ADVENTURES AND ORDEALS WITH A FOLDING PROA ON
THE YUCATAN COAST
Part 5, Punta Allen and back.
Click on any photo to see a higher resolution (~100k) version. Copyright 2001 Tim Anderson
Notebook 3. Writing Weds 3-14-01 pm
On Sun 3-11-01 I woke up very early, wrote by candle light til light enough to see then started to forage. Walked the beach south in the direction of a hotel of palapas that had lights the previous night. Found a neglected grove of coconuts with green drinkable nuts. I'd had no food or water for a couple of days and was feeling a little jumpy. Probably why I woke up so early. Still not worried, just had to plan in the extra chore of foraging.
Tended trees look like the ones we're familiar
[DRAWING of palm tree] or if they're exposed to wind and waves.
[DRAWING of palm tree poking out of pile of branches]An untended tree can develop a big pile of fallen branches halfway up the trunk.
I butchered 7 nuts for juice and jelly, drank as much as I wanted and filled a liter bottle with it. It would ferment and taste funny but still be drinkable for as long as it would last. I didn't want to wear myself out husking them or lug all that weight of wet green husk around. It's harder to husk these young nuts without breaking the seal than the Marshallese ones.
[DRAWING of Majuro coconut crossection.]
[DRAWING of Yucatan coconut crossection.]
The nut of these is down in the husk toward the tip. The shell is stronger toward the tip, so that's where you'd like to jam the husking stick to pry it off. But the husk of these nuts is too thin there to pry properly. When I try to husk a young nut here, I have to pry at the top where the husk is thick and tend to puncture the nut. So these I tapped with knife cuts
[DRAWING of carved triangular tap]like this on
the side to make a spout. So as not to spill much. Then I cut as far as
[DRAWING cutting the nut]
vertically around the nut and whacked them with a stick to open them for the jelly. One was older with sweeter, slightly carbonated juice and a cm of meat. I pried it out, cut it in chunks, put in a jar. I wasn't that hungry though I hadn't eaten all day before and knew I needed to. Besides, I couldn't stand to eat any more than a couple bits of it. There were people near me and dogs so I carried a stick. Most dogs avoid people who carry sticks.
I didn't want to be seen. I felt like I was stealing from a farm. I would rather have liked to feel I was hunting and gathering in a wilderness. Humans are large animals. Many animals this big live in a large territory. Will mark, bluff, and fight to chase others of their species out of it. A puma in a fairly barren area maybe 50 sq. miles except to mate or rear young. Kind of like people. We're territorial in strange ways. Nina says a step up to a house decreases burglaries.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Butchering coconuts in the
Yucatan. I crapped in a hole and bathed in the ocean. I saluted the sunrise
with armstretched tiptoe "winged victory" from taekwondo. I walked
on the beach and the road. Drank some more nuts. Examined animal droppings
and things clinging to rocks. Took pictures.
A blob of crude protected part of this limestone rock from etching and erosion. Now it stands proud above the rest of the rock. Oil and water both adhere to limestone but not to each other. If you sat here on a hot day you'd get a "crude" print on your butt. Mother nature invents etching and lithography! Notice the crowd of snails. Rocky points have lots of food clinging to them. This was going to be my breakfast, but I never got around to it. My second hard-workout day without real food and I'm still more interested in what's around the corner than I am in eating. I didn't know I could work out like this without a rest day. I didn't know I could go this long without food without wanting it. How can you know what you can or can't do? In town I get dizzy and shaky if I miss a few of my 3000 calories. Maybe boredom contributes to this.
Our word "game" refers both something we do for fun and what we seek when we're hungry away from town.
Evildoers have girdled this ironwood tree. Actually, they did the right thing. This non-native tree crowds out mangrove and other land-forming plants. Then in a hurricane the land washes away. Sandy island (by Midway?) was destroyed by these trees and is no more. It's from New Zealand, where it's called "Toa", the Maori word for warrior. They make their war clubs from it. A heavy, hard, fast-growing tree. The wood turns red and gets very hard when you soak it in salt water. The Marshallese call it "Pine", because it looks more like a pine tree than anything else that grows there.
A blob of crude oil tar washing up on the beach. Just what I need to smear on my ripped hull.
I ate a sprouted coconut or "yu" in Marshallese.
[DRAWING puffy and looks like brain. Regular meat. Oily and not too good.] Every bite tastes different, every one tastes different. Like coconut popcorn, but huge. Carried a pretty conch shell for a while. Gave it to some friendly guys from Dakota. One had tossed a toilet seat from the beach. The wind carried it off and it almost hit me. I asked "isn't that Punta Allen?", and "where's the pass in the reef?" "Think so" and "don't know" were the answers, to summarize. Actually we chatted verbosely, but this notebook and time are thin. I walked back on the road.
Termite nest in a deciduous tree.
I had the song "The bear necessities of life will come to you" in my head. Drank another nut from a tree with a
[DRAWING ]big termit nest on the trunk. These are somewhere in view almost everywhere here. Empty and live ones. Poke in a stick and a nutritious meal comes swarming out. Wonder how you cook them. Is raw okay? I tried a few that way like in the song. I think people usually like toasted insects better. The boiled ones are too beany. Like that can of Korean roaches or grubs Fred Hapgood brought to Miters.
I was wearing my to-the-water-and-back garb of long shirt (what the Seminoles would call it. A striped tunic or dress that Kakul gave me from India.) bare feet and Nina's flannel striped towel on my head. As I whacked the nut off the tree with a stick I thought "God damn it" as I whacked and whacked. Ouch. A couple of termite bites, stepping on sharp things, whack whack. Painful vibrations from the stick to my hand. Then I laughed. "John the baptist in the desert", I said to the termites.
