Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Nan with the Cape Florida Lighthouse
Nan and I have been exploring South Florida during weekends, looking for fun sailing destinations to visit after we get our boat up here from Isla Mujeres, Mexico in early June.

Recently, we drove over the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne to check out Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. It takes up the southernmost third of the island and features one of Florida's nicest beaches on its eastern shores. We paid our eight dollars at the gate and then proceeded to the farthest west parking lot, which was already starting to fill up at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning. Just past the lot is a sea wall that runs all the way around to where the beach starts. We walked south along its length, observing all the families out fishing and picnicking together. According to Google Maps, the Cape Florida Anchorage is right off the southwest shore, but there were no boats anchored there that day, though there were plenty of motor boats and sailboats cruising by. There seemed to be too much traffic and too many wakes to make for a pleasant overnight anchoring spot.

We stopped at an informational sign to learn about Stiltsville, the small cluster of now-abandoned houses built on stilts above the water that one can see about a quarter-mile offshore. The original one was built as a speakeasy back during the Prohibition era, and others followed up until the 1960s. They have managed to survive some terrible weather, but even from a distance, they don't look overly habitable.

Around the eastern corner from the southernmost point in our walk, we reached the Cape Florida Lighthouse. It was built in 1825 and is the oldest surviving structure in South Florida. It is possible to tour the lighthouse and the light keeper's residence with a guide, but we did not arrive at the scheduled time. It occurred to me looking up from the base that we could probably see the lighthouse from the roof of our apartment building across Biscayne Bay, which turned out to be true. We just hadn't realized what we were looking at before then.

The beach was indeed nice. We kicked off our shoes and walked in the sand and surf at the water's edge. People were swimming, but the water was a little too chilly even for wading. We took one of the boardwalks back to the easternmost parking lot and followed it along the way we had driven in until we reached the Lighthouse Cafe, where we stopped to eat lunch. My conch fritters were fine, but they came with cocktail sauce instead of a remoulade sauce. Nan had the shrimp basket but didn't like it much, and the table service was irritatingly slow.

We returned to our car and drove back the way we had come in until we reached the turn-off for No Name Harbor. We didn't know what to expect, but the whole establishment was impressive, from the size of the harbor itself to the long concrete quay and the Boater's Grill restaurant. It was definitely the kind of place we could see ourselves sailing to for a day or an overnight stay. Others must agree, because the place was packed with boats along the quay and anchored just offshore, and there was a waiting list at the restaurant.

We hadn't taken Scout with us that day because dogs are not normally permitted in state parks, but they are allowed at this park, except on the beach and in the restaurants. That works just fine for us.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Family in Miami

Nan, Jane and Susan in a selfie on the beach in Miami Beach
Nan, Scout and I are just coming off some family time here in Miami. My sisters Jane and Susan arrived last Sunday and split their time between here and Key West. We picked Jane up from her red-eye flight from Seattle early on Sunday morning and spent the day touring around town, driving all over Coconut Grove and Coral Gables to show her the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Matheson Hammock Park, the Biltmore Hotel and golf course, the Miracle Mile, and Little Havana, where we ate a late Cuban lunch at the Versailles Restaurant. After regrouping at our apartment, we drove Jane downtown to the Aloft hotel in Brickell, where she and Susan would be staying. Our little one-bedroom apartment is too small for overnight guests. Susan's flight was delayed, but we still managed to pick her up at the airport and get her to the hotel for the start of the season finale of Downton Abbey.

On Monday, while I was back at work, Nan took the train downtown to meet Jane and Susan for the Big Bus Tour of Miami Beach, a fun thing to do that she and I enjoyed a few months ago. They got off the bus at one of the stops near the beach to walk in the sand and eat lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Instead of continuing the same tour, they switched to the Coconut Grove/Coral Gables loop and ended up at Cocowalk, just a few blocks from our apartment.

The next day, Jane and Susan rented a car and drove down to Key West to spend time with our cousin Hilary, who has lived there for many years. She met them for dinner at Louie's Backyard restaurant, the same place we met her when we were there in 2002. I only saw the photos but it looks like my sisters did all the touristy things people do in Key West, like visiting the Hemingway House and Sloppy Joe's, and walking around Duval Street and Mallory Square.

