Life on the Ocean Waves

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Saturday, December 29, 2012

A friend lifts his forty seven foot sailing boat out the water every hurricane season and has it stored on the 'hard', (you can see I’m beginning to learn all the technical jargon), and has it stored in a city called Jacksonville in Florida. And each year has it returned to the water and then sails down to Miami, and off to the BVI’s (British Virgin Islands) or Cuba before heading South and ending up somewhere in northern Brazil. So he invited us to sail down the
‘Intra-coastal’ Canal with him and his partner. On a map, the Intra coastal looks to be a narrow waterway running south, parallel to the sea, and is very very long. The reality is that it varies in width from a couple of hundred yards to probably five miles, or even larger. Now everyone in America seems to fly from one place to the next. Something to do with distance, so as we were only staying in one state, Florida, decided to catch a train from Miami (where we landed), to Jacksonville where we had to pick the boat up. Now here’s something I’ve never seen, and in England, the Health & Safety executive would have an apoplectic fit. In quite a few towns, the train actually runs either down the main street, or crosses many smaller ones. For some of us born in a previous century, and have actually ridden in a tram; you will remember how the tracks
were laid right in the road?... Well in America, instead of tram lines, they have train lines. Yes! And for someone from England where everyone is totally nannied by the State, this was a wonderful eye opener. Now, the slogan for Florida is ‘Welcome to the sunshine state.’ And
nothing could have been further from the truth. It was normal">COLD. And when I say cold, I mean really cold. A quick look at how we’re dressed will convince you. We left Jacksonville early, and there are quite a number of bridges you have to go under. And some of them are totally amazing. I recall bridges that swing open horizontally, or even seem to hinge from one side and raise; but the one in Jacksonville literally lifts the entire span horizontally upwards. Quite amazing. Hope you like the picture. The sailing trip is uneventful. Thank goodness! Nothing goes wrong. In fact I learn a tremendous amount about sailing from Daniel, (The Captain) and am most grateful.
We were one of very few boats on this waterway to actually have the sails up and be sailing. Most of the Americans on this particular run start their engines and chug away doing about five knots; (six miles per hour.)  And there we were, under sail going faster than this, and even passing other boats. In fact, the local coast guards could not believe their eyes and followed us at a discrete distance for about an hour or so. There were many turn offs they could have taken, but no, they just kept up with us and watched; hopefully in amazement.  (Reminded me of another story when the cops were chasing me at high speed in a car for at least that length of time in South Africa, but that is quite another story). The weather never improved. We anchored in magnificent bays and marinas on the way down and one of them was Saint Augustine, the
oldest city in the USA. Very historic and wonderful and full of artsy stuff and well worth going to. It was thanksgiving; a huge American Holiday and we were in the marina at Vero Beach. A lined notice pinned to the door of the club house asked who would be coming to the festive lunch; the name of the boat; the number of people who would be attending; and what dish you would be
bringing.  "Please put your names down" said the quickly filling list. This would be our very first American Thanksgiving in America. The dining room was rammed with boaters. Must have
been at least two hundred and fifty there. What great comaradie amongst the boating fraternity, and we ate fantastically.  Finally we ended up at Lake Worth where we had to leave the boat and catch the plane back to St Maarten. What a brilliant brilliant sailing experience.

And so from the sublime to the quite ridiculous.

Back on our island there is always fun stuff going on. And that week was no exception.
They, whoever normal">THEY were decided to hold a boating competition. And I must tell you, that the locals take this very seriously. Even if it sounds weird. Yes they were going to have a boat race. Nothing extraordinary about that! No, you’re quite right.  Here however are the
rules.     1.  Four people per boat. Yes. OK with that.    
             2.  Must be paddled 
Yes. OK with that.   
  No engines.  Yes. OK with that.   
             4.  No ramming.   
Always a good idea    
             5.  No sabotaging.     I’d be OK with that.    
             6. And it is going to be a Le Mans start.
(This is similar to the motor races in France
                 where the drives have to sprint to their cars from the opposite side of the track; start  their engines And GO.) So it means the team will have to carry their boat from the starting line on the beach.... to the sea.... and on  completion of the water course... pick their boat up and run it to the finish line about ten yards up the beach.  Sounds easy??

