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puertorican fishing boat, motor

A typical present day Puerto Rican fishing boat.

Just before leaving Salinas a friend let me know that a couple friends of hers wanted to charter my boat for a bit of adventure. I was not even half prepared for that kind of thing yet with the Oasis, but i could use a bit more pocket money so i agreed to take them to Vieques, where we were returning to do a last bit of packing at our house before continuing on upwind.

I had intended to sail from Salinas at dusk arriving at dawn at Vieques, which would have been about right with the normal trade winds, but it turned out to be one of those very unusual days of the year where the wind died away to almost nothing and stayed that way most of the night and into the morning making us sail at about swimming speed. I felt a bit bad for our guests, but they did want a sailing adventure, and with sailing you’ve got to flow with whatever Nature feels like at that moment. Turns out they were lezzies and basically spent the whole time spooning each other on the foredeck. Seemed to me like an expensive way to nap, but what do i know? They seemed to enjoy the time so that’s what matters.

Late morning having already decided to cut the distance down by changing route to Naguabo, where i had bought the boat, there was a fishing boat a half mile off, wrapping up their morning’s work. Then they came towards us, and once close, all big grins, and loudly recognising the local “Campeón”; the formidable boat that most people would bet on in the races. They knew something had changed though, but clearly they weren’t sailors because they were not sure what it was about the boat that made it look so different from before.

They want to give us fish. That time of day is the prelude to lunch so i gladly accept, but instead of getting almost alongside, they just throw us the fish from a few meters away. The fourth slippy fish i don’t manage to grab well enough and and ends up sinking to the bottom in the clear waters. It broke my heart to see the fish go to waste like that but before i could even persuade them that three were more than enough, already they had enthusiastically swung a replacement fish into the air, which i managed  not to drop this time.

This is why you never throw things on a boat.

Lunch was fish with fish because without a fridge, i was not going to see yet more wasted food, and so we were all fully stuffed with delicious fish to last us a while.

The wind having picked up to seven or eight knots allowed the boat to cover the remaining few miles at near top speed again.

Our guests had already alerted their pickup ride as to the change of plans and she met up with us soon after we anchored.

Don Gelo, the Oasis’ builder happened to be in Naguabo and so i brought him aboard so he could survey the modifications to the boat. Although he understood and approved of the changes it was apparent that he had mixed feelings about it. His ‘baby’ certainly did not the look the same anymore, and her racing days would be over..

On to Vieques, which proved to be a uneventful short passage of a few hours. In Vieques, we spent a few days sorting through our possesions that were still at the house and packing up what we would take with us towards Brasil. The rest got given away. There is a limited amount of room on any boat and so one has to be meticulous about not hanging on to anything that is not actually useful. Still, it pained me to have to triage out many of my books, even leaving behind some of my engineering textbooks. As it was, i managed to pare it down to three plastic boxes, two of which were near impossible to lift with just my most prized books. Even my tools got triaged, and i got rid of duplicate tools, but most stayed.

There are six equal size cargo bays that i built into the Oasis, so i took three; one for the 5500 watt generator, one for all my tools, and one for all my books. Apart from the computer, the bicycle, and a bag of clothes that is all i have. I pointed out to Christina the remaining three which would define the bulk of what she could take as well. When i saw her immense pile of stuff i told her she still had to halve it or it would not fit, but she brushed aside my comments and insisted to try anyways. Of course it did not fit at all, and she ‘cheated’ by jamming more stuff pretty much everywhere else in the boat too, even in the passageway and up forwards, but i had to put my foot down and categorically tell her that more stuff had to go, that it was a danger to us and the boat to have so much stuff as to not allow free movement and that there absolutely could not be weight up in the eyes of the boat, etc. So after much wrangling and harrumphing we finally managed to get the boat tolerably well stowed for the rest of the way.

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Gaff rig

Sailing out of Salinas with the new rig.

We have inherited, for better or worse, our ancient tribalisms and continue codifying them into sometimes baroque systems of absurd paperwork, bureaucracy and “borders” that to someone like me who has lived a bit of everywhere on this planet, just seems like unnecessary impediments to free living.

And so it is that sometimes one has to be tactical in one’s life strategy in order to achieve the desired translations.

Christina and i have a son, but she wanted a daughter, and two children seems fair enough so we were shooting for that.

While at it, might as well have him be born in Brasil as that would certainly help us establish ourselves there.

Tactics.

