Saturday, March 31, 2007
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So, things proceed apace with the boat, but I'm exhausted each night when I collapse into bed. I'd like to have been better about writing more of what happens each day, but when I think about it I begin to tremble and I need to go sit down somewhere quiet. What follows is a quick summary on the experiences I've had since I last wrote about doing business in Trinidad, or as I call it "Sticking my head up my ass to get a better view of my navel." I'm pictured here, out of sheer desperation and frustration, trying to pull my brains out through my nostrils.
In case anyone was worried that Soviet style bureaucracy had faded away with the fall of the Berlin wall, take heart, and know that you are only a short plane ride away from some of the most delightful aspects of the tax authorities of the late Byzantine administration, with features you haven't seen since the East German phone company collapsed.
When I arrived I was unable to get onto the boat (see previous email) so I booked a hotel room at the local swank marina for the first two days before moving onto Triton, which is "up on the hard" (thats sailor speak for up on blocks on the land) at a local boat yard about 1/2 mile away. The boat yard is called "Aikane's", which adds to an odd series of naming coincidences there: the boat was made by Robertson & Caine, my dad's name is also Robert Kane making me "Robert's son", and the yard is called "Aikanes", which is French for "We Have Your Money, Now Go Home".
The boat yard specializes only in catamarans, they build, refurbish and store them and have been in business for years. It is run by a very tall, very thin, French ex patriot named Philip who looks as if he has a couple of extra elbows and knees. His accent is that delightful French cadence that is wonderful to listen to even if what he is telling you means its costing you more money. I think this must be a job requirement. Probably an American yard owner couldn't express such constant bad news without some yachtie caving in their skull with an oar. After having dealt with him for six months, first in person, then on the phone, then via email, and at times via faxes, I'm glad to report just how great a job he had done. Everything he has told me to expect has been spot on (which has mostly been "It will take longer than is at all reasonable", "It will cost more than you think it should", "You can't get that part here" and "That can't be done here, you would need to go to the US or Europe to make that happen". What work his company has done (mostly minor maintenance and winterizing the boat), however, has been excellent and his construction staff are very, very skilled, efficient, knowledgeable and courteous. I think they might be violating Trinidad's laws by being so, but I'm grateful for it. The one hiccup I've had with the yard has been communication through the front office. The secretary leaves something to be desired - more on that later.
I was a bit worried on Monday when I first got to the yard. The small part in the back of your mind that always imagines the worst (and there is a lot than can go wrong where boats are concerned) was having a field day. When I arrived I discovered that not only was my boat still there, it hadn't burned down, wasn't vandalized, or being lived in by gypsies. Philip and his crew not only kept it air conditioned as they had promised, but they discovered a few leaks in the large salon windows, and a leak in the port head hatch. As I was flying into Trinidad, thinking about all the things that could go wrong, I remembered that I had wanted to put a tarp over everything before I left, but ran out of time and forgot about it in the bustle before leaving.
Without asking them to do so, they covered the leaking hatches with tarps and checked up on them regularly. In fact, much to my amazement, the boat had been maintained quite well, despite the God awful humidity and heat that is Trinidad. There was some mildew in the forward cabins and heads, which required only wiping down with mild bleach. Oh, and a number of pillows got moldy. This was actually kind of funny given that I had gone to such great measures to seal them in giant Ziplock bags, sucking out all the air, and packing them with desiccants. There were several other bags of sheets, blankets, etc. that I'd done very little to protect, yet they resisted the urge to go over to the dark side. I'm not sure what it is about pillows that make them so susceptible. Perhaps they haven't learned the Jedi mind trick yet.
So, as I mentioned, I'd arrived in Chaguaramas relatively crash free, the boat was intact, I had found a hotel for a few days, life was starting to look good. Then began my indoctrination into the culture of the islands. No, let me rephrase that: The Culture Of The Islands, Yah Man, Please Wait Over There And We'll Ignore You. Let me explain: So, imagine you wanted to buy a cheap folding chair. What would you do? Well, first off, you'd probably already have three dozen ratty folding chairs in your garage (see, you are well on your way to becoming a sailor already) but if you were really lazy you'd just grab one the next time you were at Safeway and probably pay $1.87 more than if you shopped around. They would either be propped up by the cash register, or in the isle they reserve for season stuff like Halloween costumes or July 4th picnic supplies. If not, then you'd find them on top of the food isles, next to the coolers with all that odd wicker furniture.
But, lets say the Safeway union cashiers are on strike, and because you once had a part time job stocking shelves for UPS and are still technically a union member, you don't want to cross the picket lines. Well, then you'd probably go to a hardware store, or Target, or Home Depot, or if you really wanted something over-designed to death, Ikea. You might even check the Internet, find exactly the brand you wanted, compare prices, then order it and have it delivered to your door exactly at the time the shipping company said it would.
Well, forget all that. You in the third world now chum. Pretend you never heard of customer service, inventory on hand, back stock, work ethic, scheduling or price competition. In Trinidad, if it isn't on the shelf in front of you, don't even think about getting it soon. Most likely what you want isn't going to be in stock. And even if it was in stock somewhere, you'd have to find an employee willing to actually get it for you. It is a little know law that all Trinidadian workers are allowed to perform only one complete and satisfactory customer transaction per day. If you happen to be second in line, they are required, by law, to fuck with you. Ah, I hear you say "Oh, come on now, Robb, it isn't that bad" to which I reply HAH! Come down here and try to buy a Ricoh Diesel Filter port O-Ring to 3/8" brass compression fitting in under three days! BTW, you are probably saying, well yeah, that might take three days here as well. Yes, that might be true, but only if it didn't actually exist anywhere in the state and had to be shipped in. In reality, there are at least twenty stores within a radius of as many miles that could supply it - I know because I needed one before I left but didn't have the forty five minutes of time to run to the store to buy it. Oh how I regret that decision.
"Okay", you ask, "so why don't you just ship everything you need?" Oh ho what fun! I had AnnMarie do just that. I needed a piece of equipment to finish installing the radio. She shipped it to me on Monday. On Tuesday I got a note from DHL saying my package had arrived, but was at the airport, a two hour drive away. "No way, the airport is only twenty miles away! It can't take that long" you reply. Well, in a country of 1.2 million people, there are 600,000 cars and seven roads, all built during the dark ages and maintained by those employees that were fired from Cal Trans for ineptitude. Try to imagine just how inept you'd need to be to get fired from Cal Trans. Double it, and you have the minister of road work for Trinidad. He's the most talented person in his organization, and he's probably not actually on the island most days because he works from home in LA were the traffic isn't as bad.
