Friday, May 18, 2007

Black Point to Little Farmers Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

13.8 nm
Wind: WSW 10-15 knots, gusting to about 30 in a brief thunderstorm
Seas: Two-foot swell
Latitude: 23°57.25’N
Longitude: 076°19.57’W
Maximum speed: 6.1 knots (under sail)
Average speed: 3.5 knots

Yesterday afternoon, I was interrupted in my writing when a Karl called me to the companionway to look through our binoculars. “Look,” he said. “It’s an open catamaran with a batwing junk sail.” And sure enough, there was a little dude and a dog on a catamaran made from inflatable pontoons coming into the harbor. He had a red Chinese-style sail and a little bimini that covered the deck of his boat where stuff was lashed down. Karl said, “I have to meet this guy.” He’s always saying that if he were alone he’d be in an under-twenty-foot open boat where he’d camp on the beach and eat ramen every night from his trail kit.

So he rowed across the wind and waves in our little dinghy, even though the weather was still fairly awful, and took our camera. He ended up wandering around and hanging out with this guy for a couple of hours, and then inviting him back to the boat. (I spent the afternoon baking a really delicious rosemary boule and cleaning the head, which is a different story.) So he sailed over after the storm blew by--he doesn’t have an engine--and visited our boat. He calls his boat Flubber IV--it’s the fourth version of a lashed-together open catamaran that he’s designed. He’d sailed down the Baja coast in a Hobie 14, and up from Washington to Alaska in a Hobie 16 the following year. He had been a long-distance kayaker and a wind surfer and a kite boarder and he and Karl discussed their extreme-sports fascination--how fast one can get nature and a board to move one--while I fiddled with my bread.

He also told us about discussing an ancient martial art that he tries to follow named sadu. A sadu attempts to live a purely ascetic life, cutting out everything that one cannot hunt or gather oneself. He lived on nothing but a forty-pound bag of organic brown rice and what he could dive for from the ocean. Three days before he had been attacked by a nine-foot shark for the grouper he had speared. Not that we’re that hardcore, but we definitely felt much more kindred to this guy than we have to a lot of the cruisers with more money. We’re doing this on a hair and a shoestring, living at the edge, as we go through the extremely steep learning curve of sailing and cruising and meteorology and all of those other things that we’re being forced to learn quickly. This guy has nothing but a seventeen-foot-long sail, a spear, and a dog. It put our adventure in a different perspective.

It also made me miss the trail life. I wish we could pull our boat up on the beach and have a barbecue. You can interact with locals on a whole different level when each day you’re camping among them. He was a crazy guy, someone who had spent a little too much time in the woods to be able to have completely normal social interactions, but someone that a lot of people could learn a lot from. I know that my ideas about sailing have been changed when I think of it as sadu, as art. His point of view affected our sailing today, even. We raced our friends in the ketch again today, this time for real. We met them in person when they came into our anchorage yesterday, and we agreed over the radio to have an informal race to Farmers Cay. We both got waylaid by a brief but threatening thunderstorm that blew over--they had to run behind it, and we tacked across to the lee of land and anchored in a hurry. They got to the designated anchorage first, but we got to the island first, so we called it a tie.

But both Karl and I were sadu in our sailing today. We close-reached along the islands, and then even committed to beating back out and then running into a safer anchorage. Sailing is really about committing to it, to deciding that the engine is not an option, because 95% of situations can be sailed out of if you commit to them. Even running away from that storm, I felt safer because we were under sail. We reefed fast, faster than we have before, in about ten minutes, and furled the jib into a handkerchief. Because we had been sailing, we were conscious of weather and wind direction instead of being caught by surprise.

So we’re not sailing across oceans in an open boat, and we’re not kayaking thousands of miles, but we’re becoming better sailors by the day. We’re learning to be earth and the wind and the sea.

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