Monday, April 21, 2008

Blue water sailing

After the relative and totally inadvertant success of the downwinder, I e-mailed our adventure pal, Pedro, in Toronto, and invited him to sail across the channel to the island of Coche. Without a moment's hesitatio, he agreed. We planned this blue water sail a little more diligently that we did the downwinder. This time, we hired Alex (head instructor at Vela) to be our guide. He, in turn, hired Alexi (former freestyle competitor on the World Tour) as an auxiliary guide. And, most importantly, we hired a chase boat. However, still no life jackets, flares, walkie-talkies........ But, Alex did throw in some extra harness lines, and mast foot bases. Good thinkin' Alex!

After Alex conducted a skipper's meeting, where he drew a diagram showing wind direction, the coast line of Coche, the slight upwind line that we would have to take, and after checking our gear, and switching all of the guys to much larger sails, off we went. Funny, how Coche looks so close when you are standing on the beach at El Yaque......... But impossibly far when you are out in the ocean, surfing the swells, as your front leg starts cramping.........!

We were almost there, about a 1/2 kilometre off the coast of Coche, when suddenly the wind either dies, or the direction changes completely. The swells seemingly grew in size, and also changed direction. I get out of my straps and harness, and am trying to balance on these swells, when disaster strikes. I fall in. I heard Superman racing behind me, and frankly, laughing maniacally. He passed me as I fell in, and then, he also falls. The others sail past us, and the Alex sails over to give me some much needed instruction. He said, 'Welcome to the hole. From here until shore, bear off severely downwind." Excellent advice, if I could only lift my sail high enough above the huge swells to execute my water start. With all the strength I had left, I manage to lift my sail, and get on my board. I see Superman do the same, and off we sail to the shore. But, the conditions about 200 metres off shore were also dodgy. Tough sailing getting to the beach. But we made it.

The Coche crossing team from left to right: Alexi, Alex, Nora, Al, Pedro and Superman.

We had some chocolate and water, and while I de-rigged my gear for the boat ride back, the boys prepared to sail back.

The coastline of Coche, showing the 'hole' or windless spot in the middle of the ocean. Weird...

Big Al, Pedro and Superman contemplating the sail back to El Yaque.

And off they go. Of course, it was after this photo that my camera ran out of battery power...... The sail back was difficult as the wind seemed to drop, and the group of sailors could not stay together in the ocean. Superman took off in a downwind direction, and Alexi chased him to guide him back to El Yaque. (The village and beach of El Yaque is impossible to see from the ocean, so the guides were much appreciated.) Big Al took off on a serious upwind line, and from my position in the boat, I soon lost sight of his sail. I thought that perhaps he had decided to sail to Porlamar. Pedro and Alex sailed in together. Some 30 minutes of seriously difficult slogging and some 10 minutes of high speed sailing saw the group reconvene on our home beach. Fun!

Next blue water sail - Punta de Piedras to the island of Cubagua.

Pool Party

We have so many good friends visiting us at the moment, that Al and I decided to throw a pool party for our visitors, and for our friends in the village.
Far left - Francisco (our houseguest from Spain) is clearly engaged in an intellectual conversation with Peter (Pedro) from Canada. Francisco is working on a new technology that very well may revolutionize mobile phone use. Francisco - after you've made your billions, don't forget my 10% introduction fee to Pedro.........!

Mary and I are giving Pedro a traditional island greeting for those who have travelled from cold, and far off lands.

Pedro and Al seem to be greeting Elita in the same manner. However, she lives here on the island........ hhhhhhmmmmmmm

This is Stefan, our neighbour, who frankly has the best collection of tropical shirts that I have ever seen!

Mary and Emile (our friend and neighbour) appear to be practising for the .......... well ........ something............

This is our Norwegian friend John, a.k.a. Superman, demonstrating his super powers.

Tom (our houseguest from Belgium) and Big Al are bonding.

Emile and Stefan are engaged in very serious conversation, probably about who has the snappiest wardrobe.

Superman and his girl, Anne, from Norway.

Contrary to popular opinion, these Norwegians sure do have rythm. The Latinas have been put on notice.

Mary and I - two coconut heads!

Al and Mary - two more coconut heads!

Mary and Pedro. I guess at this point, Mary took control of the camera.

Some of the party guests.

Some of the female party guests.

John and Anne snogging - aawwww!

Belgian Tom telling us about his street cred......and we are spellbound.

Faye, our neigbour, who just returned from a visit to the USA. Welcome back Faye!

Thomas Layton Mastbaum (owner of Vela), Mary (of course), Martin (owner of Casa Viva and Sharks), and Kathy (my pal and yoga partner, and owner of Vela, and wife of Thomas Layton).

