St. Augustine

May, 2016

It took a mere 36 hours to make the strange transition from the Bahamas to the United States, from quiet, starry nights and deprivation to noisy traffic and modern conveniences.  We sailed from Great Sale Cay to St. Augustine overnight, and have stayed put ever since.  Why? Because St. Augustine is wonderful.

St. Augustine reminds me of home, of Santa Barbara, another city mindful of its complicated history in racial politics. It has a Spanish feel.  It advertises itself as the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States.  Unlike most of the other cities we visited on our journey up the coast, St. Augustine remembers that the first foreign settlers of this country were not White and did not speak English. They were Spanish and African.

The city of St. Augustine allegedly recorded the first birth of a slave in North America. It has an ugly history as an early and long-standing hub of the slave trade.  But it also served as a sanctuary of sorts, for slaves both freed and escaped before the Emancipation Act of 1863.  Of course to be protected the slave had to convert to Catholicism, perhaps a different kind of servitude, but that’s a different matter.

Unlike any other city I have visited in the United States, St. Augustine prominently memorializes the ordinary people who fought for universal civil rights. 

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Monument to civil rights activists in St. Augustine.  It sits in the center of the tourist district, near a structure that allegedly once served as a slave market.

Did you know that America’s first Black town, headed by the first African-American military commander, Francisco Menendez,  was just north of St. Augustine? According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

Sometime between March and November of 1738, Spanish settlers in Florida formed a town named Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, two miles to the north of St. Augustine. Initially, it consisted of 38 men, all fugitive slaves, “most of them married,” who had fled to Florida for sanctuary and freedom from enslavement in the Carolinas and Georgia. It came to be known as Fort Mose.

The enclave was the first line of defense between the Spanish settlers in Florida and their enemies, the English colonists to the north in Carolina (which did not officially split into North and South Carolina until 1729, and then the Southern part of South Carolina split in 1732 to form Georgia). Fort Mose was manned entirely by armed black men, under the leadership of Francisco Menendez, who became the leader of the black militia there in 1726. It deserves to be remembered as the site of the first all-black town in what is now the United States, and as the headquarters of the first black armed soldiers commanded by a black officer, who actively engaged in military combat with English colonists from the Carolinas and Georgia.

Menendez, the first African-American military commander, … was born a Mandinga in West Africa at the end of the 17th century. He was captured and served as a slave in South Carolina until the Yamasee Native Americans fought the British settlers in 1715, during which Menendez managed to escape to St. Augustine, Fla. In 1738, he became the leader of the free black town, and was formally commissioned as captain of the free black militia of St. Augustine

Most Americans are profoundly ignorant of the key role that African-American and Hispanic immigrants played in the early days of our nation.  They do not know that the first Africans came to these shores in 1526 as members of a large Spanish expidition from the West Indies.  They do not know–or pretend they do not know–that it was Africans who knew how to survive in the heat, how to plant rice, how to cure disease, how to work with animals, and how to build houses.

The European immigrants who settled the Southern states would have died of starvation and sickness had the African people forcibly brought to this country and their descendants had not been present. For an account of these truths, please read Peter H. Wood‘s Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (NY: Norton, 1974).  This book, along with Islanders in the Stream, A History of the Bahamian PeopleMichael Craton and Gail Saunders, were indispensable guides to my travels this year.

It appalls me that we are still living in a deeply racist culture, that we have so far to go in our struggle for civil rights for all human beings in our country.  Anyone with half a brain in her head and a rudimentary understanding of American history knows that Black Lives Matter.

   

Monstrous Mega Yachts

March 27, 2016

We have spent now two nights at Shroud Cay with six other sailboats and an equal number of mega- or monster-yachts. The latter seem to be everywhere these days.  We keep the VHF on 72 so we can talk to our friends on Bel Canto and Valinor.  The monster-yachts also use the same channel, so we hear the “chauffers” and other servants conferring with one another about the small families to whom they cater, and are continually surprised at the extravagance and wealth that some people display.  The servants set up tents, tables, tablecloths, silver trays filled with canapes, sandwiches, fruit, cheese, smoked fish, caviar, numerous bottles of wine chilling in shiny, elegant buckets, linen napkins, comfortable chairs set well in the shade, neat lines of swim fins, masks, towels, motorized devices for snorkeling, for jumping out of the water, huge, floating trampolines with slides, jetskis, paddleboards, so that everything that can be imagined to delight the family is ready when they are ferried to the scene in smooth-riding 500 horsepower tenders.  At Hawksbill Cay, where there is a lovely long beach, there were at least three such families sitting in splendor.   

On the way from Staniel Cay, where monster-yachts abound, to Hawksbill, a 200-foot, white hulled monster-yacht roared through a fleet of sailing vessels so fast that the 60-foot rooster-tail they created nearly swamped our friends on a 40-foot catarmaran.   Our friends, along with a number of other sailing captains, hailed them on the radio to complain and begged him to slow down, as the monster-yacht was still plowing through a dozen much smaller, sailing vessels.  The monster-yacht’s response was, “F*ck Sailboats.” 

I don’t know if that captain expressed the prevailing attitude towards sailing vessels or not, since most of the servants on the monster-yachts we have encountered during our travels through the Exuma Land and Sea Park have been perfectly polite.  I have heard that in parts of Florida the monster-yacht owners have managed to pass a law preventing sailboats from anchoring in waters near them, as they allegedly spoil the view.

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Ryan and Sandy at Shroud Cay

Fowl Cay

March 18 2016

IMG_5889We are floating softly in a horseshoe-shaped anchorage, fringed with coral reefs, on a sea of silver like a mirror.  The rising, waxing moon is a brilliant white shield, a beacon of strength and comfort, and we can see the sand below, whiter still.  It is night.  Innana, the morning and evening star, shines above.  There are four other boats here at Fowl Cay, two on which we have good friends: Valinor and Solmate.  Tim and Dorothea and Steve and Karen came over for cocktails.  It was our turn and we had a great time.

After they left we turned on the country music that we know not everyone loves as we do: Lucinda, Dixie Chicks, Ray Le Montagne, Iris Dement, Johnny Cash, and so forth, and we are rocking out, grilling lobster we caught.  And now I am writing.  

The water is smooth like a mirror, a sea of milk contained within the dark, and the low rocks of the horseshoe surround us with loving arms, darker than the midnight blue sky.

What a fabulous life and yet.  Relationships take work, even in Paradise.  I am not the only one who thinks this way.  Perhaps not the only one on this vessel.  But here we are, two people afloat, working together to make dinner, to bring up and set the anchor, to sail, to keep each other alive.  It is good.

Reading Melville at Sea. Chapters 22-23

After a Storm on the Lee Shore.jpgWhat does it mean to be reading at sea?  To be reading while at sea, at loss, in grief, in loss of sense, in madness.

at sea confused, perplexed, puzzled, baffled, mystified, bemused, bewildered, nonplussed, disconcerted, disoriented, dumbfounded, at a loss, at sixes and sevens; informal flummoxed, bamboozled, fazed, discombobulated; archaic mazed. 

For personal reasons which have nothing to do with sailing or cruising, I am very much at sea for the past few months.  Lately things have gotten worse.

Chapter 22: Merry Christmas. 

No tree, no candles, no singing, no feasting, no warmth at all.

Parsimonious Bildad pilots the boat out of the harbor while drunken Peleg kicks sailors to make them “jump.”  Ahab remains below, unseen, unheard, allegedly ill, possibly mad. Ishmael stands on board shivering with “wet feet and a wetter jacket” and describes the ship moving out of the harbor:

…as the short northern day merged into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor.  The long rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curiving icicles depended from the bows.

Bildad, at the helm, sings “Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood/ Stand dressed in living green,” and shivering Ishmael dreams of “many a pleasant haven in store.”  Bildad and Peleg take their leave of the ship and drop into a boat that will carry them back to shore. 

Ship and boat diverged; the cold, damp night breeze blew between; a screaming gull flew overhead; the two hulls wildly rolled; we gave three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the Atlantic.

Interesting that Melville writes that they plunged “like fate” as thought fate were a thing that could plunge or dive or swim through an ocean.

Chapter 23: The Lee Shore

The Pequod is like fate.  It “thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves.”  And as it does so, Ishmael spies Bulkington, the gnarly old sailor previously encountered in the dismal New Bedford pub, a man who had only just returned from one dangerous ocean voyage to head out for another.