About half way through the boat work, she discovers she is pregnant. We had actually been trying to delay a conception still, but Nature is pretty effective.

At any rate this put an absolute time frame on everything. There was still plenty of work to do on the boat, plus the actual sailing there, so it certainly put the pressure on.

Did you know about the mayan calendar system to predict the day of the birth?

This was our experience with the birth of our son.

The modern medicine man counts forty weeks, 280 days from the last period to birth. The Mayan counted one tzolk’in, which is 13 x 20 = 260 days from the last missed period (ie when the woman realized she was pregnant). But a woman’s period should synchronyze with Luna’s  synodic period, which is 29 days 12 h 44 m 3 s, or ~29.5 days. So this means the Mayans would calculate for about nine extra days of gestation. Are the Mayans who had thousands of years of a culture which venerated keen observational skills, or the modern establishment which has only a couple centuries of experience and many instances of insisting they are right about things, which later turn out to be dangerously false,… right?

As the days passed from the officially approved ‘due date’ of our first son, the hysteria, hand waving, and theatrics increased daily to brain bursting levels. You’ve got to see the matasano! You’ve got to go to the sick house! You’re going to have to get induced! You’re going to DIE!! All these and more, were verbatim (apart from the use of the word ‘matasano’ or ‘sick house’) pronunciations of concern .

Nine days after the modern due date, or exactly on the mayan due date, our son was born, after a completely normal and natural labour. Christina pushed him out like a champion. In fact he was born under a palm tree in our garden, as Christina felt better outside. I’m sure the primal instincts developed over millions of years of evolution work better than any theories made up by academics, which incidentally, are almost all male.

Will the mayans also be right with our second child?

–*–

I made a dinghy to replace the one that i had made in Vieques that got stolen. I had designed it so it would fit across the deck just behind the cabin. That way it creates almost no windage and is at a convenient place for launching. Also its weight is well centered and as low down as possible, without actually being inside the boat. Dinghies on top of the coach roof is a clumsy design setup that should be avoided if at all possible because it adds weight high up, a lot of extra windage, forces the boom or sail up** and blocks off your view.

The scow shape is the logical design for maximizing stability and weight carrying capacity for a given maximum beam. It also maximizes the amount of boat that can be made out of the given material as well as being the easiest shape possible to build without being literally a box. The only curve is the rocker, but that is enough to make it go through the water tolerably well. Being just 6 mM plywood it is very light and easy to launch over the side. Each end has a watertight flotation box so it does not flood when launched bow or stern first.

Micro barge

Scow-barge type of dinghy.

I’m no stranger to dinghy theft, and so despite this being a scow barge design, that is, not exactly an attractive shape, and its mode of propulsion is sculling, which in Puerto Rico exactly two people know how to do (Ignacio on “Éspiritu Libre”, and myself) I was not going to be so naive as to think i could leave it unsecured.

Therefore, while we were still back in Vieques, i had chained the boat tightly to a stout tree, with a chain and padlock going through a hole in the keel (the painter hole). The keel is bonded on with epoxy and numerous screws. Therefore, only 3 options for the thief; cut down the tree, cut through the chain, or break off the keel.

Never underestimate the low, low levels to which some people can go. One day i go down to the boat and the dinghy is not there. Just the chain and padlock around the tree and some broken pieces of dinghy. They broke the keel in order to steal a boat they are incapable of using and which was very specifically made so as to not accept an outboard motor. I later got a tip (there are only 8000 people on the island of Vieques) that it was actually a cop that did it because “unauthorized boat storage” or some such pettiness. I was never able to confirm that, but having spent enough time in PR it seems a plausibility. Who knows. In hindsight, i guess it was probably just as well I hadn’t put that “Saw” ‘esque booby trap i had been fantasizing about in the dinghy …

–*–

So back to the story in Guayama; rushed trough the rest of the work, made another dinghy, sails re-made and plenty enough other details.

Then we sailed down to Salinas just west of the main entrance to the bay of Guayama. This is an excellent hurricane hole and the tranquil anchorage is full of cruising sailboats. As expected, i was able to put my new ‘floating workshop’ to use and did a few jobs on some of the other boats, which replenished the wallet somewhat.

Oasis Salinas

Rafted to a boat i remade a rudder for in Salinas.

