04/08/2009, Chicago, IL
OK, I have been quite remiss in writing. I ran into a sailor that I know on the street in Chicago and he mentioned that I haven't posted in over a month!
Some family issues have called our trip short. I we are all in Chicago now. Wanderlust is lonely in Ponce, Puerto Rico. I will have to return there to sail her to Florida where she will go up for sale. Anybody out there want to take a sailboat trip from Puerto Rico to Florida. I figure it will take about 10 days on the water.
Only I (Bill) Will return to the boat and clean our stuff out and head back. So for the family the trip is over. I think the kids are all happy to be back. It has been hard on them in some ways and life on shore is easier for them. The teenagers have missed the social interactions that come with being in Chicago, and attending school. Judy and I miss the boat and the traveling life.
I saw Lake Michigan again. It was in an angry mood. Muddied waters with large waves crashing up on the shore, and whitecaps everywhere. One of the wonders of the world. And I saw snow for the first time in over 2 years. Snow in April!
We went to Madison Wisconsin and visited Judy's mom and sister. We also saw our close friends Zaccai and Tamar and their 2 daughters. I have seen some friends in Chicago too. It is easy to slip back into life in the "Real World" We very unclucky to have come at the worst possible time regarding the economy.
I went to play "Airsoft" with a friend of mine and his son. It is basically paintball but with air gun powered rubber bb's. The guns are replicas of real ones and the people wear full camo. Other than the weapons everything is real. There were setup so various battle situations and each one was a "game". I snuck up on two guys who were behind cover. When I 'shot' them, I saw surprise and even fear on one of their faces. I do not feel comfortable pointing a weapon, even a toy one, at people and am not likely to make this a hobby.
Anyway I am back for a while, and will write again from Puerto Rico when I get there.
03/06/2009, Arecibo, Puerto Rico
Yesterday we visited the Arecibo Observatory. This is the site of the world's largest radio telescope. A radio telescope is a lot like a regular telescope, except that it "looks" for radio waves instead of "looking" at light that we can see.
The radio telescope that we can see is like a giant antenna in the shape of a dish that is set into the ground. It is located where it is for several reasons. It was originally built by the United States Department of Defense to be used as military communications. It has been modified over the years to be used as a scientific tool. Since it was a military installation, it had to be in the United States, and Puerto Rico is a part of the US. They also wanted to use it to look at the planets in the Solar System and so it needed to be near the Equator where the planets are directly overhead. The mountain where it is built had a lot of the natural shape of the dome, so there would be less ground to dig up. The rocks that it is built on are very stable and strong so they could support the enormous structure. The valley that it is in protects it from stray radio signals and from wind because this area gets hurricanes sometimes.
A radio telescope is just like a large satellite dish that many people use to get TV. Instead up picking up satellites with television though it picks up radio frequencies from stars and other objects in the universe. It has helped discover many interesting things in space. One of the most interesting objects that has been discovered at Arecibo is the existence of planets that orbit stars outside of our own solar system. Though it is only a small part of astronomy, many people are interested in whether there is any other intelligent life in the universe. The scientists at Arecibo are among the people who may be able to answer that question one day.
Another important use of the radio telescope is to look at a part of our atmosphere called the ionosphere. That helps them understand more about how weather occurs on Earth. It also can look at the other planets and the asteroids in the solar system. These are objects much closer to home, the Earth, than stars and other galaxies.
The dish is just huge. It is 1000 feet across. It is perfectly in the shape of a section of a sphere. A ball is a sphere. Hanging over it in a very precise location is a triangular shape that holds the receivers. The information is fed to computers that are in buildings nearby. There the scientists gather and interpret the information that they get from the telescope. There is a visitor's center, dormitories for the scientists, lunchrooms, shops, maintenance , laundry facilities, and much more. It is a small city.
Many important scientific discoveries have been made at the Observatory, and new ones are being made all the time. Astronomers and Cosmologists run experiments on the radio telescope to help us learn about the nature of the universe and how it all began. These are questions that people have been asking since the first person looked up into the sky and wondered what the sun, moon, and stars were.
03/06/2009, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The St Maarten Yacht Club has a very active sailing program. As with any yacht club the most important aspect is youth education, as this is the future of the sport. To this end they have a large fleet of Optimist Prams and Lasers. Every weekend and many weekdays there are lots of kids sailing about on the lagoon and learning the fine points of the sport. They definitely achieve this goal well.
The other thing that they do very well is host racing. While we were there they hosted several regattas. The largest and best known of these is the Heineken Regatta. This is the largest and best known of all the Caribbean regattas. Over 220 boats came from all over the world to race. To my great dismay we left days before the racing began. We did get to stay for some of the precursors to the main event though. Notable was the first ever Budget Marine Match Race. They brought in some excellent talent and offered a substantial purse. The day was won by Peter Holmberg best known for having been the helmsman on Alingi, the current America's Cup Champion. America's Cup racing is match racing.
For those are not aware, match racing is as much like regular fleet racing as boxing is like marathon running. The game is only to beat the other boat, one doesn't have an entire fleet to try to beat. Thus the strategy of the wind becomes a distant second to the tactics of beating the other boat. The pre-start is fascinating, and often the race is decided then. Sometimes the pre-start takes until minutes after the time of the starting gun.
The day we arrived in St Maarten we went to the club for a 'beverage'. There was some kind of event going on there and before we knew it, someone had invited us in and bought is a drink. He told me that they were racing that weekend and invited me to join them on the Lasers and that they would let me use a boat. I was only too happy to join them. Turns out that the man who invited us was Robbie Ferron. He is the founder of Budget Marine, a huge chain of chandleries, and the founder of the Heineken Regatta. We chatted and became friends. The CCYC Burgee hangs in the club. I raced weekends, a Regatta they Sponsored called the Necol Regatta, and then I volunteered to help out for the match racing which was by invitation only.
By the end of our stay I had gotten an invitation to race on a new Jenneau 54 for the big regatta. To my great dismay, pressing family matters took us away from the island. It tore me up to have to leave and not race, but we had been there a long time and it was time to go.