Monday, March 25, 2019

1492 And The Ocean Blue

It was almost by accident we noticed the Nao Santa Maria was docked in Key West for a few days while touring North America. Fundacion Nao Victoria is apparently the Spanish not-for-profit that built the ship to celebrate the 525th anniversary of the crossing of the Atlantic by Christopher Columbus.
 The ship has a website in rather quaint Spanglish, a translation from Spanish by a non-native English speaking committee but the point is they built this fiberglass replica to the original lines and creating the proper look with wood planking. In this way the interior such as it is remains dry while from the outside the ship looks properly wooden.
The sailing rig to my untutored eye looks authentic enough though there is also a proper modern diesel engine to help along as needed and I have no doubt there is refrigeration and decent food for the enthusiastic modern young crew.
Nevertheless anyone who has an idea the early explorers of the Americas were a bunch of pantywaists will get quite the education wandering around the miniscule spaces on this 100 foot ship, the largest of the three that sailed the ocean blue in 1492.
Even in my noted legless state I was able to get around on the sturdy well built steps between decks quite easily though a couple of months ago there would have been no hope I think.
I heard a couple pondering the sole cabin on the ship, the place where the Admiral of the Ocean Sea would have lived during his mutinous crossing to the Bahamas and they thought it looked quite pleasant. I did not bother to point out that the ship regularly rolled 45 degrees in the open ocean and the planking leaked like a sieve and food was rotten meat and bricks of hard biscuit and the water in the barrels stank.
If you read about the intrepid sailors who huddled in the forepeak or slept on the open decks the only reason they were there was to make a fortune and retire somewhere deep inland with their sudden wealth. Sailing was not a bracing sport or a mind expanding form of travel: it was a way out of grinding poverty either by dying or by discovering gold -every Spaniard's dream in the 15th century.
There was a display of various tools used on board five hundred years ago, and that was just in daily living. Navigation was hit or miss especially as they didn't know where they were going. Contrary to popular belief, and in the face of modern imbeciles who seek publicity by saying the Earth is flat, Columbus knew it was round and had a good idea he was heading toward wealth but he thought the money was in India and thought that mystical land a lot closer than in fact it is. That he bumped into the Bahamas first after a long nightmarish voyage of uncertainty did not confuse him because he knew when he set off there was something on the other side of the ocean. And he knew he wasn't going to fall off the edge. So he called them Indians and called his voyage  good and went home.
This was their traveling space and the replica gives you a good idea how really small and insignificant their ships were.
As much as Columbus was a cruel and incompetent administrator his drive for fame and wealth put him squarely in the cross hairs of history and he did what no other southern European had dared to do. That the Vikings had done it all quietly and competently five hundred years earlier on mainland North America doesn't detract in my eyes from his fearless navigation.
We have modern efficient sailing tools at our disposal today and almost all of us do nothing with them except sail around in very small circles while drinking alcohol and waiting for the sun to set.
 This sort of sailing ship makes you think which is not always a good thing.
One can't help wondering if we will be viewed as intrepid in another five hundred years because we did so much with so little but I find it hard to imagine that might be the case.
Wood rope and canvas was all they had, some really pathetic navigational tools and no maps whatsoever, at least none that made any sense. When I took off sailing I was absolutely dependant on my navigational tools and I pored over my charts all the time as though trying to commit them to memory. 
Just yesterday I was reading about a four engined cruise ship that drifted into danger off the Norwegian coast when all four engines packed up at once. A massive rescue operation got underway of course but  a strong storm put the ship in danger of finding itself pushed onshore. In our modern world storms don't stop tourism, as schedules must be maintained in the face of common sense. I suppose you could argue the elderly passengers showed the sort of toughness that might have come in useful on the Santa Maria!
I climbed to the highest deck at the back of the ship and even though we were tied up there was a distinct and decidedly unpleasant rolling sensation that made me slightly queasy. These were ships with rounded hulls and shallow keels and they rolled horribly at sea.  I can't imagine the 24 days it took this boat to cross the Atlantic.
 The nature of the wind patterns across the Atlantic made journeys to and from the Americas quite feasible even though the ships could only sail down wind with any kind of efficiency. The Portuguese had been exploring the Atlantic for a long time with colonies set up in Madeira, Cape Verde, and the Azores among other islands and they understood the cyclical nature of the wind patterns.
 Even today the pattern is used by recreational sailors, crossing to Europe across the North in the spring before hurricane season while crossing to the Americas with a lower arc following the trade winds back west closer to the Equator in early winter.
 My wife was busy with her phone while I was pondering the misery of life afloat 500 years ago.
In the photo below the post to the right with the leather loop was called a whipstaff and it was connected to the rudder below decks. Using the staff, held vertically the helmsman steered the boat. Wheels did not come into use for quite a while after the Santa Maria sailed
 I cannot imagine climbing the rigging either at the dock never mind under way and then sliding out to raise and lower the sails as needed. Falling overboard meant dying slowly and very much alone in the ocean, and most sailors couldn't even swim. Naturally the ship had no means of stopping or turning around to pick anyone up. Falling overboard meant death.
Crew quarters were limited to the space seen below called the forecastle (pronounced foc'sle) where spare sails and rope were stored and turned into temporary bedding for the off watch.
I sneaked a peak at the rudder and played with the image of the distant ship. It was a fabulous tour, but in our pansy world I had my Saturday exercise class ("Aging Boldly!") to attend  and we feeble modern office rats had to run off the ship back to our air conditioned car and abundant nourishing rations. Thank Heavens for modern life!
Of course not everyone goes mainstream in this rat race and for visitors to Mallory Square there was the usual assemblage of characters, let's be generous, passing the time of day more or less squalidly in a way that Columbus' sailors might have understood and even appreciated.
Twenty dollars well spent for an hour of wandering and thinking and being grateful.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Pedal Hatred