Mom and Dad drove down from Savannah on Thursday and checked in to the Hampton Inn next door. Jane and Susan returned shortly after, and the four of them came over for Nan's Thai chicken in peanut sauce. We needed to move the furniture around and add in our outdoor cafe table, but we were all able to sit around the table together for dinner.

Our visitors waited for the drizzle to clear the next day before heading over to Vizcaya, the hundred-year-old bayside estate of James Deering, an heir to the International Harvester fortune, who split his time between Chicago and Miami. Nan and I toured the estate ourselves recently and were suitably impressed. Mr. Deering had traveled the world in the early 1900s to find the best of everything, and he brought it all together in his beautifully designed mansion. We had done the very worthwhile audio tour, but our visitors opted for the guided tour and then followed it with lunch at the estate's cafe. For dinner that night, we treated at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, accompanied by soulful tunes from the Jazz Monkeys.

Celebrating Mom's eightieth birthday with family
Saturday morning, the whole group repeated much of the tour we had given Jane the previous Sunday and ended it at a Nicaraguan restaurant on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, The Guayacan. Lunch was good and filling, and we returned home to regroup before the arrival of cousin Hilary from Key West, and Uncle Pat and Aunt Marilyn from Bonita Springs, whom we had not seen in a dozen years. We all met up at the Hampton Inn's pool to get reacquainted and then trooped over to our apartment for cocktails and a trip up to the rooftop pool for views of downtown Miami and Biscayne Bay. By then, it was dinnertime and we walked around the corner to Berries, our favorite restaurant and watering hole. The accommodating staff there set up a table for all nine of us and informed us that it was lobster night. There were several takers, including me.

Back at our apartment, Nan unveiled the banana cake she had baked for a late celebration of my mother's eightieth birthday. We lit the candles, sang Happy Birthday to You, and cheered when Mom blew them all out. Wine glasses were refilled, toasts were made, and everyone agreed that we needed to get together like this more often. With more than a few of us having ties to the Southeast now, that should be easy to do.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Strictly Sail at the Miami Boat Show

John Kretschmer speaking at the Miami Boat Show
On Saturday morning, I took the train downtown alone and then walked to the Miamarina at Bayside to attend Strictly Sail at the Miami International Boat Show. Nan had wanted to go with me, but she was back in Wisconsin attending to her ailing mother and dealing with the terrible weather there.

I arrived just in time to see our friend John Kretschmer's talk, Force 10 - Storm Sailing Strategies. I have seen John speak a number of times, but I never tire of his stories and I always learn something new. What impressed me most was his progression of strategies to use as the weather worsens. Heaving-to, which essentially parks the boat and creates a protective "slick" to windward, is useful in all conditions unless there is the danger of a lee shore. Fore reaching, which is sailing a tight near reach with reefed sails, is the next strategy and is useful to maintain sea room or to make headway if the intended direction is to windward. The final strategy is to run before the waves and weather, with minimal sails or bare poles, but this requires diligent manual steering to prevent the boat from diving into the troughs. The hour went quickly and good questions followed. I caught up with John and his wife Tadji outside the tent and chatted briefly. John told me that his article about sailing the Mediterranean in a recent issue of Cruising World had won an award. I congratulated him and suggested that he let me post it on his website. He said he would check with the magazine and let me know, then he was off to a meeting with the Jeanneau people.

The Doyle StackPack at the Super Sailmakers booth
I wandered over to the Super Sailmakers booth to see about two of their products, the Doyle StackPack and the Tides Sailtrack System. The StackPack is a sail cover and lazy jack system that contains the sail as it's coming down the mast and controls it in a zippered nylon cover--no more leaping around a heaving deck piling your sail onto the boom with sail ties in your teeth! And the Sailtrack System replaces the mast's existing track with one that is virtually frictionless, making it possible for one person to hoist the sail easily from the cockpit using the aft-led halyard, a task that normally takes three strong people in our boat--one pulling hard on the halyard at the mast, one cranking on the winch, and one tailing--because there is so much friction on the existing track. Back in July 2012, Peter Grimm of Super Sailmakers had demonstrated these systems at the JK University workshop on blue water passage making I attended in Fort Lauderdale. Peter wasn't at the booth but Bob Meagher was, and he was happy to show me how it all worked and provide me with a discounted "boat show quote." I told him I would be placing an order right after we sail the boat up to Miami from Mexico this coming May.

