Easter 2020 off the coast of Haiti.

Written by Jack van Ommen on April 19th, 2020

On my way from Saint Thomas to Florida, at sunrise on Easter Sunday, I turn on the FM radio and I listen to a program from Radio Ginen on Haiti.

While listening, I filmed the early sunrise. https://studio.youtube.com/video/gQyF6o3o7bY/edit

Sunrise Easter 2020

A French parochial high school choir sings: Il est vivant le Seigneur ressuscité. (He is alive the resurrected Lord.) I had hoped to be able to, at least, be able to hear a service this morning. French happens to be my favorite language for this. When we lived in Belgium, we were members of the local churches, first in Foret a suburb of Brussels and later when we lived in the country, in Ittre. On this winter cruise, I spent longest in the French speaking part of the French West Indies. I could listen to a daily program of Radio Chrétienne France (RCF). I just found this same program here. Poetic, intellectual, only the French can find a new angle on an ancient wisdom. This one interprets the seasonal aspect of the short three years of Jesus presence on this earth from Christmas to Ascension with the cosmos and the lunar signs.

Here I am, all I see is the circle of the ocean surface around me to the edge of the sky and the risen sun and at night the stars and the waning moon, full just a day after my departure on Tuesday.

It is also Jeannine’s 51st birthday, my youngest daughter. She was born when we were living in Ittre, south of Brussels. I never forget the connection I still make when I hear the Latin part of the liturgy: “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini”. Blessed is (s)he who comes in the name of the Lord. Just before Jeannine was born, I sang Mozart’s Requiem in a large choir at Easter in Nivelles, in the beautiful old cathedral. And I interpreted this part as the welcome to Jeannine. She must have sensed it. We have been very blessed with her. She is a woman with a strong faith. As part of the concert, we also sang some traditional Easter hymns. One of them was what the young girls are singing in the video I recorded of the Sunrise.  Il est vivant le Seigneur resscucité.

I’m on last row left, with glasses.

 

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Against the good advice of many of my friends, who figured that being in the US Virgin Islands was a much better place than coming home to the USA, I pulled the anchor on Monday afternoon, the 8th. On the way out, I stopped at Crown Marina in Charlotte Amalie, to top of my diesel tank and fill the water bladder. I tanked 4,8 gallons of diesel and 6 gallons of drinking water. The previous time I filled up the diesel tank and my empty 5-gallon spare can, was on January 30th., in Beaufort, N.C. Right after the Heineken Regatta, I filled my spare water canister with 5 gallons at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club. Last Monday’s stop was also the first time, since January 30, that “Fleetwood” was connected to terra firma. I cannot recall that I ever came close to these 70 days of transit and anchorages in my 15 years of this world cruise. But at felt so good and having saved all those berthing fees, I decided to treat my self to a night in the marina. This meant my first shower since the hospitality of Joni Dennis, in Beaufort, on departure February 3rd. And I could also do some extra provisioning in the nearby “Pueblo” super market, without having to lug my backpack and using the dinghy. It has been a very slow sail, until late yesterday afternoon, within a half hour the wind went from zero to about 15 knots. I had been motoring over a millpond until just beyond Puerto Plata on the Santo Domingo shore. The compass on my tiller pilot is not working after all; this means that all I can use it for to set the tiller in a fixed position, on smooth water this gives me as much as a few minutes to dive down into the cabin. At times there is just enough wind, while motoring, that the wind vane can keep the boat on course. As long as there is enough wind to keep the boat moving on a light breeze and the wind vane, I take that option. The first day I totaled 106 miles in 24 hours, next day 90, next 76, next 79, yesterday 105. Today, Easter Sunday’ will be the best, a steady 15 plus easterly, tonight it is supposed to get even stronger. The one week Predict Wind forecast proves to be quite accurate, since I have no other way than the radio from the boat, I am fortunate to be able to hear Chris Parker’s forecast every morning at 6.30 a.m. on the short-wave receiver. In a way, I was not in a hurry, since the stronger winds predicted for this evening and tomorrow are nasty further north from here. A cold front, coming down from the Great Lakes.

There are at least three fish swimming around with a hook through their mouth and trailing part of a broken line, instead of having nurtured my sashimi desires. The line I have is too weak.

I am doing close to 5 knots and losing the Haiti stations, next it will be the propaganda from Cuba and good Meringue. I noticed that I can understand much more of the Sto. Dominicanos than the Puerto Riquenos’ Spanish.