That was me. Arab dress and head towel, out after my locusts and honey. I'm surrounded by food, but it's hard to get the cap off. Next the snails.
A couple of times I tried to walk from the road to the beach, 50 meters or so, but the scrub got too thick. At a road through to a beach house the same black and white dog that had barked at me on the beach came out for an encore. Put me out of mood to greet owners. Returned to road. Came to path seaward. Led to road seaward. Came to Hotel of yellow cabanas just south of my camp. Hey, I thought, two days without food can end. Restaurant and internet? Mexican tourists there from DF. Very friendly, good english. he: "We saw you sailing yesterday at the reef."
me: "what were you pointing at in the water?"
he: "looking for manatee."
me: "did you see any?"
he: "no, we didn't."
me: "is there a restaurant here? internet?"
he: "oh yes. Talk to him over there."
One of the owners came up. "Do you want to work here?" Mexican, light skin, star of David on a chain. At the time I thought he meant was I there seeking work. A funny dressed bum. But maybe he liked my laidback sailing style and thought I'd gybe with his vibe. And appeal to folks from Mexico City. They had a farm-type windmill and winding paths with cute artsy stuff around, so the place was cool enough. "No, but howabout restaurant and email?" I could tell Nina I'm alive for the first time in weeks. "Oh, but the restaurant is done serving breakfast. Talk to him over there about email."
Suddenly I was very shy and had to get away, sail south to Punta Allen, get away from my beach where someone knew I was there.
That took a while.
Sewing up the rips with a stitch like on a baseball.
Smearing crude oil tar on the seams.
Putting on my sailing suit which covers all but
my fingertips. Gardening gloves with thick wrinkly crepe rubber palms and
the fingertips cut off. I can't afford to get blisters or they'll pop and
bleed. Then I can either pull or think.
Can't get sunburn or I'll be weak tomorrow. Glare from the water alone would lobster me in a few hours, no matter what type or quantity of sunscreen I use. So I wear a lycra floral print ski mask. With UV blocking prescription sunglasses on an elastic strap to hold them on under it. Neoprene reef boots. Polypropylene turtleneck warn as pants under a pair of shorts. Long shirt and lifejacket complete my garb. On lanyards from the shoulder of the PFD are compass, whistle, flashlight.
Around neck is matching floral print lycra tube "snake" with folding knife as fob to a bag-plastic gasketed taped-shut pill jar filled with magic amulets. Return ticket, passport, 90 day tourist card, credit card, driver's license, student id(it looks like one anyway) paper money in the form of 200 peso notes, a pinch of oatmeal, butane lighter. The lighter's "flint" is magnesium and has to stay dry. It'll turn powdery white and stop "flinting" after a very short immersion in water. The oatmeal had a theory to go with it. It would soak up water or put a paste caulk where wetness came through the gasket.
I once had a jar that never leaked when full of dry oatmeal, leaked with other things. But just a pinch of oatmeal does no such thing.
This completes my garb. But the boat preparations are far from complete.
Next comes folding my stuff and throwing it all into a big bag.
Carrying boat, sail, and big bag down to the beach. That took a few trips. Not as many as before. Got to be careful not to hurt my back. That would be big trouble.
Fisting my gear through the 10" round portholes into the hull between airbags and deck.
Putting the empty drybags into the portholes.
Fisting clothing and other stuff into drybags, rolling and snapping the tops closed. This stuff might be lucky enough to get merely damp. There was always water in the bottom of these bags at the end of the day. Sometimes a lot.
Tightening the lacing on the deck.
Blowing up the airbags.
Tying the steering oar on at the rear fork and hooking on the tether.
Tying down the sail tack at the bow, the windward stay, the sheet.
Hoisting the sail, maybe taking it down again and adjusting it at the six points.
Stinky floating to her marks at the Punta Allen dock.
Mr. "Bonefishing? bonefishing?" was talking to me at the Punta Allen dock, telling me a 40 knot wind from the west was coming any time. "Algo tiempo. ?Entiende?" Any time, get it? This rattled me and I threw away one thing too many, my sunscreen. My two new gallons of water and flattened-out loaf of Pan Wonder Integral would not protect me from a 40 knot west wind. It was good to be able to throw something away. I'd been carrying my trash for days. You can't throw anything away when you're already away from it all. You have to get away from away for that. To where there's a garbage can and a garbage man. Basurera y basurero. I gave my bugscreen-hammock to a Mayan rickshaw guy with a load of 5-gallon waterjugs. The wagon part in front had very heavyduty wheels. "de un moto" he said. From a motorcycle. "Where'd you get that?" A fisherman asked him. "This guy just gave it to me." he said.
I looked at the map. The huge bay had that long water finger that made Punta Allen into a skinny land finger. Almost like the intracoastal waterway. Maybe 10km long. Maybe at the end I could portage across. If not, I could sail back. Either way I wouldn't have to stay in town. The way the wind was blowing I probably couldn't sail outside anyway today. So off I went. The Mayan bonefishing guide sat and watched me paddle off "Use la vela" He yelled. But in the lee of trees here gusts might backwind me. I'd rather get out into cleaner air before hoisting sail.
When I did, it was fierce. Lots of wind. Water rough in the sense of not shiny from highspeed wind passing over it. Short fetch so the chop wasn't bad. My sail flogged hard before I could sheet it in. When I did, off we went. "Like a racehorse" said an early visitor to a Pacific island. Because in that day before cars, railroads, etc, the racehorse came closest to the speed of a sailing outrigger canoe.