  The chapter is called “the lee shore,” which is the line of land downwind from you on a boat.  It is dangerous to sail along a lee shore, because the wind constantly blows you against it, and you have to work hard to stay off the rocks.  Our narrator observes,

deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land…in that gale, the port, the land, is that ships direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through.  With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing fights ‘gainst the winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks asll the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlorly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!

Melville compares the paradox of seeking shelter where none can be had to the search for truth itself:

“all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea.”

Women Who Won’t Drive the Dinghy

The number of women who either cannot or will not drive a dinghy in our times astonishes me, especially when you consider that 99.9 % of cruising boats have two crew members: a man and a woman.    It’s a simple safety issue.  If he falls over or gets sick and you can’t drive….

Perhaps this should not astonish me, given the astonishing difficulty that so many Americans seem to have in electing a woman for President. 

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Who is at the helm?

Paddle Board To the Rescue!!!!

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The beach where I dropped the boat hook and retrieved it with the paddle board. 

Here are two good reasons for keeping an inflatable paddle board on the deck of your sailboat if you are a cruiser.

  1.  Paddle boards help you repair your boat when you are out to sea. We ran into a sea spider, a tangled mass of nylon line that wrapped itself around our propeller.  We were motoring from Wardrick Wells to Staniel Cay, admittedly in fairly shallow water  (about 20 feet) and relatively calm seas.  Still, diving on your prop in the middle when you’re out to sea is not the easiest thing to do, especially when your dinghy is tied up to the davits and you can’t put down the sea ladder.  It was easy to get into the water, but not so easy to get back on the boat, even with a boarding ladder on the side.  Solution:  put the paddle board in the water, just below the boarding ladder.  This provided a platform for the tools Ryan needed (a line cutter and a heavy duty wrench) to clear the propeller, and also an easy step back on board.

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    The sea spider that fouled our prop.  
  2. Paddle boards help you tie up to mooring balls.  I dropped our boat hook overboard while trying to pick up a mooring ball that did not have the usual float for the line that you pull on board and fasten around your cleats.  Instead of pulling on that line, I hooked the line attached to the heavy cement block on the bottom, the weight of which dragged the boat hook out of my hands.  Twenty-knot winds and waves quickly carried the boat hook into shallow waters that we couldn’t possibly navigate without running aground.   As Ryan laconically observed while we watched it drifting further and further away from us, “a boat hook is a fairly important piece of boat equipment.”  Yes, indeed, and there it was, way over there.  What to do?  Paddle board to the rescue!  I threw the board into the water (after making sure that the painter was attached to the boat of course), got aboard, and paddled after the hook.  After retrieving it, I muscled my way, upwind and up currant, of course, to the mooring ball, pulled the line out of the water (it was simply drifting!! with no float!!) and held on valiantly, standing tall on my board, like Alvid the Norwegian Pirate queen, while Ryan maneuvered the boat over to my side.  Even had I not dropped the hook overboard, we would have had to put the board in the water.  Sure, we could have dropped the dinghy, but then we would have had to anchor first, which is sort of stupid when you’re trying to tie up to a mooring ball.  The paddle board was much easier, simpler, and faster.  Efficient!

Continue reading “Paddle Board To the Rescue!!!!”

DERECHO!!!

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You can’t see the rain sheeting down here, or get a sense of how rough the water was.  But it’s the only picture I had time to take!   Royal Island, near Eleuthera.  January 7, 2016

On January 6, 2016, we expected a “big blow” with winds shifting through all directions except Southeast.  We took shelter in the very well protected harbor at Royal Island, near Spanish Wells and Eleuthera.   Sophia is 36 feet long and weighs 13,500 pounds—pretty light in comparison to many bluewater yachts.  We have great ground tackle—a 33 pound Rocna and 100 feet of 3/8 inch chain attached to 150 feet of a 5/8 inch nylon rode.   We sheltered in the north west corner, in front of the biggest hill on the island.  We set anchor, let out all the chain, set a snubber, dove on the anchor, saw it solidly in the ground, and kept a close watch all day.  We didn’t budge an inch and felt quite relaxed when we finally turned out the light around “cruiser’s midnight,” 9pm.  We were in for our first big cruising lesson.   