My final stop was at the namesake booth of ATN Sailing Equipment, presided over by Etienne Giroire. Nan and I met Etienne at a party at John Kretschmer's house back in November, and after listening intently to John's boat show talk, I very much wanted to talk with Etienne about his patented Gale Sail, a super strong Dacron storm sail that hanks over a fully furled jib or staysail as a much safer alternative to a partially furled headsail, which could chafe its lines and blow open with disastrous results. Etienne also provided me with a discounted boat show quote, and I told him I would try to purchase the sail before we leave for Mexico in May. It could be useful for the upcoming trip.

There was much more to see, like all the brand-new sailboats flying their advertising streamers at the piers and all the discounted-but-still-expensive boat goodies, but I had seen what I came to see and I still had a long walk back to the train station.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Quick trip to Isla Mujeres

Water spout above Isla Mujeres on January 15, 2014
On Wednesday, January 15, I flew down to Mexico for a quick five-day trip to check on Whispering Jesse, our 1980 Valiant 40. Nan had flown down there the Saturday before and had assured me through text messages that everything appeared to be fine with the boat. After dropping off my baggage and saying hello to our friends at El Milagro Marina, where Nan had us staying, I drove our rented golf cart down to Marina del Sol, where the boat has been slipped since late last August, to check for myself.

When I arrived at the marina, Gualberto, the dockmaster, was out on the pier checking lines. He and I shook hands and started talking about how the boat had fared, him in accented Spanish and me in broken Spanish and hand gestures, when someone pointed at the sky and yelled, "Mira!" (Look!). There was a water spout surging by on the Caribbean side of the island, close enough that we could see the water spiraling up and hear the hissing as it went. The photo here does not do it justice.

The boat's exterior looked a little the worse for wear, especially the wooden cap rail and coamings. The sanding and Cetol finishing that looked so perfect after 2011's major refit now look flaky and dull. The protective blue plastic tarp I had rigged above the companionway, where the dodger would normally be, looked oxidized and ready to shred in a high wind.

Inside the cabin, I checked the bilge and found it dry except at its deepest point. This was a relief. The stuffing box maintenance that Nazario and I had done last August was working to prevent much water from entering the bilge, and the bilge pump and float switch appeared to be doing their jobs effectively. Everything else inside looked exactly as I had left it, except for a light dusting of mold on most of the wooden surfaces. The boat has three dorades, cowling vents that keep outside air blowing in, but even with the fresh air, the humid climate inevitably causes some mold.

Whispering Jesse in wet storage at Marina del SolThe original plan called for moving the boat to El Milagro that day, but the wind was howling out of the north, even in the protected lagoon where Marina del Sol is located. I didn't want to risk getting blown back into adjacent boats as I attempted to power out of the slip and make the immediate left turn necessary to avoid running aground in the lagoon's muddy bottom. The wind didn't let up the next day either, so with just three days left in the trip, it stopped being worthwhile to move the boat, get its canvas and rigging set for sailing, and then undo it all and move the boat back, all for maybe one day of good sailing.

I spent the time on projects instead, starting with a refrigerator thermostat replacement. Charlie, who is sailing with his wife Karen on their Pearson 386, Leap, in the western Caribbean, looked at the refrigerator with me when they were in Isla Mujeres last summer. I told Charlie that the refrigerator would get "coldish," but not cold enough to keep food from spoiling. Right away, Charlie said that it sounded like a bad thermostat. That had never occurred to me, even after getting the coolant pressure checked three different times, and verifying that the compressor was working and that electricity was getting to the thermostat. When we were back in the USA, I compared photos to what was available online and found the right replacement at rparts.com. It took some effort to jiggle the old thermostat out of its tight fitting and get the new one connected up properly, but when I powered it up, I could feel the cold plate getting colder than it had ever been before. Pushing my luck, I filled a plastic ice tray, and put it in the little slot next to the cold plate. Sure enough, I had ice cubes the next day. Thank you, Charlie!