Steve, a friendly neighbour on a pretty and immaculately kept 40 foot ketch, gave me a beautiful big two speed winch which i eventually bolted on the foredeck close to the mast, to pull the reef outhauls tight. It doubles as a capstan. A much appreciated gift!

But time was rushing by, Christina was already three months pregnant. I had not yet built the reef points, but if we didn’t start moving we would never make it in time, so we left Salinas and started sailing upwind.

–*–

** if a dinghy must be put on the cabin top, a loose footed sail (sans boom) that can just pass over the dinghy is a big advantage as not only it permits the foot of the sail back down, possibly even closing off the gap between sail and boat entirely (very efficient) , but it actually helps reduce the windage of the dinghy too, because the wind on the windward side of the sail is already slowed down. (circulation, remember?)

This week i’ll post a video montage i had made of taking the boat back to Puerto Rico.

Turned out that our arrangements in Vieques made it very difficult to actually get the necessary modifications made to the boat since we lived on one side of the island and the only safe harbours are on the other side, making me waste far too much time going back and forth.

The changes the boat needed were a cabin, some basic accomodations and changing the rig from racing to something more suitable for cruising. But the most pressing thing to attend to was the weak chainplates; since they had been changed from the original outside the hull setup to the present inside the hull arrangement, it created a leak point and the constant passage of rainwater was very detrimental for the structure in that area.

The boy in the video is my son, and he is feeling noticeably green towards the beginning of the trip. It is Dia de los Reyes, which is why the presents at dawn.

If you watch the video, you’ll notice i did not put up the mainsail, despite the weather being perfect. This was because i was worried about putting too much stress on the chainplates. In fact, as it was, the planks were flexing inwards every time the boat rolled heavily due to the inertia of the mast. It’s the sort of inevitable thing that comes with a “new for you” boat, even one that is ready to sail, which this one was. In fact, the problem had been creeping up for some time, as was evident by the patch-up work done above the chainplates where blocking had been added to help hold the plate supports down, in turn shifting the loads from hull to deck. The thought of these guys racing like this was scary enough, but was also a testament to how sometimes pretty improbable things work. At any rate, i was not in the mood to take any additional chances.

The jib had a little rip in it too which held up fine downwind, but the moment i rounded up for the last leg up the bay it ripped the stitching the rest of the way, par for the course with “new for you” boats. No big deal, even like that the boat climbed up to windward well enough to make the last couple mile beat.

The best part of course never got taped, precisely because it was exciting. There is a shortcut into that huge bay, which cuts some fifteen miles off the deep anchorage if approaching from windward; it is called “La boca del infierno” (hell’s mouth). It is a cut between two of the barrier islands with 3.3 meters of water if you cut it at the right place, but with a bit of swell running becomes a very ugly bit of surf over the coral heads indeed. Now with 2.2 meters of draft that does not give a comfortable margin, but conditions seemed good enough, so i cut through with my wife being my second eyes up front and the corals flashing by underneath so close you could see the veins on the brain coral.

At one time it had occurred to me that it may be worthwhile to make a video documentary of this supposedly “impossible” voyage to windward to Brasil from the Caribbean and it had also passed through my mind that just when it may be interesting to film, everyone is busy dealing with the boat. Therefore, there has to be a person on board dedicated solely to the camera.

Now it so happens that a while ago already, i decided that i will no longer take men on board small boats with me. At first my wife was ok with this but eventually jealous feelings cropped up, so the whole idea was ditched. And that is how the best part got lost.

——–*——–

In other news,

Dmitry Orlov over at cluborlov.blogspot.com wrote a post about about moding his boat with a permanent auxiliary rudder, in order to facilitate a suitable self steering method. He is of course completely correct about the absurdity of wheel steering in small boats. I would go further and say that wheels in anything under several dozen tons is for fashion, not for any practical benefits.

It reminds me a little bit of Eric Sponberg’s moding of another sailboat’s rudder. Although considerably more sophisticated (and expensive) the concept is somewhat similar and was also a great improvement.

It is very important for rudders to have enough power, and unfortunately, this is something that seems to be rather neglected in a lot of designs. I have plenty to add to that, and rudder issues in general, but it will have to wait for a future post.

Oasis

A few years back I decided it would be strategically wise to relocate to Brasil, a country with great potential still.

At first I imagined packing up our all gear and shipping it down there while we would fly, but as time went on I visualized the expenses of this and the uncertainties of arriving in a vast new country and having no house to stay in. Then how could we reasonably explore all the many different places before deciding which place of all would be best suited for us?

