Three Cool Things
23 July 2008 | Isla Pedro Gonzales, Panama
Yesterday, we sailed from Panama City to Las Perlas Islands. We are anchored now just in a pristine and tranquil cove off the Isla Pedro Gonzales. All is well with us and the boat. We learned how to fly the spinnaker today, adding yet another important tool to our arsenal. We wanted to share with you three cool things that we saw these last two days. First, as we closed upon Las Perlas, we saw some birds flying by in a classic "V" formation. Nothing particularly remarkable about that. Except that this is the first time that I have ever seen different types of birds join up in the same V. The birds at the fore where a sea bird that looked something like sea hawk. There were about five of them. The tail end of the V was made up of six pelicans. Though I've not seen as much of it this year as I like, I love to watch the Tour de France, and in particular the synchronicity with which a breakaway group moves. It's like a living organism, with the riders moving in an amoeba-like circle down the road, and the lead cyclist staying at front for a mere matter of seconds before he moves to the side and is overtaken by the second rider in line. This mixed-flock bird formation was so much like that; two different teams working together. And the poetry of motion was much the same. As they passed, all the birds were flapping their wings. Then the first bird would coast and dip down close to the water to get less wind resistance. Every bird in the V would mimic instantly, and they'd all follow suit, gliding as one. The first bird would pick up the stroke again, climbing sharply, and they'd all follow its path. For those of you familiar with the cyclists on the Tour (or any other cycling race, of course), this fluidity of motion among teams will sound familiar. If you haven't seen it, maybe you could find a video of a breakaway group's motion on You Tube. It was wonderful to see nature imitating sport. Shortly thereafter, we saw a flying fish. "Big deal," you say. Of course, a flying fish isn't that big of a deal. We see those lots, and hear them plop up onto the deck at night. (Two boney to eat, they say.) But this time we saw two flying fish. Still no big deal. But what we saw was a small flying fish skim out of the water, and jump about a foot or so. (We've seen them literally "fly" before, staying aloft for 10 seconds at a time without touching water (count out ten seconds aloud and imagine a FISH staying aloft for that long!), so, still, a foot isn't much.) But right behind the small fish was a bigger fish, which jumped out an instant after the smaller one, mouth agape. They both plunged into the water an instant after they appeared, only to reappear another instant later -sort of the reverse of a skipping stone. Except this time the gap between them was not as great as the first jump! This repeated itself across the water, as we watched the big fish chase down the smaller fish. Skip ----------skip, skip------skip, skip----skip, skip-skip, skip-skip, each interval getting shorter, until the time between the skips became indistinguishable, and the race ended with a "skip" bigger than the rest. Though we couldn't actually see the end, because it happened so very fast, we think dinner was had! The last cool thing was the darkness of our anchorage tonight. We don't remember darkness like this before. The moon wasn't out, and there was a thick cloud cover anyway. The result was an inky blackness that swallowed everything several feet out from the edge of the boat. A thunderstorm then rolled in, and the sky began to light up with periodic flashes. The wind started to blow the wind generator, which began to spin furiously. From the black backdrop, the distant flashes would flutter like a strobe light, illuminating the blades of the wind generator in a natural stop-action series of impressions on the eye. Hitchcock couldn't have done a better job.