Then it was time to attack the mold. I filled a dish pan with warm water and a half-cup of Clorox bleach, and went to work with an old dish sponge. The mold wiped off easily, but it still took more than two hours to wipe down every wooden surface inside the boat. With any luck, the bleach will keep the mold from growing back until we return in late May to sail up to Miami.

As a final boat check, I started the engine and it fired right up. Everything seems to be working well, but the list of projects I have planned for when we get the boat closer to home is still fairly extensive. That's fine with me, though. It will be the first opportunity, since we bought the boat almost four years ago, for almost unlimited time together.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Something to think about

Voyager 1 space probe's golden record
As we begin the New Year, the arbitrary start of another trip around the sun for planet earth, I am reminded of a newspaper article I read back in September when we were in Wisconsin visiting family.

In the article, NASA announced that in August 2012, the Voyager 1 space probe had flown beyond the heliopause (the limit of the sun's solar wind) and entered interstellar space.

Voyager 1 was launched about 35 years ago, on September 5, 1977, and has been traveling at almost 38,000 miles per hour for that entire time. It is more than 12 billion miles from the sun now.

To put this in perspective, the article stated that in order to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, located 4.24 light years from the sun, Voyager 1 would need to continue at its present speed for another 40,000 years. Yes, 40,000 years! I looked up at my father across the breakfast table to confirm that he had read the article. "Forty thousand years!" I said. He chuckled and said, "Humankind will be long gone by then!"

I think he's probably right. We are making our planet unlivable at a furious rate, and there's nowhere else to go. Mars? It's already what the earth will eventually become. We are stuck here with the mess we've created.

There's a golden record aboard Voyager 1 containing a wealth of audio and visual information about life on earth. If the record is ever discovered by intelligent life, it will serve not as an invitation to come visit but as a relic of what once was.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Scout, Nan and John at Coconut Grove Sailing Club
Christmas 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

Greetings from Miami! Nan, Scout and I are settled here now in a tiny Coconut Grove apartment after a whirlwind year. Our adventure started in April, when we quit our jobs, put our belongings in storage, listed our Grand Junction house for rent, and started driving east through a spring snowstorm. We dropped Scout off with Nan’s sister Monica in Arkansas and continued on to Savannah to see my folks and our sailboat, Whispering Jesse. We had three weeks to get the boat ready before our crew members, Nan’s brother Jim, Jim’s friend Jack, and our friend Mike, flew out to meet us for a big sail south. The five of us made landfalls in St. Augustine, Fort Pierce, and Key West before saying good-bye to Nan, sailing the final four-day leg to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and limping into a slip at El Milagro Marina just before Memorial Day.

Our plan was to stay in Isla Mujeres indefinitely, sharpening our sailing and Spanish skills, and we went so far as to secure temporary residency status, but we soon realized that there were factors not in our favor. We miscalculated the heat of the Mexican summer and were unable to fly Scout down due to the airlines’ eighty-degree flight restriction for pets. The heat—and the biting insects—were unrelenting. The boat’s meager air conditioning could not keep up, and we jumped ship for a small, nicely air-conditioned studio at the marina. Nan went home to visit her mother in Manitowoc, and I attended a family gathering in San Diego to celebrate my father’s eightieth birthday, both trips complicated by our status as temporary residents of Mexico.

I had expected to earn some income doing remote project work, but it didn’t pan out, and we realized by the end of June that we would need to make other plans. I posted my resume online and started working with recruiters. Eventually, I was offered a software engineering position in Miami, but not before the end of August, when we had already left our boat and our island friends, flown to Miami for interviews, driven to Arkansas to get Scout, and then headed up to Wisconsin to see family and attend weddings. Congratulations to Claire and John, and to Debbie and Gene!

We drove out to Grand Junction in late September to pack up some belongings, put our house up for sale, and rent a U-Haul truck and trailer. We stayed a week there with our good friends Rich and Diane, whose hospitality carried us east again on the five-day drive to Miami.

So here we are, almost three months later, and it’s not feeling much like Christmas. We have watched the snowy weather pass to the north, while enjoying warm, humid days and occasional rain. There are lights and decorations, but they look out of place against the green grass and palm trees. We will miss skiing this year, but we are looking forward to a trip to Isla Mujeres in a few weeks to see how the boat is doing. If all goes well, we will sail her up in May and moor her at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, just a quick mile away. Instead of exploring the western Caribbean, we will be sailing to the Keys and the Bahamas, and looking ahead to another big adventure in a few years.