I couldn't sail into the wind without great effort. Sailing into the wind your speed is added to the wind speed. The result was too much. I bore off and headed down wind. Suddenly it got a little calmer. Going downwind your speed is subtracted from windspeed. For lighter wind conditions there's a trick the MH call "Fill your sail with wind" that works as follows: The propulsive force of a sail varies with angle to the wind.
[DRAWING ]wind. angle of sail. force.
[DRAWING ]for a bermudian rig it's something like this.
So you can head up or down into the power zone to increase the apparent wind over the sail. Once you're in the power zone, you can turn off and maintain your speed.
I sailed at great speed north up the bay. It was shallow and full of seagrass. The bottom was light colored mud under that. The shores and islands were all mangrove. The finger of bay I was sailing in got narrower and eventually I saw coconut palms toward the sea. I figured they'd been planted by a hurricane so I must be near the ocean and maybe a good place to portage. The main bay started to turn west and I thought I could see the end of it. I sailed east into the lee of some mangroves and pulled my craft into a little shallow bay. Little brown mottled fish skidded away from my feet. My feet stirred up the mud. Here out of the wind it was hot.
"American tourist slain by crocodile" I thought. Crocs don't like wind or rough water. Here were neither. I looked for their paths in the mangroves but didn't see any. You never see the one that gets you. I propped one end of the canoe up so the bilge would drain out the other end and started east. First the low mangroves, mostly a tangle of roots about waist high, with not much plant above that. Hard to walk through and easy to break. Then the high mangroves, some real trees rising above thick root junglegyms thick enough to climb over. I climb one to look east and see a strip of grass where it must flood too much for the land plants and not enough for the water plants. Then a few coconut palms and palmetto jungle behind them.
I spent the next three hours trying to get through that jungle. Perhaps it's time for an intermission. If anything good happens I'll let you know.
I write this on the balcony a day after my last sailing. I think I just finished my 11th or so pound of food today if you count water. I had to start slow. A liter of strawberry drink yogurt. A liter of strawberry milk to feed the friendly bacterial culture. Then I felt like I could take some solid food. A can of frijoles negros. And so on.
Another can of black beans. A couple 174g cans of tuna. Another liter of milk.
Two slices of sugar pizza from the bakery. Think Hawaiian pizza. It sort of works.
A loaf of whole wheat french bread, donut, "cookie", cheesecake, chocolate cake.
25 pesos for all the baked goods. Maybe another liter of milk. Civilization. And I haven't really needed to pee.
Speaking of pee, throughout the trip I was tasting my pee regularly to be sure it was salty enough. Tasting my sweat would have worked too, but there was always seawater and dried seawater all over me.
I'm afraid of losing salt because it makes me weak, shaky, and fearful. Or it makes me weak and shaky, and that makes me fearful. On Majuro my hands went numb from lack of salt. I thought it was ciguaterra fish poisoning, but at Majuro hospital they cured me with UNICEF oral hydration salts. What are the signs? For me, when my salt is low salt and seawater taste good. My sweat isn't salty enough. My pee isn't salty. The symptoms go on to wimpy, numb fingers, etc.
My dad has high blood pressure. He's always devising and looking for ways to avoid salt and still find food. So I always thought salt was bad. My mother says "Most plants are killed by overwatering." So I kill mine by not watering them enough. And I got sick from not enough salt. Balance. All things in moderation, said a wise Greek. Of course, this Greek idea of moderation included more pedophilia and slavery than is now fashionable.
In the good old days tasting the patient's urine was the standard test for diabetes. Diabetes mellitus is Greek for "runs through like a sieve, sweet like honey." The urine that is. I dwell on this to restore balance to a literature short on such themes. Our monuments and scrolls depict white men on horseback. Sex, love, fighting, sex, sex. What about shitting, pissing, masturbating? For most of us these take place far more than once or twice a week. "My butt hurts" said the Pharoh. "Let it be carved in stone."
A sore butt is the true reason many get up and walk around. That and to pursue that distant horizon ever on. Brace yourself for another essay on shit before too long.
Here in the industrial west we kill ourselves with food. In most of the world they kill themselves with shit. The Assyrian empire died from lousy sewers, one theory holds. Civilization is Greek for "Living in cities." When the land can't support a burden of humanity, there are three big problems. For a crowd of people ot survive, they need fresh water and food, just like I do when I'm off hiding in a thicket.
Also love, clothing, a sense of themselves, a philosophy, role models, dreams, etc. etc. etc. And a place to shit where it won't end up in their water or food. This is an unsolved problem in many places. Not that shit in itself is so bad, but other people's shit contains other people's diseases. Your own shit can do you great harm as well. For instance a pork tapeworm egg from your shit or someone elses hatches after stomach acid. Then the larva crawls into your brain and you're a little different. Enough of them and you die. Some lucky pig eats you and the beautiful cycle of life continues.
Oklahoma water, flour, and lemon rind will keep body and soul together far better than the average American diet, which is also the average American cause of death.
Along with a lack of exercise. These are called "unhealthy lifestyle choices." The old names are gluttony and sloth, deadly sins. Why "sins"? cuz it's bad. Why "deadly"? Cuz it kills you.