We now return to you to our regularly scheduled rant. So, I'm told by the yard that a DHL notice has arrived, and my package is at the airport. But it isn't supposed to be at the airport, its supposed to be here at the port captain's office in the Customs Depot. That is the entire reason for using the more expensive shipping companies in the first place - they will deliver it to you within some reasonable time frame. I patiently explain this to the sweet, kind, polite imbecile at DHL, who assured me that "No, you must come to the airport, there was a problem with your package and we can not deliver it." So, I drive through two hours of traffic and get to the airport, where the sweet, kind, polite manager explains that "No, actually, we sent it to the port after we spoke with you". Why didn't you call me? You had my phone number, you knew I was slogging my way through traffic. You figured this out almost immediately after we spoke. How much effort would it have been to follow through?
That is the crux of the third world attitude. We might, if at home, scream and yell about customer service so inconsiderate. We'd tell all our friends, and complain to the company. Down here, there is no one to complain to, no one can ever be fired for incompetence, and there is no expectation that anyone will ever do anything but the minimum required effort. Ah dear reader, I see your expression, hold that thought. Okay, simple mistake, it could have happened to anyone, right? No reason to get upset - just an unusual mix up, right? Wrong. This is the standard business model. I've spoken to over twenty other cruisers down here, at least twice as many locals, and numerous business owners, and every single one of them has five, ten, twenty or more examples of this kind of experience. It has all happened to them, and they're locals. Fine, its the islands, deal with it.
I drive to the port captain's office. It is a room about ten by twenty, located right next to the docks, and painted at least once since the Spaniards first came to the islands. There are four desks and a counter. Each desk is manned by a Customs Chief Inspector General Manager Director, [all Trinidad Customs officials have this title - its like calling the janitor the Senior Vice President Of Sanitary Conformation] who are all either sleeping, reading a newspaper or playing Sudoku on the computer. I walk up to the counter and wait for the Customs Chief Inspector General Manager Director to finish reading the Daily Star Globe's article about "Why Brad Might Be Gay". I stand politely at the counter, about two feet away from her, waiting for any acknowledgment that I'm there, which takes about five minutes, speed reading not being a required skill for a Customs Chief Inspector General Manager Director.
Eventually, she looks up and says "Ya?" with as much "why are you interrupting my day?" attitude as one could jam into those two letters. I explain that I've received word from DHL, and that I'm here to pick up the package. She doesn't even respond, she just points to one of the other Customs Chief Inspector General Manager Directors and nods. I walk over to his desk. He was not four feet away from the prior conversation and was watching and listening to the entire exchange. He looks at me for a while without saying a word. Eventually, it becomes apparent he isn't going to say anything. I say "Excuse me, but are you the person I should see about picking up a package?" Long pause, no response. Perhaps he's deaf, I think - it wouldn't surprise me at all if he was. After a minute of just staring at me, he says "And what is it you want?" Every bone in my body wants to scream out "Oh, nothing, I just fought my way through four hours of traffic to find out what your job is, thank you so much for confirming that for me". But I don't. In the islands, sarcasm only delays the process of fucking with you.
Thinking that perhaps the lack of sleep has started to affect my ability to perceive reality, I repeat that DHL has delivered a package, that, yes, I'm here to pick up that package. "Boat name?" he asks, I tell him. He looks in a very, very large ledger book where each column and heading has been drawn in by hand. Now, this form hasn't changed in about three hundred years, but they are still drawing the column separators in by hand using a ruler. The thought of having it printed by a professional printer is beyond the scope of their training, and would also reduce the justification for having four members on staff at all times. There are maybe ten boats that come through here a day. Maybe. yet you will always wait at least a few minutes (regardless of whether there is anyone else in the Customs building) before you will be allowed to speak to someone.
Well, he looks up in his ledger and finds my entry. "Okay, that will be one hundred and thirty seven dollars" he says. I explain that this is a "boat in transit" and there isn't supposed to be a duty or import tax. He says there isn't, but it is 12:57 and there is a service charge for picking up packages during their lunch hour, which occurs between noon and one. I look at the clock. "How much will it be if I stand here and wait three minutes?" I ask. "Oh, then it will be free." he says without any trace of irony, humor or spite. There is a long moment where we just look at each other. I nod. We continue to stand there for three more minutes, just looking at each other. Try to imagine this. Just for grins, ask a coworker to participate in an experiment. Tell them it will take exactly three minutes of thier time, that they should look at you without looking away for three minutes. See if you can do it. It was a surreal experience, just standing there starring at him. Go ahead, try it sometime.
So we stood there starring at each other, motionless, while the rest of the Customs Chief Inspector General Manager Directors read the newspaper, played computer games, and snored. Slowly, painfully, the clock struck one. He then shrugs, gets ups, and hands me my package. I leave. I would not be sure if I hadn't just hallucinated the entire experience due to lack of sleep were it not for the numerous testimonials of others, as well as the abundance of similar experiences I've had myself at Customs since then.
So, I go back to the boat and continue to work on getting it ready for a Monday launch into the water. Philip is concerned about the tides and weather, and suggests that we launch on Friday instead. Okay, that means cramming three days worth of work into one, but I'd rather avoid an unnecessary risk, and getting the boat into the water sooner is better. I ask AnnMarie to please take off work to handle the final invoice payment which requires going to the bank to do a wire funds transfer. She does, and sends a follow up email with the details. I continue to work all day, and at 5am this morning I had everything ready for launch. The yard crew doesn't start until six, I'm unbelievably exhausted, but I figure that the crew will wake me up when they arrive (they've done so every morning for the last week - showing up at dawn and then banging away around my boat), so I put my head down for a quick and much needed nap.
I wake up at 9am, still on land. I go find Philip who tells me that since they never received the documentation of the wire funds transfer they didn't put the boat in, and it will have to wait until Monday. Don't even think about getting anything done on a Saturday or, God forbid, a Sunday. I ask him why he didn't just wake me up and ask? He shrugs, says Karen, his secretary never got the fax so he assumed it hadn't happened. We go up to his office, I call Ann, she refaxes the documents while Philip looks in Karen's in box. There is the letter - she just didn't bother opening it up yesterday or mentioning that anything had gone amiss, and the fact that the fax was lost or never arrived didn't seem to mean anything to her. So what if I'm paying for slip fees and it means more charge to me. Shrug. No worries man. Its not like anyone would ever get fired for doing the minimum.
