painful level.

Some things I learned the hard way that might be helpful if you are building a boat: –

-Oh no you didn’t try t build a boat without a belt sander did you? Look, sure, power tools are expensive but you will spend a ridiculous amount of time sanding stuff so any investment in tools to cut that time down will more than pay for itself. You need three sanders- a belty, a random-orbit disc job, and a corner sander like the B&D mouse. I promise you these will pay dividends, Also very saving is a power planer, and of course you need drill, circular saw, jigsaw/scrolling saw. Long straightedge, really big rasp, Japanese pullsaw, small hand plane and the ability to sharpen it to the point where you can shave with it. Lots of nitrile gloves. Loads of paper cups for mixing small amounts of epoxy, plus little brushes, lots, and plastic spoons for filleting. Pipe cleaners for getting epoxy down inside little holes to seal the wood. And a bunch of other things. Far more than you presently think you might need.

– I was always short of epoxy which is almost unobtainable here in Mexico so I did not take pains to seal the woodwork with it (usually one thins the epoxy with acetone for better penetration). I regret this – wherever the varnish gets nicked or worn off the water enters the wood and it stains and ugly grey.

– I am far from an experienced carpenter but I used many woods (cedar, oak, holm oak, hickory, pitch pine, yellow pine, zapote, pulakiro, kumala, bamboo, quina, alaska yellow cedar) and my favorite was the Alaska yellow cedar. I had been trying to find spruce for the iakos, eventually tracked down a lump but when cut it turned out to be this AYC, which I had never heard of. Good clear spruce seems almost impossible to find, when you do find it the price is astronomical because of it’s value in aircraft building I guess. AYC is much cheaper, just as strong and only a bit heavier than spruce. It resembles tight-grained yellow pine, non-resinous (it is not really a cedar, some kind of cypress), and cuts, planes and glues easily. I’d have used it for a lot more of this boat had I discovered it in time and my boat would have wound up lighter, stronger and prettier.

– You cannot have too many clamps.

– A big problem was cutting wide flat strips for laminating into iakos. 1/4″ x 4″ x 10′ is a tall order for most table saws, if you can find one with a blade big enough to cut 4″ deep chances are the kerf wastage will be appalling. After much screwing around trying to turn a 10′ post around and over and running it through twice only to find awful mismatches in the cuts the idea occurred to mount a hand circular saw above and behind the blade of the table saw (achieved in twenty minutes with scrap sticks and clamps) so that a strip could be sliced off in one pass. It worked wonderfully, though I had to tidy up the strips a bit afterwards with a drum sander because table saw and circular saw had different kerfs.

– Holes can be relieved (rounded, bevelled, smoothed at their entrances and exits) for easy passage of ropes and lashings by cutting long thin strips of sandpaper which you pull back and forth through the hole. I had to do this a lot. The red, tough fabric-backed stuff from used sanding belts works very well. This method works well for other roundings as well, like making smooth groove in the end of a stick where you must lash to prevent splitting.

–  I started out with a prejudice against screws, being sold on all that lashing hype, but now I like them. Often they save weight and are not unattractive. Also, things glued on with epoxy do not always stay glued on, particularly with hardwoods I am finding, and a few screws can make a dubious job a secure one.

– Always sand surfaces before gluing, especially hardwoods.

– You need a fast-setting waterproof glue like polyurethane glue in your shop. Epoxy is great but it can take a lot of your time since you must wait so long for it to set.

– Inner tube rubber. Fantastically useful stuff and I find its longevity in sea and sun quite satisfactory. After being stretched for a while it loses some tension, just untie and retie tighter. The stuff cleans sanding belts pretty well too.

– I find that double-sided tape used in sailmaking gums up the sewing-machine needle and stops work completely so use it where you are not going to sew or remove it as you sew. Mostly I use good old-fashioned pins; lay them across the seam not along it, as they cause lumps with more fabric on one side then the other and this will reduce that effect. A domestic sewing machine is just fine for sailmaking.

I am not at all sure that urethane pour foam is as close-celled as advertised. I have cut lumps out of my bilge and found them waterlogged. Extremely important to get this right as you don’t want your boat increasing in weight and losing flotation.