Open heart surgery is an amazing operation. My Grandad had a couple. Well, according to Hunger Disease, there wasn't any atherosclerosis in the Warsaw Ghetto. 800 calorie diet. Hundreds of autopsies. Malnutrition cures heart disease. "I can quit any time" says the addict. If it kills you, maybe.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Water, flour, lemonrind, and sewage control. Back to the straight linear narrative, now looking for a portage from the north end of Bahia de Ascension across a thin spit of land to the Caribbean. As the land got higher the jungle got thicker. I'd gone less than a mile. I could have been ten feet from the road without knowing it, unless there was a loud truck driving on it. I was using my trusty black plastic canoe paddle as an axe to clear a path through the tough spots. There was no way I could carry my canoe through this stuff. I was using my compass but there was no way to walk in a straight line. I might have trouble finding my canoe again. When my water bottle was empty I decided to give up and try to find my canoe. I climbed a tree and sighted with my compass at another tall tree in the right direction. There were enough of these identifiable trees I could travel more or less in one direction. Then I'd climb the next, guess at where the boat was,
and repeat. Eventually I got to water and lo and behold, my canoe. Okay, that didn't work. I tried to sail back south into the wind but the channel was too narrow and the wind too strong. Every time I shunted the sail and switched ends I lost much of my headway. I got too tired for that. Okay, that doesn't work either. Maybe there's a portage further north. I bore off and ran north with the wind, scanning the right shore. There was a row of sticks poking out of the water by the shore. Closer. Remains of a dock. And a path full of puddles, remains of a road. Not 50 yards from where I did my brush-crashing. A hundred yards up this road, the main one-lane dirt "highway" to Punta Allen. I walked a block south, up a driveway to a house under construction and was at the sea. The house was an unfinished ruin. There were a few of these along the coast. Someone took a chance, started building without permission and never got it. I could see the fish camp I'd camped at on my way south. Wow. Magic. I'd come a long way in a hurry.
The next house had a clean yard with much gardening. Jorge there was cooking a meal under his palapa and talking with visitors. I asked if he knew someone I could hire to help me portage my canoe.
His visitors had a yellow 4wd pickup, and would be happy to. Zip, zip. They knew the road. I was at the ocean with all my impedimenta. I was so happy. "Marcos!" they said. "Gordito!" I said. I felt like I'd come through a magical cenote spacewarp. I'd be at my plane on time. No west wind had blown me to dehydration. But I shouldn't have called him gordito. Dear little fat guy. But I was carried away. I didn't realize the others only called him that when he couldn't hear. An awkward laugh from one of them. And then he wanted an extra hundred pesos because he'd fallen in the mud and to make dividing it up easier. Oh well. A bargain at any price to get from one place to another. I gave his daughter some American coins I still had for taking these photos.
Jorge is a nice guy besides being a great cook and gardener. He sent me off with a bag of food that was all I had for a day. He had a restaurant in Texas before he retired. As I was rigging up he came running up a couple of times to intercept one of his dogs and keep it away from me. I guess they were as mean as they looked and besides. A security system that works when the electricity doesn't.
There was an interesting homemade anchor in his neighbor's yard. Two pieces of rerod bent double and put through an aluminum tube. Bent into hooks and a thicker chunk of rerod pounded into the tube to hold it tight. This anchor wouldn't hold in sand or mud, but it could hold on a coral reef. Too bad anchoring on the reef breaks the coral and kills it.
Also a wrecked yacht. The charts of the area aren't nearly as detailed as the actual hazards are. For once I launched gracefully. I walked my boat out of the shallows by the wreck, pulled in the sheet and went flying away, waving back at Jorge. The boat is fast generally, but it truly flies early in the day before it fills up with water. I could bail, but that's work and it gets where it's going with or without bilge. I sighted off some dead ironwoods and took Jorge's directions to the reef pass. The waves were breaking all the way across, but I guess I hit the pass cuz the reef didn't hit me. I got hit hard by some breakers on the way out. They didn't knock my sail down or take me with them. The lattice deck and small outrigger are good for letting water go through.
Outside the swells were huge. Coming up from all directions like um, big waves, mostly from SE. I was flying along, plowing then surfing. Sheet held on the long sweep oar handle with both hands. Me, the sail, the boat, and the oar. Leaning way back and pulling as a wave lifted us, the afternoon sun painting rays over the land. Pushing the oar and sheeting out at the same time as it passed under. Sometimes the crest broke just when it hit us and whitewater roared up through the sticks of the deck. Or the crest of black water and we knocked it off in an explosion of spray. Very often I couldn't see for the water breaking over me and sailed by feel. The boat sailed the same whether I could see or not. Whether the deck was in air or whitewater. Sometimes I'd look back and there, slowly rising up, a huge wall of water. I'd laugh. A wave that big. And just the other day, like a lake. "Some things are funny", I thought. "React however you want, but don't change what you're doing, it seems to be working." The wave did its thing. I did mine. Then after a while I could see again and I was still doing my thing. We're still flying along, a tiny skinny boat with too much seawater inside it, pulled along by a 20 horsepower sail. Like waterskiing all day long. Or windsurfing. An eight hour Mountain Dew commercial. On the disaster channel.
Behind the huge wave, a huge hole. And another wave just as big. In all directions as far as the eye can see, more waves. Like the mountain range behind Taiheisan at sunrise. More jagged mountains til they fade into the hazy horizon, some with white peaks.
Not another boat in sight in two days of sailing like this along a coast where they make their living from the sea. Too rough.
Except for the ghost boat. Twice now at sunset I was dragging my boat up the beach. I glanced up, and there in the falling dark, something. A small sailboat. Trolling slowly along between shore break and reef break. Not fifty feet away. Short mast, jib only. A dim blue light at the mast head. A figure or figures standing at the stern in foul weather gear. Doing what? Something. And looking at me. Then slowly slowly sailing away. For what? Why was it here? And how?
To pull me from a tangle of ropes and let me breathe air? To carry me to afterlife? Curious about my boat or self? To troll this coast every night in all weather and land somewhere in the dark through surf? To pull my tongue out through my neck and leave two taped-shut plastic coolers of cocaine in my campsite, cuz that's where the truck was coming to get it?
I don't know.
The locals I've met use outboards rather than sails and they don't go out at night. They don't like to drive at night either.
