I changed the name of my boat to Dragonfly. I liked Spindrift, but I got tired of having to explain the meaning. Everyone knows what a dragonfly is. I hope to convey an image of lightness and speed. So Dragonfly she is.
Last year I took her out for her second sea trial. The aim was to head NE, to get to the barrier reef, as the first stage of sailing her to Half Moon Caye at Lighthouse Reef. I had three days of light winds while I finished a few details. On the fourth day, I rolled her into the water. The wind picked up fresh from ENE, and she skipped along heading due N. No matter what I did, I could not get any easting out of her. Four hours we sailed N, essentially running up the Inner Channel between the mainland and the barrier reef, getting no closer to the reef.
About four o’clock the jib sheet unrolled off the spool so I couldn’t reef in the jib. Then a squall hit.
You can see a squall coming a long way off. You see it, and you hope it will pass to one side or the other, but it keeps getting darker, closer and bigger. A long line of dark, low cloud loomed in from the NE. As it approached, the breeze freshened. Then came the taste of rain in the air.
Suddenly it was upon me. Rain pelted me in the face as it hissed on the sea, flattening the chop to tiny rollers. The jib snapped and popped, as the sheet rattled the block. Too maritimey? The sail in front was flogged by the wind, its rope rattling the pulley it fed through on the deck of the boat. Anyway, it made quite a racket and I was concerned the wind might shred the sail.
The whole event was over in two minutes. Squalls are like that: short-tempered and soon calm again. During those two minutes I was blown about a mile closer to shore. So I turned around and tried to make the reef by heading SE.
Darkness settled in. I was heading closer to the reef, but now I couldn’t see it, and I couldn’t see any of the patch reefs that would be lurking in the shallow back-reef, waiting for me. So the only thing to do was to head back to Dangriga.
It’s a little unnerving, sailing in unfamiliar waters at night. I could see the lights of Dangriga well enough, and I was pretty sure there were no islands or shallows on my route, but there was an eerie glow to the right of my course. I tried to puzzle out what it might be. The faint, orangey-yellow glow reminded me of a kerosene lamp. Perhaps I was seeing the glow through the windows of a cabin on an unseen, nearby island? If it was, it was not far away.
The only way to judge distance is to watch and see if the angle changes over time. A nearby object will be seen to pass by. If it is far, the angle will remain more constant, like the moon following your car as you drive through the night.
It soon became apparent that this glow was far away indeed, and then it dawned on me what I was seeing. It was a wildfire, burning up a mile or more of savanna, several miles up the coast. It is a good thing I didn’t decide to go ashore, rather than return to Dangriga.
The mystery solved, this strange glow became a thing of awesome beauty, the natural cleansing of the tropical savanna, an annual event which gets no interference from man in Belize.
Eventually as the town came into clearer view, I could discern some recognisable features: the bright lights of the basketball court, the dark shimmer of Stann Creek, and finally the street light in front of the office. I had arrived. Exhausted and arse-sore, I stiffly stretched as the boat glided up to the beach.
Conclusion: I need to take out the too-small Hobiecat rudder I had used as a daggerboard (retractable keel) and install a bigger centerboard (a keel you slde down from above). But that will have to wait for next season.