It is now Thursday the 16th. On Monday morning I had covered 106 miles for the 24 hours prior. And I could have been at least another 100 miles closer to my Florida destination, but I have slowed the boat down to about half the possible speed, keeping just under 3 knots per hour. This evening a cold front is coming down from the north with N.E. winds (right against the direction I am going) of 15/25 knots with gusts between 30 and 40 knots. Fortunately, so far, slowing the boat down has worked with a very mild S.E. breeze.  I am now at around 23̊N and 78̊W. I still do not know for sure how far south this storm will stall. There are really no places close enough to hide at anchor. The Bahama reefs offer little protection from a strong N.E. wind. It is supposed to peter out on Friday. I am reading a good book that Griffith Brinkley loaned me: “A Jesuit off-Broadway”. Great writing and insights behind the theater scenes. But most of all an outstanding lesson on theology and commons sense. But, thank God that I am blessed with a “poor in Spirit”. So much energy is spent on trying to explain God. Miracles remain abstract, I just accept his mercy. It is so still that I can hear the sound of a windvane sheave, that needs a squirt of WD-40, reminds me of “On Golden Pond”; the distant sound of a Loon.

I hear one AM station from the Bahamas and a couple Cuban FM programs with good Meringues and lots of experts on Covid-19. It sounds like our good President gets blamed for the embargo that limits the Cuban access to medical equipment. Looks like this 1100-mile trip is going to take me as long as the two-week 1,400-mile trip from Beaufort, N.C. to Saint Martin.

A coast guard cutter suddenly appeared right on my starboard, yesterday. They do not transmit on AIS. It was quite windy and that probably spared them a trip in their inflatable.

So, we had a very nice courteous conversation over the VHF radio, to identify myself and the boat. I have just passed through the Old Bahamas Channel. Quite a bit of commercial shipping. But I like these narrow channels with traffic lanes for the freighters. No surprises, as long as I stay outside of them.

 

Sunday April 19th. Back “home?” in Fort Lauderdale, Fl.

I arrived early this morning. I am tied to a mooring buoy across from the Bahia Mar Marina. I got lucky since without a smart phone and an internet subscription I rely on free wi-fi, usually at restaurants or bars. But they are all shut. In 2017, I stayed one night in this very luxe marina and they let me use their free wi-fi in the shade on a dock chair. You would not know that recreational boating is supposed to be

Verbo(a)ten. A steady stream came plowing into the Atlantic, throwing their inconsiderate waves for the rag sailor to dodge.  Last night I got caught in a huge thunderstorm, lots of rain and a quick dousing of all my light wind sails. I was just entering the Gulf Stream. This gorgeous little song bird hitched a ride. It must have been thirsty, it kept picking up the rain drops from the life lines. It left at dusk.

My hitchhiker

Nov 2016 off the coast of Mexico

The I had a very unpleasant encounter with one of those sunset cruise boats. I really do not understand that they are allowed to bunch a people of boozers into one of those germ machines. I guess they are beyond the laws out on the water. But I cannot figure how they get them aboard in Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. But this particular monster comes right at me. Because I can only see his bow and the green and red bow lights, I have no idea what I am looking at. A freighter? A huge fishing boat? So, I check to see if he registers on my AIS. Nothing. Next, I call him on the VHF and ask him what his intentions are. What was so unusual that he is coming at me from the east where there is nothing to go to other than wreck your ship on the Florida Keys. All the other traffic is going either north or south.

And he is aiming right for me. No answer to my VHF call on the mandatory monitoring Channel 16.

So, I jibe the boat to change from a North direction to North West. But there is so little wind that I have to get the engine going. In the meantime, he keeps coming. Then he starts shining search lights on me.

And calls me on the VHF. And then he has now turned on his AIS and I see just a number no name, like the commercial ships do. When I first called him, I asked if he might be a Coast Guard Cutter, because they like to be able to sneak up on you and do not transmit their AIS position.

Then this snotty young Latino with broken, English tells me that he never heard my VHF call. He just did not have it on like his AIS. I’m really pissed when he started telling me that I should not have altered my course. I should have just let him run me down? I’m planning to report him to the Coast Guard he did not want to give me his name, the vessel was “Explorer”. Later that night I saw him wander some more all over the busy shipping lanes. Some of you must have wondered, watching the tracker zig-zag all over the map, if I were sailing an opium den. So much of the wind was dead behind and then the only way to keep some speed is to sail 5 t 10 degrees off the wind, to keep the sails filled. And there were some sudden wind changes. This passage had some of the best and some of the worst sailing I’ve ever encountered on one passage. Mostly too little wind and the handicap of not being able to run the engine without the tiller pilot. Here is a picture of how you can sail dead down wind. But you need some room to be able to take a complicated set up down when a squall shows up.

sailing wing on wing

Two different sail numbers. Jack the Rag-Tag sailor

 

Plans:   I got word back from Green Cove Springs, that they are open. So, I will sail from here coast hopping and using the ICW in case of bad weather on the outside, to Jacksonville and go up the St. Johns River. This will then be the 4th time I have hauled out there. You remember the “Porch”? My good friend Randy Register has just written a book about the Porch People. Free on Kindle!!

I will probably make a quick visit to the Chesapeake, once the boat is on the hard there and then be back on the boat by late May. Lets hope and pray that the Covid-19 will have been wrestled into a choke hold soon.

 

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