I may find myself needing a job soonish. If anyone out there needs an enthusiastic and inventive builder of peculiar craft, or would like to team up to build a next-generation super-proa about which I have some ideas, I’m your man.

[Later: I make these additions from Celestun, Yucatan, after one hell of a ride from Veracruz. It has been a fabulous adventure. What a country! What a people! And what a boat!]

[Conclusion after a thousand or two sea-miles: This is a wonderful boat which has carried me safely a long way but if there is one thing that really bothers me about it it is this: It cannot carry much weight, and any attempt load even one person besides myself results in a loss of performance and a digging in of the bow which throws up a lot of spray and is generally stressful to live with, especially in strong winds. It does not feel right at all in these conditions. This boat is substantially wider and longer than Mr. Dierking’s design so I cannot  see how his version could expect to do well (he does warn that it is only a sport canoe for one or two. Take this very seriously). If you are going to build a boat you will want to carry people sometime, food, beer, water, camping gear and so on and you will need more capacity than this, so I think a main hull with greater displacement is essential.]

[Yet later, in Panama. I have another bunch of miles behind me, much of it into headwinds and some in pretty bad seas.  The need to reef the sail is the most pressing thing on my mind. In winds over 20 knots the boat becomes inclined to capsize rather than advance against the wind. In Guatemala I made a new sail from a used dacron sail; this one has a line of grommets radiating out from the tack enabling the bottom third to be laced up to the boom, or the top two- thirds to be laced to the yard though I have not tried out the latter.  Taking in a reef by lacing the bottom third of the sail to the boom certainly helps in a blow but at 25 knots of wind this too becomes untenable – the boat wants to capsize rather than advance at more than a couple of knots. I am being unfair, and perhaps the boat should not be miles out on the ocean… but if I am twenty miles out I want to make it to land quicker than ten hours I need to go faster. The problem is that even when reefed the working part of the sail is way up high where it can lever the mast over. I am working on a loose-footed shuntable jib stayed to the rudder bracket that can be hauled up on the crabclaw´s halyard whilst the crabclaw and its yards are lashed down on deck. I feel confident that I can keep the boat upright with this smaller and lower sail but if I at the same time add two more camcleats to the upwind side of the platform I would then be able to hike out onto the trampoline and control the boat from a comfortable position.

Other issues – My bucket lid hatches leak too much, and the plywood deck of the big hull is rotting away. The 500lb working load Harken halyard block  blew out. The mast base coconut is damaged and there is wear on the insides of the eyes at the extreme ends through which the tackline runs and along the keeline. The two Harken camcleats on the platform are worn out from having sandy rope pulled through them.]

Finally, at Last, Hallelujah and Hooray.

     Well I had a bunch of delays but it is all coming together now and I should at last be setting off from Play Zapote, Veracruz, Mexico, heading southwards, on Sunday 3rd July 2011 about 11am, weather permitting. I am horrified by the amount of luggage that must be stuffed into the boat, I feel I shall be horribly overloaded but it all seems so essential, spare sails, clothes, tools, spare parts, food, water, tent, cordage, medical kit, cameras, GPS, satellite tracker, fishgear, flares, knives, mask and fins, anchor & rode… getting rid of any one object could be disasterous.

     I never heard of a boat journey that started on time or fully prepared, but I cannot screw around here for ever. Sadly we are now into rainy season, so whereas before I would have had favorable winds and no storms I must now fight my way directly against winds from the southeast, with frequent squalls and thunderstorms. So I do not expect my progress to be rapid. Also I am making no promises about how far I intend to go and I reserve the right to chicken out at any time. In my favor, at least it is warm here which is no small help to a person who expects to be wet pretty much continually.

    I have a few things aboard which are not essential: some small gifts such as pocket knives to reward kids who guard my boat for me, my fiddle which I can´t play worth a damn but how can I improve if I leave it behind? and the EASY button, which when pressed speaks ¨That was easy¨. I plan to press this at the end of each day, even if it was a hard one. This is as close as I get to positive thinking.

    Also at the end of each day and probably in the middle too, I plan to press the ok button on my satellite tracker, which will show you my location if you click this link:

 http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=02OMbJyQzLrxlajbnC79YlbiTI0uDqtG3

I hope you find this interesting. I daresay I will.