The day starts early with a cup of coffee and a large piece of pumpkin pie. Not any pie, mind you, but one made from a Caribbean pumpkin carved out by Hettie, spiced the island way and then poured into a hand made crust shell. Yum.
That fuels my way to the airport where I board a Divi Divi Air Twin Otter prop plane for a 25-minute flight to Curacao. Sailmaker Rob Harms meets me with his funky open-air Suzuki Kamikaze jeep and I stash my jib sail in the back. Soon, we arrive at his sail loft to perform the operation.
My jib sail is normally attached to a roller furling device on the bow of the boat that I just imported from Holland. The sailing season there is short and the skies are often cloudy. But here in the tropics the outer edge of the sail is exposed to the elements and harsh sun all year long. Our mission today is to put an acrylic cover on two edges of the triangular sail to protect it from UV damage.
Rob opens a computer drawing that proportionally mimics the dimensions that I emailed him the other day. The computer orders another machine nearby to draw cutting lines to a specific measurement on a long sheet of acrylic material.
Once complete, Rob cuts off strips, applies double stick tape to the acrylic and adds spray adhesive to the sail. These two actions ensure that the UV material doesn’t shift before sewing.
The ‘foot’ or bottom edge is completed first. Then the much longer ‘leech’ or trailing edge of the jib is finished with the help of his assistant, Mári. A few finishing touches with new grommets and an edge tightener for the leech and the job is complete in under five hours.
On the way back to the airport Rob tells me how he learned sail making as a young man back in Holland. “To make good sails, you also need to be a good sailor,” explains the master. To that end, he built his own sailboat at age 22. By the time he was forty, he and his wife quit their jobs, cashed in on an early pension and sailed away. They cruised for eight years—the Mediterranean, Brazil and the southern Caribbean. By the time they landed in Curacao, Rob saw an opportunity to open a sail loft and the rest is history.
I bid adieu to the sail master and fly home with the completed jib in hand. We dine that evening at a restaurant where Dutch chefs try their hand at a traditional Turkey Day dinner. It’s a bit off the mark, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s been a wonderful Thanksgiving, down island style.
I finally named my boat, Padilanti, in our local language of Papiamentu. It means ‘onward’ in English. I prepped her over the past weeks and had my friend, Luti Frans, apply new anti-fouling bottom paint.
Last Thursday was the day of the launch. We towed the boat from up north to the water, about a 40-minute ride because of Bonaire’s terrible roads. The launch involved a huge crane to move my 21-foot sailboat up and over a row of boats and into the water. The plan was to step the mast before the crane arrived. But as many plans cooked up in these little latitudes, things soon went astray. The halyard (a long line used to hoist a sail) was to help raise the mast from the front while two others pushed from behind. Unfortunately, it slipped out of the 30-foot mast since someone failed to put a stop knot on the end. Big trouble. We made feeble attempts to thread the line back through with no success. And with the crane waiting at the rate of hundreds of dollars per hour, I made the call to launch the boat with all the rigging on deck.
The crane operator deftly set Padilanti into the water and I motored to my dock. My sailing buddy Michael and I tried to thread the halyard with a number of materials. I finally settled on a small diameter wire that wouldn’t bend easily. We tried it three times from top to bottom-no luck, and then twice more bottom to top. On the fifth attempt we pulled the wire entirely through, and then the halyard too. Success!
Now it was a simple process to pull the fore stay (a cable that attaches the top part of the mast to the bow) forward and attach it by a pin. But when we did that, the fore stay was about a foot too short. More trouble! Back down with the mast. We examined both ends of the fore stay to find a solution.
Hidden three feet from the bottom and tucked away in a zippered section of the fore sail was a line bunch up inside. Extending that out 12 inches gave us the proper length. Back up with the mast and the fore stay was finally secured. Another day of rigging the mainsail and assorted other gear, the boat was ready to sail. This probably would have been easier if we had a user’s manual. Instead, we just had to puzzle it out as we went.
Padilanti was on the water Saturday and Sunday and
she performed like a champ. Smooth, fast
and comfortable. Check out this short clip
The boat is
everything I was hoping for and more. It
is my time to sail onward.