"Camping" that night just south of Boca Paila after seeing the ghost boat. I thought this picture might have critters or monsters in the flash. Then I laid down tired and slept where I was. By then I was used to it and didn't get cold.
The next morning I took my dump and saluted the dawn. I had all sorts of busywork and errands, including finding food, but I couldn't resist whatever was in the distance down the beach, and went for a walk. About a mile north of me was this heavily fortified camp with boat wreckage in front of it. The palisade is a wattle of sticks held together by spring force of the weft branches on the three warp branches.
All I had on was what you see and a flannel towel. I hadn't planned on hiking. I started getting "burly he-man thigh rash" and husked this coconut from the beach for some oil. It was full of drinkable coconut juice. I didn't know drift nuts could be like that. I chewed the meat and blew bubbles through it into my hand for skin lotion. I couldn't eat nut meat though cuz I'd had my lifetime's worth last month. Even hungry folks can have food preferences. I was too worked-out to be very hungry anyway. Hey, what's that down the beach? A couple of miles the other way, among other things, I came on what appeared to be a balsa outrigger log. What boat in this hemisphere has one of those? It was 8ft long, 8" thick, chisel-shaped at the thick end, blunt at the other, and had an annular groove at each end as if for lashings.
Then I packed up and got ready to go. It got easier and faster with practice and as I got rid of unnecessary gear. There's an enabling quantity of posessions and a disabling quantity. I still had more than I needed. In this picture you can see that there's a shore break, a reef break farther out, and some random breakers in between. The reef break was big. A roller stopped me and knocked me back, but I had enough speed by the next wave that it didn't take me either. And then I was out in the big swells.
"?Que va a hacer?" I've sure heard that a lot lately. What ya gonna do now?
The waves got steeper and more confused. If a wave hit us too hard, I hooked a foot under the center kie and leaned way back. Pull the sweep oar up over my chest, put my weight on the stern to sheet in, turn downwind, hold our bow up. If it broke hard it fell on my chest and helped even more. Then we squirted out from under it or it passed us. Then I'd sit up blinking, the foam fell away through the deck and I leaned the other way, way to lee, sheeting out the sail and pushing with the oar to turn us the other way. Because every wave and the gust it pulled along with it would push us first one way, then the other.
There, on that cliff - A giant milk bottle. And brown squares. The Tulum ruins and the lighthouse. A line of light blue where the waves rise up. Suns rays through the clouds. I'm momentarily overwhelmed. A giant sea turtle next to me, floating on the surface, paddling like a bath toy. "Hi turtle" I say. He looks at me and dives. Then another wave. The coast scuds by. From the wave tops I see coast and many waves. Marching. Dancing. From the bottom I look up at the wave, my beautiful full blue sail and the sky beyond it. I adjust my grip. I can't pull hard or at the right time if it hurts. If I loop the sheet this way will it snag and trip us? It doesn't hurt this way. Pull and lean back. Push. One water bottle is gone, washed off the deck, cord tether broken.
Another set of Tulum ruins, just like the first. Should I be overwhelmed again? Am I hallucinating? This time it's farther away and has no line of light blue water.
So how is it these waves are so much bigger than the rollers I've seen? This isn't the first time I've gone out through surf to swells far bigger. Jorge recommended staying just outside the breakers. That's where the swells were smallest. Coral forests strain the amplitude out of them? I guess it takes energy to make those fan corals wave back and forth. A wave is supposed to rear up and increase in height as it reaches shallow water and break at wave height = 2/3 water depth. And where am I? I squint at the laminated chart photocopy jammed under the deck lacings. Too much seawater on my glasses. I look at my compass. A wave. A push. I sheet out with one hand, pull the oar with the other. The outrigger slaps the water again and adds its regular sounds to the rhythm of noises. I can see again. Good. my glasses are a little clearer now.
There are things I can do. Sheet in or out. Pull or push with the oar. Lean left right forward or back. Drag my leg in the water. Lean way back with a foot hooked under the center kie with my back just over the water so little and big waves hit me. All day, do those things. Hook my elbow over the oar so other muscles can relax. Why is this working? This would be great on video. Why doesn't something break? A shoestring? Like the one that keeps the sail from hopping foward off the bow so the boat can crash through it? A strip of innertube? Like the lashings that snap and fly off by themselves just sitting in the sun. "Fully cooked hugeness". A phrase in my head. This is amazing. It's beautiful. It's huge. So many forces I don't understand and any time something could break.
I didn't cause myself to exist and someday I will die. I could die at any time. Someday I will die, but in the meantime things like this can happen.
Do happen all the time, even when I'm not here.
I guess that's a benefit of mortality. Death is certain, lifespan is not. You'll die no matter what you do, so you can take some worthwhile risks.
Thurs 3-15-01 8:25 AM in airport. Last pm the pen died. No ink left in it. I don't think that's ever happened to me before. I bought these pens here. Now full of seawater sloshing back and forth. Bic ballpoint with clear plastic handle. Writes fine.
On the evening of Tues 3-13-01 I was sailing north northeast along the Yucatan coast north of Tulum. It was about 5pm and the sun was getting lower over the land. It made white rays in the haze through the clouds, getting more yellow and red as it dropped. Soon it would be dark. The waves were very large. Some of the coast was rocky. The coral reef shallow in some places. I'd sailed 3 or four hours. I needed to land. Either soon or in the dark. In the dark it would be bad. The wind was maybe 8-12 knots, not too bad. The waves were very large, having come a long way, mostly from the southeast. I kept trying to judge their height. I think the biggest were 15 feet peak-to-trough. They looked horrendous, a huge wall standing slowly up and coming my way. But they lifted me very high and dropped me very low. And then behind me was another just like it. As far as the eye could see, more big waves. Toward land a continuous line of breakers and a roar. It's hard to judge the height of waves.
Everything was working well and my canoe was flying along. I thought - "This feels good. There should be video. I'd look like an athlete doing something skillful in extreme conditions. At all times all the water was waves. Coming from all directions. So I'll cease to try to give a sense of it. Mostly I was leaning way back, steering with both hands, the sheet looped around the sweep oar's handle.
The canoe had a lot of water in it that had come in through the deck. Most of the float bags and air mattresses inside the hull held air well. A couple leaked and that made room for water. In the morning bailed out with all airbags full the boat was a lot faster and rode higher. It had a nice bobby light puffy feel to it and accelerated well with a tug on the sheet.
Where the hell was I? I knew where the pass in the reef was at Paa Mul, Akumal, and Punta Soliman. Today it wouldn't look like a pass because the waves would break all the way across. But in the pass the waves would be smaller, longer, and wouldn't bash me into rocks and coral heads. Fear. Sunset. If it got dark, could I keep sailing?
There was a sandy point at Playa del Carmen I could sail around and land in the lee. Is that right? Maybe not.
Maybe in the lee of Cozumel island the waves would be smaller. But then I'd be in Playa del Carmen where there were too many people. And an island's lee can have bad wrap-clash waves. Clapotic waves. Like clapping.
Cancun, the end of the peninsula, 60-100 km away. I'd be getting there near morning. Lots of lights and flat water around the corner. A cheap hostel on the beach. I'd be more exhausted than I'd ever been. My water all gone. And too much could go wrong. A west wind. Accidentally sailing into the breakers. And then I'd have to land. It would be bad.
I stayed usually a mile offshore, outside the breakers. I kept trying to get closer, but that was more downwind, not a good angle for a proa, because if I backwind the sail it falls down on top of me.
[DRAWING ]wind. sail
[DRAWING ]sail. wind
If I'm quick, push on the oar hard, turn downwind and pull on the boom while I still have speed, I can get the wind under the sail to pop it back up again. Then I have to dive at the outrigger to hold it down, get my feet out of the ropes and throw as much sheet as I can grab at the sail as it goes past me, cuz when it jerks up against the windward stay it's going to try to flip the boat. This generally happens anyway if I have spectators.
[DRAWING ]Some places they lash on a prop like this. It's bent so it will bend and break before the mast does. It lets you backwind the sail a little bit.
Lateens, dipping lugs, square riggers, and others can have a problem with backwinds. Each has its own way of turning through the wind. Fore-and-afters
don't have to have this problem, but in an effort to go faster, many do. Almost every sail has some angle to the wind it just shouldn't be. Overlapping headsail that can be pinned against the mast. Mainsail that can pin against the lee stay. A pair of running backstays or a spinnaker that can get involved in all sorts of mischief.
The nice thing about this rig is that backwinding and dropping it or flipping the boat over onto it generally does no harm. My boat has a pinch point between mast and deck where it trains me not to leave my leg if the mast is tied into its step.
mast. aka. my leg. tibia. fibula. pain.
The sun got lower and yellower with nice rays through the clouds making things on shore look white with mist from the breakers and haze. I saw the row of large blank aluminum billboard signs inland along highway 307. "Advertising for aluminum sheets" Nina had said. So I was coming toward Punta Soliman. I was sailing along just outside the breakers squinting at the land. In very large swells. At one point some rock formations. Palapas and wooden towers. Very large waves breaking on rocks. Spray going higher than the palm trees. Must be Xel-ha. Nice. And unusual for this coast. Be a bad place to end up at night. But during the day I could avoid it. Another bay and a point.
Did the big signs end before the turnoff to Punta Soliman? I think so. Where the hell am I? Finally I wish for my GPS. If I knew where I was I could pick the spot in the breakers where the pass was. Where I wouldn't get smashed on the reef. Is that it? Did I climb one of the trees on that point? Did I swim ashore on those sharp rocks when the waves were smaller? It looks totally different with those huge waves crashing into it. And there are more signs further north? Guess not. I keep going, sailing by habit, leaning way back with the oar and sheet when a swell surfed me forward. Then it came up through the deck and broke. When I could see again, or before, I leaned forward pushing with the oar and sheeting out. Just like all day, by feel and habit now. Swells to 15ft, 8-10ft average probably. Sailing fast. Is that Paa Mul already? Big round palapa by shore. Half oval bay with steep sand beach all around. But no white house on the point. I sail closer. No RVs. No People. The sun is low. And these waves are about to break. I guess this is the place.
I lean way back pulling hard with the steering oar, sheeting the sail in hard. I'm laying back with my back slapping the top of the water. My left foot jammed under the deck lacing, my heel infront of the back beam. My right foot is hooked under the middle beam. I have my right knee looped under a
[DRAWING ]loop of cloth tied from beam to beam. I'm not going to get washed off the boat. It almost happened a few times today, and each time I made myself more securely attached to the boat. But in a way I could get out of in a hurry.
[MAP ]coast. breakers. swells. southeast wind.
The waves were now breaking squarely on the shore becase the coast had turned to the east. Bigger than anything I'd ever been in. In fact, everything all day had been more. Than. Blank. I've only seen boats in conditions like this on the disaster channel. Or "Man of Aran". But here I am. I kept asking myself "Why is this working?" But it kept working very well, sailing where I wanted while no other boat dared out. Each day it had gotten a little bigger, and here I am. Trying to outrun an immense wave toward an unknown shore. But I can't outrun it. Showtime! It catches me, surfing me forward even faster. My heart pounds and I lean way back, throwing my back onto the black water. Just hold up the bow. The wave breaks. Roaring down down on my chest and whole body while I hold on sailing by feel. From shore you would see a large roller coming in with part of a blue sail poking out of it. For a long time.