So, that is how things have been. If you want to get something done, expect to do it yourself. If you need anything, expect to "manage" it every step of the way, and expect that everything you are told is wrong. Oh, and expect to pay about thirty percent more for that privilege. Its funny for me, having been deeply involved in so many fast paced, highly efficient startup companies. Had the dot com boom started down here instead, we'd all still be working trying to get email working and wondering if graphics were possible. Welcome to Trinidad. I hope you aren't in any hurry.
p.s. Firearms are strictly prohibited in this country. At first I thought it was because they were worried about criminals having easy access to guns. Then I realized that their real concern is a population capable of expressing their dissatisfaction with the bureaucracy and red tape that passes for civil service. Any reasonably well armed society would have shot every customer service rep and government official by now. But I'm not bitter.
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Monday, March 26, 2007
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Well, Mota arrived on Sunday. I drove to the airport to pick him up. My neighbors in the boat yard, a lovely German couple named Magrit and Wolfgang, who had built their own catamaran from scratch and who have lived in Trinidad for the last few years gave me excellent advice about how long the ten mile trip to the airport might take. Two hours. "But wait," I said, "if the airport is only ten miles away, and I'm driving most of it on highway, why should it take that long. Wolfgang just smiled and said "Oh, it shouldn't, but it always does".
So, I left at 6:30 to pick him up, assuming his flight would arrive at 8pm. When I turned left onto the little two lane road that leads to the highway I found myself in bumper to bumper traffic. No worries, I've still got lots of time, I thought. Well, I was right, but for all the wrong reasons. The trip to the airport took two hours. I drove 1 mile per hour for half of it. Apparently one side of the road had collapsed. It is the "Western Main Road" a two lane path which connects Chaguaramas with the capital, Port of Spain. Now if this had occurred in the states, there would be several local cops on scene directing traffic, a few fire trucks and at least three news helicopters circling overhead. In Trinidad there were only cars trying to squeeze by each other.
When I reached the point where the problem occurred, I could see another line of traffic from the other direction stretching just as far back. As each driver would reach the choke point they'd attempt to fight their way through the oncoming traffic. In Trinidad this meant a very bizarre, slow motion game of chicken. Once one line of traffic started flowing, the other side would have to fight their way into the flow and get a few cars through. Then the other direction would fight back. The net result being that the least possible number of vehicles passed the choke point.
After much gnashing of teeth I made it through, and then drove on towards the airport. I say "towards" because I didn't actually drive to the airport. I got lost. Now, considering that I only had to follow a single road there, you might think this was somehow foolish of me. Well, I need to explain about Trinidad's roadways. In California, any major highway would be marked with their numbers, and any time you reached a junction, there would be signs explaining which way to go to remain on that highway. In Trinidad, everyone already knows this, so there is no need for signs or any indication explaining that the major road you are on actually veers off to the left onto that smaller street, ducking under and away from the road you've been on, which continues to be a major highway for about 1 more mile. Then it dumps you into the heart of Port of Spain, which makes Boston look like a street planner's wet dream.
If you've ever been lost in a foreign city (or even a local one) there is only one thing to do: stop and ask. If you are in Trinidad, make sure you ask at least seven times. If any two of the answers you receive agree, there is a fifty fifty chance that it will lead you in the direction you need to go. After driving through several tiny, one way streets lined with vendors selling things out of cars and pedestrians walking through the traffic to buy them, I managed to get onto a major road. I stopped and asked a local how to get to the airport. He said "Oh, dats eeesa man, ja goo to da chickan, den left ann jha deer". Smiling politely, I drove off, looking for a chicken. A few blocks later I found a Colonel Sanders. In Trinidad there are more Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises than there are gas stations.I turned left. I then asked another person who explained that if I stayed on this road, it would merge back into the Western Main road. I would only need to drive a few more miles to get to the airport.
Realizing that I was seriously running late I raced on to the airport. When I arrived I discovered that Mota's flight was delayed. So I waited. And waited. And waited. No Mota. Since you can't go inside of customs/immigration at the airport all I could do is stand outside the doors and peer in as other passengers exited. Eventually I saw him. He explained that he had been held up because he didn't have the right paper work. Apparently the customs officials wanted proof that the boat was mine. I was allowed inside to provide it (which was no different then what he had) and we were allowed to leave, being told by the customs folks at the airport to go straight to the port to check in. We went back Chaguaramas and checked through customs there as well.
The customs agents in Trinidad are hand picked. They find those special people who can turn whatever small amount of authority they have into a means of fucking with everyone around them. Usually this type of person gravitates to positions within a bureaucracy where they can prevent pretty much anything from actually getting done. Every customs agent I dealt with was like this, with one exception, but he demanded a bribe. So, we showed the agent our paper work, which he stamped, then charged us for arriving after hours. This is a special trick they like to play in Trinidad. Customs is open 24 hours a day, providing you are willing to pay a charge if you show up before 8am or after 4pm or during lunch hour.
We went back to the boat and crashed. The next morning the boat yard workmen woke us up to begin the process of putting Triton back into the water. This is accomplished by way of a large trailer like device that is pushed underneath the center of the boat, which lifts it up. The trailer is then pulled out of the yard and across the street, and eventually down a boat ramp, by a tractor. The kind you'd expect for harvesting corn or something. It was a bit surreal. The interesting part was getting across the street. It requires a police officer from the local coast guard base, who gets paid about $50.00 US for stopping traffic. I thought this was just another Trinidad scam, but it was the one time it turned out to be a justified expense.
A Trinidadian does nothing quickly. Just buying a soda can take all afternoon - but that's only if it is in stock and you happen to have the exact change and a cricket match they're interested in isn't on the TV. There is no way to make them go fast, except, if you put them behind the wheel of a automobile. Then, their latent need for speed springs forth. They drive like maniacs. The worst are the MaxiTaxis (minivans with several people hanging out the windows) that specialize in passing cars on blind curves. I've seen them over take a long line of trucks with on-coming traffic. They live on an island the size of Berkeley, and they drive as if they lived in Montana and they will not slow down or stop for anything or anyone.
If you want to push a 45' catamaran across the main highway, the only way to do this is with an armed militia.The official stood in the highway wearing a very prominent sidearm and a look that said "I will shoot you if you don't stop". Traffic obeyed, and we pushed the boat into the water. Below is a picture of another catamaran that went into the water a few days before us. The owner of Aikane's, Philip, is the tall man facing back at the camera to the left. You can see the trailer and various workmen floating the boat back into the harbor.
Mota & I motored Triton over to the main harbor, just a few minutes away, and docked at Crews Inn, the Trinidadian version of a 5 star hotel and marina. You can just see Triton on the left in this photo, and the restuarant and in the background, on the second floor. The hotel is directly to the right, out of frame.
It was posh. There was a pool, the restaurant really was very nice, a pretty decent coffee shop and a 7-11 type minimart. Everything you could possibly need, providing you were willing to pay twice what it was worth.