So I was driven back round to what seemed like the logical, at least for me, conclusion; buy a boat, pack our possessions on board, and sail to Brasil, exploring the coast for enough to get an idea as to where we would be best suited.

Boat hunting can be frustrating for a boat snob like me. And with a budget of around 10 K i couldn’t expect to get something that wasn’t either too small for my purpose or in a poor state of repair. Furthermore, sail boats that have good windward performance and are fairly rugged are very rare indeed.

I looked at a “Freedom” cat ketch which was big enough, although it did not have enough storage space and it was in a terrible state of neglect, especially considering the price.

There was also a fairly large fibreglass sloop which had suffered hurricane damage and which I was offered for free, but the big holes in the hull and the rigging sadly swinging in the breeze unattached to the missing chainplates made it hard to get enthusiastic.

There were a few others too but none could be described as anything other than bland and uninspiring, not to mention the many others I barely glanced at for being various permutations of frighteningly weak and horribly inefficient.

I started looking again at the island sloops, which usually are pretty good performers and are generally quite rugged.

Furthermore being low tech and wooden (two terms that generally evoke expressions of condescension amongst the mainstream) they are generally undervalued by the majority, meaning that it is easier to find good value.

I had known for a while already that the “Angel Negro” was for sale. I hadn’t yet gone to revisit it because I already knew the boat, and despite it having a solid race record, I consider it is not all that great a sea boat because of insufficient volume in the topsides. Having possibly the most flare of all the Puerto Rican native sloops, it has bilges so slack that you can hardly define them, it’s almost like the frames make a straight run from gunwale to garboard!

While I was on the beach considering it a couple old geezers informed me that the “Oasis” was also for sale.

I was incredulous; this was my favorite of them all! I vividly remember admiring it when I was a young teenager and had already decided back then that it was the best example of all the Puerto Rican native sloops. The forms were well balanced, the bow not too extremely high, the freeboard moderate, a goodly curve in the sections of the topsides that the boat can lean on when heeled, and the fairest curves of all the sloops.

It is important to emphasize just how extremely difficult it is to build a boat without plans and having it come out well. None of these boats are built to plans, and as such most have odd lumps here and there, so it is truly only a master craftsman and one with many years of experience that can turn one out that is so devoid of flaws in the shape like the Oasis is.

I will never forget seeing it one day when I was thirteen on a reach passing just a few dozen meters to leeward of us on L’Artemis , doing hull speed. The wind was blowing seven knots, so they were close hauled on their apparent wind.

I also liked the fact that these boats are a blank slate of sorts, having no accommodations whatsoever. That way I would be able to fit all our baggage in boxes inside and get the most out of the limited interior volume. Modern boats are invariably designed with a great deal of priority placed on elbow room, at the expense of sailing performance and sea-kindliness, as well as bulk storage. Also, being built out of wood means that the modifications can be done with low cost materials and simply, without injuries to one’s health. It is true that one can do fibreglass work very quickly (at least if one is not overly concerned about the final finishing) but the process is disagreeable in the extreme, whereas working in wood, even if more laborious and time consuming, is a fairly gratifying experience.

A hollow ribbed shell

A hollow ribbed shell

A few months later, when I had managed to get the cash together, I went back to see the owner and the negotiations began. As usual with this kind of boat, the money is more of a token of esteem, rather than an actual economically rational transaction. After all, the ballast alone was worth about the selling price, and that for a ready to sail boat.

So we conversed all afternoon, mainly about how hyperbolically astounding the boat was, and of course, what I was going to do with it. This part I had to keep coy about or I would ruin the sale…

There is something to be said about cash though.

He was a hard sell and did not want to budge from his price which was a bit over what I could afford, but I had planned accordingly and brought the exact amount I was prepared to spend in cash. There is no doubt that the visual impression of seeing the money itself, rather than some nebulous thing like a check, aided me greatly in obtaining the boat on my terms.

Disturbingly, in the desperate measures taken by those in power to maintain and accentuate same powers, are increasingly putting into place restrictions on “devious and suspect” untraceable forms of payment. However, there is usually always a work around, as long as one is willing to put up with a bit less convenience.

