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.
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 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.
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.
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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!
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.
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.