                                    Oh! I forgot to tell you something ....      

                rule 7. You can only make it out of cardboard!
Yes, you heard right;cardboard. Now what do you think about that!

Well the morning of the race arrived. A beautiful and glorious day too. Sun shining. Crowds arriving. Lorries and trucks bringing ‘what can only be described as water craft to the beach for the judge’s inspection.  And quite miraculously..... every sort of vessel passed their inspection. Must be something to do with all the jollity going on right along the beach. The course marker boat arrived placing big red buoys a very short distance off the beach, twenty yards or so. So the actual course was about one hundred and fifty yards long. And the glorious teams after
looking at the course from the beach all went into their little huddles to make final preparations. The manager all gave the pep talks, though I wonder if anyone took it seriously because of all the raucous laughter. The boats were all shapes and sizes. From the very professional looking one made by the coastguards with a mock gun on the front; who incidentally would be racing
against another construction, (I can’t really call it a boat) called ‘the Pirates. And as we know the captain of the coast guard boat had to cheer for him and his crew. (Politically the correct thing to do you know!). Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever watch a boat race where the boats were made from cardboard. Sounds so silly doesn’t it? And would they even float? Let alone carry four people? There were just so many imponderables. And the
laughter was so infectious with all the participants and race goers. The time had arrived for the first race. Very carefully and quite gingerly the first four ‘boats’ were lined up behind a line drawn in the sand. Everyone listening intently to the marshal’s instructions. Sounds like a referee in a boxing ring bringing the protagonist together for the first time. “Understand?” he shouted
with a smile on his face? And with much laughter the first four teams raced back to their vessels. The crowd of nearly a thousand held their breath... just waiting for the off. The Marshal sauntered to the edge of the water.... raised his whistle to his lips... took a deep breath... and blew for all he was worth.  The shrillness of the whistle’s sound penetrating the air was immediately drowned out with raucous shouts from the teams; their supporters and much screaming from the gathered throng. It didn’t really matter who you were cheering for because it was such a brilliant atmosphere. Picking up their craft the first four teams raced towards the water. Never had their boats been anywhere near this sort of wet stuff at all! So this was going to be a first. For everything. Would they carry four people? And most importantly; would they be watertight? And if not perfectly watertight, would they be watertight long enough to finish the course? Could they steer them round the course? Just so many imponderables. All was going to be tested. And it was starting right now.

There seemed to be a modus operandi forming in all the teams; and that was two at the front,
one each side and the other two crew members at the back. The front two members of the first team hit the water running wildly, and because they were not able to practise this manoeuvre prior to the off, the back two made a fatal error. They assumed their end was also actually in the water. WRONG! They dropped their end which landed in only about an inch of water and leapt into the back. It grounded...... the front pair kept running and the vessel nearly tore in half.
Goodness knows why it didn’t. Out the back pair leapt having realised their mistake and gave it another shove into deeper water, then, the four leapt in and off they went. The other three ‘boats’ already well ahead of them. It didn’t matter, they plied on because it’s not how you start, its how you finish. And finishing the course was paramount to the builders, their vocal supporters, and of course us... the enthralled crowd all laughing at what was happening before their eyes. So the boat in front was seeming to go well, when one member of the crew felt his swimming costume falling off. Sounds far- fetched, but so totally true. So without much ado, stood up in the cardboard boat to pull them up, over balanced, and fell into the sea. Please watch the video of this happening.  And one by one boats were either finishing the course with sometimes less than four in them and sometimes only half the boat managing to complete the course; or being either pulled, or pushed by the swimmers, (originally paddlers) towards the finish line. And you
would have died laughing seeing the boats disintegrating as they were being lifted out the water and dragged towards the finish line. And on a final note, our friend, the captain of the coastguard gunboat lost out to his rivals, ‘the Pirates’ amid much jollification and beer drinking. There were another five heats of all of this wonderful nonsense with so many of the boats ending up as
totally recyclable rubbish in readiness for next year’s competition. Now isn’t
that just something.

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