“Bam!”  “Bam!”  Silence.  I awakened at about 10:30pm.  This was a new sound.  “Bam!”  “Bam.”  Something was hitting our hull.  Could it be waves? I wondered.  “Ryan!  do you hear that?” “What?”  “Bam!”  “That!”  He bounded out of bed. The winds were screaming overhead the air was thick with electricity.   I raced to the cockpit and could not believe what I saw.  We had dragged about 200 feet, right past another boat, and stood 10 feet from the rocky shore with 1.5 feet of water under our keel.   Our hull had been hitting either the sand, or rocks, or something else.  Royal Island harbor is littered with old cars and other metal trash. 

Sheer terror. Adrenaline shot through me, clouding my mind, making my hands shake.  Think! I clawed open the stern lassarette and pressed the engine warm-up button, counting with ragged breaths—never had 15 seconds passed so slowly.  The engine roared on  Ryan took the helm and drove us away from the rocks while I scampered up to the bow, shivering in underwear and tee-shirt.  It was impossible to see, and we had to rely on flashlight signals to communicate about the operation of the windlass.  I had to put down my flashlight to get the snubber off the chain. “I. HATE. THESE. THINGS!” I remember screaming as I urged the metal hook around and off the links.  

Finally we got the anchor up and motored to the other end of the harbor.  This was a terrifying journey,  because not all the boats had their anchor lights on and we couldn’t see where we were going.  My eyes were playing tricks on me.  I saw two boats where there was only one—later I realized it was a ketch, and it was so difficult to think!  Ryan stayed calm, fortunately, and shouted, “here!  we’re dropping the anchor here!”  We let out all 100 feet of chain plus an 25 feet of line, in 10 feet of water.   We were far too agitated to sleep, and finally took turns watching until morning, which came slowly.

The weather got worse the next day.  It rained so hard that the bimini leaked, especially right over the wheel and chart plotter, making it malfunction.  We clamped a plastic Ikea bag over it, lifting up the edges to see the chart, and stayed soaked for hours while the storm raged around us.  The wind roared at 40 knots per hour for much of the afternoon, and gusted above 50.  A neighboring boat dragged a couple hundred feet.  We sighed with relief when they stablized their position, not far from our stern.  We monitored the wind gauge and our breadcrumbs on the chart plotter, watching, watching.  My skin crawled with anxiety.   It was impossible to settle down, even though there was nothing to do but watch, watch, watch and watch. 

I attempted to calm myself by tidying and eventually felt comfortable enough to start a lasagna.  Just as the sauce was starting to bubble, Ryan informed me, “we’ve dragged 40 feet.”  FREAK!  went my system.  But I calmly  turned off the burner, put on my rain gear, and went above.  It was time to learn how to set a second anchor.  Our second anchor is a 23 pound Fortress on 30 feet of 3/8 inch chain and 200 feet of 5/8 inch rode.  The Fortress is actually designed for the messy, slimy sand we were sitting on.   Setting it seemed like a good idea, but only after a nervous discussion. By this point, Murphy’s law seemed to be in play—if it could go wrong, it would.  We didn’t carry on for any length of time, as the winds were still wailing and the rain was still sheeting, thunder was booming, lightining was flashing, and we were dragging.  By this point, we were fully suited up in foul weather gear with harnesses ready to clip into the jack lines.  We set the second anchor.  And we held.

And we held.  Ryan seemed to relax finally, but I couldn’t unwind, even when the winds finally went away at midnight or so.   I sat up reading and checked our position every hour or so. And we held.  Finally, around five in the morning, I allowed myself to sleep. 

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Relatively peaceful waters at Royal Harbor after the gale.  January 8, 2016..  

Chris Parker wrote, “In 13 years, I don’t think I’ve seen an event like this in the Bahamas.  He said it may have been a Derecho, essentially a “self sustaining linearly-organized storm.”   As Parker explained, “A Derecho often starts as a series of outflow boundaries/gust fronts extending from squall/T-storms, advancing ahead of a pool of cold air aloft. Over time, these outflow boundaries/gusts can merge into a long line, and be self-sustaining.” 

We learned a lot.  In the long run, we were really lucky, much more fortunate than our friends.  For a rousing, well-written tale about how awful this storm was for many folks, please read Neko’s blog.  Some other people we care about suffered the worst loss that we know about.  Their beloved terrier, who had sailed with them for ten years, washed overboard during the gale.  We have talked to many cruisers who have sailed all over the globe for many years, and every one of them says that this was the worst experience they have ever had.