19 July 2000, by Tom Waid
(This is a little more technical than what I usually put in the Journal so if you're not a sailor feel free to skip down to the next article about Rum.)
Experienced sailors know what itís really like sailing in the Eastern Caribbean but many who are not sailors are unaware that the "gentle trade winds" are most of the time anything but. Inter-island passages are, more often than not, hard sails in 20 to 25 knot winds. Many times they will be to windward. We knew this before we arrived but that is not to say that we didnít have to go through a period of adjustment. The first thing I had to do was to swallow my pride. It felt ridiculous getting underway in a calm anchorage with two reefs in the mainsail but experience told me what it was going to be like when we cleared the island and were in the open ocean. So let the other sailors think of me as a sissy. Iím going to try to be as comfortable as I can when weíre out there pounding away. It was only later that I noticed most everyone else doing the same thing and the ones that didnít ended up hanging on for dear life.
It took us a little while to work it out but our desire to be relatively comfortable on inter-island passages with the wind forward of the beam led us to come up with our "inter-island" sail plan. This consists of a double-reefed main and a 100% furling genoa, which is a smaller jib sail with a full hoist that has proved to be quite efficient in rough going. Because itís taller and more narrow (higher aspect ratio) It produces a higher ratio of driving force in relation to heeling force than if we were using our 135% genoa reefed down to the same area as the 100% genoa. The other advantage of using this sail plan is the easy way we can handle squalls. Itís common to be hit by squalls and gusty winds around the northern or southern ends of islands. When this happens we quickly release the jib sheet and roll it up. We then live out the squall with just a double-reefed main. Sometimes this a little too much sail reduction. We then start inching out the jib until itís just right. The point is that since the main is already reduced considerably any further reduction in sail is done with the jib by pulling on the furling line from the cockpit. No one has to go out on the deck to tie another reef in the main. Amazingly enough as our survival instincts took over and made us concentrate on comfort we didnít really lose much speed. Our passages are now made as quickly as before when we were getting beat-up.
By talking to other sailors and watching other yachts underway Iíve discovered that, as with us, most everyone has worked out their own special way of making these passages and are able to keep their boats moving well in relative comfort. There may be some disagreements between us in the details but everyone has worked it out and I, for one, have a great deal of respect for my fellow sailors. The sailing conditions down here require sailors to practice their art with considerable skill and skillful boat handling seems to be the norm. It will be a while before anyone can call Linda and I old hands at sailing in the West Indies but weíre getting better and are learning how to avoid getting beat-up too much.
19 July 2000, by Tom Waid
Every American knows what rum is for. You pour generous quantities of it into a blender and hide its presence with a selection of exotic fruit juices. Pour in the ice and hold the button down until you have something the consistency of a Mr. Slushy. You finish it all off by pouring it into a funny looking glass and sticking a little paper parasol in it. Of course you have to give it a cute name.
Itís all a lie. A drink that innocently tastes like soda pop with enough alcohol in it to bowl over my Uncle Joe (his friends called him Squealy and when he was alive he was a celebrated drunk.) Few Americans know of any other use for rum other than "Rum and Coca-Cola" (thereís a song about that.)
Sailors and the West Indians know better. As the lady who worked the counter at the Rum Shop in Fort de France (imagine a shop just for rum) explained, "You know you have your white and gold rums that do not cost so much money but is good to put with juice or soda and then you have "Rhum Vieux" (Old Rum) that you should never mix with anything. You pour a little in a small glass and sip."
Sailors call this drinking it "neat" and sipping is an important part of the equation. Take too much of a slug and there is no doubt that youíre consuming straight alcohol. "DANGER!" it says to you. This drink is not a lie. By sipping you enjoy the smooth taste of really fine rum and join the legacy of all the rogues and scalawags that have preceded you.
The English call it "Old Rum," the French "Rhum Vieux," and in the Hispanic countries itís called "AŮejo." Rum is distilled pretty much everywhere around the Caribbean basin. There are so many fine rums and so little time.
My guess is that every distiller has a secret technique and a "weíd tell you how we do it but weíd have to kill you" sense of protecting their heritage, but my understanding is that there are two basic categories of rum production. The way the French do it and the way everyone else does it. Most rum is made from molasses while on the French islands and places with a French heritage (Haiti) rum is made directly from crushed cane. "Rhum agricole" itís called and due to the impracticality of trucking large quantities of sugar cane any appreciable distance the distilleries are located at the estates where the cane is grown. (The same as producing wine at the vineyard where the grapes are grown.)
There is a noticeable difference in the flavor of rums from places such as Guadeloupe or Martinique. To my taste these rums have a little "bite" to them. In no way are they raw or unrefined but they do have a little grab to them. I donít find this objectionable just different. Perhaps the best known of this type of rum in the United States is "Barbancourt" from Haiti. I have also seen "St. James" and "Rhum Clement" from Martinique at some American liquor stores.
Among the fine old rums produced from molasses are some of the smoothest tasting liquors available (Again, donít gulp.) A favorite of mine is "Goslings Black Seal" from Bermuda, in my opinion the smoothest of Black Rums. "Mount Gay Extra Old" also gets my nod of approval.
In regard to the AŮejos from the Spanish speaking countries there is an embarrassment of riches. Iím always discovering a new aŮejo and have rarely been disappointed. To mention a few, "Brugal AŮejo" from the Dominican Republic, "Cacique AŮejo" from Venezuela, and actually "Bacardi AŮejo" stands up well with the rest. There are many more, too much to mention, however, I will tell you my favorite, perhaps my all time favorite rum. (Itís OK, I can say it now, I no longer have a security clearance.) Itís "Havana Club" from Cuba. Of course itís unavailable in the U. S. so letís hope for more enlightened relations, rum diplomacy.
As with the beer, aboard Bellatrix in order to avoid over indulgence the cork doesnít come off the rum bottle until at least 17:00.