The other thing worth mentioning is the woman. Trinidad is the tropical island version of Iceland. Almost every woman here is beautiful. Really beautiful. It is sometimes surprising how much so. There must be something in the water. None the less, every time we went to a store, or got something to eat, or had to deal with the officials, there would be some stunning beauty on the other side of the counter. I'm looking into the rules around showing up at another country with a waitress stowed in your locker. If customs in Panama is anything like Trinidad the paper work, bribery and smiling through your teeth probably isn't worth the effort.
So, we'd made the first step in our journey to Panama. The boat was in the water, I am only about a week behind schedule and there were only a few hundred small things to accomplish before we could set sail. I'm beginning to think I might actually make it to the canal.
The future looks soggy, if not bright.
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Friday, March 23, 2007
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Editor's note: Mary Ann had sent a previous email about various issues relating to visas...this was a response and some additional insights about Trinidad.
Thank you for researching this, it is definitely my understanding and experience as well. Any costs for transiting the canal are no big deal, you need only worry about your personal entry/exit duties or fees to enter or leave the country.
By way of status, there was another typical "Island fuckup" today. The boat was supposed to go in the water this morning. Originally, it was scheduled for Monday so most of my plans were arranged accordingly, but the yard was concerned about the tides/weather so they pushed it up. It meant that I really had to hustle to get all the bottom work done (I had to abandon the Sonar installation) and was up until 5am grinding the props, applying the new boat name decal, cleaning the thru-hull ports, and all the other various miscellaneous tasks that go with putting a boat in the water.
By 5:30 I was exhausted, having worked almost twenty four hours in a row, so I decided I'd take a quick nap before they began moving the boat to the water. I woke up at 9:30am, still on land. I dragged myself over to the office and asked what was happening. I was told that they never received the wire funds transfer that AnnMarie had arranged yesterday and sent copies of to them.
Rather than come knock on my boat and ask, they just blew me off and pushed the date back to Monday. I had made reservations for a berth that I'm now paying for and can't use, but it never would occur to them to go that last extra inch to make something work out. Oh, and it turns out they had the documents, but they were in their email, and not their fax machine. It wouldn't have mattered, AnnMarie resent them as faxes as I stood there, but it was already to late in the day to put the boat in. Now we wait until Monday.
I can't begin to explain the frustration at how amateurish the professionals, government, service sector and manufacturing is down here. It is amazing that no one cares, but that is just how it is, so you deal with it. On the bright side, after a few weeks down here, Cal Trans, BART, Muni, Fry's and Home Depot all seem like a model of efficiency, speed and quality service.
Editor's Note: This turned out to be, like most all of our problems with the yard, solely the fault of the office manager, Karen. If you ever need to deal with Aikane's boat yard, demand Philip's direct contact info. We never received emails, return phone calls or any documents from here that weren't either delayed, wrong, omitted or disregarded. If you want to do business with Aikane's, deal with Philip, not his office staff.
Long end to this story, we are still "on track" but Mota (and possibly Jeff) may need to stay a day or two at the yard instead of the dock, but by Wednesday we should be pier side. Engines seem to be working well, I've fixed or refurbished a lot of stuff, don't have any real concerns about the safety or preparedness of the boat as yet. The captain on the other hand...
Oh, one other thing, can each of you call me from the cell phone you will be carrying with you, the night before you leave. This way I will know that your phone can get through (there is some weirdness in TT about various interconnectivity issues between competing phone companies. Plus it confirms that I know you are ready to leave and reminds me to pick you up at the airport.
See you all soon,
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Thursday, March 22, 2007
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Just wanted to give another update on status. Due to the weather conditions, we are planning on putting the boat into the water on Friday, instead of Monday, which means I lost a couple of days in the yard. This sucks because it means I don't have the time to install the Look Ahead Sonar. It isn't a critical item but it would have been fun to have. I'll probably have to wait a year before I haul her again to do this.
On the bright side, I've moved up the reservation for dock side berthing to Friday night. That means by the time any of you arrive, the boat should be at Crews Inn, and we'll have access to a pool, the internet (via my wireless laptop), a laundry, land based showers and lots of water/electricity. On the down side, there is still a lot of work to do before we leave, so be prepared to get dirty for a few days, but you'll also be able to shower and relax poolside.
I've had two items I didn't expect come up. The bottom paint was pretty bad, it needed repainting, and the salon windows were leaking. I've repainted the entire bottom with antifouling paint myself, and had the yard replace all the windows in the salon (removed, cleaned up and recaulked) so that the ocean and rain don't come wafting in, but mostly so that they don't fall off while we are out at sea. This is embarrassing when it happens, especially if your windows fall into the water. This is something you aren't supposed to have to do (the windows) for at least ten or twenty years. Apparently, this was one of the things that R&C scrimped on, I've heard this from other Leopard owners as well. The bottom paint was relatively new (about 1 year old, but being exposed to the sun/wind/rain really deteriorated it) and needed to be done faster than we had originally calculated. The advantage to doing it now, though, is that we will make better speed through the water.
Tonight and tomorrow are cleaning/deburring/painting the propellers, and, once the boat is up on the travel lift, painting the four patches of antifouling where the boat is currently resting on blocks. I'm installing the new diesel filters after that, then retesting the engines.
The weather seems to be degrading a bit, it is the very beginning of the rainy season, so we've had rain the last two days. There was also a trough moving through the Atlantic that had me concerned, but it appears to have not had any untoward effect. The latest wind/wave charts show us looking at 6 to 8 foot seas, with 10 to 20 knots of wind behind us. Still reasonable sailing and we should make good time.
There was some delay on the radar, but AnnMarie handled it (thank you so much love) and is waiting for it to arrive to her, then she will ship it to us. Assume we will need about two man days to install it. With two or three people we should have it done and tested in under a day.
The SSB is now all here, I tested it last night briefly, only to find out the circuit it was on isn't strong enough. I'll be rewiring that on the weekend. I haven't been able to find a solar panel yet, but I will try to get that tomorrow. This is the one item I'm nervous about. Everything not in stock here has to be shipped in, wait in customs for a ridiculously long time, and there is no guarantee of it ever getting here. If I still can't find someone with something in stock, we'll have to think about either shipping one down, or having one ordered with some sort of airfreight. I'll know more tomorrow.
The other items I realize I should have asked for are batteries (AA and 9V) and music. The local radio station is like listening to a cross between late '50s AM and muzak.
MaryAnn asked about money, and cost of getting into the country. I asked her to research this as I don't quite remember the details when I arrived. She'll be forwarding the results on to you all, but expect to spend something on a T&T visa.
