BITS and PIECES # 11

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November 21, 2012 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 11

Hello from Luquillo,
Before I get into anything else — I must ‘crow’ about ‘my’ UCLA Bruin football team and their hard fought 38-28 win over the Trojans of USC — ‘we’ Bruins hadn’t won the ancient cross-town rivalry contest since 2006 — Accordingly, I think the Bruins (now the PAC 12 south division champs) deserve all the kudos we devoted (if often disappointed) faithful can give them. To paraphrase ‘Casey at the Bat’ — ‘there is much joy in Westwood — Coach Mora has come through!’…
Back to business — today’s blog post has an appropriate holiday theme — it is a recounting of a long-ago, unexpected welcome to a family Thanksgiving celebration when I was a ‘stranger in a strange Land’, so to speak…
If all goes well, an expanded version of this story will appear in my next collection of such stories — conveniently entitled ‘BITS and PIECES’ — clever, no?
Anyway – here goes:

I first encountered the ‘Republic of Palomino’ on a voyage from Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, delivering a 32 foot Freedom cat/sloop to her new owners. I left Bend Boat Basin with a South African friend as crew in early November, 1983 – the forecast of a ‘Bermuda High’ from the National Weather Service seemed a promise of favorable winds and reasonably good weather for the fifteen hundred mile voyage across the north Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles islands – we hoped to make close to 120 miles each 24 hour day – if all went as planned, the trip would take slightly less than two weeks.
Things were fine for the first eight days — the winds blew a fairly consistent 10 – to 15 knots, mostly from the east, the seas were cooperative, with only a mild chop on long, even swells. We worked the boat in four hour ‘watch on watch’ shifts (one of us steering and tending sails, while the other slept, or just relaxed. Meals were prepared in the small galley below by whichever of us was not on watch, but were mostly consumed ‘on the fly’ in the open cockpit. We had settled comfortably into this fairly typical off-shore sailing routine. Then suddenly, on day nine, adversity struck! Late in the afternoon, the sky suddenly darkened and an unanticipated line squall packing 50 knot gusts roared out of the northeast – as we scrambled breathlessly to reduce sail, the un-stayed, ‘high-tech’, carbon fiber mainmast cracked with a noise like a cannon shot just above the cabin roof and came crashing down on the port rail, tearing away the stanchions and lifelines before swiftly pitching overboard, dragging halyards, sheets and sails along with it. We had just enough time to lash the halyards and sheets to cleats and winches, quickly recovering what we could of sails and lines, before cutting the shattered mast loose to quickly sink beneath the waves. We pulled the 13’ aluminum spinnaker ‘pipe’ from its launching tube and jammed it into the gaping hole in the jagged stub that was all that remained of the mainmast, quickly jury-rigging stays to support this miniature replacement ‘mast’ and fastening the sailboat’s small headsail to it as a temporary ‘storm jib’. This arrangement allowed us to limp along, weaving back and forth along our rhumb-line course, aided by the impetus of the sailboat’s small Yanmar diesel auxiliary. We ran out of fuel a couple of days later, and with just the jury-rigged jib to push us along, it was impossible to keep our course and our forward motion slowed to an unacceptable crawl. I reluctantly used the boat’s VHF radio to hail a container ship, providentially visible on the horizon, giving her radio operator details of our plight. He copied my transmission and with his more powerful SSB radio rig relayed it to the US Coast Guard Borinquen Air Station in Puerto Rico – they responded in just over two hours, dropping a 40 gallon rubber bladder-tank filled with diesel fuel within a few meters of us, from a twin engine jet aircraft as it made a low pass over us. – two days later, we limped into San Juan Harbor, wearily tying-off at the San Juan Yacht Club dock.
After some cleanup, refitting, refueling and re-victualing (and passing our heartfelt thanks to our Coast Guard rescuers) we continued our delivery voyage to St. Thomas of what was now technically a ‘power boat’ – I had contacted the Tillotson-Pearson boatyard in Rhode Island and was told that it would take a few weeks for a replacement mast to be built and shipped — we couldn’t afford to wait at the San Juan Yacht Club – their dockage fees were too steep for our dwindling cash reserves and the prospect of anchoring-out in the crowded harbor was unappealing. So, we set out for St. Thomas on a sunny Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, coasting about five miles offshore of Puerto Rico’s heavily shoaled northern shore. When we reached Cabo San Juan the lighthouse on the island’s northeastern tip just before midnight, we agreed to turn and run south into Vieques sound, past the light on Las Cucarachas, and anchor for the night in the lee of Icacos Island. This decision turned out to be unwise – a current that was running across the prevailing wind began to drag the anchor, so we decided to move on to what appeared on the chart to be a more protected anchorage at Palomino Island, a few kilometers further south. We anchored under a full moon inside a circular reef, just off Palomino’s rocky beach for the remainder of the night.
As we were finishing preparing to depart around nine o’clock the next morning, I noticed a short concrete dock jutting-out to our south from the island’s shore – a dinghy with a small outboard motor attached was being untied from it and presently, a middle-aged lady putted out to us – identifying herself as Señora Bachman, the island’s owner, she greeted us with a cheery “Buenos Dias”, enquiring if we had eaten breakfast. When I replied that we had been too busy preparing for departure, she invited us to come ashore to share Thanksgiving brunch with her and her family – on the tiny island that she smilingly referred to as the ‘Republic of Palomino’.
Thanksgiving brunch was a feast for hearty eaters – omelets, pancakes, French toast, a variety of cheeses, pork chops, ham and bacon – guava, mango and other local island fruits, and numerous loaves of ‘Pan de Aqua’ and ‘Pan Sobao’ two delectable Puerto Rican breads served in chunks, piping hot, each piece smothered in butter and a kind of jam made from tropical fruits. For thirst-quenchers we were offered our choice of fresh fruit juice or Mimosas (Orange juice and champagne — we chose the juice – we were ‘driving’) – the vast cornucopia of food and beverage gave an unexpected elegance and ambiance to this otherwise rustic island setting.
The Bachman’s were gracious hosts, swiftly making us feel welcome. Since the festivities were scheduled to continue (three or four large turkeys were turning slowly on spits in a barbeque pit along with several other unfamiliar animal and vegetable items, their inviting aroma wafting over the beachfront), we were invited to stay overnight – in those days, their island had a rudimentary guest house with plenty of room for two more lodgers. So we spent the afternoon and early evening eating, drinking, chatting and relaxing in typical Thanksgiving mode, but with delicious tropical accents – finally tottering off with swollen stomachs to our guest quarter bunks to swiftly fall asleep — to the accompaniment of the lively chatter of the Bachman family children and grandchildren.
The next morning, as we prepared to depart once more – our food locker was loaded with fruits, cheeses and sandwiches, leftovers that Doña Bachman had insisted we take along to ‘see us through to St. Thomas.’
The glow from this unique and unexpected Thanksgiving experience stayed with us for the remainder of the trip – I was determined to return some day to this enchanting islet to revisit Doña Bachman and her lovely family once again, to thank them for their thoughtful hospitality to a couple of unknown wanderers…
Eight years later, I would serendipitously reconnect with Doña Bachman and her kindly, outgoing family to share further adventures — but that of course is another story for another day…
© 2012 – Alan Mowbray Jr.


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