If your travels bring you this way, please look us up. We would be happy to show you around our adopted home and take you out for a sail. Wishing you peace and joy this holiday season!

Love,



Monday, December 16, 2013

Remaking History at El Milagro Beach Hotel and Marina

by John Lichty

Julio knows the history better than anyone. He has been on the property for over thirty years, starting long before it became what it is today, a unique marina and resort in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Back then, the hangar-like concrete building that is now the centerpiece of El Milagro Beach Hotel and Marina was a shrimp processing plant named Boca Iglesias and Julio was a shrimp boat captain. But in September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert ravaged Isla Mujeres and destroyed the local shrimp habitat. The once prosperous operation went into decline and languished for many years.
(Click any image for a full-size slideshow.)

Eric Schott, a high-end sales and leasing agent with Coldwell Banker in Santa Barbara, California, visited the property early in 2005 and met Julio, who was still piloting shrimp boats all those years later. Eric was impressed by the property’s location and potential, and he envisioned transforming it into a marina and resort, one that would offer the peace and tranquility not found in the noisy, crowded El Centro but still be located within easy walking distance.
In February 2005, Eric began the complicated process of purchasing the property, along with the adjoining Isla Blanca fishermen’s co-op, and closed the transaction early in the summer of 2006. He hired Julio to help him manage the project and later also hired Jaime, a young local man with excellent English skills acquired as a bartender. The three men had a daunting task ahead of them, as the early photos indicate. They began by removing tons of trash from the grounds and waterfront, selling off the old shrimp boats, and rebuilding the neglected pier.
Architects were hired to present plans for a combination marina and resort. Each proposed tearing down all the existing structures, including the signature concrete hangar, and starting from scratch. Eric’s intuition told him that this was the wrong approach, and his experience rehabbing concrete buildings in California gave him the confidence to undertake the design on his own. He would preserve the original structures and adapt them to their new purposes as lodging, work space, and community areas.
Late in the summer of 2006, just a few months after the project was begun, El Milagro Beach Hotel and Marina opened for business with the marina, the CabaƱa unit, the Penthouse unit, and Villa 1 available for rental. The name “El Milagro” (The Miracle) was chosen by Eric because, as he explained, “it was a miracle that we were able to get the place open.” Accelerated development was possible because of Eric’s desire to keep it all as simple as possible. The humble origins of the buildings naturally lent themselves to this approach, and the interiors of the rooms reflect it: the wooden furniture is locally made, much of it by Julio, Jaime, and their talented crew in the on-site workshop; the doors and windows are natural, unfinished wood; the curtains are colorful Mexican tapestries; the floors and bathrooms feature locally made tile; and Talavera figurines adorn the pastel-colored walls. “What more do you need?” Eric asks with a smile. Just the air conditioners, flat-screen televisions, and kitchenettes that complete each room.
In keeping with the idea of simplicity, there is no bar, or restaurant, or large swimming pool at El Milagro. Eric believes that these amenities would only encourage nonguests to visit the grounds, and he prefers the quiet and serenity of his limited number of guests. Instead, he provides a well-equipped community kitchen, a dipping pool created by removing the top of an original concrete cistern, and an air-conditioned movie theater with a projector, DVD player, and comfortable couches. The kitchen, pool, and theater, as well as the large waterfront palapa, act as natural meeting places and encourage guests to interact with one another, enhancing the community feel of the place.
After the initial burst, the pace of development at El Milagro slowed to a stop for a few years while Eric worked out the details necessary for the next round of improvements. Starting in 2010, the push was on to add ten additional lodging units. A single-story wall was built separating the interior of the hangar and providing a location for a stairway and balcony to a second floor, where three villas and two studios were added above the villas on the ground floor. There is room for another villa on the second floor, but the space serves now as the furniture workshop, and Eric plans to leave it that way. Two new Ocean Garden units were created from the space below the Penthouse, and the entire grounds were elaborately landscaped with palm trees, native plants, and bubbling fountains.
El Milagro feels complete now. The view of the resort from the end of the sunset pier extending out from the manicured beach is tranquil and inviting. Hammocks hang between the shading palm trees, and lounge chairs line the sand below thatched palapas. For the energetic, there are kayaks and paddle boards to explore the bay and bicycles to tour the island. Signature blue Adirondack chairs are placed in strategic locations, perfect for watching a sunset mark the end of a another day in paradise. A just-completed tiling project, filling in the space from the community kitchen to the marina pier with terra cotta red, locally made tiles and Talavera borders, provides the finishing touch of authentic Mexico.
Julio and Jaime are still looking after things at El Milagro. Jaime is the official manager, and Julio is the assistant manager and dockmaster, licensed to conduct on-site immigration services. Eric says the staff of seven full-time local people has not changed in many months. “They like working here.” It shows in the effort they put forth for every guest and in the way they welcome new guests into the extended El Milagro family. The family feeling is regularly reinforced by the amazing seafood barbecues that Jaime and Julio organize every few weeks for guests and staff alike.
When Eric reflects back on what he has done to remake a struggling seafood operation into a first-class marina and resort, he says it took “perseverance, determination, and guts.” But he smiles when he says it because he is proud of the results. Asked what the future holds, Eric says he has no plans but to “keep on doing what he’s doing to make it better and better.”

