Dreaming Surfing

Island Notes 55

I have a problem with old guys that can’t quit.  NBA sensation Michael Jordan and NFL wunderkind Brett Farve are two that come to mind.  They played their respective games like few others before and dazzled us with their talents.  Past their prime, both attempted comebacks, none of which had the quality of their previous performances.  Thus, the public endured sub-par performances from former stars that used to thrill millions.  It was sort of a bad deal for everybody.

As I contemplate a return to my surfing days, I don’t feel like I am subject to the same scrutiny of these pros.  First off, no one really cares if I grab a board again.  The few that might watch will only do it for the laughs.  Secondly, I only dabbled in surfing as a teenager and on small waves at that.  I was far from being accomplished.

Ocean City surfing today

But those Sixties summer days along the Ocean City, Maryland/Indian River, Delaware coast were transformative. Beach Boy tunes played constantly on the radio.  I had a rented long board in my hands and roaring, three-foot waves coming at me.  Up to that point, those surfing times were the best days of my life.  My endless summer quickly ended when mom and dad packed up the vacation car and sped back to boring, land-locked Ohio.  Back home, I subscribed to Surfer Magazine, my only link to a newfound world.  I pondered the fools who were wake boarding Lake Erie then, riding tiny curls generated from powerful speedboat engines.  It just wasn’t the same. My surfing dreams slowly died in the heartland as life got in the way.

My old buddy Rick Fulmer, an avid snowboarder/skier says of his winter passions, “It’s just another way to play in the planet’s water supply.”   Perhaps in its simplest form, surfing is too. But for me, it is more complex than that.  There is an intangible quality between ocean and board and surfer that still hangs with me after all these years. It is all about that force that suddenly lifts one up and thrusts one to shore.  That incredible feeling still resonates in my Pisces soul.

The old dream resurrected itself the other day while I was driving along the southern shore road just below Red Slave.  There it was.  Just off of a rugged point of land, I spotted a series of perfectly formed waves peeling off from the jagged coast and out to sea.  The repeating curls were sculpted forms of fluid beauty.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.  I had never seen sets like this here or any other place on Bonaire.  I drove home that day and couldn’t shake the vision of those ideal waves.

I returned a few days later only to find them gone.  Wind and current had changed everything.  The result was a washtub of confused sea.  It was time for some local knowledge about this place.  I went and found my friend, Funchi.

“Oh yeah, I think I know where you mean.  But what you didn’t see is the large elkhorn coral just below the surface.  That stuff will rip your ass up.  But I know some guys surf Baby Beach.  Maybe you should look there.”

Baby Beach

Baby Beach belies its innocent name.  It is located on the turbulent Wild Side, the windward coast of the island.  It is almost always rough there.  The day I went to check it out, three local boys were hot dogging on their uber-cool short boards.  I watched them ride low, choppy waves for a half hour.  This was so different from the elegant. long pipes I saw earlier near Red Slave.  I headed home to contemplate my surfing future from the comfort of the hammock.

I have heard about Caribbean surfing in Barbados, the most eastern flung island of the West Indies.  The Dominican Republic is supposed to have some awesome waves at Cabarete.  As I swing back and forth, I dream of taking a surfing safari to those places with long board in hand.  There has got to be more than just surfing the Web, even for someone of my age. Move over Michael and Brett. It just might be time for a comeback.

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Speed on the Water

Island Notes 54

Don’t get me wrong about what is to follow.  I haven’t fallen out of love with my dear boat, Kontentu.  It is just that an unusual convergence of sailing vessel and people recently aligned and I wanted to mix the two together for a day of speed on the water.  Let me explain.

The Soling

There is a sailboat called a Soling.  It is a sleek, one-design racer designed by Jan Linge of Norway way back in 1965.  This classic boat has a storied past as a high performance, 5.5 meter wonder that raced competitively for years in the Olympics (hold that thought).  It just so happens that we have one here on Bonaire, NB 575, and if you know the right people, you can rent it.  And I do know Lela.  He is one of the few Swedes on the island.  If you are here very long and are involved with boats, you often here the refrain, “Oh yeah, he’s one of the Swedes.”  These blond-haired guys own El Navigante, a local boatyard specializing in repair.  They also own NB 575, the speed machine Soling.

The Control Center. Where is that red halyard?!!

The other part of the opportune mix is the people.  My friend, Pieter, owner of the apartment below me, also owned a Soling years ago.  Not only did he own it, but he trained on the boat with his two mates for nearly three years in preparation for the Olympics.  They won many competitions in Holland and Germany.  Unfortunately, the Soling was removed as an Olympic-class boat about six months before the Games, and Pieter never got to compete, to live his Olympic dream.  He sold his Soling soon after. It was obvious to me that he and I needed to rekindle that love of speed on the water.