That is about all I can think of right now. If you have any questions let me know.
Sea ya soon,
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Monday, March 19, 2007
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Greetings from sunny, humid, windy, rainy, dry, calm Trinidad.But wait you say, how can it be all those things at once? Simple. Weather potpourri. In any one day it can be any of a dozen climates, including a condition where the clouds, during an otherwise blazingly hot, bright day, will actually hide behind the hill top waiting for you to begin painting. They will then rush out and try their hardest to rain onto every exposed tool and into every open hatch. Once they realize you've covered up or closed every hatch, they rush off to sneak up on the next unsuspecting boat worker behind the next hill.
So, I arrived here last week and was promptly told to leave the country. Well, actually, I was asked by the nice British sounding lady at Trinidad Immigrations if I had "my letter". "What letter?" I inquired. "The letter from the port captain allowing you back into the country" she said, with that look and tone you use for retarded children and people in old age homes. "Um, well, um, no, I never got any letter" I told her. There was a long pause were she was clearly trying to assess whether I was very young looking geriatric, or simply a very mature child with Downs Syndrome. "I'm sorry dear, but without a letter saying you're coming back, we can't let you into the country. Please go sit on that bench over there" she said, probably assuming I was both mentally handicapped and senile (okay, so she was right about that, so what, it was a lucky guess).
I knew that if I went over to the Group W bench I was going to be stuck in the airport for a long time, if not be sent back, so I started frantically digging around and found a photocopy of an old letter between myself and the boat yard describing my itinerary, when I'd be back, etc., signed by the yard owner. I handed it to her, smiled and said, "Oh, this is from the yard, he said he'd be sending it along but I never got anything". I grinned my best "please let me slide by, I'm just an American moron (which, for most islanders, is probably redundant)" grin and within minutes I had a stamped passport. I was also told I needed to check in with customs in Chaguaramas (where the boat awaits me) and was then standing in front of the next nice lady at Trinidad Customs.
Now, if you want to come in to Trinidad, and you happen to be carrying several thousands of dollars of brand new boat gear in three FUCKING HUGE AND HEAVY suitcases, and the only other thing you have on your person is a laptop computer and three pair of black boxer shorts (they were on sale) don't open that first as they will look at you kind of funny. The nice woman at customs had a much different flavor to her speech. "Wats ol dis?" she said, looking at my underwear like I'd just exposed a bug by uncovering a rock. "Um, I'm sorry?" I replied, being completely unable to grasp the accent. It was only much later that I learned that this is actually an English speaking country. "Watchu gots der, chial?" Giving my now type casted infirm idiot performance I said "Do you want to inspect my luggage?" There was a pause, she shook her head in disgust and said, "Nohi dunt wanna beh lookin ender, ya needs to getcha ta de part captan, new stops foya". Nodding like I had even the slightest idea what she was saying I dragged my luggage out of the terminal and went looking for the taxi I'd arranged to have pick me up.
Which wasn't there. This really sucked, as I had gone to great efforts to arrange someone to pick me up at the airport, asking the office manager of the boat yard to confirm this for me. She had assured me that everything was on track and my ride would be there - this was only the beginning of a long series of disappointments to come from her. So, unless someone was intending on taking me via a flatbed truck with gardening equipment on top, there was no other vehicle within site, and no one holding a sign saying "Robb Triton" or even "Retarded American".
There are quite a few things in my life that scare me. I am not a courageous person, nor a coward, but I do have some quite rational fears. For instance, I'm afraid of IRS agents in any form, any police officer that walks up smiling at me, ex-wives with sharp knives who've been drinking tequila, and anytime a lover asks if I missed them. These are all things I have learned are very, very dangerous situations and should be handled with the utmost caution.
Then, there are things I fear for no good cause, which has been the cause of much embarrassment. Things like Realtors in blazers, making flight arrangements via the Internet, house cleaning of any kind, and being in any foreign airport (i.e. not Oakland International) without AnnMarie holding my hand, a personal guide who lives in the area, and Sherpas to carry my luggage. So, now faced with one of my worst fears come true, I was going to have to figure out how to get from the airport, to the port city, which was a staggering twenty five miles away, in an English speaking country, armed with only a thousand dollars in cash, several credit cards, a valid drivers license and my well honed ability to convince anyone to take pity on this poor retarded boy.
Thinking quickly, I asked the porter if there were any car rental agencies. After a few minutes of grunts, clicks and gesturing I managed to communicate to the person behind the counter my need for a vehicle, who explained that due to the current World Championship Cricket match, there were no cars available for the next three hundred years - which is apparently the length of a typical Cricket tournament. I was downtrodden, but did not give up the fight. My next stroke of genius was to ask a taxi driver for a ride. "How much will it cost?" I asked. "Wahyawannaga?" he said. Long pause, drool starts to form at my lower lip. "Chaguaramas?" I say, nodding profusely with and pointing at myself and my luggage. "No problem man". This might have been the only intelligible sentence he uttered that I actually understood without post processing.
We got in the car (well, actually, he watched while I dragged my gear and loaded it into his car) and we sped off for the port. "Yaha foda Crrrricket?" he asked. I thought I recognized the word cricket. "No, no, I'm here to sail a boat. I actually didn't know there was a match going on when I booked my flight (well, actually when AnnMarie booked my flights, having avoided yet another irrational fear) but to be honest, I don't even know how to play the game." Now, when I'd listed my earlier "rational" fears, I forgot to mention having the complete International Cricket rules explained to me while being driven by a chain smoking Trinidadian cab driver who believed that eye contact was important when speaking with his passengers, even if it meant turning completely around to look at the folks sitting behind him, even if this occurred while passing between oncoming trucks in their lane or forcing pedestrians to jump to safely while driving up on the sidewalk to avoid a double parked car. I'm not sure what they do to you if your taxi driver kills someone while you are in his cab, but I came very close to finding out. We arrived at the port, went straight to the customs agent, I got out, kissed the ground, then dragged all the gear into the customs agent.
This time the former East German boarder guard at the Customs agency wanted to go through every item. I had to explain what each piece was as if he'd never seen anything made before the thirteenth century. Anything that wasn't made out of a solid piece of wood, or had knobs, or was shiny seemed to completely mystify him. What was worse was the bizarre attitude he exhibitted, as if wanting to bring actual boat parts into the country famed for sailing ports was a novel if not suspect activity. He made me open all the suitcases, and layout everything, then he wandered around it all, kicking things with his toe and cocking his head as if to say "What, you think I'm going to believe that this fairlead is actually a boating part?"