I was reading a post on one of the dedicated Key West Facebook pages and as is so frequently the way the thing got completely out of hand. I don't do much with Facebook because of that, but from time to time I look in to keep up with friends. When I was in the hospital it was a life saver so I am reluctant to be too distant from the service. But...
Some dude posted a rather negative paragraph about electric bicycles and how they speed down the sidewalks at "30 to 40 mph" which sounded like a horrible exaggeration to me. Well, the shit show started and as far as I know it continues because I stepped away. The comments were so derogatory and angry I was quite shocked by the tone of the whole post. 
Funnily enough it fell to a friend of mine, a mild mannered soul who potters to his voluntary environmental causes on an electric bike to defend the use of these instruments of the devil. Of course the clamor against electric bikes headed into the "report this to the police" stuff from outraged citizens and my buddy patiently explained that under Florida law if electric bikes don't exceed 20 mph they are mere bicycles. That contention set off another firestorm of vituperation of an intensity sufficient to burn the city down. 
The paragraphs got longer and longer which on Facebook is the equivalent of shouting to be heard and not being listened to...no one reads more than three sentences if that. Writing ten column inches on Facebook is the equivalent of pissing into a hurricane, no one notices. And that's what all the posters were doing.
The thing is there is already a solid contingent in Key West that absolutely positively hates bicyclists. And on bad days you can see why. Locals and tourists (who already treat city streets as extensions of Disneyland) do frequently ride with total contempt of rules common courtesy and common sense. I feel that car drivers who hate cyclists are frequently expressing fear in reaction to a near miss, as most people really don't want to kill their cycling neighbors.
Given that cyclists are scofflaws when it comes to stopping for stop signs and red lights it is rather hard to expect car drivers who are bound by these irritations to care very much at all if bicyclists get annoyed by car drivers accidentally failing to in their duties to bicycles, passing too close or opening doors into bicycle lanes and so forth. In Old Town it's almost impossible to give three feet of room when passing an ambling distracted cyclist  blocking traffic.
So when you are driving in Key West's congested narrow lanes and looking for somewhere to park you may be forgiven for bursting a blood vessel when an inconsiderate hoodlum on a bicycle slides wildly by, hopping off the sidewalk, swinging too close while running a  stop sign...and then parks and walks away while you are still figuring what to do with your land yacht. 
Oddly enough the debate I had dropped into quite by accident had taken bicycle hatred to a whole new place and one of the loudest angriest voices was a bicycle promoter in Key West. It turns out everyone wants to see people riding bicycles just they have to be the bicycles advocates describe as acceptable. And apparently in the socially fractured world in which we live electric bikes are the devil's handiwork. 
I find it nuts, frankly. It seems to me the more people riding bicycles, electric or not, the fewer cars we have to contend with and putting people on electric bikes can lead us to hope the pedals may get some use, increasing with time and familiarity to increase the practice of beneficial exercise. The beauty of an electric bike is that it allows you to get to work in good order, not sweating and discombobulated. The  riding home you can cranks the pedals for a bit of stress reduction in pedal assistance...
Electric bike advocates are pushing their machines as true alternatives to cars and I think they are on to something, as bicycles are familiar, friendly (usually) and require no bureaucratic paperwork or enforcement. Compared to a motorcycle that requires a licence and skill to ride as well as insurance and so forth a bicycle is as familiar as any other household appliance. Adding a motor makes it just a bit more useful. Fantastic.  
It is time for the advocates to wake up and support getting people out of their cars instead of worrying about what kind of bikes they are riding. The law is clear and manufacturers know their machines are speed limited. In Florida bicycles have to yield to pedestrians but are permitted on sidewalks. Key West has the state's worst bicycle fatality rate so riding ion the street though permitted seems like a terrible roulette risk to me. Instead of remaining calm and carrying on people seem ready to start fighting over nothing very much.  
 I see an electric bike in my future and sooner possibly rather than later, namely when road work starts on the bridge into Key West. Traffic is expected to be impossibly backed up for the best part of a year. My plan is to park my car outside the city and ride a bike - electrically - into town, side stepping traffic back ups. Smart eh? Not universally appreciated then. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