Pieter riding the rail

But Soling crews are normally made up of three people.  And while Pieter is an excellent sailor, in addition to being a former sail maker, he is a lightweight.  When the Soling heals over due to its 255 square feet of sails, the crew needs to hike out to counterbalance the force of the wind and keep the boat upright and tracking fast.  I knew just the person that would supply the pounds—my friend, Richard.  He is another apartment owner at Playa Lechi, and while he may be more comfortable riding a bronco is his native Saskatoon, Canada, Richard is perfect ballast, weighing in at over 200 pounds.  He is an ideal counterweight.  He is also a veteran crew member of Kontentu, my little catboat.  When I asked him if he would like to go, Richard grinned and replied, “Why wouldn’t I want to go?”  The team was set and I made arrangements to rent the boat for a half day.

*   *   *

We walked to the end of Kaya Playa Lechi where we met Lela.  Money was exchanged in the early morning light.  One hundred forty Netherlands Antilles Guilders for 5 hours of fun.  Cheap thrills.  No insurance forms.  No instructions.  Just swim to the boat like island boys and sail away.  We did.

We raised the main sail. I unhooked the mooring while Pieter took the helm.  We maneuvered between two large yachts on the hook.  The cruisers were clutching their morning coffee while we gracefully slipped out to sea between them.  Bon voyage!

Too much fun.

We set the jib (the foresail) and blasted off south. Morning winds were 17-knots with gusts a bit heavier than that.  It was going to be a fast ride.  I looked back at my mates.  They were grinning ear-to-ear.  Immediate speed had us scrambling to the port side to counterbalance the wind.  We were screaming on a port tack.

I took the helm from Punt Vierkant to Pink Beach and within an hour we were there.  Normally, this would be a three-hour trip on my catboat.  I was thrilled guiding this sliver of a fast boat along the south coast.  It was truly a blast.  As Richard said, “You can only focus this far doing this,” motioning 6-inches between his broad hands.  “There is no room to think about all the stuff of life left back on shore.”

That is true.  The Soling demands your immediate attention at speeds that make you consider injury if you don’t pay it proper due.  This is serious sailing and I love it.  Pieter then demonstrated how he and his crew used to hike out over the edge during competition.  He grabbed some line and rigged up a configuration of rope that would have baffled Houdini.  He demonstrated the droop-hiking technique, one that hangs your ass over the side of the boat for maximum counterbalance.  Richard and I just had to laugh.  It looked extremely uncomfortable and a good way to a get salt-sprayed bottom.  But hell, you got to do what you got to do when in a race.

Hiking out over the aqua blue.

We sailed back north over a spot I love near the Alice in Wonderland dive site.  The sea here is 15-30 feet deep, and because of its white sand bottom, the water becomes an intense sapphire blue that makes me feel I am gliding over another planet.  The Soling sailed over this shimmering waterworld with a backdrop of salt mounds on shore.  This was surreal sailing.

We came around Punt Vierkant and back into the bay in front of Kralendijk.  Normally, the water here is calm, but on this day the winds picked up.  Again, we heeled 20-25 degrees to port, laughing all the way.  The fun would just not stop.  It was exhilarating.

Our rental clock was running out.  We took down the jib.  I crawled to the bow and lay on the deck.  Pieter expertly glided the Soling to the mooring—no motor on this boat.  I snatched the mooring rope and clipped us on.  Our fast ride was suddenly over, but the velocity vibe kept us pumped the rest of the day.  Speed on the water is not soon forgotten.

Another day on the water.

Life At The Top

Island Notes 53

“I’ve never been to the top of an island before,” says Richard, my Canadian friend. “This is awesome.”

And it is.  We are standing on the top of Mount Brandaris, a whopping 784 feet above the sea.  A very vertical 241 meters. Perhaps I should not frame this event in measurement.  That is not a very high climb compared to continental peaks.  I have scaled thousands of feet on dozens of mountains of the American West and found that much more physically challenging.

But Brandaris, in spite of its lack of height, is awesome.  I think that Richard is on to something.  Being on top of an island is special.  We can see almost all of Bonaire from here.  Looking west, I spot neighboring Curacao some 40 miles away.  On this exceptionally clear day, I also see Klein Curacao, a very flat offshore island.  I later tell my park ranger friend, Rutsill, about this.  He doubts my claim, but I know.  I have sailed between Curacao and Klein Curacao twice and know exactly where they lay in respect to each other.  We did see it.

Richard & Colette start their year-long world tour

But island peaks have more than mere distant sightings that make them unique.  Continental mountains have that too.  No, rather it is the deep blue water surrounding the island that makes this day special.  We are adrift.  We are at sea. We are floating on this tropical gumbo of palms and pleasure, beaches and beauty, flamingos and fun.  And to see it from above and still be rooted to terra firma is a distinctive experience.  It rivals any continental grandeur.

The Boys

Today’s crew agrees.  I’m hiking with two Canadians and two Dutch.  It is their first time on top even though one couple has been on island for three years.  I hiked to the summit of Brandaris before.  It was my first year living on Bonaire.  I found that trip much longer than today.  Plus, the clarity of the air on this second trip is simply stellar.

My two battered knees survived the hike.  My chronic heel pain did not return.  I kept up quite well with the other four, all who could be my children.  I enjoyed this so much that I plan to do this hike every birthday.  It is good for the soul.  It defines where I live.  It has the right amount of rock scrambling rigors to let me know that I still have it.  It makes me feel like I am at the top of the world.