by Paulo Baptista May 29, 2015
I am fresh back from my lunch break. My belly is full, my soul is refreshed and my body is rested. Boy did I need it after yesterday’s sailing practice. I took my lunch break outside at India Point Park in Providence. The Providence Community Boat Center is located there and there is a nice view of the Providence River. The water was calm with a few ripples from a gentle breeze. There was something magical about the water though. It was sparkling like a billion tiny stars were living underwater. The magic of the water really touched my soul because of its beauty, the calmness and the smell in the air. Boy, it’s a large contrast to think that 20 hours earlier I was praying for my life because of the water.
Yesterday was a unique and special day. I was looking forward to the evening sailing practice with the Azorean Maritime Heritage Society crew members. I had showed up last Saturday, helped rig the boat, but because we had to many people and not enough helmsmen, I decided to sit out and give someone else a chance to practice. For last nights practice, I was determined to be the bowman. I’ve done it a few times in the past and it would be the first time this year. Our crew is all about cross-training each other, showing each other the ropes, or should I say lines. You never know when you will need to step up and take on a new role on the boat. Lou Perreira called me earlier in the day and confirmed that we were going sailing, and I said I was in! The evening winds have been really strong all month. The forecast called for 18mph winds, but with it dying down towards the night. I was the first to arrive in the Padanaram St parking lot. I put the CBC parking sign on my dash, changed out of my clothes, put on my AMHS windbreak, and I was off. Paul Curado and Alexa showed up minutes later. We grabbed the life vests, the logbook box, pumps and first aid kits. The winds were strong! We only started rigging up one boat because of the conditions. We anticipated some folks would not show up because of the winds. Alexa and I removed all the oars from the boats. I threw some of the oars in the water to soak. Allison and Melanie were next to come. We started talking about the chances of going out. Is Fernando showing up? Is Sara showing up? Those are our two helmsmen for the regatta in Azores in July. Allison mentioned that she heard there was a small craft advisory warning. Paul said, “I don’t care, we’re going out!” His son was receiving an award last night at City Hall, and he was missing out on the ceremony to be part of this practice. CBC had four boats sailing in the cove, so we felt confident that if they can sail so can we, even though we don’t have a keel! Sara Quintal and Israel Monteiro were next to arrive. Sara brought the radio from CBC in case we ran into any issues out on the water. The CBC has a zodiac support boat stationed at the dock ready to come help. The crew present, rigged up the boat and put up the mast. Sailing is like life. You have to take some chances, have faith and practice to grow and live a great life. It was time to put up the heavy mast, one of the most intimidating tasks when working on the Azorean whaleboat. I wanted to learn how to hold the peak line and guide the mast into the hole, while the rest of the team hoist up the mast. Allison positioned herself at the very base of the mast, a position that requires sure footing and strength to give the final push to get the mast perpendicular. Allison took a different approach to the setup. I was taught to hold onto the shroud line to give you stability. Allison did not, so I shared my lack of faith in the setup. I got some grief about it, but Allison didn’t let it deter her and proved more the capable of getting the mast up. We got the mast up on the first try. I was pleasantly surprised on how easy it was to hold onto the peak line. The trick is to not to pull the peak line when the mast starts going up, but only lean back when the mast is close to being perpendicular. You lean back and use your foot to guide the bottom of the mast to the hole where it locks into place. Paul, Israel and Sara helped pull and navigate the boat down close to the end of the dock and around the support boat. Sara, being the ultimate team player and coach, started asking questions about the wind. Where was the wind coming from? I said South-West, Paul said West. Sara said, “How can you tell? “I said, “You can look at flags on shore and at the direction the moored boats.” Sara agreed and then put he hand on her cheek, insinuating to use your face to judge. That made me think of sticking my finger in my mouth and sticking it up in the air. Sailing is all about understanding the conditions, the tides, wind direction, your equipment, experience of your crew and most of all knowing yourself. Just at that moment, someone spotted a red truck pull into the parking lot. Who can it be? Will we be allowed to go out for a sail? Did Sara feel up to it? Were the conditions right? Were we going to have fun on the water?
