Sisyphus; a character in greek mythology who was doomed to the task of repeatedly rolling a boulder up a hill and watching it roll back down again.
Having spent the night on anchor at our last destination in Los Roques it was time to weigh anchor and head to our next stop along the line, Aves. I like to stay at a place for at least 2 nights because every time we go from home base mode to sail mode or vice versa there is quite a bit of work involved not the least of which is manually extricating the outboard from the back of our tender (Cunningham) and re-mounting it on the back of La Vagabonde. No easy task and will eventually result in a hernia I’m sure, or loss of toe, or both. Despite Elaynas anthropomorphism of Cunningham the wrestling of the outboard invariably results in frustration and even physical violence towards our beloved tender before removal can be accomplished. There are waves, wakes, slippery sunscreen, screws, ropes, occasionally halyards, grease, sun, and now a crescent, spanner or wrench depending on your origin’s vernacular because the outboard was seized to our galley bench due to lack of greasing over hurricane season or perps due to the larger lack of “preventative maintenance” issue which is becoming apparent we have on La Vagabonde and the screwer handle thing broke off.
Once the outboard is in place and tender itself (Cunningham) winched aboard via halyard the entire vessel (LaVaga) must be turned from comfortable into seaworthy. Elayna’s bowls of fruit, decorative hanging lights, Lyre, precariously placed and half drunken glasses of wine and the laptop which is ALWAYS under an open window and on the edge of the table must be removed, stacked and stashed away. Dishes done, ropes uncoiled, spray dodger lowered and then raised again, hatches closed (this one should be done last otherwise it gets awfully hot awfully quickly inside) and navigation triple checked before weighing anchor.
In this particular anchorage we were completely surrounded by coral reefs and heads, the charts did not match from one system to another and we were unsure of the tides. We found ourselves motoring slowly Elayna prominently bestrode the bow on Rock-watch whilst my polarised lens clad eyes flicked from the chart plotter to the depth sounder to the surrounding reefs. Inconsistent charts resulted in a quick pre departure briefing lacking in both options and ideas and a completely arbitrary course was eventually set.
La Vagabonde “draws” 1.8m meaning that the bottom most part or “keel” of La Vagabonde is 1.8m below the surface of the water. It was disconcerting to see the depth sounder display numbers closer to 2 than 3. Depending on the clarity of the given water that you are in the bottom can seem deeper or shallower than it is. Sea water clarity or turbidity is affected by currents, tides and in particular by a river run off or down current of a disturbance like waves crashing into a sand/mud bank. For example every sailor knows someone who in particularly pristine waters has tried to anchor in 12m of water.
I have a suspicion that it is times like reef traversing where luck comes into play. I’m on a roll this time, I feel my luck could change.
I hear old nautical quotes like its not if but when your going to hit a reef and the million words of caution I have received online delivered in a very different spirit. I have a suspicion that the more we drive over the top of reefs and rocks and dodge them and become versed in the art of judging the colour of the underlying reef by taking into account local conditions and current turbidity levels and coupling that information with that of the depth sounder that we will become slightly better at performing this task but ultimately what I think is that we will just become less concerned.
A systematic desensitisation is what a psychologist would use to combat a phobia of dogs or heights. Move the person closer to the dog, then a little closer and a little closer and time spent not getting bitten or mauled will result in the fear becoming less intense. The ridiculous thing for us though it that the more time we spend driving over the top of semi-uncharted reefs the more likely we will be to eventually hit one and all the while becoming a little less concerned. Until we hit one. Which the old sailors tell me is a matter of when not if and people I have never met helpfully caution me to try to avoid.
Orpheus sat gloomy in his garden shed, wondering what to do, with a lump of wood and a piece of wire, and a little pot of glue. OH MUMMA… … OH MUMMA.
We are now less than a mile from where we had anchored and because we are heading downwind the “apparent wind” is minimal. Its hot. The sun we waited to hang high enough in the sky to aid in our navigation and was at the awkward height of being between the spray dodger and the canopy. Causing more sweat to run into my eyes. The sounder drops to 4 meters. 4 4 4.2 4.5 5 6 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 6 5 4 3.2 2.2 2.1 2 2 2 1.9 My heart sinks as I look down, we are going slow enough that it will be a minor yet EXTREMELY inconvenient fibreglass repair. 2 2 3 4 7. “That was a bit shallow” Elayna yells from the front with her disarmingly warm smile. She knew. “Probably some fish there” I replied. And there would have been.
Once we got into some 10’s and 15’s, the charts/gps’s now concurred on both our position and what lay ahead, that being large islands rather than inconspicuous coral heads, my anxiety abated. We then turned La Vagabonde around directly into the wind in order to hoist the main sail. Elayna manned the helm whilst I stood at the base of the mast ready to pull on the halyard at the exact time the battons were between the lazy lines. Using my weight to pull down on the halyard and Elayna taking up the slack we hoisted the main sail quite quickly and with minimal, and this is key for longevity of sail life, flapping and flogging of sail. We then eased out the head sail and spend about 30-45 mins trimming and checking and re-checking wind direction and speed and adjusting sails accordingly. This makes for as comfortable and safe a passage as possible. We had to patch the main in Cape Verde and it is quite a job to do correctly.