For complete information about El Milagro Beach Hotel and Marina, including the availability of accommodations, please visit elmilagrobeachhotelandmarina.com or call Eric at 805-698-8165.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

An honest mistake?

Screwed-up Florida voter registration card
My Florida voter registration card arrived in the mail yesterday, just two and a half weeks after Nan and I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get our Florida drivers' licenses. Not too bad, I thought, until I opened the envelope and looked at its contents. Under Party Affiliation, my new card read, "Republican Party of Florida". I couldn't believe it. I didn't know whether to be angry or embarrassed.

When the DMV clerk asked me if I wanted to register to vote and if I wanted to declare a party affiliation, I clearly said, "Yes," and "Democrat." How could she have screwed up such a simple response? Oh wait, this was the same clerk who, after being presented with four official identification documents, misspelled my name as "Lighty" on my finished driver's license, requiring that she start over from the beginning with the entire half-hour licensing procedure, including payment processing.

Was it a matter of innocent incompetence, or was something more insidious at play? Florida is one of the states that is going to be demographically Democratic into the foreseeable future despite the best efforts of Republican Governor Rick Scott and his cronies, who are doing everything they can to reduce Democratic voter turn-out by minorities and the poor. Are they also bolstering their reported Republican ranks by switching party affiliations on new voter registrations?

12/9 UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I filled out and mailed the online form to change my party affiliation to the Florida Democratic Party the very next day. You betcha!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A sailor's review of "All is Lost"

To someone who has never sailed, the movie "All is Lost" is what it is intended to be, a harrowing tale of a lone sailor's struggle for survival at sea. To an experienced sailor, it becomes much more. Instead of trusting that Robert Redford's character, "Our Man", knows what he is doing and is mostly a victim of circumstance, a sailor puts himself in the character's person and asks, what would I do? The answer is, not exactly what he did.

There are many scenes in the film that had me squirming, starting from the very beginning when the man is awakened by water sloshing in his boat. He gets up to find that he has collided with a floating shipping container and that there is a large hole in the hull at the waterline on the starboard beam. Wouldn't the crash itself have woken him up? He sets about freeing the boat from the container by attaching a sea anchor to a corner with a methodically tied bowline and then returns to retrieve it, colliding hard with the container a second time, though with the prow this time, which is where I would have expected the first collision to have been if the boat had been underway at the time. Free from the container, the man smartly puts his boat in a starboard reach to keep the hole above water while he undertakes an elaborate fiberglass repair. Who carries a complete fiberglass repair kit on board? I would have fashioned a large patch out of a tarp or a spare sail and held it in place with lines and the pressure of the water while I bailed and headed for the nearest port.

Somehow, the man has lost his bilge pump handle, so he carefully crafts a replacement from a mop handle instead of reaching for a bucket. He dries out his water-logged radio and manages to get it working long enough to issue an outdated S.O.S., instead of a more modern Mayday, but there is no response, only the crackling sound of a distant broadcast in a foreign language.

