Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bamboom - by Geert

Around midnight a cruise ship came down the Mona Passage, brightly lit like a big hotel, and not paying any attention to us. We were on a reach, the genoa poled out to leeward. It took a while to take in the pole and secure it on deck. So, we were in a hurry to get away from the cruiseship, and sloppy, and gybed before loosening the preventer. The night was clear, wind and sea were perfectly managable (15-20 knots; waves 5-6 feet) The preventer should have held the boom in place. Instead, the boom broke in two and crashed on the cabin top, tearing a rip in the mainsail. We secured the ravage on deck, kept the genoa and the staysail up, and motorsailed to Isla de Mona. We soon discovered the cause of the break: years of slow corrosion of the boom's aluminum around the stainless steel screws of the vang plate.

Isla de Mona lies halfway between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The island has long white beaches fringing very high, sheer cliffs with numerous caves. It is uninhabited and only has one anchorage on the West side. You enter through a maze of coral reefs, following a range marked by two poles on the beach. It is an incredible place. Sea turtles swam around the boat in the anchorage; iguanas and birds occupy the beach. On the high land behind the cliffs (it looks like a New Mexico mesa) live the descendents of the goats and pigs left by the Spanish explorers to supplement their food stores. These feral animals have been hunted for 400 years, and the tradition continues today. About a dozen hunters, all Puerto Rican, camped on the beach. Two rangers keep an eye on them. The only other humans nearby are the crew of a US Coast Guard cutter that patrols the Mona Passage looking for drug smugglers and Haitian and Cuban refugees.

We searched the beaches of the island for a strong, straight piece of bamboo. With some very creative cutting, metal- and ropework, Nico and David made a new boom. We tested its strength by hanging and jumping on it. Next morning we lashed on the spare mainsail (and later, when the wind picked up along the South coast of Hispaniola, the storm trysail) and sailed in record time to Santo Domingo.

Eugene and David made pictures of our bamboom, which they will post as soon as they can get to a good computer.

We arrived in Santo Domingo yesterday. Nico flies back to Berkeley today; Eugene on Tuesday (to Washington). David and I will try to get the old boom repaired. The break is fairly clean, and the rest of the aluminum seems solid. Damage to the sail is minor, and easily fixed.