End of Season
Well, Folks, thanks for another great season. This year I saw more turtles than ever before, had better weather, and as always some great guests, with interesting stories of their own to tell. I also have had a lot of support from guests, the people of Island Expeditions, and the people of Dangriga, in my efforts to get the Manatee on the water and sailing home.
Backing up a bit....
After a few weeks of working, I finally got some time off to repair and restore the Manatee. Loose patches of fibreglass were torn off and painted over with epoxy. Broken akas (cross-beams connecting the hull to the outrigger) were replaced. Finally she was ready to put in the water again. Not pretty, with black patches all over a blue and white boat, but functional nonetheless.
I had made a couple of crucial modifications. The first was to reverse the boat, installing a new mast step in what was previously the stern. This was done at the end of season last year, but never tested. The reason for my choice of bow last year was due to the shape of the boat, as seen from the side. One end has a sharp turn from the keel to the stem, the other more rounded. It was plain to see that the rounder end would be more suitable to rolling up onto a beach. The rudder would be an extension of the straight line stern of the boat. But seen from above, one end of the canoe is wider than the other: this was the trunk of a tree after all. And with so much weight of mast, sail and spars so near the bow of the boat, it tended to dive into each wave. With a low bow and a deep keel in the stern, it was also very difficult to steer. I hoped that turning it around would make the bow more bouyant and make the stern easier to turn.
The second modification was to install a new rudder. I had salvaged a rudder from the wreck of a hobie cat sailboat found at Lighthouse Reef. For a fitting, I salvaged a piece of galvanised steel from a telephone pole washed up on the beach at Half Moon Caye, and took it to a welding shop where they bent it into a shallow U, drilled some holes in it, and ground off all the galvanising(!). Oh well. I bolted it into the Manatee and it made a fine rudder, which sits deep in the water and will even ride up when I hit the beach.
This done it was time for a sea trial, number three. I had lost the boom, but brought along a couple of light poles and decided to try to sail it loose-footed, like a lateen sail. Didn't work. As soon as I got out there (light NE breeze), I realised the sail would only allow me to run downwind. So I threw out the anchor and began to string on the two poles, lashed together in their middle. I want to say right now, how difficult it is to find a straight pole, 17 ft long, which is strong enough, yet reasonably light, to act as a boom or yard.
After a half hour of strugggling to get the boom tied on, I noticed, as the canoe pitched and rolled in half-metre seas, that I was feeling oddly queasy. Finally it dawned on me: I was getting seasick. Never in my life have I felt seasick while sober, until that moment. I could only quiet my stomach by staring at the horizon, but this merely slowed things down. Suddenly it became a race to tie the sail on before I get properly sick. I would tie as fast as I could, stringing the black twine around the wood and through the little holes in the sail. Then I would have to stop and stare at the horizon. As soon as I felt a little better I would string away again, back and forth until finally I had it done. And none too soon, I must say.
As soon as it was done, I hauled the halyard and the sail raised up, caught the wind, and we picked up speed. I hauled up the anchor as we sailed over it, and the boat began to push throught the waves, in control, once again of its motion, its destiny, and the queasiness vanished without a lingering trace.
The yard holds up the leading edge of the sail. It is built of pine, with a joint in the middle I never liked. The yard used to be the boom, until the first yard, identically constructed, broke while I was testing the sail on shore. In anticipation of another similar rupture, I reinforced the joint with a metal strap on one side. Well, shortly after we got underway, that joint ended up on the underside (the spar rolled a bit in place) and SNAP! went the yard, turning a fine, flat sail into a tent, folded at the mast (see photo, below).
I turned the Manatee around with a few strokes of a paddle, and the remaining sail caught the wind, and pushed us into shore a couple of miles south of Dangriga at a pace of about 1.5 knots. "Not bad for a broken boat", I remember thinking.
The shore south of town is mostly bush and swamp, with a road running parallel, and the occasional house along its length. As I reached shore at an empty lot, I was greeted by a couple of kids from a nearby house. They were curious and friendly. I told them my problem and they assured me it would be fine with the owners if I cut myself a new yard here out of the mangroves. So I took my big knife and walked into the bush. In 20 minutes I was back at the boat with a fairly straight pole of black mangrove. The kids returned and told me of a bar along the beach, just to the south, so as soon as the sail was restrung, I set out down the beach. A cold beer and a cold coke went down in as much time as it takes to read this sentence, and I was underway again. The bar is called the triple W (despite lacking internet)and a coke and a beer were $5 bz. The beach is well-groomed and has a volleyball net, and the music is very loud. I sat outside.
I sailed SE nine miles across the Inner Channel, to a line of islands called the Blueground Range. From there I sailed south, along the chain, to Billyhawk Caye, where an Island Expeditions group on a Coral Islands trip was camped. I joined them for dinner, and stayed overnight. The owner of this camp is Alex Sabal, a long time guide and boat captain with IE, and their most skilled and respected guide. Alex has been working hard to develop the site into a simple and rustic resort, and I was impressed with all he had done to it. Alex wasn't there, but guides Kris and Domasco were and it was a treat for me to play the role of guest for a change.
The next morning I sailed back to Dangriga; 11 miles in 3.5 hours ESE in a NE wind. On the way, I noticed the sail was not lying very flat so I cut some of the strings and she stretched out better. Gradually, however, the lack of support for the boom caused it to flex excessively, and I wondered that it didn't break before I got ashore.
So here I am a month later. Lorena is here and we have closed the season with the last three trips. I bought (promised to anyway) two aluminum poles from IEC and will be stringing them on the spars today. I also built a tiller to steer by. Before, I was using light chord with stirrups, and steering like a kayak is steered. This works in a kayak, because you are always in a fixed location, but you like to move around in a sailboat, so a tiller is more practical. And today she goes out on the water again, to test it out. If it works well, Lorena and I will take a couple of days and sail down to Placencia.
I want to take Lorena to Placencia because it is a funky little tourist beach town, with a sidewalk as the main thoroughfare. I have also learned of a Jamaican guy who lives there, who is an expert fibreglasser. The Manatee remains a very heavy boat, and I want to talk to him about making a cast of the Manatee in fibreglass. Such a boat would be lighter, with more interior space and be much easier to handle, particularly in surf. It would also respond better in light winds, and ride over heavy seas, keeping me drier and more comfortable. Such a project would mean leaving the original Manadi behind, but that's ok, it was a all an amazing experience, and I am coming home by sea one way or another.
Thanks for tuning in, more to come soon about our travels in Cayo District and Placencia.
ps here is a picture of the Manatee with the broken yard. She lies on the beach where I went ashore to cut another one.