Our first Hekla sail
05 November 2011 | Rio Valdivia, Chile
Our first sail on Hekla was Thursday and we were thrilled. It was another blue sky day, the wind was brisk, but not too much, and Hekla sails like a dream, smoothly parting the waves and riding effortlessly on the water. On board were; Chris White, Hekla's designer, Alex Wopper, owner of Alwoplast who built her, Roni Kilngenberg, the production manager, Hector, the electrician, Jeff, Hekla's proud owner, and myself, along for the ride.
Jeff had a grin plastered on his face the entire time we were out on Hekla. We left Alwoplast located five miles up the Valdivia river around 2:30 in the afternoon. We started the engines to help us maneuver out in the light winds, but also to test them as this was a test sail. A ways down stream the wind picked up and we raised the main. Then we unfurled the jib. We maneuvered between the green and red buoys, and around a shipwreck that sticks up mid river. Alex says it rolled there from Niebla durning the earthquake and tsunami of 1960. A steel barge fully loaded with firewood which sat briefly on the river bottom, the water having retreated, before returning on a 35' wave which rolled it up river four miles. This same earthquake caused many of the rivers around here to change course and the town of Valdivia to sink 2 meters, six feet.
At some point in the river, we turned the engines off. For me this is a magical moment. Now we move quietly and smoothly. The engines are noisy, stinky and they vibrate the whole boat. Admittedly, Jeff specified smaller engines than most boats of this size so Hekla is not as bad as most. For feeling like you are one with the natural world, sailing is better than motoring.
There is for me something indescribable when a beautifully designed and built boat moves under her own power her sails full of wind. You are transported. There is the wind across your face, the bows parting water and throwing up little sprays, the way the sunlight dances across the constantly in motion surface of the ocean, the motion of the boat moving with the swells of waves, a kind of quiet in the moving that is not silent, but that allows you to become silent inside. There are the many sights; sea lions popping their heads up to have a look and then twisting and splashing noisily back into the deep, sea otters having their own playful look, perhaps a flash of a whale's tail, the sea gulls thick around fishing boats, small colorfully painted red or yellow fishing boats mostly rowed by hand these on the river only and not in the bay or on the ocean, the colors of water; grays, greens, blues, white in spray, on the river the black loons floating with only neck and head visible, the crisp white sails trimmed in red against the startling blue sky, the green thickly forested land rolling down to the water's edge, the large red and white Niebla Lighthouse that we visited a few weeks ago now tiny on the bluff overlooking the mouth of Rio Valdiviana where it spills into the Pacific. Even Hekla who looks so huge parked in Alwoplast's docks looked tiny out there in the baiha.
And being out there small in all that immensity is another thing that is both exhilarating and terrifying about sailing. I have yet to sail far enough from the sight of land that all I can see is sky and ocean, but I am looking forward to that experience.
Our return trip back to the dock was peaceful. Jeff backed her into her temporary home using both engines like he had been doing it all his life. We were happy that nothing major was wrong with the boat, she just needed some fine tuning here and there. It was good seeing Jeff so happy, and seeing all the sea animals. But what I will remember most from this day was the four large pelicans gliding past us almost skimming the water with their bellies in a slow motion diamond formation their w shaped wings spread wide without a single flap. Seeing them was a gift. I am grateful.