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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Day 5: December 29th, 2007

We woke up early this morning to check out of the hotel and wait by the scale house, where the Carribean Adventure Tours company would come and pick us up. We discovered that they were a dive shop as well, located right by Salt River National Park.

After an initial briefing, we were soon on a kayak, paddling right into what seemed to be a massive gale, though in reality it was only a 20mph wind (but cycling into a 20mph wind is no fun either). The guide delighted in pointing wrecked boats, telling us the date and the name of the hurricane where the damage was done, as well as what happened to the owner. When asked why the wrecks were still around, the reply was that the owners had elected to pay a $2000 fine to the National Park Service, whereupon their responsibility was wiped clean and the wreck now belonged to the Park, which had neither the money nor the wherewithal to dispose of the wrecks.

After the sad stories, we beached for a short hike to Columbus Landing, where Christopher Columbus first visited the Virgin Islands. The guide first pointed us at an Acacia tree, with its paralyzing neurotoxin --- they were introduced by the slave-owning planation owners to surround their planations to prevent slaves from escaping. Apparently, the Acacia grew thick enough that slaves were frequently impaled so deeply that limbs would have to be amputated.

Then an introduction to a native plant called Manchineel that bore fruit like that of a crab apple but was extremely poisonous --- ingestion would quickly cause death through the disintegration of the stomach lining. Even sheltering under the tree in a rainstorm was dangerous, for the sap was acidic and could burn off the faces of those such "sheltered".

The return, via a tailwind, was quite fast. There, we were given a ride to the Seaborne Terminal, where we were put on a wait list for an earlier flight than the one I had booked. While we got the seats, the plane itself was late. The sea-plane (a Twin Otter DHC-6) was considerably bigger than the Cessna that Cape Air flew, and getting onto the plane was a lot like getting onto a boat, via a ladder on the floats. The plane was fascinating --- it truly seemed to be designed to be flown by two pilots cooperatively. The take off and landing were also characteristically different, with the slicing and floaty feel that you don't get with landbound boats. The flight also took only 20 minutes, but had another advantage --- the seaplane terminal dropped us 3 blocks from CYOA yacht charters, which was where we were to pick up the boat. Walking past the post office the MacDonald's, we found ourselves at the Hook, Line and Sinker restaurant, where we sat down for lunch. While waiting for food, I walked over to the charter company, where I was told that our boat, Rya Jen, was waiting for us.

Rya Jen, a Beneteau 39.3 sloop, was designed for casual sailing and cruising --- it had a furling jib, furling mast for the main sail, carried 119 gallons of water, and 36 gallons of diesel fuel. It had a fully functioning electric refrigerator, a propane powered stove and oven, and was furnished with 3 cabins and 2 heads. The truth was that I didn't want a super huge boat for the trip, but I still wanted 3 cabins to host 6 people. Of course, after booking the boat, I discovered that I had a lot of trouble recruiting people for a trip like this, so perhaps I over-reached a bit. Next time, I'll either get a bigger boat or a smaller crew.

We unpacked in our cabin and barely got settled in before the first of our guests showed up, Hector Yee. Hector's an engineer at Google, and also grew up in Singapore. Upon his arrival, he immediately took a shower, unpacked, and we headed out to provision the boat. Provisioning a boat for a week long trip for 6 people is a lot like shopping for a household full of squabbling kids, except in this case, we didn't really know what people like or didn't like, so ended up shopping blind. Fortunately, the pressure was off because we knew we didn't have to provision for every meal --- we expected that some meals would be taken off the boat. Nevertheless, by the time we were done we had $320 in costs.

By the time we were back at the boat, the two other women we had expected to meet were there, settled into the boat which I had locked --- it turned out that they had spoke with the charter company, and they had let them in. It turned out the hatch covers were easily unlatched from the outside and a sufficiently lithe or skinny person could just squeeze through and unlock the boat from the inside. Rya Jen was not designed for security.

Lea Widdice sailed with me 10 years ago in the Pacific Northwest, where she started the trip knowing nothing about sailing and ending the trip versant in handling the helm, the ropes. She did every job well, and she did it without complaining, even when I was. Now a pediatrician in Cincinnati, she was the one who prodded me into finally putting together this trip.

Heather Kelley was between jobs, having given up her salaried position to be a visiting professor at CMU in the coming semester, I knew nothing about her except that Lea had asked her to come along on this trip, which was good enough for me.

We walked out to the waterfront and had dinner at a random restaurant. The dinner was nothing to write home about for me, but gave us ample time to get to know each other, and to brief each other about what to expect the next day. We agreed to shoot for the earliest possible departure the next day, since it was impossible to tell when or whether Przemek was going to get here.

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