And the fun began. Fernando Viveiros showed up and was all dressed in bright orange. We joked about being visible if we needed to get rescued. Sara was the helmsman; Fernando would be rail meat for this 3-hour tour. Fernando and Sara talked about the best starting technique for the current conditions. Winds were gusting. The CBC boats were off the water at this point and one of the CBC sailors said that it was gusty out there. We all made sure our life vests were extra tight before we embarked on our practice sail. So we shoved off. Sara is at the helm, Alex on the main sheet, Paul, Allison, Melanie, and Fernando were rail meat, and Israel and me were in the bow. The order went out to raise the sails. I had the throat going up and Israel had the peak. Peak goes ahead of the throat so I had to keep an eye on that. It was so gusty and we immediately started heading up wind which made it very difficult to get the main sail throat and peak up to the maximum height. I then brought the jib up and the boat really started to move. There is a technique to pull the sheets up higher. One would grab the line at the bottom with one hand, and grab the line up to the sheet with the other hand and lean back. There is certain timing to it where when you do that and then lean forward and pull up, the line would move. Well, it wasn’t happening for me. I gave it a good three tries before I looked over to Israel for help. At this point we were really moving. The water was choppy and we were all getting sprayed. And then it happened, our first big gust. We call if a puff. Puff sounds so soft and gentle, but not these puffs. The boat immediately heeled over and the crew scrambled to hike out to help bring the boat down. The boom got into the water and gallons of water were gushing in over the port side. We were on a starboard tack. A millions thoughts go through your mind. Are we capsizing, can Sara recover, do we bring the peak down, do we let the job out, Arrrgh!!! It was all in slow motion. Fernando yelled out to Sara to go up into the wind. “Go up wind! The other way with the rudder.” What do we do? Sara save us please! She had laser focus. She moved that ruder over and the boat recovered nicely. The sound of the rushing water over the side of the boat was loud like a giant statue of Zeus was being lifted out of the water. As Fernando later said lightheartedly in his charming Portuguese accent, “I don’t need to build pools anymore, we have one in the middle of the boat.” Any hope of making home dry was gone. Those who prepared ahead of time with wearing bathing suits and bringing towels were smart. We were now calf deep in water in the middle of the boat and we only just started to sail. By this point, I removed myself from the bow and let Israel run the show there. The conditions called for an experienced bowman. I rode just behind the mast. We called for the pumps; we need to get the water out of the boat. I ran a pump, and the other crew bailed with the buckets. A few more gusts, wait excuse me, puffs, and again we had to hike out far, and the boom was buried under water, more water in the boat. I thought for sure Fernando was going to go back and take control of the boat. Fernando has been sailing these boats since formation of the club back in the 1990s. But no, he didn’t do that. There was a special sparkle in his eyes, something magical. He knew it would be in the club’s best interest to help push this crew and continue to sail under Sara. He said, “I love the taste of salt water.” He took off his work boots and put it in the covered area in the bow, where they can stay relatively dry. He was bouncing around the boat in his socks! Like I said before, sailing is like life, and at this point, it felt like life and death. We were getting close to the SMAST dock at Fort Rodman. After our second tack and more water in the boat, I silently prayed to Jesus for a safe return. Melanie blurted out in Portuguese “Jesus Christo”. Christians say that they are the hands and feet of the church, well, we, the crew, were Sara’s hands and feet. We needed to unite and fight for our survival, to shine and be there for eachother. We worked together. We hiked out. We communicated clearly. We bailed. Paul helped Alexa pull in the main sheet when needed. Fernando gave Sara advice. Israel was holding onto that shroud line when hiking out and holding on firm to that jib line. Allison would call out another puff. Melanie would help me with the pump line after we switched sides after a tack. I thought, “When are we heading back in..?” There is no way we will continue to sail with this much water. Nope! We tacked back up wind and headed south again. We were out for a sail and we were the only ones out on the water, in these crazy conditions, and we were doing it! Slowly, we gained our confidence. We all started to feel the magic of the ocean. We all had that sparkle in our eyes, smiles on our faces, and yes, we loved the taste of salt water! We tacked up and down that cove for the next 45 minutes. With every tack, we sharpened our seamanship swords. The boom got buried a few more times, but Sara brilliantly and confidently recovered. Sara even played slalom with two moorings near Mosher’s point.
We sailed downwind one last time with the beautiful sunset approaching. The wind finally died down and I was able to grab only a handful of shots with my phone. We noticed a small spec of blue on the dock. Allison said it could be Ryan, and it was. We lowered the main sail and came in under the jib. We threw the bowline over to Ryan and he brought us in, no paddles needed. We finished up, tied up the boats, moved the mast over for the ladies row Saturday morning, moved the oars back into the boat and called it a night. I can say that experience was amazing and proved what we’re capable of doing, if we just put our faith in each other, the boat and in God. We all had the Ocean Sparkle Magic in our eyes. The great thing about it is, the sparkle in contagious!
…and Fernando and Sara walked into the sunset happily ever after, dripping wet, but happy.