My Keys, My Rusty

It’s been a crap week.  My wife and I both got sick with severe gastrointestinal “distress” probably picked up at the hospital Monday during the IVC filter shock horror drama. Consequently what was to have been a few serene days off turned into bed rest and incontinence. Gross. 

Allow me therefore to present my consolation, my Rusty. I worried when I was bed ridden he would forget me. 

My wife makes endless fun of me for my worries. We have if anything grown even closer, Rusty and I. 

Throughout my convalescence he has kept a close eye on me. If I fall back on a walk, tired or photographing, he stops and comes back to check up on me. 

In the evening he flops on my chest when I get into bed. When I arrive home in the car he leaps up as if he’s worried I may be struggling without him. 

My wife is the manager but Rusty is the cheerleader. He is a morale boost everyday. Oh and there’s a family of chickens out in the middle of nowhere. How they got by the side of the road I don’t know but they are thriving and look plump and content. Cheers to them and I raise my hand every time I pass by.  This time I stopped and photographed the paterfamilias. 

I suppose one should be embarrassed by the emotional connection to a mere dog. I feel okay about it. I’m married and I have human friends I value so I can say my dog fills a unique part of a life that is reasonably rounded. 

I love giving him freedom and a great life. Walks, varied food, no fences and a space on the furniture. He never seems to take any of it for granted and he’s as grateful to me as I am for him.  

He is as handsome in real life as he is photogenic. I am constantly fending off compliments aimed at the little tyke! 

I also find it interesting that he develops clear antipathies for people and/or their dogs. If he holds back I respect that and walk away. He is smart. 

Rusty survived a tough start and he deserves all happiness. In a single week of my life that sucked he has given back more than I can say. All I can do is thank him in a way he can’t even understand and post his pictures here. 

So forgive me for waxing lyrical about a hound. Especially if you don’t like dogs. People who don’t like dogs like my dogs. Rusty doesn’t steal food even if left on a coffee table. He lays down and you will forget he’s there. 

He will beg but it’s up to you to teach him you aren’t giving in. He gets more treats than he needs away from our table, but he will try to stare you down. If you give in you are lost. Don’t feed him from the table! 

Scratch him between the eyes or rub his tummy  to make him happy. 

I thank him for being my coach, taking me on walks, exercising my legs, getting me out of bed to see the sunrise in places most people never see. Normal people are obsessed with beaches and palms. I’m not that way so my Keys look a lot like mangroves and my dog.  My world.