Elayna then set about the task of organising some lunch whilst I read up on the island that we were going to. Aves. I will have either pre-researched a destination, have a guide book or accept the fact that I have not been vigilant and if some obscure pitfall was to befall La Vagabonde that it would be solely my fault and that the information was available if only I had taken the time so seek it out. It is astounding the number of things that can get ya on a boat and there is a balance between spending your waking hours on the internet/inside a guide book and bombing around the globe irresponsibly. There didn’t appear to be any specific mouse traps in the particular anchorage we were heading to and in several technical exchanges with other sailors headed in this direction I hadn’t heard anything so it appeared as though it would be ok.
The weather was quite rough and Elayna got a little seasick so lunch was a huge effort for her. Its hot down there and rocky and virtually impossible to cook, I think, I don’t really go down unless its calm. Vegemite and biscuits. I honestly wouldn’t have asked for anything else. Brilliant.
It was not a long trip and as the wind picked up and the seas grew it cooled off a little but I still try to remember to keep my fluids up. We sailed past the drop off I had my eye on as a potential spear fishing locale and around the light house keeping my eye once again on the unfamiliar surrounds and in particular what the water was doing on the surface to tell of any submerged dangers. As we rounded the point the sea calmed and then flattened completely. I moved forward and in unison Elayna eased the headsail sheet whilst I hauled in the furling line and we rolled in the head sail. As we pointed into the wind again it was time to drop the main so Elayna turned on the engine and pointed us directly into it whilst I knocked off the halyard and scrambled forward to pull down the sail as quickly as possible and jammed it all in the bag and zipped it all up.
Now we swapped positions, as Elayna walked past she lowered the spay dodger then moved forrad to resume Rock-watch and I motored towards our anchorage, I was glad that the wind had stiffened mid morning even though it had gotten a little uncomfortable because it had bought us an hour of time and the sun was a little low already to truly expose any reef, it was probably 4:30.
Sisyphus was being eternally punished for believing that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus.
I was a little sunburned but according to my 5th micturition of the afternoon, a favoured pass time of mine, I was well hydrated. The many nearby reefs didn’t cause too many problems as we approached, the channels in Aves could be made out quite easily. We dragged on first attempt but managed to stick the second. The transition from sail mode to home base mode ensued with all of the decorative and superfluous exigence of one of our new avian amigos busily circling above. Whilst this was occurring I looked at the outboard. I sat down and stared at it for a time.
I fucken hate our outboard. Mercury. Perhaps I had unconsciously been blaming this engine for Elaynas previous bout with Ciguaterra even though the biomagnification involved was ostensibly of dianoflagelates rather than heavy metals and it turned out to be (probably) Chicangunya the mosquito born virus rather than Ciguaterra which both have remarkably similar symptoms. We still aren’t sure. I internalised my dislike of our malfunctioning, ironically heavy Mercury and resigned myself to the task ahead taking comfort in my silent avowal to be less gentle than I perhaps should be during the mounting procedure. The very same avowal made during the aformentioned breaking of the screwer handle thing.
Whilst dreaming of a catamaran with davit arms that would raise and lower a tender in seconds I unscrewed the outboard from its mount and manhandled it onto the tender. At least, I thought, I’m not an Egyptian trying to build the Pyramids without having first invented the wheel. Trying to push a gigantic block up a wetted slope to drop in place on the Pyramid only to walk down the bottom and start pushing another block of stone up the ramp again.
Once home base was set up again I tried to start the outboard for 15 mins. The most delicate game I have ever played trying to coax this fickle engine into life. The perfect mix of throttle, fuel, accelerator and air followed by an incongruous and earth shattering revving until some insane per minute number is reached, a quick pause before as fast as the hand can move dropping the tiller accelerator into neutral then into gear in the hopes it not dying. Clunking forwards Elayna picked herself off the floor and started filming once the outboard had heated up and started behaving itself.
This place was beautiful. Birds everywhere. We settled into our new location, burned around and really enjoyed ourselves. Elayna had on one of her new swimsuits and looked quite fetching. Dinner was easy on anchor and my only concern was that if the wind swung during the night we would hit a reef so I got up twice when the wind blew up to make sure. The next day we caught a few lobster, went from home base into sail mode again, wrestled the outboard and set sail for Bonaire.
I make note of it in the movie but by far the most different thing for us and most interesting thing occurred in Bonaire. We have sailed over reef and to islands before, broken things and checked into a new country. In Bonaire we kept getting recognised. It is usually really cool, someone will come and say hi, we will chat for a bit and amazingly they usually offer us something like a car or a house! What the hell is going on? These amazing people at bare minimum try to help me with some jobs on La Vagabonde like drive me to refill our gas bottles, offer opinions on our misfiring gas stove or guide me on the intricacies of marine electronics. Overwhelmingly helpful I suppose would be the sentiment at the moment. It pretty much mitigates the inherent difficulty in performing rudimentary yet specific nautical tasks in a foreign country.
I can’t thank these people enough for making our myriad of jobs/problems surmountable if not easy. Muchas gracias.