Inside the roaring whitewater a feeling like being dragged over speedbumps. Bawumpa!Wumpa!WumpaWumpa! I think "Why don't I need to breathe? Sometime soon I should breathe". BAWUMPAWUMPAWUMPA! The wave is pushing right. I pull left. Just like all day long. But a whole lot harder, and completely under the roaring whitewater. Each BAWUMPAWUMPA building up bigger and faster.
Then something breaks, the canoe arches its back, I'm lifted out of the water as the canoe goes end-over-end. "Get out of the ropes!" my mind yells, and I shake myself loose as I fly slowly past the boat down the face of the wave, the boat then lifting off and chasing me. "Get out from under the boat!" my brain yells. I hit the water. The boat lands on top of me as I dive as deep as I can. Then it's all noise, bubbles, and chaos as the world turns inside out, flushes down a giant toilet, and is born again. Maybe I touch bottom, but I don't know. A lot is happening fast. I'm guarding like a boxer in a plane wreck in a snowstorm in a paper weight. And pop to the surface. The boat is upside down, puffy with slack skin. Appears to have broken bones. Sail is ripped with broken bones too. And behind me another wave as big as the first. And more chaos. This happens some number of times, and I'm out of the break zone. The boat is right side up, heavy with water and broken bones. The 1 3/4" hardwood steering oar shaft is broken. I untie the lee stay and sheet from the boat. I gather and rollup sail and spars, tie onto the boat. I'm smiling. No coral heads in my head. I pull out the knife from around my neck, cut loose the oar and lashings holding paddle to shaft. The other paddle is missing. I climb onto the deck and paddle toward shore. It moves slowly with the load of water. The waves break again on shore. I drag it as far out of the water as I can and flip it upside down to drain. Xca Cel? "ishkasell?" Nina said I should make an effort to come here. Well, that was quite an effort.
A young guy in a blue shirt uniform comes toward me, glaring. He has a large sheath knife on his belt. The snap over the handle is undone. His hand hovers near it. !Buenas Tardes! I yell and smile. ?Donde Esta? "Shka Cell" he says, and glares. His features are outlined by soft lines of facial hair.
End of book 3.
The guard's name is Jose. He turned out to be a very nice guy. He took these pictures:
Waves in the distance are larger than they appear. Smile is also large.
He gave me some spanish lessons ("Soy Maestro" )while helping me break down and throw away most of my boat on their brush pile. I took a few pictures to record how the frame had broken.
Bow of canoe after wreck.
[DRAWING ]Headboard. The keel is butted, pegged, lashed, and epoxied to the headboard. Only the lashings held it. 8" pegs. lashing holes. 14.5"
[DRAWING ] 5/16" okoume or meranti. keel. gunwale. Gunwales are served in place. Did not slide, apparently. Check photo.
[DRAWING ]Lashings failed? some happened in surf, some on beach. Don't know which. x= broken.
[DRAWING ]These three splinted repairs broke on beach? these thinner bamboo pieces held it together.
So that's a good reason to use a lattice of thin sticks. Or a mix of thick and thin. Then when it gets between the unmoveable object and the irresistable force and bends a fixed amount, the thick spars will break. The thin ones will flex, hold it together so you can splint the others. They also keep half your boat from floating away.
Jose's knife was very sharp. me: "Muy afilado." he: "especialmente
"Es muy peligroso para dormir aqui porque los narcotraficantes." It's very dangerous to sleep here because of drug traffickers. He gave me directions to a tiny cenote that opened up into a cave with water where I could sleep and wash. While lugging my big bag down the road in the dark a humvee full of Mexican marines came driving up for drug patrol. I thought "what does a narcotraficante look like? A guy on the road from the beach at night carrying a huge bag." I stopped. They stopped.
me:"Buenas Noches!" And started walking off.
they: "Buenas Noches!" They started the truck and headed toward the beach. I wasn't on their mission plan.
When I got to the end of the road, I sat down in the brush behind a wall and repacked my gear a little better. In case the good guys changed their mind about who I was. The marines drove slowly past me with their brights on, but didn't see me. They weren't using dogs or infrared, and I wasn't who they were looking for anyway.
The next morning I hung my stuff up to dry along a path in the woods. People came walking down the the path from the village of Chemuyil. I gave away my long shirt, mask+snorkel, my extra charts, glue, etc. Someone came along and I handed it to them. My baggage was getting much lighter. I was down to one shirt, one bag, and the outrigger skin full of spar sections.
I know Mexico is poor, because it's very easy to give things away there. I just hand something to the next person I see. "!Feliz Navidad!" They take it, smile and nod and keep walking, and hang on to it. Doesn't matter what it is. It's something they didn't have a moment ago. Someone they know can use it.
Also in the stores signs say what the weekly payments are to buy a ten-dollar shirt.
In the States I have to post to a scavengers email list, give people the hard sell when they show up. Everyone has too much already.
I have to give things away though, rather than just dropping them on the ground. Somehow it's acceptable to leave trash where it already is on the beach etc, and unacceptable to throw more there. The work of carrying it away is no more for the trash of others. Custom is strange.
Then I stood on the highway and caught a collectivo north to Playa del Carmen. He dropped me off at a little bus ticket office in the north end of town and charged me less than I was expecting. I guess I was an honorary local.