Personally I have a deep aversion to checks, and I feel actually slighted when paid for work with a check; it forces me to spend time at a bank in order to transform the unusable piece of paper into something I can exchange with. In other words it is not too unlike when someone turns up late for an appointment; the message being clearly «your time is less important than mine» . Time that is not usually considered appropriate to charge for, although I think it certainly should be considered a part of one ‘s laboring hours, even if they are spent doing something wholly unproductive. Furthermore, the onus of risk is then placed entirely on the receiver of the check, having to gamble on it clearing, and possibly even putting more work on the ante before the money is really made good..

Now of course fiat based currencies are hardly anything to crow about either, but I’ll save the full on rant on that subject to myself, or at least for the time being.

Waiting to leave

Waiting to leave

It so happened that there was a hurricane coming in just a few days, so as soon as the boat was in my name I upped anchor and sailed with two friends to the island where we had our house, and the next day after that I got it into the hurricane hole with just a few hours to spare before the wind got angry. As it turned out, it was a pretty mild hurricane, but the boat would certainly have been lost had it stayed at the harbour of Naguabo, which is wide open to the South East, and which got such a severe pounding from the waves that several cars got very nearly washed out over the concrete boardwalk that contours around the bay.

A few months later I discovered that the boat appears several times briefly as an extra in the film “The Rum Diaries”. I was quite enjoying this film for its remarkably candid and accurate portrayal of politics and social structure in Puerto Rico when – suddenly – «Hey! That’s my boat!! » I said surprisedly as I reached for the rewind button.

Oasis best supporting role

Oasis in best supporting role

Jaguar Oasis in Naguabo Rum Diaries

Jaguar and its arch nemesis, the Oasis, in Naguabo harbour in the film “The Rum Diaries”

Oasis in San Juan harbour

Oasis and Jonny Depp in San Juan

I must say i find it quite amusing they actually paid good money so that the boat would be brought all the way to San Juan just so it could be in the background for a few seconds in that last shot.

No matter where in the world I am I always get asked the same dreaded question. It is a question which is asked innocently at the beginning stage of most acquaintanceships. Yet it is a question which has always marked me as unusual and one, for not having a simple answer, I do not welcome.
I have noticed that when it is obvious that someone is from the locality they do not get asked that question. However, since it is apparently plainly obvious no matter where in the world I am, that I am not a native, I almost invariably will get asked that in fairly short order upon meeting someone new. Therefore, I am not from any of those places where I do get asked “Where are you from?” ..
I have tried giving all sorts of short answers to avoid a long winded story I have repeated thousands of times already, but it never seems to satisfy peoples intrigue, so I usually have to end up giving the long version.
So to clear that up here right from the start, I will give you the longer version.

My father, Peter (né Per), was born in Norway to a wealthy businessman and his wife. Grandfather was well decorated by war efforts, as a pilot. He had pilot’s license number 12 in Norway. He was also a ski champion of Norway, winning several times the combination cross-country and ski jump events. He had some Sami blood too, which due to the prevalent prejudices of the time, he denied, but is actually true.
My mother was born to a French missionary and his German wife. They had met during the war which due to their nationalities caused quite some difficulties during the war years. My mother, Lydia, was born on the ferry “Henriette” between the island of Lifou and Nouméa.

The ferry "Henriette"

The ferry “Henriette”

 

My father and mother met for the first time when she was six years old. At that time , she was living with her five sisters and one brother on her father’s sailing ship. Peter was in his thirties, yet Lydia, declared to him that one day they would marry. Peter didn’t think much of it at the time, but as fate would have it, they did meet again, eleven years later, while he was building his boat and they did marry!

Father, mother and I

Father, mother and I

 

I was born on my father’s boat, the “L’Artemis de Pytheas”, in the Indian Ocean, the Straights of Malacca, to be precise. The winds were not favourable and we did not reach the harbour in time. I was fifteen days old when we reached Singapore.
This caused my father enormous difficulties for obtaining my papers, and on several occasions it was threatened that I should be removed from him. In fact it was only six years later that he was finally able to get me any papers.

"L'Artemis de Pytheas"

“L’Artemis de Pytheas”

 

The following fifteen years were spent on that same boat sailing to what I estimate to be around thirty-five different countries. My little sister, Carmen, was later born in Portugal and got a Portuguese passport. My second little sister, Virginia, got an American passport, since she was born in Puerto Rico, also on board our boat. I feel no allegiance to any country and can easily adapt to most cultures. In fact I feel that I am an earthling, a human, rather than from any country and its rather arbitrary boundaries. If more people felt like me, surely we would have fewer wars…

So, where am I from?