The man resumes what we can only believe is his original heading, with his flimsy fiberglass patch in place, testing if it will hold by changing tack. But a moderate storm is brewing on the horizon, and soon he is testing the patch for real, but not before he takes the time for a quick shave. The patch holds, which is good because he leaves the companionway wide open to rain and waves while he struggles to put up a storm jib. The storm quickly abates, and the man sets about restoring order on his boat and catching up on his sleep.

A second, much more severe storm soon arrives. The man is overwhelmed by waves crashing into the cockpit and swept overboard, but he is wearing a harness and tether, and manages to climb back aboard. He goes below, leaving the boat to fend for itself. The boat rolls, breaking the mast, which punches a hole in the deck. The man struggles up to the deck and cuts the rig free with a miraculous single snip. He goes back below, but a big wave pitches him headfirst into the base of the mast and knocks him unconscious.

When he comes to, he has a bad gash on his forehead and his boat is slowly sinking. He treats the wound with peroxide and butterfly bandages, and deploys his life raft. He leaves it secured to the stern rail of his boat as he climbs aboard and again loses consciousness. When he comes to this time, he looks out to see that his boat is lying very low in the water and will soon sink. He pulls himself back and climbs aboard. Down below, he retrieves his sextant, still in its original packaging. The boat lurches and creaks, announcing its imminent demise. The man manages to get back into the life raft and cut the line before his boat finally disappears beneath the surface.

I watched the sinking scene in stunned disbelief. The man had patched the one hole, and the other was above the waterline, so any water entering the boat would be from wave action. It would have taken a herculean effort, but the man could have stayed aboard, after deploying the life raft as a safety measure, and bailed out enough water to keep the boat from sinking. Most sailors I know would much rather take their chances in a capsized boat than in a life raft.

At this point, the movie becomes more of a survival tale than a sailing story, and the man continues to make mistakes, though I will not spoil how it ends except to say that many questions go unanswered. What was the man's background? What was he doing alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean in a small sailboat? Where was he sailing from, and where was he heading? Answers to these questions would have helped to humanize the man and make us feel greater compassion for him. Instead, we're left to watch him, somewhat indifferently, as he struggles against nature and his own bad decisions.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sailing a Serious Ocean

Sailing a Serious Ocean: Sailboats, Storms, Stories, and Lessons Learned from 30 Years at Sea by John KretschmerThis past Wednesday evening, Nan and I went down to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club for a lecture and book signing by our friend John Kretschmer. His new book, Sailing a Serious Ocean: Sailboats, Storms, Stories, and Lessons Learned from 30 Years at Sea, came out at the end of October, and this event was the kick-off of his far-flung book tour.

There was a great turn-out by club members and the general public to hear John talk about the book and his long history in sailing, and then to buy a copy for him to sign. I wanted to get three copies but then others would have missed out on the limited supply, so I settled for one and had John sign it for my father, who had so enjoyed one of John's earlier books, At the Mercy of the Sea: The True Story of Three Sailors in a Caribbean Hurricane.

John Kretschmer speaking about his new book at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club
I downloaded John's new book to my Kindle almost as soon as it was available and finished reading it a few days later. It's packed with excellent information about everything from choosing the proper ocean-going sailboat to deciding the best tactics for different storm conditions. Here's the Amazon review I wrote:
I have known John Kretschmer since 2007 and sailed with him on four of his trips, including the Odyssey trip he details in this book. Sailing with John is an opportunity for sailors looking to broaden their horizons to mitigate the inherent danger. His steady demeanor and many years of offshore experience turn potentially terrifying storms into exciting learning experiences. When conditions are calmer, there is time for talk, and John is happy to share his hard-earned advice and recount his incredible sea stories. Reading his new book had me smiling and nodding in recognition. It’s all in there, all that John has learned over the course of his sailing career, what worked and what didn't, illustrated through real-life examples. This book is one that every active or armchair sailor will want to read and keep for reference.
It was good to see John and his wife Tadji, if only briefly. We chatted before the lecture and he mentioned that he would be home in Fort Lauderdale until he leaves in early January to sail his boat Quetzal from the Canary Islands to Antigua. He said the four of us should plan on getting together for dinner sometime before then.