I must go down to the sea again
To the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by
And the wheel’s kick
And the wind’s song
And the white sails shaking
And a gray mist on the sea’s face
And a gray dawn breaking
(from Sea Fever: by John Masefield)
Learn to sail while you are still young, preferably in your teens, or earlier, before you fall in love with the speed of traveling in a fast motor boat. Oh! That’s exciting and exhilarating but, it is not natural. Motor boats are for carrying passengers and freight, not for the sheer joy of motion in a brisk wind on a lively sea, and you at the helm of a sailboat, with sea-kindly lines built by one of the Youngs or Alaminas or Bladens.
I first went to sea in a 31 ft. motor boat named LHM. It had a 18 HP Standard Engine which turned a huge propeller with three blades, eighteen inches in diameter. My dad took care of the boat and ran it on trips to Spanish Caye taking the Mayo family on their holidays. I usually went with him as crew. My dad said that LHM’s engine was geared down to take a large propeller because it was also used as a tug boat. Mr. Ned Mayo was a canny old Scotsman.
Have to digress to tell you this story. LHM was built by a shipwright named Pinks. It had a needle sharp prow and the landlubbers predicted that the bow of the vessel would go down in the first big wave when it entered the Belize City Harbour and not come back up till it reached Davy Jones’ locker. They were wrong, but what can you expect of landlubbers? LHM was seaworthy and fast. We made the trip to Spanish Caye, which is 10½ miles, in a hour and ten minutes, with the engine running not much more than half speed. My dad used to say, “Speed da wata bun hole da pocket.”
My first sailboat experience was in a 24-foot sloop, named Victory B. it was owned by my future father-in-law, Mr. W. H. T. Belisle, whom we called “Papa Bill.” Victory B was originally a motor boat, also built by a shipwright named Pinks and shaped with the same sharp bow as LHM. The prophets of doom made the same dire prediction of its fate. I know nothing of Victory B’s life as a motor boat but, it was a joy to sail her. I discovered this after many trips as crew along with my old friends, Telford Vernon and Barney Mahler. These trips were with my future brother-in-law, Roy Belisle. Roy kept his crew busy, sheeting the job, moving the 75lb pig iron ballast from one side of the vessel to the other on tacks, bailing or changing positions to trim the boat and increase its speed. Roy was always thinking of racing on 9th of March and improving his helmsman skills, so he was always at the helm.
My first taste of the helm was on trips alone with Papa Bill to Spanish Caye. We shared the helm and he talked about sailing. The man was a born teacher. I already knew how to “put the boat about,” which is what we called tacking, and to jibe, by observing Roy after many trips. We talked about how to tell when a strong puff was coming by observing the water; when to ease the bow gently into a large sea and when to take it on the side; how to read the weather signs and what to do in squalls; and the rules governing sailing and motor vessels that encounter each other at sea.
Since then I have sailed about a dozen other boats (ballasted and unballasted) and been a passenger or crew on eight more, in all kinds of weather. Gliding along on the water in a vessel built by a master craftsman with a prow that parts the waves smoothly and with clean sweet flowing lines so that the vessel goes through the water with as little turbulence as possible. I had the pleasure of sailing two such vessels. I’ll tell you about the second boat first.
Once you learn to sail, you’ll want to own your own boat so you can take the helm whenever you choose. I named my sailboat Christine after my daughter who was due to arrive soon. She, i.e. my daughter, did not cooperate but, that is another story. The boat was built by Maurice Bladen, whose reputation was yet to be made but, I liked what I saw of his work. Maurice handed over the result at the price we had agreed (nothing in writing). He smiled like a proud craftsman as I paid him. I smiled because I liked the look of the vessel, especially the prow; that is a feature that appeals to me. I have a vision of how the boat will enter the seas and part the water. She looked sleek, the rest of the vessel having clean lines going aft. The rest was hoped-for expectation. Christine did not disappoint. She won many Yacht Club races, a race to Caye Caulker, a race to English Caye and one 9th March Harbour Regatta race, all with better helmsmen than I. But, that is not why I rate her next to the top in my book. Christine had a special quality that was exceeded by only one other sailboat. She moved through the water almost noiselessly in winds up to fifteen knots and left little or no wake behind her. When her sails were properly set, there was so little pressure on the tiller that a child could steer her.
You may ask, how can a vessel top Christine in these special features? Ask Roy Belisle. He will confirm this: Victory B had no wake and moved through the water as Papa Bill used to say, “without any fuss,” and there is something more. Christine would lie on her side in strong winds, while Victory B would continue to knife through the water “without any fuss” and without any wake.
If you want to travel to the islands from Belize City and, you want to get there quickly, the thing to do is to acquire a fast motor boat. If your destination is Caye Caulker or San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, it is better to take a water taxi, then you don’t have to worry about all the troubles involved with owning a boat. The people who buy fast boats to get from one piece of land to another only use the sea as a means of transportation, like motorists do a road. Motorists on the water do have a big advantage.
Let’s say, two groups are going to spend the day at St. George’s Caye, one on a fast 24 ft. motor boat, the other in a 28ft. sailing sloop (like Aventurera). First group gets to Caye in half and hour, a little the worse for wear, because there is a fairly brisk easterly wind and the boat smashes through the waves, as most motor boats do. The sloop gets there in an hour and ten minutes; the sloop is a fast sailor. She is also sea-kindly, which means that the motion of the vessel is in harmony with the waves. She is large enough for the passengers to eat, drink, converse and move about in comfort. They can converse without shouting and inhale clean air instead of burnt fuel. But, the best part is that you can troll two lines all along the way. So what if the much-travelled routes to the Cayes are barren? There is pleasure in fishing. The catch is a bonus. When they get to the island, both vessels will, most likely, go fishing. Here the motor boat will have an opportunity to increase its contribution to the income of the sheiks in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The sailboat will continue to be propelled by the wind, which is free.
When you are sailing, the stronger the wind, the faster you go. You can control the speed of your motor boat but, the faster you go, the more fuel you burn and the greater the wear and tear on the engine. Besides, on a trip to St. George’s Caye, including fishing, you’ll use about 10 gallons of gas, which is $110.00. If you are smart, you’d drive your motor at less than ¾ speed. That way, you’ll save on fuel and, your engine will last longer. The trouble is the owners of fast boats are like the drivers of fast cars: they can’t help opening the throttle. It is a good thing that there is so much space on the sea, so they can have their fun, but it is wasteful.
What a wonderful place for sailing boats. I am talking of the body of water, bounded on the West and North by the waterfront starting with Sea Shore Drive and ending at the real Belize River mouth and, in a semicircle of mangrove islands on the East and North. A supernatural hand must have shaped that stretch of sea which is ideally suited for sailing craft. The surface of the bay is sailable even in the strongest winds, with waves not higher than 8 ft. in a Category One hurricane like Richard. And yet, if you look out to sea, on most days, there is not a single sailing boat on the water. Despite a seacoast of over 150 miles, the sailing fraternity is minuscule. We are a nation of landlubbers. Some people are to be blamed for that and they will have to answer for it on Judgment Day, if there is an accounting for that grievous omission on judgment, if there is any accounting for it, at such a time.
Learn to sail
It is not too late, if you are still hale and hearty. Sailing is the best and, perhaps, the healthiest form of recreation. You’ll learn to appreciate and love the sea, in all its moods, and, to have a healthy regard and respect for one of nature’s wonders. It’s for everyone, a child of 9 or a patriarch. There is no gender discrimination. Some of the world’s best sailors in international races are women. All you need is six one-hour sessions with a good teacher, someone with the required knowledge and experience. Someone like a man I intend to persuade to give lessons.