I'd explain what various bits were, and he'd look at me like I was some kind of idiot trying to convince him of such nonsense. "Whasdat?" he'd say, pointing to a radio. "Its a SSB radio?" I'd say, wondering if this is the right answer. "ondat?" he'd ask, pointing at a roll of copper foil. "Copper foil?" I'd ask. He'd look at me and nod, as if he was putting up with my feeble answers. Eventually he got to the underwear. "Janeed disfo deboot?" he asked. "Um, no, um, I wear it" I said. "Whai tree?" he asked. "Um, um, um, I don't know?" I said, realizing that this might work as a possible answer. He shook his head, looked at me sadly, nodded over at one of his coworkers as if to say "Sad the way the Americans don't take care of their handicapped" and stamped my papers.
I repacked everything as quickly as I could, dragged it all back into the car, and resumed my cricket lesson on the way back to the yard. Two minutes and one life threatening near crash later we arrived at the yard which was closed. The guard wouldn't let me in without my papers. I showed him those that worked for immigration but he insisted that those weren't the right papers. Its nice to know that there is still some place with former Division of Motor Vehicle workers can get a job. No matter how much I explained that 1) it was my boat right there, 2) I was really tired and needed to sleep, and 3) I had FUCKING U.S. COAST GUARD DOCUMENTATION proving it was my boat, I couldn't convince him that I belonged on my boat.
It was Sunday night, I hadn't slept in two days, and smelled like a goat. They say that heroic acts of bravery are usually performed by people simply too hungry, tired or scared to care. It was certainly the case for me when I got back in that taxi and asked to be taken to a hotel. "Oh, and can you explain again what a sticky wicket means?" I said, throwing all caution to the wind.
That's all for now. Hope all is well with everyone else.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007
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Editor's Note: This is a second message sent by Robb to the crew. It contains some more detailed description of the work being done, and some pictures of the progress, and more of his bitching about the way things work (or don't) in Trinidad.
Hi Mary Ann, Mike, Jeff, Mota, Jen,
(I've cc'ed everyone else to avoid having to type several separate letters, as this one contains a lot of detailed status updates for everyone) Sorry to be so long getting back to you all.
It turned out that the bottom paint was wearing a bit thin, which has require repainting both hulls. This wasn't something I'd expected (as the boat had been painted about a year earlier but the Trinidad sun/heat really took its toll, so I've spent the last two days (and probably the next two) scraping and painting. I also get to replace the rusted out zincs today. Oh the joys of boat ownership.
Mary Ann, as to keeping in contact with us, it is my hope that long before the time we reach Panama we will have the HAM & SSB radios working and be able to send & receive emails when we wish. We will also have a satellite phone for emergencies, which can almost always get through regardless of the conditions. I have also purchased a quad band cell phone, so while we are in Panama we should be able to have digital phone service through the canal and on both sides of it.
I doubt AnnMarie will have that much time to spend with us, perhaps a week at most, which means that the only time she won't be manning the phones will be when we are most likely to have cell service directly. Beyond that, we also have the ability to make Ship To Shore phone calls over the SSB radio as well.
As to your family "reaching you" I'm not sure what you mean. There will be phone service here in Trinidad, as well as when we reach Panama, and then anywhere we stop along the coast (if you decide to come that far), and I expect that you'll be able to send/receive emails once we are at sea. If your folks want to contact you beyond that, they can do so through either channel. In an "emergency" they can ask AnnMarie to reach us in whatever manner is necessary, but once out to sea there is very little we can do should something arise state side.
If you needed to leave the boat that instant I'm not sure what anyone could do. Do you anticipate needing to be helicoptered off the vessel in order to attend to some stateside emergency? If so, then you should arrange to rent or buy a satellite phone and several batteries (so you can be guaranteed to be in constant contact) and talk to a helicopter service about a "pre-charter" reservation. I would mention, though, that these options are very, very expensive, and include an element of risk. If you've ever seen anyone being "rescued" at sea, you'll realize that this isn't always the most pleasant way to fly. I hope I'm answering your concern/questions. I think I may not grok what you're asking. Please let me know if I've misunderstood.
Mike, how goes the oxygen bottle idea? If you could swing that it would be awesome! I realize there might be some costs involved, I'd be happy to reimburse you for whatever it costs. Please talk to AnnMarie about it.
Mota, when you arrive it may be necessary to put you up in a room, as the boat is trashed and you may not feel like cleaning out a room in order to sleep. Lets see how you feel. I had hope to get all this done by now, but instead I've been doing other mechanical work. The new diesel fuel filters and circulating pumps will be installed this week, I don't think there will be time for me to get everything done before you arrive and still clean the other state rooms.
Jeff, are you still planning on bringing your saxophone? The guitar is here as well, so if you do, bring a lot of sheet music. Oh, that reminds me. If anyone has an Ipod or some such equivelant, please bring as much music as possible. The stereo has an external line in jack, so playing music directly from your device should be no problem.
Jen, expect to hit the ground running. You are the last arrival, so hopefully we will be ready to go when you get here. Try to get as much sleep as possible.
AnnMaire, In your copious spare time, I realize that it would be fantastic to have satellite radio. I will find out exactly the make/model of the stereo, but can you ask Ron at West Marine about obtaining the special antenna/receiver for this. Also, can you please pick up any Jack Jones albums you come across (or if anyone else has anything by him) as there are a few of his songs I think would be fun to learn.
Everyone: As each of you arrive we will work out various "assignments", crews quarters (although first to arrive get first pick) and what tasks need to be completed in order to leave. I would like each of you to become a specialist at some component of the system, for instance, Mary Ann had mentioned she was interested in the ground tackle system, Jen said she liked navigation, Mike mentioned his cooking abilities, etc. Each of you will be responsible for some area, which will include teaching everyone else as well. Don't worry if you don't know this stuff yet. I'll teach you - you teach the crew. No faster way to learn, and everyone gets cross trained quickly. If you think of any ship component in particular that interests you let me know.
Don't forget to bring lots of sun tan lotion, long sleeved light clothes, a few sarongs, lots of sun glasses (and cheap reading glasses if you need them - I've broken several pairs already) and anything you consider comfort food that isn't available internationally - which is most things you can buy in SF. Talk to AnnMarie if you have any questions. Make sure you have your passports, driver's license, the return trip ticket, and the letters I sent Ann to give to you (the baggage manifest, the immigration letter, the two letters from Aikane's stating that they are keeping the boat and handling it), the bags themselves and cameras if you have them.
Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention this. Each of you should bring at least two large packets of Kleenex Wash'N'Go's with you. These are fantastic when water conservation is an issue. Ann, could you please pack a few for me?
