I don’t think I can remember the last time I camped somewhere so hot and humid as last night. My skin felt like it was covered with sticky honey. I don’t think subsequent camping nights will be much better. I will try rolling up the rainfly to allow the air to circulate. The only issue with doing that is if someone walks by with a flashlight at night; they’ll get a show, “Naked dirty man in a cage.”
Launching this morning was tough. The rollers were still breaking right on the sand, and the pullback zone of the water was at least 10 feet. These launch conditions are always tough to do alone. On a perfect launch the kayak will stay perpendicular to the wave when it rushes up the beach, and then a push or two will be enough to slide all the way down with the returning water.
In reality what happens is that the wave always comes in on a slight angle, the kayak gets spun out of place and is left high and dry. If the heading doesn’t get corrected immediately, the next wave will make it worse. That’s what happened to me; the wave rushed up the beach, my kayak spun sideways, and I had to get out and start over. Fortunately, I just about managed on the second attempt.
I paddled out of the bay where I was camped, through a few breakers, and out into the open sea where I put up the sail and settled into the rhythm of matching my paddled strokes with the swells. The sea here is filled with creatures. I saw a school of flying fish make a mad dash in to escape a flock of frigates chasing them from above. The fish are quite the acrobats with four wings; they fly very close to the water gaining lift from the air mass pushed up by the swell; they can even change direction in mid glide by scraping their tail fins on the water like rudders. If the frigate comes too close the whole school quickly drops back in the water for safety, though once in a while some bigger fish are there waiting for them, so the unlucky who dodge danger from above meet their end soon after down below.
There are a lot of sea turtles in these waters. I usually spot them when they come to the surface and poking their head out to breathe. I think that unlike the flying fish, they must not have any aerial predators as they are almost always oblivious to me seeking up on them during their surface rest. Only when I have drifted almost on top of them do they become aware of the unwelcome guest, and immediately dive for safety. After 10:00am the swells got really big. Out in the open ocean, it so happens sometimes that one swell catches up with the one in front of it, their strengths build on each other, and suddenly the boat drops inside a huge chasm, or gets thrust up so high that I am that for a moment I can see able to see headlands previously hidden below the horizon. For a long time today there was a very tall spire out in the distance, and I struggled to understand what it was as it was too slender to be a lighthouse, and could not be a building as there were no large towns in this coast section. It was so tall that for a while the land which it stood on was beneath the horizon and it seemed to rise from the water. When I got closer I saw that it was a bronze sculpture of a caravel anchored to a thick pedestal, and the tall spire was the ship mast which had three enormous metal sails embossed with the hollowed carving of the cross. In front of the ship was the statue of a sailor about half as big as the ship, grasping a steering wheel.
“Wow, what a weird countryside middle of nowhere place to build a gigantic monstrosity. Looks like something made by the North Koreans,” I thought. Later I googled, “Giant Puerto Rico Statue,” and the Wikipedia entry for the monument came right up. It is, it seems, a dedication to Christopher Columbus’ first voyage, and the discovery of the New Word. Now that I think about it, it makes sense for a statue of Columbus to be in Puerto Rico, as he did pass by these shores on his first voyage; even so, the statue has had a contentious history.
It was designed and built by a wealthy Russian sculptor, who for some reason was infatuated with Columbus, and wanted to create a monument to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the Americas but forgot that unless you’re keeping a 360-foot statue that weighs over one million pounds in your own backyard, someone has to want it in theirs.
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Like Columbus, the statue did some traveling around the Americas from port to port and was almost always promptly sent packing by the locals who were fast to conclude the thing was more trouble than it's worth. First to reject it was New York City, who realized the irony of throwing shade on the Statue of Liberty with a bigger statue of a man indirectly responsible for depriving the liberty from millions of Native Americans would not sit well. The statue then went to South Florida where plans were made to erect it at the entrance to the Port of Miami, until local historians pointed out that the steering wheel Columbus was clutching in his hand wasn’t invented until some 250 years after his first voyage. From there, the statue was passed around like an unwanted hot potato to Fort Lauderdale, Columbus Ohio, St. Petersburg Florida, Baltimore, and others, until someone convinced the Arecibo City Council the monument would be a great way to promote tourism and create local jobs. They just needed to pay $17 million dollars to acquire it and find a suitable plot of land to put it.
After watching the monument grow in my field of view for three hours I concluded it makes for a good marker for someone lost in the ocean. But it doesn’t seem to have much other use. My guide book doesn’t even mention it and I have a feeling that someone in the future is going to melt it for copper.
I camped a few beaches down from the statue on the bay west of Arecibo harbor. The harbor faces due west and was sheltered from the wind which made for an easy landing. There’s a small stream that separates the beach where I camped from the harbor where there is a parking lot with popular restaurants. One restaurant even had a garden hose which made for a fantastic freshwater shower to make me feel clean. There is no way I could see to hop across to my side of the beach except by boat, so I don’t think anyone can come around to bother me at night.
Sea Kayak Puerto Rico Circumnavigation