Lunch on Aphrodite with celebrity sailor and cruising guru: Bruce Van Sant

In late March 2016, our friends, Dave and Nathalie Houston, hosted two of their friends on their boat Cheval in Georgetown, Bahamas. Their guests were travelling lightly from Colorado. But, they agreed to bring us a much-anticipated book: Bruce Van Sant’s The Gentleman’s Guide for Passages South, 10th (and last) edition.

We had heard about the book before we arrived in the Bahamas. But, in Shroud Cay, Bahamas another cruiser suggested the book to us. The book was particularly relevant to our situation but it was hard to find in some of the remote areas that we were travelling. Among other things, The Gentleman’s Guide describes a method to sail from the Bahamas to Luperon, Dominican Republic.

Needless to say, we received The Gentleman’s Guide with the zeal of a jeweler examining a previous gem. We studied this book for two months. We discussed his ideas with other cruisers who were also interested in his methodology and routing suggestions.

Even our kids enjoyed looking at the picture of Bruce Van Sant from the front cover of his book. They noticed his striking similarity to Indiana Jones.

Bruce has four decades of sailing experience. He has earned the right to wear a Fedora.

Bruce’s book provides a firm kick in the pants to cruisers like ourselves who thought of medical kits, and provisioning without attending to basic sailing essentials like good charts (The Gentleman’s Guide, page 10).

Bruce’s wise words crept on us like mold on a fungus. We were dumbfounded, in hindsight, that we had left Florida without buying charts or flags to sail south from the Bahamas; thinking instead we could pick them up as we went. So, in Georgetown, Bahamas we acquired many of the charts we will need for the next year. Rick bought Weatherfax software for our PC, and began to gather weather data using SSB.

Bruce himself acknowledges that his book is “plain-spoken, straightforward skinny unsoftened by perhapses and maybes.” Because of his no-nonsense, rules-oriented approach I mentally pegged him as the sort of person who is prone to verbal jousts. Yet, I wanted I get his thoughts on our mooring construction in Luperon. So, I sent him an email.

I was delighted when he wrote back. It seems that Bruce liked our mooring design. Here is an excerpt from his email to me:

While you’ve done a great job and overkilled it (if that’s indeed possible to overkill on a mooring), be aware that the danger in Luperón comes from the rampaging flotilla of unmoored boats dragging into you. They’ll fine tooth comb the bottom with their dragging anchors and make a fine mess of tackle-tangled boats which can wrap around your steady-moored boat and beat it to death from all sides.

Knowing that Bruce and his wife, Rosa, live close to Luperon in Puerto Plata I thought I would invite them to lunch on Aphrodite.

Bruce and Rosa accepted our invitation, prompting us to polish our cockpit to oblivion. (It’s not everyday that we have a celebrity on our boat.) Bruce and Rosa agreed to meet us in Luperon, at the Puerto Blanco dinghy dock.

Before boarding our dinghy, Bruce and his wife Rosa suggested we have a drink at the Puerto Blanco Marina. It was evident that they are well-loved in the Luperon area. Our table became a revolving door for traffic – as people stopped to greet Bruce and Rosa with a hug.

An hour later, our son, Paul, drove the dinghy to our boat. Paul enjoyed Bruce’s company and leapt into this picture that I took in our cockpit.

IMG_7638 revised
Paul (age 8) with Bruce and Rosa Van Sant

Bruce later wrote:

Paul was the manliest [8] year old I’ve ever met — and a fine helmsman too!

Over lunch we talked about Bruce’s book and his background in space physics. I was amazed to think that 18 months ago I struggled to understand basic sailing terms. Yet, here I was eating salsa and talking to Bruce about his book. For three months I had hoped to have a “Bruce sighting” here in Luperon. And, now here he was on our boat.

Bruce signed our book before he left, and I drove  him and Rosa back to the dinghy dock.

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If you saw me on the water, I would have appeared as a white light blasting across the waves, carrying Bruce and Rosa in the dinghy.

Imagine, just 10 months ago I learned to drive our dinghy. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I drove our dinghy in circles. In one case, I connected a child’s head with a mangrove branch in a narrow channel.

Still we shot through the air on our way back to Puerto Blanco Marina. I could have burst – so pleased was I with the success of our lunch and my ability to drive the dinghy.

And then, my overzealous moment was over. As if synchronized on cue, Bruce and Rosa motioned for me to slow down as we were entering the marina. They each told me in their kindly way that the waves would rock the boats. I was Icarus with waxen wings – and had perhaps flown too close to the sun.

Bruce and Rosa got out of the dinghy. We have plans to see them again at their house near Puerto Plata.

4 comments

  1. Such a great story and brush with fame. Your ideas are so well expressed, I feel I’m there with you. Happy Sailings! Carolyn

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