Neptune, Orion, HaShem
January 8. 2018
My Dear Friend,
HaShem sent a rainbow yesterday as we departed Mayreau on our return to Bequia.
The sail was smooth and colorful. Many lovely yachts about. Best of all, HaShem sent a rainbow to inspire our final voyage.
Today our course is North.
From Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to Rodney Bay in Saint Lucia, the course is North.
10:00 On the morning of our planned departure from Bequia, the wind comes from the North. The route will be upwind, or directly against the wind, and not the most pleasant situation for a 45’ sailboat.
“We’ll wait until the afternoon,” Captain Bill decides, “because if the wind shifts from the North to the Northeast, the sailing will be a little more favorable. Regardless, it will be a lively sail.”
15:00 In the late afternoon, Captain Bill makes another decision. “Let’s eat now.” Bill anticipates a lively overnight sail of at least twelve hours, with little opportunity or desire to prepare a meal. First Mate Jan Robert heads down to the galley, and soon returns with sandwiches and salad.
Ready to weigh anchor.
In the cockpit, Jan takes the wheel and holds steady into the wind while on deck at the bow (front of the boat) Bill begins a hand-over-hand tug on the anchor chain to begin to lift the anchor from the seabed.
In a few moments, Bill shouts a signal and Jan steps down into the cabin and engages the switch for the windless motor. At the next signal Jan, returns to the cockpit, and steers the boat out to sea while Bill secures the anchor.
16:00 Anchors aweigh.
Course set. Sails hoisted. Motor running. Progress slow but steady.
Bill notes, “It’s a lumpy sea.”
(Lively. Lumpy. Don’t you just love these quaint Irish expressions for rough conditions at sea?)
18:00 The sea grows lumpy and dark. The sky blackens. The gibbous moon will not rise tonight until 23:30. And Lumpy rhymes with Bumpy. We maintain our nocturnal course.
00:00 Bill takes the Watch. Jan retires to his birth in the bow.
Whap! Slap! The wind increases. The sea churns. I am pinned to my bed. Slam! Bang! The boat pitches and rolls in the lively sea.
For what seems like an hour, the bow takes a beating. I search for patterns or sequences of the waves pounding the hull. On occasion, the bow rises and seems suspended in the air. I hold my breath for an instant. Then Wham! The bow crashes into the sea. I dare not move. I will be tossed around the cabin like a rag doll.
Bill calls down, “The radar indicates that this weather will continue for two more hours!”
Two more hours!
How much punishment can the SV Cajucito endure? Will the water gush up through the hull and into the cabin and wash us away? Have we offended Neptune? Will he grasp us in a violent embrace?
Mister Neptune. Have you not learned that the hull of this boat can withstand your harsh blows? Will you not desist from your anger?
The bow rises once again. Once again, wait for it … wait for it … Crash!
Bill taught me a new nautical term. WAFI. Am I a WAFI?
WAFI is the acronym used by captains of ocean-going tankers or cruise ships or freighters to describe the captains and crew of tiny sailboats who dare to cross the oceans: WAFI – Wind Assisted Fucking Idiots!
02:00 I am still on my back. I dare not move. I look up. I look up. I look up through the transparent hatch. The sky is clear. The stars are visible. Then I see it!
Three stars in a row from East to West. Bright stars. Three of them in a line. Unmistakable. The Belt of Orion. I recognize the Belt of the Constellation Orion. I am comforted in that observation.
The boat pitches forward. The club of Orion appears through the hatch. Then the shield. Are they weapons? No. I have faith that the club and the shield are not weapons to chastise us even further. They are guides. Orion is pointing North. Orion is guiding us Home.
Jan grows calm. The wind responds.
03:00 Somewhere in the open sea between St. Vincent and St. Lucia, Jan takes the Watch. Bill stretches out on the bench in the cockpit but before he closes his eyes he notices the numbers on the illuminated indicator for the engine temperature. Engine too hot! The water pump that cools the engine is not working!
“We are in trouble.” Quietly and without emotion, Bill seems to be speaking to himself, “We are in trouble.”
By education and profession, Captain Bill Forde is an electrical engineer. So, for more than two hours, Bill tries to repair and/or replace the pump. “It’s a big job.” The temperature in the engine room is more than 40 C or 104 F.
Bill has set the automatic pilot on a northwesterly direction to keep us clear of land or traffic.
And where is Jan? Jan is in the cockpit. Jan scans the black sea for traffic or obstacles. Jan monitors the speed of the boat. We are sailing up wind and must maintain at least 2 or 3 knots to make weigh and to keep the automatic pilot functioning.
The wind dies a bit. The sails luff (flap). Jan decides to adjust the direction of the boat by five degrees to capture the wind and keep up speed.
06:00 The pump cannot be repaired. We have no “donkey.” We have no “iron jib.” We have no motor. We have sails. We must sail into Rodney Bay.
Three “tacks” are needed.
Since we have sailed northwest into open sea, the first tack is to the east to approach the southwest coast of St. Lucia. The second tack is north to a point opposite Rodney Bay. The third tack is east and into the entrance to Rodney Bay.
We man the lines for the first starboard tack. Bill shortens the mainsail line using the winch handle. At the same moment Jan lets go the line on the port side. The boom swings around and we head east. After an hour we repeat the process: a port tack and head north. And then an hour later another starboard tack and, Baruch HaShem*, we sail towards the entrance to Rodney Bay.
08:00 Once again Bill demonstrates his flawless seamanship skills. In a light wind he steers the boat past Pidgeon Island at the entrance to the bay. The high cliff of the island blocks the breeze. Yet Bill intuits that once past the island the breeze will increase. And so it does.
Careful to avoid other yachts in the bay, Bill selects a good anchorage. Bill lets go the anchor while Jan holds course.
08:30 Thank Heaven, we are Home.
After a lively, sixteen-hour, overnight sail on a lumpy sea, thank G-d, we are Home.
Neptune is frustrated..
Orion is pleased.
From the Hebrew Bible I recall the Priestly Blessing:
May the Lord bless you and keep you –
May the Lord make His face shine light upon you and be gracious unto you –
May the Lord lift up His face unto you and give you peace.
I feel grateful that for two weeks I have had the opportunity to sail into lovely bays and to land at remote beaches in the Caribbean Sea.
I feel fortunate for the companionship of my talented captain and my good friend.
I feel blessed that HaShem has been gracious to me.
Finally, to you, my loyal friend, I wish that you are also blessed with lively adventures and less than lumpy seas.
PS Please excuse any errors in nautical terminology or maneuvers. After all, this was my "maiden voyage."
It is common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the names of G-d to a liturgical context. In casual conversation some Jews, even when not speaking Hebrew, will call G-d HaShem (השם), which is Hebrew for "the Name." Likewise, when quoting from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) or prayers, some pious Jews will replace Adonai with HaShem. For example, when making audio recordings of prayer services, HaShem will generally be substituted for Adonai.
A popular expression containing this phrase is Baruch HaShem, meaning "Thank G-d " (literally, "Blessed be the Name").