Monday, April 21, 2008

On the Beach, Part II - The Rescue

After several days in a resort where sailing boats were far too valuable to lent to mere guests, I was champing at the bit. Every day, a perfect breeze blew over the blue, blue waters of the Caribbean, and every day, I was without a boat, while Hobie Cats tacked in and out under my very nose. My wife was under the necessity of keeping me under a very close watch, lest I attempt a "cutting out" expedition. Eventually, a close perusal of the binder describing the hotel's facilities let me to a kind of garage at the back of the water sports centre, where the staff kept a cache of windsurfing gear (something they had omitted to mention during any of my previous visits). As pleased as if I'ld discovered a pirate treasure chest, I picked out a very wide (stable) board and a sail (one size only - small). A few minutes later, I was doing my first independent sailing of the holiday.

The Caribbean swallows another unwary sailor (me)

A day or two later, I was back for another sail. This time, the wind was obliquely offshore, slanting out to sea from my launch point (at the centre of the sandy beach). So... sailing through the open channel and out to sea was easy - but returning was not. Two or three hours of beating to windward ensued; every now and then, I would take advantage of a particularly strong gust, and bear off onto a reach - and even my big fat board got up on a plane, skittering across the swell.

Slowly, hours of hard sailing under an tropical sun began to wear me down. Try as I might, I could make no ground to windward. Eventually, I tried to make progress into the wind by paddling my board and sail. Spray from the swell made seeing my way almost impossibly, as the salt stung my eyes to copious tears, and tired shoulder muscles protested at every stroke. I made ground, but modestly.

A Hobie Cat from our hotel approached and picked me up. However, my rig's windage now made it impossible for the instructor to tack the Hobie in - so back I went, into the sea. A second attempt was made a little late, with two boats - one Hobie for the board, one for the sail. Just then, I spotted a two-man open canoe approaching (this 400M from shore, well outside the shelter of the reef, top and centre of this map). This turned out to be my almost-seven-months-pregnant wife; not by any means a keen sailor, with very limited experience of boats and the sea, and far from comfortable in deep water, she nevertheless took it upon herself to bring me in, and did not turn a hair as she paddled past surf breaking on barely-awash coral and out into the Atlantic swell. She turned her little boat head to wind and waiting calmly as I struggled in over the stern, then handed me a spare paddle; we even beat one Hobie Cat back to the beach.

I should point out to any anxious readers that, even in the absence of outside help, I was not very likely to lose the number of my mess: I could have attempted to cross the westerly reef on which surf is breaking in the above link. Although this would not have done the rig much good, my chances of getting ashore would have been excellent. Alternatively, I could have jettisoned the sail, and paddled back on the board. In the event, I was very pleased to be rescued - and deeply, deeply impressed by the coolness and courage of my very-pregnant wife.

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