Also, make sure you have Scopolamine patches. You can also purchase "Sturgeron" (not available in the US) which I recommend in lieu of the patches, but make sure you have a few patches as a backup. Expect to start using them twelve hours before we sail. Once we set sail you should still expect to feel "slightly drunk" for the first two to three days. This is the time when you want to be getting as much rest as possible. If you don't have a chore and it isn't your shift, then go sleep somewhere. The more you do this up front, the happier you will be overall.
Other than that, things proceed apace. We are recaulking the salon windows (the caulking only lasts about 5 years, then then need refurbishing, the big concern now is that we can get all that done in time for the Monday (26th) launch. Tomorrow we test the engines, bilge pumps and windlass, and the sails are reinstalled. I've been working on the HAM radio as well, I've managed to finally capture a mediocre weather map using it - I expect the SSB to be radically better. AnnMarie is shipping down the SSB antenna tuner (which I forgot to pack), and one of the bags you folks are carrying down includes the antenna wire, so we should be getting much better results once that is installed.
In the meantime I've been checking the weather charts via the Internet. The prevailing winds and waves are generally Easterly, which means we'll be running with them (so expect to go fast for most of the trip) and we should have pleasant conditions - it only gets ugly when you are going to weather. The seas have been anywhere from five to eight feet (nothing unusual) and the winds have ranged between ten and twenty five knots (also normal). Overall it should be an easy run to Panama.
Right now the weather is spectacular. Very hot, blue skies, clouds in the middle distance, humid but windy, and the pan music band has thankfully stopped playing their up-tempo Muzak rendition of Paul Simon's "The Sounds Of Silence". I'm sitting at the marina cafe (the only place where I can get Internet service) and sometime before I die the wait staff will decide to bring my check. Perhaps not. If you don't hear from me again, please let my survivors know that I owe $3.50 on a mocha.
So far we are just on schedule to put the boat in on the 26th. If everything continues apace we should be sailing by the end of the month. From what I've been told by other sailors we should be in for a great time. Nothing about the weather seems ominous, and so far the boat seems quite sea ready. Of course, this is how the Guilligan's Island show started out. Hope all is well there, look forward to seeing you all soon.
p.s. I've included a list of various weather data websites. You may want to start looking at them so that you get familiar with each format and what it means. I find that knowing what is about to hit you makes enduring it that much easier. I also strongly recommend looking around the internet for anything you can find about understanding/analyzing/deciphering weather charts.
p.s. Ask me about keel hauling.
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Thursday, March 15, 2007
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Editor's Note: This isn't very interesting, but thought you might like to see the kind of issues and correspondence that took place between the captain and crew. The real challenge of sailing is not the actual sailing, its getting everything to the boat you need in the first place. To quote General Patton, "Strategy and Tactics don't win wars...Logistics wins wars." Well, by the time this was over we'd have liked to have seen him attack Trinidad, but we'll leave that to your judgement.
Sorry, this is long but I'm sending it from the local internet shop so i figure I should give everyone as much info as I have to date.
I trust everyone is well and looking forward to our trip. I arrived on Sunday, couldn't get into the yard (it was closed) so I booked a room at the Crews Inn for a night. I was pretty exhausted on Sunday night (I'd been averaging 3 hours of sleep a night) so most of the next day was spent either sleeping late or working on setting up a Skype or HF Radio communications link with AnnMarie.
Unfortuntely, her laptop crashed during this process (she unknowingly accepted an update from Microsoft - curse you Bill Gates) which crashed her machine, which meant we couldn't ever get it working properly. Basically lost another day. I extended my stay another night at the hotel to take advantage of their internet, so I didn't really get started working on the boat until Tuesday, what with various logistics and such of dealing with customs, the boat yard, etc.
Tuesday sucked. I lugged a lot of equipment to the yard, didn't have anything working on the boat yet (no water, sewage, communications, nothing) so I did the best I could but accomplished little. Mostly I figured out what had broken, rotted or otherwise stopped working during my absence, and went about fixing what I could. It was hot, I was sweating and I didn't have any water or clean cloths to change into. I had been counting on there being cloths already down here. What I'd forgot was that they weren't washed. I couldn't actually do anything about it because it was past closing time so everyone had gone home, and it is somewhat unsafe to walk the streets t night, so I was pretty much trapped on the boat. Oh, and I hadn't had an opportunity to buy anything to eat. Did I mention that Tuesday sucked?
On Wednesday I decided that the lack of food, transportation and communication was going to be a real inconvenience, so I rented a car and purchased a quad band phone. This means I will be picking each of you up at the airport when you arrive, and that you can reach me directly anytime before then. The cell phone number is 1-868-463-3453.
Wednesday was far more productive. Over all the boat seems in good shape. It's dirty, needs a lot of cleaning, there were some leaks where rain got in, and some stuff got molded, but overall I was surprised at how little damage there was. I've heard stories of folks coming back to find their boat trashed by rats, or roaches or racoons. Or that the yard forgot to close the top hatch and the interior filled with rain water. Wierd shit like that happens. It was nice to find everything still where I left it, and the boat still in one piece.
I've got the water tanks refilled. They looked great - I'd left them pretty much empty and what came out of the tap seemed fine. This had been a real worry of mine. I had taken all the precautions I could when I put the boat up, but you just never know with water tanks. It sucks to drink icky tasting water, but everything worked fine and there was no problem!!
I shock treated them with chlorine anyway, just to be safe. The water is potable here, no worries about critters now either way. I did discover that one of the two water pumps (redundant system) has failed, so we'll need to replace that before we leave. Hopefully that can be done before you all arrive, but there are several other more important tasks ahead of them and we are slipping schedule a bit.
The refrigerator seems to be working just fine (which has improve my mood considerably as I can now have cold drinks) and I've made arrangements to have the local expert check it out and recharge the freezer components once the boat is in the water, and if possible to install an additional 12 volt compressor for the freezer. The current system is driven off the engine, which means having to run it at least twice a day. It might not be possible to do this in time for our trip, I need to go over this in further detail, but if we can do it, it is definitely worth having the quieter system. A redundant way of keeping the food cold is also a great idea.
All this babble is my way of saying that the schedule is slipping more than I wanted it to. I believe everything can be done before you all get here, but its getting tighter. To that end, be prepared to work (cleaning mostly) on the boat when you arrive. My hope and expectation is that the bulk of the effort will be done before anyone gets here, but things like cleaning the decks, bilges, polishing, etc. are last on my list. They may become first on yours.
To compensate everyone for this potential drudgery, I've booked a slip at the Crews Inn from March 26th until March 31st. This means we will be staying dock side at the nicest hotel in town. I had to spend big bucks but I figure it will make any last minute craziness easier, and it is always safer to sleep at dock than in a crappy anchorage. Getting good sleep before the trip is important. Plus, there is a beautiful pool, restaurant, gym, wi-fi, etc., for us to use for free, so if you did pack your laptops you will be able to send off emails and surf the web the last few days before we leave.
