Sailing the Blue Line

An aquatic Island Note…

Two blues dominate coastal Bonaire.  The shallow one shimmers like aqua velvet as the sun’s rays bounce up from the snowy sand bottom.  The other is indigo, a rich, deep shade, caused by fathoms of depth below.  It is where those two hues intersect that I like to do kayak sailing.  That is the blue line.

Look towards shore and the water’s dreamsicle colors capture my eyes, sometimes to my detriment. I struggle to break away from its beauty for the trim of my sail demands that I do.  If not, I’ll be knocked down in a Havana heartbeat.  

Dreamsicle blue off the coast by Tolo. Photo by Hettie.

Rotate 180 degrees out to sea and the cobalt blue reins to the far horizon.  That field of color is flecked with white caps now that the trade winds passing over the island can regain their speed.  This is open water.

Today, I go to The Rock to sail the blue line.  This is an unmarked dive site south of the salt pier known mostly by locals.  The Rock sits out from the coastal reef, an underwater island of dense corals, dug into white sand 80-100 feet below.  It’s also a perfect spot from which to launch a kayak due to its easy, sugar sand entrance.  Before shoving off, I check my gear and scout south.  In the distance are a group of palm trees marking Pink Beach.  That’s where I will head today.

In a second, I’m off on a fast beam reach, sailing the blue line.  Winds are clocking at 16 knots, gusting to 20.  The clue to ‘seeing’ a sudden gust is to read the water.  Its surface will ripple and darken before the sudden increased velocity hits the sail.  The first gust comes quickly and I shift my weight to port, the windward side if the boat.  Piece of cake.  But other gusts are more macho, demanding that I let out the sail and spill the force of the wind.  It’s all good.  This dance makes me feel alive.  I am centered, totally focused solely on wind and water.

I play this game until I reach my destination and do a fast tack.  In an instant I’m heading back to The Rock.  Out to sea, a thin line of shocking pink severs the horizon.  It’s a lone flamingo making way to the salt ponds of Pekelmeer (pickled lake) where it will soon feed.  Now, a tern circles my boat hoping that I might be fishing and will toss it a scrap.  Sorry, my feathered friend.  My hands are full just keeping upright with today’s winds.

Back on shore, I drop the sail, stash my gear and hoist my kayak onto the car top rails.  I sit in the open end of my station wagon, sunning myself dry and staring at the sea.  Ah, what a great way to start the day, sailing the blue line.

End of the Day

Another Island Note…

Sunsets are the last heartbeats in the days of our lives.  Down island, these solar shows are often spectacular as a tropical stew of land, sea and balmy air deliver an alchemy of spectral color.

Front stage is where most eyes aim as the sun sizzles at the horizon line.  But what is often missed is what takes place in the wings of the theatre.  On this March dusk I peer to starboard where pinks, golds and shades of cantaloupe blend into a palette that would make Gaugin blush.  

To port is an understated civil war clash of blue and gray. 

Interrupting this chroma calliope are grumbling grays and belligerent blacks reminiscent of Rembrandt skies from Holland. 

The drama above is suspended in time until darkness infringes on my vision and the rum drink is drained.  Thoughts turn to dinner now at the end of another island day.

Slugs & Shackles

Another note from the island…

Things didn’t go as planned.  I am solo sailing in 23 knot winds when I notice that the traveler for my main sheet is not working properly.  The line won’t feed through, which stops me from letting out the mainsail enough for a safe downwind run.  I finally notice that the tailing end of the topping lift (the line that holds the boom up) is jammed in the traveler, prohibiting the main sheet from feeding out.  Not a good thing.  While steering the tiller with one hand, I lean over and with several tugs loosen the topping lift line out of the block pulley where it was jammed. We are sailing well again.

I’m now approaching the offshore island of Klein Bonaire.  With these winds, I don’t want to get too close to shore in case something goes south.  That’s a little trick I learned from Capt. Dave while sailing the Grenadines two decades ago.  Thanks for instant recall.  So about 100 yards offshore, I perform a controlled jibe.  It’s like tacking except rather than moving the bow through the wind, one moves the stern of the boat.  It is infinitely trickier, but what the hell.  I do the jibe, the boom quickly shifts to starboard and then I release the jib (the foresail) so that it too moves leeward.  Well done. I am now heading toward Punt Vierkant on Bonaire.  I look up to check the shape of the main and I gape like an openmouthed tarpon.  The top 2/3rds of the mainsail, rather than being tight against the mast, is blowing out a couple of feet away.  Suddenly, there is trouble in paradise.  I sail Padilanti close hauled and try to figure out what went wrong.  I’ve never have seen this before.  I look back up.  It’s a problem with either the slugs or the shackles.  Slugs fit into a vertical slot in the mast.  Shackles clip the mainsail to the slugs, keeping the main next to the mast.  I look down to the deck.  I see broken pieces from 5 of 8 slugs.

Broken slugs.

Old plastic.  With this wind and 20 years of use after the mast, the slugs just could not take the wind force anymore. They snapped. What to do?  This is not something I can immediately repair while on the water.  I look back up and the mainsail is flagging badly and will soon damage itself.  I point the boat into the wind and drop the main.  I limp home with only the foresail and finally get back to the dock before the sun goes down.  Where the hell is the chilled rum?

The next day I take an undamaged slug and shackle from my boat to Budget Marine, the only chandlery on the island.  I am not surprised that the store doesn’t have the parts I need.  That is what usually happens.  But the clerk, Renee, looks up the mother store in Sint Maarten on the computer only to discover that they don’t have these parts in their inventory either.  “You can better try ordering these from the States,” says Renee.  “Who knows when we will get them in.”

And that is what I do.  I check E-bay and order 8 slugs and 8 shackles.  I’m going to replace the whole lot. I own an old boat and it’s preferrable to get all new parts before another mishap. In the meantime, it dawns on me that I’m stranded on a sandbar.  It will be at least three weeks, probably four, until the parts get here.  I contemplate being grounded for that long.  All I can say is aaaargh.  After all, sailing is my addiction uh, passion.  How will I pass the time?  I glance up to my kayak strung up toward the ceiling in my garage.  I tricked it out a couple of months ago with a sail.  I’ll be back on the water tomorrow.  Slugs & shackles?  I patiently await your arrival.