Our Swedish friend Pele discussing life in Moscow with Pedro. Pele manages the most successful and longest running bar/nightclub in that fair city.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Downwinder

Casa Nora always has interesting house-guests. Case in point, our pal from Switzerland - Markus Hammer, heretofore referred to as 'Hammer'. (See photo to the left - an image of Hammer and Big Al) One evening, over a glass of wine and a cigar, Hammer tells Big Al that he wants to do a downwinder - a long, downwind sail, from Point A to Point B. Several glasses of wine later, this seems to be a fantastic idea, and they decide that two days later, they and Mary and I, will do this sail. Frankly, at the time, it sounded like an adventurous idea. Not much more was said about it, until the day of the sail - at breakfast. Hammer and Al decide that we will leave at 2:00 pm, that the ride should take no more than an hour, and that we should arrive at an abandoned beach (the location of which only Al knows) at the same time that our pick-up team would arrive. Al drew a sketchy little map of said abandoned beach for our pal Johnny T from Toronto, who was driving our truck to the pick up location. John had never been to this part of the island, but his girl, Diane, had ridden her bike somewhere near there.

The boys were thrilled with how the plan was coming together. They make a call to the Vela centre to get a wind update, and they were told that the wind was light, and would continue to be light for the duration of the afternoon. So, we decided to take our largest sails. Perfect.

Hammer and Al get to work loading the truck with Al's and my gear. And Hammer and Mary take off for the Vela centre to get their gear. As we are loading the truck, at the last minute, I wrap my cellphone in 4 plastic baggies, and stuff it into Hammer's harness pocket. I give Al's cellphone to Johnny T and our pick-up team. As we are pulling out of our house, I'm thinking....hhhmmmmmm.... maybe we need some other safety measures, but it was too late. Oh, did I mention that the boys had planned the downwinder on the day that we had invited 25 people over for a bbq at 6:30 pm that evening?

Al and I arrive at our launch location and meet up with Hammer and Mary on the water, and Mary takes off like a rocket, on a severe downwind angle. Downwind sailing is an entirely different proposition than regular, slightly upwind sailing. The stance is totally different, the speed is incredible, but the chances of a catapoult are huge. It took me several reaches to figure out the required stance. At this point I had separated from the group. In fact, I could no longer even see Al's sail. The wind did not stay light, in fact, it picked up ...... alot. So, we were all over-powered. After several catapoults, I realized that it was every man, woman and child for him/herself, and I started cutting severely downwind. Battling the huge swells, the incredible wind, and a rising sense of panic, we all keep going. Finally, somewhere out in the ocean I meet up with Al. I'm trying to figure out where this beach is, and he keeping pointing downwind. I am exhausted, but I point my board and just go. Al and I finally reach the beach, and drop our gear, totally exhausted on the beach. We look out into the ocean, and there is no sign of either Markus or Mary. We look at the beach, and over the sand dune, and there is no sign of our pick up team. One of the locals that had gathered to check out these crazy gringos, offers me his cellphone (that latest model with a camera). That was very sweet, except that I don't know Al's number off by heart, as it is programmed into my phone, which currently is somewhere in the ocean in Hammer's harness pocket. The locals start asking about how we navigated the reef. Reef? What reef? And then they ask if we spotted the shipwreck. What the f*#@! Mercifully, we encountered neither the reef, nor the rusted out and incredibly sharp shipwreck.
Now, it is getting late, and it is cold. And still no sign of either Hammer and Mary, or the pick up team. With the help of the locals, Al and I pick up our sails to give Hammer and Mary some kind of a visual indication of where we are. Some ten minutes later, we see the fading sunlight glinting off of their sails, way out in the ocean. But, they are heading right for us. As they draw closer, I can see Hammer's big ass grin! Both of them are heading for the beach at top speed, not knowing that the water level changes gets! And they both get catapoulted about a metre off the beach!

Finally, we meet amidst hugs and alot of relieved laughter. Then the stories begin. Mary had been sailing behind Al, when she spotted two big black fish swimming in his wake. In fact, his fin hit one of the fish. Thereby creating chum. Not good. Mary freaked out, sailed to shore, and contemplated staying there. Hammer had to promise to sail right beside her, and to sail with her right to the abandoned beach. And they made it!

While we are exchanging stories, I see our pick-up truck making its way around the sand dune, onto the beach. Unbelievable.

We de-rigged our gear, packed the truck, and made it home one hour to spare before our bbq. We were all showered, the food was ready for the bbq and the beers were cold 10 minutes before our guests arrived.

Needless to say, we had a terrific party. Here is the photographic evidence......!

Photos from the party: