Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blue Water

Years ago my dear friend Jean Louis Dulaar tried to teach me about “blue.” He’s an artist and he wanted to paint a specific blue, the deep, stirring, almost indigo blue of the Gulf Stream. I had taught him to sail and he was enchanted by the differing shades of the Gulf Stream. One breezy afternoon we sailed out to the edge of the lumpy horizon. We then tied eight large awning-style canvasses to a stout line, lowered them over the side and towed them astern. The Gulf Stream was in a feisty mood and the heavy-duty canvasses had a bouncy ride. Jean Louis wanted the canvasses to feel the blue, to understand the color before he painted them. After a few hours we hauled them back aboard and sailed in. Jean Louis hosed them down and went to work in my garage. The results were stunning, an explosion of blue. And yes, that’s a woman lurking in the blue, but that’s another story.

I have told this story in talks and lectures many times and it always raises a laugh. Oh that crazy artist. But lately I have been thinking of Jean Louis and his blue. And my blue too. I have been compiling a couple of new slide shows for my long suffering web site. Many cruising sailors have sites these days, and I think it’s terrific. They document their experiences even if they haven’t traveled very far and offer an archive of current, personal data about places and boats. Me, well I travel like a maniac, it’s the documenting that I am not very good at. Alas. But I am getting better, really, there’s some new material there, check it out. Anyway, in compiling these pictures of my many travels this past year I began to see it again, the many shades of blue.

We began 2010 in the Caribbean and we all know what that blue looks like. It’s a sapphire blue, a radiant blue border encircling verdant isles. Before my blog petered out last year I described some of our three-legged circumnavigation of the Caribbean basin. It was grand sailing, some of the best ever aboard Quetzal. We visited 15 countries from St. Martin to Mexico and made dozens of landfalls. From the Caribbean we made our way north, sailing first from Isla Mujures, Mexico to Fort Lauderdale and on to the Chesapeake Bay via Cape Hatteras. My mental image of the Chesapeake Bay is green, gray, not blue. But as I looked at some of the photos of the run up the Bay I saw it, a dull, aching, well-trodden grayish blue, but blue just the same. From the Chesapeake we continued north, heading first to Nova Scotia, then on to Newfoundland and Labrador. Crossing the Georges Banks the cold glaucous blue of the continental shelf was a hopeful contrast to the dreary gray fog. Along the coast of Newfoundland the capricious weather painted different shades of blue with every passing cloud.

Last November found us back in Lunenburg Nova Scotia, Quetzal’s home away from home. And once again we were waiting for a weather window to push south to warmer climes. The windows and doors were locked, the Atlantic was not in a good mood. Eventually we shoved off and not unlike 2009, we encountered heavy weather as we neared Gulf Stream. A honking nor’easter had the stream in an ugly mood. Even so, it was still like meeting an old friend, the stirred up cobalt blue seas of the Gulf Stream meant that warmer weather and better days were lurking on the other side. Getting to the other side was not easy. One steep, curling, breaking and incredibly blue wave had Quetzal’s name on it. It reared off the stern and cascaded aboard. Ric at the helm was pinned beneath the crunched bimini and solar panel arch. Diane skidded into the lifelines and almost overboard. Thankfully she was tethered and with Kevin’s help I managed to pull her back into the cockpit. Georgio and Jan below were pinned to starboard side and watched in amazement as the cabin went from being messy but quasi organized to a complete chaos in seconds. Quetzal skidded forward nearly broaching before fighting back on to her feet. The mast was nearly horizontal before we leveled out.

The crew sprang to life and we pulled what we could of the bimini back aboard and lashed it securely. We checked the rig and gear lashed forward. We checked the steering system too. Quetzal was bloodied but unbowed. She was okay. We had survived that wave, and now we had to make sure we outsmarted the next one. I steered for several hours, pushing and conning Quetzal toward the other side of the blue. As we rode to the top of one wave after another, and I had a view of the ocean as if from a mountaintop, I thought of Dulaar and his blue. It is majestic and terrifying, and oh so damn blue. I guess why we call it blue water sailing.