Jeff had expressed some concern about having only one source of power generation, and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that getting some solar panels makes sense. I've ordered two, they should arrive in time. The advantage to this is that we won't have to continually run the engines while sailing (which saves diesel and is much quieter) except at night.
Everyone I've spoken with has confirmed what I'd suspected. The best strategy is to sail as far from Venezuela as possible. At least thirty miles off their coast. This adds a few hours to the trip, but I think it makes most sense. There haven't been any incidents lately, but I'd rather be conservative about this. I'm still working on the firearms issues, if I find anything else out I'll let you know.
I will begin installing the new diesel filters tomorrow, and the SSB once the remaining parts arrive - hopefully by Friday. The radar unit is behind schedule, but that is next on the list. These are the big ticket items that I'd like to have tested before we leave.
MaryAnn had asked about email addresses while we are sailing. The best answer I can give is that you should assume that AnnMarie's email will be the contact point (have everyone send any mail for you to her) and she will send on to me. She can also receive emails from me, and forward them on to whomever you want as well. Unless you have a General Class HAM license you won't be able to use the email system directly.
There is an alternative option, which is purchasing a "SailMail" SSB (not HAM) subscription (they cost $250/year) but would allow you complete (and private) email access while we are at sea. It seems a bit steep to me, but if that is important I'd be happy to explain exactly what you need to do to set it up - which is trivially simple. It takes about two weeks to get it going, so if this is something you are considering, let me know ASAP.
I've researched the legal details of what you will need to do bringing gear into the country. It goes like this. I will be sending you all four pieces of paper. The first is a letter from Aikane's boat yard saying that the boat Triton (formerly TerraNova) is at their yard and crew will be coming to pick it up. Second is a letter from the Immigration folks here at Crews Inn, telling the immigration folks that you will be arriving and to allow you into the country to come to their offices to check in. The third and forth letters will be the bag manifests containing a list of everything in the suitcases. One possibly sticking point is if the bags also contain your own personal possessions. The customs folks don't like this, because then they have to determine what, if anything is boat parts from taxable items. If you are adding things to the luggage put them in a separate pouch with your name on it, and don't put in anything that isn't obviously used or anything that might be construed as resellable. ( i.e. Don't bring a brand new camera still in the box.)
Tomorrow morning I will go to immigration to get the various letters stamped and then fax/email everything to AnnMarie. She will have all the bag manifests as well, so please wait another day or so before getting in touch with her. Also, I will be at the airport when you arrive (providing I'm not killed by the maniacs who insist on driving on the wrong side of the road...oh wait, that's me) and will have my phone on me. If there is any question about anything during customs or immigration (there shouldn't be) you should be able to ask them to bring me back to the area and I can deal with whatever issues come up. If they make you go over and sit on the group W bench, expect to be there for a few hours. If you are planning on bringing a cell phone, find out if it will work in T&T, if so you can call me and I'll try to intercede.
Once you've cleared customs and immigration you'll need to go to customs and immigration. Welcome to the islands man! We will get in the car and drive straight here (to Crews Inn), and you'll repeat the entire process for the nice folks all over again. Once that is done, you are added to the crew manifest, surrender your passport to me, and can't leave the country without getting Trinidad's permission and having a few more stamps placed on a few more documents.
I've also arranged to have a wireless account (all problems can be solved by the application of either enough money, or a plastic bag of the appropriate size), so I can get on-line anytime for the next thirty days. Send me an email when you get to Miami (or which ever is your last stop before T&T) and let me know to expect you. If you're delayed, try to call me. Below are the dates/times I think everyone expects to arrive.
Please review the check lists I originally supplied and make sure you have everything you need. I'm going to be a bit preoccupied and I'd really like to not have to deal with anything unexpected once you arrive.
I look forward to seeing you all shortly. Please let me know if there are any other problems, concerns, or roadblocks. Also, if you get a chance, try to gloat over your coworkers so that when you're away it makes picking up the slack you've left behind that much more annoying. Right now I'm sitting a the restaurant that overlooks the bay, it is about 90 degrees, not that humid, the sky is a golden yellow fading into umber with deep purple clouds off coast. There is a pan music band playing behind me. The music mixes and flows with a marching band that rehearses at the fire station, not far from here. All music played below twenty degrees of latitude has exactly the same bass line. I think its some sort of maritime law.
Anyway, if you need anything let me know, I've got access to phone and computer pretty much at will now.
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Thursday, March 8, 2007
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Editor's Note: This letter was sent out to a private email list to which Robb and AnnMarie belonged. It makes reference to the fact that Robb tends to write long emails (which we all know already just from reading this blog) and to "Fear My Donut", the team name assumed by them, and their good friends Ted H, who was team captain, and Wally G, who was the team drunk. They participated in a typically offbeat Berkeley event called "Dare You To Live" that was part scavenger hunt, part "Survivor" TV show game, part prank, part "Truth or Dare" and part endurance test. Since this event only seems to be held once every seven years, and since their team won the event (which surprised no one more than them) it means they have bragging rights until the next team takes the title as Weirdest Wackos of the West.
Also, the brunch began with a "protest" being staged by Wally (who has a great website at www.gwally.com), who provided the signs and various slogans. And these are our friends.
My Fellow Amoniums,
As many of you know, I'm about to embark on a sailing trip on "Triton" our new catamaran. Although I would like to avoid death, odds are good that I will probably perish at sea while sailing from Trinidad to Mexico, most likely hacked to death by the crew (if I had to guess) for
Now, many of you are probably sitting back and imagining what this means: a peaceful, less obnoxious email list (or at least a reduced word count), not having to listen to me gloat for the next seven years about the size of my fearsum donut, and a relatively single and available AnnMarie. All of those things are reason to celebrate!
To that end, why not join me at Doyle Street on Saturday from about 10am till noon to feast, trade lies and surreptitiously make dates with Amp.
I'll be leaving Saturday evening and would love to get a chance to borrow money from as many of you as I can before I go.
Hope to see you there!
Doyle Street Cafe is located in Emeryville, CA (94608) on, surprisingly, Doyle Street. Take 80, get off at the Powell Street exit, head East (away from the bay), go about three blocks (over the train track hump bridge) through the light at Hollis to the next right onto Doyle Street, past the stop sign, Cafe is on second block on right, parking lot is on left before it. - Come by pretty much any Sunday morning and you can find one or more of us annoying the staff and being way too loud.
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