In Cancun I went to the convenience store email terminals to see if I still existed. A woman there kept laughing when she looked at me because of the sand that fell out of my hair. I guess I was covered with it. Her name was Laura. She was there taking a break from job interview rejections. "They only want to hire young women." I kept running into her that day. She was "so mad at her boyfriend" because she saw him unexpectedly that morning. "I call him my boyfriend but he lives with another woman." She'd had an affair with him. A friend of her sister's. "Mexican men treat women so poorly." I gave her all sorts of helpful advice, which she ate up. "There are two ways to avoid pain. One is to not get hurt. The other is to not care." I was thinking of how anaesthetics work. There's also one that blocks longterm memory. You have all the pain but you don't remember it, so it seems like an anaesthetic.
Later outside Chedraui where I was eating groceries and looking at people, she came up to me with a newspaper. "See what you were telling me? right here!" She was looking for work as a translator. I'd told her she should go into sewage treatment. Tourism, the local monoculture industry needed a healthy reef as an attraction. The central planners were going to have to put something at the end of every pipe. Cuz word gets out, tourists are fickle, and people can look at rocks covered with algae without getting on an airplane. Like Puerta Vallarta.
I say "Puerta Vallarta." You say "big pipes dumping sewage. Toilet paper on the beach. Turds in the water. Last time really was the last time."
The newspaper story was of a visiting dignitaries including a Ms. Cousteau, planning how to save the reef. Maybe they'll have to plant mangroves.
Toilets at the Cancun youth hostel. The wastebaskets are for toilet paper. Notice the ball valves for flushing. This takes some skill. I opened one too much and the toilet flushed up onto my legs instead of down. Notice the wet floor. Did you know the coriolis effect is weaker toward the equator? Right at the equator the toilets just gurgle and don't flush at all. That's why there's so much mess and disease at the equator. Just kidding. Bad toilets have nothing to do with the coriolis effect.
While we're looking at these toilets I should say that Nina and I never got sick in Mexico. Her parasites turned out to be a nervous stomach. When my dad heard I was there he emailed me "Don't eat anything and don't touch anything." He learned excellent spanish there in the '50s and was sick most of the time. The water and sewers are a lot better now. More people can afford not to have pigs in their yard. Restaurants that cater to gringos soak their vegetables in tubs of disinfectant. Lots of grocery stores have bottles of this vegetable disinfectant for sale in the produce section.
6:41pm Now writing while sitting on the balcony of Cancun's huge decrepit youth hostel. I rub my face. Still covered with Chapstick spf 30. I used that when I accidentally threw away my bottle of sunscreen with the small remaining amount. My sunscreen was too runny anyway. I'd mixed two brands and I guess the thickening agents were incompatible.
Cancun is now full of spring break kids. The young men look better than the women. Young athletes with their shirts off. Just like wherever they went last year. I have yet to see a shirtless mexican any distance from a beach. A party cruise boat is playing Carmina Burana disco mix across the water. Actually it's the original. I hadn't noticed how disco-rific it was before. Then the DJ yells some stuff into the mike, pausing occasionally to let the crowd scream. Or maybe he's got a "crowd screams" sample on his synthesizer. Digital "turntables" come stock with some funny stuff on them now. Then singing offkey happy birthday to someone named Mike. I bet ASCAP isn't getting their cut. Wonder if they've got an 800# that works from here. Although. Today I was in a couple of internet cafes printing up a doctor's earache letter for the airline. (an unjust airline policy is no policy at all) They didn't have stolen software. They had wordpad but not word, paint but not photoshop. So when I wanted to paste the hospital's logo onto the letter I couldn't get it right. Jaggy lowres printouts, faulty previews, difficult or impossible cut-and-paste, etc. In this late day and age. So the cafe must not pirate software or they'd have the real stuff. Maybe Mexico's enforcing IP as part of the "giant sucking sound" agreements. I got so irked I decided to go to Seattle with some bricks and a magic marker. Write my complaints on each one and throw it through a window at Microsoft.
"This one's for not letting me cut and paste except when you feel like it."
"This is is for filling my computer with crap that pisses me off and I can't get rid of."
"this is for a wordprocessor where I type one thing and something else shows up on the screen."
"For all the hours of helpless rage at bugs and bad design."
"A WIMP GUI that moves things around."
"An OS I can't re-install from the CD that
came with the computer. And must re-install periodically."
Gee, that's a lot of bricks. Maybe I'll use a big slingshot.
12:41pm Miami time. Now waiting for my plane to
Boston. I got hungry. Had a can of tuna with me but no knife cuz the check
in lady told me to put it in my checked bag. No tools or sharp things at
all, in fact. I thought "I'll play a game." I'll open this can
right here with what I have and see how long it takes." The people
around me didn't hear me thinking this, but soon they could suspect.
It took a minute or less. Amazing. Just one guy got up and left. I can't be sure anyone actually noticed. Try eating food out of a can in a crowd sometime. What? You put your food on a plate? How can you be sure where that plate has been?
Here's how to open it. To get the strength of character to eat canned food in public, read any American transcendentalist. Think "two paths diverged, quiet desperation, sing a song of myself."
[DRAWING ] ATUN can of tuna. the famous bic ballpoint. hand.
[DRAWING ] seawater inside. with corner of blunt end, score across top.
[DRAWING ] stab top with ballpoint. this is easier than it sounds.
[DRAWING ] now there's a hole like this in it.
A hole with four corners. Push each corner along with the handle of the pen til it reaches the edge. Pry up each flap. Eat contents with two wooden coffee stirrers as chopsticks from nearby fastfood stand. Plan uses for the interesting metal thing you have left.
End of part 5. which is Notebook 3. A very nice 4.5"x6.5" bound notebook. 96 blue lined pages stitched in signatures and bound with a flexible dark blue cover like a bible. If I could get this unlined it would be perfect. Hecho en Zaragoza Mex. por Interlib SA de CV. Bought in Papeleria Cancun.
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Copyright 2001 Tim Anderson